My summer as a free mason

No, no, no…not a Freemason; just a free mason. After the anonymous destruction of our nearly new “indestructible” mailbox it was determined that we were not going to fork over another $500 to have it rebuilt. Instead I went to Home Depot and then came home with about $20 in mortar. Thankfully I already had some basic masonry tools from some repairs to our last house.

I had never done more than a little repair work on cracked mortar before and was a little apprehensive about tackling this project. However, I’m not often afraid of new challenges on the farm so I took this one up without flinching.

Right off the bat I realized this was going to be more challenging than I initially thought. It seemed to me that it would be as simple as putting a puzzle back together. Just take the fallen pieces and put them back where they had been. Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. Most of the mailbox was so completely shattered that I couldn’t figure out where the pieces had been. Because of this I couldn’t fit together the pieces that were still intact so I had to resort to a hammer and chisel in order to separate every block as well as remove all of the existing mortar. I was left with a pile of rocks that had to find their new home.

The challenge of finding pieces that fit together “just right” was hard enough, but add to that the searing Texas summer sun and I began to rethink my decision. I stuck with it though and layer by layer it began to “rise from the ashes.” I had hoped to build it up as high as I could, make it level and put the cap piece on that was still intact. Unfortunately I would have needed a small crane to pick up the top piece, so it too had to be disassembled and cleaned of old mortar.

The mailbox is back in business now although I think it looks a little more like a Fred Flintstone model rather than the tight, square beauty it once was, but the mail is being delivered again and after all, that was the end goal.

(I’ll add a picture of the finished product)

Farm and Homestead Update April 2015

Farm and Homestead Update April 2015

I have discovered that it can be very difficult to document the many activities that go on around the farm, even when there isn’t really a farm yet. I have found, through the sweat of my own brow, that our President was certainly not speaking about farms when he declared, “You didn’t build that!”

Barn

The Barn is at a stage that we shall call complete! It still needs some finishing touches, but in my experience it is unwise to call a construction project finished. We still need to close in the bottom and place rodent protection around the perimeter. We did complete the latter task on one side by placing an additional piece of treated lumber below ground level and then attaching 1/4″ wire mesh that extends under ground for about a foot from the barn. Helpful Hint: If you are planning to purchase 1/4″ galvanized metal fabric, the best price we found was at McCoys. It was probably less than half of what I found anywhere else).

 

Utilities

It is no wonder that so many homestead mentors recommend trying to find land that already has water and electric/gas service on site. It may not be this way everywhere, but the cost of connecting to a water line just across the street surprised us greatly. We’ll be spending nearly $6000 just to get connected to our water supply. We considered having a well drilled instead, but the $20,000 price tag for that knocked that option off the list.The paperwork, too, has been filled with so much legalese that it took some time to decipher.

Electricity is a little better, but for a little more than $2000 I would think they could dig their own hole for a junction box. We finished digging the hole and trench for them to put it in and I am very thankful to live in a place with little to no rocks for this kind of work.

We hope to have both water and electricity installed by the end of this month!

Garden

We have set aside an acre for our future gardening area and have great plans for the future. For the moment though our garden is simply a little 20′ x 4′ plot as a simple token to gardening.

Hay Field

We have a little over 7 acres that will be used for hay production and livestock pasture, but currently my only means of tending the field is a hand-held scythe and a home-made hay baler. While it is fun and good exercise to produce hay in this manner, there is no way for me to realistically work the entire area. Thankfully a local farmer stopped by and we worked out an agreement for him to grow and harvest the hay field.

Forest

So far the forest area is on the to-do list and I’m sure we will eventually be able to tackle it. The creek runs through the forest for the entire length of our property and we have already seen areas where trees have fallen creating dams that back up the water during heavy rains. There are also plenty of dead and unhealthy trees that need to come down. With poison ivy in full bloom now and plenty of other tasks at hand, the only trees being cut are those that have either already fallen on the fences or look like they could do so any minute.

Our Pole Barn – Two walls are up

Our Pole Barn – Two walls are up

We haven’t been faced with the frigid cold that has gripped much of the country this month so we have been able to take advantage of our weekends to continue working on the barn. The temperature did start to dip a little on Saturday, but we were able to finish the left side wall and get started on the front. On Sunday the temperature really began to fall and it also began to rain lightly as well.

We knew this might be the case so we came prepared with rain gear and mud boots. The weather didn’t stop us and we were able to get the front wall on. We also installed the sliding door, but I chose not to install the door panels. The wind was just to strong and with the walls still missing on two sides I was afraid a good gust of wind could swoop through the barn and damage the yet fully secured door.

Sometimes I wonder why it seems to be taking so long as we are ready for this project to be finished. Then I remember the sweet moments when our toddler son becomes very curious about what is going on and how he can help. We do our best to slow down and let him help as much as we can. He has helped use the drill to drive in many of the screws along the bottom row of the barn and loves to “press the button!”

Pole Barn Walls Going Up

The pole barn construction continues! The clear and vented ridge went in thus completing roof construction. Just to make certain I hadn’t really goofed on a few dimensions, our son and I put the sliding door together. While the boys were finishing up that chore, my great and talented wife cut and hung the remaining wall girts. To my relief, the sliding door matched up exactly how it was supposed to. Before putting up the walls, it was time for lunch and a nap for some.

We installed the J-Channel trim at the eave and measured the proper distance to allow 1/4″ below the bottom of the wall panels and installed the base trim. The placement and alignment of the first wall panel is crucial. If it is set at any angle other than true plumb, the entire wall will head either uphill or downhill. With great care we set the first panel in position and hoped for the best. Once the second and third panels were installed, it was wonderful to see the constant level line of steel along both the top and bottom of the panels.

Once the third panel was installed, the sun and rain began to fall so it was time to pack up and head back to “real life.”

Why we are making this transistion

© SmollaI have honestly been surprised at how many people are actually happy and supportive of our decision to leave city life behind. However, for every four or so people who love the idea there is one who asks, “Why in the world would you do that to your family?” ; “How are you gonna make that work?” — or something to that effect. I do have to be realistic and admit that I have asked myself these same things, but doing so has really helped to shape our decision-making into an even firmer picture.

Here are a few of the reasons (not in any particular order other than what pops into my head first):

Family

Modern life is nothing short of chaotic. Corporate employment, the demands of public education, and organized sports used for the purpose of giving kids “something to do” are among the short list of activities pulling families apart.

Even when we incorporate family dinner at the table to discuss family and activity issues, the minute the food is done everyone scatters to their next event.

The conceptual design of modern life has so many ways to escape from what is real that reality itself almost becomes a myth. The idea of something being real become so abstract that people seem to have to make uninformed decisions on what is real and what is not. These concepts become rooted in a societal soup that is so contrived and manipulated it is no wonder that families don’t know their members (and perhaps even themselves) very well.

A return to a rural farm is what we believe will help bring a family back in touch with each other. We will have to work together and communicate about concepts and ideas that are truly important and based upon things that are tangible, not peripheral and inconsequential.

 Food

Unless one buys their food from a local farmer’s market, the question about the source of what is on the table is always in question. How was it grown, how were the people who grew and harvested it treated, what is or is not in the food that we are eating?

Those questions are no longer in doubt when you bring your own food to the table. If there are hazardous chemicals in it, the fault is your own. Sure there are the real possibilities that a crop could fail, but wise planning and stewardship can prevent total disaster.

Spirituality

God is alive and well, but He sure seems to get a back seat in the normal day-to-day of “civilized society.” When a population derives its hope from corporations and governments, their view of God’s hand upon their lives is twisted and skewed.

On the other hand, when we can escape the sterile confines of brick and sheet rock walls to the expanse of nature’s grass, trees and weather, our understanding of forces bigger than us becomes much more tangible. We can see the intricate beauty of creation happening right in front of our eyes.

This builds a connection between the seen and unseen that goes almost unnoticed in a life that strives to artificially subdue the environment.

Peace

Nature is not silent, however, the natural noises of wind, rain, birds and other animals do not reach the ear in the same way that sirens and car alarms do. Most people find time in their schedules to escape from the chaos of urban life, but why not make urban life the anomaly rather than the other way around?

Pride

This is not the narcissistic pride that puffs one up artificially. This is a real sense of personal satisfaction that occurs when you see something you have done with your own hands. Food always seems to taste better when you know how hard you had to work to bring it to the table yourself. When you see the smiling faces of your family enjoying the fruits of YOUR labor and not someone those of some unknown stranger, there is a satisfaction that cannot be duplicated anywhere else.

Personal Growth

Who knew I could cut down a tree and turn it into a beautiful new gate for our property? People in the city have so much untapped potential it is almost a travesty to see it go to waste. In the city we spend so much time trying to get from this activity to the next that we lose the ability to truly try new things. We don’t experience our limits because we don’t often get the opportunity to challenge ourselves. Failure is certainly an option, but it is in the trying that we learn and grow.

Existence, to me, is not an hour on the couch watching television because my mind is too exhausted to create new adventures.

 Desire

Not everyone thinks this way, nor does everyone have what it takes to make this kind of transition. Believe me, even with all the previous reasons, without the desire to see it through, this would be a ridiculous move on our part. The reality is that we DO have this desire and it comes deep from within. It has been there all along, but we just didn’t know what to do with it. We tried to adapt to “civilized life,” but there was always a yearning to do things differently. Because we share this desire, we are willing to take our family on this journey, together.

 

 

Towing on a budget – aka DIY Trailer Hitch

We realized long ago that when living so far away from our property, it would be necessary to tow supplies and equipment. Unfortunately the vehicle we purchased recently did not come equipped with a hitch.

nohitch

I called around town and nearly fell out of my chair each time this or that custom hitch shop quoted me a price to have one installed. The lowest of the four places I called wanted $350 and the highest wanted $480. I had priced the appropriate hitch already and new these were some pretty astronomical fees. So, I did what a good and thrifty person does.

I scoured the internet looking for a good deal and found one. I needed both the hitch and wiring assemblies, which together retail for about $200 to $300, but I found them packaged together on Amazon as the Curt 13072-55597 Trailer Hitch and Wiring Package for $130. With a few clicks of the keyboard and mouse, the package was on its way.

Once it arrived, I set to work putting it in myself and about an hour and a half later, WALLA! I often wonder why it is that so many people will just fork over the nearly $500 it would have cost me. The financial savings alone was worth it in itself, but when the project was done, I know that whenever I hook up a trailer, I can take personal pride in knowing I did that myself.

hitch