Firewood Philosophy

“Few of us moderns have so tangible a reason to feel good about ourselves. This is why I prescribe a bucksaw, a maul, and set of splitting wedges along with a really big woodpile as therapy for the twitches, gout, flabby midsection, jangled nerves, or deep-seated feelings of alienation, powerlessness, inadequacy, and most other ills of modern society. A heap of fresh cordwood begging to be sawed, split, and stacked beats Valium any day”. Ceylon MonroeIMG_0762

 

I am not sure where I got this quote but I feel it describes perfectly my relationship with cutting firewood.  The entire process, from felling a tree to  splitting and stacking it, is so satisfying.  There is something much deeper to it.  Heating my home with any other method seems empty and hollow.  Burning wood for heat makes me feel more alive and invigorated.  The process allows a person to reconnect with a part of themselves that modern day people have lost contact with.  Sure it is a lot of work, but the reward that I get from it is immeasurable.  You might not be at a point where you heat with wood but the concept of getting outside for a good hard day’s work can benefit you just the same.

Family Time

IMG_2053Over the years, I have worked with people that live for weekends and vacations. They put in extra hours and finance a week long adventure to some exotic sounding destination.  I never quite understood this type of thinking.  Why make the majority of your life unpleasant to only have funIMG_0746 for a short period of time?  I would rather make the majority of my life enjoyable.  The way we accomplish this is to do simple things as a family that cost little to nothing.  This past week is a perfect example of this.

We started out by taking a mid-week trip to get a burger and fries followed by a drive through a local park and their Christmas decorations.  The “oohs!” and “ahhs!” coming from the back seat of our car were nonstop!  Follow that up with a trip to a model train show at a local IMG_0744church, and you have the makings of a very memorable and enjoyable week for a 4 year old; not to mention an affordable one for a single income family.  Family fun does not need to cost much.  With just a little time and imagination, anyone can find things to do that the family can enjoy on a budget.

BEES

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This year I have decided to add a bee hive to our list of gardening/homesteading projects.  This has been something I have wanted to try for quite some time but I never really felt like the time was right.  That is changing this year.  I want to do this for a couple of reasons.  The first is to have a winter project that I can work on after I get home from my job and the other is to have a father, son project.  Our son enjoys hanging out in the garage and doing things with me so, although he may not be a big help in the construction of the hive, he will enjoy being out in the shop and it will be great family time.

So to get this project kicked off I needed to do some planning.  I need to decide on a design for my hive so off to the internet I went.  I narrowed my choices down to two types of hives after some research.   Most people are familiar with the box type hives.  This is called a Langstroth hive and is probably the most popular and widely recognizable design there is.  There is nothing wrong with this type of hive and if my goal was to maximize honey production then this would be the type of hive I would choose.  The other type of hive I considered for this project is the top bar style.  This is said to be an older design and some feel that it allows the bees to build their comb in a more natural manner.  One drawback of the top bar design is that it is not as efficient when it comes to honey production.

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A duty free picture from the internet of a Langstroth hive

 

Of the two previously mentioned designs I decide to go with the top bar for the following reasons.  First is that it is a simple, easy to build design.  I am interested in keeping this project simple and fun to complete.  The next reason is that it seems from reading, that the top bar may require less time input from a management standpoint.  I am interested in providing a good environment for the bees so I was drawn to the top bar design for the fact that it mimics someplace that bees would choose to build a hive.  I feel like if I can provide them with something akin to a normal hive location I will likely  be more successful.  The final factor in my decision was that honey production, although desirable, it is not my ultimate goal.  I am more interested in introducing more pollinators to my property and that will in turn improve the productivity of our garden and orchard next year.

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A duty free picture of a top bar bee hive from the internet

The internet is full of information on bee keeping.  So much so that it can be a little difficult to sift through the information that is out there.  I was able to find some various designs for free and I will be adopting the best parts of them into my hive.  There are no rules concerning the type of material used to construct the hive so a person can feel free to use whatever they can find.  I will be using some material I had left over from previous projects so I expect the cost of new material to be minimal.

After several years wanting to do this I am excited to finally get started.  It is the little things like getting out in my garage and spending time showing my son how to cut wood or hammer nails that give great joy.  This type of satisfaction cannot be replicated siting in front of the television or staring at your smartphone.  There is no substitute for human interaction or interaction with the natural world which God created for us.

The Well Stocked Pantry

IMG_0572Have you ever been in the position when the family is hungry and you need to fix something quick?  You go to the fridge and there is nothing there so you call and order a pizza or run out for a burger.  Well for us the nearest pizza place is a 12 mile round trip and that just isn’t always a good option. Pizza every once in a while is fine but not that healthy and this should not be your answer when the cupboard is bare.    Let me suggest an alternative that may save you some time, help you avoid the moments of wondering what to fix for supper, and help you eat a little healthier as well.

The solution I am speaking about is a well-stocked pantry.  When I was growing up my grandmother had the ability, at a moment’s notice, to create a meal fit for a king.  She did not use convenience foods that I remember but rather she cooked from scratch.  Her kitchen was well stocked with all of the essentials that you would need on regular basis.  There was no running to the store to pick up a stick of butter, she always had plenty.  So I am sure you think that this is either too time consuming or costs too much but neither of these are true.  As a matter of fact having some basic staples and possessing the ability to utilize them to create healthy and nourishing meal is one of the key components to living life more simply.IMG_0578

Let me touch on other justification for having a well-stocked pantry just a bit.  One of the benefits of having food around the house is that you are not spending you time and money running out to get food every time you eat.  It takes time to drive there and back and it costs money for gas.  If you live in an urban area this may not be such a big deal but for us it does add up. Another benefit is that you have control over the quality of the ingredients that you cook with so that you can provide your family with nutritious food to fuel them through their day.  Now I am not a huge health food nut but I do believe that there is a great benefit in eating good food and that you can do yourself great harm by the food choices you make resulting in disease and premature death or disability. The last point is that of being prepared.  I am not necessarily talking “doomsday Prepper” prepared, although there may be some merit to that line of thinking.  What I am discussing here is something more routine.  Maybe your neighbor just had surgery and you need to cook them a meal.  How about unexpected guests?  What about a big snow or ice storm that causes travel difficulties and knocks out the power?  All of these are very possible and real scIMG_1405enarios that could happen and have happened to us in the past.

So how do you go about getting started stocking you pantry?  I am glad you asked.  One of the first things to do is see what you already have.  There is no need going out and buying supplies that you have plenty of.  The next thing to do is think about the types of food your family likes to eat.  Get a list of a few of the family favorite meals and find good recipes for them.  Compile a list of staples from these recipes.   The best way to approach this is to start small.  Create a list of meals for 1 week and have the ingredients for those 7 days.  The next week you may add additional meals but you should have many of the ingredients already from the previous week.  After repeating this for a few weeks you will eventually have a good assortment of supplies and recipes at your disposal. Now that you have a robust meal plan you will want to increase you supply of the main ingredients so that you no longer running to the store every time you cook.IMG_1406

I have read articles that had lists of items that you should buy and I guess that makes for some good reading but I often wondered how anyone could create a list not knowing what the reader likes to eat.  I prefer my method based on the fact that it allows you to lean as you go and should also result in less wasted purchases.  There is no need to go out and buy everything all at once.  Anything worth doing is worth doing right and this is no exception.  Take some time and plan which is also a key concept that I will often repeat.

Having these extra items will require you to consider how exactly you are going to store them.  You don’t want to be wasteful with your resources.  After all, you spend good money on these things and it would be a shame for them to go to waste.  You will also want to store these items in a way that preserves their nutrient value as well.  Generally speaking a cool dry area of you home will work well for storing foods.  We utilize our unfinished basement for this and it works well for us.  One consideration is that we do heat with a wood burning furnace in the winter so our food is kept in the North West corner of the basement since this is generally the coolest side of any home.  We don’t utilize any special method of storing food other than canning some of our garden produce each year.  We do have two additional deep freezers that we keep stocked with various meet, frozen corn, and fruit that we put up each summer.  For the most part unless you are looking for really long term storage of food, the original packaging will be adequate.

 

So now you have some food and in the house to feed those hungry kids and you now have more time because you aren’t running after pizza and you have more energy because you are eating better.  This looks like a winning solution all the way around.  One thing has noticed personally that many of the ways we have found to make life simpler is to adopt the practices that once were common in households across the country.  We have allowed our lives to be crowded with too many things that are of limited value and that drain our time and resources.  We are slaves to our possessions and suffer because of it. Making little changes will allow us to break free of these things that bind us, ultimately allowing us to live a life that is more full and affording us the opportunity to serve our families and others more freely.  This is just one step in our journey to simplification.

 

 

 

 

Canning the Last of Our Crop

This evening, we spent some time doing some of our last canning of the season.  We had a bumper crop of sweet potatoes this year, and we thought we would give canning them a shot, since we haven’t had great luck getting them to keep in our basement in the past.  We get asked a lot of questions about canning.  I find it a little curious that people are so amazed that we eat food that we grow and can ourselves. The most common questions that we get are, “Is eating home canned foods safe?”,  “Is the actual canning process safe?”, and “Do home canned foods actually taste good?” Well, the answer to all of those is a resounding “YES”!

As for the first question, I have to think about all of the food safety recalls that happen, yet people have no problem buying their food from the supermarket where they have no idea where it comes from, how it was grown, what chemicals were sprayed on it, and was it processed correctly.  I guess ignorance is bliss when it comes to food. We do not use herbicides on our garden and I try to use the least amount of pesticide that I can.  Synthetic pesticides are only used as a last resort when other measures do not work. Many people also have concerns about home canned foods growing botulism or other bacteria. If you follow the specific directions for each type of food that is found in the manual that comes with your canner, there is virtually no risk of having spoiled food. In fact, we have no qualms about eating canned food that is 5 years old, and it actually tastes and smells as good as it did the day we canned it. We have been canning for over 6 years, and we’ve never gotten sick or had any issues with our home canned goods.IMG_1414

Another common fear that is expressed to us, is the fear of using a pressure canner. People always cite those crazy rare stories about people’s canners exploding. I assure you, we have never heard of that actually happening to someone who was using the canner for the proper purpose, following the rules in the manual, and keeping their canner in good working order.

There is no comparison in the quality of taste when it comes to the food that comes from our garden and that which you get from the store and that difference is still present even though we can it ourselves.  Who has not had the hard those mealy store bought tomatoes that are pale and anemic looking inside?  Contrast that with the dark red juicy tomatoes that burst forth from our little garden plot every year.  I cannot help but think that there must be nutritional differences as well.  I do not worship my physical health but I do want to be a good steward with what God has given me and my family.  Gardening and canning is just one way I can do this.

Canning does take some time but like most chores that we do, if we do them together it is more like quality family time than work.  This is a concept that seems to be foreign to so many these days.  IMG_1415Even though I have a full time job and we run a small business, I find the time  we spend  gardening and preserving food to be enjoyable.  I do not have any interest in coming home and sitting on the couch.  There is no satisfaction in that.  Time spent canning is time that we work together as a family for a common goal, and later we get to reap the benefits of our hard work by partaking in the delicious and nutritious food that we grew and canned.

 

Why Simplicity?

 

Sunrise from our property

I am not sure if it is just me or maybe there are others that feel this way, but for all of my adult life I have felt like there was just something wrong with what is viewed as normal when it comes to work and providing for your family.  I guess I followed the status quo, to some extent, by going to college and getting a job when I graduated.  I took my first job in healthcare and found out that there was great pressure to get more education, so that is what I did.  I ended up with 4 degrees from 4 separate universities.  Healthcare also requires you to work nights, weekends and holidays.  Sometimes there is also “call”.  I accepted all of this as the price I had to pay but it never seemed right.  I spent a great deal of time away from my family and home to make someone else money and for what?   The hospitals I have worked for certainly have their own interests and prosperity in mind, not mine.  This is not to say there is no benefit from working for others; it just does not “feel” right to me.  Some may be perfectly happy doing the 9-5 every week, or in the case of healthcare, the 7-7. As for me, I cannot help but think there has to be more.

 

My father is a very hard working man and I think that he instilled that work ethic into me as well.  For the first several years of my career, I worked a lot of overtime and I had as many as 3 jobs at once.  This all changed in 2011, when my son was born, and my father gave me some of the best advice I have ever heard.  He said that I should make spending time with my son a high priority because he felt like he missed out on so much while he was working long hours to provide for us.  This was a little hard for me to comprehend since I had always been a hard worker and had seen that played out in the lives of my parents.  This is not to say he was advocating that I become lazy, but rather I begin to focus less on material things and more on the simple pleasures of life; the things that really matter.

This, I guess, is the real point of this post.  We spend so much of our lives chasing after things that really do not matter.  Whether that is homes, jobs, food, hobbies, or whatever, we tend to chase after things that in the end mean nothing.  At the end of our lives will we say ” I wish I had spent more time at work, I wish I could make one more Facebook post, or if my house was a little bigger I could die a happy man?”  I bet not.  As a matter of fact, I am finding out that it is not the “things” in life that matter but rather the people and how you can take care of them.  Life is more about service than being served.  Providing rather than being provided for.

Another point  I’d like to discuss in relation to simplicity is the sin of idolatry.  I would not have been so inclined to think of myself as an idolater until I began to study the topic from a biblical standpoint.  The short version is that an idol is anything that is more important to you than God.  So with that I mind I did some self-evaluation and I realized that there were many things that took priority over God in my life.  Not to say I built a golden calf in my garage, but my security in my job certainly could qualify.  How about all of that education?  I am sure I could list a thousand things but this is start.

So a simple life for me is more than just a romanticized notion but rather a lifestyle that allows me to live out my duty to God and my family more fully.  I do not believe that God is happy taking a backseat to our smartphones and our summer vacations.  At least this is not how I understand it.  I believe that we have a duty to live our lives in such a way that God is the center, and for me a lifestyle of simplicity is how I choose to do this.

DIY Kinda’ Guy

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One of the things that I think about as I seek to distance myself from the 9-5 grind is how things have changed since I was a kid.  We all look back at our childhood and hold that as some type of standard by which we judge our current world, regardless of when we were born.  Did children of the 60s have it better than those of the 70s?  I don’t know, but one thing I do know is that when I was younger, men and women seemed to possess more practical skills than they do today.  They had skills that could be used around the home to save some money and even to provide an income to support the family.

garden hade 2One of the things that has helped us reach our goal of becoming a one income family is the fact that I am a DIY kind of guy.  Of course, there are times when I find it necessary to utilize the assistance of a professional but for the most part I take care of many things myself.  Sometimes the savings is money and others the savings is time.

Let me explain further.  I recently decided to take on an extensive repair job on my old pickup truck, after I discovered an extensive amount rust on the frame and the body.  This project took about 2 ½ months for me to complete by working on it after work and on my days off. I had to completely take the bed off the truck, in order to replace the rear cross member, apply new sheet metal, new shocks, and due to my carelessness, a new back window.  After the metal work was done, it needed body filler and paint. Since our truck is over 17 years old, and the odometer has long since passed 200,000 miles, it didn’t make good financial sense for us to pay an auto body professional the cost of parts and labor for this job. Instead, I sacrificed my time,( another precious resource), and as a result, we now have a sound and useful truck for many years to come.

You may think that the reason I was able to do this job because of past auto body and mechanical experience, but my background is actually in healthcare and this job was something I had never done before.  Of course a professional could have done it much faster, but in the end, the job was done at a fraction of the cost and I also have the satisfaction of learning some new skills and doing the job myself.  My experience accomplishing this job will give me confidence to tackle something even larger next time.

Now, let’s look at the other type of savings, which is precious time, and let’s once again use the automobile as an example.  I can purchase an oil filter and 5 quarts of oil for about the same price as an oil change at the quick lube establishments.  The problem for me is that I have to drive there, sit and wait, and then drive home.  That is a lot of wasted time.  For the same money I can do the job myself and while I am at it I get the opportunity to inspect my vehicle for other potential problems.  Not many places will take an interest in your car as much as you will.  They are interested in separating you from your money!

Of course you need to factor in the cost of tools that a person needs to do a job, and some would use that as an excuse to not do a job themselves.  I will agree that tools can be expensive, but often you can still buy the needed tools and complete the job cheaper than if you were to hire it out.  In the end, you will have the job done with less expense and have the tools to complete it again if the need should arise.  This is how you build up your collection of tools and how you build your skills.

garden hadeWhen I was a kid, my dad would take time and show me how to do things.  I was always under the car with him when he was changing oil or doing brakes.  Unfortunately, you don’t see many parents taking the time to teach their children valuable life skills or letting them tag along while they’re doing a job, anymore.  Maybe men no longer possess the skills to do these things themselves, or they just don’t want to take the extra time to show their children.  This has created a society that is dependent on others for just routine daily things.  Possessing skills that you can pass along to your children is, in my opinion, one of the most valuable gifts you could give them.  Working together and teaching your child is a great way to spend quality time together, which is also increasingly difficult to find these days.  Take the time to increase your skill set and then share that knowledge with someone you care about so you can both be blessed by it.