I Do It My Way

The Purpose of "Turn Stones"

JerryAs mentioned in several of my previous missives, I have collected a lot of things over the years. I am especially attracted to old things with family ties. One of the things that I have routinely picked up for around 40 years were what my grandfather called "turn stones." My grandfather didn't seem to know much about them other than what they were and where to find a couple of them.

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These flat chunks of sandstone, as my grandfather explained, were placed at gates and used as pivot points for gateposts. Unfortunately, I've never found many of them; they don't seem to have been that common, though my collection was blessed with several from my in-laws’ family farm. I have even managed to locate a post and a metal strap used to secure the top of the post to a tree.

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I've always wondered — largely because of the family connection of many of the stones in my collection — about the stories these stones could tell, the history they've seen. Stories about who passed that way: were they moving cows from one field to another, were they hauling hay on a horse-drawn wagon, or were they making mischief on a moonlit night?

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I find that these stones are a lot like people — each one has its own personality. Each one keeps its secrets.

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And like these stones, each and every one of us is put in a place with a job to do, and we play a role in all that happens around us. We can be someone's foundation.  We can be someone's turning point. We can make someone's life easier. We can be someone's support. We just have to be in the place we've been put and be ready.

As Bob Seger would say, "Like a rock ..."

The Peafarmers

JerryPeafowl. For many, the word conjures up images of majestic and exotic faraway places with beautiful birds strolling gracefully through a carefully manicured, formal garden. I was one of them. I had dreams of sitting on my front porch with a glass of liquid refreshment, watching my flock of magnificent peafowl strut across our front yard, accompanied by a soundtrack of 80’s punk. Yes, we march to a different beat at our slice of paradise. With visions like these dancing in our heads, a couple of years back we purchased a pair of peafowl and became peafarmers.

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Before we got to know our birds real well, the hen took ill and died. We were never able to pin down the specific cause. Undeterred, we purchased five peachicks from a local breeder, and just like that, we were again peafarmers. Unfortunately, two of these five picked up some type of intestinal parasite and died. Our dream of being peafarmers was rapidly turning into some kind of macabre, Tim-Burton inspired nightmare. This was becoming an expensive endeavor, we were becoming discouraged, and something needed to be done quickly to rescue this dream.

I had previously done my research, or so I thought, but obviously I needed to do some more if I was going to be a successful peafarmer. So, like any rational individual, I turned to the internet for help. After "The 12 Most Disturbing Peafowl Pictures of All Time" and "7 Truly Shocking Encounters with Paranormal Peafowl," I felt I was ready — ready to puke. I dug deeper and uncovered some "Amazing But True Peafarmer Stories" that revealed to me the true nature of the successful peafarmer. I learned a great deal about peafowl illnesses (dust-induced respiratory issues) and the needs of peachicks (keep off the ground for their first 6-8 weeks); I now felt ready to dream again.

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In June, I was given the chance to put my newfound intelligence to the test. Our peahen had laid several eggs, and two hatched. Over the course of the summer, our hen laid several more eggs, and we were able to successfully hatch three more for a total of five peachicks. In the space of a couple of months, our peaflock had more than doubled — from four to nine! The Dream lived on, and so did our newest additions! All five are doing well and turning into beautiful birds. I learned a lot of lessons from this: Make sure you do more research than you think you need to do, persevere in the face of difficulty, and take time to enjoy the small blessings in life. And of course, take lots of pictures to show off your birds and to document your successes. Now if I could just figure out where these giraffes in the backyard came from I’d be doing great.

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Another Hobby

JerryAwhile back I started a new hobby. I have several: rock-collecting, nature-watching, and wife-irritating, to name just a few. I always thought it would be cool to learn how to flintknap, but unfortunately quality flint is hard to come by at my house. Sandstone and pecan size gravel I've got plenty of, but not flint or even chert. Then, one day I read a story about making glass arrowheads. It was an A-ha! moment. I could give that a try!

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I could get all the glass I wanted or needed from beer bottles I picked up off the side of the road (*wink, wink* — at least that’s where most of them came from). An endless supply of free glass.

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It's a great way to recycle discarded, unwanted glass. And, whether it's for money or for repurposing, recycling is a big part of our family's homesteading ethos. After a while, though, beer bottle glass got old, so I started rummaging around my barn and found some really old glass shards that I had picked up at an 1860's homestead (picking up old stuff is another hobby of mine). Much to my delight, I found the old glass much easier to "work" and far more fun and colorful.

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So now I pick up pieces of old glass everywhere I go, and when time permits, I make arrowheads. I’ve got a long way to go before I would call myself “good”, but I have a great deal of fun! I think blue might be my favorite.

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Hermitize — A Sibling Conversation

JerrySo, I was talking to my sister. Generally speaking, we were complaining to each other about our jobs. During the course of the conversation, I stated that I wanted to retire and become a hermit, which led to the creation of several new words. First was "hermitize," meaning "to become a hermit," and I explained to my sister that I was already taking steps down this path.

My sister was like, "No duh, that's why you live in the middle of the woods. And here I thought you were still trying to channel that Madness song about our house."

I explained to her that no, I was simply experiencing "hermitization," a natural process which occurs when one grows weary of the nonsense that seems to define modern living. My sister suggested I was full of it, thinking that I was simply spreading some of what I'd stepped in earlier in the day before heading to my job.

This brought up the whole traumatic (traumatic because it's so hard to do each day) issue of "dehermitizing" — leaving your hermit hole for any length of time, which for me involves getting up five days a week, doing a few chores around the house, and then driving about 30 miles to a job that doesn't fell like it accomplishes much expect paying the onerous taxes and insurances that have become so ubiquitous. My sister suggested that maybe I'd been spending too much time studying the theory of de-evolution. To which I informed her that I was through being cool, and, after all, it was a beautiful world we lived in. She just shook her head, sighed, and stopped talking to me. I tried to explain, but we both had work duties that needed attention.

Truth be told, my sister and I did have a real conversation reminiscent of this, and it got me to thinking.

I realized that there are a whole lot of people in the world just like me who really want to be left alone, to be able to live on our own property, do our own thing with our families, and be allowed to live without the dictations of society dragging us down. When you think about, it is that really too much to ask?

So I would encourage everybody reading this to hermitize to the extent you feel comfortable. Grow your own whatever-it-might-be, opt out of the culture that inundates us with advertisements and pressures us to buy stuff we don't need, actually take your life in your own hands, and live.

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Photo by Fotolia/Volodymyr Shevchuk

Rural Roadside Reclamation

JerryWhen you live on a farm you soon discover that you can never have enough stuff;  bailing wire, nuts, bolts, nails, chains, random pieces of steel and lumber, coffee cans, etc ... I like to think of my stuff as valuable materials, I’m pretty sure my wife thinks of it as that %$#@^& pile of &*#$% that keeps her from parking in the garage. 

One of my favorite ways to get more stuff is through what I’ve dubbed “Rural Roadside Reclamation”, more commonly known as picking up stuff off the side of the road. RRR has many benefits. First and foremost, the stuff is free! Second, it’s a public service, you know, keeping the roadside all clean and pretty for the tourists. Third, it’s a great way to get some exercise in the fresh countryside air. Fourth, you get to experience nature in an intimate fashion, you never know when you’ll find a snake or a skunk to help facilitate number three above.

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Did I mention FREE, I don’t know about y’all, but I like free stuff. A lot. One time I even found a whole garbage bag full of freshly laundered children’s clothes on the side of the road, including a pair of pants that my son found a couple of dollars in the one of the pockets. Free stuff that pays you is amazing. Some of the best stuff I’ve found during a RRR session includes our home security system. As you can see, the level of security provided was well worth the cost. 

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Sometimes when involved in a RRR session you never know what you might find just sitting around in the weeds. On several occasions in the past the remains of old rusty metal lawn chairs have been discovered. With a little co-mingling of parts, some brazing, and a thick coat of paint these relics of a simpler time now grace our front porch. 

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Tools and various bits of hardware are also encountered at times during RRR. Hammers, wrenches, sockets, pliers, and so on will occasionally be spotted and rescued. I’m currently hoping to add a tap and die set to my Life List, if anybody hears of any roadside sightings, please let me know.

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Sometimes you encounter things that just defy explanation, but that are just too good to leave behind … Sorry gotta go, just heard a report of some lost marbles, I need to go see if they are mine.

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My New Hobby

JerryRecently I've taken a shine to a new hobby, restoring stuff. First was a roll top desk my wife inherited. It was full of amazing stuff from the 1920's, including lots of "smart pills" left behind by mice. If there were any secret hiding places full of treasure they are still there.
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Next came a corn sheller. This treasure was purchased 10-15 years ago at a garage sale in a small central Texas town near my home.
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Then I cleaned up and painted the remains of an antique sheep/horse shearer that my son excavated from an old trash pile on the family farm. After about a year of trying, I only figured out what the thing was after posting a picture on a Rural History page on Facebook. In what was, for me at least, an interesting and cruelly ironic twist, here's a picture of a shearer from a 1920's catalog found in the aforementioned roll top desk. A catalog that had been at our house for at least 6 months while I was trying to figure out what the thing was.
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Feeling rather froggy, the next item I jumped off in was a Champion forge blower that I bought at an auction.
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Next up? I think it's gonna be this steamer trunk, another artifact inherited by my wife.

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Then maybe I'll start on the old horse drawn wagon whose metal parts are in a pile in my barn, or the 8N parked outside the barn, or the two other antique forge blowers I've recently acquired, or the two old metal lawn chairs laying in the "to do" pile behind the barn, or maybe a shed of some kind to house all these junktiques in so I can get in my barn ...

Friends

JerryThe thought of living in the woods with few neighbors can be a little intimating to some folks. Self-reliance is a necessary trait for a homesteader, but it can lead to some challenging situations. Recently we had one of those challenging situations at our homestead. As has been widely reported, much of Texas has received a little bit of rain lately. In fact, some areas have had way too much rain. While we did not suffer the terrible flooding that some places got, we did get a real frog strangler, 8 inches in three days on already saturated ground was bad news for the road up to our house. In fact the canyon created by the raging runoff rivaled Palo Duro.

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Feeling obligated to make some quick repairs ahead of some additional predicted rain, I got my trusty MF out and started rearranging some of the misplaced dirt. This basically consisted of moving dirt from our gate back to the top of the hill so that it could start it's migration back down the hill. Things were progressing well, the berm I wanted to create was done, the worst of the canyons had been refilled when disaster struck. Wanting to get one more load of dirt to put some finishing touches on one of the canyons I took my MF back down to the gate. Spying an area of unmolested soil that need rearranging I got in position and the MF sunk; and by sunk I mean axle deep in liquefied dirt. At first this was kinda funny, a stuck MF. I strolled to the house, loaded the chains in my 1 ton 4x4 GMC and headed back with my son in tow to rescue the MF. The MF and the treacherous dirt had other ideas, nothing we tried would unlodge the MF. In defense of the truck, it never quit trying; it just couldn't get any traction.

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Beginning to get a little desperate, a friend appeared, returning home from an evening out on the town. A friend with a big green tractor, a big green tractor that barely managed to get my MF outta the tight spot it was parked in. So, the moral of this story is to keep on good terms with your neighbors, you never know when you'll need them and keep your MF tractor on solid ground.

I think I’m gonna give my friend a nickname, State Farm, because like a good neighbor, he was there ….