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I Do It My Way

Saving Money by Not Spending

JerryMany years ago, a good friend of mine gave me some great advice: "The best way to save money is not to spend money." Now mind you, one of my hobbies is not spending money, so he was preaching to the choir. I'm so cheap that my dad once referred to me as a tightwad who squeaked when I walked.

I wanted to share my top seven ways to not spend money on the homestead.

1. Reuse stuff. This should be a no-brainer. I've built entire chicken pens out of reused materials — roof tin from an old barn, nails I straightened after pulling them out of old lumber, etc ... Every nail, nut, screw, or bolt I find anywhere gets picked up and evaluated. Good ones get sorted into cans for easy access, not-so-good ones go in the can to recycle (more on recycling later).

2. Free stuff. Another no-brainer. If somebody offers you something for free, take it! Free pallets, free samples, free things you find on the side of the road ... Free stuff can be really good! Well, maybe except for free roosters when you already have too many.

3. Recycle stuff. It's like being given free money (See number 2). Recycle anything and everything you can't reuse. Beyond the greenness of recycling, you get some free green in your pocket.

4. Fix stuff. YouTube is an amazing place to learn how to make repairs. I've learned how to fix ovens, dryers, trucks, iPhone headphone jacks — it's all there for the viewing. And it's free!

5. Eat stuff. Grow, hunt, or raise your own food. It will be better for you, it will taste better, and it will save you money. You can combine several of the previous suggestions here. Saving your own seeds means free seeds next year. Canning your produce in the same jars year after year means you are reusing stuff.

6. Creative stuff. Don't be afraid to get creative on the homestead. Find ways to combine the principles outlined above.

7. There is no 7. I told you I was cheap! When you are trying to save money, you have to economize every chance you get.

nuts and bolts in jars
Photo by Fotolia/Futro

Anniversary at the Fair

JerryIt's a beautiful world we live in, and if you are interested in knowing more about this world then there's no better place than at one of the upcoming MOTHER EARTH NEWS Fairs. Especially if you are interested in homesteading, self-sufficiency, or farming in general — which, if you are reading a blog at GRIT, you most likely are. At the fair, you will have the opportunity to learn about topics as far ranging as growing your own broom to making mead. There will be seminars about beekeeping, chicken rearing, and gardening. Since I live in Texas, here is a listing of presentations at the upcoming Texas Fair.

In addition to all the tantalizing workshops, there will be a large vendor area that you will not want to miss. You can visit with merchants selling everything from beehives, seeds, and tools to books and handmade items. Speaking with these vendors was very informative and a great way to learn about new products.

Taken as a whole, the Fair is a wonderful place to meet new people, learn all kinds of new stuff, and to get a dose of encouraging reaffirmation that the hard work of self-sufficiency and homesteading is worth the effort.

I also think the Fair is a sweet, romantic place, and for the second year in a row my wife and I will be celebrating our anniversary by attending the Fair in Belton, Texas. For me to anxiously look forward to attending anything that will include a large crowd is out of character (for more on that, see: Hermitize – A Sibling Conversation), but I have to say this: the Fair is great. In the case of the Belton Fair, the facilities are amazing, the hotel next door is great, and no doubt the Fair will be fantastic, so if you are in Texas make plans now to attend. You will not regret it. For what it’s worth, I'll be the antisocial one ...

Bags of seeds
Photo by Fotolia/gennaro coretti

Keep Your Paved Roads ...

JerryRecently, I overheard a conversation during a local civic gathering. The conversation was among several individuals who were new arrivals to the community (most had moved in less than a year ago). They were talking about how much we/they needed paved roads! Instantly, my hackles went up. I mean, I like these people — at least, I want to like them — but they are talking crazy talk.

I should say that my family goes back to 1835 in this community; even if I was born and raised in the big city of Houston, this is my home.

I spent much time during my youth in this community. I roamed my grandparent's property (the same property that's been in the family since 1835) picking stuff up, riding dirt bikes, and building barbed wire fences — fun stuff. I spent lots of time running those gravel roads they were talking about paving. Those gravel roads are near and dear to my heart. I learned to drive on those! You can't and shouldn't pave paradise.

I know, I know, you are probably thinking, change happens, and this guy needs to get over it, but I don't like this change! What's next, a convenience store on the corner and a coffee shop down the road? I mean, really, don't move to the country and then try to make it the city. That defeats the whole purpose, doesn't it?

But I'm forced back to reality; I know deep down that this change will take place, and that I'm just being nostalgic for a time that has long passed. So I offer these words of advice for all those planning to move to their little piece of paradise in the country:

1. Remember that there are people whose roots run deep in paradise and who may be happy with paradise just the way it is; this was their paradise before it was yours.

2. Learn how to drive on unpaved roads; slow down, move over, and wave when you meet someone going the other way. Maybe even stop and strike up a conversation. That guy in the monster truck you are frowning at might just be the guy you need to pull your compact car out of the ditch the next time a gully washer comes through.

3. Become part of the community before you start talking about changing the community. Get to know your neighbors (see truck reference above); it’ll help you learn how to convince them that change is good.

I want to like these new neighbors, I really do. Just don't start talking about a convenience store down on the corner ...

Dirt road
Photo by Fotolia/Harris Shiffman

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.

Lone cabin
Photo by Fotolia/Volodymyr Shevchuk