Mail Call: July/August 2011

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Patio on the dream home Ken and Kay Watts built when they made their move to the country.
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Exterior of the dream home Ken and Kay Watts built when they made their move to the country.
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Kitchen in the dream home Ken and Kay Watts built when they made their move to the country.
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Entryway in the dream home Ken and Kay Watts built when they made their move to the country.
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Steve Roth constructed a cattle feeder from local materials.

Our readers sound off in Mail Call: July/August 2011.

Goin’ Country

In response to Andrea Brunken’s letter (“Bona Fide Country Folk“) in the May/June Mail Call, no, Andrea, you’re not crazy, or even alone. Lots of people are moving from the city to the country to leave traffic, sirens, crime rates and noisy neighbors in their rearview mirror. It’s a good move, but not without pitfalls. I’ve been dreaming about living the country life since I was a child spending summers at my grandparents’ dairy farm, but I had to grow up, retire and get married to do it right. Here are a few pieces of advice from what my wife and I have learned.

  • Decide how much you are willing to put in to the country life because the serenity, scenery and slowed-down lifestyle are balanced by the hard work it takes to keep everything working. It’s like a garden; those fresh vegetables are earned with a hoe.
  • Learn everything you can about builders before you pick one. There is no shortage of horror stories, and all those stories were expensive.
  • Take notes on everything your builder says and keep every scrap of paper you get, because you can’t remember everything. Think of it as protection and peace of mind.
  • Expect every conversation with your builder to involve decisions; big and small. The style and finish of the door handles have to be decided just like countertops and roof styles.
  • Everything will cost more than you thought, and everything will take longer than they promise.
  • Keep a video camera and still camera with you during every visit. It’s good for documentation during disputes and fun for telling the story of how your country home became a reality. Let the funny one do the narrative.
  • Get used to the idea that nothing is close or convenient. It’s the trade-off you make for peace and quiet.
  • You can’t start researching doctors, hospitals and all medical matters too soon. Plan on making trips to the nearest big city for specialists and anything requiring “procedures.”
  • Seriously consider a small safe room. We use our utility room for that purpose. It looks ordinary but has 8-foot solid concrete walls, a ceiling full of rebar, and a decorated steel door with a dead-bolt lock. It can protect you through several types of emergencies, and you’ll never regret it. Tornadoes are occurring everywhere in the country now, and it’s a smart alternative to a storm cellar. While you’re at it, consider a screen porch. A glass of sweet tea with no bugs is a blessing!

Above all, learn when to be flexible and when to stand your ground. You’re the one paying for it, and you’ll be the one living in it. Good advice is there to help you make good decisions, but the decisions are yours to make.

Ken and Kay Watts
Pineview, Texas 

Those are indeed words of the wise for building your dream country home, Ken and Kay, and we love the look of your personal paradise! Thanks for the insight. – Editors

True Grit

I recently picked up GRIT at a local grocery store. I flipped through it, like I do with most new magazines, and then started rereading from Page 1. Your editorial (“True Grit Embodies Real Pioneer Spirit,” March/April) caught my eye in such a quick instant. I think I have read it to my mom, brother, sister, boyfriend, etc. I love how you explain that “true grit” is comparable to any situation where “guts and glory” can play.

My grandfather loved gardening. Stuck in the suburbs by family and income, he longed for a farm and country land to plant and sow. While I was growing up though, most of my time was spent in his backyard garden. He loved showing me how snap dragons “snap,” and how to plant bulbs and potatoes. And when he wasn’t tending to his own garden, he was in others’. He had a true country attitude about helping friends and family, and sharing the harvest. He died when I was 3. I was the last grandchild he “taught” how to plant, and in the months leading up to his death, the garden is what connected my mother (his caretaker at the time), my grandfather and me. Now that I have aged about 20 years since then and have a place to call home, I have started gardening and more recently researching the details of “off-the-grid” living.

Don’t get me wrong, urban gardening and being in the city is fantastic, but suburban and city living has just not been hitting the spot. So while I scrimp and save, and learn my techniques, I appreciate the fact that you commend people who use their “true grit” by trying new things, such as “getting by in the big city.” I know I will take my “true grit” when I eventually move to the country, to get me through those days when I know I will want to give up. It will be that motivation that will keep me going, planting, sowing, and happy through my years.

Rebekah Gabud
Verona, Pennsylvania 

And it’s the thought of inspiring you and other folks to plant, sow, and be happy through the years that keeps us reading, writing, and striving to put out a great magazine, Rebekah! Thank you for the thoughtful letter. – Editors

Lifetime of GRIT

As a young boy in the 1960s growing up in Pasadena, Texas, I sold the GRIT newspaper at a nearby grocery store. I think they were 25 cents, and I got to keep a nickel for each sale. What a deal!

We moved to the country in the late 1960s and have been in the same place all these years. We continue to raise a full garden and also have 27 Rhode Island Reds averaging 23 to 24 eggs daily. We love to share the garden products and the fresh eggs with our friends and relatives.

Last year I subscribed to GRIT, and now enjoy every issue. Thanks for keeping all of us up on current living-in-the-country issues!

Buddy Johnson
Baytown, Texas 

DIY Cattle Feeder

Here’s a cattle feeder that my son, Steve Roth, made from materials harvested from our woods. The whole thing (except for the roof) was created using nothing more than a chainsaw and a hammer. I noticed the excitement in the magazine over the “homemade” gate (“Gates Worth Hanging,” January/February) and just had to share the results of our ambitious project with you and your readers. Hope you all enjoy it.

I love your magazine. I am a senior who has become a “farmer” since my retirement as a nurse. Now my care goes to my small herd of Belted Galloway cattle, my horses, and miscellaneous critters. Thank you for a fine magazine.

Kathryn Kangas
Brodhead, Wisconsin 

Tell Steve “job well done,” Kathryn! We love seeing the rural ingenuity our readers put into practice on a daily basis. – Editors

Swarming Bees

The recent articles about bees (“Teaming Up to Save Bees,” January/February, and “To Bee or Not to Bee,” March/April) reminded me of an encounter I had while growing up in northern Marshall County, Kansas.

I was chopping thistles out in the pasture and happened to be on the dam of a farm pond. I heard a humming sound, but could not locate the source. It steadily got louder, but I still could not find it. Suddenly, I saw a swarm of bees practically on top of me. There were several hundred bees in a ball-shaped formation about 8 feet off the ground. They went right over the top of me. There were a few bees on the outer edge of the swarm, and they started flying into me. I came within a whisker of bolting into the pond thinking they were going to turn and start stinging me. But they just kept moving on. For the rest of the morning I kept an eye out on the chance our paths would cross again.

Brad Luedders
Wamego, Kansas 

Yikes, Brad! Glad you didn’t have to jump in the pond. For more on bees, check out our new “Guide to Backyard Bees and Honey,” which came out in May (ordering info at our GRIT store). – Editors 

Living Fence

After doing research about fencing off an area on my property for privacy and other issues, I decided to go green with a living fence.

I went to the local nursery and purchased a variety of bushes and plants. These included lilac bushes, forsythia bushes, lilies, bugleweed, chives, hens and chicks, a few spring bulbs and some round rocks, along with pine bark for the ground cover. Also, my other concern was our deer population, which is why I chose these more deer-resistant plants.

After cleaning up the area and placing the right layout of the plants and bushes, it looked wonderful. The bushes and plants blend together nicely throughout the season with the benefit of color, along with also giving the privacy of a living green fence that will continue to grow year after year!

Patti Capalongo
Ithaca, New York 

Helping Grandma

I especially enjoyed the article “Grandma’s Loom” in the March/April issue of GRIT. I have many fond memories of helping my grandmother tear strips of cloth, sew them together, and wind them into balls on winter evenings. She then took them to a neighbor who had a loom and wove the rugs.

Those rugs were often given as gifts to children and grandchildren. The article also mentioned clothes made from feed sacks, which I remember wearing.

Thanks for the memories!

Jan Lutz 
Stevens Point, Wisconsin 

Putting One Acre to Use

I absolutely love my GRIT magazine. When it comes to my mailbox, I read every article from start to finish. First, I check to see if there are any of my personal favorite interests and, if there are, those are the first articles I read.

I have chickens, bees and a small garden on my almost-one-acre paradise. I am a 66-year-young grandmother, and I share all of my knowledge and bounty with my family and friends. Keep on keeping on!

Tana Peers
Shelbyville, Kentucky 


In the May/June Comfort Foods, the Zucchini Bread recipe on Page 34 included an incorrect amount. The recipe actually calls for ¼ teaspoon baking powder. Sorry that one got by us, folks!

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