Sunday, December 31, 2006

It's New Year's Eve on the Homestead!

Wow, can you believe another year has come and gone? If you've been keeping up with our website you know that we've been busy on our homestead. Our house in town has been on the market since April, and still not sold. But we know that, just like everything else we've ever done during our married life, we were a few months late getting it on the big boom in home sales. About the time we listed our house, the market went flat. But we're not giving up. We feel certain it will sell in 2007 and we will become full time homesteaders. Say a little prayer, face your prayer rug east, or sacrifice a virgin for us - whatever you think works. We'd sure appreciate it.

This is a really nice, long weekend for us. We came out to the homestead Friday night, and won't be leaving until Tuesday. Monday is a holiday for us, and Tuesday is a National Day of Mourning for President Ford. So we get an extra long weekend. And lest you think we would take advantage of the time without honoring President Ford, let me inform you that not only have we been watching coverage of the pre-funeral happenings all weekend, we've spent a fair amount of time talking about Gerald Ford. He was truely a good man, even though he was an "accidental president" if we ever had one. The poor man just wanted to be Speaker of the House. But when Spiro Agnew found himself in trouble, Mr. Ford was next in line for Vice President. Then, wouldn't you know it, President Nixon gets all involved in that pesky little "Watergate" incident and decides to bail, leaving his presidency to the next in line, Gerald Ford. So President Ford shows there is hope for all of us. Just be in the right place at the right time, and who knows? Maybe you'll be the next President of the United States.

At any rate, Bernie and I are really appreciative of our long weekend on the homestead. And we've spent it being really busy.

We spent about 6 days with my family in Georgia. We had a wonderful time seeing the family and eating way too much. While we were there we hooked up with my Aunt 'Net and Uncle James. It's been a while since we've seen them, and it was great visiting for a little while. A little while ago, they lost thier daughter, Sandra. Sandra was just a few years older than I, and she was a beautiful person, inside and out. She had such a great sense of humor and was so full of life. It was such a tragedy to lose her so young. Aunt 'Net and Uncle James offered us a china cabinet that was Sandy's and it was such an honor, we could not turn it down. It is quite old and was not in good shape, as it had been through a flood. But we brought it back with us and put it in the homestead. I spent a lot of time yesterday cleaning it up. These pictures show the before and after. It's really a beautiful piece of furniture and we are sure proud to have it here. Try to look beyond the horrible wall - that's the Great Divide I talked about earlier. It's a work in progress.....

Aunt 'Net and Uncle James also gave us some very old Log Dogs. They are really precious and I spent a lot of time today cleaning them up. I used an angle grinder and grinded away the rust. then I spray painted them with some Rust Stop Enamel. They really came out great! And now they grace our hearth. Take a look at the process.

We also spent a fair amount of the day installing a solar electric fence around our beehives. You may recall from a previous post, we have bears in this area. So we decided a fence would help protect our beehives from the bears . Putting up the fence wasn't as difficult as I feared, but that's coming from me, the one who didn't have to actually drive in the fence posts by hand. That job landed squarely on poor Bernie's shoulders. But he did a great job, and I was there beside him every inch of the way! Check out the website for the pictures and the details.

So 2006 comes to an end, and we look forward to what 2007 brings our way. I hope that each of you has a healthy, happy, and prosperous year. And I hope you'll check back here often to keep up with what 2007 has in store for me and Bernie.

Live free and BEE free,

Sunday, December 17, 2006

What's All the Buzz About?

Well, after several false starts, we finally went and got our bees and brought them home! Our friend, John, lives in Pennsylvania and sold us 6 hives of honey bees, a few extra hives, supers, bee outfits, smokers, honey spinner, bottles, caps, and way more than I can list here.

We got up at 4AM and drove 4 hours hauling a trailer to just outside of Lancaster, PA. Wouldn't you know this was the warmest weekend in December we've had in very recent history? Warm weather means happy bees - and happy bees means they are very "active". I should tell you at this point that I am TERRIFIED of bees. Simply terrified. I have respect for snakes and bears, and several other things, but I wouldn't say I'm really afraid of them. Certainly not terrified. But bees are little and you can't shoot them when they attack you. And they're sneaky. Bears and snakes really aren't that sneaky. You typically know when they're around. But bees..... well, bees are different. You can be blissfully walking along and WHAM! You've been stung by a bee you didn't even know was in the area. And they hurt when they sting! I'm definitely terrified of bees.

But Bernie really wanted to get bees and I really wanted to get the honey and bees wax, plus I'm a pretty good wife, so I agreed to getting bees, with the understanding that caring for them is Bernie's job. What I really did NOT agree to but should have realized, is that I would have to help unload and set up these little guys. That's a-whole-nother story I'll tell you in a little bit.

So anywho, Bernie and I set out bright and early to pick up these bees. We got there around 9AM and immediately joined John in placing screen over the hive entrances and taping them. You can see pictures of this whole ordeal on our website. We loaded them all up, threw in all the extra stuff, and headed home. Along the way, probably 2 hours into the trip home, we decided to stop and get something to eat at a McDonald's that had a large enough parking lot to accomodate Bernie's big ol' truck and trailer. We went inside and quickly scarfed down a greasy sandwich and then headed back out to the truck. As we approached the truck and trailer from the side, Bernie said "Uh, oh." I really didn't like the sound of that so I screamed "WHAT?????" and he said "Looks like the hives might have busted open - I see bees in the window of the trailer." Well, crap. This is not good. Not good at all. I am in a near panic now. All I can think about the rest of the trip home is having to open that trailer to get those hives out and I have NO idea what shape they are in or what to expect - except I KNOW some of them are OUT and swarming about. That sandwich I just gulped down sat on my stomach like a brick all the way home.

When we got home, Bernie positioned the trailer very close by where he wanted to set up the hives. It was almost dark, so we left the trailer there, still unopened, and went to the house for the night. I drank several beers. All I could think of was the task at hand. We decided we would get out at first light (while it was still cold and before the bees got "active") to access the damage, put the hives back together, and relocate them to thier new homes.

We got down to the trailer about 7:30 this morning. I was very nervous, but thought I was prepared to face this task. I peeked in a window of the trailer, and all looked very calm. No swarming bees. Whew - maybe this won't be as bad as I anticipated. Well, I was WRONG.

Bernie opened the back of the trailer. The good news was that it looked like only one of the hives had "shifted" during transport and allowed bees to escape. Because it was early and cold, the bees were very calm and none were flying around. Well, that only lasted about a minute and a half because as soon as we opened the trailer, the sun came streaming into it and warmed those little buggers right up. I began hyperventilating, but assured myself I could do this. We quickly unloaded the back of the trailer and were left with the 6 hives to deal with - and one was open in the middle. I should mention that getting to this point had taken us about an hour. That entire hour I kept saying to myself "You can do this. Just remain calm. Don't make any sudden movements. The bees won't bother you if you are calm and steady and don't scream like a lunatic." I did just fine that first hour. And then.....

We slid the hive out in the open so we could reposition the "super" that had shifted. As I reached up with my gloved hand to shift the super, a bee flew at my hand and landed on it. And even as my mind was repeating "Be calm. No sudden movements." I began flailing my arms like a octopus and screaming at the top of my lungs. Bernie kept yelling "Calm down!!! Stop moving!!!!" I was finally able to gain control of my body and stop moving. But then I could HEAR the bee on my arm somewhere. He sounded stuck. That sound was really very scary to me. To me that sound meant "I am pinched in your clothing somewhere, but as soon as I locate your skin, I am going to sting you like you have never been stung before." See - this is why bees terrify me! At any rate, I was shaking like a leaf and I tried to calmly ask Bernie to help me locate the bee. But what actually came out was "THE FREAKING BEE IS STUCK ON ME SOMEWHERE!!! HELP ME! HELP ME! COME FIND OUT WHERE THE BEE IS!!!!!" The whole time my legs where jogging in place a hundred miles an hour. Bernie walked over and located the bee on my glove - and yes indeed, it was stinging with all it's might. Thank heavens I was wearing the glove - well I was up until the second he saw the bee on it, and at that precise moment I ripped it off and threw it a record breaking distance. When I retrieved it, it still had the bee stinging it's little heart out on the glove. I managed to gently bush it onto the side of the trailer.

I was shaking like a leaf - and we hadn't even gotten the first hive out of the trailer. And everything within my body was screaming "RUN - RUN LIKE THE WIND! YOU CAN NOT DO THIS. THERE IS NO WAY YOU CAN DO THIS." I looked at Bernie with tears in my eyes. He knew what I was thinking. He said "Penny, I really need you right now. I can not do this alone. Can you hang in there and help me?" I really didn't think I could. I finally managed to eek out a small "Yea."

We managed to get the hive lined up - but not before my glove was attacked by 5 bees when I was aligning the super with the rest of the hive. I screamed like a girl, but managed not to flail and although I wouldn't use the word "calm", I would say that I quickly brushed the bees onto the trailer side.

Every bone in my body was shaking and my teeth were chattering and I wanted to cry, but I stuck with it. One by one, we slid each hive into the open, lined up all the supers, and used a tie down strap to secure the hive and make sure it didn't shift open as we carried it to it's stand. The hives are full of bees and honey right now and they are very heavy. I was terrified I would drop my end of them as we moved them. But I didn't! In hindsight, we should have used the tie down straps to secure the hives BEFORE we even started the transportation out of PA - but we didn't know. We do now!

This whole process was nerve wracking for me, but we got all 6 hives situated on thier new stands. We put away all the extra stuff we had, and then Bernie suited up in the bee outfit and went to each hive and untaped the openings. Those bees were happy to be free! They immediately began flying all around the hives. I took pictures (from quite a distance with the zoom lens dialed in) and put them up on the website.

Now that the bees are there and calmly flying about, I am thrilled to pieces! They really are beautiful. They still scare me to death, but I'm really pleased they look so darn happy.

I have a tshirt that says "Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision." I can honestly say I exhibited both fear and courage today. I can not describe the immense fear I had of dealing with those bees today. I also can not describe how couragious I feel that I I made the decision to do it! It was not easy. It was probably one of the scariest things I've ever done. Very little really scares me. But these bees......

So that's the buzz. We have bees and I'm couragious. All in all a successful weekend.

Bee free ;-),

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Good stuff, cheap!

I meant to mention this in my last post, and got carried away with extreme holiday cheer, and ended up forgetting to add it.

Remember Patty - the lady that I hooked up with on Freecycle that ended up giving us a bounty of building material? Well, Patty sent me an urgent email this morning "There's a guy at the Flea Market you need to talk to. Call me when you get this!!!!" Very exciting. My heart was racing as I dialed her number. She informed me this guy at the Flea Market has a BUNCH of brand new, quality stuff and it's really inexpensive. He has all kind of doors, kitchen faucets, bathroom fixtures, and just a bunch of stuff. It's brand new! So she told me to go by the Flea Market and get his phone number so we can get in touch with him when we start building.

So Bernie and I ran by the Flea Market and talk to this guy. He's got a lot of stuff - it's really nice and it's really inexpensive. He told us he bought the inventory of a local business that went out of business. He's selling the stuff and then he's done. He's not replinishing it. He gave me his phone number.

I got a hold of Patty when we got home, and she and I have decided to go one night after work this week and look at what he has. I'm pretty excited. Patty is really cool and I'm happy to be spending a little time with her. And we may get some really good deals! I'll let y'all know how it goes.

Live Free,

Is It Really December Already????

Man, this year is flying by. I mean seriously, wasn't it only a few weeks ago we were sweating like pigs, clearing out underbrush from the woods on our property? How can it suddenly be December?

The realization that Christmas is right around the corner and I haven't bought a single gift forced me to spend most of my Saturday frantically whipping up Christmas gifts like an insane woman. If you are on my Christmas gift list, you will either be getting a gift card, or a home made gift. We can't afford to give everyone a gift card, so don't get excited - I'm not giving you a choice. Some of you will get the short stick and be the recipient of a home made gift. I look at it this way - it's a GIFT for heaven's sake! Be happy I thought of you and please have the good grace to act appreciative. If not, I'll be happy to drop you from my gift list next year. Oh, and Merry Christmas.

So that's how I spent MOST of my Saturday on the Homestead. We got there Friday night and it was dark and in the 60's. By Saturday morning it was in the 30's and didn't get out of the 40's all day. So we woke up Saturday morning, bundled up, and headed out at 8AM to go to a couple's house were we took apart a portion of a patio that a couple told us they wanted to get rid of. So after about an hour and a half of work, we had almost 700 beautiful red brick paver bricks - free! This was a result of a Freecycle ad I put out asking for bricks. If you haven't signed up yet, you better hurry before we get all the good stuff!

After we unloaded all the pavers we got, we went inside and Bernie got a nice fire going. He spent the evening beside the fire watching really dumb SciFi movies, and I worked like a slave to get all the Christmas gifts made. I'm not sure why he never has to participate in the joyous activities involved with getting Christmas gifts, but he doesn't. I'm not really angry about that, but I am a little bitter. But his answer to "We need to get gifts" is "No, we don't", so I know if I insisted, we would be at logger heads. So I just do it, and he just watches TV.

But I did kind of get him back, without even trying. Today he walks into the room and informs me "You know, a gun rack is really just a gun rack. It's made with the intention that guns will be hung from it. It's not made to act as a clothes rack to dry delicate female clothing. It's a manly piece of furniture, and it's meant to do manly things. Like hang guns." Maybe next time he'll help me with Christmas gifts.

Next weekend we really are going to get our bees. Six hives of them. We're heading out to get them Saturday morning. We're pretty excited. We need to get them home and settled so we can have honey next year and I can make some candles. I need some new Christmas gift items.

Live Free,

Saturday, November 25, 2006

All Good Things Must Come to an End - Day 8 on the Homestead

It's really hard to believe we've been out here for over a week. How can time pass so quickly? As I suspected, the time here has only made us yearn to make it permanent. I know we'll sell our house in town eventually, but it can not happen soon enough.

I intended to write in the blog a few more times, but in all the activity, time just seemed to slip away. Thanksgiving Day was really nice. Bernie and had a huge meal with all the fixings. Eddie came out early that morning to hunt with his brother and 6 year old nephew. They came in to warm up and have some coffee around 9:30AM, headed back out to hunt a little while later, and then home to their own Thanksgiving meals. We were pleasantly surprised when Eddie called Thursday afternoon and asked if he and Gigi could come stay the night in the cabin. We went down and fired up the woodstove for them and made up a bed. They got there around 7PM and we sat in the cabin and visited a while. Bernie and I headed back to the house an hour or so later, and spent some time digesting the huge meal we had eaten earlier.

Friday morning Eddie was out hunting early, and Gigi took advantage of escaping her home full of teenagers and slept in. Bernie and I had business in Woodstock to tend to, so we headed that way fairly early. By late morning we all ended up in the kitchen of the house drinking coffee. Eddie had shot 2 deer over the past couple of days, so Bernie and Eddie skinned and cut them up, and then Gigi and I spent a lot of the afternoon processing it. We ended up with several steaks, a fair amount of back strap, and a few bags of burger. After a nice supper of turkey chili and melted cheese and chips, we split up the processed deer and Eddie and Gigi headed home to Front Royal.

This morning I woke with a heavy heart, knowing it's the last day of our vacation on our homestead. I've been trying not to think of it, but I admit it's been weighing on me. I really love this place so much. I keep up with the Homesteading Today forums and I just love it when the members post pictures of their goats and chickens. It really makes me smile to see them and I am SO looking forward to getting out here on a permanent basis and getting some of our own.

Eddie had mentioned he may come out again this morning to hunt, but he typically parks down by the cabin and walks up, so we never know he's here until he shows up. I looked out the front window of the house about 8AM and was surprised to see his car parked at the end of our driveway. I was even more surprised to see a buck laying on the hood of the car! I didn't know whether to smile with pleasure or cry. After processing two deer yesterday, I was not in any itching hurry to process another one. And it also did not escape me that he was out hunting again! Eddie, his brother, and his nephew came in for coffee around 10AM. After discussing the hunt and how he bagged the buck, I finally summoned enough courage to comment "I guess we'll be processing that deer today". I was pretty relieved to learn that no one was all that excited about the prospect of it, and we agreed to cut it up, put it on ice, and take care of it during the week. Yay! I don't mean to sound like I'm complaining. I really don't mind processing the deer and am very grateful that Eddie always splits his kill with us, but I confess the thought of processing one today just did not appeal to me. Bernie likes to keep them in ice and let them bleed out a bit, so we'll probably take care of this one Monday or Tuesday, along with another deer that a friend is giving Eddie.

So in one week we'll end up with 2 whole deer in the freezer. Not bad! I'm pretty happy about that.

All in all it has been a really nice week on the homestead. Bernie and I accomplished a little around here, enjoyed the company of good friends, and have a freezer full of deer. And I think we are going to go get Bernie's bees next weekend. We're pretty excited about that.

Next week we'll be back in Front Royal and back to working in DC. As much as we'd rather be on our homestead permanently, we know that we are working toward it and we hope that it is in the not so distant future.

I hope each of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and took some time to consider all you have to be thankful for. This week Bernie and I spent some time talking about everything we are thankful for. The list is long. Life has been good to us. We are fortunate to have found each other - heaven knows no one else would put up with us. And I firmly believe that together we can do whatever we set our minds to do. I'm never sure if we are optomistic, or just to dumb to realize differently. In either case, life is certainly good on Penny Lane. And I have no doubt that we will soon be here on a permanent basis.

Live Free,

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Slinging Mud - Day 5 on the Homestead

Well, it's Wednesday, and we've been on the homestead for 5 days today. I can not tell you how much we've enjoyed it. I'm worried we won't be able to leave at the end of the week. We could definitely get used to being here.

The last two days have been full of taking care of things around here. Today I didn't work from home, and dedicated the day to mudding and taping the Great Divide. While I was at it, I decided to take care of another wall in the kitchen. When they put this place together they threw up sheet rock and instead of mudding and taping them together, put a strip in the seams. I HATE that. It looks just awful and just how the heck can you hang pictures with that bulging strip every few feet. So I decided to test a small area in the kitchen, remove the seam strips, and tape and mud over them.

I have to explain something here, "I" ended up doing this because Bernie had some stuff to do outside, so I thought I'd get started in the house on the walls. Well, sure enough, he comes in as I'm in the middle of mudding and says "Boy. You've got some sanding to do." I've got some sanding to do???? I asked him why this is my project and he replied it's mine because I said I wanted to do it. We argued back and forth for a minute, and then I realized what would seal my fate...... I am standing there arguing with a mud bucket in one hand and a mud blade in the other, and he is standing there arguing with his hands in his pockets. *Sigh* I guess this is indeed my project.

At any rate, I got the Great Divide mudded and taped, and I got one kitchen wall mudded and taped. This is not for the faint of heart, but if you are feeling brave you can take a look at my handy work on our website. I updated it with pictures towards the bottom.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day and I'll be spending it in the kitchen, cooking with a fury. I hope each of you has a wonderful Thanksgiving Day where ever you are, and whom ever you are with. It will be just me and Bernie here at the homestead. We'll miss our families terribly, but we'll enjoy our time here and remember each of the people and things that we are thankful for. And although he won't mention it tomorrow, I know Bernie is really thankful he didn't have to watch me mud and tape.

Be free!

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Great Divide on Day 3 of Our Week on the Homestead

Today was day 3 of our week on the homestead. I could get used to this. Today I had to log in on my laptop and work from home, which I really didn't mind. Bernie and Tex started the Great Divide project, which involved putting up a wall between the kitchen and the living room. It was an interesting day.

I holed up in a bedroom so I could get some work done, and desperately tried not to listen to the two of them as they worked. Tex brought his dog, Bobo and since Bobo and I are such good buddies, he joined me in the bedroom and curled up on the bed. We stayed in there quite some time before we decided we needed to venture out of the bedroom and through the wasteland we last recognized as my living room. I needed to get a glass of water, and Bobo needed to go outside and potty. We talked about it for a while and decided to take the chance. I swear Bobo kept his eyes closed as he headed from the bedroom, through the living room and out the door to go potty.

I was pleasantly surprised! It looked like a real wall was going up. Between the "Uh oh" and "Well, I never said I was a carpenter" comments we had overheard, Bobo and I were uncertain what we would face when we came out of the bedroom. But the guys were doing a great job! So I snapped a couple of pictures and let Bobo back in and then followed him to the bedroom - which is were he headed at a gallop.

The day wore on and I got a fair amount of work done. I ventured out on occasion to take a picture or two, but Bobo refused to leave the bed. He was pretty nervous about the whole thing. Finally, I logged off for the day and came out to examine the work that had been done so far. Not bad. Not bad at all. In fact, it was downright good! I was pleased as punch. Bobo wandered out and wagged his tail. We both agreed that we had worried for nothing. The guys knew what they were doing.

I put pictures up on the website. Check them out.

Bobo went home one happy puppy. And I stayed here one happy wife. The Great Divide has been constructed. Bernie and I will tape, mud, paint and trim it soon. We'll probably start on that tomorrow. I'll post more pictures on the website as we go.

Live Free,

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Start of a Week on the Homestead

Well, Friday we started our first full week and a few days on our homestead. This is the second full day and what I thought would be a totally secluded weekend, has been anything but. It's not been bad, just busier than hell and full of human contact. Fortunately for us, we rather like the majority of the humans we've been exposed to.

Friday began our busy weekend as we took the truck to work and then swung by a friend's house to pick up appliances. Alicia and her husband are remodeling a new home they recently bought - and they donated a washer, dryer, refrigerator, microwave, and automatic dish washer to us. Is that nice or what??? So we loaded all that up just outside of DC and looked like the Beverly Hillbillies as we headed down the highway for home. We swung by Front Royal, loaded up a weeks worth of supplies to take out to the homestead and ran by Tex's place to drop off the washer, dryer, and microwave on our way out of town. Tex and Charlotte are sweethearts, and insisted we keep the washer and dryer to use out at our homestead for the week. That really works out well for us, and we really appreciate it as it saves me from running back to Front Royal or to a laundry mat mid week. I've already used them twice and they work like a charm!

We made it to the homestead Friday night, got everything unloaded but the appliances, and called it a night. Saturday morning I surprised Bernie and got up when he did - at 5:30AM. We enjoyed our morning caffeine, caught up on the news of the world, got cleaned up and filled with breakfast, and then decided to unload the appliances off the truck. Bernie opened the front door just as our friend Eddie was walking into the front yard. He had told us he would be hunting the property that day and we were pleasantly surprised that he was ready for some coffee about the time we needed to do some heavy work. Well, at least I was happy because that meant I wouldn't have to do any heavy lifting. I made the coffee. Which seemed much appreciated. Eddie also had his brother and nephew with him, so I'm pretty sure that even Bernie didn't have to lift all that much. They got the washer and dryer inside the house, and the refrigerator, stove and dishwasher off the truck. While they took the frig down to put inside the cabin, I hooked up the washer and checked it out. The dryer needed a different plug, so I couldn't test that. At any rate, the Great White Hunters drank some coffee and headed back out in search of food. Bernie and I took off for Winchester to rustle up the new plug for the dryer and the building material to put up a wall in the house between the living room and the kitchen. If I'm in the kitchen doing anything, the noise seems to bounce off the walls in the living room. And heaven knows I don't want to be responsible for ruining a football game on the TV with a home made meal of any type. So the Great Divide project begins tomorrow.

Saturday morning we greeted the day at 6:30AM. Around 7:30AM I was day dreaming while looking out the window and I noticed evidence that we had a visitor while we slept last night. The bird feeders I made from soda bottles and hung from a tree (check out Kids Corner on our website for pictures) were gone. As I looked a little closer, I could see one of them in the distance on the ground. I went outside and inspected and sure enough, there is very strong evidence of a bear. We've seen signs of bear here and we know they are around, but they've never messed with anything before. Well, I guess that bird seed was just a little more temptation than they could stand. The tree branches the feeders hung from are clawed up and one is missing a fair amount of bark. The feeders themselves are torn to shreds - one was left several feet away and I found the other one in the woods a fair distance off. I took some pictures and put them on our website.

By 8:30AM we were on our way to Front Royal to meet Tex and head over to a couple's house that I met on Freecycle. If you've not joined Freecycle yet, I highly recommend it. As you may have gathered by it's name, this is group you can join and get stuff for free! Good stuff! You may advertise stuff you have to give away or stuff you are looking for. I advertised that I was looking for any building materials. And within minutes I had a note from Patty that she and her husband live right down the road from our Front Royal home and they had 4 windows to give us, as soon as they were ready to replace them with some new ones they bought. Within the next few days, Patty and Mike had dug out a brand new metal outer door (prehung), a brand new inside door, 4 beautiful wooden pillars with the feet, new outdoor carriage lights, insulation, several bifold doors, window shutters, and heaven knows what else! Tex and Bernie each have a fullsize pickup truck, and we had 2 truck loads full of wonderful stuff that Patty and Mike donated to us. They also sold us a gas stove heater and a huge load of 2 X 4s and OSB boards cheap! As much as we very much appreciate all that we were given, we are even more appeciative to have met 2 very nice people. They are generous to a fault and just down right nice. We were there about 2 hours and by the time we left Patty and I were talking like we were childhood friends. Very nice experience all the way around.

We took our bounty to Tex's place and he's storing it in his barn. Tex and Charlotte are family to us, and we share just about everything. We are fortunate to have such good friends. In fact, Tex is coming out tomorrow to help Bernie erect the Great Divide. I'll get some pics of the project.

So today ends our second full day at the homestead. I can't tell you how nice it is to know we'll be here tomorrow instead of fighting our way into the city to work. I'm still working tomorrow - but my job has agreed to let me do it from the homestead. How nice is that??? So while Bernie and Tex labor on the Great Divide, I'll be holed up and working on my computer. I am still on the hook to supply breakfast and lunch for the laborers, but the rest of the time I will be peacefully working on my computer. I can't wait! And I plan to prepare supper tomorrow night knowing that the results of Monday Night Football will be unaffected by the banging and clanging of pots from the kitchen. Life is good on Penny Lane!

I plan to update the blog every night or two while we're out here and keep y'all up to date on what we're up to this week. Happy Thanksgiving week to all of you from both of us!

Live Free,

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Homestead from the Sky and other stuff

Two posts in one day - I'm quite ambitious, aren't I? Actually, after I posted the last entry, Bernie reminded me that I had pictures I hadn't put on the website yet. Last weekend I finally cleaned up his backhoe and got some pictures of all my hardwork. And Bernie finally went flying with Garrett and got some pictures of the homestead from the sky. I put these plus pictures of the Trail Wagon up on the website. Check them out at the bottom of the pictures here.

Live Free,

Happy Veteran's Day Weekend!

I want to take a moment and thank all veterans of the U.S.A. for their service to this great nation - past, present, and future. For all it's problems, there is no greater nation on the planet and we owe this to the veterans who have given of themselves to make this country what it is. A big thank you to each of you.

Because it was Veteran's Day, Bernie and I had Friday off from work, so we were able to head out to the homestead on Thursday night. Thursday was an absolute gift of a day as far as weather goes during the month of November. It was in the 70's all day. By the time we arrived at the homestead it had cooled off to the lower 60's, but who can complain about that?

Last weekend was nice for November, but much cooler and a little windy. After such a horrible commute from work that Friday night, we didn't head to the homestead until Saturday morning. We got there, unpacked the truck, and spent the day just relaxing. We had a nice surprise Sunday when Tex, Charlotte, Eddie, and Gigi joined us for breakfast on the homestead. What a great day! We walked through the woods, sat outsided and chatted, and just enjoyed the day together. We even had a couple of friends (Jeff and Connie) from SC stop by for an hour or so. They were heading back home from a weekend in NJ and decided to visit for few minute. Jeff, Connie, Eddie and Gigi ended up leaving around 2PM, and Tex and Charlotte stayed until dark. It was really unexpected and really nice.

At any rate, this Friday was yet another absolutely gorgeous day - in the 70's and bright sunshine. We had planned to work on clearing some more land, but decided to head into town to buy a few items that we've had on the shopping list for quite some time (ie: fire extinguishers, blinds for windows, etc.). So after a hearty meal of biscuits, gravy, and sausage, we headed into metropolis of Woodstock to scare up the items we needed. We didn't get home until around 1:30PM or so, and by then it was really too late to start clearing out land, don't you think? OK, maybe it wasn't, but the weather was just so nice.... and how many days like THIS are we going to get in November? Plus we had a couple of rifles that were just begging to shoot at a couple of targets, so.... we ended up shooting for a couple of hours.

Bernie bought me the cutest New England Arms rifle/shotgun. It has interchangeable rifle and shotgun barrels. It is just the most perfect size for me and I love it. There's only one problem. I can't hit anything I aim at with it. And I'm usually a pretty good shot. Bernie is actually an expert marksman with a rifle, and he worked with it a bit on Friday and determined it really needs to be sighted in. So he messed with it a while, but we both got tired of running down range to holler back where the bullet hit, so we decided to wait until a time when we can bring out binoculars and make the job a little easier. We were there to have fun, and sighting that thing in quickly became very NOT fun. So we shot 2 of the rifles Bernie brought out and had a hoot doing it. We decided to work on clearing the land on Saturday and headed in to start supper.

Well, Saturday morning came and as usual, Bernie was up before me. As I stumbled in the kitchen for coffee, Bernie casually said "Remember that little Trail Wagon we saw yesterday? I was just sitting here thinking how much fun YOU would have in that thing. I mean, it has 4 wheel drive and could easily pull the saw mill, but I think YOU'D really like it. And you're always hauling stuff around here and you have to bungie it to the ATV. You could just throw the stuff you're hauling in the bed of the Trail Wagon. You could really use something like that. Just imagine how much fun you'd have driving that thing. I can just see you now. Anyway, I was just sitting here thinking about it."

OK, we've been married going on 20 years. I know this man. And even though I had not had my morning coffee yet, I easily figured out this was something he really wanted. My first clue was the fact that he was determined to convince me that I would really enjoy it and I really need it.

I simply replied "Yea, that was a pretty cool little vehicle" and poured my coffee. When I had finished about half my coffee and had some time to figure out our finances I asked "Do you really want that thing?"

"Well, I was just thinking how handy it would be for you." I looked at him sideways. "I mean, just think about how handy it would be." He proceeded to make his case and ended it with "You take care of all our finances, and I know we've been saving to buy things we need for this place, but this is something I think we really need."

So needless to say, we got cleaned up, scarfed down a couple of sausage biscuits and headed back to the great metropolis of Woodstock to rescue the Trail Wagon. I figured it would take a few hours. So much for clearing land today.

As it turned out, paying for and loading the Trail Wagon took only a matter of about 15 minutes. What ended taking up an additional hour and a half was the fact that we discovered our truck inspection sticker was dead. It was 1 month over due. So after we picked up the Trail Wagon, we hung out with a group of people who were as pleased as we were to spend a significant chunk of their Saturday waiting on their vehicles to be inspected. Oh well. We read up on the Trail Wagon and Bernie helped some poor stranded guy heading from NJ to GA who was broken down with a bad wheel bearing. By the time the truck was finally inspected, Bernie and Poor Stranded Guy had the bearing in and the wheel back on and Poor Stranded Guy wished us happy holidays and headed down I-81 for GA. I said a little prayer that Poor Stranded Guy arrive safely in GA.

We finally made it back to the homestead around 1PM with the Trail Wagon proudly riding in the bed of the truck. As we pulled up to the driveway, our neighbor rode by and her 3 little tow headed boys screamed out the window "It's Bernie and Penny!!!" like we are rock stars. These are cute little kids. They are 6, 8, and 10 years old and for some reason think that we are their best friends. It's really flattering and we love when they come to visit. They spotted the Trail Wagon in the bed of the truck and sure enough, moments after we unloaded it they came up to visit. We rode them around in the trail wagon, taught them how to make a whistle out of an acorn, fed them bologna sandwiches for lunch, and then sent them on their way. I'll put some pictures of the Trail Wagon and the youngins riding it on the website in "Homestead Pictures" area when I finish this post.

By the time we finished playing with the Trail Wagon, it was time to start supper. So much for clearing land this weekend!

It was a wonderful time on the homestead this weekend. No, we really did not accomplish a thing, but we had a relaxing and calm weekend, and we need that every now and again.

Next weekend starts our "vacation" - we're taking the week off for Thanksgiving and spending it on the homestead. We can't wait! We were scheduled to pick up bees next weekend, but we have an opportunity to pick up a few truckloads of building material from a most generous couple (Mike and Patty) who are giving windows, columns, insulation, and many more items FREE for the outbuildings we have planned. I met them through when I placed a want ad for any free building materials. If you have not checked out that website, I highly recommend it. I can't believe how very generous Mike and Patty are and we will be supplied with items that would cost us a fair amount to purchase. I put out a simple ad, and through personal emails back and forth, I've ended up with more than I ever could have dreamed of. It confirms what I've always felt very strongly about - Americans are good and generous people. If you reach out, there is always someone there to help out where they can. Too cool. I'll let y'all know how next weekend goes and what all we end up with. At the very least, I've ended up with a new friend!

Live Free,

Friday, November 03, 2006

Well, THIS reminds me why I want to abandon the "city" life

What a freaking day. It started at 3:15 this morning, when my alarm jolted me awake by blaring what I would normally consider an absolutely spirit lifting song by "The Who". I slammed the snooze button down and pulled the covers over my head. Nine minutes later I was once again jolted awake, and decided to drag my dead tired butt out of bed and into the shower.

I guess this really is not so different from any other school day for us, and any day that starts at 3:15 in the morning can't be all good, but I feel I needed to tell you to make you feel a little pity for me as I continue with this story.

A little side note: In case you're new to the BackToBasicLiving website and aren't aware if our little journey, my husband and I are in our mid 40s. We live in a small town in the Shenandoah Valley and commute 150 miles a day, round trip, into Washington, DC to work. We recently had an epiphany and discovered that everything we've struggled for in all these years, is not worth it to us. We are now attempting to sell our home and move out to our 65 acres and homestead. Our goal is to get back to basic living and start enjoying life with purpose. You can read the whole story on our website, but not before you finish listening to me whine...... and by the way, if you are looking for a beautiful 3400 square foot home in the Front Royal area, WE HAVE YOUR DREAM HOME! Contact me immediately!

Where was I.... oh yea, so we're up at around 3:30AM, fight our way into the city to jobs that are killing us, and the whole time repeating to ourselves that "This is worth it. Tonight we will drive out to our homestead in the middle of 65 acres and life will be good." I'm serious. We're repeating that over and over again just to get through the day. So the day finally ends and I head out of DC to pick up my wonderful husband at 2:30PM. That sounds pretty early doesn't it? Seems like we got a pretty good start to the weekend, don't you think? We'll NO. NO it's NOT early ENOUGH. Seems EVERYONE and their brother ALSO thought it would be a really nifty idea to leave work at 2:30PM this afternoon and head to Front Royal on I-66.

The traffic was horrendous. But that's OK. I'm telling myself "This is worth it. Tonight we will drive out to our homestead in the middle of 65 acres and life will be good." So I was trying to not get too terribly stressed - and that ended up being a total waste of time. Because I DID get stressed. No, not just because of the traffic, which was obnoxiously, ridiculously, stupidly stupid. But because an 18 wheeler wrecked last night on I-66 around Delaplane and TONIGHT on I-66 they still had that section of the road down to 1 lane. No, that wasn't a typo. The accident was LAST night and they still haven't cleaned up from it TONIGHT. 24 hours later and an 18 wheeler carrying lumber is still wreaking havoc. LUMBER. Not one million gallons of gasoline, but lumber.

So we decide to take 55, which is a two lane road that parallels I-66. That should be better, right? WRONG. It probably would have been better if 19,000 other people didn't have this exact same idea in mind and if one of those 19,000 hadn't run into a tree in his/her excitement of escaping I-66.

So we finally make it past the moron that couldn't contain his excitement and are now are TWO hours into our 75 mile one way commute. And we are not happy. But finally, things start looking up. Everyone else decides to jump back up on I-66 after Delaplane. But we're smarter than that. Now I-66 will be congested with all these people diving back on, so we'll just STAY on 55 and outsmart them all! We'll be in Front Royal before they even finish merging onto I-66! We're brilliant - and we laugh maniacally. This is GREAT! Gawd, we are SO ..... yikes! What is THAT? Why is it going round in tight circles? And why is that pickup truck barely off the road with it's driver standing there scratching his head? Oh, I see. It is a deer in the middle of the road that has been clipped in the hind end by that pickup truck and now it's back legs don't work, so it's flailing wildly on it's front legs and can only go in a circle. In the middle of the freaking road. Great.

So here we are, 2 hours and some change into the commute from hell, staring at a flailing, injured deer standing between us and home, with no guns. Because even though we work in one of the most crime infested cities in the country, guns are illegal there. That's right, they are illegal - which honestly does not seem to bother the criminals that use them in that city every day. But we are law abiding citizens for the most part, so we have no gun on us for this particular situation. Fortunately, a good ol' boy that WAS prepared pulled over to help out, so we eaked between the deer and it's poor victim and continued down the road.

I am proud to report there were no other major events in our journey and we pulled into our driveway a mere 2 hours and 45 minutes after leaving work. I am not kidding. 2 hours and 45 minutes. The sad news is we were so frustrated and irritated from the commute, that we decided to wait until tomorrow to go out to the homestead. After being on the road for 2 hours and 45 minutes, neither of us had the heart to pack up the truck and drive the additional 40 miles. How sad is that?

Well, the good news is we ordered a pizza and drank a couple of beers and are feeling much better now. We'll be heading out to the property tomorrow morning and I'm really looking forward to it. Bernie's excited too - right after he bought his back hoe off of ebay, I promised I would clean the inside of it for him. As exciting as that job sounds, I've been putting it off. Tomorrow I'm taking all the cleaning supplies out and cleaning that thing for him. He couldn't be happier. He's so darn easy to please..... which probably explains why he's stayed married to me for going on 20 years.

Sorry this is not my normal "homesteading is great" post. It probably would be if we were actually homesteading as I write this. But today was reality. And it really serves to remind me why we decided to give up this lifestyle in the first place. It's just not worth it. I'd rather be out on our property and working 12 hours a day there to make ends meet than continue to live a life that sucks the life blood out of us. I guess you never know what you left behind until you leave it. I look forward to leaving it. Yes, we'll know what we left behind. And it won't take us 2 hours and 45 minutes to come to the conclusion that we don't miss it.

Live Free,

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Fall at the Homestead

For a change, I've decided to write this blog while I am actually at the homestead this weekend, rather than after we return back to town and begin our hectic work week.

I can not describe what it's like just to get to our homestead after a week of getting up at 3:15AM each morning and commuting 150 miles a day to DC. By Friday, we are exhausted and very much ready to get out to our property and enjoy the solitude and quietness this fortress offers us. We typically get back to our home in town from work on Fridays, pack up the truck with the groceries and items we want to take with us, and begin the 40 mile trek to the homestead. With each mile that brings us closer to our homestead, we feel the stress of the week slowly losing it's grip. By the time we get our driveway, we typically let out a sigh, and the last trace of stress leaves us as our shoulders relax and feel much less heavy.

Last night it was raining buckets as we pulled up to our little home in the woods.It was so beautiful I could have cried. It's certainly fall now, and the rain falling on the trees so bright with fall colors was just awesome. They seemed to sparkle. The grass looks so green and it's coming in so thick and full. What a beautiful sight! I could have sat in the truck and looked at it all night - not only because it was such a breath taking view, but because it was raining and cold and I wasn't at all excited about facing that to get in the house!

It rained all night, and it was a little foggy when the sun rose this morning, but the sun burned that off pretty quickly. When we're in town, I wake up before Bernie and get my shower before getting him up to face the rat-race of a day we are sure to have. On our homestead we reverse this. Bernie is usually up by 6AM, and I don't usually crawl out of bed until 7AM or so. Today was no different and as I staggered into the kitchen to make my coffee, he was already catching up on the news. I really love the sight of him sitting here, in the middle of our property, in our little home. He looks so relaxed and happy.

By 10AM we were outside insulating the well tank and installing the heat tape Bernie bought. When we finished that, we filled the log splitter, lawn mower, and ATV with the gas we brought out for that purpose. Bernie headed back into the house to get a nice fire going in the fireplace, and I took off on the ATV to staple the "No Hunting" signs we brought out a while ago. We get a little concerned about rogue hunters coming on to the property to hunt. This 65 acres has sat vacant for many years and even though we've owned it for a few, this is our first fall with a home on it. I'd hate to have to worry about hunters while we are in the yard working. At any rate, I got some signs up and Bernie got a nice fire going. When I got back, we relocated the firewood to a spot under a shelter we put up this summer. That took us quite a while, but we both feel better, knowing the wood now has a little more protection from rain than it had in the backyard under a tarp that the wind often blew off.

Right now we're sitting in the living room, toasty warm from the nice fire in the fireplace. I'm fixing to go in and start the lasagne we'll have for supper, but I wanted to take a moment and attempt to share our weekend.

We've decided to spend the week of Thanksgiving out here, on the homestead. I get excited just thinking about it. We've taken a few vacations in our life together, but I believe this will be the nicest yet! We're also planning to pick up our honey bees that week and bring them out to thier new home. We know nothing about honey bees, but we are both excited to learn.

OK, that's it for today. I need to go get supper started. I have some relaxing to do as soon as I finish that up.

Live free!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Freedom and Life in General

Among the many reasons Bernie and I made the decision to start down the path toward homesteading, is the fact that we are very concerned about the direction this country is headed. We feel it is not only desirable, but necessary to become more self sufficient. At the risk of sounding like an alarmist, I would say the fear of a collapse of our monetary system is at the top of our concerns.

Freedom to Fascism is an excellent video on the subject of the 16th Amendment, taxes, and the state of our monetary system. It's rather long, but I feel it is well worth the time to watch it and decide for yourself how you feel about the information. At the very least, I think it will give you pause for concern, and maybe lead you to looking into this subject a little more on your own. It's something to think about - and perhaps prepare for.

On a lighter note, we spent a whirl wind weekend out on the homestead. We started it on Friday night when we drove from Washington, DC to Richmond, Virginia for Delegate Janis' birthday party. We've attended the past couple of years and always have a great time, so it was hard to turn down the invitation. We left there around 9PM and headed out to the homestead. We arrived "home" just after midnight. It's the first time we've pulled up onto our property that late at night. I was impressed with the total darkness and calmness as we walked from the car to the house. It was so peaceful and so serene. We sat up talking until about 2AM and swore we were sleeping in late in the morning. When I got up at 8AM, Bernie was dressed and watching for deer out the living room window. So much for sleeping in.....

We spent Saturday splitting some logs from trees we had cut up earlier in the woods. We hauled the split wood up to the house and stacked it at the tree line by the house. We finally finished up around 5PM and came into the house to cook up some fish stew from some of the fish Daddy so generously provides us.

Sunday we got up, ate breakfast, and left around 10AM to head back into town. Bernie was supposed to go flying with a friend that has a 46 Luscomb, but that got cancelled due to the weather. He was looking forward to flying over the homestead and getting some pictures for us to put up on the website. That's OK. They'll reschedule and we'll get the pictures up there later. Instead, we spent the day working around our home in town and praying that we sell it soon.

Hey, we've scheduled the weekend before Thanksgiving to go get our honey bees! Six hives and the stuff that goes with owning bees. We're pretty excited. This will be a pretty cool adventure. I'll be certain to keep y'all up to date on that.

Live Free!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I feel I may have found a home on the Homesteading Today website. If you haven't checked them out yet, it's a pretty cool site with a lot of members - seems like most have been homesteading for a while, and some, like me, are preparing for it. Lots of good info there and lots of good people.

It's been a little while since I posted. We drove from Virginia to Texas for a few days for a bikers' rights related conference. We had a great time, and it was hosted by my Big Brother, so it was especially great for me.

We went out to the homestead to spend last weekend - we missed a weekend going to Texas, but what a difference the change in weather has made! The leaves are turning and the grass is coming in really nicely. The deer have changed their visitation schedule and now come even earlier in the morning. It was chilly while we were there and neither of us are cold weather people. We had a fire in the fireplace all weekend and I made a big pot of chili Saturday night. We had the yard to mow on Saturday, so that took most of the day. Next weekend we've got to get started cutting, splitting, and stacking some firewood. Did I mention we're not cold weather people?

I took a few pictures while we were out there. They're posted in the Homestead Pictures area of the BackToBasicLiving website. Scroll to the bottom of the page for the most recent pictures.

We haven't sold the house in town yet, but we're moving ahead as best we can. Our next adventure is getting 6 hives of honey bees! We have a friend who is selling his bees, hives, and accessories - he gave us a good deal. We'll be heading up to get them in November. We're pretty excited about it - I'll be sure to keep you updated and post some pictures of the little buggers.

It's really hard not to get bummed out about the housing market right now. We desperately want to sell our house in town and get back to basic living out on our homestead. But we made a deal with each other that we had to sell the house first, so that's that. If you know of anyone looking for a nice, 3400 square foot brick home in Front Royal, let me know!

Live free,

Monday, October 02, 2006

I've been reading up on the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). Scary stuff for anyone who homesteads or simply wants to raise livestock on a small scale (a goat, a chicken, etc.). Articles that I felt really did a great job of explaining what the NAIS is and where all this comes from are in the latest issue of Countryside & Small Stock Journal Magazine magazine. Check it out and see what you think.

This program has already been implemented. BUT if you are as worried about this as I am, there is something you can do to work to stop this program NOW. There is a bill in the House (H.R.6042) and a bill in the Senate (S.3862) to "amend the Animal Health Protection Act to prohibit the Secretary of Agriculture from implementing or carrying out a National Animal Identification System or similar requirement and to require the Secretary to protect information obtained as part of any voluntary animal identification system."

Each of us needs to contact our Senator and our Congressman and ask that these bills be supported. Don't know where to write? Well, find your Senator and contact information here. Enter your state name in the box at the top, right hand corner. Find your Congressman and contact information here. Enter your zip code or choose your Representatives name from the area in the middle at the top.

The NAIS program has been implemented. Now it's up to YOU to do something about it. The role of National Government is clearly spelled out in the Constitution of the United States - and clearly the NAIS is not included in the limited role of our national government. Are you content to let the government intrude into your lifestyle and personal liberties, or are you going to do something about it?

Write your civil servants today - and spread the word!!!

Live Free,

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Well, another weekend at the homestead has come and gone. We had plans to do a fair amount of work outside, but once again it rained all day Saturday. It's hard to get upset about that for a couple of reasons though 1) the grass seed we've been sowing desperately needs some water and 2) being forced to chill out is difficult to complain about! I spent some time working on my website. There are some little things and a few big things that I've been really wanting to do, but finding a couple of "free" hours while trying to maintain 2 homes, sell one of them, and work full time has been a little challenging. So I took advantage of the "down time" and did just a little work on the Back to Basic Living website. Check it out.

You know, I've been thinking about the story I posted yesterday "Life Without Left Turns". I still think it's a very touching, humorous story that makes me long for a simpler life, but I also got to wondering if perhaps the author's father just simply wasn't one to take any chances in life. It's rather difficult to judge that reading this story, but it gave just enough information to make me wonder.

Lord knows I love living and have plans to do a bunch more of it, but I can't imagine what life would be like if I avoided all risks. I like to believe the risks I take are carefully thought out, but there are some things I do that make others swear I've lost my mind. For example, the fact that Bernie and I plan to sell our home in town, quit our jobs and move out to the country and begin our lives as homesteaders. There are many people who understand and support our effort, but there are probably plenty more that think we're insane to quit good paying jobs and take a chance earning money month to month doing whatever we come up with to make a dollar or two. To us, it's worth taking a chance that we can make the money we need to survive and living a less complicated life, and end up with a healthier and happier life than making a bunch of money working in the city. Many think that financial independence is worth more than personal independence. For some that may be true. For us it's not. It may be a risk, but it's one worth taking. Although it's scary to some degree, being too afraid to do something we desire so much would be crippling to us.

So I guess life without left turns must be nice in many ways. But not if that means yearning to go down that road to the left and never experiencing what's there because you're afraid of the risk. Life is full of risks. It's one of the many things that makes it all so interesting and fun!

Left turns, right turns, and straight of ways all come with risks. Live life to the fullest and with purpose. We're all going to "go" at some point - I just don't want my final thought to be "If I had only had the courage to........"

Live free.


Friday, September 29, 2006

A life without left turns. How different would that be? How difficult would we find it? A friend of mine sent me this link to an article that I found touching and something to reflect upon. Life without left turns may seem silly and pretty much impossible, but after reading how Michael Gartner's father accomplished it, it made me yearn for a time when I can afford a life without left turns - a time when life is more simple. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. Thanks GirlGeek.


A life without left turns
By Michael Gartner

My father never drove a car.

Well, that's not quite right.

I should say I never saw him drive a car. He quit driving in 1927, when he was 25 years old, and the last car he drove was a 1926 Whippet.

"In those days," he told me when he was in his 90s, "to drive a car you had to do things with your hands, and do things with your feet, and look every which way, and I decided you could walk through life and enjoy it or drive through life and miss it."

At which point my mother, a sometimes salty Irishwoman, chimed in:

"Oh, bull——!" she said. "He hit a horse."

"Well," my father said, "there was that, too."

So my brother and I grew up in a household without a car. The neighbors all had cars — the Kollingses next door had a green 1941 Dodge, the VanLaninghams across the street a gray 1936 Plymouth, the Hopsons two doors down a black 1941 Ford — but we had none. My father, a newspaperman in Des Moines, would take the streetcar to work and, often as not, walk the 3 miles home. If he took the streetcar home, my mother and brother and I would walk the three blocks to the streetcar stop, meet him and walk home together.

Our 1950 Chevy

My brother, David, was born in 1935, and I was born in 1938, and sometimes, at dinner, we'd ask how come all the neighbors had cars but we had none. "No one in the family drives," my mother would explain, and that was that. But, sometimes, my father would say, "But as soon as one of you boys turns 16, we'll get one."

It was as if he wasn't sure which one of us would turn 16 first.

But, sure enough, my brother turned 16 before I did, so in 1951 my parents bought a used 1950 Chevrolet from a friend who ran the parts department at a Chevy dealership downtown. It was a four-door, white model, stick shift, fender skirts, loaded with everything, and, since my parents didn't drive, it more or less became my brother's car.

Having a car but not being able to drive didn't bother my father, but it didn't make sense to my mother. So in 1952, when she was 43 years old, she asked a friend to teach her to drive. She learned in a nearby cemetery, the place where I learned to drive the following year and where, a generation later, I took my two sons to practice driving. The cemetery probably was my father's idea. "Who can your mother hurt in the cemetery?" I remember him saying once.

For the next 45 years or so, until she was 90, my mother was the driver in the family. Neither she nor my father had any sense of direction, but he loaded up on maps — though they seldom left the city limits — and appointed himself navigator. It seemed to work.

The ritual walk to church

Still, they both continued to walk a lot. My mother was a devout Catholic, and my father an equally devout agnostic, an arrangement that didn't seem to bother either of them through their 75 years of marriage. (Yes, 75 years, and they were deeply in love the entire time.) He retired when he was 70, and nearly every morning for the next 20 years or so, he would walk with her the mile to St. Augustin's Church. She would walk down and sit in the front pew, and he would wait in the back until he saw which of the parish's two priests was on duty that morning. If it was the pastor, my father then would go out and take a 2-mile walk, meeting my mother at the end of the service and walking her home. If it was the assistant pastor, he'd take just a 1-mile walk and then head back to the church.

He called the priests "Father Fast" and "Father Slow."

After he retired, my father almost always accompanied my mother whenever she drove anywhere, even if he had no reason to go along. If she were going to the beauty parlor, he'd sit in the car and read, or go take a stroll or, if it was summer, have her keep the engine running so he could listen to the Cubs game on the radio. (In the evening, then, when I'd stop by, he'd explain: "The Cubs lost again. The millionaire on second base made a bad throw to the millionaire on first base, so the multimillionaire on third base scored.") If she were going to the grocery store, he would go along to carry the bags out — and to make sure she loaded up on ice cream.

As I said, he was always the navigator, and once, when he was 95 and she was 88 and still driving, he said to me, "Do you want to know the secret of a long life?" "I guess so," I said, knowing it probably would be something bizarre.

"No left turns," he said.

"What?" I asked.

"No left turns," he repeated. "Several years ago, your mother and I read an article that said most accidents that old people are in happen when they turn left in front of oncoming traffic. As you get older, your eyesight worsens, and you can lose your depth perception, it said. So your mother and I decided never again to make a left turn."

"What?" I said again. "No left turns," he said. "Think about it. Three rights are the same as a left, and that's a lot safer. So we always make three rights."

"You're kidding!" I said, and I turned to my mother for support. "No," she said, "your father is right. We make three rights. It works."

But then she added: "Except when your father loses count."

I was driving at the time, and I almost drove off the road as I started laughing. "Loses count?" I asked. "Yes," my father admitted, "that sometimes happens. But it's not a problem. You just make seven rights, and you're okay again."

I couldn't resist. "Do you ever go for 11?" I asked.

"No," he said. "If we miss it at seven, we just come home and call it a bad day. Besides, nothing in life is so important it can't be put off another day or another week."

My mother was never in an accident, but one evening she handed me her car keys and said she had decided to quit driving. That was in 1999, when she was 90. She lived four more years, until 2003. My father died the next year, at 102. They both died in the bungalow they had moved into in 1937 and bought a few years later for $3,000. (Sixty years later, my brother and I paid $8,000 to have a shower put in the tiny bathroom — the house had never had one. My father would have died then and there if he knew the shower cost nearly three times what he paid for the house.) He continued to walk daily — he had me get him a treadmill when he was 101 because he was afraid he'd fall on the icy sidewalks but wanted to keep exercising — and he was of sound mind and sound body until the moment he died.

A happy life

One September afternoon in 2004, he and my son went with me when I had to give a talk in a neighboring town, and it was clear to all three of us that he was wearing out, though we had the usual wide-ranging conversation about politics and newspapers and things in the news. A few weeks earlier, he had told my son, "You know, Mike, the first hundred years are a lot easier than the second hundred." At one point in our drive that Saturday, he said, "You know, I'm probably not going to live much longer." "You're probably right," I said. "Why would you say that?" he countered, somewhat irritated. "Because you're 102 years old," I said. "Yes," he said, "you're right." He stayed in bed all the next day. That night, I suggested to my son and daughter that we sit up with him through the night. He appreciated it, he said, though at one point, apparently seeing us look gloomy, he said: "I would like to make an announcement. No one in this room is dead yet." An hour or so later, he spoke his last words:

"I want you to know," he said, clearly and lucidly, "that I am in no pain. I am very comfortable. And I have had as happy a life as anyone on this earth could ever have."

A short time later, he died.

I miss him a lot, and I think about him a lot. I've wondered now and then how it was that my family and I were so lucky that he lived so long.

I can't figure out if it was because he walked through life.

Or because he quit taking left turns.

Michael Gartner has been editor of newspapers large and small and president of NBC News. In 1997, he won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

It's Saturday, and we arrived here at the homestead last night. It's a pretty slow weekend for us - the weather is kind of forcing us to relax a bit, instead of catching up on all the outside work we need to do. It's a bit rainy and cloudy. Perfect opportunity for Bernie to clean some rifles, which is exactly what he is doing as I write this.

We got the phone line and DSL installed here last weekend. The DSL far exceeds my expectations. We have a cable connection at our home in town, and this DSL rivals the speed we get there. Very nice.

I took some pictures of the personal rifle rack Bernie and Tex built last weekend. I'll get those up on the website soon, along with a description of how they built it. I really think you'll like it - it's pretty cool and very functional. *UPDATE - it's on the website now.*

You may have gathered that Bernie and I are into motorcycling. We're also politically active with regard to bikers' rights - not only in Virginia, but on a national level as well. In fact, we're fairly politically active on many issues such as privacy issues, anti-gun control, etc., but bikers' rights is especially near and dear to our hearts as riding is a big part of our lives. I've been reading up on NAIS, and this is another area I intend to get heavily involved in. I'm concerned about the implication this program may have for homesteaders and small, traditional farms. A lot of what I've read so far is very alarming. Look for additional info on this subject as I learn more about it and how to address it.

In closing, I would like to share something I wrote when I learned that we lost a friend when his motorcycle struck a deer:

Who Wants to Die Happy?

What a sad day. Today I learned we lost one of our brothers. Jim Orange was killed while riding his motorcycle and a deer ran out in front of him.

I learned about this through a phone call at work. I suppose my reaction to the call alerted others in the office that something was up, because as soon as I hung up the phone someone asked “What happened?” I was numb with shock, but I managed to mumble something about the bike and the deer and the fact that my friend is now gone. And then I heard “At least he died doing what he loved to do.”

I have honestly always hated hearing “At least he died doing what he loved to do.” I mean, what does that mean? That you should die while you're happy? Who wants to die while they're happy? We want to LIVE while were happy! I'd rather die and have someone say “Well, at least she had a happy life doing what she really wanted to do, and died when she was doing something she hated.”

I guess if I had an actual CHOICE of when I'd die, I'd pick doing something I really like. I could prepare myself for that and make some decisions. But if I have to just randomly die, I wouldn't give up the moment I was actually happy. In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, those happy moments don't seem to happen often enough. I'd pick a time when I was really bummed out, a time when I wasn't enjoying being alive. I'd probably pick a moment at my desk at work. But a moment when I was enjoying a nice ride? I don't think so.

Anything worth doing in life comes with risks. Riding a motorcycle comes with risks. There is no denying that. But taking the risk of riding a motorcycle doesn't necessarily mean that you have prepared to meet your “Maker”. If you have any sense at all, you've considered the risks, educated yourself on the ways to minimize them, and taken the necessary steps to stay as safe as possible. Not because you are preparing to die, but because you want to LIVE.

Riding doesn't mean throwing your life to the wind. It means just the opposite. Riding is a way to experience life to its fullest. IN the wind. It's a way to connect with the air we breathe, the sun that bathes our bodies, and the things that allow our very existence.

“At least he died doing what he loved to do” should really be “At least he lived his life to the fullest and has no regrets.”

Damn those deer. Damn those inattentive drivers. We're doing what we love to do, and we don't want to die doing it.

To Jim I quote, “I rode with him. I have no regrets.”

Ride on, brother. Ride on.

Live Free,

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The homestead is coming right along. Even though it is becoming more and more difficult to leave it at the end of each weekend, we make the most of each moment we are there. We've finally gotten some rain, and the ton of grass seed we've sown is finally starting to sprout. It's looking nice - and we're tracking in a lot less dirt and mud because of it!

I spent some time following deer trails through the woods this weekend. I wasn't necessarily looking for deer - I was really interested in where these guys wander. Apparently, the answer is "all over the place". There are so many obvious paths through the woods, it would have taken me quite a few days to follow all of them. It's as though they have a schedule to follow during the day. They seem to like to munch on stuff in the backyard around 8AM in the mornings. Based on that and all the paths, it seems to me they meet up in our back yard at 8AM, stand there munching away for a while, and then one of them will look at the sun, determine the time, and inform the others they are late for their appointment to meet up with others and eat wildflowers down at the power line clearing. And off they'll go - down a predetermined path. I'm hoping they stick to their schedule during hunting season ;-)

We had to get up early Sunday morning to leave the homestead and get back in town for an Open House we scheduled. It was our first since listing it as "For Sale by Owner". We didn't get much action, but I did a little better with advertising this week and we'll try it again this Sunday. Selling that house is really the first giant step towards getting back to basic living for us. It can not happen soon enough.

Bernie and Tex made a super cool "Personal Rifle/Shotgun" stand while I held the Open House on Sunday. Bernie didn't get pictures, but I'm going to take a few of the finished product and put them up on the website and get him to describe the steps in making it. I was quite impressed - and I can see where a lot of people would be interested in making one. I'll try to get that up there this week. *UPDATE - it's on the website now.*

Live Free!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Another great weekend out at the homestead has come and gone. We arrived on Friday night just in time for the sky to open up and let loose a tremendous amount of rain. It didn't rain too long, and when it was finished we walked outside and took a deep breath of the fresh air it left behind. It rained a little during the week too and we were pleasantly surprised to see new shoots of grass coming up throughout the yard.

We also noticed the telephone company had been out and run the line underground for our new telephone service. I believe they took a lot of time and went out of their way to map the route of the line through every brand new blade of grass that had just sprouted. I could not believe how many just sprouted seedlings were sacrificed for the phone line. Oh well, we wanted a phone line and now we have one. I should just be thankful and sew some more seeds.

We spent a great deal of Saturday installing the phone wire from the house so the phone company can hook their line up to it. That involved digging through a fair amount of rocks - but I'm proud to report we sacrificed very little new grass for it. Hopefully the phone company will be there this week and hook the house up to their line and we'll have a dial tone next weekend. I'm going to pick up the DSL modem this week so Bernie can install it next weekend. We've decided it's worth the monthly bill to have internet connection. While we are striving to get back to basic living, we do appreciate the value of the internet for communication and for information. It's one of the few "luxeries" we hope not to have to give up.

I made some bird feeders this weekend from some 1 litre soda bottles. This seems like a great project to tackle with kids. I put some pictures and a narrative of it on the website. Check it out.

We're heading back out to the homestead next weekend and, as always, have a list of things to accomplish. I'll post when we return and will hopefully have some pictures.

Live Free,

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Wow - where does the time go? Seems like only yesterday I last posted, but looking at the date of the last entry, I see that's not at all true. I apologize. What a month it's been for us.

As I mentioned earlier, we planned a big camp out at the homestead for about 30 bikers from across the country during the weekend of August 17- 20. We took the full week off before hand to get things ready and Spotman showed up from Iowa to spend the week helping out. We had bikers from Texas to Wisconsin, and South Carolina to Massachusetts and places all in between show up. What a great time. It was nice to see people we consider family and share our homestead with them. It is a bonus that many in this group are people who live a back to basics lifestyle, and a handful are what I consider survivalists. We got many tips and suggestions, and Uncle Rock even supplied a book on building a green wood house. Nice!

The following weekends were spent getting the homestead back in order after having a yard full of visitors and relaxing for a bit. We are still trying to sell our house in town so we can move permanently to our homestead, and this week we had a set back. Well, I guess the set back actually occurred long before this week, but we've been so busy we didn't heed the warning signs. The realtor that was supposed to be working on selling our home was fired. In hindsight, it really should be no surprise. He certainly has not been the "go getter" we expected when we signed on with his agency. His excuse of the "soft" real estate market was easier to believe when we were so incredibly busy with getting the homestead in order and it was more convenient to believe he was doing his best. Oh well, live and learn. We're coming up with Plan B to sell the place now. We're leaning towards selling it ourselves. I'll let y'all know how it goes.

On the lighter side, it does seem that the wildlife is finally starting to get used to us being around. A couple of weekends ago, Bernie and I were in the back yard working on my trike. We were clanking around and talking and not even attempting to be quiet. Suddenly we heard a commotion in the woods behind us. We looked up just in time to see 3 deer romping through the woods. They took a quick look at us, and then casually continued on their path.

We’ve seen several bunnies (or maybe only one that is brave enough to show up time and again) and a couple of snakes (a Ring Neck and a Black Snake). Last weekend I had a bunch of dinner rolls that molded and decided to put them out for who ever was hungry for a little bread. I arranged them in a circle, so I could see when one or more was taken. Bernie took one look and said “Looks like a trap to me. No self respecting animal will fall for that.” But sure enough, there were 3 or 4 missing the next morning. And last weekend, there was not a crumb left. I didn’t get to see who benefited from that little snack, and even though Bernie is convinced it was birds and mice, I’d like to think a bear may have enjoyed some home cooking added to his diet of our blue berries. Probably it was mice, but I’m not telling Bernie that.

By the way, before you yell at me for feeding the wildlife and drawing them in as nuisances, I should tell you this is not something I intend to make a habit. I had hoped to witness some of the little fellas coming out of the woods. I missed it and don't intend to make this a regular event. But you can’t blame me for trying at least once, can you?

Next weekend we’re heading back to the homestead with a list of things to do. I’ll be sure to take pictures this time, so y’all can see the progress we’re making. It’s getting harder and harder to leave there each week. Cross your fingers that we sell our house in town soon. The Homestead is calling us and we really need to answer that soon.

Live free,

Monday, August 07, 2006

We spent last weekend out on the homestead again. I really can't explain what it feels like to leave the city on a Friday afternoon and drive 120 miles to arrive in the middle of 65 acres and know we are there for the weekend. Yes, it's only for the weekend right now, but I try not to think about that while we're there.

When we arrived this weekend, Bernie immediately went out to the picnic table and began sharpening the chain on his chainsaw. I unpacked the food for the weekend, and joined him to watch the sun set. We ate supper and went to bed to get some rest for our busy Saturday.

Saturday we woke up around 6AM or so and headed outside to watch the world wake up over a cup of coffee. Fairly quickly we were dressed and busy clearing out some more of the fallen timber from the backyard. We got a lot accomplished, but had hoped to do a little more. By 5:00 we were out of gas - both literally and figuratively. The chipper/shredder worked its little butt off all day, but by then it had nothing more to give - and neither did we. Take a look at the bottom of the Album to see what we ended up with this weekend - there are some before and after pics in the last 5 or so entries.

After we got cleaned up we grilled some burgers and bratwurst and right about then our good friend from West Virginia, Duck, pulled up on his blindingly yellow Goldwing. He came in and ate with us and we sat up till around midnight visiting. He took off around 8AM the next morning, and Bernie and I busied ourselves installing 5 ceiling fans in the little house. We're hoping this will help reduce the electric bill and wean us from the air conditioning we've become so accustomed to.

We got a lot accomplished this weekend and we've still got a lot to do. One of our driving factors right now is the big camp-out we're hosting next week. Everything we're doing is something that needs to be done, but it would be nice to offer our brothers and sisters a nice place to pitch a tent. And as we've been clearing areas Bernie has pointed out "That would be a nice place to put a shed/building/etc.". He's right. We've uncovered some great building places. Can't wait to get that sawmill in action and see the shed that we build using the lumber we've milled ourselves.

Bernie describes the city as "hard". I think he means that in reference to not only the concrete that is everywhere, but also the people. When I think of our homestead, I think of "soft". While we work harder there than we've ever worked before, the view is soft on the eyes, the ground is soft on the feet, and the sounds are soft on the ear. The hard callouses I have on my hands are reminders of the softness of our homestead, if that makes any sense at all to you.

We'll be out there again this weekend - and we'll be staying for a week as we prepare for our big camp-out. I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to that - not only seeing a group of bikers that have become family to me, but sharing the land that is the dream of our future. I can't wait! I'll let y'all know all about it.


Sunday, July 30, 2006

We just got back from a weekend on the homestead. I've got to tell ya, it gets harder and harder to leave it. We need to sell our home in town so we can get out there for good.

This weekend we spent most of our time clearing out the woods behind the house. When we cleared the 1.5 acres in the middle of the 65 acres, we knew we had picked a spot that had not been inhabited in recent memory, but I'm not sure we realized exactly how un-inhabited that area really was. On the upside, most of the woods around the clearing are just loaded with blueberry and blackberry bushes. It was actually sad to me to cut back the berry bushes. The good news is, there are plenty more where those came from! And the area we cleared really looks great right now. We didn't finish it quite as much as we had hoped, but we did get most of the wild vines, dead wood, rocks, and fallen timber out of the way. Take a look at the pictures. The ones of the clearing are at the end right now.

Besides working on reclaiming the backyard, we spread seed and watered to try to get some grass growing. We're really anxious about getting grass growing - walking around in a wet yard amounts to walking around with shoes that weigh 7 pounds each from the mud! Not to mention I am not big on mopping the floors in the house and tracking in mud equates to many more mopping days than I care for.

You would think that with all the work we have to do at our homestead we would simply dread going out there. Nothing could be further than the truth. Working that hard would be a total buzz kill if we weren't doing it for ourselves, or at least making a butt load of money at it! Since there's no money in this for us, there is no doubt we are doing this for ourselves. Waking up early and having a cup of coffee at the picnic table as the day wakes up is more invigorating than any amount of caffeine. Working hard and feeling the blood course through our veins as we labor on our homestead reminds us that we are alive - and why. And after a long day working to make our home what we want it to be, nothing can beat sitting back in a cool breeze and watching the bats devour the mosquitoes that fed on us all day. I've gotta admit, that's one of my favorite times of the day.

Well, we've got another week before we head out to the homestead again. In the meantime, we're going to fix my trike which decided to give up the brakes about 50 miles into a 180 mile ride last weekend. She doesn't mind - I've told you before she likes to go fast. But it was certainly a butt-puckering ride for me for about 130 miles. We'll get her brakes working again this week so she can make it back out to the homestead.

By the way, the Tin Can Campfire I told y'all about earlier is really great for keeping away the mosquitoes and gnats. We light one everytime we sit outside in the evenings. No question you could cook on those babies - they put out quite a flame and a bit of heat. A definite "must" for a survival kit.

Until next time, live free.


Friday, July 28, 2006

July 27, 2006
We started the website just as we were beginning our efforts to get out to our homestead and getting back to the basics of living. Our home in town has been on the market for a few months now, and we have had no luck selling it. As desperate as we are to begin this chapter in our life, we can not afford to do that until we sell this house. We're very disappointed that things aren't moving as quickly as we would like, but we're trying to make the best of it by spending weekends on the homestead and keeping in mind that our jobs in the city are helping to pay the bills until we can get out there debt free.

We got great news today - our homestead passed final inspection! We can now focus on clearing out the fallen trees, improving the house, growing grass, and a multitude of other things. I honestly thought putting in a doublewide would be quick and painless, but the government makes certain nothing is easy in life. Do you know it took us almost 6 months from the time the home was delivered until we got through final inspection? I'm sure that time varies from state to state and person to person, but should you decide to go this route with setting up your homestead, you may want to budget at least that much time.

I can not tell you how much we enjoy our time out there. We head out on Friday nights and come home Sunday before noon. Saturdays are really long days for us as we have an awful lot of work to do, but every minute out there is appreciated, and we take great pride in looking at the rewards of our labor when we finally sit down to relax as the sun is setting.

In my other life, I sit behind a computer all day. I'm a computer programmer and it's something that I've always loved doing. But there is something much more rewarding about physical labor that is done to make a better life for yourself. I take great joy in looking at every big ugly rock pile and knowing that each rock and pebble in it was moved by our hands and left a place more livable for us and brings us one step closer to the home we are preparing. I love looking out over newly sprouted grass, remembering the barren land that it now covers, and knowing that we put every single grass seed out there by hand.

For now, the few days a week we can spend there keeps us going. Late in the evening, after working all day on our homestead, it's easy to sit in a chair in the yard, look out at the land, and imagine the huge vegetable garden and the outbuildings that hold the tools we will use on a daily basis. Seeing the deer tracks in the yard assures us we'll have many hearty meals in our new home. Even the blueberries and blackberries that grow in abundance make me smile, imagining all the pies and desserts we'll enjoy - assuming I can get faster than the birds, deer, and bears!

We're not there yet, but we're working towards it. Right now it seems like a dream to us, but we're the kind of people who set sights on a goal and head that way. We will get there. And you'll be the first to know about it!