Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year!!

Remembering Y2K

First of all I want to say Happy New Year to you. My how time flies. It doesn’t seem that long ago how we were all holding our breath at the turn of the millennium to see if the computers went haywire or if the electricity would go off. It was a non-event. You could almost hear a collective sigh of relief sweep across the nation. Almost immediately all the nay sayers stood up and said ‘see, I told you so’.

For a non-event there sure was a lot of money spent on updating and upgrading computers and networks. A family member who happens to know quite a bit about computers told me once that if all that work wasn’t put into the upgrades then there would have been problems. The question still remains as to how much of a problem it would have posed.

Before we moved to the farm I might have heard little tidbits about Y2K but, it made little impact on me. It didn’t factor in, in the least bit on our decision to move up in 98. It was after we were already here that we started hearing in more detail and more frequency the Y2K debate. It seemed the experts were split. A lot of intelligent folks were on both sides of the fence and even more were perched on top of it unsure of which side to be on. We heard all kinds of opinions ranging from it’s the end of the world as we know it to, absolutely nothing is going to happen. Who was one to believe?

About the middle of 1999 us and my parents thought it prudent that if the there was a chance of disruptions we had better do some stocking up. And that’s what we did. We weighed the chances based on the vast amounts of information out there and decided to prepare at a level somewhere in the middle. We figured there was a possibility that there might be disruptions but we thought it probably wouldn’t be the “end of the world as we knew it”. So we planned accordingly.

We estimated that our stock up would carry us about 3 months give or take the level of usage of certain items. Plus we were already set up with lots of poultry, rabbits, a milk goat, sheep and even a team of Belgian Draft horses. The horses would come in handy if there would have been long term problems, but that’s not why we got the horses. I liked them and it seemed to be an excellent deal that we stumbled upon. Two horses and a sleigh all for just $2000. I figured that the sleigh it’s self was worth that much alone. I would later come to realize that the horses being so old weren’t worth much anyway. The idea was that our preparations would carry us long enough and give us enough cushion as to enable us to adapt to whatever would come our way. If we had to rely solely on our homestead for a protracted amount of time then we would have had some time to tie up the loose ends and put a whole hearted effort into making it work.

It was a good drill to make us think through some tough questions.

The Simple Life?
It didn’t take long before the realization dawned on us that the romantic notion of the “simple life” was in fact just that. A romantic notion. A myth. Once we jumped in with both feet we found out how incredibly complex life on a homestead actually was. Everything from growing a garden to successfully raising animals was anything but simple or basic. On any given day you have to wear all kinds of hats. One moment your a botanist another your a veterinarian. One day your a carpenter, another your a mechanic. In order to take care of it all and make it work, you really have to use your head and develope all kinds of skills and learn to plan ahead. Also, there is plenty of physical labor to go around for everyone.

Life on a homestead or farm is one that is full of hard work and is very complex. But, it is a full life. It is full-filling and satisfying. There is never enough time to get bored and it is seldom dull. It is full of surprises and keeps your mind working trying to figure out the never ending challenges that crop up on a regular basis. Even though some things can be routine like daily chores it is never void of some new development that arises. The horse’s are getting out. Why isn’t the electric fence working? The chickens are loosing their feathers, what do I do? Why are their egg shells getting soft? What are those bugs crawling all over and devouring our potato plants? How much do I feed the new goats and sheep. The sheep keep baaing, does that mean they’re hungry or just glad to see us? How do I keep that goat house from blowing over in the wind? Just trying to get it all balanced teaches you all kinds of disciplines and problem solving skills.

I came to the conclusion that we actually had it backwards. The simple life, is punching in at the office or factory every morning and then clocking out at the end of the day and going home. You become very proficient at just a few things and you just do those same things over and over and over, day in and day out, five or six days a week, 50 or so weeks a year. The hamster on the proverbial wheel. Your eyes glaze over, your mind grows dull and you wonder what in the world ever happened to your life. You wonder, how did I wind up here, what am I doing here anyway? You live for the weekends and you live for that two week vacation every year. Soon you learn to spend money just to comfort your self after such an unfulfilling week of routine and boredom. Your debt grows larger you feel more stress, a vicious cycle takes hold of your life. The more unfulfilled and bored you become with your life the more you spend and therefore the more enslaved you become to that never ending rat race. The hamster on the wheel.

The modern life has become so regimented and predictable, so artificial, so full of conveniences, that you have to invent ways to keep your mind occupied and keep your body fit. So we develop hobbies and games and entertainment to keep our selves preoccupied from our misery.

Last year we joined the new YMCA. As I was jogging along on a treadmill I thought of how ironic it was that with all the conveniences of the modern world people have to artificially create work for themselves just to provide their bodies with some means for fitness.

Just consider how artificial modern life has become. We live in a plastic, paved over, perfectly manicured world. We have become far removed from how God has designed us. God has placed at the core of our being a love and need for natural things. He has given us the earth itself to provide us everything for our physical needs. But, when we deviate from that built in God ordained system and try to build our own artificial kingdoms void of the Creators touch we make everything out of balance.

Look at the pet industry. There is actually an industry devoted to pets. People living in artificial environments still have this desire to be around living creatures. Look at the garden centers that pop up every Spring. It is as big or bigger than the pet industry, I would guess. I don’t see a lot of farmers at the garden centers but, I see a lot of city folks. Mostly I see the hobbyists adding yet another flower, shrub or tree to their little plot of ground behind the house. People love to be surrounded by natural things even when they live in an unnatural environment. They have to create an artificially natural life. But there it is, it’s genetic. People have this ingrained desire to grow gardens and tend animals. When you think about it, it’s almost laughable. We have to go to so much effort and expense to bring the natural world to us when all we have to do is go back to the natural world.

There is a wisdom that comes from being close to the earth that can never be gained while living in a city or sitting in a class room. Being closer to creation automatically brings one closer to the Creator. You see the evidence of His handiwork in every created thing. Consider the complexity of a single leaf. Or consider the vast array of stars.

In the country you can actually see the stars and there are more out there than any city dweller can imagine. Consider the miracle of the birth of a baby animal. We stand in awe over that, no matter what kind of creature we see being born, be it a simple chicken or an innocent lamb. No matter how many times we’ve seen it, new borns always brings a smile to our faced and capture our complete attention and adoration. We stand in awe over the things God has created. That’s how it was meant to be.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas
to all.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Spring Time

Our Spring Time finally came. We took the leap and I quit my job. We had a meager savings and the plan was to just go and see how God would lead. We figured we could last through the summer on the savings while we worked getting our homestead established. We loaded up the Jeep, buckled up the kids and headed North with our little utility trailer in tow. The rest of our household goods would come up at a later date.
The farm had become a favorite vacation place for many of our family members and friends through those first years of owning it. We had camped on the land countless weekends and this would be no different except we would be staying for good. A never- ending weekend.
My parents had built a garage because they didn’t particularly care for camping. The garage kind of became the gathering place where everyone would meet for meals and to get out of inclement weather. There was electricity in it, but nothing else. No water, no bathroom and no heat. We had a kerosene heater to take the edge off while being there in cooler weather. So into the garage we settled. It was a logical choice.
We were at the farm for just a couple days before half our family and friends decide to come up camping to help us celebrate our long-awaited move. So that first week or so was no different than any other time we had stayed at the property. It was a big camping party. But, the weight of our decision was ever with us because this time we were staying for good.
Just a few days into our camping excursion there was one event that we could have done without, seeing we had just made the biggest move of our lives. It was a scary thing to pull up roots from all that we had ever known and resettle in a completely different location. The environment was different and so was the culture to a certain extent. A very different way of life for us. Vacationing here was one thing but, making it your permanent home was another thing entirely.
Well, one day I had left the camping area and came back down to the garage to get a jug of water and I let our little dog out, a Bichon Frise named Bernard. My mind was preoccupied with other things like making sure our guests had everything they needed and I let Bernard follow me back to the campsite. I had completely forgot about my sister-in-law’s dog Ruby, which was a 100 lbs. +, female Akita. Ruby was tied up but Bernard, being the consummate Romeo that he was, decided to pay Ruby a visit. Ruby was by no means an aggressive dog with people but, as we soon found out a small pesky little runt like Bernard was another story. The next thing you know there is a huge commotion ensuing over by my sister-in-law’s camper, women screaming, people running and a dog yelping. Of course the dog yelping was Bernard. Karen, that’s my sister-in-law, got to Ruby none to soon and she turned loose of Bernard. Ruby had been shaking the day lights out of the poor little fellow. Now before you start feeling too badly for Bernard, you have to realize that he never was one of those white fluffy, pampered little things like the Bichons you see in pictures. He’s never had a fancy hairdo and his personality is probably more likened to a hound dog than his breeding would suggest.
The dog books describe an entirely different creature than what Bernard is. They say Bichon’s are clean dogs and prefer to stay out of the dirt. Not Bernard. If he isn’t tromping through the dirt he’s rolling on something dead. No, Bernard has never been some kind of prissy pooch. He’s a fun loving adventurer with a definite nose for the ladies. In fact the female kind has been somewhat of a downfall for Bernard. At an early age Bernard became acquainted with one of our neighbor’s dogs that was in heat and Bernard has been a love sick puppy ever since. We had even taken him to the vet for “corrective” surgery but, it was too late, that first encounter was all it took.
After Ruby’s not so subtle rejection of Bernard’s affectionate advances we took assessment over his possible injuries. There was a little blood but, not much considering what had just transpired. At first glance it seemed the beating his head took from slamming against the ground was the worst of it but, upon further examination it did appear he had some rather deep lacerations in his rear end area where Ruby had grabbed onto him. So our camping got put on hold while we took Bernard in for an emergency veterinary visit. Three hundred some odd dollars later Bernard was all fixed up. Turned out his injuries were quite a bit worse than we could see through his thick under coat. Ruby had nearly ripped his right rear leg off and the vet said he was probably within a couple seconds of having his neck broke.
In spite of his injuries Bernard rebounded pretty quickly and before the camping week was over he even attempted to pay Ruby another visit. Big on heart but not too big on brains, that rascal. This time the encounter was quickly put a stop to and Bernard would live to have many more adventures. In fact he is still going strong at age 16. I think I might write a short story about Bernard some day because Ruby has not been his only brush with an untimely death. It is like he’s part cat, it would seem that he has had at least 9 lives.
Well, eventually all our family and friends headed back to their lives in Illinois and we were finally all alone and able to then focus on the task at hand. The task of building up our homestead.
One day while searching for direction I read these words in Proverbs vs. 24:27 NIV “ Finish your outdoor work and get your fields ready; after that build your house”. (Thanks for the reminder Scott) So I felt that we should follow the advice of that ancient wisdom and we set out to plant our garden and get ready to have some livestock. The Lord must figure we aren’t done with our outdoor work because we have yet to build our house. But, I can’t complain because we do have everything we need and plenty of comfort.
We had already been raising rabbits back in Zion so we had to get them set up. For the time being we kept them in the wire cages we had been using but, then closed in an area in the old corral were they could live a more natural life on the ground. Soon we found out how much rabbits like to dig tunnels and burrows, so we had to bury chicken wire to keep them contained.
Our first big project was to put up one of our two commercial greenhouses that we had bought from a florist that went out of business back in Illinois. We felt extremely blessed with our green house purchase because we got them for a fraction of the cost of what we had seen advertised as new. One was 30’x 30’ and the other was 30’x 100’. We opted to put up the smaller one. This would be winter home for our rabbits and what ever else kind of livestock we could acquire that first summer.
At the local feed store they had a flier for a poultry grower in Beaver Dam, called Sunnyside. We anxiously put in an order for their equivalent of Rhode Island Reds. They were called Sunnyside Browns. They had Browns, Buffs and Blacks, their prime egg laying breeds which they said had some Rhode Island Red in them. I had been wanting to get some Rhode Islands because for a short stint as a boy I had some of those until our local animal warden found out and made us get rid of them. That was a great time in my youth, experiencing the wonder of successfully raising a clutch of baby chicks. So I was hoping to re-live some of the romance I had felt back then. At any rate these would be close enough.
It turned out Sunnyside had all kinds of poultry for sale so we also got ducks, geese and guinea fowl, besides the chicks. We had heard that guinea's were good for eating ticks and with our young children running through the weeds all the time we wanted to do something to reduce the tick population.
We put in our order and in a couple days the post office called us bright and early at 6:30 AM
to let us know the shipment had arrived. We could hear the cheeping in the background. What a thrilling sound. Our first poultry would soon be a reality all we had to do was go get them.
Since we had no appropriate shelter outdoors yet, we kept the whole brood inside with us. We had a couple of large dog crates which we took apart and used the halves to house the tiny birds. I had fashioned chicken wire ends over the entrance sides of the dog crates. They worked great and before long were outgrowing their indoor enclosures. In the mean time I had put together a small chicken coop out of scrap wood we had around the farm. Eventually they were all outside and thriving. I don’t think we lost a single chick that season. We were very attentive first time farmers. Soon we had our greenhouse all set up and made dividers within to separate the poultry from the rabbits and the plant growing area.
That first summer was one for us that will be forever etched in our minds I think. For the first time in our marriage we were completely on our own. Just us and our little family. We started contacting various animal people. Our kids joined the local 4-H. We found everyone to be kind, decent, down to earth folks. This was an entirely different America than the one we had grown up in. We made many friends that year some of which are still regularly in our lives today. All kinds of characters everyone with their own unique and interesting personalities. It has truly been a blessing to follow our hearts as God has inspired us. We successfully uprooted and transplanted our selves to an area where we have not just survived but, have truly thrived. Until Next Time

Sunday, December 18, 2005


During the years of waiting after we had purchased the farm we had ample time to study and plan. Now, I’m one who doesn’t care for going to school, never did like it. In fact I loathed going to school as a boy. I used to plead with my mother to not make me go. She’d say, “Russell, if you didn’t go to school that would be illegal, and they’d throw your Dad and I in jail” Imaging both my folks dressed in stripes and staring out through bars with sad and emaciated looks on their faces was enough to make me submit to the loathsome task of dragging myself there everyday. For me it was like a sacrifice. Like a martyr, I’d endure my prison sentence so that they wouldn’t have to. And it seemed like a prison sentence, when in 1st grade I asked my Mom how many years I had till I would get out. I found out I’d be 18 years old! To a 1st grader it was indeed, a life sentence. Ug! Fortunately when I am interested in something, I do love to learn. I just don’t like going to school to do it. When I want to learn something I usually turn to books. And if books don’t provide me the information I need then I start asking around and in general just keep my eyes open and do a lot of pondering to find the answers to my questions. That’s how it was during the waiting years.

For many years I corresponded with my Uncle Glenn. He and his wife Jean and two of his grown children settled in Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee where my Grandma Jessie grew up. For Uncle Glenn it was returning home, since as a boy he spent much time at his Grandpa's farm, the one mentioned previously. This was the family who tried to start a communal living arrangement in Arkansas. Well, Uncle Glenn had pretty much given up on trying to homestead in a group environment so he and the family decided to just do it on their own. I learned a lot from their experiences. Uncle Glenn was a philosopher farmer. He had his own philosophy of life and how to live more simplified. For him the ideal life would be that of a goat herder. He was quite angry with the commercial farming practices of Big Agriculture and blamed that kind of farming for many of societies present ill’s. But to him goat herding was about as pure as it could get.

He had his own idea’s of what this type of life would be like. Uncle Glenn also hated fences. His ideal goat herding situation would put him in a place without fences and with goats being the browsing opportunists that they are, would pretty much fend for themselves. All Uncle Glenn would have to do was sit under a tree with a good book and watch over his beloved flock moving them from fertile field, to fertile field. To him that would be the good life.

He never would live to see that particular dream before he passed away but, he and Aunt Jean did wind up with quite a homestead, with a lot of goats and other hearty farm animals. They never fenced in their goats. The only fences they had were what surrounded their lush and ample raised bed gardens to keep the goats out. Aunt Jennie ( posing in garden above ) has always had a green thumb and their raised beds have always been the envy of the county. Actually her and their son Bob still continue the same lifestyle even though Uncle Glenn has been gone for quite some time now.

Their idea is to raise animals that are very hearty and have a high
reproduction rate. Their homestead livestock of choice are, number one goats, then pigs (they raise pot belly pigs), chickens and rabbit's. Bob ( pictured at right ) got himself a Lama a couple years back and gets animals like that for the novelty once in awhile. But, they still adhere to this simple formula of hearty livestock with a high reproduction rate for the basics of survival. It works for them.

One thing I almost forgot to mention. Even though the goats are not fenced they are so tame they never run off. I suppose if they did have one that was prone to wander then it would simply wind up on the dinner table. To my Uncle, goats were the ultimate survival animal. The right kind are hearty and they can pretty much fend off the land for their own sustenance. Uncle Glenn had a saying, “one goat feeds one man and the rest is just B.S.” . His idea was that no matter what, if you had to, you could always live off of the milk. Then when the milking goat out lives it’s usefulness you just eat her. To him it was that simple. One word of caution, if you ever go to their homestead be sure to park your car out at the road. Otherwise you will find your self with half dozen curious goats perched atop your vehicle.

I have to admit I learned alot from my Uncle Glenn. He epitomized simplicity. Even in his and Aunt Jeannie’s approach to gardening. Just use ample amounts of compost and manure, that’s it. Glenn used to tell me how he liked to sit at the local diner and shoot the breeze with the area farmers. One time they all were having an intense discussion of what is the best way to grow a garden. Uncle glenn said they were coming up with all these sophisticated and scientific approaches to producing a good crop and one of them turned to him and said “ Glenn, how do you and Jean do it. You all have such nice vegetables coming out of those raised beds.” Uncle Glenn said, “ just lots of compost and manure, that‘s all”. A silence went out across the diner and it was pretty much the end of the conversation. He used to get quite irritated at the how those old farmers would make life so complicated for themselves when to him it was so simple. Actually he had quite a grudge against people who he considered workaholics. In his mind that was half the problem to begin with, all those workaholics coming with all those ways to make life more complicate than it needed to be. Needless to say, Uncle Glenn was quite happy with himself for having hushed, what to him, was such a nonsensical conversation. “Just lots of compost and manure, that it!”

After Uncle Glenns death, cousin Bob my Uncles oldest son, took up the torch of corresponding with me. Bob sent me a Countryside magazine, a publication I had never seen before that time. Before that I used to occasionally look at Mother Earth magazines but I never did like their yuppyish New Agey approach to going back to the land. Since then I have nary turned the page of a Mother Earth. Oh, once in a great while I will see a cover at the news stand with an article that might peak my interest and I’ll break down and buy it. But, for the most part Countryside has been my publication of choice. Kelli and I fell in love with that first issue Bob had sent. When we saw it we said, “this is it” “This is how we are wanting to live”. Also we noticed within the pages that there was a lot more of a Christian influence given by many of the writers. Reading Countryside magazine took us even deeper into our self-education of what it would take to make a go of it in Northern Wisconsin.

Then finally my cousin Bob said to me, “ in order to do what we do, you’ll have to lower your standards”. I new exactly what he meant and for me at that time it was like one of those light bulb moments. It finally occurred to me that all along I was trying to make things too perfect. I was trying to get it all figured out before we went. To have a clear and concise plan and not a momment before I had that, were we going to move. I mean after all I was supposed to be the bread winner. I was the man of the house I had to have it all figured out. Really, I was wrestling with fear most of those years. I was afraid to go before I had a guarantee of success. I reckon that was the standard that I was holding up too high. What I really lacked, was the element of faith. Once I finally got that settled I was able to then, muster the courage to go.

God has blessed me with a wonderful wife and she is generally supportive in everything I’ve ever wanted to do. So it didn’t take much to convince her it was time. It must have all been meant to be because she was more than ready herself and from that moment on it was time to go. Our Spring finally came. ...Until Next Time

Friday, December 16, 2005

North to Wisconsin
...continued from Our Journey
We started taking day trips into Wisconsin looking mostly around the outskirts of small towns in the southern region. If anything in the real-estate papers looked interesting we'd drive out and take a look scouting and exploring the area's. We did this for quite awhile and soon decided to start traveling further. We decided that perhaps we would look way up in the north western part of the State , where Kelli's family was originally from. We just new that if it was meant to be then we'd know the place when we saw it.

Eventually we saw an add in the area newspaper that described a 90 acre piece of property. It sounded really nice and for a pretty reasonable price. We didn't have much money so looking at properties in more remote area's was seeming a more likely option in order to be able to afford what we wanted. Anyway this 90 acre parcel sounded good and we were excited to run up and check it out. We had a really good feeling about it.

We set out on a Friday afternoon when I got home from work, drove most of the way up in our 1984 Ford Van then got a motel. We would head out early in the morning to locate the land. During the night it snowed. It was right in the middle of hunting season so the owner of the property told us to be sure and bring some fluorescent orange clothing. Before then we never owned anything like that, with us being city kids, we never really had the opportunity to go hunting. Not that city folks don't go hunting but, in our families nobody did. So off we went at the break of dawn to find our land. We had detailed directions of how to get there. We drove and drove for what seemed like forever. Everything was white and the road was a little bit snow packed. The further we went the colder it seemed to get. Pretty soon the area we were heading to seemed to be getting more and more remote. The tree's started getting denser and closing in around us. Finally after what seemed like an eternity we came to the road where we were supposed to turn right and the land would be just 3, 1/2 miles in. We turned and went about half way and Kelli and I just looked at each other both thinking the same thing. It sure seemed to be out in the boonies. Too far out! This sinking feeling settled into me and I wondered what in the world would I do to support my wife and two very young children. We unanimously decided to turn around and go back home.

We were a little discouraged but, on the way home Kelli told me about when she was a kid her family used to vacation over by Eagle River. It had been a long time but, she was pretty sure the area was a little closer to civilization being more of a vacation type area. So we decided that the next year we would plan a vacation and visit that part of the State. In the mean time we didn't stop our dreaming and looking over real-estate guides still keeping our options open if the right place did happen to show up.

Finally we made our vacation to Eagle River in the Fall of 1989. We rented a cottage at local camp ground. We would be staying for more than a week with the camp ground being our base from which to launch our daily searches. We poured over the papers and real-estate guides and selected some likely prospects. Land was still pretty reasonable even though it was fairly close to populated area's. We drove hundreds of miles that week and still hadn't found that place that would jump out at us liked we had imagined. Our time in Eagle River was drawing to a close and so far turned up not a single lead. Once again we were disappointed but by now we were getting kind of used to that feeling. Anyway we did have a very nice vacation. It was a great family time. So the last day rolled around it was time to pack it up and go home. At least we got a real good idea of what the area and the lay of the land was like. We liked it. Lots of woods and lakes mixed with some open area's. The open area's were usually pastures or potato fields. The area is home to a number of potato farmers.

So back home we started. We decided to travel down a road we hadn't yet been on during the week so that we could keep our eyes pealed on the way out of the region. Then not ten minutes into it we see this old dilapidated homestead with a
Century 21 sign out front. We quickly wheeled around to take a better look. There was a tiny little house and a couple of small old barns and an old ancient looking structure with the roof falling in. An eyesore to some but a thing of beauty to us. The little house was quite ugly even for our standards with it being completely sided in what appeared to be roof shingling. But here it was a beautiful little homestead that was surrounded by an aging barbed wire fence. The area inside the fence looked to be perhaps an acre or two. We looked beyond the fenced in area to an open field which was what we figured to be about 40 acre's. We wondered if the property for sale included the field which went back to a vast tree line. We were too excited. For the first time in all the years of searching this finally had the looks of being the "place". That "know it when we saw it" place.

We quickly jotted down the phone number on the real-estate sign and raced to the nearest gas station to give them a call. We were blown away by what we heard. Not only did the land for sale include the little homestead area, it indeed did go back to the tree's. It went back to the tree's and beyond. All together there was 120 acres for sale and at an incredibley low price. One that even we could afford. The real-estate agent had the key to the gate so we would have to drive to her office to get it.

We finally made it back to the place armed with both the key and some papers which listed the details. We pulled up, opened the gate and in we went. We walked all around the homestead and could just imagine all the things we could do with the place. We drove around behind the buildings to get a better look of the field and woods. There was 80 acres of woods. Kelli and the kids stayed in the van and I hiked out to take a look. It was like a country wonderland, everything I could have ever dreamed of. Kelli said she became a little afraid as I ventured further and further across the field as it was full of little rolling hills and I would completely disappear from view. Eventually once I made the tree line I did disappear completely from her sight and she said that she felt very alone sitting there with just her and the little ones in such an unfamiliar place.

I could have stayed out there all day but, I had to get back to Kelli to tell her all that I saw. To her relief I arrived back at the van and we took the key back to Century 21. We told the agent that we were definitely interested and would go back to Illinois to make arrangements. When we got back to town we told my parents the exciting news and much to our surprise they offered to help us out by going in on it with us.

The rest is history we bought the farm, em well, we purchased it, by January of 1990. But it would take an additional 8 years before we actually made the move. In the mean time we paid the property off and spent countless weekends camping on and exploring the land. It was always "next spring, we are moving up", but I suppose God still had some things to work out in us before we could up root ourselves and transplant to our beautiful northern homestead. During those years of waiting we learned all we could about living off the land and contemplated all kinds of endeavors with which to make a living off the farm. Until Next Time

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Our Journey To The Country

Kelli and I were married in 1984 and soon began our quest to find a place in the country where we could live and raise our kids.

Before that I was pretty heavily into moto-cross racing which I did for most of my teen years and into my twenties. One of the things I enjoyed about it, was that it took me into lots of different rural area's, since you usually didn't find moto-cross tracks in close proximity of civilization. (That's me on the left, 371) Usually they were located off the beaten path next to some farmers field. It wasn't unusual to see cows grazing off in the distance even as hordes of racers kicked up thunderous dust storms beneath the spinning wheels of their high powered off-road motorcycles. Even though I've always loved being out in nature the competition of a good race has always excited me. Moto-cross racing gave me the best of both worlds. I always returned to suburbia with country dust in my teeth. Ah, those were the days.

Racing took me all over the place, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and even Florida once, so at an early age I got a pretty good idea what middle America was really like. I did have a dream for a while of having my own moto-cross track. I figured I could do that and homestead at the same time. As it turned out, where we finally settled here in northern Wisconsin, there was already a moto-cross track 3 miles down the road. I've helped out there every year for the past 7, 1/2 years and soon came to the realization that I probably wouldn't have cared for all the headaches that go along with it all. There are a lot of people involved and administrating that goes on, in order to coordinate everything, to make it happen. Not really my cup of tea. So I just help out, see a lot of good racing and go home at the end of the day with no strings attached.

Anyway, we spent years looking for just the right place to settle down. At first we looked pretty much just in Illinois. We narrowed down our search to the far west side of the state in the Galena area. It was beautiful over there along the mighty Mississippi with all the rolling hills and historic atmosphere. Galena was once home to Ulysses S. Grant. The entire town is restored in keeping with the 1800's time period.

We spent many weekends there driving around looking at land. We even bought a mobile home that sat on the edge of a pasture. It was situated on high hill over looking the river. The scenery was breath taking.

We still lived in Zion but, used the mobile home as a base from which to do our land searches, saving us quite a bit in motel costs. Unfortunately after a short time the farmer who owned the lot had a friend who wanted to put their mobile home on that spot and when the lease was up we had to move. The problem was we didn't have any land yet so we wound up selling off the mobile home to someone who did have land.

That kind of took the wind out of our sails as far as looking in that area. We then started looking north to Wisconsin. To be continued….

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Homesteading Influences

I grew up with the stories from my Grandma, my mothers mom, about her life on a real Tennessee homestead. Her family truly made their subsistence from the land in rural Red Boiling Springs, TN. Grandma Jessie lived in the horse and buggy days. She remembered seeing her first car and first airplane, etc. As a boy I would ask her what it was like seeing all these brand new technological advances and she considered them as being rather unimpressive. I imagine it just came along gradually enough as to not overwhelm them back then.

Grandma Jessie loved to talk about her childhood and I was fascinated by the way of life back in the early 1900's. She was born in 1910. Her dad was a big influence in her life as he was a devout bible believing Christian, however I don't think they went to church much, beings they lived a ways out in the country. I got the impression that Grandma's dad, Great Grandpa Thomas, was a little rough around the edges, but he must have had a strong faith because he most certainly passed that on to her. When he would tell her how to behave when she went out away from the farm he'd say, "Not because I'm telling you but, this is how the Lord say's you should be and do and act". His words of wisdom made a strong impression on her even into her old age.

Grandma Jessie grew up learning how to work the soil behind a horse drawn plow. As a teenager she used to help her dad in the fields. Even after she was married, moved away from the farm and had children of her own she was still in pretty good shape after those years of hard work. My mom's oldest brother used to invite his friends over and asked Grandma to show them her biceps as they where quite large back then. Mom said Grandma had biceps like a man, even though she was rather petite. Quite the novelty for the area kids I would say.

All of my Grand Parents had experience with raising their own food. Even the Zion relatives grew huge gardens and had livestock. I have in my possession copies of letters that my ancestors wrote to each other back in the 1800's. They were homesteaders and it is very interesting to read first hand what life was like in those days. Basically they grew and raised all of their own food and usually raised some sort of cash crop in which to sell so that they could buy certain supplies and equipment that they did not make or obtain themselves. Perhaps I will post some of those letters in the future.

As a boy I believed that Christian's would have to endure the Great Tribulation spoken of in the bible and that, that time was not very far off. This might sound strange but, instead of being fearful of coming hard times I was excited. It must have brought out the adventurer in me because I thought that it would be a great thrill to leave society, staying a step ahead of the Anti-Christ and his accursed "Mark of the Beast", fending for ourselves by living off the land in far off and out of the way places.

I grew up in the 60's and 70's and that time of profound change in America's ideology had a strong influence on the way I viewed things, I imagine. When I was in 3rd grade some of my relatives packed up and moved to Arkansas to start a communal living kind of thing where they all would live off the land. However, the area they chose to settle in didn't take kindly to those rebellious hippie type folks and the local authorities trumped up charges with which to run them off.

They lived in Arkansas for about 2, 1/2 years and during that time my cousins used to write me and tell me about all their adventures. I used to hang on every word. We even got to visit them once and they showed me all the wonders of life in the country. From that moment on I was hooked. I learned a lot about how to survive off the land just from hearing about their experiences.

When I was in about 4th grade I began forming my plan on how to move out into the country and live off the land. I was an avid comic book reader and I found in some of them that they had advertisements where if you sold seeds or Christmas cards, depending on the season, that you could earn points for prizes. There were hundreds of prizes including all kinds of camping equipment. This was my chance to obtain the gear I would need for surviving the coming tribulation.

My first stint as a salesman was of selling garden seeds. I went door to door to all my area relatives and if I remember right everyone bought from me. I was able to get several prizes with my points. Unfortunately my career as seed man was cut off in it's prime. Much to my parents embarrassment most of the seeds I sold where duds. But, I wasn't to give up just yet. There was still the Christmas cards I could peddle. So that following season I sold stacks of those. I must have sold a bunch because I got all kinds of valuable prizes. Altogether from selling the seeds and cards I got a sleeping bag, tent hunting knife, hatchet, bow and arrows, canteen and cooking utensils. I was set.

Looking back I realize that I must have been more cute than a salesman, not to mention all my victims were related to me, because Lord knows I've never been blessed with that kind of power of persuasion. Also, It would be safe to bet that my folks probably spent a bundle on my wares to boot.

I had many a grand adventure with all my new survival equipment. I mean, this stuff was the real deal. It was surprisingly high quality for some comic book program like that. For years I slept with the sleeping bag on my bed. I remember it well. It was green with a print of Mallard Ducks on the inside. The tent was a one man pup. One time my Dad slept out in the yard with me and his head had to stick out a little but, it was perfect for me. Friends and cousins used to camp out with me in it as well. I sharpened many a spear point with the hunting knife and I got pretty good at throwing my hatchet. It was quite a thrill to hear the thud as I sunk the blade of it into an old log. And that canteen quenched the thirst of many a soldier in our imaginary military maneuvers.

A couple years later a buddy of mine named Ernie found out in some magazine that there was free land to be had in Canada just like in the old days in America. You could get it by homesteading on it for a prescribed amount of years. So that was our plan. When we turned 18 we were heading to the great white north. In the mean time Ernie moved away and I started looking at land catalogs. There was one that listed rural properties from all over the United States. I used to pour over those pages just dreaming of the day when I'd finally have my own piece of the country.

Eventually, Ernie and I grew up. We were 18 and he came back to town for a visit. He said "So, do you still want to move to Canada?" By that time I had other interests, I was running around with friends and was pretty heavily into moto-cross racing. I looked at Ernie and said "Naw, guess not". For me, the dream was put on hold for the time being. Last I heard, Ernie was living in Florida. I haven't seen him in years, I wonder if he still remembers our dreams?

After growing up and starting my own family the dream was rekindled since my wife shared with me the same enthusiasm for living in the country. Since my childhood, my views have changed about the Tribulation. I now hold to the pre-trib rapture theory. My motives have changed about homesteading. I believe it is a more wholesome and biblical way of life. I see city living as more akin to life in Sodom and Gomorrah. But all in all I see life in the country as a far more desirable way to live. I believe that the bible has a lot to say about that, but I'll save that for future posts as well.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Our Background
We grew up in a small community north of Chicago, IL called Zion. Zion was founded by a faith healer named John Alexander Dowie back in the early 1900's. The city has a fascinating history filled with hope, miracles and controversy. My great grand parents followed Dowie to Chicago in the late 1800's where he had his ministry. Dowie had come to America from Australia. My great grandpa experienced an instantaneous miraculous healing after being prayed for by him and my great grand mothers sister was healed. Dowie had a dream for starting a utopian society. It would begin along the banks of Lake Michigan near the Wisconsin Illinois state lines where Dowie and his church purchased a large parcel of land. It was to become Zion City the New Jerusalem.
Zion was a theocracy. The church owned all the land and the citizens leased it from the church. It was a closed society and a dry town. No alcohol or tobacco was allowed. Dowie had grand idea's for his utopian paradise. The city would produce everything it needed and would provide employment for it's people with the Zion Industries. They had a lace factory which exported fine lace around the world. They also had other factories one of which was the Zion Cookie Factory which was in existence up until the 1980's. You can still find Zion fig bars being sold in stores today. Zion even had land holdings in Mexico which was intended to provide natural resources for the industries.
It is a well documented fact that Dowie indeed had a rare gift for healing. Countless individuals experienced divine deliverance from all sorts of ailments. And so the City of Zion was born. It didn't take long for word to spread about this man of God and his community that was stamped with the approval of the Lord himself via Dowie and his healing touch.
Before long some men surrounding Dowie suggested to him that perhaps he was the Elijah who was to come who would prepare the way for the second coming of Jesus. They apparently had taken liberties in interpreting the prophetic word. At first Dowie rejected the claims, but in time it festered away within him and he began to believe that it might be true. How else could one explain this powerful gift if it weren't true that he indeed was some special messenger sent from God. Soon Dowie excepted it wholeheartedly and began prancing himself around in flamboyant apparel designed to authenticate his appointment of being Gods own prophet, “Elijah the Restorer“.
This was the beginning of the end for this fiery latter day prophet. His heart was filled with pride and he became very sick with an unexplainable illness. Dowie prayed for himself to no avail. So he enlisted the services of all kinds of doctors, eventually putting the city in financial distress to pay for all the medical treatments. If pride comes before a fall this was certainly the case for poor John Alexander. He never recovered and died in 1907 before his dreams were fully realized. Dowie had dreams that went far beyond little Zion City, Illinois. He had world conquest on his mind. He envisioned this utopian society spreading across the entire globe. Zion was just the beginning. If it were up to him the entire world would have become a theocracy with him at the head. He intended to empty all the hospitals, end poverty and rid the world of vices such as alcohol and tobacco, which he believed to be the source of many of civilizations ills.
After Dowies death, Zion was in financial ruin. His predecessor Wilbur Voliva attempted to carry the torch but, the dream of a utopian world would eventually fade away. Ultimately the city fathers sold themselves out and Zion has since turned into a bastion of low income housing. The way I understand it is they attempted to build Navy housing but, the apartment complexes that they built turned out to not meet the Navy's standards. The military rejected the housing and so the city leaders then changed the ordinances to convert the project into low income housing. Zion was forever changed. Crime and violence would become common place in this City with such lofty beginnings.
And so that is where our families originated. With Zion being situated about half way between Chicago and Milwaukee it didn't take long for the once rural area to be over run with roads, commerce, traffic and noise. When I was about 10 year old a horse pasture next door to where I grew up was sold and an apartment complex was built which hovered over the west side of our yard. I found this to be terribly intrusive with scores of windows overlooking what once was my own private play ground. From that moment on I dreamed of moving to the country and began a life long search for just the right place.
But, I'll save all that for another day.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Well, here it goes.
This is my very first blog! Where do I begin? I only really found out what blogging was this past Thanksgiving. I was in the house and doing some searches on the internet and came across a bunch of bloggers talking about a subject called Christian Agrarianism. I had never really heard the word agrarian put in such a context. I am thrilled to have found a discussion on the things I’m passionate about and from a Christian perspective.

I do a lot of journal writing and most of my thought’s and idea’s lay closed away or hidden inside the computers internal workings to pretty much just waste away into electronic nothingness. Perhaps someday my kids might come across them and get a kick out of what old Dad used to think about back then. Other than that, if I don’t discuss any of it with my wife, that’s about all there is to my writings. It’s just for my own satisfaction and perhaps it is a little therapeutic. Of course in my journals I often times do a lot of ranting and raving which I would never want to broadcast across cyberspace in a forum like this. So I will attempt to make this a little more reader friendly than what I do in my journal writings.

I reckon, since this is my first blog I should introduce myself. I don’t imagine I should get too personal since after all this is on the internet and only the Lord knows how many people will be looking at this.

My name is Russ. My wife’s name is Kelli and we have three children, 14, 17 and 19. We homeschool and live on a 120 acre homestead in northern Wisconsin. When I say homestead I have to mention that we aren’t homesteaders in the truest sense of the word. We have been experimenting with it and have dabbled in a multitude of homesteading practices. We homeschool, garden, and raise animals. However we are not really all that self-sufficient. It is more like a hobby with the eventual goal of becoming more proficient at it.

When we first moved here we made a serious effort to raise all or most of our food. I had found a proverb that said " plant your crops first, after that build your house". So we planted a garden first. After that we put up a 30' by 30' commercial green house that we had purchased from a florist who went out of business. We used that for growing plants and for raising poultry. Within the first year we had acquired all kinds of livestock. We met many nice and interesting people in the process.

We co-own our property with my parents and my Dad had already built a garage which we moved into. There wasn't any water or septic. Eventually we have made the garage into a house and are still living in it. We built a log cabin which we rent out as a getaway for city people or anyone looking for a quiet relaxing place to stay. Our main income however, is that we have our own business picking up peoples trash and hauling it to the dump. Actually, the garbage business goes along alright with homesteading since it is kind of a home based business which is something that fits with the ethic of being self-sufficient or self-reliant.

That being said, I do want to mention that I have come to the realization that the idea of being “self-sufficient” is really quite a myth. God never intended for us to be an island unto ourselves. He made us to live in families and communities being interdependent on one another for both emotional and physical needs. Not that we should be dependant on each other but, that we should serve and love one another with Christ being our prime example. The goal instead of being self-reliant should be to obey the biblical exhortation to work with our hands so that we might have something to share with others.

I like the term agrarian but, I’m not entirely sure of the exact definition. It will take me awhile to get used to using it. I tend to get hung up on the meaning of words and how we use them. I’ll have to study it some more. It took me some time to get comfortable calling what we are trying to do, homesteading. After all homesteading was what they did back when the government was giving away land way back in them olden days. So it took a little bit to get comfortable with that. It seems to me Jd Belanger from Countryside magazine is the one who has popularized the modern usage of homestead. Actually agrarian is probably a more accurate term for going back to the land. Agriculture conjures up images of Big Ag. but, agrarian seems to give a broader sense of getting subsistence from the land or really having anything to do with the land be it growing crops or grazing animals on it.

Well, I don’t suppose I should make this introductory blog too long or in-depth lest I bore you with useless jabber. I am looking forward to communicating with other Christian, homesteader, agrarian type folks out there. There is so much to talk about and so many things to discuss. This could go on till Jesus comes back. Actually, I hope it does.