Sunday, December 30, 2007

Happy New Year

2007 is coming to a close. Hard to believe. I’m having a hard time adjusting to the 2000’s it seems. Here we are nearly 8 years into it already. But then again, I don’t do change very well. I remember when it turned 1980 and it freaked me out for a long time. 1990 was hard to fathom, but I was a young father then and life was just too busy to get too worked up about it.

My wife likes change. She rearranges the house a couple times a year. I’m more like my dad's mom. Her house stayed the same for 30 years at least. Every knick-knack, every piece of furniture stayed in exactly the same spot. Only got moved for dusting and cleaning. Keeps everything predictable in my opinion. No stubbed toes in Grandma’s house!

As we close this year we are gearing up for change in our business. One of the big corporate big wigs is getting out of residential garbage service in our area so many of their customers are calling us. Then at the same time a larger hauler from Eagle River offered to swap some customers with us. They had a few in Sugar Camp here where we are based at and we had a few in a nearby town that they pick up in. It’ll save me a lot of miles a week picking up just a small number and it’ll do the same for the other hauler.

The owner of the Eagle River company is a pretty nice fellow and he’s a good business man. He lives in a world that is completely foreign to me. He has employees and lots of equipment and trucks, as well as thousands of customers and two office worker ladies that answer the constantly ringing phones. I’d have a stroke living that kind of life. It takes a lot of forethought and effort for us to keep it simple. The demands of the world are like a roaring river and you’re just inches from being swept away into the raging current.

Giving up doing business in the nearby town makes sense from both a business stand point and a simplicity one. We don’t make much of a profit if any over there but, we now we do have a bit of a dilemma. We first started picking up over there because one old man needed someone to come up his driveway to get his garbage. The Eagle River hauler wasn’t picking up there then. At the time we drove out there once a week taking our daughter to her piano lessons. So I told him while we were there for that we could get his garbage for him. Soon, by word of mouth it spread that we were picking up over there and one by one we built up a small route, although pretty spread out. And most of the stops were for elderly people who needed someone to go up to the house. By the way, one of the conditions we made for this swap was that the other company had to continue with the drive-up service.

We believe in building relationships with our customers. Many have become our good friends. We have a lot of cheerleaders out there because of it. So it hasn’t been an easy decision to pull out of this nearby town. Then when one elderly lady, who has a particularly strong affection to us, heard that we were doing this she lamented that she looks so forward to seeing me every week, that we just can’t stop coming out! She commented that, in fact, she sees me more than she sees her own son. Man, that was like a knife to the heart……ugh!

It’s been a tough decision, but, an opportunity we can’t pass up, especially with the other hauler being willing to continue with the drive-up service. In fact they are buying a small truck like ours that will enable them to do that. The trade off is just too good to not take. In fact it will save us over one hundred miles a week. Less work for the same income, can’t beat that.

I never dreamed of picking up garbage for a living, especially up here while trying to homestead. But, it seemed the Lord had other idea’s and gave us this thing when we were at rock bottom. After 7 years of doing this it is finally getting afloat financially. Actually it’s been doing that for a couple years. In our fifth year it finally got to were we could breath again as far as an income goes. At least we don’t just about croak over every unforeseen expense that comes up.

A while back now, a small hauler like us, down by Rhinelander, sold his route for a nice little sum which gave us the thought that maybe some day we could do the same. So it’s always kind of in the back of my mind that if God ever gave us the opportunity then it’d be nice to quit this and homestead full time and try to make an income from the land instead. Making my living from the land is something I’ve always wanted to do.

So with this in mind, we decided to get brave and with this quarter's billing ( we bill quarterly with the garbage business), we included a letter to all our customers telling about the farmstand and that we would be willing to expand our garden and chicken operation if anyone would be interested. It’s been just a couple weeks and so far we have 8 or 9 families who want to sign up. I think it would be safe to say that there was at least that many who bought from the farmstand so at this point I think we can estimate that we will be growing food for around 20 families besides ourselves.

For a long time I’ve been thinking of the possible opportunities we could have with all our garbage customers as far as marketing farm produce to them or even other things. Especially after reading Joel Salatin writings. He says it’s easier for him to get 100 people to spend $1000 than it is to get 1000 people to spend $100. So during those bad days when I want to just throw in the towel concerning the trash business I think about all the opportunities that these good folks could provide to us. Now if the Lord ever happens to provide a way out of the garbage business we will have taken advantage of the potential blessings these customers could bring.

Our original plan before this business came along was to make our money from renting out our log cabin to people looking to get away and enjoy a vacation at a real northern Wisconsin homestead. Our farm had always been a popular vacation spot for many family members and friends, even with my Aunt and Uncle who faithfully traveled from Alabama in the summer, for a week or so, every year. People have always loved it here and we’ve been more than happy to share this wonderful blessing with others.

We put a lot of effort and money into building the cabin. We wanted to provide a nice place for people to stay. But, we have found that we don’t make good business people as far as marketing goes. At first we joined the Eagle River chamber of commerce and were advertising the cabin through them. We were getting quite a few rentals through that but, something just didn’t feel right. It was being promoted right along with all the touristy type stuff and we didn’t care for the clientele that was being reached. Well, maybe not so much the people as it was just the spirit in which it was promoted. Even though the North Woods is a popular tourist destination we don’t want this place being lumped in with all that. I’m not really even sure why we feel that way, it’s kind of hard to explain. Like one time a guy who enquired about staying here, he stated that he would “require a boat and a trailer”. We were wondering what in the world he thought we had going on here? This ain’t Disney Land.

So the cabin hasn’t really given us an income like we first thought it would. But on the other hand it is accomplishing a goal we have had all along and that it could be a kind of ministry. And I suppose that is more what it has been. I’m thinking that as the farm gets going better then we will probably direct our advertising more towards people who are interested homesteading and just steer far away from all the touristy stuff.

Tonight we are staying in the cabin and have been discussing the things we hope to accomplish in the coming year. Were going through seed catalogs and kind of getting warmed up to start planning our gardens. In addition to that the kids are revved up to plant more fruit trees and berry patches. Something I’d hoped to have done way before now but, like the verse says, “man makes his plans but, the Lord determines his steps”, (can’t remember the verse exactly but, I’m sure I’ve read that before). The Lord knows best what we need or don’t need anyway.

Well, I hope everyone has a safe and Happy New Year. May you prosper in every way in 2008.

Until Next Time

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Pleasant Surprise

We recently had the delightful experience of getting a surprise visit from Mountain Fire Keeper. He stayed over in our log cabin one night as he was passing through, over to the eastern side of Wisconsin.
Mt. Firekeeper arrived early Thursday evening. We shared dinner with him and pulled off a marathon visit, drinking coffee and talking until late, well after midnight. He also did a show and tell session showing us several survival gear packs that he brought along on his journey. Very interesting time seeing all the cool stuff that he creatively and intelligently includes in his packs.
Then the next day we had opportunity to visit and chat even more during the morning hours as we sent him off with a hardy country breakfast of farm raised bacon, eggs, and home baked breads. A delightful experience, finally getting to meet in person, one of my favorite agrarian blogging friends. Though he has not had his Mountain Fire Keeper blog online for a awhile, due to time constraints, he says he's been thinking about starting it up again in the near future.
After many hours of talking and visiting it was plain to see that Mt. Firekeeper is a genuine bona fide man of the soil. He's the real deal! Homestead agrarian man, to the bone. "Authentic" even. During our discussions Mt. Firekeeper offered to do a couple of his Country Living Skills workshops here in the coming year, an idea which we are thrilled with. For years, I've envisioned hosting something like that here.
So what's with the picture of the hat you might ask? Well, we were so consumed with talking and sharing homesteading stories that we forgot to snap off a picture of Mt. Firekeeper as proof that he was actually here. But, then we found later that day that he had gone off and forgotten his hat.
So here's the proof! Mountain Fire Keeper was really here! We will be listing the hat on eBay and selling it to the highest bidder...... No sorry, just kidding! If he doesn't drop by on his way back to ND then we will gladly send it to him. I'm sure he's missing it with this winter weather we've been having.
Speaking of winter weather, we are currently getting a wintery blast of snow even now as I write. Started snowing during the wee hours and has continued most of the day. We have around 6 or 7 inches of new snow ensuring us of a white Christmas come Tuesday, barring any major heat wave between now and then of course. As the temps start to plunge and the winds are picking up, a warm spell would be highly unlikely at this point. There is just something about a fresh blanket of snow that makes my day. Especially during the holiday season.
On that note I think I will close here and say, Merry Christmas!
Merry Christmas!
Merry Christmas!
Merry Christmas!
(Adding a few more just to be politically "incorrect")

Friday, December 07, 2007


Here's our new Shetland ram named Dakota. We are happy with Shetland sheep, they are hardy, small and easy to keep. So we thought it would be nice to develop a flock of these pleasant little sheep. Since we only had ewes it was necessary to find an unrelated male. We found a breeder down by Stevens Point who happened to have an available male for sale and it worked out that we were able to drive down and pick him up. We transported Dakota in our pickup truck. The one we use for our trash business. It has a wooden box on the back which encloses the 8' bed. Kind of like a tall rustic looking camper. I see landscape trucks running around that look similar to what we have. Anyway, we put Dakota in there for the trip home and I screwed a piece of plywood across the back to keep him from jumping out. Shetlands are nimble and can jump very well.

During our drive home Dakota began ramming the back of the truck over and over. He wasn't happy about being cooped up back there. I pulled over to make sure he wasn't hurting himself or undoing any of my wood work. I then realized the thing he was ramming repeatedly was the tail gate. Now, the latches on our GMC truck aren't the best and I became afraid that he might actually knock the thing open and get splattered on the highway. He was banging the tail gate with surprising force for such a small animal. So I took my cordless drill and readjusted the plywood so that it extended down about 6 inches onto the gate. With plenty of screws I was confident he could not open it up no matter how hard he rammed.

Dakota adapted immediately and fit right in being the only feller. Here he is right at home with his new family. We were glad that the ewes excepted him so well. No chasing or scrapping. No fuss at all.

For a change we have gotten some pretty good animals here. In the past we often got peoples cast offs. Animals that didn't fit in with their programs. Having some kind of undesirable trait, that's why they were "getting rid" of them. Watch out for animals that people are getting rid of. You can wind up with quite the motley crew to be sure. Actually in this bottom picture the sheep on the far right is our our Navajo Churro. She is a cast off. Someone traded her to us for a couple of ducks. They were going to give her to us but, I didn't feel right just taking her so I proposed the trade to make it more fair.

She is a nice animal except there is something strange about her legs. They don't seem to hold her weight that well. Like they are a little misshaped or something. I suspect that might be why they "got rid" of her.

Once we build up our flock we plan to incorporate sheep into our food supply. The farm we originally got our ewes from bred them strictly for meat. The people pretty much lived on them, we assume. Also our daughter is getting more into spinning and I'm hoping she will take it upon herself to get a little specialty yarn business going. The lady we got Dakota from is into the specialty yarn market in a big way. She has wool that she sells for $25 a pound.

When we first moved here we wanted to get into goats. My cousins in TN raise goats so I was sold on their versatility. With the goats we have had, we didn't really care for their personalities. They seemed a little bossy and demanding. Somewhat mischievous. The sheep seem a little more mild mannered to us and we really like these Shetlands. Even the sheep we had before, we liked better than the goats.

However in a survival situation I think goats would be valuable. If for nothing else, then for the milk. I know people are milking sheep these days but, even if I was hungry I think I'd have a hard time drinking sheep milk. It's psychological I reckon. But, with goats you have milk and meat. There's alot of good stuff in milk and everyone says goat milk is easier to digest than cow milk. One of the things we didn't care for with the goat milk though was the occasional off taste, that "goaty" taste. But there are a number of variables that can contribute to that. It's possible to prevent it.

Winter is upon us here in the North Woods. Already had a major snow storm and temps got down in the teens below freezing the other night. Set a record I guess. Must be global warming, eh? Does look like we're going to have a white Christmas here. There's been snow here for Christmas every year since we've been here, even if just a little. My family and I all like to have snow to get in the right mood for the holidays.

For us, we spend alot of family time and share alot of meals. Starts at Thanksgiving and seems to continues right on to New Years. My birthday is on the 6th of December and our anniversary is on the 8th so there's a couple more excuses to do some more eating. Kelli and I will be married 23 years tomorrow. Been eating so much I had to let my belt out a notch this season.

One thing I've noticed since living here in a colder climate and spending more time outdoors is that my appetite always picks up in the cooler weather just like it does with the animals. Problem is, when the warm weather gets here I never seem to lose that winter fat build up. I gained tens pounds a year the first 4 years we lived here. At least I pretty much stopped at 4o lbs. and have maintained that without continuing to gain. I'd kind of like to lose about half of that before I get too much older. Didn't want to go into my forties being over weight but, here I am already 44.

Speaking of getting older the tree in this last picture here is an old apple tree that is out by itself in our field. It doesn't have too many more years left. Half of the tree broke off a couple years ago. It's been around here alot longer than we have. It kind of reminds us of one of those lone trees photographed by National Geographic out on the Serengeti. This apple tree is just out there all by it's self, but it usually has a pretty good load of apples every year. The deer get most of them since we harvest apples from an old time orchard closer to our house. Those too were here long before us. We never do anything with them. No sprays, no pruning or anything yet we get way more apples than we can use every year. This year we sold a bunch at the road side stand.

We've tried a couple times to plant some new trees but without success. The deer ate the first batch and with the second we had a very cold winter their first winter and most didn't come back in the spring. The ones that did make it never took hold either. I figure it was the extreme cold that did them in because when it came we didn't have much snow cover. I'm just guessing that was what did it.

I'd like to give it another try some day. Maybe this next season I'll manage to get around to it.

Until Next Time

Sunday, December 02, 2007


It’s funny how when you “serf the net”, one bit of information leads to another, which leads to another and yet to another. Now I’m not one to actually “serf the net”. I have specific places I go for gathering information, certain blogs I read regularly or semi regularly. I don’t particularly go online for entertainment but, rather for gathering useful information and to gain knowledge. Though sometimes I am greatly entertained by the information I find.

I wish I had more time to relate to everyone in the agrarian blogosphere but it is just impossible to spend that much time to really be that sociable, as much as I would like to be. But, anyway one day last week I was doing some catching up at the Darkwood farm blog and was checking out the links. As I was saying one thing leads to another and I found myself checking out a blog called An Emergent Agrarian were he had a link to a writing by a fellow named Philip Lancaster. It was a piece called What Ever Happened To Families which I thought had some very relevant points as to how our country has degenerated into the mess it has. The social breakdown of this country would seem in large part due to the disintegration of the family, which I’m sure most would agree, not to mention the fact that our country is turning it’s back on God at an ever increasing rate.

This Philip Lancaster describes in length the systematic collapse of the family structure which could be summed up first, with the exodus of fathers, from the home during the industrial revolution, when dads left the home to go to work. Secondly the children left the home with the advent of compulsory education. Thirdly mothers left the home to go compete with men in the factories and offices after the feminist movement and the 1st and 2nd world wars.

With this paragraph Lancaster does a fine job describing the destination these trends have brought us to in the present age. He writes.....

“At the beginning of the 21st century the family is a mere shell of its former self. At its best it is the mere nuclear family, cut off from kin, living in anonymous cities, without productive work in the home, and with both parents working and the children away at school. With each family member feeling the centrifugal pull of out-of-home commitments, they hardly have any time together. The father’s heart is at his job, the children’s hearts with their classmates and friends. Add to this the mind-numbing and soul-destroying distractions of contemporary music, television, and movies — the latest “blessings” of our industrial- technological society — and you round out the picture of the challenges Christian fathers face in attempting to become true family men once again.”

The writing is geared toward the leadership or lack thereof, of fathers.

This ties in well with the Franklin Springs Family Media Movie, A Journey Home that I reviewed awhile back. It is no secret that in this day and age fathers are for the most part absent in the day to day activities of the family. Of course there are the exceptions.

Actually speaking of that movie we recently purchased the Franklin Springs Family Media holiday gift pack of 5 movies including the above mentioned. Last night we watched Inherit The Land which takes you into the lives of a number of Christian families who are living out a life close to the land, trying to recapture the spirit of what was lost from days gone by. I really appreciate the quality work this media company is putting into these movies. They are promoting a great message all the while being highly aesthetically pleasing, really capturing well all that is desirable about life in the country.

But, back to this writing by Philip Lancaster. He brings balanced and thoughtful insights to this question of What Ever Happened To Families? For me Lancaster brings it home with this assessment.
He says…
“I said before that I am not willing to turn the clock back and return to pre-industrial times, but I have to ask: Is it worth it? Has the fruit of the industrial age been worth the price? Of course I realize that what’s done is done, and so it may appear pointless to even raise the question. But my concern in asking it is not so much to evaluate a historical trend as it is to try to sharpen in us the trait of discernment.

The cumulative effect of families having a myriad such tools at their disposal is that we are truly the wealthiest generation to have inhabited the earth. Each of our domestic servants — be it the computer, the dishwasher, or the car — enhances our material quality of life the same or even more than if we had a cadre of human servants. Freeing us from the demands of drudgery, we have more time available for nobler pursuits. This is beyond doubt a great blessing.

My question, though, is whether these blessings are worth the price we have paid for them as a society and as families. Reflecting on the changes industrialism brought, Rev. Abshire comments, “These changes in culture undermined and destroyed the sociological foundations that had held the family together from antiquity.” (Patriarch 22, p. 17) Addressing the same subject, the Hories conclude, “The material rewards were often great, but the price was high: the loss of family ties.” (p. 39) Are the material blessings worth the social and spiritual costs?

My answer is an unequivocal No! If I had to choose, I would rather be in a materially poor society where families were intact and fathers were bound to their children than to be in a rich society with families fragmented to the point of practical dissolution. Material prosperity is not worth the price of family destruction.”

It’s well worth checking out the whole writing so here’s the link again. Click here.

As I stated back when I wrote my review on A Journey Home, we too have found that making the move to a simpler life has brought our family closer together. Even with our business, the thing we do for money, I am in and out of here numerous times a day. We’ve worked hard to keep our business local so even when I’m on the road I’m reasonably close to home and really can run back just about any time, if need be. It’s becoming even clearer to me now just how important it is to keep families intact and functioning with BOTH parents close at hand if at all possible.

It’s funny how when people like the ones featured in the movie Inherit The Land commit themselves to these ideals they are almost looked upon as being strange. Like children who are taught at home or live in the country are some how deprived. This could not be further from the truth. In many ways they are spared from the wounds inflicted by a dysfunctional society, a society which is breeding dysfunctional families.

But, back again to the Franklin Springs Family Media holiday gift pack, I would highly recommend getting that if you are interested in seeing what fully functional God honoring families look like. We need movies like that because the examples we see all around us in the world just don’t cut it.

Until Next Time