Sunday, April 13, 2008

Coming Full Circle

My original intent on this blog was to share about our lives and experiences here at our homestead in the north woods,where in just a short while it will have been ten years exactly that we moved here permanently. But, I kind of lost my momentum as far as sharing our stories. I partially blame the NAIS for that. When I first learned about it my entire focus started to change from homesteading to, a kind of survival mode. I saw the National Animal Identification System as a real threat to our way of life and that of everyone who is desiring to step out of the rat race and enjoy a “simpler” more “self-sufficient” lifestyle.

After learning about all the government bureaucracy that might possibly be imposed on us one day I kind of lost my sense of direction in the way I wanted to present ourselves on this blog. You might could say my bubble was burst. When we first moved here I really felt insulated from all the hassles and the hectic pace of the modern world. But, this thing had the potential to be a real threat to our new found way of life.

I always hesitate using the words “simple” or “self-sufficient”, but I use them from time to time because everyone knows what I’m talking about. I hesitate though because those words are miss leading to those who have never attempted to live this kind of life. Growing and raising your own food is anything, but simple. Simple is going to the grocery store and plopping down your chunk of change for a can of beans. Doesn’t get much simpler than that. And self-sufficient is something that is not a thing that can ever really be achieved because we are always going to need others for one thing or another. But, we can learn to do many things for our selves.

Anyway, as it would go the NAIS is just one little piece of a bigger puzzle that would threaten ours and the way of life of many. There are a lot of alarming changes that have taken place in this country since 911. And it looks like survival, whether we like it or not, is going to be something to have to think about for the foreseeable future.

As I go about pondering these things I’m starting to see it all coming full circle. Really, all the things I’ve been interested in my whole life might well be a thing of necessity in the coming months and years. Steven commented recently that it’s time to “run to the hills”, then he said “oh ya, you already did that!!!” Yes we did, so to speak. I’d rather be in the country than the city any day, especially during these uncertain times.
We didn’t come here to get away, so much as it was to live a different life than the one we led in the city. Besides breathing the fresh air we can pursue our dreams and interests and with plenty of elbow room.

I’ve always been interested in the idea of living off the land. Relatives of mine did that back in the seventies and that really intrigued me. We went to visit them once when I was in about the fourth grade and I was hooked on country life from then on.

I like working with my hands and making things. There is ample opportunity for doing that here. When I was a kid, my cousin and I built several different forts, hideous looking monstrosities but, we had a blast constructing them. We didn’t cut anything to length, we just slapped boards and ply wood together any which way and used lots and lots of nails. We definitely learned how to use a hammer back then. Come to think of it, what a great thing for a kid to do. Just give him some wood, a hammer and a bunch of nails and say, “have at it”.

Early on in our marriage when Kelli and I contemplated buying a house I was appalled at the cost of such a proposition. Why did it have to take a life time just to pay for it? I thought modern society put way to much emphasis on buildings that provide you shelter from the elements. That’s what a house is isn’t it? It provides shelter from the elements. But, when you live the modern life a house is all there is. It’s your “home”. So modern society puts a lot into it with all it’s comforts and amenities. Plus it’s expected that you hire someone to build it and that you purchase all the materials. Every stick worth. People rarely build their own houses, actually pick up a hammer and saw, what with all the regulations and codes and everything. When someone is “building” a house you don’t picture them actually building it, that’s what the professionals are for. No wonder the cost is so high.

So that’s when I got interested in alternative building. When I began studying how to build a log house I learned that the pioneers built them as quick temporary structures. They usually had to cut down trees and clear the land for planting crops so they had lots of available wood and little means with which to cut boards so they built log cabins, but with the idea of building a real home later on. Actually log houses were not the ideal. A house with plastered walls were what many people desired. Often in time people added on to their original log structures and covered them over in plaster. I’ve heard of people who go to remodel an old house and find logs underneath. Log homes were drafty with all kinds of places for insects and rodents to come through. People did what they had to. Many were not yet all hung up on appearances, comfort and conveniences like we are today.

What’s wrong with living in a shed when you first start out? (Herrick Kimball has a good post on alternative housing.) Friends of ours did that. We’re talking, like a small eight by ten foot shed here. After a while they built another shed to have a place to put their stuff. They have a regular house now but hey, they did what it took to get by. That was a long time ago now but, as you drive past their place you can still see those sheds at the end of their driveway. I know in some places it would be against the law to live in a shed. I realize they have to have rules in cities otherwise you’d have plywood slums going up all over but, what’s wrong with it in the country?

We live in a garage. You wouldn’t know it was a garage from the outside. The garage door has been replaced by windows. The inside has been converted to a makeshift house. There’s an upstairs with a dormer. There is one room in the place that is finished which is a bedroom. But, it has worked for us for almost ten years.

We hope to one day build our house. Not a traditional house either, when and if we do. We are opposed to debt so it will have to be hand made by us. I’ve been reluctant to start it because I wanted to save enough money to get far enough to get things under cover without it sitting undone for a long time subject to the weather and elements. It seems every time we get a chunk of money saved something comes up, like when the transmission went out on our new garbage truck. That thing ended up costing $5000 bucks. But that’s life.

We’ve been entertaining the thought of doing something different this summer. We’ve been kicking around the idea of getting a couple wall tents and living in them near the site where we want to build. I was thinking that would get me inspired to take the plunge and start digging. It weighs on me having a lot of unfinished projects around, so I don’t know. Plus we have big gardening plans for this year.

But, that’s how you avoid debt. By having the willingness to take your time at something and being willing to live with delayed gratification. That I think, plays a major factor in our modern society of why people will pay so much for shelter. We want it “now” so we’ll become someone else’s slave for 40 years to get it.

I’ve studied many kinds of alternative house building, from straw bale to rammed earth. They are all labor intensive. Of course one of the things that attracts me to them
is that they are made with cheap readily available materials. Now with the housing crisis interest in affordable homes is in keeping with the times not just some quirky fad.

I’m always interested in learning how to do things for myself. Why go buy it if I can build it with my own two hands. Maybe I’m just cheap. But, regarding alternative home construction, just because the basic materials are low cost the over all projects might not be if your not careful. I’ve been surprised to learn how much some people are spending on alternative homes like straw bale houses for instance. If you add in all the modern amenities it’s not going to be much of a savings.

We found that out with our log cabin. It has all the modern conveniences for our guests and it cost plenty to make it comfortable and convenient. A number of people have thought they’re coming to a place where they have to go outside to go potty and are surprised to find a fully functioning bathroom. Even a whirl pool tub upstairs in the loft. But our plan was to rent out the cabin for income so we put a lot into it.

For our house I’m not opposed to scrounging to come up with things we want or need in it. I’m pretty good at scrounging especially being in the business that we are in. So my tendency to hang on to stuff when I see it has a little more life in it might come in handy in the coming days. I just hate to throw stuff away. It just about pains me to do it. I can’t help but think how wasteful it is to throw away perfectly good stuff.

One of the most cost effective projects we’ve ever done around here was when we built our 16’ x 20’ three sided horse shelter. It’s a pole structure. We used logs from here for the frame and some slab wood we got from a guy to side it with. I think we paid around $20 for a whole truck load of slab wood. Then the only other cost we had was for the metal roof, the fasteners and nails. Built the door out of pallet wood. We had some cheap hinges and latches that we got from a discount store for that. Pretty cheap structure, a good value for the money. To me the cheap projects are the most fun and friends Dawn and Ken were here, so Ken and his sons helped a lot with it too. Working together with friends on building projects are a great way to bond . Even if a person is lacking in practical skills there is great value in doing things in a group. I’ve seen this kind of camaraderie in church groups as well where many people come together with a wide range of skills and back grounds to get a project accomplished.

With all the foreboding political and socioeconomic forecasts out there one can see how people who are already aiming to become less dependant on the system may well have a distinct advantage in the uncertain days ahead. Just simply learning how to do things for yourself instead buying everything would go a long, long way. Otherwise you are at the mercy of so many external circumstances. Think wheel barrels of cash to buy a loaf of bread type circumstances.

During the “Great Depression“ most people lived in rural area’s and many still knew how to do things for themselves. Not so today. Today folks who “intentionally” chose to live like so many did in the 1920’s and 30’s are thought of as out of step with the times by most modern people. Or even thought of as being backwards. But, to be fair I realize there is a small segment of society, Mother Earth types, that do appreciate learning how to do things and respect the people who have learned and who live that way.

Learning how to do things for yourself can be fun and rewarding. So if you’ve had any inclination to learn some things there’s no time like the present. Do some wood working. Build something even if it’s small. It’s easier to start small and work your way up. Tap a few maple trees, make a little syrup. Get a few chickens. Try cooking a meal without using stuff from a box. Plant some vegetables. Whatever your interests are just do it. Stop putting it off. It doesn’t have to cost a lot and in fact shouldn’t. Try to do whatever it is for as little financial input as possible.

But like I said here a little bit ago, I’m starting to see things coming full circle, for me personally in my own thinking. Admittedly I’ve been fighting off discouragement on and off the past couple years with how things have been going in this country as far as losing our freedoms, the economy and the moral degradation of our society goes. But I am now realizing how everything I’ve been interested my whole life can be of great value during hard times. Like the old Hank Williams Jr. song,
A Country Boy Can Survive? Perhaps. But, not trusting in our own strength. Even if things turn around for the better having skills and know how are a tremendous insurance policy. Even for personal down turns, not just national or international calamities. A person can easily lose their job and find themselves at a loss as how to earn a living. Even with me being self-employed there is no guarantee I’ll be in business this time next year. I could be out bid entirely or I could get hurt or sick or what ever.

These past months at the dinner table often when I pray over our meal I’ve been praying that God would give us the wisdom and the strength to accomplish the things He would have us to do this year. We have lots to do. Looking back I can see Gods guiding hand on our lives, how He led us out of the city, how He has allowed us to have enough without having to much. How He has taught us to be dependant on Him. He gives us peace even in the storms.

Until Next Time


Blogger jayedee said...


9:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is some in formation on building log houses in the uk.

Building Log Houses in the UK

12:00 PM  
Blogger Shelley said...

I can relate to your comments about no debt and being able to build something yourself. We just finished having a log cabin built but now wish we had taken the classes and participated more in the process. It might be our next project. we recently discovered many places from searches on the Internet to building your own log cabin. By the way - your loft looks wonderful!
Come visit our cabin at Shell

6:38 PM  
Blogger RL said...

Thanks for the bravo!
Thank you for the link.
You have a very beautiful log cabin. They did a fine job on it.

We enjoy going up to the U.P. but don't get up there nearly often enough.

Thanks for the link to your blog. It’s always interesting to see how people do things. Very nice pictures.


7:53 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I just love barns, sheds and log-cabins. It reminds of my childhood very much.

10:41 AM  

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