Recent Happenings

Dateline: 29 May 2006

It’s been awhile since I last blogged here. Things are so busy with us here as I’m sure they are with you too.

Before I fill you in on some happenings, I want to extend a very sincere thank you to the wonderful people who have most recently written reviews of my new book. I am truly blessed when I read how my writings have resonated with and encouraged others. I am also humbled and thankful to the Lord for His goodness.

Thank you Cheri Shelnutt!

Thank you Billy Joe Jim Bob! (I had never heard of Billy Joe Jim Bob until I read his review)

Thank you Christina Fuller!

Thank you Scott Holtzman!

Now, on to a few happenings......


The Lovely Marlene is back to baking and selling her wonderful breads. The farm market starts up next month (June 15) but she has been making and delivering loaves to anxious and dedicated customers. Last week she made and sold 24 loaves to others and made 12 for us. I’ll be installing a second oven in the house for her once the market starts up.

Oh, and James the cookie-making lad has made and sold some of his famous molasses cookies with some of the bread.


This year my wife will be selling her homemade soaps at the market. She has made soap for several years and tried selling it at craft fairs but that is a lot of time spent for little return. There are no soap sellers at the Skaneateles farm market so she will be marketing soap there this year, in addition to the bread. The nice thing about soap is that, unlike bread, it’ll keep for a long time once you’ve made it.

Marlene has needed some sort of brochure to give people who buy the soap—something that tells about her product and explains how to get more. So I spent most of a rainy day last weekend putting that together for her. It’s not real professional looking but it will serve the purpose.

I’ve also designed some wooden soap display holders and am still in the process of getting them made. Tomorrow she will deliver 100 bars to a store that has bought them wholesale. There is another store that wants to sell the soap.


We are endeavoring to plant the rest of our garden this Memorial Day weekend. I have transplanted dill, parsley, onions, lavender, and zucchini seedlings that I started in the house. Yesterday I planted two beds of carrots. I love to grow carrots. There are still beets, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, and beans to plant. And I’m sure there will be more.

Working in the garden is, to me, the absolutely best part of spring, summer and fall!


I see that Emily has been blogging about the new chicks she recently bought through the mail. It has occurred to me that having chicks is like having children in the sense that a person really can’t understand the experience until you’ve had your own.


Speaking of chicks, Marlene (my favorite chick) tried to hatch out another batch of little cheepers in our styrofoam incubator. You may recall that her first attempt earlier this year resulted in only two bird births. Those birds are now enjoying the good life here on our little homestead. But the latest incubator full of eggs was a total failure. We’re doing something wrong and we don’t know what.


But there is also good news on the chick front. Our neighbor Ken called awhile back to tell us that one of his Buff Orphington hens was broody. So Marlene got some Maran eggs from other neighbor, Gail, and Ken put them under the Buff. Guess what? Every single egg hatched!

Ken brought the mother & babies in his house every night to protect them from rats. After a week or so, we brought them here. They run free during the day and we lock them up every night in a plastic dog carrier container, which is rat proof. There are wood shavings in the bottom and a tarp over the top so it’s cozy inside and the mother goes right in there by herself.

The two chicks from Marlene’s first incubator hatch go into another pet carrier each night. We were taking them into the house every night and putting them into a cardboard box, but Marlene found a second pet carrier at a garage sale for five bucks. Very handy, those pet carriers are! Rats don’t bother the older birds, but they will take the smaller ones.

Someday I’ll tell you the story of when I worked on a farm and was “attacked” by by a bunch of rats. Really!


My son, Robert, and a friend helped a neighbor farmer pick rocks for two days last week. He comes home covered from head to toe with a layer of dusty soil, It is in the pockets of his pants and in his shoes. It is a beautiful sight to see my young son working so hard and, better yet, loving it.


Robert recently completed a tractor safety course put on by the state extension. It amounted to two hours of classroom instruction one night a week for five weeks. Then he took a tractor driving test the Saturday before last. Marlene and I watched him take the driving test with some anxiety, especially the backing-up-with-a-trailer part. The fact is, he has hardly ever driven a tractor. But he has driven his grandfather’s lawnmower and has had some experience backing up a little trailer on that. He felt confident going into the test and did just fine. What a relief! We celebrated with ice cream.


Congratulations to Rick Saenz’s son, Chris, who has built a fine looking Whizbang chicken plucker. And it even works! The Saenz family gave it a try last week and I encourage you to read about it here. At the very least, check out the pictures.


Russ Nellis over at Log Cabin Homestead has written a particularly nice blog story that mentions my name. That’s not why I think it is particularly nice. What’s nice is when he says insightful and encouraging things like this:

“God wires each of us differently in order to fulfill specific purposes. When someone is wired for something you can hardly keep them away from it. Musicians gravitate towards singing and or musical instruments. Artists find things to draw, paint and sculpt. Tradesmen gravitate towards tools and building projects. The mechanically inclined towards cars and machinery. Cooks and chefs towards kitchens and food. The list goes on and on. Sure, people can learn most any skill but the best ones seem to be the ones who are born to it. The tasks are not burdensome, they are a joy.”

And like this:

“I’m just saying that we need to put away our addictions to stuff and start living out of our hearts. What has God put on your heart to do? And we all know when it is more than just a good idea. The things God has for us to do are “inspired“. When you can see the vision so strongly you can almost touch it. That I believe, is God given. We didn’t come up with it. In fact it’s too big for us to have come up with anyway. That’s how inspiration works.”


My youngest son, James, went to the library and picked himself out some books to read. One is By The Shores of Silver Lake, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It makes my heart glad when my boys choose and read books on their own. Unfortunately, they do not do this as much as I would like to see. I was more than an avid reader as a boy—I was a voracious reader.


News Flash: My oldest son, Chaz, has bought himself an electric bass guitar. He and some friends are playing music together. This is an interesting development.


Which brings to mind a new and interesting development with the old Moravia Grange Hall. I will report on it here sometime this week......

Dump Day

Dateline: 23 May 2006

Twice a year, spring and fall, always on a Saturday, from 10:00 to 3:00, my town has a “dump day.” Town residents can bring their non-household refuse to the town barn and toss it into one of the many enormous dumpsters that are there for the occasion. Folks can get rid of their junk at no cost. Non-household refuse is stuff like old lawnmowers, appliances, televisions, vacuum cleaners, exercise equipment, plastic toys, furniture, and so forth.

Dump day is an event that my boys and I always go to. We do this for several reasons. One reason is that I’m an elected member of my town board and I feel like I have a responsibility to make a show. A few years ago, when we first initiated dump day (as a service to town residents, and an attempt to help clean the town up a bit) we board members would take turns working the five hours, directing folks where to dump their stuff and helping them with the task. Now that dump day has grown in popularity, we pay the three town employees overtime to be there for the whole time. Even still, I feel I should show up and help a little. But that’s not the only reason we go to dump day.

We also go to dump our own junk. I’ll store unburnable items (made of plastic and metal) out of sight behind my shop and haul them out for dump day. But that’s not the main reason why we go to dump day.

The main reason—the biggest reason— we go to dump day, the reason my boys await the day with great anticipation, is that we get to pick over what everyone else throws out. And sometimes we find good stuff!

For example, a couple years ago, one of my neighbors pulled in with a pickup full of scrap and I instantly noticed a long length of thick copper cable. I told him the copper was worth money but he said he just wanted to get rid of it. So I told my son, Robert, that he could have it and to haul it over to our trailer. Later, I showed him how to slice the insulation off with a utility knife. Then we made a trip to the scrap yard and sold it for $89. That was a nice chunk of change for a 13-year-old boy, and it was a real learning experience.

Copper prices have more than doubled since then and Robert has accumulated a copper stash out behind my shop. He has learned that scrap copper is out there and it’s worth money and if you keep an eye out for it, you’ll find it. And a little bit at a time, here and there, adds up to a lot after awhile. It’s like a savings account.

My boys have salvaged old bikes and snow sleds and so much other stuff I can’t remember it all. I’ve made some good finds too. One of my best was an expensive waterproof canvass truck tarp—the kind used to cover a load of hay on a flatbed tractor trailer. Mice had eaten some small holes in one section but the rest of the cover was like new. I brought it home and cut it into manageable sections of useful tarp. I’ve used it to cover firewood and chicken tractors and I think those tarps will last forever—unlike those cheap woven plastic ones I used to buy.

Last Saturday was dump day and, as usual, we were there lookin’ for great finds. Robert got himself a Poulan chainsaw that works. When we got home he wanted to cut a tree down. I pointed out a 6” diameter maple that we could do without. He cut it down, trimmed the branches off and cut it into firewood lengths. James split the chunks in half with his axe. Then they piled the branches on our burn pile and stacked the wood on our woodpile.

Now Robert and James want to go into the firewood business. Robert asked me if I would pay him $30 a cord for the firewood. I told him we don’t have the trees to spare (it’s times like this I wish I had that wooded land I dream of owning one day). But when we buy the old Moravia Grange Hall, there are some trees in the small bit of woodland there that can be cut for firewood. So I told him he will have plenty of opportunity to put his “new” chainsaw to use.

James figured he hit the “mother lode” when he hauled out a big coil of wire with black insulation on it. I thought he did too. But, upon closer inspection, we discovered it was underground phone wire and the wires were very small. So we left it there. But I wish we hadn’t done that because I’ve bought underground phone wire and it is expensive stuff. It was a perfectly fine big roll and I probably could have sold it to someone.

Then James found an electric sewing machine and asked me if he could bring it home. It happened to be in the original carrying case with the instruction manual and looked to be in perfect condition. It was an old Kenmore and surprisingly heavy. We brought it home.

Sunday afternoon, James and me spent some time figuring out how to make it sew. Sewing machines are amazing mechanical devices. The instruction manual came in real handy. After awhile that machine was sewing as well as a brand new model. Fact is, it sews better than Marlene’s old sewing machine.

I don’t think we’ve ever gone to dump day and come away empty handed!

Our family has found this unique little community event (we are not the only pickers there) to be educational, exciting, inspiring, and profitable. I heartily recommend dump picking to you as a wonderful family activity.

The Charging Woodchuck

Dateline: 18 May 2006

Hardly a day goes by that my two youngest sons are not stalking woodchucks in the fields around our home. They typically hunt alone. Sometimes they go together, though with only one gun.

James (age 11) has bagged two woodchucks thus far. He brings them home, skins them, loops twine through the nostrils, and hangs the pelts on the side of the chicken coop. They are, essentially, trophies. Robert (age 15) cuts the tails off the woodchucks he gets and puts them on a rafter inside the chicken coop. Our chicken coop is the closest thing we have to a barn.

The boys use a .22 rifle with a scope to do their hunting. But last Saturday Robert asked me if he could use my 20-gauge shotgun. He has his own shotgun but he likes his dad’s better. I consented with the usual admonition to be careful and take good care of my gun.

A short while later, I’m on the computer in the upstairs bedroom (a.k.a., the current international headquarters of Whizbang Books) and Robert yells to me: “Hey Dad, come and see this woodchuck I shot!”

He does not usually call me to see a woodchuck he has shot so I headed right down. As I walked into the back yard, Robert was standing over the carcass and exclaimed, “You got to see this. It looks like a missile went through it!”

And so it did. The exit hole through the poor animal’s neck was the diameter of a baseball. That's what a slug will do.

Robert explained to me that he “belly-crawled” up closer than usual to shoot the critter. When it turned its head away from him, or dropped low to browse in the grass, he crawled closer. When the animal sat up to look around, Robert froze.

Within the next couple of hours, Robert shotgunned two more woodchucks and carried them home. Marlene was away on errands so he lined the blasted animals up on the back lawn to show his mother when she got home. As you might imagine, Marlene was thrilled to see that!

Later in the day, with the sun setting, Robert asked me if I wanted to go woodchuck hunting with him, this time with the .22 rifle. I have watched in vain at the side of a field for woodchucks to show themselves with Robert but that was years ago. I have never truly hunted woodchucks with him before. He has learned from friends and through his own persistence. I figured it was about time I accompanied him on a hunt, especially since he has been so successful at it lately.

I followed my son into the woods behind our house. We headed down into the gully. We crossed the stream where Robert and James had laid several flat rocks to make a dry walkway across the shallow but wide waterway. Up the opposite bank, over a well-worn path in the dense brush, I followed.

He was wearing sneakers, jeans, a white t-shirt and a camouflage “boonie” hat. The rifle was safely held in his hands. He was moving swiftly, deftly, quietly, confidently, and effortlessly. I realized I was falling behind. Gone are the days when I have to slow down or wait for my children as we walk in the woods. I picked up my pace.

We emerged into a long, rolling field divided into alternating strips (about 100 feet wide) of hay and bare soil that has been prepared but not yet planted. We are walking slowly through a hay strip. The grass is about a foot high. The ground rises ahead of us. He is walking tall, looking to see what comes into view over the top of the rise.

He stopps suddenly and I do the same. I look where he is looking. For a split second I see the dark brown outline of a woodchuck head before it drops down, out of sight in the grass. Robert crouches down and I do the same. He walks, bent low at the waist, around to the side, flanking the burrow hole where the woodchuck was. I stay put and watch.

He sits down about 20 yards from the hole. His left elbow is resting on his knee with the hand above supporting the front of the gun. A bullet is in the chamber. The safety is off. His other hand is on the trigger. He is watching through the optical sight.

My son is in the green grass, silhouetted against the backdrop of farmland. The setting sun is shining golden through a break in the clouds. Redwing blackbirds are flying and calling in the field behind him. There is a barn and silo beyond. In the far distance, the other side of the valley rises, darkly wooded, with a smoky wisp of low cloud drifting by. I wish I had a camera to capture the scene but, lacking that, I survey the image and consciously burn it into my memory.

After some time passes, Robert walks up to the woodchuck hole and waves me over. He tells me that the animal will not come out any time soon and we continue slowly through the field, scanning ahead, watching for the outline of a woodchuck head, amidst a terrain full of dark outlines.

We are walking along a section of the field where bare earth and grass adjoin. There is a shallow furrow at the juncture. The fitted and rain-packed soil is easier to walk over than the grass was. Robert continues to be the point man.

All of a sudden he stops and takes a step back in surprise. A bare moment later I see the woodchuck directly ahead of us. It is running as fast as a woodchuck can run directly toward us! It is maybe 30 feet away and closing fast. By the time I see the animal and realize what is happening, Robert has the gun up and is aiming. He fires once. The woodchuck’s head instantly drops to the ground and all forward motion ceases.

As we walk up to the animal, it’s back legs are straining slowly, reflexively, as the last bit of life ebbs from its body. Robert reaches down, grasps a handful of fur on the critter’s back, lifts it off the ground and lays it over. It is almost motionless. He comments to me that it is a big one. We look closer to see where the bullet hit. I am surprised to see that it entered the creature’s head just below its nose. Whjen it is fully dead Robert uses a jackknife to remove the tail. He stuffs it in his pocket. Then he picks the animal up and carries it to a big burrow hole about ten feet behind us. He positions the lifeless animal half in and half out of the hole so it’s out of the way but Turkey vultures can still get to it. That’s what he tells me.

I ask Robert if he has ever had a woodchuck charge him before. He tells me no. I’m utterly amazed at how instinctively and accurately my son reacted to the charging animal. I’m also surprised at how calm and matter-of-fact he is about the whole thing. I feel like I am in the presence of a master woodchuck hunter. I am, frankly, in awe of my son.

Before we start walking, looking for the next woodchuck, he hands me the gun: “Here, you can shoot the next one.” I tell him, “Thanks, but I would rather watch you!”

Whizbang International?

Dateline: 17 May 2006

A few weeks ago I helped one of the Moravia Grange members remove the simple black-letters-on-white-background Grange sign that had been on the front of the Grange hall for so many years. Before they took it away, I measured it and used several taped-together sheets of tracing paper to copy the lettering so I can make an exact duplicate and put it back up. That will be one of my first projects once we take ownership of the old building.

Yesterday at the supper table, during our conversation, I mentioned to my family that I was thinking of not putting that sign back up. I said that since the new-to-us building was going to be the new international headquarters of Whizbang Books, I figured I might better put a sign up that said in big lettersWhizbang International.

To my surprise, all three boys responded immediatly with a collective “Oh no!” and they made it clear that they did not think that was a good idea.

I was just kidding.


Speaking of Whizbang Books, there have been several more reviews of my newest book by internet bloggers and I want to acknowledge them here with my sincere thanks.

Jeremy Able over at the blog Living Among Mysteries wrote this review. I’d like to point out that Jeremy’s review is the first negative one I’ve received—but it is only mildly negative and very well done. Thank you Jeremy!

Scott Terry at Homesteader Life posted this fine review.

Tom Scepaniak at Northern Farmer wrote favorably of the book inthis blog.

JFC at The Aspiring Agrarian wrotethis review. JFC also mentions Christine Martin’s suggestion that I build a Whizbang Chicken Pot Pie machine and write a how-to book on the subject. I’ll add that to my “to-do” list. I love chicken pot pies!

Lisa Barthuly at Our Little Homestead wrote this review.

Thank you again everyone. Your kind words mean a lot as I endeavor to get this little book of mine noticed by more people.


By the way, I’ve been asked if my book will be available at, as are all my other books. The answer is no. I hope to find a network of smaller booksellers on the internet and elsewhere to market it and bypass the big marketers like amazon. That is my plan for at least the first year.

Some Spring Happenings

Dateline: 16 May 2006

Spring is in full swing here in central New York state. Lilac blossoms are out in all their splendor. Strawberry blossoms opened with the full moon a few days ago. Marlene tells me it was a “strawberry moon.” My son James picked his mother some apple blossoms and gave me a sprig. They are so fragrant! A mother robin is tending her hatchlings in a nest she built on what remains of last winter’s woodpile— we can watch the nest from a side window of our house.


Birds, so many birds. My two youngest sons are becoming very attuned to the many different birds around our home. This is a result of Marlene’s influence. She was an avid bird watcher as a young person. My sons have recently started compiling a “bird list.” They are even learning to identify the calls of different songbirds. Some days when I come home from work, they tell me excitedly of new birds they’ve seen, or bird nests they’ve discovered. Things like that please me greatly.

A couple weeks ago, Marlene and the boys went to Montezuma Wildlife Refuge which is a wetland about a half hour from our house. There they saw an osprey and a bald eagle in their nests.


Spring is the time to plant and we have been doing that. Peas and spinach went in the ground weeks ago and are doing nicely (we have been eating spinach). My garlic, planted last fall, is looking very robust, especially after the recent rains. Garlic needs lotsof rain early in it’s growth.

James (11 yrs) and Robert (15 yrs) helped me plant three rows of potatoes, 70 feet long, and five rows the same length of open-pollinated dent corn. The corn will be for our chickens. We’ve never grown corn for our birds before, mainly because we lack the land to do so. But my neighbor has graciously given me permission to expand my garden into a portion of his field that is beside my property.

The boys and I will harvest the corn by hand, husk it, and put it in some sort of homemade corn crib, probably inside my workshop. Through the winter we will shell and coarse-grind it for the chickens.

We will also grind some for ourselves. The seed catalog said the corn is good for feeding animals or making cornmeal for people. The thought of fresh-ground, whole grain corn bread from our own corn is very appealing.


The bulk of our vegetable garden will be planted Memorial Day weekend. With that in mind, I helped Robert plant seeds in trays for two varieties of heirloom cantaloupe and the heirloom “Moon and Stars” watermelon. Robert is the melon-growing boy. Last year we bought cantaloupe seedlings from a greenhouse. This year we are starting our own.

I have started my own tomato plants inside for several years. In my anxiousness, I typically start them much too early and the plants get long and “leggy” by the time the ground is warm enough to plant. This year I waited until the forsythia were in blossom, which was just a couple weeks ago. The seedlings are only a couple inches high but they are looking good and I will transplant them on Memorial Day. I think the shock of transplanting will be less with the smaller plants. I also started lots of parsley and lavender when I planted the tomatoes.

I’d like to have a small hoop house one day for starting plants. That would be much easier than windowsills in the house. As the plants start to grow, we take the flats outside and set them in a garden cart with plastic stretched and clamped over the top. It’s a makeshift greenhouse but it does the job.


Robert is learning. James is learning. We are all learning about planting and growing and harvesting. The beauty of this agrarian life is that there is so much to learn and discover and experience when it comes to producing your own food. I expect to do this all of my earthly days and still be learning to the end. I hope that my sons will do the same. When we work to grow our own food we are, as I have said before, co-laborers with God. And I suspect that, even into old age, the wonder of it never ceases.


Over the weekend I sent out several review copies and news releases for my new book. James visited with me while I was doing this. Looking over the sealed envelopes, he noticed one was addressed to the New York Times Book Review Editor. I explained to him that sending review copies of the book out to different publications is like planting seeds. I plant the 'seeds" and the Lord will provide reviews as it pleases Him to do. If the New York Times does review the book, a lot of people will know about it and I could sell a lot of copies as a result. “Like how many?” James wondered. “Thousands!” I said with a big grin. He liked the sound of that. So we prayed that God would send a spirit of favor with each book I mailed out.

Chances are slim that a self-published book like mine would ever get such attention as a NY Times book review. But still, I’ll plant such seeds and see what develops. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.


My home-based entrepreneurial efforts in the writing business have, in recent years, born modest fruit because God has blessed. But it has not always been so. I’ve had my share of failures and disappointments in the past. I like to think I’ve learned from the failures, and I hope they are all in the past. But I’m afraid they probably are not.


Last Sunday, the whole family drove about an hour from our home to Miller Nursery in Canandaigua, N.Y. We bought a dozen blueberry plants and enough red and black raspberry canes to plant a 50-foot row. Marlene says homemade jam sells very well at the farm market. It seems to me that such a product, made from your own homegrown fruit, would be an excellent value-added homestead enterprise. We certainly would not do this on any significant scale with the few plants we bought at Miller Nursery. The fruit will be for our family. But we are, as I’ve previously noted, learning, and we can, one day, expand our operation when we have more land to do so.


My oldest son, Chaz, who doesn’t get mentioned here nearly as much as his two younger brothers, has started working mornings for three hours and on Saturdays at the local lumberyard in Moravia. He will be working there full time this summer, as he did last summer. It is a physical job which is just what he needs. Last fall, after working the summer, he had saved enough to pay cash for his first car— a nice little Honda Accord. I worked on a dairy farm for a year to earn the money to buy my first car. I was 20 years old.


There is so much more to be blogging about but the days slip by so fast......

My Agrarian Family Vision
(Part 2)

Dateline: 12 May 2006

In my last blog entry I spoke of my vision to one day own land (more than our current 1.5 acres) where home, family, and work (a.k.a., the family economy) can be united and where future generations of my family can be nurtured while exercising sustainable dominion. And I mentioned that I want to do this debt-free, even though I do not have the financial resources right now to make it happen.

So how does one get from here to there? That is the question. My answer is to mix diligence, thrift, and focus with prayer and faith. And, of course, we must add patience and wisdom into the recipe too. The patience part is hard for me, seeing as I’m 48 years old and my sons are growing up way too fast. But they share in this vision too and, perhaps, to make it happen, they will have to literally buy into it one day. And I have resigned myself to the fact that I, like Moses (though I am nothing like Moses!), may never see the “promised land.” Perhaps I will only pass on the conviction and vision and my sons will “take the land.”.

Whatever the case, as a step towards the goal, I feel compelled to buy the old Grange hall in Moravia, which is a couple miles from my house. I’ve mentioned this in the past here and I’m going to share with you about this matter in more detail because so many people have expressed an interest in our little venture. It seems that my life has become something of an open book lately. At least some of it. I’m glad to share portions of it with you. Perhaps some people can learn from or be encouraged by our exploits. In any event, if you feel compelled to pray for us along the way, that would be greatly appreciated. Now, about the Grange....

We drove by the Grange hall on the way to church one day earlier this year and noticed the little FOR SALE sign in front. When I saw it I remarked, “Hey! They’re selling the Grange hall!” And after a couple moments of thought, I exclaimed, “We should buy that!” But we did not at that time pursue the possibility.

A few weeks later, a lady I know who, it turns out, is a Granger (and I never knew it), mentioned in conversation something about the Grange hall being for sale. I told her that Marlene and I had our wedding reception there 25 years ago (read about it here). She told me she remembered working that day to cater the food for the reception. And she remembered that she and the other Grange ladies were concerned about the ability of the floor to hold up to our dancing. I have a vague recollection of several Grangers, gathered on one side of the hall, looking on with concern. Now I know why.

I asked some questions and found out the hall had been for sale since last fall. They had shown it to a few people but no one made an offer. The town has given the building an assessed value of $108,000. A local real estate person told the Grangers they should ask $89,000 for the two acres and 4,000 s.f. building with a drilled well, septic system, kitchen, and two restrooms. I asked her what she thought the Grange would actually take for the place. She shrugged her shoulders and said no reasonable offer would be refused. I told her we’d like to look it over.

The main structure is over 100 years old. A dining hall addition, kitchen, and septic system was added in the mid 1970’s (all the Grangers I’ve spoken to remember using the outhouse that used to be out back). The building has been maintained since then but not kept up. We decided to put a purchase offer in for $50,000. The Grangers (all 12 remaining members) had a meeting and decided to accept our offer.

$50,000 is not much money to some people. But it is a small fortune to us. We do not have $50,000 to buy the Grange. But we have $10,000 of savings to spare and that is 20% which, I was told, makes borrowing money from the bank a whole lot easier.

Yes, you read that right,,, “borrowing money from the bank.” For the first time in my life I am going to get a conventional bank mortgage. But here’s the big difference—this mortgage is not on my house and my home will not be used as collatteral for the loan. The building will also be completely used for business, so all taxes, interest, upkeep, and so forth will be a business deduction.

When we went to the small-town bank in Moravia (which is, amazingly, still locallly owned), we found out that getting a loan would be no problem. We have no mortgage payment, no car payment, no credit card debt. I know this is unusual because a friend of mine who sits on the board of directors at another bank told me recently that the average person coming into that institution for a loan has $40,000 in personal debt—that’s not including mortgage debt.

Our monthly Grange mortgage payment will be around $300. That is less than many people pay on their monthly auto loan. So, what this boils down to is that I’m choosing to go into debt but it is a carefully measured and calculated debt that does not create a burden on our finances and, most importantly to me, I am not putting my house on the line. If I pay the loan off for the entire 20-year duration, I will end up paying approximately twice what I am borrowing. If I pay ahead on the principle with each monthly payment I can save thousands of dollars and pay the loan off in less time. That is what I intend to do, beginning with the first payment.

How, you might wonder, does buying a Grange Hall with only two acres help us get to the vision for a farm? Well, here’s my thinking on the subject...

A couple years back I checked into getting a loan to buy a parcel of land. I figured we would buy it, use it, pay it off, and then move there to build our house with money from the sale of the house we now live in. Marlene asked me where we live while we build the house. I told her in a tent, of course. ;-)

But I found out the bank will not loan money to purchase undeveloped property unless I put my house up as collatteral. Well, that is out of the question. But I can get a loan to purchase an old Grange hall in decent shape on a beautiful parcel in a nice location. I can use the land for growing garlic and other marketable crops. I can use the building for my book and plucker parts business. Marlene can use the space for making soap. The kitchen may or may not be useable for commercial purposes, depending on the county health department and their regulations and we are checking into that next week. We could even put an apartment in the place and rent it.

So the Grange would be useful to us and, hopefully, it will turn out to be a good investment. I would not hesitate to sell it for a profit if the opportunity presented itself. The bank’s appraiser called last night to ask a couple questions. I asked him if he thought I was paying too much. He told me that the lot with septic, drilled well, and electrical service was worth around $25,000. So the building is costing me around six dollars a square foot, which is downright cheap. That was good to hear.

I have always been wary of borrowing money, whether from a bank or anywhere else. But here I am borrowing. On the one hand, it makes me uncomfortable because I’ve never done this before and because I understand the uncertainty of our country’s economic future. But, even still, I feel a remarkable peacefullness about doing this. It seems perfectly right for us at this time.

Will this purchase of the old Grange hall help bring us a step closer to the dream of uniting home, family, and work in a rural place, as I hope for it to do? Or will it turn out to be one of the most foolish economic decisions of my life? Stay tuned. I will keep you informed as the story continues to unfold....


My oldest son showed me how to post pictures to this blog yesterday. I'll try to start posting some photos soon.

My Agrarian Family Vision

Dateline: 10 May 2006

In my book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian, I tell the story of my debt-free home. I tell how I don’t like banks and would never go to one for a loan to build my home. I tell how, twenty-one years ago, my father-in-law, Jay Myers, loaned Marlene and I $10,000 to get a start building our house. And, since then, we have slowly expanded it and worked to get it finished. We are still working at it. Last weekend I got the electrical inspection done in the 12ft by 14ft addition I framed on the back of the house a year ago. Now it is insulated and drywalled and I hope to paint this weekend.

It’s not a big house and it’s not a beautiful house, but it’s solid and looking more respectable as time passes, and it is our home. It sets on only 1.5 acres of land, most of which is woods and gully. My dream is to one day have more land—a farm with our home on it. My boys share in this dream too. A stand of hardwood, some field for pasture, a stream, perhaps even a pond, would be nice. These things would give us more room to establish home-based agrarian enterprises.

I envision my sons, with families of their own, living close by, perhaps even on the same land. I envision the land being held in a family trust. I envision the woodland being wisely and sustainably harvested for generations. I envision grandchildren growing up in this place, loving it, caring for it. It is fun to envision such things.

But that’s just part of the dream. I also dream of owning this land with a home on it debt free! Now there is a dream for you! Some would say it is a pipe dream— especially for a guy like me with a relatively meager job and financial resources.

I do not have a college degree and have never had a high-paying job. Ours is a single income family. Most of our married life, we have struggled to get by. Only in the past 6 years have I had a job that pays steady and relatively well. I have not made stock market investments that returned big bucks, and I have not inherited a lot of money. Years ago, my grandmother indicated to me that I would receive an inheritance from her. When she died a couple years ago, I thought maybe the dream would become a reality, but it did not. As is so often the case, things don’t always work out the way

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m a blessed man and I know it full well. The Lord has been good to me and my family and we live the good life here. We have been blessed more than we deserve. I am also a thankful and contented person (read the chapter on contentment in my book for more on that subject). But still, I have this vision and, until the Lord directs me otherwise, I am pursuing it. I am painting the picture of my situation for you here because, in the event that the Lord does “bring us into the new land,” it is going to be a truly remarkable thing.

Some Christians will, upon reading of this, think to themselves that my vision for family land is all wrong. They might think that I should, instead, be doing something like establishing a big evangelical ministry that will win souls to Christ. Or, perhaps, they will think that my focus should be on making lots of money in business or industry so I can support a big evangelical ministry that will win souls to Christ. Or maybe they will think my vision is too worldly and self-centered; that I should do something else, like become a missionary and go to spread the gospel in different lands.

Well, the older I get, the more I see that God works in the hearts of His people in different ways. Some Christians are called to ministry in one way, others in another. All are called to bear witness to the glory of God. With that in mind, it seems to me that a family, anchored by roots that go deep in a rural place, nourished by a simple Christian faith, a faith that is humble, loving, caring, forgiving, and generous, can bring glory to God and build the kingdom of Jesus Christ in a very profound and lasting way.

I have, on more than one occasion, sat in the pew and listened to a preacher say that family can become an idol. The inference being that more parishoners need to get involved in church ministry outreach. I have a problem with that line of reasoning.

While it is certainly possible for family to become an idol, I don’t see that as a big problem in our modern, mainstream culture, or in the modern Christian culture, which, in so many ways, reflects the mainstream.

The much bigger problem is that men and women are neglecting their homes and families to acquire wealth, prestige, some form of greater power, or to pursue personal pleasure. I dare say more men make idols of their career or even their fishing equipment than their family. And let us keep in mind that one can also make an idol out of Christian ministry—even a ministry committed to reaching out and winning souls to Christ.

How many men in Christian ministry put such tremendous energy and effort into their ministry while neglecting to be the fathers they should be to their children? I’ll tell you how many...Lots. How many people in the church, endeavoring to serve the Lord, do so at the expense of their families? Plenty. How many decent people in churches are guilt-manipulated to serve in so many church outreach misistries only to burn out from overcommittment? I’ve seen my share. There must be a balance.

Did God establish the institution of the family in the Old Testament, only to have godly men forsake it in the New Testament? I say no way. We must follow Jesus and tend to the responsibilities of being fathers and mothers to our children. Indeed, to raise our children to know God, to fear Him, to embrace His salvation, to love His word, and to glorify Him all their lives is following Jesus. Everything else falls into place when faith and family are in focus and in balance.

All of which makes me think of something related to this matter... I am not theologically confident—nor theologically arrogant—enough to condemn modernized methods of Christian mass proselytization (i.e. televangelism) because God’s word, even in the hands of emotionally theatric and crass purveyors is still powerful and compelling and it brings lost people to Christ. But so many conversions from the techno-industrial evangelical methods are shallow and short-lived. And, by the way, have you seen “christian” stand-up comedians on the television? I have, and I’m not edified by watching these people. I fail to see how God is glorified by their antics. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

In stark contrast to the mass approach or to church outreach programs run by overcommitted and over stressed mothers and fathers, is that of godly families, living simply on the land, worshiping God in their humble churches and in their daily lives, being good neighbors, being salt and light in their communities. I can’t help but think these people can be a far more sincere, effective and long lasting witness for Jesus Christ now—and in the generations to follow—than so many evangelical outreach schemes.

But, alas, I have digressed from my initial topic. And, oh my, I think I've been much too opinionated. Oh well, In my next blog entry I’ll return to the subject of my family vision and how we are endeavoring to get there from here.

Cumberland Books
2006 Catalog

Dateline: 9 May 2006

I have been anxiously awaiting my 2006 edition of the Cumberland Books catalog and I was pleased to get it in the mail yesterday!

At the top of the catalog, on the cover, are the words In Pursuit of The Good Life.
Inside the catalog, in a section titled, "Thinking About Simple Living," Rick Saenz has this to say:

"My concept of the good life is simple. It is a life devoted to raising our families, living in community, and worshiping God. Any activity that contributes to those three things should be welcomed; any activity that detracts from those three things should be questioned. As we declutter our lives by eliminating questionable activities, our lives will become both simpler and better."

Well said.

Rick's commentary and reviews throughout the catalog contribute to making it the most unique and edifying and delightful book catalog I have ever seen. I encourage all Christian agrarians—and people who want to better understand what the Christian agrarian good life is all about— to get a copy of the catalog..... and then buy some of the products!

I've purchased many books and CD's from Cumberland books over the past couple of years and I have been very pleased with everything.

Here's the link again...Cumberland Books

Noble Womanhood

Dateline: 9 May 2006

"She Brings Lemonade"
By: Lesley Span
(photo link)
Click to see larger view

I’ve written here before about the 1891 “Grange Melodies” songbook that I rescued from the old Moravia Grange hall. One of the songs in the book is titled 'Woman’s Mission.'  The words of this song present a vision of "noble womanhood" and tell a story that, as a man married to a godly woman, I recognize and appreciate....


When the husbandman grows weary,
And the heart is full with strife,
And the skies so sad and dreary,
With their darkness shadow life;
Then comes the noble woman,
With her hands so true and kind;
With her heart divinely human,
All his troublous griefs to bind.

Silently her presence showers,
Sunshine calm in noble deed,
Clothing with new hopes and powers,
All of who her help have need;
Toils may her kind words soften,
Countless are her deeds of good;
Winning her a pray’r most often,
For her noble womanhood.


This poem is clearly contrary to the modern feminist ideal. It casts a vision for the Biblical-agrarian ideal. As such, it provides a glimpse into an ancient way of life that is now largely lost. It makes me think of the old Virginia Slims slogan, 'You've Come a Long Way, Baby."

Is it Really Milk?

Dateline: 6 May 2006

The current issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine has an interview with Sally Fallon about raw milk and small-farm dairies. I thought the following excerpt was particularly insightful:

Acres U.S.A.What is this stuff we buy in the grocery store? Is it still milk?

Fallon You know, that’s a good question! Is it really milk? I think you could make a very good case that it’s an adulterated product. The process of pasteurization deforms, denatures, and breaks up the proteins in such a way that the body thinks they are foreign and mounts an immune response. All your energy, then, is going into fighting these foreign proteins rather than getting any nourishment from the milk. Another big concern of mine is what they’re feeding the cows and what comes out in the milk. Any mother who’s breastfeeding knows that what she eats will affect her baby. If she is eating allergens, the baby will have a rash or something. And it is just incredible what we’re giving to these cows in the confinement dairies.

Acres U.S.A. Is this the reason we hear about children who are lactose intolerant when they get grocery store milk, but when theymove over to fresh milk all of a sudden they aren’t lactose intolerant anymore?

Fallon “Lactose intolerant” is kind of a catch-all phrase which means they don’t do well or they get sick from drinking this milk. It could be lactose that they’re reacting to, it could be the casein, but it’s just as likely to be some kind of allergen or poison coming in the milk because of hormones, antibiotics and the feed given to the cows—starting with soy, which can introduce a lot of allergenic proteins, GMO grains, which are more succeptible to mold and hence aflatoxins, and citrus peel cake—dried citrus peel that’s left over after they make juice. They use some of the most potent neurotoxic pesticides on citrus, and this is in the peel and it comes out in the milk.

Acres U.S.A. And there’s estrogen from the soy feeds, I suppose?

Fallon Yes, absolutely estrogen from the soy. So you can really make a good case that commercial milk is an adulterated product.

My Struggle
To Define “Christian Agrarian”

Dateline: 5 May 2006

First, I’d like to thank fellow agrarian bloggers, Mary Susan Bradshaw, Russ Nellis, and John Mesko for their blog-endorsement of my newest book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian. I have also been getting some private e-mail feedback and it is a real blessing to hear that people out there are appreciating what the book says.

Anyone who has written a book knows it is a very lonely endeavor. You plug away at it for months and you read and reread it a zillion times and you start wondering to yourself why you are doing it and if anyone will actually buy it, and if they do, will they like it? Then you publish it, and let folks know about it, and you hold your breath.

So the feedback makes me breath a little easier. And I was delighted to get an e-mail request yesterday for a review copy of the book from Lehman’s. I planned to send a copy to Lehman's but they contacted me first. Wow! How did that happen?

Russ Nellis posted at his blog that he was pleased to see that I defined agrarian in the Foreword of my book. And Christina Fuller is blogging her thoughts about what a Christian agrarian is (click here). With those things in mind, I’d like to relate a story about how I came to define what a Christian agrarian is in my book...

Back when I was trying to figure out exactly what an agrarian was, I happened to read a blog post from R.C. Sproul, Jr. in which he said something about agrarianism. I sent him an e-mail letter asking if he could give me a definition of what an agrarian is. He wrote back that it is not an easy word to define and that I should read the book, I’ll Take My Stand. I got a copy, read it, and enjoyed it, but I did not come away from the reading with a nice compact definition of what it meant to be an agrarian. I continued my quest for a definition for several more months.

At one point, not finding a concise definition, I figured I’d write one and post it to this blog. But as I tried to do so, I became discouraged witht he task. I knew what it meant to be an agrarian. I knew I was one. I knew one when I saw one. But I could not adequately sum up in words what one was.

So when I wrote my book I decided that I should not define the word. Instead, I explained that it was not an easy word to define and I said that every reader would have to define it for himself or herself.

As the book was nearing completion, I wanted to get a couple of endorsement quotes for the back cover. Rick Saenz gave me permission to use a quote of his about my writing that he made at his website. If I wanted, he said he would write something specifically for the book. That was very nice of him.

A notable Christian man who lives an agrarian lifestyle (and who I am not going to name) agreed to review the book with the intention of giving it an endorsement quote. I sent the manuscript to him. He responded with a brief e-mail saying that he would not endorse the book because I had not defined what an agrarian was. The reviewer said he appreciated what I was doing but if I was one of his students I would would get an F for the class because I did not define what I was talking about.

It was disappointing to have the book so curtly rejected on those grounds, but God was working through this man. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, he was right. I needed to define, at least to some degree, what a Christian agrarian was. But I did not come to that conclusion right away. First I justified my position, then I appealed to Rick Sanez for his opinion.

I had sent a review copy of the book to Rick too and, after an endorsement was refused by the unnamed man, I explained the situation to Rick and asked for his honest assessment of the Foreword. He very kindly responded that he felt the Foreword I had written was good enough and that it would work fine. But he made it clear that it would be better if I did define Christian agrarianism. If I had the time to rewrite it, he suggested that I do so. And Rick suggested that I read The New Agrarian Mind to help me define my terms. I had read the book, but went right to the bookcase and reread portions of it with my new objective in mind.

Rick also explained to me that my book had the flavor of a Christian-agrarian apologetic. That was difficult to take at first, because I never intended it to be such. But I eventually changed my thinking on that point too and, in the Foreword, I tell the reader that “my writings are a personal testament and a gentle apologetic.”

The point of all this is... I went from reluctance about defining and defending Christian agrarianism to fully embracing the ideal— and when I was done, I felt good about it.

Rick read my revised Foreword and said it was much better. I did not send the revision to the other reviewer because it was clear to me that he had other, unspoken, reservations about endorsing the book. And with time constraints being what they were, I did not attempt to get another endorsement for the back cover.

That’s the story of how I happened to define agrarian and, more importantly, Christian agrarian, in my book— at least to some degree. I got it down to about two pages.

I also make the point in the Foreword of the book that Christian agrarianism is not a special revelation, but it is a special conviction. I said that because I think a lot of people, when they hear the term, “Christian agrarian,” think it is something brand new and, maybe even unscriptural or, worse yet, a cult. I think my book makes it clear that Christian agrarianism is not brand new, it is not unscriptural, and it surely is not a cult. And in the Afterword of the book I sum everything up with these words:

“In the final analysis, agrarianism apart from Christianity amounts to nothing special. But when individual lives that have been transformed by the power of Jesus Christ are imbued with the agrarian conviction, a fresh understanding and renewed sense of purpose emerges.”

After reading all this, perhaps you are left wondering. “What exactly is a Christian Agrarian anyway?

For the answer, I suggest you start with (Christina's blog), then get my book, and I recommend the first two articles at this link.