A little over 2 years ago we moved out onto the hill in an RV. We aren’t finished with the house yet, but making progress. Enjoy these pictures of the build progress!
A little over 2 years ago we moved out onto the hill in an RV. We aren’t finished with the house yet, but making progress. Enjoy these pictures of the build progress!
Its been way too long since I’ve written a new blog post, and I really lapsed on updating the progress post from 2019. The Year of COVID has been interesting to say the least. This year has been challenging, yet rewarding. Deb had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in late 2019, then had a 5 week round of radiation therapy to start the year out. I spent 14 weeks on unemployment due to the COVID shutdowns before being called back to work. I can’t say I was out of work, because I spent 6 days a week getting infrastructure in place, buying and setting up an RV, and getting moved out of our rental house and out on Serenity Hill in an RV.
In February 2020 we finally got the water meter installed. Once we had a permanent water supply the electric co-op agreed to install a meter and temporary power for us. March 2020 was a very busy month. We built an 8×12 shed to house our refrigerator, freezer, washer, and dryer. I rented a trencher to bury the water lines and the electrical feed for the RV and laundry shed. Another necessary item was a sewer line to connect the RV and laundry shed to the septic tank.
Due to rain and soft ground the septic install couldn’t take place until toward the end of May. Shortly after that we had a 12 x 36 garage building delivered for storing the furnishings for the house. It costs about $50 more than renting a storage unit and I’ll have the building for a workshop once we get in the house.
June 2020 was a busy month. We moved the RV out and hooked up utilities, then installed a fence for the dogs. Then came the move out to the property. At the time we moved I only had 3 columns up on piers and a big pile of timber waiting to be installed. It was a crazy month, and being on temporary layoff due to the Covid shutdown of the plant ended up being helpful. Mid July they called me back to work. I finished cleaning and emptying the rental house when I got off work at 4AM.
Mid October 2020 HR handed me a severance package because corporate changed the plant mission and shut down 2nd shift. While not unexpected, the timing came about 6 months earlier than we had been lead to believe. At that time all the foundation piers were ready for timbers but only 7 of 30 timbers were in place. Progress really picked up when I was no longer having to report to a 10-12 hour a day job. I worked 12 days and was off 2. I searched for another job for almost a year. The only places interested in hiring me were for Maintenance Supervisor positions requiring 60+ hours a week. Maintenance works a lot of weekends and most holidays. We opted for me to start my Social Security early and make building the house and developing the property my full time job.
Living in an RV has been an interesting experience. We have now gone through two summers and two winters in the RV. While it is certainly smaller than a house, we have adapted pretty well. That’s with two adults, two big dogs, and two cats sharing space. I’ve had to dumb down cooking due to the small kitchen and lack of storage space. One of the unexpected expenses is not being able to buy food in bulk sizes due to the lack of storage compared to the house, but that is only temporary. It seems there is always something to work on, which isn’t a surprise with a 99 model RV.
Fortunately we are connected to county water so we don’t have to deal with the water tank. I do so enjoy dumping the black water tank every few weeks, but fortunately it doesn’t take long. The RV is slightly downhill from the sewer line leading to the septic tank. I had to install a PVC line above ground from the RV. Since it is between the RV and the laundry shed I built a bridge to cross it.
Building the laundry shed was one of the keys to making long term RV living less difficult. Instead of having to run to a laundromat we can do laundry whenever it suits us. Much more convenient, and much more affordable. We also have 2 refrigerators and the deep freeze in the laundry shed, so we are able to buy frozen foods in bulk for convenience and savings. The RV has a large fridge, but it won’t hold enough for a week of cooking.
While we have adapted pretty well and worked out how to get by in the RV, we sure do look forward to the space and convenience of the house. RV living requires a lot of compromises and decisions about what you need on a daily basis. Having on-site storage and the laundry shed makes life a lot easier. We really enjoy living in the woods and being able to work every day on the house and the homestead.
It is much quicker to build a pole barn or a stick built house. Since we are building a timber frame house with cordwood infill the process is much slower. I can knock together an 8 foot section of stick built wall in a pretty short time. Getting the cordwood infill in an 8 foot wide section of wall takes about 7-8 days. Not to mention that during the freezing winter months cordwood installation comes to a halt.
Is RV living while building a house for you? There are many pros and cons to living in an RV. Here are some of the challenges we faced.
All in all RV living while constructing our home has worked out pretty well. We have made a lot of adaptations due to the limitations of the RV, but we are making the best of it. Paring down to the essentials has actually been liberating, although we do cheat by having the garage building and laundry shed for storage and convenience. We will certainly be glad to move into the house. We haven’t decided yet if we are going to keep the RV and fix it up some to be able to take it on trips or if we will sell it for what we can when we get moved. By the time we get moved into the house we will have had all the RV living we want!
The cliche says that the only thing constant is change. That is so true when you are building a homestead, especially if you are working to make money to fund the build. We can become so attached to and idea and a dream that when challenges come we lack the flexibility to respond and adapt. The question for us is, do we want the dream badly enough to fight through the challenges? The answer, after a lot of soul searching and discussion is a resounding yes. So, we decided to change the plan.
Plan A was to continue to live in our rental house and work on our homestead house on weekends, holidays, and vacations days. Once we had a livable house, we would move in and finish out the house. As weather permitted, we would continue developing the homestead.
My employer decided to save money by cutting payroll. That resulted in nobody to relieve me for my 3 days off every weekend. At one point I worked 10 days, then had 4 days off. That changed to working 11 days with 3 days off. After the cuts I am now working 6 days with Sundays off. While it is great to have every Sunday off (so far), not having the 3-4 day weekend every other week leaves me with almost no time to work on our home.
I won’t try to tell you that I accepted it gracefully when I found out I was going to work for my third straight weekend. I won’t tell you that I was pleasant when I realized I would most likely work several more 6 day weeks. Like several months more, except when the stretch of 7 day work weeks starts up. My response was neither graceful or pleasant, and I’m not proud of that. In fact, I was pretty upset for a couple days and had to engage in some serious prayer time to get my head right.
When I finished with my anger and disappointment, Deb and I sat down and did some serious thinking and discussing. We decided that this is something we want, and it is something we are willing to fight for. I heard a song with a line that really hit me – “safe is another word for regret”. We have enough regrets in life. Time to step out of safe.
We have actually tossed this one around but were hesitant to go with it because it isn’t safe and familiar. It will be challenging. At times it will be frustrating and uncomfortable. Since my work schedule is likely not going to change, we must make a change. Time for Plan B.
As quickly as possible I’ll have the electric co-op come out and tell me where I need to clear a path for them to run power to my foundation. Then I’ll schedule getting power in. That will be nice because then I can use an electric cement mixer instead of having to finish out the build mixing concrete and mortar by hand. After that, I’ll get the water put in. I’ll do it that way because the electric co-op contractors have a history of cutting through water lines and leaving a mess behind them. After the water will come the septic system.
Once we have utilities in place our plan is to purchase a shipping container and a used travel trailer. I’d rather purchase a shipping container that we will use for years than to spend money keeping stuff in a storage unit (or units) until we can move it into the house. I figure that I can cut a panel in the side of the container to bring in power, water, and a drain line so we can put the chest freezer, refrigerator, and washer and dryer in it. It might be a pain to carry laundry from the trailer to the shipping container, but not as much of a pain as carrying it to a laundromat. That hits time and the pocketbook.
Of course, I’ll have to expand the fence that we put in earlier so the dogs have space to exercise. They are going to need it after being in a travel trailer for several hours. Considering that I put up our existing 50 x 50 fenced in area in about 4 hours, that won’t be so bad.
Having a shipping container onsite will also allow me to have a safe place to keep my tools and equipment locked up while we are off at work. And I can keep things organized. Ask Deb sometime how much I enjoy looking for things. And how lousy I am at finding things. Since it is something we will continue to use for years to come, we aren’t throwing money away on storage.
We have talked about moving into a travel trailer before, but didn’t pursue it. We have a lab, a lab mix, and 2 cats that will go with us. The thought of cramming us and them into a travel trailer is concerning. It won’t be as comfy or convenient as living in our rental house. That goes back to sticking to what is safe and familiar. But then, the whole concept of clearing land and building a debt free home isn’t safe, so why cling to the safety of the rental house?
All in all, the pros outweigh the cons. We will have to figure out how to work around each of the cons and how to maximize the pros.
All the prep and planning required to make this move out to the property is daunting. As I find out when we can schedule the utilities installations I’ll have a better idea on when we can move. Perhaps the best thing about reaching this conclusion is that rather than waiting and hoping, we are taking action and making it happen. A lot of people will think we have lost our minds. They may not be too far from the truth!
There will be challenges and struggles. We have come through many in our lives. But at least we will be moving forward, and we can continue to find ways to deal with the challenges ahead.
Remember, Safe is another word for Regret.
Disclosure: I sometimes earn money or products from any of the companies mentioned on this site Learn More
The year is off to a slow start. Deb had her right hip replaced on Jan 2, so that has really limited our time on Serenity Hill. The hip replacement was a necessity though, as she was no longer able to get around well enough to help. The last couple months before the surgery she was using a cane to get around. Fortunately, the surgery went well. Her recovery is going amazingly well from my perspective, excruciatingly slow from her perspective.
I did manage to get 1 good weekend of work. After working 12 hours on a Friday and getting off work at 6 AM, I spent most of a Saturday at Serenity Hill. I cleaned up some storm debris and cleaned up the footing trench. I managed to get 1 foundation footing poured. Initially I planned to go buy 12 more bags of concrete mix and put in another footing, but by 3 PM and I ran out of juice. Might have something to do with having been up for about 24 hours.
The following Sunday Deb went out to Serenity Hill for the first time since mid-December. Hard to believe it had been that long. We stopped by a neighbor’s and spent some time talking with them and checking their progress. I parked by the road because their drive is way too rough for our car. They didn’t put down any base, just gravel, and it has rutted up very badly. I really think a part of the problem is that the month after the electric utility ran their power they had a $200 water bill. Perhaps all that water caused that really big soft spot in their drive. Based on their experience, I’ll run my water in after the electric utility runs my power. They managed to cut the water main in the area 4 times while burying their cable.
Our neighbors live about 20 minutes away and both work days, so they come out to their property several days a week when they get off work at 3, and they are out every weekend when the weather permits. Needless to say, they are a lot further along on building their garage/efficiency apartment than we are! As she told Deb though, lots of people will be negative when you are doing something yourself that is outside their experience. Don’t let it bother you, stick to your dream and do it your way. That’s what the other 3 couples building in the area are doing.
Another month off to a slow start. Due to work and weather, not much going on. The creeks and rivers are all up, ponds are overflowing, and more rain is forecast for the month. Weather has been fluctuating between False Spring and Polar Vortex, all in the same week! It has been rough on the upper respiratory system. The remainder of the month promises to be wet and dreary. Looks like all I’ll be getting done is cleanup. Too muddy to work in the trenches and too cold to do concrete work.
What a wet start to the year! At least I no know for sure that the property has good drainage, and my driveway culvert can handle deluges of near Biblical proportions. No signs of flooding, no standing water. These are good things. The drainage ditch I dug for the footing trench has paid off nicely. No more pumping out 18″ of water!
I rolled 5 days of vacation over from 2018 and had to use them before the end of March or lose them. I’m not losing vacation days! The week of 18-22 extended forecast showed promise, with the only possibility of rain being on Wednesday. I was able to finish out the footings on the South side and the NE corner before my car died on me Tuesday. Spent a cold, rainy Wednesday waiting for a part. Lost most of Thursday dropping Deb off at work, then repairing my car. Went out and confirmed measurements and position for the NW corner and started digging.
Due to the fact that we decided to make the house 44′ long instead of 40′, the footing trench on the North side is of no use, other than to catch water. It will be worth it in the end, because that additional 4′ by 32′ provides us with a larger Master bedroom and a second bathroom. We decided that a second bathroom was a necessity when we were both suffering from a stomach bug the same weekend. Now I have to dig holes for 4 of the footings on the North side. Fortunately, the rainy weather has the soil soft enough that it is fairly easy digging except for the last foot. At that level there is a lot of gravel and the soil is packed quite hard. Fortunately, it is not expansive so I won’t have issues with water content causing the house to sag or buck.
For more months than I care to admit, the Sable has been throwing up an error code about misfire on cylinders 1 and 2. It needed an ignition coil module, which is oh so conveniently located under the intake manifold. Since my truck isn’t back on the road yet, the Sable has been pressed into duty hauling tools, building materials, and 720 lb loads of bagged concrete mix. Well, on Tuesday Sable barely got me from Menards to Serenity Hill. On the way home, it went from bad to worse. Poor Sable seemed to be running on 2 or 3 cylinders instead of 6 and backfiring horribly. I limped it to the Dollar General and my Dad gave me a ride home.
So Thursday after dropping Deb off at work, I took my tools and ignition coil module and attempted to rescue Sable. Unbelievably, I actually had exactly the tools I needed for the job! After just under 2 hours, Sable was running better than it has in a long time. It didn’t die at 224,470 miles! Maybe I can make 300,000 with it. Unfortunately, the backfiring did create an exhaust leak that I now have to repair. Now, to get my old truck back on the road.
More rain, followed by chicks and tiggers, as my great-grandson calls them. Weather permitting, we continue with footing work. I bought 18 blackberry plants to replace those that were ripped out when I had the logs and brush cleared from the tree line. I also planted 3 apple trees in the clear area on the south east corner of the property. They are the antique apple collection from Stark Bros. The combo included a Golden Delicious, Orleans Antique, and Cox’s Orange Pippin. They are visible from the road, but since the roads here are not through roads I’m not real worried about pilfering. I’m actually more worried about the deer than anything. By the time we start to get apples from the trees I’ll probably have a fence up.
During this time period, I managed to get 3 sides finished, now just the 4 footings on the west side left to put in.
More rain, and it finally got hot. Down to one single solitary perimeter footing left, and that will hopefully be finished on the 19th. On the 20th I’ll start the concrete block piers on the corners. That is going to be exciting. It is so much work to lay out, dig, and square holes for footings, especially since the sun beats down pretty hard on the area we cleared for the house. Since we cleared for the drive on the south side of the house, there isn’t any shade on the house site until mid afternoon. Hope that doesn’t come back and bite us too bad.
The blackberries on the west road ripened and I managed to pick 2 quarts for a blackberry cobbler on the 12th. It was so delicious. We shared it with Dad and Lou for Sunday lunch. Hopefully I can pick some more berries this weekend, than they will be done until next year. Next year we might get some berries from the tame brambles I planted this spring, but I’m thinking year after next is more likely.
A lady bought the property next door a couple weeks ago. She was out walking it with a friend and she stopped by to introduce herself. It will be interesting to see if she sticks with it and actually builds something on it. She wasn’t able to find the corner we share, so I told her what to look for. One of the projects on my long list of projects is to put a boundary fence on the east border of the property. Think I’ll move that up a bit. I’d like to do woven or welded wire, but I’ll have to see what is in the budget. I’ll start by putting T-posts painted white every 50 feet along the border. It will be interesting because with the heavy trees you don’t have a good line of sight from one corner to the next.
Deb has been having health issues. Lot’s of pain in her belly, and lots of pain and nausea when eating. She has an umbilical hernia and gallstones, so another surgery is just around the corner. She’s been a trooper with helping me out though.
Deb’s surgery was a success and she was back at work 2 weeks later. Back on the hill helping me out 3 weeks later, although I’ve been very leery of letting her do much that would require lifting or straining. I’d rather give the hernia surgery a full recovery period first. We finished all the footings and are now putting piers on the footings. So far we have put piers on 11 of 18 footings, and hope to finish up over the Labor Day holiday. That means, work schedule permitting, that we will have piers filled with concrete, final level, and be ready to start putting up the timber frame by the end of September or mid-October. It has been a long, slow road, but we keep plugging along.
Work continues with pier work. After the Labor Day weekend we have 16 of 18 piers with concrete block on them. We spent most of Labor Day weekend camped out at the property with the dogs. THAT was interesting. They are spoiled, pampered pooches. They love being outdoors, but when it gets warm they love being inside soaking up the AC, lounging on the couch, and sleeping on the king size memory foam bed. Needless to say, they didn’t enjoy being out in the heat and didn’t understand why we didn’t go back home. They adjusted and enjoyed meeting the neighborhood guineas. When the grey fox began barking at 3AM, pandemonium ensued.
Camping for the weekend is something we will definitely do again, preferable when it cools down some. We are able to get a lot more work done without the travel time. Bringing the dogs, while interesting to say the least, saves a considerable amount of money. We don’t have someone we can rely on to come by 3 times a day to let them out and feed them, and the kennel is expensive for 2 large dogs for a weekend. Taking them with us lets them start feeling familiar with the place.
As the weather cools, I’m going to start going out to work a few hours 3 days a week before going in to work. At least, that’s the plan if it ever cools down. The weekend of 9/14 it is going to be around 90 with high humidity.
This year I decided to plant a few things at our rental place in town and try some natural gardening. There’s a smallish patch in the backyard that I’m going to fence to keep the dogs out. I’ve started Purple Russian Tomatoes that I received “free” for buying Pawpaw seeds. I also have a variety of red tomato started, along with jalapenos, cilantro, parsley, basil, thyme, oregano, and chives. Once I get those going, I may put in a few pole bean and zucchini if there is space. Basically an herb garden with possibly enough green bean and zucchini to keep us supplied.
We have selected an area at Serenity Hill where we are starting hugelkultur beds and a compost bin. We will develop those the next couple years and continue building up our compost. There is certainly no shortage of leaves and dead fall trees to put in a compost pile. I’m in the market for used wood chipper so we can mulch and compost branches instead of more burning. Hugelkultur beds provide us with a convenient place to use those materials instead of burning. Our backs will certainly appreciate not having to stoop!
Well, at least the male cat Boots is a jerk. Each repurposed plastic container began life with 5 tomato seedlings. (How is it we end up with no matching lids for containers? Are they hiding out with the missing socks?) Boots decided tomato sprouts are tasty and the dirt is fun for digging, so one container is minus a seedling. The weather has been down well below freezing at night, so putting them outdoors isn’t an option. Besides, the neighborhood strays would probably destroy them too. I began contemplating what I would build to protect my defenseless seedlings and had a eureka moment. We have and unused XL dog crate in the basement, complete with plastic tray to collect spills!
I dragged the crate upstairs and lovingly placed my seedlings inside. The top of the cage is a very convenient place to set my grow lights without having to construct some type of stand. Easy-peasy, and I didn’t have to spend any money. Perfect for the frugal homesteader.
Boots the Cat is not impressed. He now thinks that I am the jerk. Every night he sits down next to the cage and looks longingly at the seedlings. Soon he turns and frowns in my direction before plodding off to sulk. Sorry, not sorry!
Unfortunately, our wild blackberries were sacrificed during the process of clearing the debris out of the treeline so it could be burned. We only got a couple batches last summer and we were looking forward to more this year. So, I purchased 18 “tame” blackberry plants to put in their place. There are 3 varieties included, and each is supposed to yield in a different month. If all goes to plan, next June, July, and August we will have blackberries again. They include Chester, Triple Crown, and Arapaho Erect plants. I can smell the blackberry cobbler now!
I’m hoping for enough berries next year to be able to freeze a few, with increasing harvest in coming years. These will be planted out far enough from the tree line to get plenty of sun and provide access from both sides. Yes, I wimped out and bought thornless varieties, and I’m ok with that.
Apples to start an orchard on Serenity Hill Homestead. I like the idea of antique and heirloom varieties that aren’t available commercially, especially if they are varieties that have some natural disease resistance. The semi-dwarf trees will make them easier to pick and take up a smaller footprint. We have a place that will be perfect for apples. The apple varieties are Cox’s Orange Pippin, Orleans Antique, and a Stark Golden Delicious as the pollinator. If all goes well and I can keep the deer from eating the young trees, we should start having fresh apples in 3-5 years. Depending on our success with these trees, I may plant a few more in coming years.
Asian pears will be next year’s project tree, and probably a few pecan trees. When we complete the house I’ll plant some grape vines to grow up the deck posts and train as shade over the deck. Then we will see if there is anything else that strikes our fancy and we decide to try. Kiwi and fig also intrigue me.
I started some Pawpaw seeds but won’t know for several more weeks if they sprouted successfully. Supposedly after about 3 weeks the seeds germinate and begin sending out roots. After 6-10 weeks they finally begin sending up shoots above ground. A lot of patience required for those! They will be planted in a shady area near ruts from an old logging road that seems to always stay damp. I haven’t eaten a Pawpaw since Boy Scout camp over 45 years ago! Sure hope they pan out.
Hugelkultur is a German term for hill or mound culture. Rather than planting directly into the soil, you create hills or mounds. The base of the mound is composed of layers of logs and limbs of various sizes. Generally start with the largest material on bottom and build up. Between and among the layers, fill the cavities with soil or mulch. When the final height is reached, put on a final layer of soil, mulch, and plant. Hills can be fairly small, or you can follow the example of Sepp Holzer, a hugelkultur guru, and make them as high as 7 feet! Anything that can be planted in soil can be planted in the soil on the hugelkultur mounds. Over the years the mounds will get shorter as the logs and limbs decay, but that can be made up for by adding compost and soil on top.
Benefits are many. One of the things that interests me is that I can take the existing deadfall, trees and brush that I have to remove and use them to build mounds instead of burning them. Over time, those trees will decay and become wonderful soil instead of adding to greenhouse gases by burning. The wood acts like a sponge and soaks up moisture instead of it all running down the hill and draining off. Hugelkultur aficionados claim that they rarely have to irrigate well established mounds except during the worst droughts. That is especially important if we decide to plant some things – like asparagus – prior to having our home ready for moving in.
The mounds also create natural micro climates. One side will get more sun and one side more shade, so you can take advantage of that in your planting. The mounds trap heat and reduce risk of damage from frost. That warmth in spring helps speed up germination. Instead of making them nice and straight, you can curve them to direct water flow, take advantage of wind and sun patterns, and create natural walkways. Rather than having a boring garden with nice neat tidy rows, hugelkultur lends itself to companion planting and variation that makes the garden more aesthetically pleasing. I know, sounds like hippy talk, but why not have a garden that is a nice place to sit and have a cup of morning coffee?
The biggest advantage by far? Less bending and stooping! I’m all for that. We aren’t there yet, but we have a spot picked out and lots of leaves and half decayed wood composting. Over the next few months we will be adding material to build up our beds. Hopefully by next spring we will be at the point we can plant some asparagus. I’ll either add progress pics to this post or create a new article specific to hugelkultur.
One of the ideals I’ve committed myself to on this blog is to share honestly. It won’t be all good. Mistakes will be made, hilarity and disappointment will abound. I’ll share it all, and I’ll try to learn from it so I can make new and different mistakes to share!
Disclosure: I sometimes earn money or products from any of the companies mentioned on this site Learn More
Serenity Hill Homestead isn’t seeing much progress at the property right now due to a variety of factors. First is the weather – cold and rain have left the build site a muddy mess. Even more significant is the loss of my help due to surgery. Four years ago this month Deb had hip replacement surgery on her left hip. That surgery took her from not being able to walk to the mailbox to her walking 3 miles a day helping me drag brush and logs on Serenity Hill.
January 2017 saw her having pain and grinding in her right hip. Her surgeon told her back in 2015 that, based on x-rays, he figured her right hip would be going in 4-5 years. She started physical therapy and shots in hopes that would put surgery off a while. By October 2018 she was having enough trouble that she wasn’t able to navigate uneven ground well, and certainly wasn’t able to do much physical work. A visit to the orthopedist in November 2018 resulted in scheduling surgery to replace the right hip.
On Jan 2 this year, she went under the knife to have her right hip replaced. I am still amazed that it only takes 1 hour to do a hip replacement surgery! Due to her “young” age, she now has new ceramic ball hips that are supposed to last 30 years. Well, the first one is a 30 year hip. Her surgeon said this one is a 26 year hip so they will go bad at the same time. You’ve got to love a smartass doctor.
The surgery was on a Wednesday, and she was sent home after lunch on Friday. She does exercises at home 3 times a day and physical therapy 3 times a week. I admire her dedication and tenacity. Not that I’m surprised, because she works her tail off anyway. Her determination to regain mobility and get back in the game is inspirational.
I had an interesting conversation with the Joint Replacement Coordinator before we left the hospital. I told her how grateful I was for the miracles of modern medicine. Deb was 56 when she had her first surgery, 60 when she had the second. If it weren’t for those hip replacements, she would not be mobile. We would not be clearing land and building Serenity Hill Homestead together. Amy, the Coordinator, told me that she thinks part of the reason for so many early deaths previous to joint replacements was due to loss of mobility. When you take a person who has been physically active and render them chair or bed ridden due to worn out and unusable joints, a lot of bad things happen with their body.
She has a very good point. Since Deb’s first surgery, she went from not being able to go check the mail to being physically active again. We have gone canoeing, hiking, and she was able to resume riding the Harley with me. She has been a trooper on Serenity Hill. When her right hip began bothering her, there was no wondering what to do. Her recovery is going well, and by the time the weather warms up and dries out some she will be back to full strength.
As you may know from reading other posts, Serenity Hill Homestead started out as a quest for a place of our own heading into retirement. Our discussions led us on a quest to live a simpler, more purposeful life. Even as we seek to simplify, we appreciate the difference modern medicine has made for us. I had 2 herniated discs and arthritis in my neck. Along with that came pain in both shoulders, elbows, and wrists. Pressure on nerves caused numbness and loss of grip strength in my hands. The pain would be so bad by lunchtime that I could barely stand to walk. My neurosurgeon was able to remove “arthritic modification”, replace herniated disc, and fuse 3 vertebrae. The numbness is resolved except for the outside of my pinky fingers, and my grip strength has returned. Without that miracle of modern medicine, I would not be on this adventure.
As we embrace the time tested and simpler ways of living, we must also pay homage to the miracles of modern medicine. The gifts of mobility and freedom from chronic pain are priceless. Without them, we would be stuck in a house in town, wistful for what we wanted but couldn’t do. The best of the old, the best of the new, blended together to give us the life we want.
Today marks 10 weeks since Deb’s hip replacement surgery. She is back to work and gaining more strength and flexibility by the day. Her determination and work ethic are something to behold. She is looking forward to getting back to dragging brush and raking leaves in a few weeks.
Variety may be the spice of life, but seasonings are what bring variety to cooking. We eat mainly chicken, salmon, tuna, and the occasional meal with pork or beef. It is possible to have chicken or salmon 5 meals a week and have interesting meals each time with just a little creativity. I’ve had the privilege of living in or visiting several different countries and enjoyed the cuisine in each of them.
I grew up watching Julia Child, The Galloping Gourmet, The Frugal Gourmet, and my Mom and Grandmas. Later in life I discovered Food Network and especially enjoyed Alton Brown’s “Good Eats”. Many other shows, as well as the website, inspired me to try new things. I’ve always enjoyed cooking and, although I’ve had a few failures, have come up with some pretty tasty dishes.
Deb is constantly commenting on the crowded seasoning cabinet, but she enjoys the results. The wide variety of seasonings provide a lot of flexibility.
Yes, I have each of these in my seasoning cabinet. Poor Deb often complains about the quantity of herbs and spices in the cabinet, but never complains about the food! We eat beef or pork maybe once a month. The rest of our meals the protein is either chicken or fish, with most of the fish being salmon. With the seasonings in the cabinet, we can have salmon several nights in a row and it will never taste the same. Learn the basics of sauces 5 Mother Sauces of Classical Cooking, and you can enjoy world class food at your dining room table. Most of the sauces aren’t difficult or time consuming either.
Spend some time smelling and even tasting seasonings to become familiar with them. Visit sites like The Spruce Eats, Food Network, Pioneer Woman, Betty Crocker to get recipe ideas and cooking tips. If you don’t own a cookbook or more, take a trip to a local bookstore, thrift shop, or visit Amazon.
I’ll cover making your own seasoning blends, sauces, and favorite quick but delicious recipes in future articles. Stay tuned, and Bon Appetit!
Disclosure: I sometimes earn money or products from any of the companies mentioned on this site Learn More
Serenity Hill Homestead is a labor of love, so I decided to write an article to log progress and lessons learned along the way. It won’t always be pretty, because my goal is to share the flubs along with the triumphs. That’s a new thing for me because I’m one of those people who tends to not share my flubs if nobody noticed. No harm, no foul, you know? In the interest of providing the most benefit for those who decide to share the journey with us, I figure I should share the flubs as well. Here goes nothing!
Serenity Hill came to life in August 2017. We purchased 5.3 acres of raw land bounded by gravel road on 2 sides and wooded lots on the other 2 sides. We spent quite a few hours walking the property and deciding where we wanted to build the house. The west 1/3 of the property was the most “level” spot, having a drop of 18 inches in 30 feet. It also provided a nice view of the woods that sloped down the hill.
I call it a hill, but my phone GPS shows a drop of about 40 feet from the west border to the east border, so its more a slope than a hill. But, since it isn’t dead flat, we call it our hill. Serenity Hill, to be more precise. Once we decided where we were going to build the house, I had to plot out a driveway. Neither of us wanted a straight drive that would allow someone to look down it from the road and have an open view of the house.
The first driveway route I considered led to some old logging ruts that were pretty soft and had lots of ferns in them. Ferns are one of the most beautiful plants on earth, and there is no way I was going to ruin that area with a driveway. I ended up shifting the driveway about 75 feet to the west, but still with a curve. When you look down the drive, you see trees, not the house site. When we sit on the front porch enjoying a beverage and pleasant conversation we will have a view of the woods sloping away from us instead of the road. I’m really looking forward to that.
I put my little Poulan Pro 16″ chainsaw to work cutting down trees and dragging brush. I had cut and trimmed dead fall before, but never cut down a tree. Seen it done plenty of times on TV, but never did it myself. I managed to fell trees without bodily harm, so I’m going to claim triumph there. I purchased a blade sharpening kit along with the chainsaw, but had no inkling how quickly oak and hickory would dull a chain. After the first foray, I purchased another chain so I didn’t have to sit on a stump and sharpen my chain after a couple hours.
On a typical day, I walked 3 miles dragging brush out to the road. My job isn’t physically demanding, so I really wasn’t in shape for the work I was doing. I did start getting in better shape and lost 10 pounds the first couple months. Another triumph!
More cutting and clearing. I decided my Poulan just wasn’t up to the task, especially as I had to tackle some trees that were bigger than the bar on my saw! After querying members on a homesteading forum, I decided to purchase a Stihl chainsaw. I know good tools cost good money, but I was amazed at the prices on the bigger saws. We aren’t made of money, so frugality is the rule of the build. No worries, eBay to the rescue! I ended up buying a dealer serviced trade-in Stihl MS440 saw with 24″ bar and 3 chains for $500. I like my Stihl! Worth every penny, and it starts a lot easier than the Poulan. As with most tools you depend on, don’t skimp on a chainsaw because having one that isn’t up to the task makes for a lot more work.
By the end of December I had 3 piles of brush by the road, 1 in the middle of my drive, and a couple good size stacks of logs going. Not bad for doing it all buy hand. My only power equipment is my chainsaw. It may be easier to just hire someone to come take trees out and be done with it, but then I would have a big pile of brush and logs to burn. I piled the branches and small stuff for burning. Large oak trees we cut into 10 foot logs to use for posts and beams in constructing the house. Smaller trees we bucked up to dry out for firewood. Yes, it takes longer this way, but I get to use the trees instead of burning them.
My Dad came out to see Serenity Hill in its still raw state. I’m a 60 year old man, but was still nervous about it hoping he would like our place. We made our way down what I have cleared so far on the drive, and I showed him the location for the house. He and I both enjoyed walking around the property and looking at the deer, raccoon, squirrel, and wild turkey sign. And, he agreed that we had picked a very nice location for the house.
I wasn’t able to accomplish much work on Serenity Hill over the past couple months. I struggled with being sick, and I really didn’t have proper clothes for working out in the cold all day. That’s another thing to add to the checklist – good warm work gloves and good warm clothing. I need to change my luck somehow! Almost every weekend off brought rain/snow/cold, while the weekends I worked the weather was great. Just another thing to have to roll with.
Finally made the turn on the driveway and started clearing the area where we are building the house. I obtained several 10 foot logs to use in the house construction and several stacks of firewood. The remainder went into burn piles. One major flub that had potential to get really ugly. A large tree fell a couple feet from where I wanted it to land and hung up on another tree. Here was this 60 foot oak at a 45 degree angle with just one branch keeping it from falling. As luck would have it, the end of the trunk was hard up against the stump.
Deb just knew that I was going to die. I thought on it for a couple days and decided on a course of action. I wedged a log under the end of the tree and cut about 4 foot off the end. During that operation, I had pressure on the tree using a come along and chain. Then I pulled it away from the stump, hoping that it might dislodge. When that didn’t work, I moved my come along to a different tree and pulled the tree away from the one it fell against. It didn’t take long before it came crashing down, and everyone was safe and sound.
We must have burned at least 10 piles of brush during the process of clearing the driveway and house site. What a difference! The trees are so thick that you can’t walk more than 20 feet without having to change direction. We were down to the point that I needed and excavator to come in with a dozer to clear stumps, grade, and level for the drive and house. At this point we still had to park on the side of the road because the soil in the ditch near our drive was too soft to drive on most of the time. It was a rainy winter and spring. I bought a garden wagon so we could load gear on it and take one trip instead of several. Every little bit helps.
More clearing, more burning. Seems to be getting monotonous. Our focus was on clearing so we could have the excavator install the culvert and drive for us. We couldn’t wait to be able to drive up onto the property instead of parking on the road. April was, of course, a rainy month and we weren’t able to have any dozer work done. This year brought a bumper crop of chiggers and ticks. We didn’t use any spray our first day out this month and must have removed over a dozen ticks from each of us when we got back home. Deb was a trooper about it. The next day, we were prepared not only with Permithrin on our boots, pant legs, and waistbands, but we made sure to spray tick repellent on as well. That evening I had no ticks and Deb found 1 on her. Much better.
Finally got the dozer out. He took out stumps, cleared organic material, and leveled the driveway. Next I had him level and smooth the house site. He also cleared out several more trees and cleared the area for the septic tank and leach field. Next we set the culvert in place and he brought in some clay/gravel fill to cover the culvert and fill in the ruts from the old logging road.
It may be a simple thing, but finally getting enough area cleared to put in a driveway and actually drive up onto Serenity Hill was exciting for both of us. It represented a lot of hard physical labor. A lot of sweat and sore muscles went into getting to this day. The most exciting part, and something that kept me motivated for the push, was being able to show Serenity Hill to family over Memorial Day weekend. Grand total for clearing, leveling, culvert, and fill was $1400. Definitely a great deal!
After driving on the drive a couple times, I had Steve (the dozer guy) bring out a load of the clay/gravel fill he used over the culvert to put on the drive. The drive hardened up nicely after a few days of sunshine and is as smooth as asphalt. The topsoil is so compressible that driving directly on it would cause a horrible mess. Clearing the house, septic, and leach field sites resulted in a pile of trees and brush about 60 feet long, 10 foot wide, and 8 foot high. Worst of all, it was right in the way of proceeding with the house foundation. It took a couple trips out, but we got it burned down to just a few stumps. I had him come back out to push that away from the house site and do a little more grading.
By this time we had gone through so many iterations of floor plans and had to decide what we were going to do. At one point we contemplated doing an octagon house, but the logistics and complexity of the foundation made us think twice. There is also a lot of empty space in an octagonal home. We are at the point where we have to decide on something so we can have excavation work done for the footing trench. We decided to go with a 32 x 40 rectangular house with a shed roof. That will be a nice look in a cordwood home, and it will be pretty straightforward to build.
We marked out the corners to get ready for the excavator’s return. Pretty nervewracking, because digging trenches commits to a house layout. Time to pull the trigger! This is a busy time of year, so it will be a couple weeks before he can come out. In the meantime, we cleared out some more undergrowth around the house site and noticed that the blackberries were ripening. We spent a very hot afternoon picking blackberries and ended up with enough to make a couple cobblers, one of which we shared with Dad and Lou after church. A nice warm cobbler made with wild blackberries, topped with vanilla bean ice cream is a wonderful treat.
Up to this time when we decided to take a break and eat our lunch, we would sit in our folding chairs and juggle stuff on our laps. I did some research, and we picked up a picnic table kit from Menards. The picnic table kit cost $98, but by the time we bought stain and varnish we were out about $125. It gives us a place to eat our lunch a little more civilized and increases the enjoyment factor. Every little thing we do to improve the place makes it more enjoyable.
To break in the picnic table, we opted to grill up a couple ribeyes, baked sweet potato, and grilled veggies. Sure beat stopping for fast food on the way home! I know, ribeyes don’t sound like sustainable, healthy eating. In our defense, we bought them from a local meat shop. The steers are grass fed and pasture raised just a few miles up the road. The meat shop slaughters, processes, and ages them in house. They are raised humanely, and although not certified organic, they are raised organically. Interestingly, there isn’t local demand for the organic certification, so the rancher doesn’t spend the money on the certification and paperwork. There is no comparison to the industrialized beef from the big box stores!
What a busy month! We had our granddaughter Ashley, her boyfriend Kenny, and our great grandson Kaysn out for a visit. We grilled hamburgers and had a nice time. Kaysn really enjoyed being out in the woods. It did my heart good.
Bathroom breaks are no big deal for me out in the woods, but it is inconvenient to say the least for Deb with no facilities. I used one of our collapsible 5 gallon water jugs to make a hand washing station. I also surprised Deb with a camp toilet inside a shelter so she has privacy and doesn’t have to squat against a tree. Another of those little things that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it goes a long way to making the place more enjoyable.
Our 60th Birthdays came around, so we took weekend getaway to celebrate. We camped on the Current River and enjoyed a 20 mile float trip. The weekend concluded with stops at Echo Bluff State Park, Alley Mill Spring, and Big Spring. The finale was a stop at Serenity Hill before heading back home. Getting a house so we can move out permanently is our main priority, but we still need to find time to spend with each other and with family. The trip really recharged our batteries.
Steve was finally able to come out and dig the footing trench for us. Dad, Lou, her daughter Karen and her SO Bill were in the area and stopped by for a visit the day Steve was digging the trench. It was the first time Dad had seen the driveway. The last time he was out, there was a huge brush pile on the house site waiting to be burned, and still quite a few trees at the location. He found easy digging the first foot or so, but then he hit the hard clay/sand/gravel underneath and had a time digging through it. As Steve said, it is so hard it will make a good base for the foundation.
After he finished the trench, I had him pull brush and logs away from the treeline so we can safely burn them without catching the whole woods on fire. It sure made a difference in how the place looks, and now I don’t have to hear Deb comment about it every time we come to Serenity Hill. We also burned brush piles that had been on either side of the drive for almost a year.
The developer stopped by while we were burning and we had a nice chat. We had been talking about wanting to buy the 5+ acres on our North border, but hadn’t said anything to him about it. Kirk mentioned different properties that had sold and that a lady was considering the property to our North. It was the last one on the side road that hadn’t sold. We committed to buying it and set up a date to stop by the office and sign paperwork. That increases our holdings to 11.2 acres, and it provides a 450 foot buffer to the next property.
We spent some time burning the brush that was pulled out from the tree line. It sure makes a difference in how the place looks. Steve was consolidated the piles as I burned them. When it was all burned, Kirk came through one day and did a nice job smoothing it out. Again, it isn’t getting our house built, but it is making improvements in the property that we wanted made, and it increases our enjoyment. I also found out that we would have had to deal with it anyway before Ozark Border would come put in power.
With the trenches dug, it was time to put in pipe for the incoming water supply and for the line to the septic under the footing. Doing the digging about gave me heat stroke, but I got it done. I also got a delivery of 20′ rebar to put in the trench. I became evident that while our drive was sufficient for our cars, it made life difficult for a truck with a 20 foot trailer. He had a tough time getting turned around to leave. There is no way a truck could navigate the drive with 32′ and 40′ I-joists. We decided we will widen the turns. An extension to the east will provide a place to turn around with a trailer. Another lesson learned.
I put rebar in the south and west side of the trench and double checked the corners on the north and east sides. That is when I discovered that either I marked wrong or the excavator dug crooked. To my horror, I discovered that the trench is not rectangular, it is a trapezoid. The south trench is 33′, which works out fine, but the north trench is over 38′ long! I felt sick to my stomach over it, and quite discouraged. It was going to be weeks before I could get the excavator out.
In the meantime, it rained and made a muddy mess of the trench. Between rain, needing to have the trench re-worked, and my work schedule, I just don’t see how I’m going to be able to put rebar in the trench and do a one piece pour. My original thinking was to dig a series of holes and put in 24″ x 24″ x 18″ thick footings, then build concrete block piers on top of them. I let myself get talked into a trench for a continuous footing. It sounded like a good idea, but the practically of doing it myself with my work schedule just isn’t working out.
Things pretty much came to a stand still on the foundation. I had to regroup and rethink what to do. It just makes more sense with my schedule and our finances to go back to the original plan for 24x24x18 footings space every 8′. Measuring and squaring by myself is a chore. It went so much easier when Deb helped me. Some things are just easier with 2 people.
I managed to get forms for the corner footings built and put roughly in place. Then came rain, rain, and more rain. I bailed and bailed to empty the trench. A couple days later it was dry enough to work. Finally the opportunity presented itself to pour the first footing! The footings contain 2 layers of 1/2″ rebar and have 4 pieces of rebar sticking out the top to go through the concrete block piers. Once the piers are in place, I’ll pour concrete inside the blocks to tie everything together all the way to the ground.
Due to rainy weather, I didn’t make a trip out my next weekend off. The disappointment and frustration with weather issues is a real challenge. I really need to get a lot more time out on Serenity Hill if we are ever going to get our house built. I’m having to learn to relax about it and not get upset about the weather. Not by choice, I’m learning the lesson that I can only do what I can, when I can.
Ozark Border finally came in and installed the underground electrical cables and their junction boxes. They made a mess of the drive and the road. So much for the engineer telling a neighbor we wouldn’t be able to tell they had been there. Evidently he forgot to explain that to the contractor who installed the cable.
Another rainy month, not much getting done after the first footing other than putting in the other corner forms and making sure they were square. The big thing was buying a 10 x 17 foot tarp type garage from Harbor Freight. Deb was very skeptical of how I was going to fit such a large box in our car. I took all the components out of the box and loaded them strategically in the car, then collapsed and folded the box to throw on our burn pile. Problem solved!
The instructions call for 3 people, but we managed to put it together with just the 2 of us. We really needed a place to keep things dry and organized. I may end up getting another one specifically for storing wood. Or, I may bite the bullet and just build a wood shed. Either way, I’ve got to have a way to protect logs and firewood from the elements.
It was a very busy and stressful month on the home front. At one point we had family in 3 different hospitals in 3 different states, a couple of them in very dire condition. Fortunately, all pulled through, although 2 of them have a long road of recovery ahead of them. The highlight of the month had to be the arrival of Karter, our second great grandson.
More rain, and footing trench overflowing again. I told Deb that I was going to spend more money at Harbor Freight buying a pump. Bailing 144 feet of trench with a 5 gallon bucket is a huge chore. She agreed that it was a wise purchase, so we bought a pump on our way home. Had the trench drained in no time at all. The next day I was able to get the SE corner footing poured. Two down, 18 more to go!
We also measured and squared for the new layout of 32 x 44 instead of the 32 x 40 we were originally planning. Adding that 4 feet lets us put in a second bathroom and a larger closet in our bedroom. We will also gain other storage space and a roomier living room. I’ve been wanting to put a rocket mass heater/lounger on the north wall of the living room as supplemental heat for our radiant floor heating. It was going to be really tight with our original design, but the addition 4 feet will make it very workable.
I also managed to surprise Deb with an early Christmas present. She has been wanting a fire pit for years. Now that we have our own place, it is finally time. I purchased the steel ring and the concrete blocks from Menards. If you go to their website and search Fire Pit Kits, you will find several different designs. There is a pdf document with each that has a material list as well as assembly instructions. Just make sure that you give the SKU for the kit to the cashier or they will ring up each item separately and it will cost more! Building a fire pit doesn’t get us closer to having the house built, but it does enhance our enjoyment of Serenity Hill. It was nice to end a long day by the fire.
Some may think it is overboard, but homestead safety is very important to me. In 30 years of Army and manufacturing, safety is something I have dealt with on a daily basis. I have to work solo quite often, so being safe is not an option. A few minutes time and a few dollars for protective gear improves homestead safety. Living to build another day is priceless. Safety isn’t just something you do to keep from getting a write-up at work. Safe practices are what you do to keep all your digits and keep working. Performing a risk assessment takes just a few minutes. Following safe practices is better than a trip to the Emergency Room!
Take a few moments at the start of the job to determine what risks are present.
Could it result in injury or death? Can you make a mental note of and work around it? Do you need to make some changes in the work area?
Some of the hazards we face are a result of the manual nature of many of our tasks. Over exertion, repetitive motion, awkward posture or position when lifting are ever present risks. Ever strain your back stacking firewood? That is a classic example of repetitive motion and awkward position. Seems there is always something sticking up from the ground, leaning against a wall, jutting out from a wall just waiting to trip us up. Splitting wood, hammering nails, digging a hole, raking leaves, moving bags of feed and mulch, unloading concrete blocks or lumber from a trailer are some other examples of tasks that bring hazards we face on a near daily basis. Identify those tasks and think of ways to reduce or eliminate the risk.
Environmental hazards are ever present on the homestead. These consist of things like heat, cold, trip hazards, and are going to vary from season to season, job to job. Are there nearby trees that may cause a hangup or interfere with felling a tree? Do you have an unrestricted escape path? How about roots, potholes, uneven ground, soft ground that could cause trips and falls? Are there extension cords, air hoses, ladders, rubbish, stacks of material on the floor? Did someone place flammable materials close to the torpedo heater or wood stove? Does gas powered equipment have adequate ventilation? Are the tools and equipment we are using on the homestead in good order and right for the job? How hot is it? How cold is it? Are you doing this for the first time and not really sure how to do it?
Gravity is another source of hazards. What goes up, will come down! Ever leave a tool on top of a ladder, move, or even just bump, the ladder, and get a hammer on the head? Gravity! Branches sometimes break off when you are felling a tree and may come straight down. Roots, stumps, cords, hoses, that excess piece of pipe you cut off and threw on the ground all make trip hazards that put gravity to work. My wife was performing the simple task of walking her employer’s dog one day when the dog decided to change direction quickly. In the blink of an eye, the resulting fall left her with a plate and screws in her left thumb and in a cast for 8 weeks. Something like that will really put a damper on your work around the homestead. Staying on your feet is pretty important.
Machinery and equipment are a major source of hazards for the homesteader. Tractors, excavators, backhoes, ATV’s, mowers, trucks, chainsaws, power tools are just a few of the hazards we encounter on a near daily basis. Ensure machinery and equipment is in good working order. Make sure you know how to properly use it. Know and avoid, as much as possible, pinch points and entrapment points. PTO shafts, belts, blades, chains all have a way of reaching out and grabbing people. I know, money and time can be scarce on the homestead and we often take pride in the “shade tree” engineering fixes we come up with to keep things running, but we really can’t afford to put ourselves in danger and leave our safety to luck, duct tape, zip ties, and baling wire!
Of course, you may not see all the hazards. Become accustomed to identifying hazards and you gain an awareness of the risks on the job. You are now equipped to take steps to keep from hurting yourself or someone else. Don’t let a planned work day end up with a trip to the ER! Homestead safety helps you live to build another day.
Does the risk put life and limb in danger? How serious is the risk? Should you eliminate, control, avoid, or accept the risk? Since it is not practical to remove all risk, we must often determine ways to minimize the risk.
Review the worksite to eliminate as many risks as possible. You can eliminate risk by using proper storage to prevent stacks of lumber from falling and hitting you. A clean and orderly work site significantly reduces risk of injury. A side benefit is that you spend less time looking for things. Proper tools and safety equipment eliminate many hazards. Use a hammer, not a wrench or piece of pipe if you need to pound something. Use a pry bar, not a screwdriver when you need to pry at something.
We often have to modify or create tools to get the job done. Other times have to be creative with the tools at hand. That may be reality, but consider what you are doing and if it is the best way to be doing it. And, believe it or not, PPE isn’t just something you are required to wear at work because big brother is watching you. Wearing PPE can be a life saver on the homestead as well.
Substitute risk by replacing heavy tools with lighter tools if possible. Don’t use a 5 lb sledge when a framing hammer may be better for the job. Replace manual tools with power tools when you can. A cordless drill or cordless screwdriver sure beats a hand screwdriver if you have a lot of screws to install. Cordless impact wrenches are much better for removing lug nuts than the old fashioned lug wrench. A vibration reducing hammer leaves your hand feeling better at the end of the day, and a pneumatic nail gun can be a real godsend.
When moving to heavy items, use mechanical lifting aids. This could be something as simple as a small crane that bolts to the bed of your truck or fastened to a tractor 3 point hitch. Another possibility on the homestead is a gin pole hoist. Check this link out to see how to build a gin hoist: Gin Pole Hoist Saw horses and an adjustable work table are some of my favorite items because they keep me from having to kneel and stoop when I’m working on a project. I can get down fairly easily. Getting back up kicks my tail!
Schedule your work to reduce risk. If it is going to be hot, try to schedule the heavy work early in the day before it heats up. Waiting until you are worn out at the end of the day to perform difficult tasks is asking for trouble. Fatigue makes you more prone to injury and also makes you less attentive to risk. It just seems to be human nature to let our guard down when we are almost done or almost home. Inattention and familiarity with a task also cause people to lose focus and place homestead safety at risk.
I have to wear several items of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) at work, and in my role as a supervisor I have to make sure people are wearing the proper PPE, and wearing it properly. Yes, it isn’t always comfortable, and yes it is sometimes overkill. But if it keeps me from getting stitches, wearing a cast, or worse, then I’ll wear it. Some PPE we don without even thinking about it. The list below certainly isn’t all inclusive, but it contains items that I use on the homestead to keep myself safe.
First Aid Kit – I always keep a First Aid kit handy. You can either purchase one or make one yourself. I’ve bought several of the pre-packaged kits and generally been disappointed in the type and quality of items in the kit. While buying a kit is easy, you can make one yourself that has just what you need for your work site. Whatever you do though, you must inspect your First Aid Kit for expired or damaged, or consumed items. I keep these items in mine:
Fire Extinguisher – Activities like cutting re-bar with an angle grinder, welding, using power tools, gas powered equipment, and using extension cords can result in sparks that can start a fire. Many a fire has been started by the heat from a car exhaust idling over tall grass. Having a fire extinguisher handy could prevent the loss of all your hard work.
Weld Blanket/Weld Curtain – Use a weld blanket when welding or grinding to cover flammable items and keep sparks and hot metal off them. Don’t use a tarp thinking it is just as good. It isn’t! If you are welding and there are other people working nearby, a weld curtain will prevent flash burns to their eyes and skin.
First Aid/CPR Training – I’ve been CPR and First Aid trained since back in my Boy Scout days. To date I haven’t had to use CPR, but I have used what I learned in First Aid training several times. It isn’t expensive, and it can be a life saver. I’m a Maintenance Supervisor so my company provides training every 2 years. If training isn’t available through an employer, contact American Red Cross or American Heart Association near you to find out what training is available. I’ve included links to both so that let you find training available near you.
Homestead safety when working alone is something you really must think about. There is nobody there to see what happened, and nobody there to come to your aid. Not only are you responsible for you, but those who will be affected by you being injured, or worse. Keep a First Aid kit on hand. Have an emergency plan in place. Let somebody know where you will be working and when you plan on leaving so they will know where to look for you if the worst happens. If you are in an area with cell phone service, keep it handy. Evaluate risks and make a plan on how to deal with the risk, and what to do if it all goes wrong.
Working alone brings its own challenges with lifting and moving items. I’ve had to move many a 400 lb oak or hickory log with a peavey hook and come along. It is tough, back breaking, exhausting work. Sometimes we don’t have a choice on the homestead, but we can make good choices to reduce the risk of it all going bad. Getting a challenging job finished brings its own rewards.
Sometimes working with a helper can be more exasperating than working alone. First there is the whole effective communication issue so you are all working together. Then there is the burden of knowing that another person’s safety is in your hands. You owe it to your helper to be safe and keep them from harm, and your helper needs to feel the same responsibility toward you. There are several things I do to try to keep my helper safe – especially since that helper is usually my wife!
Take a look at the safety precautions you use. Keep what works and be willing to change what isn’t working. You may have always done something unsafe and not been injured. Don’t leave your safety to dumb luck. Take a few minutes to look around and make sure your work space is as safe as possible, and you are aware of hazards.
Homestead safety isn’t something to leave to chance. Take a look at the risks. Eliminate and control those that you are able. Accept and plan for those that you can’t. Be aware of your surroundings. Take care of your equipment and keep it in good working order. Use the right tool for the job. Use protective equipment to prevent injury. When you have done those things, you can get about your work without the nagging worry in the back of your mind that this may be the day it all goes wrong.
Now, get out there and build your homestead!
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Last updated: October 27, 2018.
Our search for land of our own began 7 years ago when we were living in Texas. With the exception of a 4 year stint at Fort Campbell where we bought a home, we have spent our entire married lives living in either military housing or rented homes. Deb has wanted a place of our own for years. I was always hesitant to put down roots in a place that I didn’t really like that much where I was working a job that I didn’t really care for. Finally back in 2011 we started looking at homes, land, and discussing what type of place we wanted.
One of the decisions we arrived at is that we didn’t want to live in a subdivision and we wanted no part of a HOA. Through a friend at work, I learned of a place that owner financed land with a small down payment. He also told me of a place that did owner financing, moving, and setup of repo manufactured homes. That would be a start, and it would get us out of our rental house in town. We looked at some land and it was mostly in the Trinity River bottoms. Neither of us were keen on buying land in a flood plain and we ended up continuing to look elsewhere.
In 2014 I had an opportunity for a job that would finally put us in the area we really wanted to retire. It would put us close to my Dad and Stepmom in their latter years, but the downside is that our kids and most of our grandkids would be down in Texas. After a lot of thought and discussion, we decided to make the leap.
Shortly after moving we began looking at property and discussing what we wanted in a home or land. One of my favorite places growing up was a beautiful lake near our hometown. We spent a lot of Saturday and Sunday afternoons swimming at the lake or just driving around the countryside. Naturally, that is the first place we began looking for property. Unfortunately, reality sometimes departs from childhood dreams. There was plenty of land available near the lake, the problem is that much of it was really rugged and challenging to build on. Many of the lots had run down homes or trailers built right next to the road and the property was pretty trashed out. A search on the web revealed a disturbing number of registered sex offenders and verified meth houses. Time to rethink!
Searches on Zillow, Realtor.com, Mossy Oak, and local realtor sites revealed no shortage of cheap homes. Unfortunately, there is a reason they were cheap and the price would only be a starting point. Issues with eaves, roofing, flooring, and utilities end up requiring a lot of work and a sizable cash outlay. Fixing up a place that needed work would cost more than if we built from scratch! Another issue is floor plan. Nothing we saw matched what we had decided was important in a floor plan. Since this home will be our retirement home, we decided to build our own.
Done deal, we would buy a piece of land and build our own home. What type of home is a story for another day.
After years of living in military housing and subdivisions, we knew that we wanted a place with elbow room. My wife grew up in town and always felt that was where she would want to live. People change over time, and she finally decided that she also wanted a place with some elbow room, space, trees, and privacy.
We both love being in the outdoors and enjoy camping and hiking. Her family vacations as a child revolved around loading up the pop-up camper and going camping somewhere for a week. My family spent a lot of time driving through the Ozarks and visiting places in the Mark Twain National Forest. We both wanted to be near areas where we could get out and enjoy nature. Go for a swim, go on a float trip, go on a hike, just spend some time in a beautiful place without having to drive for hours.
Initially we thought of a property with enough space to grow a small garden and perhaps have a few chickens and rabbits. Our priorities changed as we discussed our retirement years and the type of life that really meant the most to us. Living more in tune with nature, less consumerism, sustainable living, responsible stewardship became more important. We decided that we wanted to buy a place that would have enough room for livestock if we felt so inclined. Bottom line, we didn’t want to get the bare minimum space and not have room to expand if we wanted.
As a result, we decided that something in the 3-5 acre range would be best. It would allow us to have a garden, and have a chicken coop and/or rabbit hutch that wouldn’t be right next to the house. We could start with a small garden and have the flexibility to expand. Funny thing is, we bought 5.3 acres and Deb wondered what we were going to do with all that land. As we worked on clearing trees and developing the house site, she began to wish we had MORE space. When the 5.9 acres on our north border became available, we decided to buy that too and ended up, so far, with 11.2 acres. Now, if only the 6.3 acres on our east border doesn’t sell before we get in the position to buy it too….
Deb and I both love the rugged hills and beautiful vistas. Nothing like a piece of land with a view and a pond or stream. Deb’s left hip had been bothering her for a couple years, and it became necessary for her to have a hip replacement. In the next 3-5 years she will probably end up having her other hip replaced. Build a home and garden on rugged acreage is definitely feasible. Getting around it with a bionic hip isn’t so easy. Neither of us could imagine trying it with two bionic hips! They take care of the pain and restore lost mobility, but they just aren’t made for land best suited to billy goats.
We looked at some cleared land, but really wanted wooded acreage. We didn’t want rugged hills, but we didn’t want flat land. And we definitely didn’t want to be in a flood plain. The narrowed our focus to wooded acreage with a gentle slope that would be easy for us to navigate as we age.
In the early stages of our discussions, we thought about buying remote land far away from the rest of the world. Sounds romantic, and for some people it is the best place in the world. We considered things like the fact that we will be working for the next 6-7 years, getting to church, spending time with family, access to medical care. Remote wasn’t practical for us. We began searching within 20 miles of the town we wanted to be near that would meet the other criteria that were important to us.
With retirement approaching, we didn’t want to be so remote that we didn’t have fairly easy access to stores and medical facilities. We don’t need to be near a big city, but would like access to the basics without having to make a day trip.
Determining how we wanted to live had a huge impact on the type of land that would be suitable. We wanted land with enough space to have room between us and neighbors. We wanted enough space to have a sustainable permaculture garden. Space for a chicken coop if we decided to go that way was important. Since we really enjoy relaxing in our above ground pool, there has to be room for that! I love smoking meat and want a detached BBQ pavilion. No more having the smoker right next to the back door and bringing smoke into the house.
We wanted to have enough room to make a few trails to stroll through our woods. Building a fire pit retreat found its way to our wish list. We wanted a lot wide enough to build in a location where the house wouldn’t be easily seen from the road. Private, but not isolated. And we didn’t want to be in an area with junked up places all around us. Determining what kind of lifestyle is important is vital in picking out the right kind of land.
In the end, I stumbled across an add on Craigslist for owner financed wooded acreage. A local developer had bought a few hundred acres and opened it up. He ran county water lines, and had the plat accepted by the electric utility and the county. In the next year the county will be taking over road maintenance. He gave directions to get to the property, gave some details, and invited us to go check it out. There was no high pressure sales pitch. Just told us to go look at it and if we saw something we like, come to his office and we will talk. I like that approach because I detest a high pressure sales pitch and will walk away in a heartbeat.
We walked several properties and decided on the one we wanted. The properties have some deed restrictions that actually make them more appealing to us because they will (hopefully) prevent the kind of things that made other areas unappealing. Deed Restrictions is an ugly phrase to most people setting out to homestead because they want to do whatever they want on their land. Problem is, the people around you can do the same, and that could get unpleasant. We made sure that the restrictions didn’t keep us from doing any of the things we were wanting to do on the land and signed the dotted line.
My job doesn’t leave me much free time because I work 10 days and get 4 days off. This gives us every other weekend to get out there and work. It is challenging, and at times frustrating because things take time. Of course, it also gives us time to refine our plans and hopefully waste less time.
Rather than have a dozer come in and knock everything down, we cut trees ourselves. I’ve left the bigger oaks in logs 9-14 feet long to use as posts in our cordwood home. I’ll mill hickory logs to use in making cabinets and furniture. The rest of the oak and hickory we have been cutting up to dry for firewood. Other brush was burned. Whatever doesn’t make timbers for the frame or firewood will be laid out to make hugulkulture beds in the garden. Our initial site for a drive and house changed slightly in the fall and winter when could see the land better. It really is best if you can see the land, sun, and weather in several seasons before you put down something permanent.
People who have been out to our place love it. We love to spend time there, even if most of that time we are working our tails off. Some people get it, some people think we are crazy, and that’s okay. This is our dream, our adventure to do our way. Mistakes will be made, amazing things will be learned, and great people will be met as we go along. At the end of the day, we will have built our dream our way, and it doesn’t get much better than that. Hope you get to make your dream happen too!
Purposeful Living wasn’t a concept that was on my radar until the last couple years. I’ve spent a lot of years working a job, spending money, doing “stuff”, much like everyone around me. There wasn’t much thought about what, why, or the wisdom of what I was doing. It became so easy to get caught up in work, church, school, kids, and stuck in a rut. The dreams and aspirations of youth faded as I aged and got busy with “life”. I ended up stuck on a hamster wheel going nowhere fast.
My time in the military kept me away from family for months at a time, and didn’t lend itself to putting down roots. After the Army I worked jobs in Engineering and Maintenance at manufacturing facilities that run 24/7. Those jobs have always required a lot of long hours and travel. I became so busy making a living for my family that I ended up not making a life for us. We all suffered for that.
Inevitably, I began to take stock of where I was in life. I realized that there wasn’t much peace or joy. That led to asking myself some tough questions and deciding to get off the treadmill.
In 2014 I had an opportunity to take a job in the area my family is from. My living Aunts, Uncles, most of my cousins, and my Dad live in the area. After over 20 years of looking, I finally found a job in the area and made the move to Missouri from Texas. Problem, is, our kids and all but 1 grandkid are still in Texas. Regardless, we made the move to the area where we have always wanted to retire.
For most of the past 39 years we have either lived in military housing or rented a house, never really sure how long we were going to stay put. One of our goals in moving here was to buy a piece of land and finally build the house we wanted. That required sitting down and deciding just what we wanted in a piece of land and what kind of house we wanted to build.
Those discussions and some life events got me thinking about more than just building a house. I really got to thinking about not just what we wanted to build, but why. Was it to impress somebody? To emulate somebody? Or was it finally the opportunity to realize some dreams we had long ago discussed but let fade?
Several life events caused me to rethink my priorities. Call it mid-life crisis if you will. In my late 50’s money and possessions began to lose their allure. Relationships neglected through the years of making a living instead of a life grew in importance. Having a positive impact on the world I’m living in and the people I’m blessed to have in my life increase in importance. There are fewer years ahead than behind, and there is an urgency in making that time count. And its about moving forward instead of becoming bogged down in regret for what you squandered.
Fortunately my wife was having some of the same thoughts. Our discussions turned toward what kind of life we want to build. This is an opportunity to build the homestead we want the way we want. Many people won’t understand because it isn’t what they would want. Purposeful living is also deciding what we want without comparing or judging. There is a lot of peace in that.
Purposeful Living means to me deciding that there is more to life than earning a paycheck and making sure your family has “stuff”. We are placed on earth to be a positive influence in the life of others. People are important not just for what they can do for you, but because they were placed here on earth just like you were.
Purposeful Living brings an end to thoughtless consumerism. We make purchases and decisions on what to keep or toss within the context of what we have decided is important to us. We must balance our desire to build our homestead with the time that we need to spend with friends, family, church – and yes, work – in order to maintain relationships with people.
Purposeful Living is more to me than “stuff” and “doing”. It is being, it is living, it is impactful, it is harmonious with nature, my Creator, it is finding peace and balance. May you find your purpose and pursue it.
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