—Beyond Off Grid—
Years In The Making...
This Christian-Agrarian Documentary Is Finally Done!

Dateline: 21 February 2017


Those of you who have read my blog writings for a few years may remember back in September of 2013 when I had a Deliberate Agrarian book-sale fundraiser to support a new video documentary project called Beyond Off Grid. I had hoped to raise a couple hundred dollars, but ended up selling 87 books and raised $435 for the project (you can read about it At This Link).

Well, a lot of time has gone by since then and, frankly, I kind of lost hope that the documentary video would ever get made. But it did get made, finally, and I was delighted to receive a few copies of the just-published DVD in the mail today.

The Beyond Off Grid documentary is an excellent analysis of the manifold weaknesses within our complex, interconnected, and vulnerable modern civilization. The worldview perspective of the film is clearly Christian and the solutions offered are both Biblical and agrarian.

As I watched this movie, I thought of my Deliberate Agrarian blog, which was, essentially, a Christian-agrarian apologetic. Almost everything I wrote about for 11 years was, in one way or another, a celebration of the concept of Christianity lived within an agrarian setting. My ever present, underlying theme was to encourage my readers to continually lessen their dependencies on the centralized, Babylonian system which seeks to enslave our minds, our time, and our families.

So many of the themes I wrote about at The Deliberate Agrarian, are presented in this new documentary. And many of the people I wrote about are featured in the film. 

This is the kind of film that those who already have a Christian-agrarian worldview can give to friends and family. It will get them thinking outside of the Babylonian box they live in.

What the movie doesn't do is discuss the Biblical call for Christians to live within the agrarian paradigm, while deliberately separating themselves from worldly expectations and dependencies. Instead, the movie explains the inevitable collapse of our modern civilization, and presents a "Return to the old paths" as the wisest course of action to be able to best survive what lies ahead. 

There is a distinct difference between the pursuit of agrarianism as a Biblically-based way of life, and the pursuit of agrarian life as a survival tactic. But I'll leave that discussion for another day.

The description of the video on the back of the DVD case is a very good summation of the movie:


The modern consumer economy and culture is not resilient to disaster, and is imitating the Roman Empire before its fall and destruction. This film explores why we should strive to reduce our dependence on the modern economy and systems, and the critical elements that need to be addressed first. Freedom is found by returning to the old paths of productive households and local community interdependence.
By exposing the weaknesses of our modern economy and culture, and by showcasing the solutions that can be learned from the past and through wisely applying technology, this film will inspire you to pursue a greater degree of self-reliance and to rebuild the foundations of civilization from the ground up.

In addition to the movie itself, the DVD has a Special Features section with excerpts of interviews with Michael Bunker, Franklin Sanders, and others. Michael Bunker's discussion of his grandmother is, in my opinion, particularly thought provoking.

The bottom line here is that I like this movie. I'm glad I was able to help support its production. And I hope a lot of people will take the time to watch and consider the wisdom it presents. CLICK HERE to learn more about the Beyond Off Grid documentary.



It's Maple Time In Upland!

Dateline: 19 February 2017

My first taps of 2017.

I finished my income taxes yesterday, so the most dreadful time of the year is now behind me. And today the sun came out. A warm stretch of weather is in the forecast. It is time to make maple syrup.

Last year at the end of maple season I bought 10 new stainless steel spiles like you can see in the next picture (on the right)...


The traditional-style spile on the left requires a 7/16" tap hole. But the new style of spile on the right requires only a 5/16" tap hole. I like the idea of making a smaller hole in the tree. And I like the quality of the machined stainless steel tap.  


Every spring that we've made maple syrup in the past, I have always spent a lot of time getting the evaporator set-up (as you can see above) in place. But last year, after maple season was done, I just left everything right where it was in the wood shelter next to our house. That was a first. So, all I had to do today was uncover the equipment and hook up the stovepipe.


We have been making our own maple syrup since our kids were little. And we've made some great family memories along the way. Back in 2008 I blogged a whole series about how we do Backyard Sugaring

The beauty of our system is that it is very low-tech, and the evaporator is set up right next to our house (for convenient tending through the day and into the night). 

I have never wanted a more deluxe evaporator, and I've never wanted to tap more than the 20 to 25 (occasionally up to 30) trees we typically tap. The simplicity, the rusticity, and the economy of our system suits us perfectly. We can make more than enough gallons of maple syrup to supply our needs for the year. I have homemade maple syrup in my coffee every morning.

All of which is to say... I've gone from the most dreadful time of the year yesterday to one of the most delightful times of the year today. Maple season is that special.



It's That Most-Dreadful
Time Of The Year

Dateline: 16 February 2017

Me & Marlene in March of '77

It's that time of year again.... tax figuring time. I think I've complained about tax time in my blog writings for as long as I've been blogging. And that's been so long that I don't even remember anymore when I started. The good news is that I've gotten better at bookkeeping, but I still use paper and a pencil. No computer. I really need to figure out Quickbooks, or something like that.

Back in the spring of 1977 I didn't have to worry about figuring income taxes. That's because I had no income to speak of. I was enjoying a wonderful year of vacation at what is now known as Sterling College, up in northern Vermont. There were no barbers up there.

Not having any income does have some advantages. But I still prefer productivity and income, even if the government extorts half of it from me in various taxes.

I was home for some sort of school break in the picture above. Marlene and I had been skateboarding down that hill. Amazingly, that is the road we now live on. Our home is up the road on the right. But when this picture was taken, we had no idea that we would one day build our dream home up there. This Upland was kind of special to us even before we made it our home!

A lot of people, when they see this vintage picture, wonder about the car. It was a Chevy Nova (1972, I think). It had a very responsive V8 engine in it. When you stopped at a red light or stop sign, then stepped on the gas, the car practically jumped ahead. 

It was Marlene's car. She was going to community college and living at home. She needed a car. Her dad helped her pick it out at Ames Chevrolet in Cortland, NY. I bought my first car at Ames a few years later.

During high school, Marlene worked at a nursing home in Moravia every day after school. She was a good saver. She bought her first car with her own money. I think her dad payed the insurance. 

During college, Marlene had a job as a life guard at the school's pool. She was also a lifeguard for the Moravia summer recreation program at Fillmore Glen. And she had a job staying nights with General Thomas Greene's widow in Moravia. Marlene was never a slacker.

When Marlene looked at the picture above a few minutes ago, she said, "I wonder how much I weighed in that picture?"

Yes, we've changed a lot in 40 years. 



Building Our Upland Dream Home
(Part 9)

Dateline: 14 February 2017 a.d.



In November of 1990, with winter coming, and a second baby on the way, we were cramming to get a much-needed addition on our 868 square foot house. I hired my business partner and our one employee to get the addition weathertight. I would take it from there myself.


Take note of all the stuff crammed under the roof of the 10' x 10' section of our original house. It was kind of like an attic. Our Dream Home was seriously short on storage space (still is).


1990

The picture below shows our house three years after getting the addition on (1993). There was still bare plywood on the outside. Not very attractive. 

I was still in the midst of my Hard Years, working at my business, trying to keep the bills paid. I lacked the time and money to put much effort into making the outside of the house look good.

1993

Marlene thinks the picture below is from around 1995. Five years after the addition was put on, and it's still bare plywood. Our third child was born in October of 1994. Those years are a blur. 

1995

Our dog, Pilgrim, was 10 years old in the picture above. She would live two more years.

In 1998 I went through a personal low—a time of depression, inactivity and financial crisis. Nothing got done on the house. The inside was not completely finished, while the outside looked like you see in the above two pictures. It was like that for around 15 years. 

My wife is the most sweet and patient person I know, but I can tell you that there were times when she was profoundly disappointed with the unfinished condition of our house. It was an embarrassment. It was shameful. That's all I'll say about that.

I think it was around 2005 that I finally had the time and the money to start making the house look better. I had been working in the NY State prison system since 2000. The job paid well. I also had vacation days, personal days, sick days—all kinds of days that I got paid for not working. That was something I never experienced as a self employed remodeling contractor. 

Besides that, my Planet Whizbang mail-order business was taking off. After nearly 20 stressful years, the Hard Days were behind me. Making enough money to keep the bills paid was much less of a concern.

I put another small addition on the back of the house when I was working at the prison (you can see it below). It gave us some much-needed breathing room in the downstairs, and I finally got to the siding over that bare plywood. 

The next three pictures show the house now, in February of 2017. The two sides visible from the road currently need repainting, but at least they are done!






As you can see, I still have a lot of work to do on the back of the house. These days my biggest problem is time and energy. Since around 2010 the mail-order business has provided for our financial needs like working in the building trades never did, but the business does require a lot of my time. And my physical capacity for getting things done is diminishing with every passing year.

Nevertheless, there is a period of time, in the early spring, when the weather gets nice, and the mail-order volume is seasonally low, that I have time to focus on the house. Last year, I finished a much-needed re-roofing. This year I will endeavor to finish the cedar siding.

The plan now is to get that house ready to sell. The plan is to continue to save as much money as we can. Our objective is to build a retirement home in two to three years (I will be 62 years old in three years). 

A simple ranch-style home with an attached garage, will do. And a small barn for the mail-order business (our Dream Home is now part warehouse).

Another option we're seriously considering is to purchase a house in the nearby small rural village of Moravia, NY (6 miles away). That would be a big adjustment but we're trying to make wise forward-thinking decisions, and there are some definite plusses to living in a small village when you get up in years.

We love our Upland Dream Home, but it has served its purpose, and we are now ready to leave. 

I don't know if we ever actually will leave. A lot of things have to fall into place for that to happen. But we are ready. 

If we do leave, we will still have an Upland presence, as we own a separate section of 16 acres of land up here. There are personal and strategic reasons to hold on to rural land, and I've discussed them numerous times in my writings over the years.

We'll see what develops. Stay tuned.

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This concludes my series on Building Our Upland Dream Home. If you have not yet read the whole series, CLICK HERE to go back to the beginning.




Introducing
My Newest Whizbang Idea...
The Chickenhead Door Knocker!

Dateline: 11 February 2017



Check out the video above. 
Check out the new web site here: 

Please share the video and web site 
with all your chicken-loving friends.

Thank you.



Building Our Upland Dream Home
(Part 8)

Dateline: 8 February 2017 a.d.


Late in 1990, Marlene was pregnant with our second child. Five years after moving in, our 868 square foot dream home, with a single small bedroom, was getting crowded. Winter was coming. I desperately needed to make the house larger.

Marlene had stopped working when our first baby came. It was important to us that she be a full-time mother and that she homeschool our kids. It was a commitment that I'm not sure our children will ever fully understand or appreciate. But we wouldn't hesitate to do it again.

Getting by on my sole income, working in the building trades, was tough. Those were the Hard Years. I was self-employed by then as a small-scale home remodeler, and I was consumed with all the aspects of running the business.

I had a business partner. His name was Steve. He and I were a remarkable team. I am amazed now when I look back and think about some of the jobs we took on (especially the light-commercial projects). And, in retrospect, I believe we did not fully appreciate the worth of what we did. Which is to say, we didn't charge enough to move beyond the point of always-struggling to get ahead. 

The picture above is surprisingly poignant to me these days. It is not the picture of Steve but the picture of the young child in red, bundled against the cold, watching. He is holding a little plastic hammer. That is my firstborn son. He is named after me (I am named after my grandfather). I feel a sadness that the little boy grew up so fast, and that I was in the midst of the Hard Years—so consumed with my work and with keeping the bills paid.





The addition was made possible in large part by an unexpected gift of $10,000 earlier in the year from my Grandmother Kimball. And, to our amazement, Marlene's dad gave us $1,000 to buy windows. That was totally out of character for Jay. He had no reservations about loaning money to family (and even to creditworthy people in the community) but for him to give us $1,000 was really something. 

I decided that the addition needed a basement. It would be a place to put a big water heater (we had a small one crammed in an upstairs closet) and a pump for the well. 

Steve's dad (Al Bossard) was in the earth-moving business, and he was good at it. Steve and I had one employee at the time. His name was Dan (Marlene and I actually bought our land from Dan's father years before). I was paying everyone to help me get the addition built as fast as possible.

But we ran into a big problem that none of us ever expected. After Al dug the hole for the basement, Steve and I started to build forms for a concrete footing. The soil was wet and sandy. As we walked around, our feet started sinking deeper and deeper into the wet sand. The sides of the excavated hole were sopping-wet sand. It was like pudding, and it gave way a little at a time. The ground was not solid enough to form a footing. We were in quicksand!

Fortunately, I knew Alfred Muscari. Al was a wealthy, longtime customer, and a retired engineer. He once told me he was the best subway builder in the world. If you have ever been in the Washington DC Metro subway, you have seen Alfred Muscari's work.

Al respected my skills and hired me to work on his historical and famous camp Fallbrook Point, on Skaneateles Lake every year I was in business (I had also worked for him with my previous two employers). I considered Al a friend. I called him right up and explained the situation. He told me exactly what to do.



Al Muscari told me to first dig a drain trench to the gully behind my house (picture above). Then he said to have Al Bossard scrape out all the loose wet sand he could at the bottom of the excavation. Then we put down a layer of heavy geotextile fabric. Steve's dad had the fabric (he used it a lot in his business). Then we had a stoneslinger come and lay down a foot of coarse stone. Then we formed the footings on that. The quicksand problem was solved, and it has never been a problem since.

This next picture shows the fabric, the stone, and the poured footing. Drains were also installed down the trench to the gully. 



In this next picture you can see me laying up the basement walls. It was a small basement but I used 10" concrete block. I laid the blocks up dry, parged both sides with Quickwall, and filled the cores with concrete.

The two piers that originally held up the 10' x 10' addition were removed and one wall of the basement provided support.



The addition on the bottom was not very big, as the picture below shows, but on the 2nd floor we would get one large bedroom, and that was what we needed most. 


In the next part of this series I will show you the addition that we framed up before the winter of 1990 set in.


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CLICK HERE to go to Part 9—
the conclusion of this series.

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If you have missed parts of this series, 
CLICK HERE to go back to the beginning.




Building Our Upland Dream Home
(Part 7)

Dateline: 6 February 2017 a.d.



We started building our dream home in the spring of 1983. As soon as the frame was weathertight, I nailed the plaque you see in the picture above to the hemlock beam in our kitchen. I made the plaque using rub-on letters from an art store. It is from Psalm 18. It is a verse of praise and faith.

The plaque is now fly-specked and worn. The nails are rusty. But the verse hasn't moved from that spot in 34 years. It stays there as a reminder of what Marlene and I believed way back then, and what we still believe today.


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In the spring of 1985, after another winter of living with Marlene's parents, we were anxious to finally move into our little house and make it a home. The house was not finished, inside or outside, but it was finished enough.

We got a septic system early in 1985 and a well too. The well was nothing more than a 10ft-deep hole in  the ground, dug with a backhoe. A concrete tank with perforated sides was lowered into the hole and it was backfilled with stone. It was not the best of wells, but the price was right, and it served us for the next 18 years. In 2003 we finally had a good well drilled. 



I built the kitchen cabinets myself, right in the kitchen. Judging from the corn field outside the window (across the road), the picture above may have been taken in the summer of 1984. Notice the substantial cross bracing between the 2x12 floor joists.



We finally moved into the house in July of 1985. In the picture above, Marlene is sewing at the kitchen table. The table and chairs came from an auction. The kitchen cabinets have no doors on them. And there is no ceiling yet in the kitchen. You can see our garden outside the window. The white fridge that is only partially visible was  a 1950's or early 1960's model that was given to us.



In the picture above I have finally gotten doors on most of the cabinets, and a ceiling. There is still no trim on the windows. There was much yet to be done.


A few months after we moved into the house we found a puppy at our door. We adopted him and named him Pilgrim. That is the dog I wrote about in The Life and Death of a Good Dog, which is a chapter in my book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian.




Marlene and I were married in November of 1980. Our first child was born until 1988. Until then, Pilgrim was pretty much a surrogate child.



Building our dream home was a lot of work back then, but we were young and full of energy. The years of our marriage before we started to have children were what I would call the Easy Years. Marlene and I both worked, our incomes well exceeded our humble circumstances, and we had few real cares.

In my next installment of this series, I'll show you the addition I put on the house in the fall of 1990, when Marlene was pregnant with our second child. The carefree Easy Years were history by then.




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Click Here 
to go to the next part in this series.

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If you have not yet read all of this series, 
you can CLICK HERE and go back to the beginning.



My Review Of
David McAlvany's New Book,
"The Intentional Legacy"

Dateline: 5 February 2017

Photo Link
(click for more details)

I am a longtime listener of the McAlvany Weekly Commentary, a discussion of "monetary, economic, geopolitical news and events." The show presents, in my opinion, the most balanced and level-headed economic analysis out there. So, when the show's host, David McAlvany, mentioned that he was working on a new book titled, The Intentional Legacy, I preordered a copy. That was four months ago, and I finally got the book last week. 

I don't know David McAlvany. I do not live in his cultured, upperclass world. And I don't have enough wealth to justify needing the services of his conservative, long-term, wealth-management company. But that is all beside the point, because what he has written is a book of down-to-earth wisdom that transcends wealth and status. 

I liked this book enough to write a review of it. I was going to post my review to Amazon today. But, for some reason, Amazon won't allow me to post it right now. No matter. I'll just post it here...


My Book Review Of
"The Intentional Legacy"
By David McAlvany


David McAlvany, author of The Intentional Legacy, is an erudite, analytical, reflective, and idealistic intellectual. He is also a serious Christian. That said, David's book is clearly written for intelligent people—which is to say, for people who are naturally inclined to read any book that might help them in their pursuit of wisdom and a life well-lived.

If you are such a person, and you are a father or grandfather in particular, and you have a Biblical (or perhaps even just a faith-based) worldview, you will like The Intentional Legacy. 

Though David McAlvany is a well-known economic analyst who heads up a second-generation wealth management company, his book is less about finances and more about how to deliberately strengthen the bonds of family. And, in so doing, chart a course for future generations.

More specifically, The Intentional Legacy casts a vision for a wholesome, life-changing family legacy, and then provides specific details for making the vision a reality. The focus is on deliberately cultivating lifelong redemptive family relationships, with grace, humility, selflessness, and integrity. When this is accomplished within a family, a truly successful legacy is pretty much assured. 

Once a legacy of strong family relationships and personal character has been established, you may then confidently pass on your material wealth (if you have any to pass on), knowing that it will not be foolishly squandered by your heirs. And, hopefully, your children will take the helm, charting a similar course of intentional legacy for your grandchildren.

That is, essentially, the concept of this book as I understood it.

Personally, I regret that this book was not around when I was a younger man, during those most formative years of my children’s lives. That said, if you are a father with a young family, you must  read The Intentional Legacy and take what it says to heart. You simply must do it. It has good stories, great lessons, and practical advice that you will not find anywhere else that I know of. You and your family stand to reap great blessings from the advice in this book.

But, even if you are older, like me, there is applicable wise counsel for you in the book.

My only criticism might be that the memoir aspects of the book are occasionally too reflective, bordering on sentimental catharsis. But that is just my opinion. It is no reason not to get The Intentional Legacy, and mine its treasures.

Excerpt from the back cover of The Intentional Legacy.




Building Our Upland Dream Home
(Part 6)

Dateline: 4 February 2017


When the spring of 1984 rolled around, Marlene and I were full of fresh enthusiasm for getting our dream home done. 

In the picture above, you can see that there is a faux foundation wall enclosing the open perimeter of the house. That wall is actually a framework of pressure treated 2x4 covered with pressure treated plywood sheathing. Over the plywood I attached 3/4" foamboard. Over the foamboard I parged a mixture of Thoroseal waterproof cement, mixed with Acryl 60. After about 30 years, the foundation still looked pretty good but a few seams and nails were showing. So I fixed the problems and re-parged with the same mixture. And it looks great.

I've never been a big fan of vinyl siding and I was determined not to have it on my homemade dream home. I went to a lumberyard in Cortland, NY and told the owner that I wanted to side my house with cedar, but I didn't want to spend a lot of money. Without hesitation, he replied, "You want #2 Red Label Western Red Cedar shingles." 

I bought a bunch of them. They were a relatively cheap form of cedar siding, but still an extravagance. My intention was to side the whole house. But I never did, and I actually have three bundles of those 1984 #2 Red Label Western Red Cedar shingles stashed in a shed. I wish I had more, as I expect to get the rest of the house finally sided this year.

Cedar shingles are made to go on a roof, not a sidewall. The sides of the shingles are not exactly parallel. If you want to lay cedar shingles in a straight, tight row, just about every shingle will require some cutting and planing to make them fit. It's very labor intensive if you want to do a good job.

When I buy more cedar shingles this year, I'll look into the "sanded and re-butted" option. They are made for siding a house, and are more money, but they go on straight and probably 10 times faster!



In the picture above you can see three windows. The sashes for those windows were inexpensive barn sash. They were single pane glass in a wood frame. I assembled and painted those frames in Marlene's parent's kitchen during the previous winter (when they were in Florida). I was pretty proud of how I made the windows and saved so much money using barn sash. 

Unfortunately, the windows did not open, and the single panes seriously iced up on the insides in the winter. The windows were a disaster, and I had to replace them a few years later.


The octagon window on the upstairs bathroom was another mistake. It never opened or closed very well. I ended up replacing that too. 


The interior of the house started to take shape in 1984. We even got a chimney and temporary wood stove ...


The stairs went up to a small landing and we had a bathroom and one bedroom up there.


You can see that I put the electrical service in a small closet. That was a mistake. It was a mistake because the electrical code doesn't allow it (but the electrical inspector let it be). And it was a mistake because the closet took a chunk of much-needed space out of the kitchen on the other side. 





The picture above is a view of the house from the road. It is the best view because it shows the two finished sides. 


By the winter of 1984 we had made a lot of progress on our dream home, but we still had a long way to go. We "camped" at our dream-home-in-the-making a lot, but were still living with Jay and Evelyn until we could get a well and septic system.

In the next installment of this series, I'll show you the house in 1985, when we finally did move in.

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to go to Part 7 of this series.

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If you have missed the other installments in this series, CLICK HERE now to go back to the beginning.



Building Our Upland Dream Home
(Part 5)

Dateline: 3 February 2017 a.d.


In My Previous Blog Post I told about how I hired two high-school kids to help me frame up our dream home back in the summer of 1983. After that intense week of effort, I plugged away at getting the back addition built, and to get the rest of the house weathertight. 


I worked alone, as I had time, but I didn't have a lot of time to spare. My full-time carpentry job kept me plenty busy. My boss helped me for half a day and, in particular, we got the salvaged staircase installed.


I did manage to get all the plywood sheathing on, and tarpaper over that. I also installed a few windows and the doors. 

Our dream home sat empty and unfinished for the rest of 1983. We continued to live with Marlene's parents. 

When the spring of 1984 rolled around, we had saved more money and were full of enthusiasm to really make some progress on the house. And we did. It actually started to look like a nice little place, as you'll see in the next installment of this series.

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CLICK HERE to go to Part 6 of this series.

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If you have missed the previous posts in theis series, CLICK HERE to go back to the start.