Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The End of the Year is Near

A month and a half!  Wow.  Has it really been that long?  There has been very little actual Backing 'er Down going on in the last 60 or so days.  My Alma Mater, and employer, Georgia Southern University's football team went on a tear in the FCS playoffs.  Between what I do for work and what I do as a fan, I have been on quite a tear myself!  Traveling, planning, hosting and screaming until my vocal chords were raw.....that would be what I have spent a majority of my time doing since I last wrote about the great art of making syrup.

There is nothing like the Holiday Season to get a man back on track though.  It's an opportunity to reflect on the year, rest up as a new year is on the horizon, and of course time to give thanks for the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  What a year it has been!  Sometimes I feel guilty for the way God has blessed me and my family.  I don't really deserve any of it.

The next couple of weeks will be spent at the Ponderosa.  A little time with the family, a little time working on projects around the house and maybe even a little hunting and/or fishing trip somewhere in there.  A few more blogs are on the horizon too.  I've been jotting down ideas over the last few weeks.  I have a lot to run my mouth (fingers) about:  kids, being a father, debt, deer in my garden, the actual cost of an automobile, the stigma associated with being frugal, why manatees are useless and I still have to get around to hooking up and writing about the solar panel array that I bought back in the summer.

Looking forward to the down time.  Hope everyone else has a chance to enjoy some down time of your own.

Ya'll take it easy,


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

An Adventure In Making Syrup

Photo: Casey Jones
The fair is finally behind me and so is my second year of learning the syrup-making trade.  This second year was much more informative and hands-on than last year was.  As I often write about learning forgotten skills, I figured that a recap of my week and some details on the process and people might make for some good material.  Big thanks to my friend Casey Jones for sharing these pictures!  The story is always much more compelling with visual aids!  Hang with me.......I'm going to jump around.  I'm going to share some of the process and some of the people.  It gets long, but it's Americana at it's finest.

In our community, the county fair is put on by the local Kiwanis Club, of which I am a member.  This is our only fundraising event of the year and all of the proceeds stay in our community.   The club tries hard to keep the identity of a "real" fair, making sure to include livestock shows, displays of old farm equipment and other heritage related activities.  One of those activities is syrup making.  As the club gets up in age, the need for younger members to take over certain jobs is becoming increasingly evident.  In my time I've seen the soap making and candle making exhibits go by the wayside because those artisans passed away.  I have committed to not let the same thing happen to syrup.

The process began a few months ago when we had someone come in to rebuild our furnace.  The years had not been kind to the brick work.  A gentleman by the name of Randall generously donated his labor and expertise to the club and rebuilt the entire furnace.... free of charge.  Randall did so because he loves to see these types of traditions live on.  He later mentioned to me that his daughter had received a Kiwanis scholarship some years earlier as well.  I'm sure that helped too ;)  A few weeks ago we began scouting the sugarcane and gathering wood for the week.  I talked about the time I spent with Mr. Thomas in a previous blog.  He is the reason I'm involved with this in the first place.  Mr. Thomas is no spring chicken!  He's a good man and very good to take me under his wing and teach me.  I hope that I do him proud.  With the wood stacked, the new furnace drawing like a champ, we were ready for a busy, but enjoyable week.

Photo: Casey Jones

The fire was hot and the new furnace was up to the test!  At one point we had a 3 ft flame coming out of the top of the chimney!

They syrup that we make is pure Cane Syrup.  We add nothing....no Karo, no preservatives.... nothing.  We even probably let a little bit of dirt make it through to the bottles just so that it's authentic.  It all starts as we feed sugarcane stalks through a cane grinder, or mill, to press the juice from the stalks.

The cane goes in on the left and is pressed between rollers.  The spent stalk comes out on the right and the juice flows down into a barrel.  That high-tech filtering system that you see is a tobacco sheet, more commonly known as burlap.  That keeps out the random pieces of cane and other larger pieces of trash.

Once we had 60 gallons of juice, we dipped it from the barrel into washtubs, walked it inside and dumped it into a cast iron pot which is mounted into the brickwork that I mentioned earlier.  At that point we built a rip-roaring fire and waited on the juice to boil.  The key to cleaning the syrup is "skimming."  As the juice comes to a boil the dirt and remaining trash comes to the surface.  At that point we skim it with what is nothing more than an old colander mounted to a stick.  The man who is best a feeding the fire and skimming the juice is George.

Photo: Casey Jones
George has been a mainstay at the fair over the years.  In fact, he's an institution in our community.  Everyone knows him.  Someone asked George how old he was.  He replied, "I'm seventy nine this year...... no..... sixty nine.....yeah sixty nine years old."  No one really knows.  I'm not sure George knows.  I know this though...... George can and does work circles around men half his age.  He does it with a smile too.  It is always a pleasure to work with George.  He has no clue who I am from year to year, but he always lifts my spirits.

Back to the process........  As the juice is skimmed those remains are dumped into a barrel.  If you wanted to really be true to the old times you would use that too.  Five or six days later that foul-smelling, fly infested mess that ends up in the barrel becomes what we know and love as........ Rum.

As the juice begins to boil, it's time to place the ring in the pot.  The ring slightly more narrow than the diameter of the pot and is used so that the juice will boil over and through rags that are placed around the edges of the pot.  This keeps the juice boiling and the rags also serve as another filter, catching fine particles of remaining dirt as they boil to the top.  When it's cooking at its peak it looks like this:

Photo: Casey Jones
Photo: Casey Jones
After about three to three and a half hours we're getting mighty close to having syrup.  This is a good point to introduce another of our band of merry men.  He's the man who "knows" all about the actually cooking of syrup.  He can look at the way it boils and knows if it needs to cool, or if we need more wood.  He can watch it bubbling and knows within a few minutes of when it will be ready.  Few know his real name, but most everyone knows him as Preacher.

Photo: Casey Jones
Preacher is likely as old as George.  Every year he says that he's not coming back because hes getting too old.  I'm told that he's been saying that for the last 10 years.  Thankfully he keeps coming back.  The stories he shares about syrup are only a small part of the tales that he has.  Everything from "scalding" hogs in those same type cast iron pots to the importance of working hard and keeping a career.....he's a treasure.  One of the funniest things I have ever witnessed is when George and Preacher start squabbling about when the syrup is actually ready.  You see, George likes his syrup a little more thin and Preacher likes it a little more thick.  It's a difference in about 10-15 minutes of cooking time.  Usually whoever is holding the dipper near the end is the winner.

When the syrup is nearing the end of it's run it begins what Preacher calls "dogging."  As the water cooks out of the juice it gets much thicker and therefore boils much differently. It shoots up flares of hot syrup.  (This is where the arguing typically began)

Photo: Casey Jones
A few minutes later Preacher would begin testing with the dipper.  The key to knowing when it's done is that the syrup will begin "flaking" as it rolls out of the pan.  No tools here.  It comes up when it looks right!

Photo: Casey Jones
The contraption that you see below the dipper is nothing but a washtub with several layers a cheesecloth held on with clothes pins.  This is the last "filtering" that the syrup receives before it's bottled.  Remember........this is an exhibit.  Otherwise the freaking health department would have us using gas instead of wood and stainless steel pots instead of our beloved cast iron.  We're doing the old way!  When it's just right the syrup is dipped from the pot, poured through the cheesecloth and it's off to be bottled.

Photo: Casey Jones
At this point the syrup is about 400,000 degrees.  Not really that hot, but it felt like that when some spilled on my hand during one evening's bottling process.  There is nothing fancy or automated about our bottling either. It's a small pot to dip..... poured through a small plastic funnel........ into donated glass bottles.

Photo: Casey Jones
Photo: Casey Jones
The end result is delicious pure case syrup that we could hardly keep in stock.  On a couple of nights people were clamoring to buy as soon as we bottled it.  As one person put it, "You can't get that stuff at Bi-Lo!"  He's right!  Most of the cane syrup that you get at the grocery store is really only 35% cane syrup.  What do they cut it with?  High Fructose Corn Syrup.  Why would anyone want that garbage on their pancakes?

So there you have it!  The process of making syrup.  What I laid out was just one afternoon/night.  We did this all week long and even cooked two batches on Wednesday and Saturday.  It was hot.  It was sticky, it was smelly.  It was hard work.  I was pretty sore after the second night, but the soreness worked away on the third day.  It's something to no one really cares to do anymore.  Why would they?  You can go to the store and get it for a dollar.

As the week went along it became clearly evident why we do it, and why I made the right choice in volunteering for this particular job at the fair.  Countless numbers of people came by to see the process.  Older visitors came and remarked, "Oh, I remember doing this every Thanksgiving!"  "I remember washing clothes in a setup just like that!"  One bright eyed lady even reminisced, "That used to be my hot tub...... before they even had hot tubs!"  College students and young adults came up wondering what the heck was going on.  They stopped to watch and hear about the process.  If not for us, they would have likely never been exposed to this trade of days gone by.  And then the kids.....tasting the sweet fruits of our labor was always a treat for them.

The opportunity to work with good-hearted people was a big treat too.  Our crew came from all walks of life.  All had different concerns at home and at work.  All had problems.  Some worse than others.  However, when we were working this exhibit none of that mattered.  We had fun.  We enjoyed the fellowship.  We enjoyed learning from and teaching each other.  Props to James, Thomas, Barbara, Carletha, Preacher and George!  Working with them made me a better person.  I'm honored to have spent a week with them.  I hope I hope to have the opportunity to be with them again next year.

Photo: Casey Jones
Ya'll take it easy,


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Fall Fair Time

Fall is upon us and that brings the county fair.  Our local fair is put on by the Kiwanis Club and the proceeds benefit local charities.  In our area it's a pretty big deal!  Not only for the folks who enjoy the event, but for the deserving organizations who benefit in a time where many are finding it difficult to continue offering the level of service that our community needs.

My job at the fair is syrup making.  As I mentioned in my previous blog, I'm being toutered by an older gentleman so that this tradition can live on.  We spent this week taking care of the last minute setup so that we're ready to go when the gates open.  I'm looking forward to the week.  I'll be working with two fellows, both northward of 80, who have probably forgotten more that I'll ever know.

This week will be taxing on mamma bear as she'll be home alone with the kids every night.  (Shoutout MB!  Love you!)  I pray that God blesses her with patience and strength to get through the week.  I'll spend some time today getting some quick fix meals ready for them so that she won't have to worry about that.  I hope to be able to take a little break during the week to get my oldest out and walk him around to see the livestock and maybe get on a ride or two.

Dad got his hands on a old Farmall Cub last week.  It had not been cranked in a few years and it looked pretty rough.  The original plan was to part it out and make a few bucks.  After a little tinkering and some cleanup we found that it runs almost better than another Cub that we've been using regularly over the past year.  What makes this one neat is that it has not been outfitted with a modern electrical system like many others have.  It does however, still have the original magneto.  What this means is that we don't have to have a battery or modern generator to crank and run it.  We tested it with a hand crank and it fired up after only three turns.  I'm really really looking forward to playing with this one.

I plan to post some pictures from the fair during the week.  That idea was inspired from another blog that I read from someone who posts interesting photos when battling a writers block.  I've been having huge block as of late.  Mind cluttered, having a tough time coming up with material.  Maybe this is the week i can get out of the funk.  Maybe I'll take a note pad along and jot down some ideas.

Ya'll take it easy.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Old Times There Are Not Forgotten

I've often thought what it might have been like to have lived the prime of my life 50 or even 100 years ago.  When folks today talk about their skill/trade/job it's much different that I think it would have been then.  Seems to me that for a majority of people during that time their "job" was staying alive.  Any skills possessed were directly related to that.  Here I sit today and what skill do I have?  I'm a PR man, lol.  In the simplest of terms, I write and talk for a living.  Man would I have been screwed back then or what?

In my quest to "Back 'er Down" I've taken on the task of trying to learn skills that are dying out.  Gardening, mechanics, carpentry, etc.  A part of that is my volunteer work with my local Kiwanis Club for the county fair.  I'm learning the ropes of cooking syrup.  My teacher is a "retired" 80+ year old farmer.  I had the opportunity recently to ride around with him, gather wood and visit a sugar cane patch as we prepare for the upcoming fair.  He's farmed, sold equipment, collected debt, served on the county commission, been a father, husband, grandfather and now great grandfather.  I believe that this man has forgotten more than I'll ever know.

The stories that he has shared are nothing short of amazing.  Just the tidbits as it relates to cooking syrup are fascinating to me.  For those that aren't aware of this time honored tradition, here is a Reader's Digest version:  You harvest sugar cane stalks, squeeze the juice from it, and boil the juice in huge cast iron pot (ours is 60 gallons) until the majority of the water is cooked out.  The remaining part is pure sugar cane syrup.  It's done with no electronics, no fancy tools and the heat source is a wood fire inside a brick furnace.  (I'm told that this is similar to how northerners do it via maple trees, but I'm not sure.  If anyone north of the mason-dixon are reading, holler at me.)

On our trip we visited with the farmer from which we get our sugar cane each year.  That cat is 90.  Yes, 90!  He gets around better than a lot of folks half his age.  He showed us around the fields, (he also plants several gardens and farms peanuts) showed us his syrup setup and even walked us through a miniature citrus grove.  (Hell, I didn't even know you could grow oranges in Georgia)  The shed where his syrup boiler is was of course not ready to be used for that task, so his furnace was covered up with gallon glass jars of wine....which he makes himself....from grapes that he grows.  He took a lid off so that I could see the juice "working down."  Seriously, this man is an American Treasure.

I rely on my father for many of the same lessons and nuggets of information.  It seems like every time I ask a question he not only has an answer.....he has experienced it.  The sad part is that men like this are getting old.  They're not going to be around forever.  They are literally walking, talking encyclopedias that we often discount as "stuck in the past."  We treat them as a novelty rather than a tool or a reference.

I often think about what would happen if things got really bad in our country.  What if we experienced something like the Great Depression now?  I fear that we would be royally screwed.  I challenge anyone that reads this (all 4 of you) to learn a skill that is becoming a lost art.  It might be something as simple as changing your own oil, cutting hair or canning vegetables.  If we don't do it, we're literally 15-20 years away from losing this knowledge forever.

I'll never end on a somber note.........We've been attending a great church lately.  Lots of familiar faces and involvement in the community in which we work and live.  There are lots of young people there too!  What a blessing that is.  I'm looking forward to seeing what God has in store for our family.

Ya'll take it easy,


Monday, September 20, 2010

My First Time On An Airplane

Well it wasn't nearly all the hoopla that I had anticipated.  In fact it was a little bit of a letdown.  However it did make me realize that flight really is a miracle.  For those of you that aren't regular readers this is an update from a previous blog.  At 31 years old I finally had my first opportunity to fly a couple of weeks ago.

My job took me to Annapolis, Maryland where my alma mater was playing the US Naval Academy for our second football game of the season.  (Have I ever mentioned that I love my job?)  Simply put it was too far to drive.  I could have done it.  I've driven from Savannah, GA to San Antonio and that was a HAUL.  With time being a little more sensitive for this assignment flying was really the only option.

The journey started at the Savannah/Hilton head International Airport at about 6:15 on a Friday morning.  It's interesting to note that I misread my itinerary thinking that boarding began at 6:30.  Well, the flight left at 6:30. I made it to the gate, huffing and puffing at which point the nice lady proclaimed, "Mr. Grovenstein?"  ""Yes ma'am," I replied.  "You better hurry up!  They 'bout to close the door!"  There I was, Atlanta bound with a whole 10 minutes to spare :)

I was actually sweating a little as we taxied out to the runway.  Being the gearhead that I am, I actually enjoyed the freak acceleration.  What surprised me most was how rough the runway was.  I always had in my mind that it was always kept up and smooth as glass.  Not so!  The ascent was an interesting feeling.  It felt at one point that my seat was coming out from under me.  I assume this was the point at which we stopped climbing and leveled out.  Same feeling on the initial descent into Atlanta.  This leg of the flight was kind of lonely.  Everyone was quiet and the plane was only about half-full.

We came up to the gate at Atlanta and I immediately began preparing for the nightmare of finding the gate for my connecting flight to Baltimore.  I've been told of gates being changed around at the last minute and I was trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I may have to boogie to a whole other area of the massive Hartsfield Airport.  Lucky me.......it was the same gate at which I had just arrived.  Same plane actually.  Deep breath out.

My flight to Baltimore was much more lively.  More folks talking and a nearly full plane.  I had the opportunity  to sit next to a gentleman from Tennessee who had just won the Republican nomination for one of the Congressional seats there.  The ensuing hour and 15 minute conversation would make a great entry for the blogs I used to write.  I've sworn off political writings though.  I'll just say this....He was a very congenial guy, but I don't really feel any better about the future of our country than I did when I left Savannah that morning ;)

Seeing the Chesapeake Bay as we flew into Baltimore was a real treat.  Same rough runway as we landed.  It was at that point that I realized that was probably the norm.  From there it was down to a bus and off to Enterprise to pick up the rental car.

At this point my experience in Baltimore, and more specifically Annapolis, began.  What a treat!  My next blog will be a recap of that.  It was an amazing weekend.

I was up at 4:30 Sunday morning headed back to the airport to catch my flight home.  Had to return the rental car first though.  I was kind of confused about the procedure for returning after hours.  After I circled the facility a few times I pulled off and waited for another car to come through.  Ah ha!  It was another Enterprise customer.  I did a Talladega-esque draft and followed him right where I needed to me.  Then it was back on  the shuttle to the airport.  At this point I learned not to talk to bus drivers at 5 in the morning.  the guy transporting us could care less about life.  Total douchebag.  Ah well.  Maybe my greeting gave him reason not to kick a puppy later in the day.

The TSA screenings were not nearly the hassle that I had envisioned at either location.  Maybe that was because I was flying so early.  Taking my shoes off was a little odd, but hey, I guess I have no one to blame for that other than Richard Reid.  I slept quite a bit on the way home.  I was spent from the weekend.  Maybe the high altitude and recycled air had a little to do with it too.  I was able to converse with some fellow fans on the way home as well.  Thats always cool.

Overall it was a really enjoyable experience.  It's hard to believe that I've never flown, but I've never really had the need or desire.  I have always worked locally or regionally.  I'm a known cheapo so the prospect of getting mileage reimbursement always outweighed the convenience of flying to farther locations.  As for vacations we've never really been anywhere far off.  I do admit that I owe that to my wife though ;)

So there you have it!  Jethro's first trip on the big metal bird.  It wasn't really "backing 'er down," but an interesting experience nonetheless.

Ya'll take it easy.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Flying, Football and Some Other Stuff

Been a while!  I've been slacking off as it relates to my trying to "Back 'er Down"  That's the only thing that I've been slacking on though.  Busy, busy.  I was cutting grass today and caught myself thinking about work.  That's a no-no.  Tractor time is supposed to be manual labor only.  I am not allowed to use my brain.  I caught myself just as I heard the Jackson 5's version of Rockin' Robin.  At that point all was right with the world.  I really "love" three things.  God, my family and Georgia Southern University.  I've been busy at work and some things have been driving me nuts as of late.  I'm fortunate though because I still love my job.  When you dig what you do even on the sucky days it's a good sign.  I count my blessings every day.  I work with good folks and I love what I do.

"What I do" is actually taking me on a special trip this weekend.  My alma mater is playing the US Naval Academy this Saturday, September 11th in Annapolis.  What a special treat that will be to be in the presence of those Midshipmen on that day.

Another reason that it will be special........at 31 years old it will be this guy's first time on a plane!  Hooooo weeeee!  Get out the cement pond Granny!  Jethro's gonna fly on the big silver bird!  I'm pretty fired up about it but a tad nervous at the same time.  My sister travels something like 9 days a week so she's given me some good tips.  That got me thinking...how in the world have I never been on a plane?  Well, I do really enjoy driving.  Drove to San Antonio a few years back.  I guess the main reason is that I never really had to.  I've always worked locally and I'm too cheap to travel anywhere too far away.  I think the trip will give me some pretty good blog material ;)

The garden is long gone, but we recently planted a fall garden.  We put out some more snapbeans, squash and some butter peas.  Next month we'll put out some turnips, mustard and carrots.  This will be my first foray into carrots so I'm looking forward to that.  Our Sugar Cane didn't perform very well, but we will make enough to use for seed next year.  It should be ready to chew at the first frost.

The kids are growing like weeds.  The Murph is developing quite a vocabulary.  He's spraying us down with such spoken gems as "want some" "got poop" and "fix it."  At least we know what little boys turn into.  That brings me to Heavy D.  He is really good right now for keeping me grounded and reminding me that my number one job in life is to guide him and be a good father and husband.  Like many 4-5 year olds he's testing my patience and pushing boundaries.  I pretty much did that until......well..... yeah I guess I still do that.

What else?  I scored a new rifle a few weeks ago.  Got my hands on a compound bow too.  I plan to do a little hunting this year.  Camping trips at the river seem like they will be far and few as the river is up a little.  It is falling but I won't have too many weekends free.  I hope to find another suitable spot at the river.  Maybe something on shore so we can still enjoy the water even with no sandbars out.

Okay.  That's all I got.  I was feeling really bloggy at the beginning but I've petered out and I'm rambling.  It's time to "back 'er down" into the bed and get some rest.

Ya'll take it easy,


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Joy I Get From Cutting Grass

I've always made a point to be optimistic about everything.  No one wants to be associated with what Mom called a "belly-acher."  With that lesson firmly entrenched in my mind daily I always try to seek the good in every situation.  There is good in every situation you know ;)  Do I fake it sometimes?  Hell yeah.  You can't be happy ALL the time.  But we do owe it to our fellow man to set a good example and bring out the best in each other.  It's amazing what kind of impact I've been able to have on myself since adopting this practice.  I assume that it helps others as well though I have no empirical evidence.

Let's take for instance the lowly task of cutting grass.  There are a million things that one could belly-ache about when it comes to this regularly occurring summertime chore.  Heat, bugs, smell, allergies, aches, pains, time blah, blah, blah.  These are all the things that cutting the grass does TO us.  What can cutting the grass do FOR us?

1.  The tractor and/or lawnmower are supportive friends.  They do not care what kind of day you had.  They won't reprimand you.  They don't talk back.  They do their jobs and support your efforts 100%.

2.  The alone time is a good opportunity to think or clear your mind.  You'll get some alone time for sure.  who wants to be all up in your face when there's a fume-spewing grass-slinging beast between you and them?  I often take time to think and reflect when driving and before bed, on the toilet (LOL) but I find that when I'm cutting grass I have a whole new level of clarity about my head.  It's refreshing.

3.  Cutting grass is exercise.  Don't let anyone tell you it isn't.  You are sweating out impurities, working muscles and burning calories when you cut grass.  If you use a push mower it may be more noticeable.  Weedeating and edging are great too!  What about riding mowers or tractors?  Certianly not burning the calories that a push mower might, but that of course depends on the size of your yard.  One other thing....If you think riding an old tractor for three hours in the hundred degree sun won't work you, come see me and I'll let you try it ;)

4.  Looking back on a successfully completed job.  At the end of the task, you can take a step back and admire a freshly cut pasture or sharply edged sidewalk and really appreciate the beauty.  It should give you a sense of accomplishment.  You should feel proud and rewarded for your hard work and a job well done.  Who knew we could move so far up on Maslow's Hierarchy by simply cutting grass?!?!

Strange how ideas pop into my head sometimes.  A drive-by blog about the benefits of cutting grass.  Getting entertainment value out of something that needed to be done anyway?  That's Backing 'er Down!

Ya'll take it easy.


Monday, July 12, 2010

First Fish, Fashion and Friends

What a great weekend it was.  My oldest son (4) caught his first fish!

We had originally planned on going camping at the river, but the extreme heat advisory that was issued made me call off the trip.  Not sure I would be nominated for the Parent of the Year Award if I hauled my child off to a river slew when the thermometer was still reading 99 at 7 PM.  We instead opted for a early morning trip up the river.  It was much more about riding and swimming than it was fishing.  We headed home for a nap around Noon.  A friend invited us to his family's pond that evening and that's where kiddo became a pint-sized Bill Dance.  He caught 7 fish!  I think it ruined him for river fishing, but he had a blast.  It's a memory that I will cherish forever.

Still having trouble wrapping my mind around the jean diapers.  I'm just gonna let it go, LOL.  I'm not exactly what you'd call fashion suave.  Golf shirts and brown pants pretty much take care of my needs regardless of the occasion or social setting :)  What's that saying about those living in glass houses? ;)

The Lord has blessed me with some good friends.  I don't get to hang out with many of them anymore.  Life progresses, careers and kids come along.  We're still able to keep in touch, but I sometimes yearn for the good old days.  Is that "nostalgia" or just "getting old?"  One of my best friends is getting married soon.  He's one of the last to take the dive.  Looking forward to celebrating this happy time with him.  Many friends are entering parenthood as well.  I pray that all of them will take these two sacred duties seriously and always give 100% to making sure they are successful.  I pray that they'll also help remind me to do the same.

"Backing 'er down" and living a more simple life has really shown me that my responsibilities are few, but important.  If I can manage to glorify God and lead/provide for my family, everything else kind of falls into place.  Of course I fall short  in those areas regularly.  That's where the three F's come into play.  I Fish to clear my mind.  My Fashion choices remind everyone how NOT to dress and leaves more money for my wife and kids clothes.  And my Friends help keep me on track.

Pretty good plan I reckon.

Ya'll take it easy,


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Huggies, Heat and Watermellons Galore!

Sometimes blogs take on a life of their own.  Many times they morph over time to become something far different than the original intent.  I'm not going there because I still fully intend on using this as a way to document my pursuit of a more simple life as I Back 'er Down.  However, I need to discuss a few things.  Maybe I can tie it back to the original concept at the end.  Let me preach on it.......

Huggies new denim patterned diapers have me very worried about society.  Never mind the fact that our economy seems to be on the verge of collapse and people are struggling to make ends meet.  That worries me less than the introduction of what is in essence designer underwear for babies.  Why do we need this?  Has the market shown us demand for it?  The demand at my house is an affordable diaper that the kids won't pee through.  I must be getting really old because I missed the fact that it's now cool to take your "youngin" out in public without pants on.  Not that long ago you would have been labeled "trash" for doing such a thing.  But oh, since the diaper is blue with faux denim stitches it's okay now?  I gotcha.  I just asked myself this:  If I had some denim patterned "tighty whiteys" would it be cool for me to wear those out in public?  Hell no.  If this is your thing....no problem!  I don't think any less of you.  I might laugh at you, but I'll still be your friend and I'll encourage you to laugh at me for being a stick-in-the-mud :)

They are setting up "cooling centers" up north.  Temps have climbed into the triple digits in the northeast causing mass panic and much gnashing of teeth.  Here's a newsflash:  It's July.  This pretty much happens every year.  I love AC as much as the next guy, but we've become so utterly sorry that it's pathetic.  Me included.  I need to toughen up my tubby self too.  That topic is going to make a really great blog soon.

Justin Bieber is the hip new thing.  I liked that act much better when it was Nelson.

I very much enjoyed a few days off with my family and my wife's family at the beach last week.  It was the first time that I could ever remember that I didn't absolutely despise going to the beach.  I'm a freshwater guy all the way.  This year though I was really looking forward to it and I had a pretty good time.  South Carolina has some nutty golf cart rules of which I was unaware though.  Apparently you have to insure and register your golf cart in SC.  Doesn't make much sense for me to do that as a GA resident who spends one week a year over there.  In looking over the laws I would be much better served to take my tractor next year.  I can 100% legally ride it all over the island with just a slow moving vehicle sign on the rear.  It's a thought.....

The 2010 edition of the Grovenstein Ponderosa Garden has come to a close.  Only a few hills of sugarcane remain and they will be there until the first frost.  we were able to put away a very very generous amount of snapbeans, corn, squash and tomatoes.  We still have plenty of potatoes to eat as well.  The watermellons did better than I would have imagined.  We picked over 30!  I had plenty of food for my family and plenty more yet that was shared with coworkers, neighbors and friends.  A small fall garden is on the horizon.

So I said that I would try to pull it together somehow.  Not a problem friends.  In my pursuit of a more simple life I have learned that babies really don't care what kind of diapers they wear.  You only have to find a brand that fits well and doesn't break them out in some funky rash.  I make sure my kids are dressed within our means and that they look presentable.  It's just less of a hassle when I don't care that "Mr and Mr's Smith's" kid has on a designer poop catcher.  That effort and money can be used to focus on the garden, paying off illegal golf cart tickets or on that swell new Justin Beiber CD.  It's all a matter of choice.  Whatever works best for you.

Ya'll take it easy.



Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Green living and a slightly different motivation

Living "green" is all the rage.  Eat organic, recycle, reduce your carbon footprint save the whales, blah, blah, blah.  We hear it all the time and it's even to the point of becoming a bit annoying at times.  Here's a newsflash though.  For those who know me you may be shocked to know that I have embraced much of this lifestyle.  It may not be to the extent that some would like and it's hardly in the name of anything noble or as an activist activity.

As a part of "Backing 'er Down" and attempting to live a more simple life I have found that living "green," as some call it, can aide in my journey.  Some of the activities are beneficial to my gardening, healthy for my family and good for my neighbors.  Some of my environmentally friendly activities have even been interesting forms of entertainment as I learn new skills and easier ways of doing things.  The most important benefit though is that the lifestyle has the possibility of saving me money.  So there you have it.  It ain't about Mother Earth.  It's about me, lol.

Let's look at a few of my activities shall we?

1.  Recycling
A couple of years ago I was all about recycling cans.  I even went to the practice of taking my oldest son with me on golf cart excursions along the ditches where we live.  That's when aluminum was bringing good money.  The bottom fell out and I got out.  So I was helping save the "Earf" for a good three or four months.  Yay me!

Recycling isn't all about dropping off your trash at some municipal refuse center though.  In it's simplest form it's about taking something that is otherwise useless and finding another use for it.  Duh.  So I started a few projects.  Milk jugs were cleaned and saved so that we can use them at the fair for cane juice.  All veggie scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds, etc go into a pot or big bowl in the kitchen to eventually be composted.  (My wife just loves the slop bucket btw, lol)  Boxes and newspapers are saved to ship various eBay sales.  Egg cartons become seed starters.  I'm not quite a hoarder yet.  I will still toss stuff.  As far as metals go, I am still hanging on to copper.  I think there may be some potential cash there.

2. Light bulbs
I'll admit I was skeptical about CFL bulbs.  however, after having them in out most used light sockets for the last year I am sold.  More expensive, yes, but I think they'll pay off in the long run.  In tracking our electricity bill we have seen noticeable savings.  Not only do they use less energy, but they also give off a heap less heat which keeps the house cooler.  CFLs are a win.

3.  Solar Energy
I admit that I am a geek for solar energy and I am just getting into it.  I love the prospect of going off of the electrical grid.  The investment is staggering though.  It would be a $20,000+ investment to equip my home with complete solar.  Also to my knowledge there aren't enough batteries in the world to kick off my air conditioner compressor.  (For those not in my area, it was 102 here in South GA yesterday)  At this point I have a small kit and plan to experiment.  I only have about $150 in it and maybe I'll learn something.  I figure I can run the pool pump or maybe the lights in my shop or even and electric fence around the garden.  Each of those would be nice tests.  I would like to run my well off of solar, but I'm still learning about what that might take.  If I dive in that will be priority #1.

4.  Organic Gardening
Lets be clear.  I would be run out with torches and pitchforks if I claimed to be an organic gardener.  I use Sevin for the bugs, fungicide for the tomatoes and I put nitrogen to my corn.  I have found several organic practices that are beneficial though.  They're also cheaper and sometimes yield better results.

My first foray is in deer repellent.  I use a mixture of tobacco juice, hot sauce, ammonia and urine sprayed around my garden.  It works great.  The deer eventually get used to it so I have to rotate but it is a great repellent.  I rotate with sulfur and mix in motion sensor lights.  So far...pretty good

The other practice has been using manure under my potatoes and watermellons.  Made a huge difference and it was free.  Withe the compost pile this year we may go further with that practice next spring.

Did I mention that I tend the garden with a tractor from the late 1950's?  It blows smoke and leaks fluid.  Only thing green about it is the paint.  I'm of the impression that a little oil on the ground isn't a big deal really.

I'm trying to think of other things I can do.  Scouring the internet is getting a little redundant.  Everyone seems to be doing the same stuff.  If you are reading and have some suggestions, I'd love to hear them.  A couple of things that I would love to find uses for are burnt motor oil, dog fennel and loud children.  If you have any ideas, holler.

So there you have it.  I'm not really Green as much as I am a cheap-ass and a junk man :)   The practices have saved me a little money and helped me to "back 'er down."  Maybe I offset a teeny portion of my carbon footprint at the same time.  If so... that's great, but it was hardly my intention.

Ya'll take it easy,


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Summer Summer Time

Well the summer is here.  It's pretty much the best time to "Back 'er Down."  The main reason being it gets so freaking hot here in my neck of the woods and you don't want to do much of anything else!

The garden continues to do well, and some of the earlier crops are starting to phase out.  We got enough potatoes to have a nice stockpile and to be able to share some with neighbors and co-workers.  So far we have been able to put up 47 quarts of snapbeans as well.  Since that is about the only veggie that my kids will eat those will go rather quickly.  Those two particular crops made up 1/3 of my entire garden and now its time to start planting something else in that dirt.  I'm thinking butterpeas, pumpkins and sweet potatoes are in order.  We will start breaking and processing corn this weekend.  The deer nipped a few ears but I still think we'll have a nice harvest.  Looks like we might just have some watermellons ready for the 4th of July as well.  I'm stoked about that!

I recently got my hands on a couple of new toys.  I know....I'm supposed to be saving money and living like a hermit right?  LOL!  I never said that ;)  Saving money is useless and counterproductive if you don't enjoy at least some of it.

The first toy is a boat.  B.O.A.T=Break Out Another Thousand.  Well... not really in this case ;)  My mega purchase was just a little 12 ft jon boat for the river.  I got the boat, motor and trailer for $600 and so far I'm very pleased with the purchase.  It's not really pretty and the motor is 40 years old (really...40) but it runs and it floats which is what I need.  I was able to take my 4 year old on a trip up river for the first time a couple of weeks ago and MAN, what a great time he had!  I'll make a river rat out of him yet!  It wasn't until a fishing trip this past weekend that I realized just how slow a 40 year old motor is.  My friends with a much more modern Yamaha were literally 3 times faster, lol.  I just kept telling myself...."Alex, it's a $600 boat."  I'm fired up about it and I think it will end up being of the cheapest forms of entertainment for me and my boys as the years go on.  Camping trips on the sandbar are definitely in our future!

The second toy is a new cell phone.  It's a Droid Eris in fact.  I got a little ribbing from my friend over at Kurt Busch Nation about that.  Not exactly a "Back 'er Down" kind of device for sure!  The wife and I have been thinking about new phones for a while.  We were Alltel customers for years and are now Verizon customers after the recent merger, so they have been throwing the kitchen sink at us with offers for almost a year now.  After some patience we found that we could get a pair of new Droids for $79...both phones...not $79 each.  Not bad for two phones of that caliber huh?  They really wanted us.  Why not?  We had been loyal Alltel customers for 10 years and always paid on time, lol.  That was fine because we have been pleased and figured not to go anywhere anyway.  The kicker came with the service plan.  Over 10 years we had peace mealed plans, lines, additions, promos, free stuff and discounts into a crazy looking plan.  It looked strange, but it worked for us and it was cheap.  I asked if we could leave our plan the same.  After laughing at what we had on file, and getting the approval of a manager, they agreed to leave us as we were.  So there you go.  $79 an the wife and I are pimping with a pair of Droids.  That explanation was just for you Cinde T :)

Thanks for the kind emails and Facebook messages that many of you have sent.  It's comforting to know that I'm not alone in this pursuit.  These are uncertain times.  Many people think our country is a sinking ship.  Some people are talking about how to right the ship.  I prefer to think about how I can get my family and friends safely on the lifeboat.  That sounds like a good blog in itself.....;)

Ya'll take it easy.



Sunday, May 23, 2010

Making Up for Lost Time

After being rather laid back last weekend, this entire week and weekend were pretty much the polar opposite. That brought to mind again that living a more simple life is not always a more comfortable life. By all means it doesn't involve anything close to laziness!

I had a pretty busy week preparing for a surprise birthday party for my Dad. What a great time it was. We spent 60 years trying to surprise him with very little success over the years. This year we decided to get sneaky for his 60th. You see, his birthday isn't until July 15. My Mom and Sister are May 18 and 19 birthdays. You see where I'm going. We told Dad we were having a surprise party for them. It was a great day and I think he really was surprised. I think even if he did know it he would have played surprised. That's the good kind of fella he is. I got a little emotional as I said the blessing before we ate. He's a special man and pretty much the primary driving force in my desire to "Back 'er Down" He's also a walking, talking encyclopedia for the journey.

So I spent the week busting my hump to get the yard looking nice and taking care of other projects since we would be having guests. (Dad helped with all these too BTW. He helped cut grass for his own party, LOL) The pace and amount of work were neither what one would think of when perusing a more simple life.

Yard beautification is something that I've always enjoyed and taken great pride in. It's a heap of work though. Over the past two weeks I have discovered something that is both the greatest thing ever invented and the spawn of freaking Satan at the same time. This contradiction of horticulture ease is rubber mulch.

I justified it because I loathe pine straw. My house, and flower beds, are in full sun. This only aides the breakdown of straw. Since we're also in a very wide open area, what doesn't breakdown blows away. I've been studying it for a long time and I finally made the decision after getting some assurances on a 15 year guarantee and the fact that I could get the mulch in brown (for a long time you could only get red, blue, green, etc. Wwho wants that?) I crunched the numbers and the financial break even point versus pine straw was three years.

A couple of things I learned that may aide anyone else who is considering this:

1. Double your budget. I estimated based on what the "professionals" told me using a equation translating what would be equal to 75 bales of straw. They were waaaaaaaaaaaay off. My break even point is more like 4 years.

2. Use landscaping fabric. I used it on half of mine. Wish i had used it on all. Not only because it will help with weeds, but you can also spread the mulch thinner without the appearance of whatever dirt is below. I'm all about saving a dollar....especially after this project.

3. Might be a good idea to add some kind of bordering. I didn't and it made for a little mess when I edged for the first time. I think I can get used to it and If I keep a good trench I shoudl be okay. still might go back and add some eventually though.

So there you go. If you decide to dance with Beelzebub and install rubber mulch be prepared. It's expensive and if you do it yourself you're gonna sweat. All that said I am pleased with it. I'm very excited at the prospect of not having to ever touch straw again.

The garden is really booming! That was the other part of my weekend. Dad came over Saturday morning (before his party) and dug about 1/4 of our stand of potatoes. We gave most of those away at the party. I dug another 1/4 today. We had a pretty bad potato bug infestation a few weeks ago that I was fearful would damage the whole crop pretty seriously. They hit a few pretty hard but some liquid Sevin nipped that in the bud. We made a really really good crop. The new addition this year was cow manure nuder the hills. Made quite a difference! Already put away 6 quarts of snap beans and of course the squash and tomatoes are rocking a rolling too. Corn is tossling and the watermellons are going gangbusters as well (manure in the watermellon hills too) Our sugar cane.....eh, well....that's a whole other blog in itself ;) The only thing that is slow at this point is the cucumbers. This is two years in a row that they've been a little puny. The previous year they were great but this time only so-so. Gonna be busy for sure over the next few weeks and when the corn comes in that might take an entire weekend. We were dummies for not staggering that.

As I type this a nice summer thunderstorm is rolling in. (EDIT we just lost power too. New 6 hour laptop battery is the bees knees!) The rain is much needed. Just means that I'll be picking snapbeans tomorrow afternoon instead of Tuesday afternoon :) I'll take it.

And on a little side note......How about that Blue Deuce and Kurt Busch?!  Million Dollar Man!

Ya'll take it easy.



Monday, May 17, 2010

My weekend of getting very little accomplished

This weekend, I didn't get a whole lot accomplished around the Ponderosa, but it was awesome nonetheless. The wife headed out of town Friday morning for a ladies weekend and that left your humble author alone with our two sons for the weekend. I often joke that I should have named them Bill and Ted because together they are a couple of "Wyld Stallyns."

A normal weekend of working outside, tending the garden and tinkering with the latest project, became instead a time to spend with my sons. The little one is still a bit small to take outside for long periods of time. You can't really get much done because you can't take your eyes off of him for an extended period or he'll be into something dangerous. We opted to stay inside most of the time and actually got quite a bit done there. Inside projects often get overlooked and I know the wife was excited to get home and see things tidy and organized. We washed clothes, cleaned the master closet and reorganized the pantry among other things.

The boys were a bit stir-crazy though, so a small road trip was in order. This worked out well because it allowed me to do a little shopping myself. Our first stop was BassPro Shops where the boys absolutely loved the giant aquarium. Upon first glimpse my four-year-old remarked, "That fish is as big as me!" Is that a shark?" It was actually a catfish, but a healthy one for sure. We picked up a gas can for the boat and generally walked around the store window shopping. The little one just gazed and took it all in. The eldest had a bazillion questions. That was quite alright though. I was more than happy to explain fish species, how boats worked and even had the opportunity to plant a little gun safety seed as well.

After lunch we headed to Harbor Freight where I picked up a few tools and fasteners in the spirit of my last blog. If you have one in your area it's a great place to get super cheap tools and equipment. The quality of some of the stuff may be a little less than some top-of-the-line brands. However, for things that you won't use often, or for which will see light duty, there is a lot of value in the items there. Combine that with the awesome coupons they offer online and you can get some really good deals. We loaded up on bungee straps, picked up a few saw blades, some bolt cutters and even got a free flashlight (thanks again to the awesome coupon offerings)

The big purchase though was my foray into solar panels. It's something that I've been itching to get into for a long time, so I finally took the plunge. I picked up three 15 watt panels, some wiring and a charge controller. Not sure what exactly I'm going to do yet, but at least I now have it and can begin to educate myself with some hands-on, practical application.

Until Mamma Bear got home, the rest of the weekend was spent with short walks outside, several naps and lots of playing. It was truly a great time with my boys. It's interesting to see how they are beginning to interact and feed off of one another. I have a feeling that I'm in for a wild ride over the next few years! It's always a good reminder about the struggles of single parents too. My hats off to them because it's literally a full time gig when they are the ages that my boys are. I thank God daily for my wife and the fact that we are able to lean on one another and have the blessing to parent as a team.

So it was a slow weekend with very little of the"important" things accomplished. That's what it's all about though. Focusing on what matters. The opportunity to "Back 'er Down" and play with two little fellas and 473 Hot Wheels cars? Yep. God knew that the wife needed a weekend off, that I needed to bond with my boys and that they needed to chill with Daddy. All four of us are thankful for it.

Ya'll take it easy.



Thursday, May 13, 2010

Living for Today and Saving for Tomorrow

The current state of the United States' (and the world's) economy is all the talk right now. The forces acting right now are a bit troublesome to say the least. Moreover, they're down right confusing. It's interesting to see what is happening right now and compare it to what we learned in school or even what some of us have witnessed over history. I'm hardly an accomplished economist. As a regular guy looking and learning, two trends are confusing me right now. How are interest rates still low? How long will it be before mass inflation hits?

The only thing I can come up with is that the market forces are being artificially suppressed right now to keep those two killers from wreaking havoc. Just my thoughts, but what the hell do I know? I'm just a PR man.

So if inflation and rate spikes are inevitability headed our way, what can we do to guard against it? Furthermore, how can I do it with a "back 'er down" twist? Is it possible that it may actually aide my pursuit of living a more simple life? I think it can. Here's how:

Living a more simple life and guarding against interest rate hikes:

Don't borrow any money. Thanks for coming. Ya'll have a good night. :)

Ahh. That always sounds good, but it's not always practical for a lot of people. I try to write for myself and others, so let me expand a little. The biggest risks are variable rate notes and credit cards. We should get rid of those boogers as fast as we can! We should focus all of our efforts on freeing ourselves of these chains. Once those are gone we can look at paying off automobiles, and the like. My wife and I are so close to paying off everything (except the mortgage) that we can smell it! It's really exciting and empowering. As Dave Ramsey once put it: "The paid off car is the new American status symbol." It's really about keeping our wants and desires in check. Think about how our grandparents lived. If they really, really wanted something they saved for it. I bet it had a lot more meaning to them too. In my journey of "Backing 'er Down" I've realized that having wants and desires fulfilled immediately can spoil me......heck, they HAVE spoiled me!

Living a more simple life and guarding against inflation:

I'm not ready to stockpile three years worth of rice or anything, but I have been looking seriously at acquiring long term durable goods now instead of when I may need them years down the road. For example, most people will probably only need one really good shovel for their entire lives. Why not make it a point to go ahead and get it now for $25 instead of paying $75 for it 6 or 8 years down the road? I'm applying this methodology to a variety of items that will last for a long period of time. Tools, outdoor equipment, nuts, bolts, fasteners, rope, chain, batteries, oil filters, shoes and even certain types of clothing like socks and winter jackets. Things I am 100% sure that I will use and for which I have or will have a need.

There is an opportunity to do this over a shorter time frame as well. I'm still studying the potential pitfalls of storing tires, oil and over the counter medicines. If anyone has info on these I would appreciate you sharing.

When practicing this one must be careful though not to go overboard. I don't want to end up on one of those hoarding shows on TLC. Additionally, I am very mindful to not spend money that I don't have on these items. Gotta make sure the bills are paid and the kids and mama bear are taken care of first!

The manner by which I've approached it is really pretty simple. If I'm at a retailer and something on my "stockpile" list is on sale or clearance, I'll buy a few up. Oil filters for example: I'm going to use them anyway. Might as well get them now while they're cheap/on sale. That's pretty much a microcosm of the whole idea. What is an oil filter going to cost in 5 years?

Over the last few weeks I've seen that this will indeed help me in "Backing 'er Down" Instead of buying the latest Dukes of Hazzard dvd box set I decided to go with a new grubbing hoe. Trust me......it would be way more fun to sit down and watch Bo and Luke foil Boss Hogg's latest plan than to work sugar cane stubble. But hey.....that's why I'm doing this right?

Ya'll have a good day.



Thursday, May 6, 2010

A simpler life isn't always a cheaper life......

.....at least on the front end. I've been known to pinch a penny pretty tight, but it honestly depends on what exactly it's for. Some things I refuse to skimp on. I always buy quality q-tips, soap and shampoo for instance. Pants many times come from Wal-Mart, but I will always spend top dollar on shoes. Quality shoes last longer so in the long run they're cheaper. I've not noticed a marked difference in the durability of pants so I opt for the cheaper ones. Of course comfort plays a role too. What's the point in saving money if you're going to be miserable doing it?

When we talk about "Backing er Down" and pursuing the simple life, the first thing that comes to mind is living frugally. That's most certainly a part of it for me. What it really comes down to though is a decision to "do without."
  • A riding lawnmower makes cutting grass more simple than a push mower.
  • Various kitchen gadgets make cooking easier.
  • Spraying herbicide is easier than using a hoe.
  • Electronics have worlds of application that simplify the way we do things.
Riding lawnmowers, bagel toasters, Roundup and DVR's are all easier options, but way way more expensive than their counterparts....or GASP..."doing without"

New cars and solar panels immediately come to mind under this topic as well. They are often sold as money savers, which may be true in the long run, but they have major cash flow issues on the front end. Solar energy I can see. In fact, I am still debating an application myself on a small scale. However, I have yet to see how the cost of a newer fuel efficient automobile will pay dividends as compared to a paid off automobile that gets even 1/2 the mileage. Here comes that phrase again though......driving the old car is "doing without" (of course if you're buying the car outright there may be a snag in that logic...I understand that)

So....I'm pretty bad at "doing without" a lot of times. I have a riding lawnmower and a tractor. I use Roundup, I obviously love a computer and I eat at least one bowl of Blue Bell Cookies and Cream ice cream every night. Hardly doing without right? LOL A recent AC outage at my house showed me just how much of a useless sack of waste I really was. I could barely stand it, lol. Sweating like a hog.

I said from the beginning that this blog was going to be useful to me even if another sole read it. It's documentation of my pursuit of a more simple life and a way to share it with others. Maybe you can learn from my mistakes. I realized this week that the journey will be long and interesting. Won't ever end probably. This week I've decided on three specific tactics that I will employ on my journey to living a simpler life:

1. I will start running again tomorrow morning.

I have to get back in shape. I was doing great two years ago. When my second son came along I got out of the routine and became stagnant. I can feel it too. Tired in the evenings, monkeying out when I'm working outside and general sorriness. That's gotta change.

2. My getting-up-time will now be 5 and my bed time will be no earlier than 10

I was a morning runner and I plan to get back on that schedule. It makes for a great start to the day and gives me a chance to get outside and turn the sprinkler on the garden if needed. There are too many productive things that can be accomplished after work in the evenings. If I can get those done during the week, I can have the weekends to spend with my sons and wife. On top of that, my oldest son can come with me when working outside with me in the evenings and maybe pick up a little knowledge as well.

3. I will drive my 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee for AT LEAST another 4 years

....and I'll use the tried and true method of squirreling the money away so that when the time comes to get another, I'll pay cash. Don't get any simpler than cash money friends.

So there it is. It's a start. Not sure I'm ready to push mow 5 acres or give up on using Roundup. Like I said earlier, it's all about choice and what's important to you. However, I am going be conscious of the fact that the hard work and manual labor associated with doing things in a more complicated way might well prove to be a simpler way to live.

I think that may have been more of a ramble than an actual structured, well-thought-out blog. Oh well. I enjoyed writing it :)

Ya'll take it easy.


Friday, April 30, 2010

Learning things no one else wants to learn

I've always had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Unfortunately it's always been for things that aren't really important, or don't yield large sums of money. When I was in high school it was all about cars . I did buckle down halfway through college and get serious though. I was a great student during my last two years. That was mostly due to the fact that I didn't care to spend the rest of my life cleaning bathrooms at the Country Corner or topping and suckering tobacco.

Over the last few years I've become fascinated with physics and electrical engineering for some reason. I still don't really understand it but I absorb as much as I can on the subjects. Man, what if I had done that while I was in school? lol Quantum Physics? Fascinating! Nerd? Yes.

In my journey of "Backing er Down" I've made it a point to focus on learning the things that most others my age don't care anything about. The epiphany came as my Dad and I started gardening a few years ago. The man is a walking encyclopedia for all things gardening. I began writing things down as much as I could. This led to my asking more and more questions and learning more and more. That led to more internet searches on various topics and raised more questions. I suppose it will be a never ending journey, which is good! Gardening, wood splitting, changing oil, auto repair, hunting, fishing, writing, even cooking and manual labor.........all things that are slowly going by the wayside. Pretty sad IMO. My desire? To learn and practice things so that I can pass the skills on to my kids.

So what's next? I'm thinking maybe some woodworking skills might be in order. I would enjoy that and it could prove useful at some point. The big deal though is.....are you ready for this.......Auctioneering school. LOL That's right. Most likely the most useless of all skills that I desire, but it will at least be fun. Maybe I could go on the local charity auction circuit or something. Could be of benefit to some deserving charities. Who knows. I might never even make it that far, lol.

My wife and sisters-in-law often accuse me of being born 40 years too late. I suppose that's true. Am I ready to go Jeremiah Johnson on the world? Nah, love my wife and kids too much for that. Could I do without a phone or satellite tv? Probably. Could I do without radio and the Internet? Yikes! Probably not.

The next blog will be, "Simple life doesn't always = cheaper life" .....at least on the front end. Still gathering my thought on that one. It's a topic I've pondered for quite a while and I think I have some pretty good insight on it. It may be rubbish. Who knows.

I hope everyone has a great weekend!



Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Focusing on the kids, making rain barrels and corn

I have to make myself commit to writing or I completely forget. I suppose that could be one indication that I need to "back 'er down" and it could also be a good way to keep me on target as well. I received another gentle reminder about what "it's" all about last night at dinner.

As our family sat down to eat my oldest son remarked with a sense of surprise, "Daddy! you aren't working tonight!" the exclamation was as if it was a wondrous discovery that he just came across. "That's right buddy, I'm here with you guys tonight." His reply would melt the heart of any parent, "It makes me happy when you're home Daddy." No doubt that God speaks to us through our children.....no doubt.

I do indeed love my job. The spring has been spent traveling and taking the Georgia Southern show on the road to our alumni and friends all over the southeast. What a rewarding experience it is to meet other Eagles, hang out, and eat some great food! It's my dream job honestly. I love people and I love Georgia Southern. This particular part of the year is a three month grind though. I'm thankful to have been able to see all the fine folks, but I'm glad it's over too. I very much look forward to being able to tuck my boys in at night and get my oldest son out in the garden. I know that my wife is ecstatic at the prospect of having "the enforcer" back too, lol.

My rain barrel project is back under way. For those not familiar, I made a couple of batches of rain harvesting barrels a few months back and posted them on Craigslist. Never in a million years did I expect the reaction. I've sold 14 so far and have only recently been able to get more barrels. I got 5 more last weekend and hope to have all of them outfitted by the weekend. This is an excellent example of how we should keep our eyes open for opportunities at all times. I was able to make something for my own needs and then make a pocket full of cash to boot!

I promised my friend Gloria that I would write about corn the next time I blogged. To keep that promise, we're at that portion of my musing. My corn is doing pretty well despite the dry spell we had recently. One half of the plot looks a little weak though. I think the soil in that section is poor. I rotate the corn each year, so at least this gives me the knowledge of where not to plant it again next year. I'll just plant squash there. I honestly believe that you could toss squash seeds onto hardened clay and yield enough fruit to feed an infantry. If you're reading this....have never planted a garden and want to try, start with squash. It will give you big confidence booster. It will also give you a boatload of veggies that you'll be sick and tired of eating after a month.

Ya'll have a great day.



Monday, April 12, 2010

Why the title "Back 'er Down?"

So Alex....why the title "Back 'er Down" for the new blog? Well, it's an old saying that I'm not sure of when it comes to the origin. A quick Google search shows it likely came from trucker's slang for "slow down." Makes sense. My definition has the same meaning, but when my dad would tell me to "back 'er down" when he was teaching me to drive a tractor as a little fella. So there you go.... back 'er down = slow down. An appropriate title for a blog dedicated to simplifying life.

That leads me to some other quips that I found interesting as it relates to this topic. Everyone loves inspirational quotes right? I figured I'd share a few that are dear to me and remind me that life is not all about the rat race.

"If you don't have the best of everything, make the best of everything you have." -Unknown

Since few of us have the best of everything, this is pretty good advice. No clue who first coined it, but it's saved me a heap of money and a lot of heartache too.

"We may not have the best stuff in the world, but the least we can do is keep it clean" -My Dad

My dad is always good for some gems. This was one that I remember from a very early age. We didn't really have nice automobiles or tractors, but he always washed and vacuumed them regularly. He was also pretty adamant that we keep our rooms clean too. I wanted no part of that, lol. Interesting that now I'm borderline OCD when it comes to keeping my stuff orderly and clean.

"Fix it. Paint it. Repair it. Weed it by hand instead of buying Round-up. Collect rain water for your garden. Basically, when your money is in short supply and your time is long, use your time and don’t spend the money." - Unknown

Money quotes are always fun. (I will say this though..... a simpler life does not always mean a cheaper life. At least in the short run. I plan to devote an entire writing to this in the near future.)

Government is good at one thing: It knows how to break your legs, hand you a crutch, and say, "See, if it weren't for the government, you wouldn't be able to walk."
- GearHead

Not going political here necessarily. This beaut came from a poster on a motorsports message board that I frequent. The point is that we have to be responsible for yourselves and our own families. I tend to count on myself for getting things done. If I need help I'll ask for it. I fear that many folks are becoming too reliant without even realizing it.

So there you go. A few things to chew on.

Keeping it simple over the weekend

Friday was a furlough day so I spent the entire day cutting grass. What a joy. I love cutting grass. The tractor and the lawnmower don't care too much about what kind of day you're having. they just hum along with a nice rhythm and they get the job done. There is a lot of satisfaction in looking back over the yard and field after a fresh cut. Realized accomplishment is a good thing.

Saturday was another day spent outside, spreading mulch and repairing a tractor for one of dad's friends. My one-year old- is loving the outdoors. I'm glad for that and my wife is really fired up at the prospect of sending both boys outside with me in the future ;)

My dad came over Sunday and we looked over the garden and planted some more tomatoes. 74 plants in all now. We'll have plenty if someone wants some. (On a side note, Harveys (regional grocer) has tomatoes for $2.58 each. Holy wow! Is a veggie stand in order in a few months? Garden is looking good. If we can keep the deer out we're going to have a really nice plot.

Ya'll keep it simple.