Thursday, August 30, 2012

Quest Continues

I thought it was about time to give an update on our quest to find a church.

We’ve been here two months and have visited 11 different groups so far. And there are still more we want to visit. A few places we’ve visited several times. The common theme is overwhelming friendliness and a sincere desire to please God. A couple of the groups have already become favorites. Some of the smaller groups desperately need more members.

Visiting a new place every week has its challenges. It can be both exciting and draining. We look forward with anticipation each time as we pull into the parking lot, wondering what sort of group it will be. Will they be friendly? (always yes) Will they have any teens? Will we know anyone? What will the singing be like? (we’ve been spoiled to want good singing) Will the teaching and preaching be sound? Will we get invited to lunch?

We’ve learned not to judge the congregation by the look of the building. Some are large with a steeple and pretty windows. Some are small with low ceilings and no windows. Some are symmetrical and well maintained. Others have random annex buildings added on over the years. Some have comfortable pews. Others have tight uncomfortable ones. Some have air conditioning that works. Others only have fans. Some have crickets. Some have spiders. Some have big screens and powerpoint.

Visitors draw attention, especially when it’s a family of five. We are uncomfortable drawing too much attention to ourselves and wish sometimes we could just slip in and sit on the back row. A few times when we’ve felt tired and weary, we’ve wished we could be unnoticed. But if we did that, we’d miss out on meeting and visiting with some of the nicest people in the world.

Everyone has been so friendly and helpful. They are eager to meet us and find out why we’ve moved to the area. When they find out we are farming, they want to help. When they find out we’re looking for work, they want to help. When they find out we’re starting school, they want to help. When they hear the garage door isn’t working, they want to help.

Curiously though, the different groups don’t seem to know much about the other groups even though they are sometimes only a few miles apart. But we remind ourselves that we have been guilty of the same thing in the past. We have worshipped regularly at one place and rarely visited the surrounding groups. Shame on us.

One of the congregations recently described themselves as vultures on roadkill, regarding their attention to visitors. It was later softened to bees on honey. We have certainly felt welcome and important to them, even if we’re roadkill or bees.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


We have recently started using our Berkey water purifier. Our model is called the Berkey Light. It's made of thick blue BPA-free polyester. The Berkey claims to filter out all contaminants and pollutants to provide pure drinking water. There are other models that range from large stainless steel to handy sport size versions. In theory it can filter stagnant pond water into safe drinkable water. It is a simple and flexible natural method without the use of chemicals or a complicated process, especially helpful in situations where electricity and pressure are not available. It's a bit like a huge Brita filter. The unfiltered water is poured into the top container and it drips through two carbon filters into the lower container.

Monday, August 27, 2012


We will need a good tractor to take care of our 80 acres. Tractors are a serious investment and one which we're taking our time to make our choice. Meanwhile, we have had help from another friendly neighbor with a tractor. He spent three or four days working at various times during the day to mow down the waist high grass and weeds that had invaded our fields. In exchange, we paid him a fair price for this time and equipment. He has a 60 HP John Deere with a 12' shredder. The shredder is like a huge lawn mower for you city folks.

Guv'nor getting a ride on the John Deere

Saturday, August 25, 2012


We’ve finally finished setting up our hydroponic growing system! 

We first had it set up conveniently between the house and the garage. Then we realized we hadn’t really left enough room between the towers. So we moved it behind the garage where there is more space. I had been working in the mornings and evenings since it’s over 100 degrees in the daytime. Then it rained a little the other day which made the ground a little bit softer so we thought it was a good time to move it.

First location: between house and garage plus didn't use the ground cover

We purchased our 5 tower system from Urban Oasis before we moved. The whole system cost $500. It came with clear instructions and everything we needed to set it up. All I had to provide was a large bucket, a hammer, and water.
Our location needed to be near the house for convenience and near both an electrical outlet and a water supply. Our area should also have plenty of direct sun.

The system: growing pots, tubes, and pipes

The pump and timer

The water barrel

The growing medium and nutrients

The first step was to lay out the ground cover sheet and secure it with the metal staples.  We realized we weren’t in Florida anymore when we bent several of them because the ground was so hard.

The ground cover

The towers stand on two overlapping metal pipes. The 18” long / 1/2” conduit pipe is hammered into the ground about 12”, leaving 6” exposed above ground. We were supplied with an extra washer and bolt to help with the hammering process.

The shorter 1/2" pipe

The 60” / 3/4” conduit pipe is hammered into the ground over the 1/2” pipe about 4” leaving about 56” exposed. The heights are approximate, but we did want to get four of the towers as equal as possible. The fifth tower has only two growing pots and is intended to be slightly higher than the other four.

The longer 3/4" pipe

A 2” metal washer is placed down the pipe against the ground cover. The 34” PVC pipe is then added along with another 2” washer on top. The containers sit on this.

Washer, PVC pipe, washer

The growing containers should first be filled with the growing medium. In our case, the growing medium is coconut fiber mixed with perlite (water retaining granules). The coconut fiber comes in a large block and you will need a large bucket to hydrate it. A wheel barrow would be perfect, but we don’t have one of those yet. The kit comes with three blocks.

The hydrated growing medium and perlite
The medium in the containers

Once the containers are filled, you slide them down the pipe and set them at 90 degree angles on top of each other. The notches on the rim help to line them up correctly. Each tower also has a small 6” pot at the top which I’m going to use for growing a few herbs.

Included in the kit are four ground pots for larger plants with a deeper root system. I put them in between each tower.

The last step is to connect the water source. We placed our water barrel at the end of our towers. Inside the water barrel is a pump connected to the tubing. The tubing is connected across the top of each tower. With a handy little device, I poked a little hole and connected a small tube that will deliver water to the top of each tower. I filled the water barrel using the garden hose, connected the pump to the timer and plugged it into the outside outlet. I have started out with the timer set to pump water 3 times a day for about 3 minutes each time. This is apparently enough water for all five towers.

Watering tubes

I’m testing my system for a few days before I add the nutrients into the water barrel. Once I’m happy that everything is working correctly, I will add my nutrients (naturally occurring fertilizer and calcium) at the prescribed ratios. And then I will add the seedlings that are ready for planting.

Finally finished behind the garage

Thursday, August 23, 2012

New School

Before the school year started, D3 and I went to register her at her new high school. We met the principal, guidance counselor and school secretary. She's nervous about making friends, but I'm sure she'll be fine once school starts. The school doesn't have a uniform, but the school colors are green and the mascot is a cougar. There are three choices for electives: home economics, business/computers and agriculture. She chose home ec.

Front of the school

Side of the school

Band room and Gym

Tennis courts

Main hallway leading to classrooms - apparently the lockers aren't used

Girls bathroom - things haven't changed much over the years

Awards display cabinet

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

No Water

Just when I thought there wasn’t much to talk about, we woke up this morning to find that we had very low water pressure.

Our house has water provided by the local cooperative water company, a bit like city water or mains water. It’s piped underground from some mysterious source somewhere. It's something you don't think about much until you don't have it.

One of our goals to be self-sufficient is to have our own water source. Coincidentally, the guys from the seismic company arrived this morning to drill a few test holes to see where we might be able to drill a well and how deep it would have to be. They take away their findings and analyze it before letting us know the results.

Meanwhile, the water company arrived and checked various meters and holes in the ground and decided that it wasn’t their problem. Apparently the problem is between the road and the house - so it’s our problem now. We’ve phoned a plumber.

Looks like the previous owners left us another present.


Full force cold water

The seismic company set out flags where they were going to do their tests - four in all

The seismic test hole - they fire a shotgun shell into the hole for their test

Friday, August 17, 2012

Audio Books

Now that we live miles away from anything, we do spend more time in the car going places. Contrary to the time we used to spend driving in more urban areas, the drive time here is fairly stress-free on flat open roads with little traffic. The biggest challenge is watching our speed.

We have discovered audio books. They’ve been around for a long time and I’m sure everyone else has already discovered them. Our children used to listen to books on tape when they were little and before hand held electronics became available. But as adults they are new to us. We used to listen to the radio when in the car, but out here even the radio signals are weak. We could invest in satellite radio but didn’t want the added expense. We quickly realized that there is a skill to listening which we had forgotten. It engages your brain in a different way than music or conversation.

At the moment we’re in the middle of reading (listening to) The Broker by John Grisham.  We bought the set at a used book store before we left Florida. I know you can get them at Cracker Barrel but it would cost us a small fortune in rental fees because it takes us so long to finish one because we're not in the car everyday. Each time we start we have to click back a track to remind ourselves where we are in the story. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to get through an entire disc on one drive.

A few Sundays we’ve not managed to make it back out for an evening worship, so we have listened to the Bible on CD at home. We have a nice set called The Word of Promise New Testament. It’s more of a dramatic reading of the actual text. Jim Caviezel is the voice of Jesus.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Septic Tank

One of our recent unexpected but very necessary expenses has been with the septic tank system here at the house. Having always lived in cities, having a septic tank is something new for us.

For a few weeks we had been ‘smelling a smell’ and thought it must be the normal septic tank smell. Upon further inspection, though, realized that something wasn’t working properly with something. That’s about as technical as we get.

The forest of grass growing just down from the septic tank cover should have been a tip off.

We’re trying not to feel badly towards the previous owners, who apparently were well aware of the pump and sprinkler problem before they moved and left it in disrepair.

The septic guys have a smelly job out there, digging a new ditch for the new sprinklers. Apparently the existing sprinklers haven’t been working for some time.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

FM Road

We see unusual things on the Farm to Market Road. We weren't sure what the road etiquette was for meeting farm equipment. Luckily for us it turned off the road just before we got to it.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Super Glue

This post doesn’t really having anything to do with our rural living. It’s got more to do with the moving process that breaks things.

As I mentioned before, I cannot bear to throw away a broken teapot - or any broken piece of china for that matter. I try sometimes, but I just can’t do it. I love china. I end up saving it for something - not sure what. I like to think it's thriftiness. I apply this theory to pieces ranging from cheap ceramics to irreplaceable Austrian porcelain.

When it’s just a smaller chip, then I repair it. I use Super Glue. Here are a few things I’ve learned if you want to try this yourself.
  1. Find all the broken pieces. You can’t glue it if you don’t have it.
  2. Wear gloves. I use those thin latex kind that you can throw away afterwards. I’ve only learned this after several attempts to unstick my fingers.
  3. Lay out a piece of wax paper or parchment paper to work. Things don’t stick to this.
  4. Use tweezers for the smaller pieces.
  5. Glue the smaller pieces together first, then glue to the bigger piece. The glue will add some thickness, so make sure you press it together good.
  6. Hold it for a few seconds before setting it down to dry for a few minutes.

Chipped in our move: Augarten hand-painted porcelain teapot from Vienna

Lay down parchment paper for your work surface

Use gloves / hold it for a few seconds

Repaired - not perfect but better than throwing it away

Sadler ceramic teapot with repaired broken handle

Friday, August 10, 2012


While we continue to work on setting up the hydroponic system (after getting it almost set up we’ve have decided to move it to a location with more space), I decided to start planting my seeds. I wanted to buy seedlings but couldn’t find any locally. When you grow hydroponically, you’re not limited to the usual growing season.

Since I don’t really know what I’m doing yet, I read the seed packets that I had and decided to start with these:

Lettuce - salad bowl blend
Lettuce - gourmet baby greens
Butterhead lettuce - Buttercrunch
Spinach - Bloomsdale
Broccoli - Di Cicco
Carrot - Danvers
Shelling Peas - Progress
Snap Peas - sugar snaps

I had bought some growing discs from a garden center (in Florida, before we moved) which should make it easier for the starting novice like me. I hydrated them with water in the tray and they expanded (a bit like those magic towels). They even have a convenient hole in the middle to put the seeds. Some of the seeds were really tiny, so I couldn't help but put several in each hole. After that you just have to put the tray in the sunshine and make sure they are kept damp.

It will take about six weeks before they are big enough to plant in the hydroponic pots (then another six weeks before they are ready to eat). But I’m happy with the progress so far.

Seed packets that I chose

Growing disc

50 discs in the tray

Hydrated discs ( I discovered I had them upside down)

Tiny sprouts after 4 days

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Break Down

The Mule broke down yesterday way out by the cow shed. We're not sure what the problem is, it just won't start. We're hoping it's just something simple like the battery. So we enlisted the help of Neighbor with his Mule who towed Guv'nor and his Mule back home. I couldn't resist posting this photo.


Our property was littered with trash when we arrived. We were surprised and disappointed that the previous owners would just leave so much trash scattered around. We’ve found lots of interesting things, but rarely anything useful: old tax returns (we burned these, by the way), fish tank, exercise equipment, old tires, cow skull, old rugs, paint cans, barbed wire, car bumpers, partially buried fridge, rusty farm equipment, BBQ grill. The list could go on. Hours have been spent going around the property collecting up some of the smaller trash into a pile to be disposed. We’re trying to arrange to have the larger pieces taken away by a scrap metal company.

I admit I am a hoarder. I have trouble getting rid of things that I think might be useful one day. I also have trouble getting rid of sentimental things that have no particular value. I won’t throw away a cracked teapot. Instead I will glue it back together and it becomes a "to look at" teapot. But I don’t have any trouble throwing away trash. I don’t like seeing trash laying around, and I certainly wouldn’t want to leave any of it when I moved. That’s just sheer laziness. We keep wondering what they were thinking ... “That’s broken, I think I’ll just throw it behind the shed.” ??
Rusty farm equipment

Rusty BBQ grill
Partially buried fridge

Car bumpers

Friday, August 3, 2012

Big Tex

Someone should have warned us, or at the least, explained to us about Big Tex. Locals were surprised we’d never heard of it. After all, it’s the nearby town’s claim to fame. They showed us old pictures but never really explained the history. So, when a local magazine came in the mail this morning and mentioned it again, I thought it was time I did a little research.

Back in the late 40’s, the town was beginning to lose Christmas shoppers to the larger nearby cities and Dallas. So in 1949, they came up with the gimmicky idea of building a giant 49 foot tall Santa Claus that they claimed was the largest in the world. It was made out of iron-pipe drill casings and papier-mache. Santa’s beard was made out of 7 foot long unraveled lengths of rope. It worked that year, but not surprisingly, interest dwindled by the next year.

So in 1951, the state fair bought Santa for $750 and transformed him into a giant cowboy. He debuted at the 1952 fair, greeting people at the entrance. He had grown to 52 feet tall, with size 70 boots, a 75 gallon hat, jeans and plaid shirt. The jeans and shirt were donated by The Lee Company. They have made a few further adjustments in following years, and now he even talks! His outfits and facial expressions have also changed over the years.

Wow. We may have to go to the fair (Sept-Oct) just to see him. It’s even his 60th birthday this year and they’re planning a big party.

Santa Claus, circa 1949 (photo: State Fair of Texas)

Big Tex, circa 1960 (photo: State Fair of Texas)
Big Tex 2004 (photo: State Fair of Texas)

Big Tex 2010 (photo: State Fair of Texas)