Saturday, January 23, 2010

Who am I?

My name is Jason, I am 39 years old.

I was raised southeast of Pittsburgh PA in a small town named Blairsville. For many years we raised pigs to sell as well as eat and show at the fair. We had chickens, milking goats, a jersey cow, ducks and lots of hogs.

My Mom, Dawn, was herself a pioneering woman of her time. She was a hunter/gather/cook/farmer/fisherman/mom/wife and generally a wonderful person. Mom was made from what I call "old stock", she was as tough as they come. From Italian blood, she was short and over weight, and loved to cook. She loved cooking as a art form, and loved living SS.

We never had a real stove growing up on the farm, rather a wood stove which she cooked on and baked in. In the winter it was used for cooking as well as heat, we had gravity fed vents to the second floor so the rising heat could heat upstairs. In the summer we ate outside and cooked on the grill and ate lots of salads. Pictured here is my mom and step father Bob in our kitchen. You can see the pipe coming from the wood stove and out the wall.

My mom was also a hunter, she taught me many things about hunting, some of which I had forgotten in my years living in the city. Here she is with a turkey that I think I harvested while hunting with her when I was 12 y/o.

Here is my sister who won first place in carcass with coco

Our farm sat on 107 acres, most of which was flat enough to work the soil and use for farming. After my mom lost her job, laid off, my step dad lost his job four or five months later. We were able to keep the farm going, make a profit until the price for pork fell. We grew our own grains for feed for the animals, but because the price for pork fell so much in a short period of time. For seven years, my mom and dad did the best they could to keep the farm going. Later it would be a fight that the banker would win.

Here is a picture, one of just eight that I have of my mom. I was 14 y/o and this was taken the night before I would fly away from the only life I ever knew, country living at its finest. You can see we were dressed up as part of our last night together to go out to dinner. My mom grief stricken, was given a dozen of yellow roses to cheer her up by my step dad.

My mom didn't wear make-up or get dressed up often, but the last night I was on the farm she did. The coat she is wearing was made from deer we had harvested the year before, we sent them out to be tanned and a woman that my mom knew made her and my step dad coats.

I would only see my mom one more time before I left to go in the Army. If I would have known it would be the last time that I was going to see her before she died, I would have hugged her longer. My mom was my hero and best friend...

Dawn Simone Horsnby 24 Dec 1947 - 9 Aug 1989

R.I.P mom, love you!!

The farm today is a much different place, the old farm house has been pushed in on its self and no longer is there. The barns are falling down and the place is left to rot. While visiting up here, I wanted to go back and visit the farm that meant so much to me as a child. I had hopes that a family would be there today making that farm work for them. But only the wind and sounds of things knocking and blowing around greeted us.

I hated the city as soon as I got there, though I liked going to the store up on the corner. No more 4 mile bike rides through flood control to get a bag of hot fries and chocolate milk. I also liked that my bus stop was down the street, not almost 2 mile walk that we had on the farm.
I know, its the stuff your parents tell you or grand parents. We measured it at 1.9 miles from the farm to the road where we were picked up.

I missed sled riding after I moved to the city. I also missed bows and arrows with my step brother. A piece of cherry branch fastened to make a bow using fly fishing string and golden rod stalks as arrows. Some would curve and go no where, while some would fly out of sight.

As it would be I would finally find a trade I liked to work at and began my career. It would be 11 years later that I would take the leap of faith and start my own business with my wife. As far as SS goes, working for myself came around before deciding to live a SS lifestyle. But you don't have to work for yourself as part of your SS life.

Knowing we had to move because my wife hated the big city as well, we decided to come back to PA to find a new home. My wife, Danielle if from England, and this climate is better suited to her as well as living in the country. I didn't know at the time I was going to make a choice to live my life as I have decided to. However once we moved here, and I was sitting above where my garden is now, under a star filled sky. It came to me in the form of fun and what I did as a kid on the farm.

Today, as I make my last entry about my past and how I came to be. I hope you have learned about the people that have greatly effected my life in many positive ways. There is one person, maybe the most influential one in my life, that I am going to tell you about, Jim.

There is a fable told of two bulls standing on the top of a hill, Jim would be the old bull and I would be the young bull. ( There were two bulls standing on a hill, the young bull says to the old bull " lets run down and talk to one of those heifers " the old bull looks at the young bull and says " lets walk down there and talk to them all. "

Jim was my boss 40 hours a week, and my mentor during the evenings and weekends. I spent 11 years working for Jim at both times. One day, after I worked for Jim for about six weeks, he handed me my paycheck and said " I have been looking for some one like you for forty years ". If you want to come to my house this weekend, I have something I want to show you ". So I did, and he asked me if I would be interested learning my trade the way it was taught and done hundreds of years ago. The promise of making extra cash was a bonus that I couldn't pass up. So for the next eight months I would work close to jim listening and doing before I would venture solo in the evenings at my own house doing my own projects to take to a big Arts and Crafts show coming in late fall.

I had purchased a book, Lanterns that lit our world and decided that I would make hurricane lanterns to take to the show. In seven months I would make 19 different sets of lanterns of my own design to take to the big show. I did work very hard making and design them, and I spent 50+ hours making each set.

When the show came, booths were small, so Jim had his booth, and I had one on the other side of show. It was a two day weekend show. Friday evening was set-up time, and we had to be there selling from 9am til 4pm. Bright eyed and bushy tailed I was there at 8am talking with Jim, he wished me luck, and I went to sit at my booth.

Shortly after it started, I had made my first sale. I priced my lanterns in pairs from $175.00 - $225.00 a set. So that first sale made me happy and thinking more positive about learning my trade. Not having a watch on, shortly after that sale, I made another. Then a gentleman from Lancaster County Pa ( I was living in VA at the time ) stopped and looked at my lanterns. He had picked several up, looking at the quality and design, and started to set some pairs to the left side of the table, I was thinking, huh??? He would pick one up, set it down and picked it up again. Then he would either place it back down or set it aside.

While he was looking at them he had asked me about myself and my trade. After making those first two sales I was very passionate about what I was doing. He had placed 7 pairs of lamps to one side, he then looked at all the price tags. Than he pulled a huge wad of cash out of his pocket and handed me $1325.00. I was so excited I was shaking, I place them in several boxes for him. After the sale, he told me he was from Lancaster County and owned a store there, he then said he cold sell the for $400.00 plus each, I was like " ok.... great for you " I just made the sale so I didn't care.

By 1:30 pm the first day of the show, I had sold all my lanterns and had a huge wad of cash in my pocket. Excited to tell Jim, I left my booth and made my way to his booth. When I got there I showed him my wad of cash. Then he asked me how many sets did I have left, I explained I had sold then all. He looked down at the ground and shook his head. He then asked me how much did I sell them for, I told him. Jim looked at me and asked How long did they take to make? I told him 50 hours a set, he than said so your willing to work for $4.00 an hour? That's when it hit me....

I was foolish and ashamed of myself, but I will never forget the giggle that man made from Lancaster after he bought those 14 lanterns.

So understand the fable now?

You know, I know that at some point in your life you have fallen upon hard times. Sometimes those hard times might last for years. Even though during those hard times, the clouds would part and for a moment the sun would shine threw giving you hope to carry on. Me too, I am glad that I went threw those tough times, just not alone.

Jim was my rock and mentor during the hardest times of my life thus far. Not only did he teach me to work with my hands, he also taught my mind. When I wanted to through the towel in, he would grab my arm and say wait a minute this to will pass. When I lost belief in myself, he believed in me enough for both of us. Some might say, turn to God, I did but he wasn't done with teaching me about myself and his help would be slow to come. But God gave Jim me, and me Jim.

At my day job, I would see people get laid off left and right. When times got better, new people would be hired. Sure Jim would keep me on, but I am very good at what I do, so there is some credit from my side. One day the owner of the company would confront me about a position I had applied for at another company. I think its wise to keep your current employer in check with your wage as long as you have something to work with. As a highly skilled worker, I had that on my side, I was making $17.00 an hour and the new position offered was for $18.50 an hour to start and the position capped at $23.50 an hour.

So the owner asked if I was happy, I said I was but could use a raise to cover health care and cost of living. My strong arm tactic didn't work and I was fired. Jim knew it was coming but also knew and had faith that I would move to bigger and better things. There were no hard feelings between Jim and I, I had used the tactic on my own and walked out on the limb solo. I did get that job at the starting rate, but 5 months later I would walk out, hitting some one elses time clock for the last time, and start my own business with $500.00 to my name, a family to feed, and a house to pay for.


Four months after going into business for myself, I called my old employer and ask to meet with the owner. I said I wanted to meet with him, he was not always at the shop so you had to make an appointment. The following week as I walked in his office, there sat Jeff (owner) Jim and Chris (who took over my old job). I greeted them and sat down, Jeff began to ramble about giving my old job back, but at a much lower wage, I think he offered me $14.00 an hour. What he didn't know, but soon would find out, I was there to offer him a chance to bid on one of my jobs. I would give a 1k today for a picture of the look on Jeffs face at that moment. LOL.... Jim smiled and laughed out loud. Jim did bid my job, in the true spirit of " Yes I can " gave that job to Jim even though his bid was $400.00 higher than my lowest. My little back at you was directed at Jeff not Jim. When the job was complete and I went to pick it up, Jim and I were laughing together about what I just pulled off. Still makes me laugh.

I have to keep up with Jim, just the way he is, and we speak on a regular bases. He came to visit me last summer for a couple of days. He was raised about an hour away from where I live ( that's odd ) but true. When Jim walked into my shop and looked around at all the equipment I had purchased to manufacture products, he smiled and put his hand on my shoulder. He said " see I knew you could do it, this is the reason I went to bat for so many times that my hands were sore " I knew he was telling me the truth. Like a son to a father, I hugged him and thanked him for everything he had done for me, and taught me.

Self Sufficient

I want to begin by talking about living SS as possible. To some people that means off the grid completely, to other it means something different. My approach to living SS is to live my life by hunting, fishing, growing, gathering, bartering, re-using materials and being paid to provide services/products.

As I start my blog from today, I have some things to catch you up on so that you better understand my approach to living a SS lifestyle.

I decided that planning/staging the changes I was going to make would have to be done over a five year period. Than with time things have changed, so now I am in the beginning of what should be year four of that plan.

The first year was spent on cleaning up the land, making the house livable, and layout of the garden, hedge rows and orchard. Than I started working the soil so that I could plant in it as it was clay in the beginning. I also tore down the old steps that were rotting and put up a new stairway leading to the house as well as built my own lamp post.

The second year was spent on more cleaning up of the property, working the soil, planting my first garden here, and working on property drainage. I also needed to build a bridge over a ravine where the over flow of my pond goes. The wood came from my property which had been sawed and stored by the last owner, my out building which is 34 by 34 feet was also built using wood from my land.

The third year I planted and harvested a wonderful garden, and photos below show how the soil looked in the beginning of last year. Also shown is my 1956 tractor with a 48" box tiller. I had planted a green crop of winter rye and tilled it in. I had been adding organic materials to the soil over the last 3 years so that it was usable to grow in. It was a lot of work, although the tomato blight wipe out my maters, the wet raining summer killed off most of my squash, I was still able to harvest food which I froze or canned for use in the winter.

I hunted year before last, I harvest a huge white tail doe which I canned because she was so tough. I also hunted this past season again harvesting several deer as well as killing inland game birds and fishing.

Getting back to living SS has been nothing less than a lot of hard work with huge rewards in many aspects. I know that the way I was raised on the farm has a lot to do with who I am today. I plan to cover more about me in "Who am I?" post on my blog, which I will share photos and share more about me.

Living SS isn't always a choice, its also a lifestyle by which some people live. My goal is in no way to mock or suggest that living SS is a poor way to live, but I choose to live at a certain level of SS because of the work/benefit of it.

I hope you will join me on my journey that has already started.

Getting Started

I have been keeping a journal for almost a year now. Being that there has been so much interest in my choice of lifestyle, I decided to start a blog. I try not to candy coat or fib, but present what I do and am doing so that several points get across. Those two points are critical as to learn from what works and what doesn't. So by trying new ways and old ways, reporting back what mistakes I made and what went right.

My name is Jason, I'm 39, and we have moved back home to the country to start my life as I was raised, country living at it's finest. At 14 I was forced to move to the city because we lost our farm. I remember how excited I was to move there, no more riding through Flood control to go to the store, no more milking Goats, no more waking up so early feeding pigs, no more clean animal pens, no more 2 mile walks to the bus stop.

It was all the Newlywed phase kind of stuff, then when I realized I didn't fit in, no one dressed like me, and other boys were into skate boarding, surfing, drinking beer, putt-putt and riding bikes. I like to ride bikes, make and play bows and arrows, climb trees, camp out and fish along river banks. In anger of feeling alone, I realized everything I valued in my life was gone. No more going to the feed store, raising animals, country living and living on the farm and with wild/farm animals. Everything I knew and taught to love was replaced by car horns, smog, fights, people to much in a hurry to help out, disconnection, convenience and a lower quality standard of living.  

I loved that farm, sure I didn't always like the work. But looking back at it now, it has kinda defined me as a man in many ways. I spent 21 years working my way back to living in the country, and I decided to take on living as self sufficient as I can.

Almost four years ago, my wife and I drove from Newport News VA to here looking for a home in the country. Went and saw many homes, but this little farmer built rancher sat on the side of the mountain, had five acres, and a fishing pond. My wife is from England, and she also was raised on a farm.

The front steps to the house were falling down, the well water was bad, and there was water leaking into the basement. The house had been on the market for 1 1/2 years, so we put in an offer $73,000.00 less than the asking price. Next day, with some hand money, the house was ours.

We scrambled back to NN V.A. to get our house on the market, sell it, move the family and business. Wow, we sure took on a lot stress!!!