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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Slow Down, Watch

milkbarnI'm glad to have grown up before the super-electronic revolution. The only video game we had was an Atari, and is wasn't but a novelty. Besides that there was a couple of arcade games and a pinball at the local laundry mat. In high school we played around with some binary programming and in college I took Pascal (an early programming program). A finicky television that could receive three or four stations was the only square box entertainment in our home. We listened to the radio a lot, and spun LP's.

A lot of time was spent outside, riding bikes, playing ball, swimming and working. My mom and dad both worked at home, on the farm, full time. I could at anytime find my mom taking care of the calves, cooking, canning, gardening and on and on. I always enjoyed being at Mom's side, I loved watching her knead bread, and she always let me help. I also enjoyed watching her can vegetables from the garden. I liked any project that required her to use the small food grinder she would screw onto the edge of a little table that sat in the middle of the kitchen and used as an island. The smell of cucumbers, onions and peppers going through the mill on their way to becoming relish was so fresh and summery.

Before I was big enough to do so myself, I would watch Mom cut out a dress pattern, or a shirt for my brothers. She would spread the material on the bed or on the dining table, pin it all around, then cut them out. Mom always let me have bits of leftover material to hand piece into blankets for my stuffed-up animals (that's what I called my teddy-bears). Mom and I learned to crochet together when I was five years old. One of my first projects was a variegated brown scarf in double crochet. Mom liked making pillows and slippers as gifts for friends.

My mom and I still enjoy working together, whether it is canning, gardening or crafting. Since growing up with her guiding me and us helping each other, we easily anticipate each other. This makes it very comfortable and natural to work with her. I cherish our time together.

In growing up, I also enjoyed watching my dad work. It was very different than working with mom, though. Dad's work was more in the line of be still and be out of the way. So much of his work was maintenance and repair, and he was so methodical and deliberate. Every spring before hay season I would watch for days as he worked at getting all the equipment ready for the big job ahead. The long sickle mower worked by sliding triangularly shaped blades back and forth to cut the hay. Dad would attach it to the tractor and bring it near the shop where he had his tools. He would take off every one of those triangular blades and individually sharpen, reattach and adjust each one. I remember windy spring days sitting under the walnut trees, playing with the dogs and watching my dad do this.

One of my absolutely favorite things to watch him do was repair an inner-tube. Safety was very important to Dad, so I was told to stay a good distance away from any vehicle or large machinery if he had it jacked up to remove a tire. After he had removed the tire, he would lean it up again the large walnut tree next to the shop and I could sneak in a little closer. It was amazing to watch him wedge the large tire irons between the wheel and the tire to separate the two. Once that was accomplished he would take the tube out from the tire and inspect it, find the hole and mark it with a piece of chalk. The next step was the intriguing part that fascinated me. He would bring out a canister which contained all the components necessary to repair an inner-tube hole. I can't remember the exact process, but I remember kneeling next to him to see close-up how he would clean the hole, use special tools to prepare the surface for the cement, then adhere a patch. Dad would take his time in these tasks, and as the new patch cured and sealed, he would methodically put his patch kit away, tucking it in a special spot above his workbench in the shop. When the tube was ready, he would fill it with air and checked for leaks either using soapy water or dunking it in the stock tank. Then, the process reversed as he tucked the tube back into the tire, and used the irons, again, to affix it back onto the wheel. With the repaired tire back on the machine he was ready for the next task.

I cherish these memories, and I appreciate that I had the opportunity to watch my parents at their work. With all the distractions of our current times, it's even more of a challenge to slow down and watch. Modern convenience that has enabled us to do things faster, and have information instantaneously has somehow stripped us of the ability to just cease from it. I feel that if we want to connect to our families, to our neighbors and to the people that we love that live in the community around us, we must somehow retrain ourselves to slow down and watch, listen and share, love and care. These are the things that help us learn to connect and build healthy, positive relationships with those who are near.

Can we Reconnect? 

There are ways to build habits of sharing. Simple things like sharing extra produce from your garden with neighbors, or helping a friend or neighbor with yardwork or gardening. Get children involved in helping cook supper, or rake leaves to be used as mulch for next summers garden. Don't be afraid to ask for help, even if you don't need it. Maybe your neighbor would enjoy helping you split and stack that pile of wood. Maybe they have a smoker and needed some small pieces of that split oak...maybe they will share some smoked meat next time they fire it up, or leave room for your pork roast. It starts with you.

Mother Earth News has started a great project called “International Homesteading Education Month” every September, which includes a database of workshops and speakers available on various projects and activities. Become a neighbor like Rona Roberts (author, “Sweet, Sweet Sorghum”) who developed “Cornbread Suppers” in Lexington Kentucky. Every Monday evening, Rona opens her house for anyone to join at her home for supper.

Please use the comment box below to share your favorite way to connect and learn with your children, family and friends. We can all use inspiration and encouragement to nurture the lives of those around us.