A unique rite of passage.
Helping kids grow strong. #ironhaiku
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If you’re new around here you might not know I have a wood burning stove. If you’re not new, you know ALL about it and quite frankly I’m surprised you’re still here.
I do tend to go on about my wood stove, cutting and chopping wood and all that goes with it. If you are still here odds are you get it. You get my passion for the wood stove, splitting axes, chainsaws, boots, gloves, sweat and effort.
My good friend John Paul gets it. He’s been heating his home with a single, wood burning, soapstone stove for well over ten years now. A few years ago for Christmas we gave him a firehawk, a handy poker-blower combo that makes reviving a smoldering fire a great joy. I’ll post a review of that tool later, for now I want to talk about the tool he gave me this year, aptly named The Best Smart Ash Shovel.
Simply put, The Best Smart Ash Shovel is a fireplace shovel with a hinged wire grate over it that allows you to remove spent ash from your fireplace or stove without removing the coals. I cannot express how amazingly awesome this is.
If you have a stove you know that the coals are a prime commodity. That’s heat. Coals are just little chunks of wood, scorched to charcoal hardness that’s on fire. Coals are what you want in a wood burning stove. In fact the whole wood burning process is just a vehicle to get coals.
In wood burning parlance, coals are the shit.
There’s so much heat to be gleaned from those glowing embers. The problem comes when the ash (wood that has been burnt to the point it won’t burn no more) has built up to such a point that it’s affecting airflow and threatening to smother those oh so essential coals.
Historically I’ve put off cleaning out the stove until I just can’t put it off any more. Usually I wait to scoop the ash until the air intake is threatening to clog and the space for new wood is limited. I try my best to rake all the hot coals to one side, remove the ash on that side and then rake them over to the other side so I can get the ash that’s left. Invariably, I end up removing more coals than I want.
It’s just a mess, because now, not only have I robbed my stove of precious heat, but I have these chunks of fiery hotness sitting in my bucket of ash. It’s neither safe nor practical to let this sit on the hearth, so now I have to take it outside and let it cool before it can be dumped onto the compost heap. Normally that wouldn’t be such a big deal but for fire safety’s sake I have put it away from the house, but I have these two ginormous German Shepherds and the odds of those ash buckets are not knocked over and scattered are pretty much nil.
With The Best Smart Ash Shovel I don’t have to worry. The wire “cover” only allows the fine ash to sift through to the shovel and with a quick shake the coals are knocked aside and back into the stove. Each morning I give the stove four or five scoops and I maintain a very efficient stove the rest of the day.
There’s a demo video on the website. In it the owner/inventor shows how you can using the natural draft of the fireplace to draw the fine ash dust that often wafts up when you dump the contents of your shovel. It basically gets sucked back into the stove and cuts down on the amount of dust that tends to settle in your home.
This is basic ingenuity at its finest. A guy with a problem, solves that problem and then takes his invention to market. If nothing else buying a Best Smart Ash Shovel supports and revives what was once great about this world.
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So, I’ve been a little MIA lately. Last years’s “grand experiment” didn’t go so well and I allowed the demands of my business to distract me from (read: avoid) my failures and to ignore what few successes I did have.
My partnership went bust. My eager and willing associate, with whom I had intended to share the labor and bounty of this grand effort, had medical issues mid season that prevented her from all physical labor and the gym just needed so much of my time…
The hugelkultur beds worked beautifully. The soil we added settled more than expected, but the beds stayed moist with minimal watering.
But the Pet Stop fence didn’t keep the goats out and everything but the basil got eaten. This is through no fault of the fence, mind you. It works beautifully, but the collars need their batteries changed every three months and I was too busy to keep up with it or to develop enough of a relationship with the goats to make them more tractable. Once they realized they wouldn’t get zapped for crossing the boundary the garden was toast. Except for the basil, which grew quite well. Who knew goats don’t like basil? Somebody, I’m sure, just not me. This year, I know where I’m planting lots of basil.
With the goats in the garden I gave up on worrying about the collars, which proved a big mistake. Bronwyn noticed extensive scabbing on Harriet’s neck under the collar. When we finally got it off we realized the prongs had actually punctured her neck. Again, not the fault of the collar — my fault, and mine alone. Once discovered we bandaged her neck and penned them both for a week or two until we felt she had healed enough to free graze again.
And it was here I learned the mistake of building a pen on the side next to my neighbor. They finally complained of the smell and in October I moved the pen to the opposite side of the yard.
Through the winter I occupied myself with my business, my family and firewood.
Now, Spring is calling and I’m answering. This year my expectations are lower, but my involvement is much higher. No partners this year. I’ll do what I can with the time that I have and that’ll be it, but already I can feel the benefit of working with things in their own time at their own pace. The gym side of my business can get somewhat frenetic and I get overwhelmed with sense of what needs to happen NOW. The garden doesn’t work that way and I’ve become especially grateful for it.
Oddly enough, I’ve gotten a lot done.
Planted two fig trees. The soil around my house is mostly red clay. I dug holes twice the size of the fig’s containers and planted them in with a fifty-fifty mix of native soil and compost. I’m worried about one of them as our new German Shepard pup, Pippin, mistook one of the figs as a new play toy. She “pruned” it back to a quarter of it’s original size.
Established the “in yard” garden. When we moved in to this house there already existed two 12 x 12 raised beds bordered by railroad ties. The first spring it yielded a fantastic garden of tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini. The next year we got Olive, our first German Shepard, and I just didn’t feel like fighting her over digging rights. This year I’ve broken the beds by hoe, worked 150 pounds of cow manure into each bed, raked them clean and planted collards, onions, mustard greens and lettuce.
Planted asparagus. I started a new asparagus bed this past weekend. I took 18 seed starts and planted them in a 3′ x 83″ bed bordered by split oak logs I harvested off the back lot last spring. The soil is pretty heavy clay so I amended it with compost and sand.
Sifted compost. If I’m not the best gardener I am a champion composter and this pile has been cooking for two or three years. I’ve a two bin system and I just sift out what I need and throw the unfinished bits into the empty bin. Over the past two weeks I’ve sifted out around four wheel barrow loads to use with the fig trees, the asparagus bed, and to amend and feed various established plants around the property.
Wrangled worms. While I built the asparagus bed on Sunday, Samantha worked her way around the yard wrangling worms from under stones, wood stumps or any other available haven. Her haul? Over a hundred squirming, red, organic tractors that were deposited promptly into the main beds.
Today, I’m sitting here on the couch in my bathrobe, frustrated on day three of the flu, contemplating my lessons, railing at my own frailty and the elusive balance between what I can do, what I should do and what I think needs to be done.
It’s the first day of spring and I’m itching to be back at work, which is good, yesterday just handling the remote to the TV was exhausting. Today, I’m a bit stronger.
This weekend I hope to be even stronger. There’s a lot of bark over by the woodpile that would make good mulch and I have tomato starts I’d like to get planted in the cold frames. Oh yeah, and there’s a gym to run and a family to provide for, hopefully all this effort propels me in the right direction, provided I can slow down enough to see which way I’m going.
Today marks the one year anniversary of my father’s death.
One year ago today, while the rest of the state was reeling from the first of two of the worst tornadoes we have seen in years, I was sitting in a nursing home in Forestdale holding my father’s hand as he slipped away.
If you’re friends with me on Facebook you may have noticed my profile picture going through a series of changes. Over the past week I’ve treated my face like a Wooly Willy toy, slowly whittling my beard down to it’s present state.
Back in March I decided to mark this day by growing the moustache my father always wore. It’s a gesture of respect and remembrance. An attempt to see if I couldn’t see my dad one more time. This time in my own face.
After he died I wrote about it in my old blog. …
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Ralph Waldo Emerson promoted a philosophy of self reliance. He felt the highest life a man could attain was by living according to his own works and his own merit.
I couldn’t agree more.
This blog will be a chronicle of my own efforts to attain a higher life right here right now.
I won’t define my intentions anymore than that simply because I don’t want to write myself into a box.
Here’s what I will tell you. I’m thirty nine years old, married and have three daughters. My mother in law lives with us. We have three cats, two dogs and at present two goats. Our house sits on just under an acre of land with over half of that land being behind the house.
It’s my goal to increase the yield of that land and begin to get more of our sustenance from it.
This is what I am not. I am not anti-social. I generally like people. I am not anti-technology. Obviously. I am not vegetarian. Although I do have several friends who are vegetarian. No, really. I am not anticipating the end of the United States government or the world as we know it. I fully expect that each of these will keep on keeping on regardless of what I do or think about them.
I’m just a guy trying to do the best that he can for himself and his family.
Part of that means providing the best food that I can find in order to ensure that we adults maintain our health for as long as possible and that my children have all that they need to grow as healthy and strong as possible. I work as a personal trainer/massage therapist. I’m self employed and manage a pretty good little business and bring home a comfortable salary.
Could it be better? Yes.
But here’s the rub. As a self employed businessman in a hands on type of work, every dollar I currently make is dependent upon me. I already devote 60+ hours a week to my business. What good am I to my daughters or my wife if I’m never around?
Life has it’s costs. Nothing is free.
But we often get to choose how and when we pay.
I want my family to eat organic produce. I want them to have grass fed beef, clean pork and organic eggs and chickens. Whole Foods sells all of these things and there’s one not too far from my house. But have you seen what Whole Foods wants for an organic, grass feed, free range chicken? We’d starve. We’re six big people with large appetites. Not to mention that I eat Paleo. Whole Foods is not a reasonable option for us.
What’s left? Do the best we can? What’s more important? Organic Produce? Grass fed meats? Are we doing ourselves any favors if our produce is free of pesticides but our meats are loaded with antibiotics and other toxins?
I think I can do better. I think that with the acre lot I have I can meet most if not all of those goals. I can produce organic vegetables. I can raise chickens that will at least provide eggs (chickens for meat is largely dependent on my daughters. We’ve had this discussion before and I usually end up losing badly.)
Again the cost is relatively the same. I just trade labor which I have in abundance for cash which I don’t have as much of. The benefit to me is that I get not only the produce I want but the added benefits of fresh air, exercise and time with my family, not to mention the sense of connection with God, the earth, and being able to see the fruits of my labor going into the growth and sustenance of my beautiful girls. You can’t buy that at Whole Foods.