Thursday, December 24, 2015

An Old Fashioned Christmas

Here is a really cool story that helps to tell the true meaning of Christmas. I hope that you enjoy it!

Pa never had much compassion for the lazy or those who squandered their means and then never had enough for the necessities. But for those who were genuinely in need, his heart was as big as all outdoors. It was from him that I learned the greatest joy in life comes from giving, not from receiving.

It was Christmas Eve 1881. I was fifteen years old and feeling like the world had caved in on me because there just hadn't been enough money to buy me the rifle that I'd wanted so bad that year for Christmas.

We did the chores early that night for some reason. I just figured Pa wanted a little extra time so we could read in the Bible. So after supper was over I took my boots off and stretched out in front of the fireplace and waited for Pa to get down the old Bible. I was still feeling sorry for myself and, to be honest, I wasn't in much of a mood to read Scriptures. But Pa didn't get the Bible, instead he bundled up and went outside. I couldn't figure it out because we had already done all the chores. I didn't worry about it long though, I was too busy wallowing in self-pity.

Soon Pa came back in. It was a cold clear night out and there was ice in his beard. "Come on, Matt," he said. "Bundle up good, it's cold out tonight."

I was really upset then. Not only wasn't I getting the rifle for Christmas, now Pa was dragging me out in the cold, and for no earthly reason that I could see. We'd already done all the chores, and I couldn't think of anything else that needed doing, especially not on a night like this. But I knew Pa was not very patient at one dragging one's feet when he'd told them to do something, so I got up and put my boots back on and got my cap, coat, and mittens. Ma gave me a mysterious smile as I opened the door to leave the house. Something was up, but I didn't know what.

Outside, I became even more dismayed. There in front of the house was the work team, already hitched to the big sled. Whatever it was we were going to do wasn't going to be a short, quick, little job. I could tell. We never hitched up the big sled unless we were going to haul a big load. Pa was already up on the seat, reins in hand. I reluctantly climbed up beside him. The cold was already biting at me. I wasn't happy.

When I was on, Pa pulled the sled around the house and stopped in front of the woodshed. He got off and I followed. "I think we'll put on the high sideboards," he said. "Here, help me."

The high sideboards! It had been a bigger job than I wanted to do with just the low sideboards on, but whatever it was we were going to do would be a lot bigger with the high sideboards on.

When we had exchanged the sideboards Pa went into the woodshed and came out with an armload of wood---the wood I'd spent all summer hauling down from the mountain, and then all fall sawing into blocks and splitting. What was he doing? Finally I said something. "Pa," I asked, "what are you doing?" "

You been by the Widow Jensen's lately?" he asked.

The Widow Jensen lived about two miles down the road. Her husband had died a year or so before and left her with three children, the oldest being eight. Sure, I'd been by, but so what? "Yeah," I said, "why?"

"I rode by just today," Pa said. "Little Jakey was out digging around in the woodpile trying to find a few chips. They're out of wood, Matt." That was all he said and then he turned and went back into the woodshed for another armload of wood. I followed him.

We loaded the sled so high that I began to wonder if the horses would be able to pull it. Finally, Pa called a halt to our loading, then we went to the smoke house and Pa took down a big ham and a side of bacon. He handed them to me and told me to put them in the sled and wait. When he returned he was carrying a sack of flour over his right shoulder and a smaller sack of something in his left hand. "What's in the little sack?" I asked.

"Shoes. They're out of shoes. Little Jakey just had gunny sacks wrapped around his feet when he was out in the woodpile this morning. I got the children a little candy too. It just wouldn't be Christmas without a little candy."

We rode the two miles to Widow Jensen's pretty much in silence. I tried to think through what Pa was doing. We didn't have much by worldly standards. Of course, we did have a big woodpile, though most of what was left now was still in the form of logs that I would have to saw into blocks and split before we could use it. We also had meat and flour, so we could spare that, but I knew we didn't have any money, so why was Pa buying them shoes and candy? Really, why was he doing any of this? Widow Jensen had closer neighbors than us. It shouldn't have been our concern.

We came in from the blind side of the Jensen house and unloaded the wood as quietly as possible, then we took the meat and flour and shoes to the door. We knocked. The door opened a crack and a timid voice said, "Who is it?"

"Lucas Miles, Ma'am, and my son, Matt. Could we come in for a bit?"

Widow Jensen opened the door and let us in. She had a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. The children were wrapped in another and were sitting in front of the fireplace by a very small fire that hardly gave off any heat at all. Widow Jensen fumbled with a match and finally lit the lamp.

"We brought you a few things, Ma'am," Pa said and set down the sack of flour. I put the meat on the table. Then Pa handed her the sack that had the shoes in it. She opened it hesitantly and took the shoes out one pair at a time. There was a pair for her and one for each of the children---sturdy shoes, the best, shoes that would last. I watched her carefully. She bit her lower lip to keep it from trembling and then tears filled her eyes and started running down her cheeks. She looked up at Pa like she wanted to say something, but it wouldn't come out.

"We brought a load of wood too, Ma'am," Pa said, then he turned to me and said, "Matt, go bring enough in to last for awhile. Let's get that fire up to size and heat this place up."

I wasn't the same person when I went back out to bring in the wood. I had a big lump in my throat and, much as I hate to admit it, there were tears in my eyes too. In my mind I kept seeing those three kids huddled around the fireplace and their mother standing there with tears running down her cheeks and so much gratitude in her heart that she couldn't speak. My heart swelled within me and a joy filled my soul that I'd never known before. I had given at Christmas many times before, but never when it had made so much difference. I could see we were literally saving the lives of these people.

I soon had the fire blazing and everyone's spirits soared. The kids started giggling when Pa handed them each a piece of candy and Widow Jensen looked on with a smile that probably hadn't crossed her face for a long time. She finally turned to us. "God bless you," she said. "I know the Lord himself has sent you. The children and I have been praying that he would send one of his angels to spare us."

In spite of myself, the lump returned to my throat and the tears welled up in my eyes again. I'd never thought of Pa in those exact terms before, but after Widow Jensen mentioned it I could see that it was probably true. I was sure that a better man than Pa had never walked the earth. I started remembering all the times he had gone out of his way for Ma and me, and many others. The list seemed endless as I thought on it.

Pa insisted that everyone try on the shoes before we left. I was amazed when they all fit and I wondered how he had known what sizes to get. Then I guessed that if he was on an errand for the Lord that the Lord would make sure he got the right sizes.

Tears were running down Widow Jensen's face again when we stood up to leave. Pa took each of the kids in his big arms and gave them a hug. They clung to him and didn't want us to go. I could see that they missed their pa, and I was glad that I still had mine.

At the door Pa turned to Widow Jensen and said, "The Mrs. wanted me to invite you and the children over for Christmas dinner tomorrow. The turkey will be more than the three of us can eat, and a man can get cantankerous if he has to eat turkey for too many meals. We'll be by to get you about eleven. It'll be nice to have some little ones around again. Matt, here, hasn't been little for quite a spell." I was the youngest. My two older brothers and two older sisters were all married and had moved away.

Widow Jensen nodded and said, "Thank you, Brother Miles. I don't have to say, "'May the Lord bless you,' I know for certain that He will."

Out on the sled I felt a warmth that came from deep within and I didn't even notice the cold. When we had gone a ways, Pa turned to me and said, "Matt, I want you to know something. Your ma and me have been tucking a little money away here and there all year so we could buy that rifle for you, but we didn't have quite enough. Then yesterday a man who owed me a little money from years back came by to make things square. Your ma and me were real excited, thinking that now we could get you that rifle, and I started into town this morning to do just that. But on the way I saw little Jakey out scratching in the woodpile with his feet wrapped in those gunny sacks and I knew what I had to do. So, Son, I spent the money for shoes and a little candy for those children. I hope you understand."
I understood, and my eyes became wet with tears again. I understood very well, and I was so glad Pa had done it. Just then the rifle seemed very low on my list of priorities. Pa had given me a lot more. He had given me the look on Widow Jensen's face and the radiant smiles of her three children. For the rest of my life, whenever I saw any of the Jensens, or split a block of wood, I remembered, and remembering brought back that same joy I felt riding home beside Pa that night. Pa had given me much more than a rifle that night, he had given me the best Christmas of my life.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Book Review - Prepper's Survival Hacks - 50 DIY Projects

I was just provided a copy of Jim Cobb’s latest book, Prepper's Survival Hacks by the publisher in exchange for an impartial review. Like his previous books, I am glad to say that I read this one. Topics in this book range from water and food acquisition to fire, lighting, survival kits and more! Need to know how to make an emergency water filter or how to be prepared at work? Yep, that’s covered and so much more. Focusing on 50 Do-It-Yourself projects, this book will leave you saying, “Why didn’t I think of that?” while at the same time making you thankful that Jim did think of it! 

From start to finish, this cool book is chock full of succinct and very practical, easy to put together hacks from everyday materials that will help to make your life easier if times get tough or even if they don’t. This book deserves a spot on your prepper/survival library shelf!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Tennessee Naturalist - Invertebrates

This is the forth video in my Naturalist Series and the third video of the classes that I'm taking to become a Certified Tennessee Naturalist. This class was called "The World of Invertebrates:  Pollinators, Predators, Pests and Parasitoids". The class was wonderful a very knowledgeable instructor and staff.

The class covered:

- Characteristics and life cycles of insects
- Identification of insects using keys
- Overview of other arthropods (spiders, isopods, mites, etc.)
- Methods of collecting and observing insects and other arthropods- Ecological roles of arthropods

You can watch this video here.


Owl's Hill Nature Sanctuary:
Tennessee Naturalist Program:

Friday, October 16, 2015

Owl's Hill 5Th Anniversary - Mack Prichard

Today marks the 5th year anniversary of Owl's Hill's Tennessee Naturalist Program. After church, our youngest DD and myself will me heading over there to hear Mack Prichard speak.

For those that live in Tennessee and don't know, Mack is our State Naturalist Emeritus, State Geologist Emeritus and was VERY instrumental in the founding of a lot of our state parks and natural areas.

This should be pretty cool!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Tennessee Naturalist Program - Volunteering (Chinese Privet and Bush Honeysuckle)

I just posted another video in my Tennessee Naturalist series. This one talks about volunteering and how to identify Chinese Privet and Bush Honeysuckle.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

National Public Lands Day - Invasive Plant Clean-up, Part 2

I just got back from National Public Lands Day where I had the privilege to lead and to work along side of some amazing Scouts. It was a great morning and these guys worked very hard to clear Bush Honeysuckle and Chinese Privet from Old Fort Park.

I highly recommend these types of volunteer opportunities for those looking to give back as they are a great way to show good environmental stewardship.

Simpler Times Homestead's photo.

National Public Lands Day - Invasive Plant Clean-up, Part 1

Well, I'm off to fulfill some volunteer hours for my Certified Tennessee Naturalist Program. I'll be leading a group of people in invasive plant removal.

Have a nice morning!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Good Story

I understand that corn can't pollinate that far away, but it's a good story none-the less!

There was a farmer who grew excellent quality corn. Every year he won the award for the best grown corn. One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learned something interesting about how he grew it. The reporter discovered that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbors. “How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbors when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?” the reporter asked.

“Why sir,” said the farmer, “Didn’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.”
So is with our lives... Those who want to live meaningfully and well must help enrich the lives of others, for the value of a life is measured by the lives it touches. And those who choose to be happy must help others find happiness, for the welfare of each is bound up with the welfare of all...
-Call it power of collectivity...
-Call it a principle of success...
-Call it a law of life.
The fact is, none of us truly wins, until we all win!!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Book Finds - Peterson's Guide

With the upcoming Certified Tennessee Naturalist program that I am going to be going through, some of the tools of the trade that I am going to need including some Peterson's Guides.

While I am out at library sales and at Goodwill, I am constantly on the lookout for books that will be a good addition to my homesteading/naturalist library and ones that will benefit for me in my quest to live a self-sufficient lifestyle.

While at a library sale, I came across this book, which I was able to purchase for .50! While this book was published in 1951 and is is not the most recent edition of the guide, it is a very neat addition to the library, none-the-less!

Always stop and look through older books. You never know what you are going to find!

Friday, July 24, 2015

I'm In... The Certified Tennessee Naturalist Program!

I wanted to share with you all something that I am very excited about. I have the opportunity to enroll to become a certified Tennessee Naturalist! This has been something that I've wanted to do for the past 3 years, but didn't have the available funds until enrollment this year!

The program, whose classes will be taught by experts in their various areas at a Owl's Hill, a local nature sanctuary is 80 hours long.

During this time, I will receive 40 hours of instruction on various aspects of the state's natural history such as geology, flora, wildlife, watersheds -- as well as exposure to ecological concepts and conservation issues. Additionally, I will need to complete 40 hours of volunteer service to earn my certification.

During the course of the classes as well as afterwards, I will  join a corps of Tennessee Naturalist volunteers providing education, outreach, and service dedicated to the appreciation, understanding, and beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities.

My interest all started when I came across an article that author and naturalist Margie Hunter wrote at the founding of the Owl's Hill program that said, "We've spent a portion of our adult lives pursuing careers in sundry occupations, and one day we find ourselves wishing we’d majored in biology or botany or ecology or geology and spent our lives outside studying this earth and its marvelously varied forms of life. Well take heart fellow nature lovers, there’s a Tennessee Naturalist program under development that is just for us.” Having read that and feeling that that described me to a tee, I decided to dig in more and more to the program and see what I could find out. Once I read more I fell in love with the program before I even took it.

Throughout the year that it's going to take me to complete the 10 areas of focus, I am going to try to chronicle my journey, what I learn and what I do as it unfolds.

Eventually, I am hoping that this will enable me to obtain a job in natural education where I'll be able to spend time in Nature while educating the public.

Stay tuned for what happens next!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Prepper's Financial Guide - BOOK REVIEW

I recently received a copy of Prepper's Financial Guide: Strategies to Invest, Stockpile and Build Security for Today and The Post-Collapse Marketplace by Jim Cobb. This book was provided to me by the publisher for my consideration, objective thoughts and opinions.

I can honesty say that I’ve never heard of an entire book that looks at prepping financially… until now. The Prepper’s Financial Guide has great information for anyone with any concerns about their financial future whether it’s in our current economy or in the aftermath of a financial collapse.  The book covers practical topics, listed with pros and cons with well thought out steps that anyone can implement.

Jim Cobb starts off this book with a great history lesson of hard economic times from around the world, explained in easy to understand sections. While I knew of the situations that were discussed, I learned that I didn’t know what I thought that I knew. I now understand the causes for the individual crisis as well
as their interdependencies.

Next, the book gives some practical advice for reducing debt as well as making and saving money. Following this, currency then precious metals and minerals and how to reliably obtain them are explained in easy-to-understand detail.

Midway through the book, Mr. Cobb discusses the popular topic of barter and trade with some common and out-of-the-box ideas as well as necessary skills to have so that you will be able to have recurring income. Following this, the author discusses various ways, including pros and cons of safeguarding your wealth

The best thing that I liked about this book in addition to the main topic mentioned is the author’s encouragement during the entire journey towards financial preparedness. Jim Cobb lays out practical, easy-to-follow strategies that will result in a lifestyle change for the better that will yield great results for the reader, even in the event that we never see a financial collapse.