A Simpler Life

Building a Driveway Gate

Martin ParmerThe journey to building our home on our new homestead will require many projects. One project I recently completed was building a driveway gate. I researched designs on the web and other various other places, and I came up with a plan for a double main gate across the driveway, each side having wings that angle away from the main posts towards the woods. I did a rough sketch of the concept in advance, but mostly winged it onsite.

From the basic design, I knew I wanted strong posts at the edge of the driveway to hold the gates, because, at approximately 6.5-feet each, they would be relatively heavy. So I dug in 6x6 treated posts at each side of the driveway and concreted them in. The wings on each side would be about 14 feet long, so I divided them into two, 7-foot sections. This required digging in and concreting two 4x4 posts on each side at the appropriated space and angle. I used my rough sketch to place things and measured the spacing. I used a framing square to make sure I was consistent on both sides. Here’s how they looked just after being concreted in:


For the gates themselves, I found a hardware product called “Easy Gate” that promised it wouldn’t sag, and I got the heavy-duty versions because I knew these gates would be large and heavy. I built the gates per the directions, and they have worked out fine! Here is a pic of the gates after they were installed, but before the pickets were installed:


The rails linking the posts are just 2x4x8's that I cut to fit. Now the structure was ready for the pickets. I never have built a gate before, so I really didn’t know what kinds of 1x6 lumber would be available to use for the pickets. I first priced using normal 1x6’s, but they were awfully expensive. One day while I was poking around on the net, an ad came up showing fence pickets at a big box store for less than 2 dollars apiece. So I went and looked at them, and they worked out great. They may warp a little over time, and if they do, I’ll deal with it.

Then I was able to calculate the spacing between the pickets to make them work out with the spacing I had between the posts, and I figured out how many to buy. It took about 80 of these pickets, and painting them was quite a chore. I did them in two batches, and here’s what the gate looked like after Batch 1.


During all this time, I looked for things to dress it up once it was finished, and I found some copper caps for the posts that look really nice. The caps for the 6x6’s are actually solar lights that come on at night. Also, I found a rugged latch for the lock on the front. We are going to landscape around the gates next spring to make them look nicer. We would have done that work this fall had it not been for the drought conditions in our area.

So, after much planning and work, we finished up our gate project, and we think it looks wonderful.

completed gate 

After seeing the completed project, I feel like it looks a little too commercial in style, so maybe there are some things we can do to tone it down. Perhaps painting it a nice forest green? Adding other decoration of some kind? I suppose the sky is the limit, right? I would love to hear your ideas!

Please read our other Capper's Farmer blogs, and visit our web page at parmerhomestead.com. It’s still under construction, but it has more details about our plans! Also, send us a note at parmerhomestead@gmail.com. We’d love to hear from you!

Mountain Night

Martin ParmerAs our children grew old enough to look after themselves for a few hours, my wife and I began a routine of going out on Saturday night for a date night and some “us” time. This has now been going on for over a decade. We both look forward to this time and rarely miss a week. We feel like it has made our marriage stronger and happier. But what I really want to tell you about is an additional night together we started a few years ago, and we call it our “mountain night.”

Now for the disclaimer: I have no training in — and do not claim any skills in — relationship building or repair. I offer this story because it is ours, and it is the truth. Please adopt the ideas presented here with this in mind, and adjust them to your situation as required.

The issues with relationships are complex. Experts will often tell you that the secret to having and improving a troubled relationship is communication. Communication with trust (I have been told) is the key to building a successful team. Now, I believe my wife and I got to know each other better and really communicated on all those “mountain nights” we shared together. Over the years we discussed at length many issues surrounding our families, our beliefs, our goals, our jobs, our love for each other, and our thoughts about how we should live out the rest of our lives. We were able to talk about the many things we have in common. And often, we could counsel each other through difficult times (usually brought on by our jobs). Through it all, we came to the decision that we wanted to sell our large and mostly empty house. We wanted to find some land on which to homestead. Homesteading to us means to live in a small house, grow as much of our own food as possible, and lead as simple a life as possible. Through our time together on our mountain nights, we found that we really didn’t need or want much more than that.

Our “mountain night” works as follows — your version will most likely look different as you adapt the concept to your own circumstances:

During the work week, normally on a Wednesday or Thursday night, we pack up a sandwich and some water and ride up into the mountains near our home. There are many quiet roads in these mountains; much of it is National Forest Land. If the weather is nice, we might find a remote campsite and build a small fire. During cold weather we may just sit in the car in a place with a view. That view might just be a quiet forest, but to us it is still a view. There we will enjoy a sandwich and the quiet. We’ll usually be home in a couple of hours. But in the meantime we are able to talk to one another. There’s no pressure to talk, though; on some nights we don’t say that much. We both are fine with it either way. We enjoy the fresh air, seeing some wild critters of one sort or another, and just having some time away from the fast pace of our daily lives. During our time on the mountain, I’ve often made the comment that we are “weird. Here we are, way off up here in the mountains, missing all that really great reality TV."

Anyway, we really got to know each other better. We’ve all heard the tragic stories of couples whom after decades of marriage figured out that they didn’t know each other any longer and the results that brings. We didn’t want that to happen to us. We’ll both admit that there were a few nights when we really let it all out and talked through some issues that could have become problematic later had we not got them out in the open. Mostly though, we were able to talk about things with love and gradually agree on a plan to find a few acres, build a small house, plant a small garden, and live out our later years there. How’s that for wringing out complexity from your life? We did it by spending time together and communicating. I really don’t think it’s more complicated than that.

Since then, we’ve been able to put a plan to work that has us owning a piece of land. We’ve been able to work on our land as time has allowed. We’re also working on our current house to ready it to be sold. Yes, if you’ve read my blogs, you’ll notice a common theme — work. Work is something neither of us is afraid of, and we welcome the work involved in building a homestead. There’s certainly no mystery about that.

Are you really communicating with your spouse? Could you use a “mountain night,” too?

Photo by Fotolia/vovik_mar

Please follow our blog here on Capper's Farmer and visit our website: parmerhomestead.com

Email us at parmerhomestead@gmail.com. We’d love to hear from you!

Downsizing Our Stuff

Martin ParmerOur journey to a homestead has continued in earnest lately. Our primary focus right now is preparing our current home to be sold. There are many small projects to do, like patching sheet rock, painting, and replacing broken floor tiles. But the one project that we’ve really been focusing on lately is getting rid of stuff. Like most couples, we’ve accumulated way more stuff than we really need. We then maintain a home much bigger than we need to hold it all. The insanity has to end somehow.

After our daughter graduated from pharmacy school and had gone to work, our efforts to move her things and the remaining stuff that belongs to our son intensified. Except for an odd item or two, we carried her last load down to her house last week. It is true that we gave her a few items that were technically ours, but she wanted them, and she had the room for them. As the enormity of it all dawned on her, I couldn’t help but poke a little fun with her, because it was actually kind of funny seeing her realize exactly how much stuff it really was. She and her husband have only been married a little over a year, and they already have a house full of stuff! Our son has been married for several years and has had most of his stuff gone from our place for a while, but, as we’ve gone through the house, we’ve rounded up about another half of a truckload of his stuff that we still have. He’s supposed to go through this remaining load, but I imagine most of it will be donated. Speaking of truckloads ...

It has amazed me at how many truckloads of stuff I’ve not only carried down to my daughter's house, but how many I’ve carried to the dumpster and to the Salvation Army. It’s truly been incredible, and the fact remains that this is just Round One. As we continue to look to downsizing into a 1400-square-foot house, we’ll have to do another round or two of purging. On those rounds, I’m sure the decisions of about what to get rid of and what to keep will be much more difficult. Do we really need that picture of a nice building, the one we took 30 years ago and that we can’t remember where or what it is? Moreover, why in the world did we see it necessary to pay to print it in the first place?

Already though, many rooms all over our 3800-square-foot home have less and less stuff left in them. It feels odd to see the rooms as they are now compared to only a few months ago. Many people that have gone through this will tell you of a feeling of being liberated for having removed all that stuff laying around. I kind of sense what they’re talking about, but I think I still have quite a bit to do before I’ll be fully in that state of mind. I could include a picture of my garage, and of the tools I have sitting on a pallet in the backyard, but it would be too embarrassing. I also still have a queen-sized bedroom suite that I have been storing for my daughter for years that I have to get rid of. She finally agreed that she didn’t have room for Mawmaw’s bedroom furniture at her new place, so I have to find a way to donate/sell it off. Maybe opening up the space this mammoth set is taking up will be the ticket!

As I’ve spoken about before in my blogs, taking this journey requires work. But it’s work that has such great promise of reward. And, although we look forward to planting our first garden on our farm and watching that first flock of chickens poke around our yard, we still make the effort to enjoy the time at hand. Tomorrow holds no guarantees for anyone; only today can be truly enjoyed. And today, when I get home from work, I’ve got to jump on that garage. It’ll be work, but also fun!

overflowing dresser
Photo by Fotolia/Zarya Maxim

Please read our other blogs at the Capper's Farmer blog site, and visit our web page at parmerhomestead.com. It’s still under construction, but it has more details about our plans! Also, send us a note at parmerhomestead@gmail.com. We’d love to hear from you!


Martin ParmerMy dad was a minister. When I was very small, we owned 40 acres in Troupe Co. Georgia. I remember a couple of things about the old farm. He had issues with our cows getting sick. I think they called it “Black Leg”. Also, we owned an old mule named “Jack”. My oldest brother actually remembers plowing the fields with old Jack. Each week when we got back from Church on Sunday afternoon, the first thing we knew to do was to check on Jack. My dad and older brothers would spend a fair amount of the afternoon trying to find him, catch him, and get him back in the pasture. When his ministry moved him to a church in Franklin Co. Georgia, he sold our little farm. Dad never owned land again. He followed his calling and no one would fault him for that. I do know however, as a man, he missed owning land the rest of his life. He often talked of farming and of the farm he had to sell. He would remember his own dad who was a poor share-cropper and the years growing up when farming was their living. When we would be driving along the road, and would pass a field with a few cows grazing away, he would often comment that that was one of the prettiest sights he ever saw.

I was born in 1960. So, as a preacher's son, I never lived in a home that our family owned (at least after we left the farm). But growing up over the years and hearing my dad speak about farming and land, I developed a love for land and for spending time outdoors. I knew I wanted to own some land some day. One day when I was newly married along about 1984, I mentioned wanting to own land some day to a couple of older friends of mine, both of which owned at least 30 acres of land themselves. We were just standing around talking. They both warned me that owning land was fine but if you do, you have to “work the land” i.e. farm it, cut hay, etc. in order to afford it, especially the property taxes. They were, of course, absolutely correct and I don’t fault them for it. But, being a young man with many goals, I let it deter me from seeking to own land for many years. I let their words change my mind, but as I finally realized decades later, they didn’t change my heart.

Now, my wife and I have finally had a chance to (borrow money and) buy a little piece of land. We now own 5 acres in northeast Alabama. We live in northwest Georgia now but were unable to find reasonably-priced land here. Check some of my other blogs for lots of details about the work we’ve done on it so far. We’ve already invested quite a bit of sweat in clearing about a half acre in the middle of the 5 acres. Due to the danger of cutting the larger trees and the fact that I still would have to have the stumps dug up and hauled away, I gave up on the idea of cutting them myself. So, this week, we hired a construction company to clear the remaining trees and stumps. Also, they will put in the driveway. It will seem surreal I’m sure when we see the place again. Our hard work will continue, it’ll just be different. We’ll need to rake the ground, and get it ready to sow grass this fall (I hope). We will build our storage building/shop next as we also prepare our current house to be sold. We will also have the septic system installed as soon as money allows.

dozer work is done

Now, after a lifetime of working a job to support my family, I look forward to finally being able live on and work a piece of land I can really feel is my own. As I look back at the homes my wife and I have “owned” over the years, I realize the stark temporary nature of all of them. The reality of working in this country for most people is our jobs or other life changes cause us to move every 5 years on average. In terms of home ownership, my opinion is we might as well rent. But, if by chance you ever get the opportunity to buy even a small piece of land that will always be yours, jump on it! Perhaps on some sunny afternoon down the road, it will be your pasture that has a few cows on it grazing away. Perhaps, that sight will be the prettiest one a passerby has ever seen. Perhaps viewing that pasture from your front porch, you will agree.

Please visit our website at Parmer Homestead. It’s still under construction but can be viewed.

Also, please feel free to email us at parmerhomestead@gmail.com. We’d love to hear from you!

Dragging Poles, Encroachment and Native Azaleas

Martin ParmerWhen you clear a lot of trees, large or small, it’s a lot of work. When you have little or no equipment, it’s even more work. This past weekend, we finally had a day to go work on our little 5 acre property. We’ve had a really busy spring (check out my blog Grandchildren, Vacation, Retirement and Graduation). We have a 17.5 hp lawn tractor, so that’s what we used. We also have an old lawn size utility trailer. Note: I removed the mower deck to get more ground clearance.

Our work clearing the “opening” so far has involved cutting many small to medium size trees. We wanted to save as many “poles” as we could. These are merely lengths of relatively small logs that are nice and straight and about 6 or 8 feet long. Thusly, we have many piles of “poles” on the lot.

We also have plenty of large trees left to cut, but that is for another day. Knowing that at some point, we will have to hire heavy equipment to dig up stumps and level the lot, we thought it would be a good idea to centrally locate all our “poles”. So, we are stacking our “poles” in a central location that is out of the way of any dirt movement work that will have to be done later. I saw an article somewhere (may have been Capper's Farmer) that showed how to build a “no dig” fence using poles like these and I would like to experiment with it later as time and opportunity allows. If all else fails, I can cut them down into usable pieces of firewood.

So as we began to load this small utility trailer, it quickly became obvious to us that it would be slow going. The little trailer couldn’t handle very many of the poles before it became overloaded. Additionally, the little lawn tractor is not built for such tasks. It would spin and loose traction easily. Even with my considerable weight on it, the tractor just doesn’t have the heft to pull the size loads we need to pull. When we hooked up to one of the larger logs, the strap even bent the front wall of the trailer down towards its bed. I was able to beat it back into position with a splitting maul, but we knew at that point we were asking too much of the little trailer. So, we figured out that in order to move the bigger logs, we are going to have to buy either a UTV or a small tractor. Anyway after adjusting our strategy (I cut that big log into two pieces for example), we were able to move about half the poles. We will continue to use this rig for the balance of them on our next work day. Then we will be done until we can afford to buy a piece of equipment of some kind. That’s OK, we knew we’d have to at some point anyway.

Even with the difficulties we had, we accomplished much. Our driveway and “clearing” are looking better and better each work day. We are excited about making progress however slow it may be. We did have an unusual concern on this trip, however. On the lot that adjoins our property to the west, someone has started a house. The heavy equipment operator didn’t respect the property line and pushed downed trees and brush onto our side of the line. I found the phone number of the contractor and called to let him know about it and ask that it be cleaned up. He promised to look into the situation and let me know. The next day I got a call from the party responsible for the work that did the damage. The guy was extremely nice and promised it would be cleaned up within two weeks. I thanked him and kept the conversation positive. Construction work is seldom precise. I knew that having been around it all my life. The amount of damage was minimal and once they clean it up everything will be fine, I want to always be friends with my neighbors. No one wins by letting situations like this become adversarial.

Finally, as we prepared to leave, I went on a walk around the 5 acre lot. I often do this because I so enjoy looking at how the land lays and plan an endless number of projects to build on it, farm it, and otherwise enjoy it. My wife came along a few steps behind (we were tired, we work hard). We hadn’t ventured out too far when we both at the same time saw them. Native azaleas. My wife ran to get her camera. My wife and I both love all kinds of trees, bushes, etc but have always had a special admiration for native azaleas. They are so pretty when they bloom and have such a wonderful fragrance. We’ve often talked about planting some native azaleas on our property at some point. We’ll as it turns out, during our walk over our lot, we found many native azaleas. Wow, maybe even hundreds.

Someday, this place will be our home. Thanks for reading about our journey.

Where are you on your journey?

If you’d like to contact us, you can email us at parmerhomestead@gmail.com or visit our website at Parmer Homestead

native azaleas

Grandchildren, Vacation, Retirement and Graduation

Martin ParmerWe haven’t worked on our land now for over a month. It’s amazing at the things life can throw at you. I spent the winter planning and dreaming about the work I would get done once the weather got better. It certainly makes sense to do as much as one can before the hot summertime gets here. No bugs, good mild weather, but no work got done. Plenty of other stuff has been going on though…

In early February, my first grandson was born to my son and his wife. He’s a beautiful healthy boy for whom we are exceedingly grateful and proud. He’s our second grandchild. The first one was a beautiful, healthy and charming baby girl who will be 2 in May. I’m her Paw Paw and she is the absolute apple of my eye. I was one of those who saw grandparents dote over their grandchildren over the years and never quite understood it. I barely knew my grandmother on my mother's side and never met any of the other 3. But, now, I’m one of the worst. My little granddaughter has me “wrapped around her little finger” so bad it’s unbelievable. So anyway, we were excited to welcome our little grandson into the world and can’t wait for him to grow up into a fine young man as we know he will. We always look forward to seeing our children and grandchildren and now we hope our daughter and her husband will decide to have children as well. I believe a dozen grandchildren would be a nice round number.  

So by the time the birth of our grandson and all the goings on that accompany such an sizeable event passed by, it was time to go to our “time share” week in Florida. The time share was one of those monumental financial blunders I mentioned in my first blog. We enjoyed it when the kids were little. The maintenance fees were reasonable then and we took them to Disney World almost every year. The resort is nice and it is located in a very nice area only a few miles to the parks. However, we don’t go to the parks any longer and would like to get rid of the timeshare ownership. However, at the moment, they are all but impossible to sell. As a matter of fact, you can’t even give them away these days. Wow. So we dutifully trekked to Kissimmee and “took our vacation”. At this point I’m so tired of going to that one resort I almost would rather stay at home than go use it. But, since we have to pay the maintenance fees, we feel obligated to use it. So we did. It was ok, but I would really rather had been working on my homestead. That’s when you know you’re dedicated to your homestead project. You would rather be working there on your land than sitting by the pool in Florida. Yep, crazy, I know …

In the middle of all that’s been going on this year, my wife’s job has been getting more and more stressful. She’s been a federal government employee for over 35 years. Almost 2 years ago, she finally got a long-awaited promotion. I guess we’d have to say at this point it was a mistake. The job has gotten so stressful that she was having difficulty sleeping and let’s just say her overall outlook hasn’t been the most positive lately. We discussed many options over the past year or so but lately the issues have gotten even worse and discussing them with management brings no relief. It reached a breaking point a couple weeks ago and we agreed to look into her retirement options. We did, and they were favorable. So we made the extremely difficult decision for her to retire. We really wanted for her to be able to work a couple more years, but it just wasn’t in the cards. These days, not many employees manage to stay with an employer that long. When you have to tell your coworkers that you’re hanging it up it’s almost like losing family. Very difficult. So, her last day will be in early April. And now, after years of wondering when that day would come for her and what it would look like, we know.    

Just in case all the above life events going on wasn’t enough, in April, we have a major music festival we always go to. Then in early May, our daughter will graduate from the University of Georgia with her Doctor of Pharmacy degree. 2016 will be almost half over before we get a chance to come up for air!

It’s a good thing we allotted plenty of time to get that homestead going!

We look forward to a simpler life. Will it ever come? We hope so. We’re going to work that direction as hard as we can. In the mean time, I’ve got a retirement party to attend this weekend …

We’d love to hear from you. I’m sure there are others out there facing similar schedules.

Check out our website at Parmer Homestead.

Or email us at parmerhomestead@gmail.com.


Photo by Fotolia/poplasen

Pinto Beans and Cornbread

Martin ParmerAlthough my wife and I are fortunate enough to have many choices, sometimes we just want a batch of pinto beans and cornbread. (A slice of raw onion, on the side, of course is included). If you’re not from the South, perhaps you weren’t raised on this meal as we were but let me tell you, it’s delicious, easy, and cheap. When I sit down to eat this meal, I look at my plate and think about what it says about us and what we are trying to do. A major reason we are working very hard to build a homestead is to be able to do for ourselves as much as we can and to save money. We are both very fortunate to have been raised poor (huh?). We had to learn how to do things for ourselves. My father was a preacher. He had a little farm when I was very small but he gave it up to follow the ministry. And, to supplement the family income, he did a little carpentry, including wiring and plumbing. When I was getting close to driving age, I was allowed to work one summer on a house with him and accumulate my wages to buy my first car. Since then (with my oldest brother’s help) we’ve built two houses and now plan our 3rd and last house (our homestead). We bought 5 acres. 5 acres isn’t much land but it’s what we could afford and much more than the three quarter acre we live on now.

When I walk on our 5 acres of land, I feel a sense of home unlike I’ve ever felt before. I’m excited about the plans we have for the place and all the potential it has. It has a great spot to build a house and shop. There’s plenty of room to have a nice garden. My wife wants raised beds. I see that as no problem. There’s room to plant fruit trees, muscadine vines, and other things we would like to grow. The property is not as remote as we really wanted but it has decent privacy so we’re very happy with it. Our overall goal for our life there is a high level of self sufficiency combined with a simpler lifestyle. At this point while we juggle things like home, family, job, health, finances, friendships, etc things haven’t taken a turn for the simple yet. Our work on our future homestead is considerable. Since we’re going to do most of the work ourselves, only bringing in outside help when absolutely necessary, we have an enormous job in front of us. But we can do it. It reminds me of an old joke I heard one time. “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

What are the steps to take to make our lives simpler? There are tons of resources on the net that help with this question. Many of them will direct you to reduce possessions. Get rid of stuff. We all tend to accumulate “stuff.” Too much stuff. We then buy a bigger house, build an out building, rent a storage building. Why? So we can keep our “stuff.” If you really step back and think about this, is it not kind of crazy? Many people complain that they don’t have enough money, or don’t make enough money. But if you look at their possessions, often you will find tons of “stuff” they’ve spent their money on that they really didn’t need. I know we are definitely guilty of this. So as we proceed with our plan to build and live in a much smaller house, guess what? We are going to have to get rid of a bunch of “stuff” for sure. This is just one piece of the solution of moving to a simpler life. No doubt there are many others.

I thought of another example of making things simpler this week. Now, most of you will think this silly, however, it’s still an example of what I’m talking about. I have an old GPS unit in my truck. I’ve had it for years and rarely use it anymore. The functionality of GPS maps and trip routing on my smartphone works much better. But, I received an email from the manufacturer this week that an update is available for that GPS unit. I haven’t deleted that email yet. I’ve considered getting the unit out of the truck, carrying it inside, finding a cable to hook it up to a lap top, finding the website, trying to remember my password, probably won’t be able to, going through the trouble to reset it, finally getting the update downloaded, putting the GPS unit back into the truck. For what? All this time and trouble is really for nothing. What I should do is take that unit and give it away (I doubt anyone would want it) or just throw the thing away and unsubscribe to updates. I go through all this because it’s just a fact that we allow useless activities like this to build up on us until we just “can’t get it all done.” Nuts. Undoubtedly, there are many things just like this we could weed out of our lives to make them simpler.

For now though, my dinner is ready, thank goodness. Pinto beans and cornbread. Simple.

Check out our website at Parmer Homestead.

Or email us at parmerhomestead@gmail.com. We’d love to hear from you!

pic for pinto beans and cornbread blog