Friday, January 24, 2014

Prepping for Spring

This is the time of year when I really get the itch for Spring. I find myself spending hours poring over garden catalogs trying to decide what I want to plant in the coming year. I've really been wanting to try some different vegetables like garlic and potatoes.

I finally ordered some seeds from the Seed Savers Exchange. While I've spent years researching heritage breed livestock, I'm not terribly familiar with heirloom fruits and vegetables. I am overwhelmed with the varieties available! I was especially taken with the beans. So many dazzling colors and patterns!

                                 Tiger's Eye

                  Bumble Bee
 Jacob's Cattle

Painted Pony (I ordered this one)

I had a difficult time deciding on varieties, but this was what I finally settled on:

  • Edmonson cucumber
  • Black Beauty zucchini
  • Dwarf Blue Curled Kale
  • Christmas Lima Bean
  • Prize Pac choy
  • Painted Pony bean
  • Golden Sultan bean
  • Florence fennel
  • Ancho Gigantea pepper
  • Strawberry popping corn
I have pretty limited garden space, so some of these may get planted at my parents' farm. If our garden soil was cultivated I would have ordered some seed potatoes to put in the ground. I hate that we let the garden get away from us last year, but I'm eager to reclaim it as soon as we put this super cold spell behind us. (It was 5 degrees this morning - pretty cold for middle Tennessee!)

We were informed today that we will NOT be paying for propane until after July 1st. Such a huge relief! Now we can relax a little (and turn the thermostat back up to 68!). Without that looming heavy over us now, we can focus on other things...

I had to do some searching but I was able to dig up my construction plans for our rabbit shed (complete with coffee stain) that I drew up last year. I am SO READY to buy materials and get busy building, especially before Mark's family medical leave runs out. 

It looks like the Creme d'Argent breeder should have breeding stock available sometime in March. We should have everything ready by then (hopefully). 

I'm getting really excited about this year's projects!

We are still making the goal of moving out to my parents' property a priority, after we get the Xterra payed off. Setting up a yurt is still very appealing to us, because we won't have a mortgage to worry about. We could live there until we had enough money to build a real house. With one small child it shouldn't be too difficult to downsize our living space. 

We've spent the last few days tucked into our drafty ranger house, bundled to the teeth with the thermostat set in the low 60's. Now with it cranked back up to 68 I'm starting to sweat! :)

We took our 2 year old German Shepherd to the vet yesterday for shots, and discovered she now weighs 100 pounds! HUGE for a female shepherd. Most of the dogs pretty well ignore the new little person in the house except for her. I have a feeling they will be buddies.

It's hard to believe that just a few days ago it was in the upper 50s and we were enjoying a little trout fishing from our kayak below the dam! It was my first fishing trip since the day before Ian was born, so I was ecstatic. Hopefully we will have another nice day soon where we can leave our sleeping son with my mom again.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Too Comfortable?

Time to shake off the doom and gloom of the last post. We've honestly been more excited at the possibilities presented by our changing circumstances (at least for now).

It takes a few steps outside your comfort zone to cultivate positive life changes.

We have honestly been too comfortable. Lazy even. Too much comfort dims your wits and dulls the senses. With the exception of Ian coming into our lives, we've been pretty static.

Now we have a LOT to think about. How to reduce food and energy costs is a big one.

Another thing that the state had been covering was our Satellite TV. It ended up being a nice bonus, since they came and installed it in the cabins and office a few years back. We were informed that that is going away too, but that's really no big deal. I've done without TV before, and you never miss it like you think you will. In fact, you find out very quickly how much more productive your life becomes. So I'm counting that as a big plus. (Of course, we still have movies and the PS3, so we won't be completely without distractions).

Maybe we can really tackle our mountain of STUFF that has accumulated throughout the years. I sometimes feel like we are drowning in it. I always blame the lack of storage space in this house. But maybe that's not the problem. I am very willing to live with less. Our society teaches us to always be grabbing for more and more and more. Upgrade! Upsize! Clutter creates so much noise in the mind. I'm ready for more quiet.

During my affordable housing search (yurts primarily), I came across an inspiring blog detailing the lives of a young family blazing a trail in the wilderness of Maine. She shares their experiences living year round in a fabric yurt as they build their dream home from the ground up. I was downright convicted about how entrenched we have become in our STUFF, missing out on a simpler, more meaningful way of life. Now that we have a son to raise, I am determined to change all that more than ever.

Speaking of Ian, we watch him change and grow every day.

He's becoming much more vocal, and already spends a lot of time talking to us.

Such a happy baby.

We kind of fell off our whole foods wagon the last few months. Late pregnancy fatigue and baby-induced sleep deprivation dampened my enthusiasm for cooking from scratch (or doing much of anything other than sleeping).

So we are slowly getting  back on the horse.

I found a recipe for elderberry gelatin snacks and really wanted to give them a try. They combine nourishing gelatin with vitamin C-rich elderberries and raw honey for an antioxidant powerhouse of a snack. Today I made the syrup that will go into that recipe.

  It smelled fantastic as it was simmering away on the stove.

Such a lovely deep purple. Tastes great too.

As we begin to wean ourselves from the television, spontaneous solo concerts ensue.

Not everyone is impressed, however.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Big Changes Coming

We have lived very comfortably in our state furnished park housing for about 6 years now. It's a great perk of the job to have free housing provided, especially with such low pay. Being on call 24-7 for the public is the main reason for living on site. Even though you have the occasional bewildered guest stop by the house to ask for directions, or those emergency phone calls in the middle of the night (like somebody in the cabins is out of toilet paper), it is still worth it.

Unfortunately, all of that is getting ready to change. The current administration has been slowly chipping away at what has made our parks the number one in the nation for many years - its rangers. Rangers are expensive. They're expensive to train, expensive to house..... and this administration wants to look like it is saving you (the taxpayer) more money and bringing more revenue in for the state. At what cost?

Last year we were informed that we would have to start paying rent. However they gave the rangers a pay raise that covered those costs, so it had little immediate effect. It just looked better on paper I guess. However it made us all suspicious.

This week they dropped the big bomb on us - without any adjustment in pay, we are now required to pay for utilities and propane. To the average citizen this doesn't seem like such a big deal: "I have to pay my bills, why shouldn't they?"

First of all, as I've mentioned in previous posts, these are not fine dwellings. Poorly constructed, poorly insulated (or not at all). Infested with brown recluse spiders, outdated wiring inside walls where countless rodents scramble and gnaw. And we've got a pretty decent house compared to a lot of them throughout the state. Some are infested with black mold, and others have huge gaping holes in floors and walls. The state almost NEVER spends a dime on fixing these problems. Just last year we were all promised new windows. Then they changed their minds and were only going to replace the rotten ones (there are a lot of those). Then the money just "disappeared." (This little disappearing act seems to happen a lot where government officials are concerned.)

So now we are expected to take on the burden of the astronomic heating and cooling costs, and all the while the administration is singing their praises for how "green conscious" they have become. "See? Look how little the state is paying for energy!" Meanwhile rangers and their families struggle on 2 or 3 incomes, forced to rely on food stamps and other government assistance.

The whole reason park housing was established in the first place was for YOUR safety. If you fall and break and ankle on the trail, you don't want to wait for over a 1/2 hour for EMS to arrive at the park (in a lot of parks they're even further away). And you are really lucky if they can even find you. They are not trained for that. Rangers are. Not only are they only a few minutes away, they usually have no trouble finding your exact location.

Or maybe it's 2am and you're in the campground. Some crazy, intoxicated person is threatening you and your family with a baseball bat. Good luck getting the police department there in time to save you.

Rangers also used to receive a stipend for living off the park, if no park housing was available. Guess what? Gone. So most of us are stuck in limbo. Can't afford to stay, and can't afford to leave. Many of the most passionate and accomplished rangers are beginning to look for other jobs. Young people considering this as a career will really think twice. It's a great way to get rid of those pesky expensive rangers. Just think of all the money we could save if they all just went away. We are heading that direction, my friends.

Our amazing state parks are circling the drain. While rangers struggle and fall by the wayside, the powers that be are creating new useless positions ("look at all these jobs we've created!") that pay 3 times our salary.

It's a sad, sad situation.

Granted, we knew we couldn't stay here forever. We periodically look around at houses and land for sale in our area. But for the first time, we are serious. While we know we would be paying even more in the way of utilities and living expenses, at least it would be an investment with a return. Of course, the real problem is being able to save enough for a down payment.

It is very important to me that I stay home with my son as long as possible (a year, if possible). Now that we are facing more bills and less pay, I feel burdened to return to the work force sooner than I had hoped.

Mark insists that we can still make it work, and continue to pursue raising more of our own food. So we shall see.

This change has spurned an interesting discussion between us though. And gave us a [kind of crazy] idea. Why not live in a yurt?

My parents have a farm not too far away that they are willing to us. We've talked about building there before, but now we are seriously considering it. A yurt is a much cheaper option than building a house from the ground up. And they are just so darn beautiful! So the discussion continues. At least we have a goal to save towards. I really relish the freedom of 40 acres to improve and run livestock on......

For now we dream, and wait for the pain and anguish of writing that first paycheck that we were never meant to pay.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Rising from the ashes.......... a blog revival

 I didn't really want to be one of those people that enthusiastically started a blog then abruptly abandoned it.

But............. I did.

No matter. I'm taking up the reigns once again and rekindling the projects that got set on the back burner for almost a year. There's a good reason for that, by the way........

... and his name is Ian!

We found out we were expecting him not too long after my last blog post. Obviously we had to turn our minds to preparing for welcoming him into our family. Then there was the adjustment that followed.

Now that he's 2 1/2 months old and I'm finally getting more sleep, my world has opened up again to other things. I still really want to expand our homesteading venture.

So I'm picking up pretty much where we left off.

Ducks & rabbits!

I still think that the critically endangered Silver Appleyard will suit our preferences for eggs, meat and foraging abilities.

Luckily, I'm not too late to order them. So today the order form is getting sent off along with the check, and sometime this spring our adorable balls of fluff will be arriving at the post office. They are a small farm in Oregon that specializes in critically endangered breeds, and I am thrilled to support their preservation efforts.

As for the rabbits, I still really like the Creme d'argent breed. However, that will require a 5 hour drive to the closest breeder I could find. I'm not sure how well that will work with an infant, but we'll see. Perhaps we can meet the breeder at a show somewhere.

We still have our laying chickens - well, two of them. The day before Ian was born I accidentally backed over my beloved, Truvy. It was horrible.

We raised 6 more red sex-links in March, and I ended up sending them all to my parents' farm. However I'm planning on Shanghai-ing a few of them one of these nights and adding them in to my flock. Two eggs a day just doesn't cut it.

So what else came to pass in 2013?

We buried my faithful companion of 15 years,

We fished the Caney a lot,

We hiked the Appalachian balds,

We vacationed at the Gulf and fished some more,

I got huge,

Ian was born.

Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. :)

Maybe from here on out I can go less than a year between blog posts.

No promises, though.

Hints of Spring (a back issue)

[This was intended for publishing in March of 2013]

I decided that 3 chickens wasn't quite enough for our homestead. Even with them laying every day, we often don't have enough eggs for extra recipes (and I like being able to give some away to friends).

So on an errands run I happened to pop into Tractor Supply and see what they had. I really only needed ONE chick. But chicks are much happier in a group, so I settled on 2. Come to find even Tractor Supply has a minimum order, so I ended up taking home 6 fuzzballs. I'll probably just keep one or two, and send the rest to my parents' farm. They could always use more chickens, hehe.

They are the generic "red pullet" variety, which I'm pretty sure are just the red sex-links. I have been impressed with the ones I got last year.

Spring is rapidly approaching. New plants are sprouting everywhere!

Spring Beauties have been blooming for awhile now. These apparently have edible tubers that taste like radishes when fresh, and potatoes when cooked. However the roots are about the thickness of a pencil, so I've never been motivated to dig up hundreds to make a meal out of them.

I've got my plans drawn up for our rabbit shed, and have a pretty good idea what I want it to look like. Unfortunately money is tight right now, so we will have to put off purchasing materials for a little while. Some of the lumber can probably be re-purposed from other family members, and I know my dad has metal roofing we can use. So it'll just be a matter of buying plywood and lattice. I'm ready to start building now!

Then of course there is the cost of the rabbits themselves, and the gas for the 300+ mile trip to pick them up.

New tires, groceries, doctor's bills, vet bills, car payments, internet, sporting licences, phone, meat CSA................ sigh.......

We've managed to survive just fine on one income since last July, but the sooner I can start working the better. Looks like that won't be until next month.

Of course, this happy little item is what has set us back so much this year.....

But we have been enjoying the heck out of it and will continue to for many years to come. Of course, after buying it, all we can afford to do for fun is kayak! Not that that's a bad thing... :)

Our weather has been decidedly bipolar this winter. Tuesday was a prime example of this. We woke up to 60 degrees and thunderstorms....

It's hard to see in this picture but the rain is pouring and the chickens are huddled miserably inside the chicken tractor

Then we watched as the temperatures plummeted to the 30's and a blizzard blew in later that night.

This weekend is going to be GORGEOUS, 60's and sunny, which will only add to my frustration. I'm sure I can keep myself busy.