Almost Christmas

Even though we started planning our gift-giving back before Thanksgiving, somehow Christmas has snuck up on me this year.  We've barely decorated.  Shayne brought our little Christmas tree out of the basement, the only fake tree I've ever loved, and found that it will not light except in a band around the top.  I'm so very sad about it.  I figured that maybe this would be the ideal time to transition to a real tree, which I've always planned on doing.  And then I remembered that I have a toddler who LOVES to play in water.  And shake pole lamps.  So we're skipping the tree this year. 

I wrapped lighted garland around the stair banister, and it looks very pretty.  I also put out a wreath, some little decorations, and our nativity set.  But it just doesn't feel quite like Christmas without a tree.  I'm going to cut the lights off of it and re-light it after Christmas.  But with everything else going on this week, I just don't have time to do it before.  Plus, I want to wait for lights to go on sale.

I am excited about Ethan's Christmas.  We got him two gifts: a Melissa and Doug wooden tool kit, and a set of colored pins that nest into matching cups.  After reading some Montessori and Waldorf-y books, I'm more determined than ever to have as many natural toys as possible.  We got a lot of plastic toys for Ethan's birthday, and I'm trying to rotate them in and out so he only has one or two at a time.  The rest are wood. cloth, and other natural materials. 

I'm also excited about the gifts we got for others.  Since we started to early, we were able to really think about what each person might want or need.  And since we are essentially debt-free except for our house (thanks Dave Ramsey!!), we got to spend quite a bit more than we have in the past.  All cash.  I'm so excited!  Shayne and I really splurged for each other (he got a DeWalt drill set, I got a NookColor e-reader, and we replaced our broken Xbox with a new model with the Kinect sensor), but I don't feel guilty at all, since we could afford it.  Such fun!  We truly are blessed, and I thank God every day for the wonderful people and opportunities we have in our life.


150 by Christmas

I made a resolution about a month ago to get 150 things out of the house by Christmas.  I've been tracking my progress on a message board, but figured I should post it here as well.  Some of the items have been sold, others given away, and some were just trash.  Regardless, we have 85 less things in the house as of today.  Here is my list so far:

1. dish drainer (does it count if I replaced it with a new, folding one so doesn't take up any space in the cupboard?)

2. 1 book
3. small pile of paperwork/old bills
4. box of glass votive candle holders
5. 2 stuffed animals
6. 2 pairs of shoes
7. bag of plastic bags (recycled)
8. mylar balloons from DS's b-day
9. free sample disposable razor
10. borrowed book returned to owner
11. lots of straws and plastic silverware
12. old set of dishes (given to a friend)
13. plastic outdoor table and chairs set
14. small pile of maternity clothes
15. small box of baby toys
16. sippy cups
17. little box misc junk
18. small box of baby accessories to sell
19. old hangers
20. doorway jumper
21 - 35. 15 pieces of 0-3 month baby clothing (to sell)
36 - 46. 11 newborn "gowns" (to sell)
47 - 64. 18 unneeded diaper inserts (to sell)
65 - 72. 8 unneeded baby hand-me downs (to sell)
73. carseat bunting (to sell)
74. fleece jacket with holes
75. OLD Gore-Tex rain jacket
76. DH's barn coat
77. 2 tiny stuffed animals
78. replaced blender with single-serving version to free up cupboard space
79. DH's old socks (about 20 pair!) that he trashed
80. serving plate returned to owner
81 - 85. another pile of baby clothes

65 to go!


Chickens in the snow

I had read that chickens hate snow and won't walk around in it.  Mine must not have gotten the memo.

My buff Orpington has started laying, and we now get 3 eggs on most days.  Hers are a very light, almost pinkish tan.  The Australorp's are a light brown, and the Wyandotte is a darker, but still light, brown.  The other Australorp's comb and wattles are finally turning red, so hopefully she'll jump on the egg-laying wagon soon.  I keep expecting egg production to drop, since our days are getting shorter.  Everything I've read about chickens says that they need over 12 hours of daylight to continue laying (some even say at least 16 hrs).  Right now we get about 10 hrs, 45 minutes, and it's still decreasing.  I guess it's just another thing my chickens missed the memo about.


Year in Review: Homestead Harvest

This was a bit of a rough year; between working full-time and keeping up with the kidlet, I didn't really have much spare time at all.  Next year should be more productive, since Ethan will be able to "help" with gardening and cooking a bit more.  I'm really looking forward to teaching him about growing food and raising animals.  But even though this wasn't the most productive homesteading year, it was still a blast, and I'm really enjoying being a mommy.

As far as homegrown foods...  All that really survived our hot summer was the tomatoes and green beans.  The broccoli fried in the heat, and the carrots never even sprouted.  I wanted to plant potatoes and onions, but it never happened.  Neither did the spinach or lettuce.  Oh well.

I did make lots of jam.  I canned 6 half-pints of cherry butter, 9 half-pints of raspberry jam, and 15 half-pints of strawberry jam.  There were also 6 half-pints of strawberry ice cream topping (also great to add to yogurt).  And I still have a bunch of raspberries frozen in the freezer waiting for me to make them into jam.

The tomatoes were a big success.  I only planted Romas, and I canned 12 quarts of sauce using only my tomatoes.  I'm definitely planting more next year.

Frozen veggies...  Didn't happen.  I wanted to at least freeze some corn, but the harvest came and went before I even had a chance.  Oh well.

I've started on applesauce, and canned 6 quarts so far.  I plan on buying another bushel of apples at the market soon.  A yellow delicious and Empire blend seems to yield the tastiest sauce, in my opinion, but I might pick up some "mixed seconds" as well.  My goal is 18 - 20 quarts.

The best part of this year, and what makes up for the lack of productivity elsewhere, is the fact that we got chickens.  Even better is that they now lay eggs!  I got our cute little balls of fluff on May 4, and on October 11 my Wyandotte laid her first egg.  One of the Australorps started on October 22, and the buff Orpington looks like she'll be laying any day now.  The other Australorp seems to be a bit of a later bloomer.  But her wattles have gotten a little bigger, and her comb a bit pinker, so I'm hoping she'll get started soon as well.  Still, even 2 eggs per day is nice, and it's enough for me to share with others.  I'm not keeping track, even though I probably should, but I've gotten at least 4 dozen eggs so far. 

Chickens are so, SO easy.  All I have to do is shut the coop door at night, open it in the morning, and check to make sure they have food and water.  They pretty much feed themselves by free-ranging around the neighborhood, and eveny night they come home and put themselves to bed.  They require about as much upkeep as a gerbil, but with the bonus of producing food.  Can't beat that!

I'm thinking of adding 2 Easter Egger chickens if I can find some.  The only thing more fun than yard fresh eggs is blue or green yard fresh eggs!

I'm already getting excited for next year!  I want to order from seed catalogues instead of buying hybrid seeds from the garden centers around here.  I'll probably get seed potatoes locally, but that's it.  Time to start browsing the web to decide on varieties!


Toddling along...

I'm not sure that anyone really noticed my absence, but I haven't had any time to even think about updated recently.  About a month ago, Ethan took his first steps.  He's a little on the slow side of normal to hit his milestones, but when he starts to do something new, he does it well almost immediately.  Like rolling.  He practiced a bit, but once he rolled over once, he was constantly doing it.  And crawling...  He never got up on his hand and knees, never rocked, never seemed to practice.  Then one day he just took off.

It's been the same with walking.  He went straight from cruising the furniture to walking across the room.  He took 3 steps on his own to start with, and they've just multiplied exponentially from there.  Now he's almost running. 

On top of that, he spends every second trying to remove the contents from every cupboard or terrorize the dog.  And since he's so busy... so am I.  :)


The Monster Egg

I'm not sure which of the girls laid this one, but I can't imagine it was fun!
Looks like a double-yolker to me!


Backyard chickens: More eggs coming soon!

This is one of my Australorps, happily parked in the nest box.  I'm so proud of her.  I knew she'd be statring to lay sometime soon, since she was exhibiting signs of sexual maturity (large, bright red wattles and comb, squatting, and no longer shedding her neck feathers).  But I wasn't sure when she would lay, or if maybe she had already started.  Some hens don't lay in the nest box (my Wyandotte) or even the coop.  So since they free-range most of the day, I thought she may be laying in the woods, or the neighbors bushes, or Lord-knows-where-else.  I felt bad shutting all of the girls in just to see if one hen was laying, especially since there aren't many nice days left, so I was determined to wait for a rainy day to keep them all in the coop.

But apparently that won't be necessary.  This afternoon I came home from dropping Ethan off at his "grandparent's" house, and was greeted by only three happy chickens.  I checked the bushes, the neighbor's yard, and the woods before thinking that she might be in the coop.

And there she was, right where she was supposed to be, and hopefully working on laying an egg.

The first ones seem to take a while -- the Wyandotte sat on the nest for about 90-120 minutes for the first few days -- so I had to leave for work while she was still sitting in the nest box.

Let's hope she has something to show for all that sitting!


Backyard chickens: Scrambled eggs!

Since I collected my fifth egg today, I decided it was time to make some breakfast!  My mom came over after going to the farmer's market, so she got to share the feast.

I was going to do a side-by-side comparison of my "yard fresh" eggs with the all-natural eggs from the farmer's market.  But my mom didn't get any this week, and the ones I had in the fridge, while still good, are a few weeks old.  I didn't really think that would be fair.

But my eggs would have won anyways.

The first thing I noticed was that the shell was extremely hard.  I don't feed any supplemental calcium, just standard Nutrena layer crumbles, some table scraps, and whatever they find while free ranging.  I did get some oyster shell bits for winter, though, since they won't be able to range as much.

The second surprise was how orange the yolks were.  I had thought that the orange yolks from the market eggs were bright, and they certainly are when compared to a store-bought, factory-farmed egg.  But the yolk from my hens were BRIGHT orange.  The egg white was also a yellowish color, not clear.  How orange everything was became even more obvious once the eggs were cooked...

No Photoshopping.  The eggs are really this color!
It looks like I made scrambled yolks!
Surprise #3?  They tasted like eggs.  I had thought that maybe a truly fresh, free-range egg might taste... I dunno.  Eggier?  Kind of like milk from a grass-fed cow tastes different.  Nope.  Although a free-range egg does have more nutrients, the taste is the same.

So breakfast today was yard-fresh eggs (scrambled with local milk from grass-fed cows and cooked in homemade butter) and toast with homemade raspberry jam.  If I'd made my own bread, the entire meal would have been entirely homemade.  But it's close. 

I also noticed that one of my Australorps kept squatting while she was out ranging today.  That's supposed to be a behavior that comes right before egg-laying, so maybe soon we'll be getting 2 eggs per day!


Backyard chickens: Yard fresh eggs!

We haven't eaten any yet, but I've now collected 4 mini-eggs from the Wyandotte.  She seems to lay them between 10:30 and 11 am; if I go out there any earlier, she's sitting on the little nest she scooped out of the pine shavings in the coop. 

I have to say...  There's nothing cooler than collecting an egg that's still warm from the hen who laid it.


Backyard chickens: We have eggs!

After 5 months of not-so-patiently waiting, on Monday morning, I found our first egg!  It was tiny, smaller than a medium supermarket egg, but it was perfect.  I am disproportionately excited.  You'd think I had laid that egg myself!  Yesterday, I accidentally left the coop door open overnight, so the girls scampered out at first light, and the mystery layer must have laid an egg somewhere in the woods or bushes instead of in the coop.  But today I kept them shut in.  At 9:30 I went out to check on them, and my Wyandotte was sitting on a little impression she made in the pine shavings.  She's the most shy, but she didn't move when I came to the window.  I left to give her some privacy.

And by 11, we had another egg!

Our first eggs!  The first is on the bottom, today's is above it.  The white ones are extra large eggs from the market.
If I get another tomorrow I'll have enough for some scrambled eggs, so I'll take some comparison shots of our homegrown eggs with the farmer's market "all natural, cage-free" eggs.  The market operation isn't free-range, so I'll be interested to see the difference.


Christmas gift-giving poem and simplifying holiday shopping

Something you want,
Something you need,
Something to wear,
Something to read.

I just came across this poem on a message board, and I really like it.  Shayne and I have been discussing (even before we had a child) how to keep Christmas from turning into a toy explosion.  Obviously, the Christmas season is about Christ, but we do believe that giving generously is an expression and celebration of God's gifts to us.  So we're not anti-gift.  We just want to keep it in control for the little guy.  Especially since he's way too young to even know and appreciate what's going on!

This year, I'm determined to avoid the "It's two weeks before Christmas, what on Earth do I get so-and-so!" scramble.  One one hand, I hate thinking about Christmas this early, since it's not even Halloween.  But, on the other, I want to select thoughtful gifts for the people I love.  And I simply cannot do that when I'm pressed for time and caught up in the rest of the holiday rush.  We stay pretty calm about Christmas here, but with work, the baby, and other family commitments, we do get pressed for time.  And unless someone is saving for something large, I REFUSE to get gift cards. The only thing less personal is cash.

So, I got my Grandma's gift over the summer, and I just bought my mom's a few days ago.  I've got a LONG way to go, but at least it's a start!


The Dream

While I am much, MUCH happier with our house and property now than I was a year ago, I still have this dream of buying a house in the middle of nowhere.  We've been trying like crazy to simplify our lives, both physically in terms of excess possessions, as well as spiritually/emotionally.  It's harder than I expected.  Between work, family obligations, and my personal desires, I often feel like I'm being torn in two or three directions.  And our "stuff"...  We already have less than many people I know, but we still have some clutter and junk that we don't need or use.  It's a work in progress.  Thankfully, the living spaces of our home are pretty clutter free (excepting the kitchen, which seems to collect crap like nowhere else), and they feel much more serene as a result. 

But the embodiment of the simplicity dream, for me, is a cabin in the woods.  On vacations Up North as a child, we almost always stayed in vintage cottages - places with more charm than convenience.  There was one that had a makeshift bathroom on the screened-in back porch.  There was a tub on one side, a sink and toilet on the other, and the main entrance to the cabin ran right down the middle.  Another place didn't even have a tub.  Or a shower.  We bathed in the lake every time we stayed there.  We lived through rickety beds, mismatched furnishings that wouldn't fetch a dime at the Salvation Army store,and cranky vintage appliances for a week or two every summer.  And I loved it.

So when I was perusing the real estate ads (bad idea, I know) and found an "Up North Cottage" for sale right in the area where Shayne and I hope to someday move...  I fell in love.  Hard.

It's small, about 800 square feet including an addition, but it has more than enough personality to make up for it's size.  There's a fireplace, knotty pine paneled walls, hardwood floors, a vintage kitchen with drainboard sink, and 20 acres of meadows and woods surrounding it.  It's the closest I could ever get to Up North here in Indiana.

It was on the market forever.  And then one day, when I checked the ads for the first time in a while, it was gone.  I mulled it over for a few weeks, then decided to call the realtor to see if it had sold or just went off the market for a while. 

Nobody's bought it yet; the seller is just taking a break.

Maybe there's still hope.


The Great Purge of 2010

We have bulemia of possessions.  In the week before Ethan's first birthday party, Shayne decided to go through his boxes in the basement and get rid of everything he doesn't want or need.  I organized the dining room and bathroom.  The end result was a monster pile of trash in front of our house on trash day, plus a load of stuff for Goodwill.  Most of it was Shayne's.  I don't know what he tossed, but I know that two shelving units in the basement are now empty.  Impressive.

What has been really great is how peaceful our house feels without the clutter.  We've already started to reaccumulate junk on the dining room table again, so I'm making a serious effort to keep that area clear.  It's so hard, since it's just the natural dumping ground for mail, baby toys, or anything else that we happen to be holding when we come into the house.  But it's also the first room we really see when we come in the back door, so when it's not cluttered, it just makes the house feel more welcoming.

I still need to get rid of more clutter.  It's like a snowball effect; the more you clear out and organize, the more you realize you still need to do.  But we're getting there.


Fifth Housiversary

I can't believe it's been 5 years since we bought the house.  The actual date we took possession was August 24, 2005, so I'm a little late (imagine that!).

This has been by far the busiest year since we bought the house.  First, and most important, we had a baby!  Ethan is turning 1 next week, and I can't imagine my life without him.  He has a wonderful, happy personality, and he's incredibly curious and adventurous.  He crawls everywhere, gets into everything, and needs constant watching to ensure he doesn't inadvertently kill himself (which on some days it seems he's intent on doing!).  Parenthood is awesome, and I'm looking forward to the next year of this never-ending project.

Our next biggest project was the upstairs closet shuffle, which is functionally complete but still a cosmetic nightmare.  We installed Rubbermaid modular rods and shelving in both bedroom closets, and everything is painted.  I have the doors for the office closet, but haven't yet found any for the bedroom.  We also don't have the molding back up, although Shayne did fabricate matching trim for the doorways.

But we finally got the upstairs floors refinished!!  I hired out the sanding but did the shellacking on my own.  They look so much better.  They were never truly awful (except for the office floor), but the polyurethane was really lacking in depth and color. 

My favorite project of the year was one I did very little work on and has nothing to do with the house itself.  We took the plunge and got chickens, so Shayne built me a beautiful, big chicken coop.  My girls aren't laying yet, but should start soon.  The neighbors all think they're entertaining, so we let them free-range.  They do go a little farther than I thought...  Thye've been sighted as far away as the bar or the church at the corner, and once in a while a neighbor will shoo them home.  But they come running when they see me, which is nothing short of hilarious.  They stick their necks out and run straight at me, clucking for treats.  Our neighbors across the street laugh every time they see it, and Shayne calls me the chicken whisperer. 

The girls in their run
Shayne's favorite project is probably the shed.  He's still building it, but he wanted a place to store the riding mower, push mower, and garden tools.  Personally I think our garage is plenty big enough, but I'm not sure I have enough testosterone to say that with any authority.  I'm not complaining.  He's building it, it will match the chicken coop, and it makes him happy to build it.  And the more building experience he gets, the less likely it is that we'll have to pay someone to help us with house projects.

In the past year, we've also managed to flood the kitchen twice more, resulting in laminate flooring that will never, ever be the same.  Shayne bought some tiles to temporarily repair the messed up ceiling (I say "temporarily" because that entire room's days are numbered.  I cannot wait to gut it.  And the bathroom...), but Lowes no longer carries that particular color laminate.  The boards themselved don't look awful, but the tongue-and-groove part is damaged from the water.  We're going to try cutting off the tongues to see if we can just get it to lay flat until we totally remodel.  And we're going to have a clean-out installed in the main drain to prevent future back-ups.  And maybe a check valve in the dishwasher line so it can't back-up.  Ever.  Because if this had happened in my newly remodeled kitchen, I'd have a heart attack.

We added 4 more raised beds to the single one from last year.  I only planted a small garden this year, but harvested over 30 lbs of roma tomatoes.  My broccoli kind of fried in the heat, but the plants are still alive, and I have some hope for a fall harvest.  I also had a bumper crop of green beans.  I put up strawberry and raspberry jams, strawberry ice cream or cheesecake topping, cherry butter, pasta sauce, applesauce, and apple butter.  I still have corn and peaches left from last year.  I didn't freeze anything except the 7 chickens my friend raised.  We're in the process of rebuilding our food storage, since we've been using it more than rotating it...!

Another ongoing project (if you can call it that) is getting organized.  We've now lived here long enough to know how we use the house, so we've really started to pare down our belongings.  I'm saving 90% of Ethan's clothes, toys, and gear, but getting rid of most anything we haven't used in the past year.  I thoroughly reorganized the bedrooms, kitchen, dining room, living room, and bathroom, and we're working on the back porch/laundry room and basement.  Some of it is really difficult.  There are things that you only use occasionally, but it would be silly to get rid of.  And other things, like tools and renovation supplies (paint removers, sandpaper, etc) that I wish I didn't need, but I do.  But we're getting there...

In the next year, I'd really like to finish the upstairs.  Completely.  And install our "new" prairie-style front door.  That's all.


My new love

Please excuse the crappy cell phone photo, but I just had to share my newest Craigslist find...

I love Craigslist.  In case you can't tell from the picture, it's a quarter-sawn oak, Mission-style secretary.  In near-perfect condition.  I'll take a better photo when I get my camera back from my mom, but be assured that it is gorgeous.  I love how antique furniture looks so at home in this house. Whenever I get a new piece, it fits right in like it's been here forever.

I couldn't find any pictures, but this corner used to house a little "linen cabinet" that we bought while still living in our rental hovel.  It was about a third as wide and only had one drawer.  I tried to use it to organize mail and paperwork, but it was just too small.  I was able to fit everything (except the things I threw away!) inside the new desk, and it's now neatly organized.  I ended up pitching about 30 pens, which I feel bad about, but we just had way too many.  I swear they multiply.  We had pens from politicians, from businesses, and God-alone-knows-where-else.  I saved about 5 decent ones and put them in a pottery cup on the top, then tucked 10 or so more in one of the interior drawers.  That is plenty and will probably last us the next 5 years.

Saturday is going to be an organizational extravaganza.  My mom is watching Ethan almost all day, so I'm going to go through the cupboards on the back porch and reorganize everything.  I'm hoping to do the same in the bathroom.  And the "office".  And the buffet in the dining room.  Since I'll have about 8 hrs, I'm should be able to make my way through just about the entire house.  I don't have to worry about cleaning, since I've managed to keep up with housework this week, just all the other little things that never seem to get done and then turn into big ordeals.  Thankfully, I've already taken care of the kitchen, our bedroom, Ethan's room, and the basement pantry.

Shayne watched an episode of "Hoarders" last night, and told me today that he's determined to go through the basement and get rid of his junk and organize what he is keeping.  I'm amazed.  I thought he'd hang onto that stuff forever.  Maybe I should arrange for monthly viewings of the show to keep him motivated!


Busy and tired...

I never realized just how hard it would be to accomplish anything with a baby around.  Even with the use of baby carriers (which I can't figure out how some moms do without) I still just can't seem to accomplish as much as I feel like I should.  I haven't canned or frozen nearly as much food as I wanted to.  There are tomatoes and green beans out in the garden waiting to be picked.  I did get 7 quarts of spaghetti sauce canned last week, using only tomatoes that I grew.  That was a great feeling.  I've still got a few quarts left from last year, so I think I'm all set.  I found out that I don't eat as much marinara sauce as I thought I did!

I did make lots of jam, and I still have a half flat of raspberries in the freezer.  My grandma loves my jam, and I think she's been eating about twice as much as I have!  It's just about time to send her some more. 

I've also been busy just doing routine maintenence-type chores.  The freezer needed to be defrosted, which was a huge chore since the door didn't shut all the way at one time, and there were MASSIVE blocks of ice holding everything together on 2 of the shelves.  I also checked and organized my basement pantry in preparation for winter.  I don't anticipate such a huge snowstorm this winter that we would be homebound for a month, but I'd rather be safe than sorry.  I should stock up on baby formula next time it's on sale, just in case.  It was so much easier (and cheaper) when I was nursing...  I should also make sure we have enough kerosene.  We usually keep about 30 gallons on-hand in the winter.  If nothing else, Shayne will use it out in his garage workshop. 

Yesterday I edged the 75' long driveway and our front sidewalk.  Using a shovel.  It was nice enough that I could just plop Ethan on the grass, and he thought it was hysterical when I would jump on the shovel to dig it in.  I filled the wheelbarrow 4 times with all the overgrown grass, and our front sidewalk is 30% bigger.  I had no idea that so much grass had grown over the concrete, since we haven't edged in the 5 years we've lived here.  Yeek.

But the list of things-to-be-done still keeps growing.  I don't even want to get into it, since there are things on there that I've been needing to do for about 2 years.  I am taking some time off towards the end of the month, though, and I'm absolutely determined to have all of the living room woodwork back up and the stairway shellacked by the time I go back to work.


Attitude problem

I know that patience is a virtue...  It's just not one of mine.

But I think I'm finally coming to grips with the idea that we're not going to be moving for another few years.  I want to.  I really, REALLY want to.  But we have a few factors in our personal and professional lives that make waiting a much wiser idea.  I've known this for a while, but I'm actually starting to believe it, if you understand the difference.

So, in order to make our time here more bearable, I've been working on my attitude.  Towards the eternally unfinished house, the neighborhood, and the neighbors.  It was either that or go crazy making myself miserable.  What started it was taking an acquaintence on a little mini-tour of my "neighborhood".  I use the term loosely, since we live in the county and we have the same number of people in a square mile as cities might have in a 3-block radius.  But showing the area to someone who had never seen it kind of let me see it the way I did when we first moved here.  And what I saw surprised me.

Although there are some hilbillies around, we really do live in a nice neighborhood.  Not subdivision nice, but rural-ish nice.  Almost all of the houses are well-cared-for, and the people are friendly.  Our house, with flowers blooming all around and a messy veggie garden (and in spite of the 80s facade), looks cute from the street.  We're surrounded by woods and hills instead of the flat cornfields that make up most of the rural areas here.  And by the roads, our house is less than 3/4 mile from the lake.

Speaking of the lake...  When we first moved out here, I wanted to get a membership to the conservation club so that I could use the beach there.  We'd also taked about getting kayaks and paddling around.  I used to walk down to the boat launch, just to look at the water.  After all, what good is living by a nice lake if you never use it?  And so, 5 years after moving in, I finally got a membership to the conservation club.  I don't plan on hanging out at their bar with the locals, but they have nice grounds and a sandy beach.  A few days ago I walked down and took Ethan for a swim in the morning before work.  We had the whole place to ourselves, and he had a blast.

Tonight Shayne and I got home at around 8 pm, and the bar was in full swing.  But in an oddly appropriate twist, they had a rockin blues band, so it was actually nice to be able to hear the show from our backyard.  I sat out for a while to listen until the bugs got too bad.

Living in the here-and-now is not my strong point.  I can't help but be thinking about what I'd like to do, planning ahead, and dreaming about the future.  But now that I've taken time to really look at what is...  It's not so bad. 

In fact, I kind of like it.


Living small

Every year since I was 4, my mom and I have headed "Up North" for vacation during the summer (and more recently, sometimes in the fall and winter as well).  For those of you not from Michigan, "Up North" is how we refer to the northern portion of the lower penninsula (not to be confused with the upper penninsula, which is the U.P.).  For us, Up North is the Leelanau Penninsula, the "little finger" of Michigan.  It's a beautiful area, surrounded by Lake Michigan and sand dunes, pockmarked with crystal-clear spring-fed lakes, and decorated with woods and orchards of cherry trees.  It's my favorite place in the world.

This year it's really made me examine how we live our life.

We stayed in a very cute little cabin.  It was probably built in the 1920s, and it had lots of charm and character, including a 1950s stove.  It was small, maybe 600 square feet, but it didn't feel cramped.  It was cozy, but in a good way.  It had everything we needed (except space to hang clothes, but it was a vacation cabin, so whatever), and nothing we didn't.  I wanted to stay forever.

About a week after getting home, I went to a house to take a burglary report.  This house was maybe 1200 square feet, with a very open floor plan, so it wasn't even large by today's standards.  But what struck me about this house was how calm and peaceful it felt inside.  There were comfortable furnishing, but nothing extraneous.  A few tasteful pieces of art were displayed on the walls and on a bookcase, but there was NO CLUTTER.  None. 

These two homes have really inspired me to try and cut out the clutter from our home.  I spontaneously deconstructed the kitchen one night last week and completely rearranged the cupboards and got rid of a bit of junk.  It's one of the hardest rooms to declutter, since you really have to keep some things that you only use once in a while (turkey platter, certain servingware, my big canning kettle).  But do I really need the golden retriever mug that I got when I was 12?  Not so much.  Three sets of mixing bowls?  Probably not.  I also got rid of any storage containers that were missing lids, and any lids I didn't have a container for.  And by moving some things from one cabinet to another, the cupboards look much nicer and are much better organized.  All of the food prep items are together, the servingware has a cabinet to itself, and all of the drinkware (cups, mugs, and such) are in one place. 

Of course, the floor still looks like shit after the flood.  The cheapo laminate will never recover.  There are pieces that don't fit back together because they swelled, and the edges on every plank are raised.  It looks bad.  Combined with the hole in the ceiling, we're really rocking the white trash kitchen look.  But at least my cabinets are organized! 

We're still not sure what we're going to do in the kitchen.  We're not prepared for a full remodel, but now that Ethan is crawling...  Ugh.  We're going to have to do something.  I just don't know what.

Next on my decluttering list is the basement.  I have a few boxes of stuff that I never seem to look in.  I think I'm just not going to look and trash it all.  I hate being like that, since I like to donate items that could be used.  But if I look, I know I'll never get rid of it.  And it obviously means nothing to me, since it's been boxed away since we moved into the Prairie Box.  Seriously, if I haven't looked at it in 6 years, do I really want it?  Or...  Maybe I'll limit myself to one rubbermaid container of "memorabilia".  Then I don't have to get rid of everything, but I can keep a few items that are important but not really displayable.  I think I'll try that tonight and see how it works out. 


Water woes, etc.

Two nights ago, we had a mini-disaster...  The main drain clogged, and the entire contents of our bathtub ended up backing up into the dishwasher, pouring out into the kitchen, and seeping down into the basement.

BIG mess.

Our cheapo laminate floor is ruined, which isn't a huge deal since it only cost us $125 anyways.  But it's just one more thing to make the house look crappy until we get around to replacing it.  Hopefully that will be soon.  The drain folks are coming out tomorrow morning, so we'll see what happens.

In other news, Shayne found trim to match the existing stuff at the ReStore, so he trimmed out the closets this weekend.  It's starting to look finished!  We still have to find doors, but at least we're moving along.  Maybe in a day or so I'll take the remainder of the painted trim to the Strip Shoppe so that it can get nekkid.

The chickens are doing well and have expanded their range into our neighbors' yards.  Thankfully none of them mind, but we've apparently been the topic of several conversations at the bar down the street.  I never thought that chickens would be the talk of the town, but I guess there's not a lot going on here...!  I'm just glad that nobody is bothered by them, though I do worry a bit that they'll venture out into the road and get hit.

The meat birds out at the 5-Oh Farm are also doing well and should be ready to butcher in 2 weeks or so.  Jay has decided to take them down to Wakarusa for processing, since his Whiz-bang chicken plucker isn't finished.  We should still get fresh, semi-free range, hormone/antibiotic-free birds for less than $7 each.  He had extra, so we're getting 20 now instead of 10 (but splitting with my mom).  I really wanted to learn how to butcher, but maybe next year.  I'm thinking about getting a few of the "Freedom Ranger" chicks and raising them myself.  Too soon to decide.


Backyard chickens: The finished coop

I haven't been posting about this as dilligently as I should.  Although the idea and the building plans were mine, Shayne did nearly everything for this project.  Basically I provided design consultation, but all of the labor was his.  I would have liked to help a lot more, but we are almost never home at the same time anymore.  And when we were, I watched the baby so he could work on the coop. 
And he did a wonderful job.

You can see the girls through the coop window...  They're waiting impatiently for me to come let them range the yard.   The window will soon have a real casement window that will open upwards (is that still a casement?) to allow airflow without letting in the rain.  We're using vintage windows that my mom happened to have in her garage, but we need to reglaze them.

The little door in the back is the egg door.  Once the girls start laying, we'll have nest boxes right inside that door so that we can retrieve eggs without entering the run. 

The access door for humans is on the far right.

And you can see the chicken ladder inside the run that the hens use to get into the coop.

I'll add a more detailed post soon with more pictures, design features, and construction details.  It was too buggy outside this morning to get more pictures.


Backyard chickens: Update

The girls spend most of every day on pest patrol in the side yard.  Since this is where the garden is, I'm thrilled with their choice!  Since the mulberries have started coming on, they can almost always be found right under the mulberry tree, eating berries and flies. 

The neighbor's kids came over yesterday to help with storm clean-up.  By the time they left, they were both begging their mom to let them have chickens too.  I'm really surprised at how much kids like the hens.  I figured in today's electronic society, they'd just think the chickens were boring.  I'm so glad to be proven wrong!


Quiet Saturday night

Today is one of those days where I feel like I could live here forever.  From where I sit in the dining room, I can hear frogs croaking out the open kitchen window.  Oddly enough for a Saturday night, the bar isn't in full swing.  Maybe it's the storms we had earlier.  Whatever it is, I'm grateful.  Even though I'm looking forward to the day when we own enough of our own property far enough away from "civilization" for frogs to be the main background noise, tonight I'm just happy to be where I am.  The veggies are growing, the chickens are roosting in their coop, the baby is asleep (for now), and the hot and humid weather has been replaced with cool and clear. 

I'm content.


Vacation? What vacation?

Today's my last day of my 12 day vacation.  I think I did everything but relax!  The chicken coop is nearly done, and the house is secured for the chicks to stay out there instead of in the kitchen (YAY!!).  Having them in the house was cute for about a week, then the constant peeping started driving me mad.  We also had the floors sanded, and I applied 6 coats of dewaxed shellac (Zinsser SealCoat) to them.  My knees and back were killing me for about 4 days.  I'm still working on moving all of the stuff out of the living room, but the upstairs is MUCH more organized now.  I have 2 Rubbermaid containers of things that I can't unpack yet, since we don't have a desk for office supplies or a bookshelf for the books, but I suppose 2 organized containers is better than 2 rooms full of unsorted junk, right?

Yesterday I got more tomatoes and the broccoli planted, and I found a volunteer lettuce that sprouted from seed in a flower pot.  The peas aren't growing, and I'm not sure why.  We've had plenty of rain...

Today... I don't know.  I'd like to take it easy and relax, but it's kind of hard with all my chores staring me in the face...


No more chickens in the house!!

My buff Orpington and black Australorp check out the new "roost" that fell from the tree during a storm today


Upstairs floors: progress report

The sanders came at about 11:30 this morning and were here for at least 6 hours.  I was kind of surprised, since I don't remember the living room sanding taking very long.  But it might have seemed like less time since I was the one doing it.  Plus it was a smaller area, and unlike the upstairs, it wasn't broken up into little rooms and closets.  By 6:30 pm I had freshly sanded floors, and it was time for me to get to work.  I swept again, then put on my first coat of shellac.  I don't have any photos of the fresh shellac (I'll get some tomorrow), but here is a shot of each room with the newly-naked pine.

More shellac tomorrow!

Floor sanding today!

And I don't have to do it this time!  Lately we've been taking the "Y" out of DIY and just paying people to get it done.  This was supposed to be finished last summer.  Before I had the baby.  Yeah...

But at least it's finally going to happen.  The crew will be here sometime after 11 am, so we emptied the entire upstairs into the living room.
Thank God it's temporary.  I cannot believe there are people who live like this all the time.  Granted, they probaby don't have 2 large dogs, a cat, a boxful of chicks, and a baby, but still.

And speaking of the boxful of chicks... The coop is nearing completion!  [insert happy dance here]  We're done painting except for the trim that we will put up over the exposed ends of the hardware cloth, and then we just have to staple up the wire and glaze and install the windows.  The girls will be in there within a few days.  I can't wait.  They're very cute, but the constant cheeping is making me crazy.  I've never had a bird as a pet, and I can now promise you that the only birds we'll ever have will be yard birds.  There's no way I would tolerate this all the time.  3 weeks is plenty.

I finally got the tomatoes planted (Thanks Mom #2!), and I'm thinking that another 6 plants wouldn't be a bad thing.  I'm going to have romas everywhere in August, but I plan on making lots of sauce.  I still need to get a pepper plant or two, and maybe potatoes if I can find them.  I'm kind of late...  As usual.

More later...


We don't meet with the realtor til tomorrow, but I already know that the 19 acre property isn't meant to be.  I went to walk around it again a few days ago, and after I left, I just got this feeling...  And I knew we should wait.  So we will.  But we're keeping our appointment anyways, since we want to talk with the realtor in person about exactly what we're looking for.  As far as I know there's nothing on the market right now that matches it.  Which is good, since we're obviously not ready to move.  Or rather, we are, but the house isn't...

But we'll be at least one step closer by the end of the week!  The floor sanders come on Thursday, so I should be done shellacking the upstairs by Sunday or Monday.  It's going to be a huge mess with all of the upstairs furniture sitting in the living room and dining room.  I think we're going to have to move in with my mom for a few days, since there won't be any room at all downstairs.  That unfortunately means I can only apply one coat of shellac per day (otherwise I'd be driving back and forth way too much), but each coat will have plenty of time to dry. 

I'm not looking forward to this, but at least we'll be done with the major work upstairs.  One step closer...!


My brain hurts...

Well, we might be nuts, but we've set up an appointment to check out the house with 19 acres.  I'm of two minds about it.  On one hand, if it's a dump I can stop thinking about it.  On the other...  If it's livable and has potential, I'm going to drive myself more crazy than I already have been. 

Here's the Good: The property itself is pretty much everything I could want.  With 19 acres, there's plenty of room for a pond, livestock, outbuildings... whatever.  With the little barn and the littler barn, we could get some of those livestock without having to build anything to house them.  Two car garage, trees for shade, and no neighbors.  The closest one is about a quarter mile away.  No more bar, no more trains, no more Metallica at 2:30 am (Nothing against Metallica, but I don't like it blaring in the middle of the night when I'm trying to sleep).  There's also a fireplace and a big mudroom/laundry area.  It's within the 5 mile radius of town that allows Shayne to keep his take-home car, and it's also near the highway that goes into the city for easy shopping.  Even though it's about 7 miles further out than our current house, they're all highway miles so it wouldn't be a hassle to run errands.

The Bad is that the house is quite probably a little smaller than the house we're in now.  Only a partial basement, but there is a walk-up attic.  No workshop outside, and I'm not sure there's space for Shayne to have his "Man Cave"/LED workshop inside.  It's also a 1950s house, which here in backwards Indiana means it looks like a '40s house.  I don't have a huge issue with that, but it just doesn't have the character of a bungalow.  But since this house is in need of updating anyways, I could always add architectural details.  And maybe raise the roof and finish the attic.

The Ugly: the septic.  Just having walked around the property, I know the septic needs to be updated/replaced.  The existing one is concrete block-lined holes in the ground.  I know that's pretty much what we have in the Prairie Box, but at least ours is buried.  These you can see into from the yard.  Yeek...

I dunno if this house is "The One".  But it's definitely got me motivated to finish work on the Prairie Box so that when The One comes along we'll be ready.  It's also really solidified in my mind that I want a farm.  My mental picture is of an old farmhouse or bungalow amidst rickety old outbuildings, but my logical side knows that would be too much work.  A guy I work with bought a house with an old barn.  The barn is in good shape, but there are lots of gaps in the siding where the boards have shrunk.  The cheapest estimate to make it weathertight again??  $13,000.  So large barns or many buildings would be very expensive to maintain, and aren't really worth the postcard look. 

And as much as I love old houses, and am dying to own a bungalow or another foursquare, I'm willing to compromise if we can find the right piece of property.  You can always change a house, but you can't make a piece of property bigger, or change the neighbors, or its proximity to bars and railroad tracks.  When they say that location is everything, they ain't kidding.

Ugh.  Lots to think about.  I'm looking forward to Monday, so I can see what this stupid house looks like and get my head together.  Even if I still want this property, at least it'll be with full disclosure instead of all this wondering.


Making butter (in a blender!)

 Add this one to the list of things I never thought I'd do...!  But it was very easy, and I'm thinking that this will probaby turn out to be a bi-weekly thing.  Or maybe I'll do it every week to get up a freezer stash for winter baking... 

Here's how to do it:

Step 1: Use a turkey baster or ladle to remove the cream from the top of the milk.  Put into separate container and leave out on the counter for about 12 hrs.  This allows the cream to sour slightly and will give the butter a more "buttery" flavor.

Step 2: Pour cream into the blender and mix on medium for several minutes.  You will notice the consistency start to change and become thicker.  The little curds of butter will rise to the top when you stop the blender.

Step 3: Use a spoon to scoop out the butter curds and place them into a separate bowl.  Using the spoon, squeeze all the buttermilk out of the butter. 

Step 4: Rinse with cold water, then work the water out of the butter. Rinse until the water runs clear.  

Below is a comparison shot.  My butter is on the left, Meijer organic butter is on the right.  I'm guessing that the beta carotene from the cows eating grass accounts for the brighter yellow color in my butter.

I used about 16 oz of cream and ended up with around half to two-thirds cup of butter.  Now I've got to figure out what to do with my buttermilk...  Pancakes anyone?


Real milk!!

I got my first "delivery" of milk today!  It came out of the cow yesterday morning, and I picked it up today at the farmer's market.  I'm pretty excited about this whole "real" milk thing. The idea of being able to make my own butter, yogurt, and cheese seems sort of incredible. But by simply buying non-homogenized, un-skimmed milk, it's opened up a huge realm of possibilities.

Even though the picture was taken on my cell phone, you can still see that there's a good 1"+ of cream at the top of each jar.  Time to learn to make butter!


The weather was perfect today, even early this morning, so I plopped Ethan on a blanket outside and did a little work in the garden.  We got our truck fixed this week, so yesterday Shayne and I picked up and unloaded another truckload of dirt, which filled 2 of the beds.  A third was nearly filled, so I think a half load will finish us up.  Finally.  This morning I planted my peas, carrots, and lettuce, plus leveled the beds.  While I was messing around in them, I found lots of worms, so I know the soil is good!  I'll be planting my tomatoes soon, and I'm planning on a fall crop of broccoli and maybe spinach.  Not as much as I wanted to plant this year, but.... eh, life happened.

Shayne's also been busy on the chicken coop.  It now is fully enclosed!!  Only another week and the girls can take up residence!!  I can't wait to have them out of the house, because Ares is about ready to climb into the brooder and eat them.  Awful dog.  

And in other news...  We've scheduled our floor sanding for May 26.  I'm off work for 12 days, and that falls right in the middle.  If all goes well, we should have a newly shellacked upstairs floors and staircase by June!!

Real milk!!

One of the things I've been wanting to do for a while (about 2 years or so...) is to find a local source for milk and dairy products.  I visited a few cow share programs, and even bought goat milk for a while, but just wasn't satisfied.  I eventually want to buy and milk my own goats, where we are now, that's just not practical.  The county government requires agricultural zoning or 5+ acres for "farm animals".  And while we obviously fudged on that to keep the chickens, I wouldn't want to risk goats.  Maybe if this was going to be our forever home I would give it a go, but I can't imagine trying to sell this house with a goat shack in the backyard.  I just don't see that being a selling point.

So I went back to the Walkerton Dairy Herd Association.  I've known about them since I first started looking into "raw" milk, but the first time I visited, their pasture was only in its first year, and they were supplementing with alfalfa hay.  And the milk tasted like alfalfa.  Big time.  Now the association is in its 3rd year, and their pasture is bigger and better.  I know the milk will probably still taste alfalfa-y in the winter when there is less grass, but I can deal with it for a short time.  And, after drinking some super-goaty goat's milk, I think a little alfalfa will be fine.  (Regarding goaty-tasting milk: males and females were kept together at this particular farm, which gives the milk a strong "goat" flavor.  Good goat milk, though, is nearly indistinguisable from cow's milk.  I found some locally, but at $10/gallon, it was a bit too pricy for me!)

After visiting again today, I'm now the proud owner of 1/20 of a dairy cow!  I should get about 5 quarts of milk per week, which is more than enough for me.  Shayne isn't big on milk that has a slight grassy flavor...  Depending on how much I drink, I think it'll be enough to make some butter and maybe yogurt - at least in the summer.  Milk production seriously tapers off during the winter, so I might even have to freeze some to make sure I have enough for year-round consumption.

So, until I can get my own goats, at least I have a safe, local source of fresh, organic, grass-fed milk!


More chicken coop progress

Shayne was busy outside today, and he got 3 walls of the chicken house sided.  The remaining "wall" will actually be double doors (to facilitate cleaning).  Tomorrow he's going to work on that, plus building a door to the coop itself.  Once those are done all that's left is to install the trim, add the windows (which will be hinged for ventilation), paint, and staple up the hardware cloth.

Having chickens in the house has been something of an adventure.  They're not smelly, but they do cheep constantly.  And the cheeping drives Ares nuts.  He's always over by the "brooder", peeking his head over the baby gate to see what's going on.  We've held chicks near him, and he either sniffs them violently, licks them, or tries to bite off their head.  We'll need to do some serious doggy training.  And thankfully we plan to build a chicken tractor.

The girls are growing like crazy.  In the past 10 days, they've gone from little balls of fluff to half-feathered.  They've grown wing and tail feathers, and they're starting to get body feathers as well.  They're also much more curious, noisy, and skittish.  At first I could just reach in and grab one without much fuss.  Now it's like a game of keep-away.  I'll get some grit soon so that I can start feeding them treats.  Hopefully they're like me more if they associate me with good food!


This house is making me crazy.  Seriously.

I love it so much I could sometimes cry, but I'm dying to own a farm.  I want chickens and goats.  I want a barn.  I want to raise Ethan away from bars, and train tracks, and blaring radios.

I know that tonight I'll go home, walk in the house, and feel so comfy-cozy that I don't ever want to leave.  But right now, sitting out in the middle of nowhere and looking at a house and 19 acres that's for sale (and conveniently has a small barn, a mini-barn/goat shed, and lots of mature trees...  Plus lots of pasture with a little woods.  Plenty of room to dig a pond.  And did I mention that we can afford it?)...  Ugh. 

I'm not really sure how this happened to me.  I had a normal urban/suburban upbringing.  Of course I was obsessed with pioneers, native Americans, and such, but nothing was there to make anyone think that someday I'd have chickens living in my dining room and dreams of maybe raising grass-fed beef and pastured poultry and eggs.

And so now the fact that the house isn't done and ready to sell is making me nuts.  I keep thinking of all the time I wasted before we had Ethan, since now it's so hard to get anything done.  I suppose we're pretty close.  If I'm lucky, maybe we can get it done by fall, then start thinking about moving on.  There is a lot left to do, but it's all little things that can be done in baby steps (thankfully).  Just brainstorming, here's what I come up with (in no particular order):
  1. Drywall kitchen ceiling
  2. Remove kitchen wallpaper
  3. Paint kitchen
  4. Lay some kind of new floor in kitchen and back mudroom/porch
  5. Frame in kitchen doorway
  6. Drywall new kitchen doorway wall
  7. Refinish dining room floor
  8. Shellac stairway and its trim
  9. Replace upstairs trim
  10. Refinish upstairs floor
  11. Remove bathroom wallpaper
  12. Repaint bathroom
  13. Replace basement carpet
And maybe those 19 acres will still be there waiting...  But if they're not, at least we'll be ready when the right property DOES come along.


Still no house progress...

Baby + working full time = nothing gets done

There's so much that I want to do, I just don't have time.  It's gotten a little easier as Ethan's gotten older (I can sit him on a blanket outside and do 30 minutes of yard work), but if I can't do it in 30 minute increments, it ain't happening.  Like the floor sanding.  We were going to do it a month ago.  You can see how well that worked out...  I'm going to be taking some time off at the end of the month.  Floor sanding will happen then.  I hope.

One thing we did accomplish is paying off our car!  Yay!  Having Ethan means that we're not following the Dave Ramsey plan to the letter; I'm not comfortable only having $1000 in the bank, just in case something happens with the baby and I can't work for a while.  So even though we had enough to pay off the car before our tax refund came in, I just wasn't able to take the money out.  But once we had our tax money, the car got paid off!  Now I just have one student loan left.  And again, we have enough money in the bank to pay it off, but I just can't seem to write the check.  But that's okay.  Within 6 months it'll be gone, and we'll be debt-free except for the house.  [Picture me doing a happy dance here]

The other progress has been the chickens.  I've wanted chickens for a few years, so just getting the chicks was a huge step.  Even better is that Shayne has really warmed up to the idea.  That's why I got chicks instead of adult hens.  With cute little babies in the dining room, he's been picking each of them up at least once every day.  I figured he couldn't resist their cute fluffiness, and I was right.  I'm such an evil, scheming wife...  :)


Backyard chickens have arrived!

My homestead has farm animals!!  I finally got the call from the feed store yesterday morning.  My chicks were supposed to be in Monday afternoon, but there was some kind of delay in shipping.  But at 10:30 am, I drove off to the feed store and returned with a little peeping box.  I got 4 chicks: 2 Australorps, 1 buff Orpington, and 1 gold-laced Wyandotte.  This is Shayne holding one of the Australorps:
So far, everything is going well.  They're living in our old recycling bin in our dining room.  We have a 250 watt heat bulb about 3 feet up to keep them warm.  The only other things they need are pine shavings for litter, chick starter, and water.  They've been sleeping a lot, but that's normal since they're only 2 days old.  I've been trying to handle them often so that they get used to me.  Once they're old enough, I'll give them little chick treats (like bugs or vegetables), but that won't be for a few weeks yet.  Once they start to get some real feathers, we'll move them out to the (currently unfinished) coop.  More on that later...