New raised beds in!!

Yeesh, I'm out of shape!  I picked up a truckload of dirt yesterday, and Shayne and I shoveled it into the new beds.  And I'm sore!  We still have a load of compost to add today, then another load of dirt.  I see a heating pad in my future...


Taking the plunge: backyard chickens

I ordered my chicks today, and they're scheduled to arrive on May 3.  We got 2 Australorps, 1 buff Orpington, and 1 gold-laced Wyandotte.  All are gentle, quiet birds that tolerate confinement well.  I hope to let them free-range (or at least range in a movable "chicken tractor"), but I don't want them pecking at each other when we do have to keep them in.

I'm pretty excited about the idea of having actual livestock.  Yeah, I know.  They're just chickens...  But it's another step towards my homesteading dream, another step towards being more food-independent.  It's also another step away from normalcy.  A veggie garden is excusable.  Lots of people have those.  But chickens?  Not so normal. 

Oh well.


Building the garden

Slowly but surely, things are moving along.  Shayne and I went to Lowes for lumber on Monday, he cut it yesterday, and today he actually started building the beds.  I'll have 4 new beds, each 4'x8' and 11" deep.  I have a can of amber shellac I'm not using for anything, so I might use it to seal/stain the wood to make it look nicer and a little more weatherproof.  The beds should be ready for final assembly by tomorrow or Saturday.  Yay!

I've decided to keep the single little bed we made last year.  We're going to arrange the new beds around it, making it look like the "5" side of dice.  The shallower original bed will be for strawberries.  I'd like to put a small picket fence around the entire garden, then plant some herbs and perennials around the edges.

I've got this image in my head that I just can't get to jive with our yard.  Every time I look in the side yard, I get this sinking feeling...  Like no matter how hard I try, the garden just isn't going to look the way I want it.  Maybe it's because the property line just looks so terrible.  It's overgrown with weeds, raspberry bushes, and God-only-knows-what.  I'm not even sure how to fix it.  Napalm, maybe??


Some thoughts on living simply

Especially since having Ethan, I've really noticed that we just don't live like most people. I'm not saying it's a bad thing. Actually, I think most folks have their priorities really jacked up. I wonder what people must be thinking when they buy their 6-year-old a laptop. Or have a television in every room of their house (including the bathroom). Or buy massive houses for just 2 or 3 people. Or are struggling to make rent, but buy a new car. I just don't get it.

Because of my job, I have contact with people from all walks of life. I see all manner of screwed up things. I see folks living in filth, in a rented single-wide trailer that is falling apart, who have big screen TVs and a hoopdie with $5000 rims and tires parked outside. I see $300K homes without any furniture and dog poo all over the carpets, and the owners are wearing designer clothes and driving a new Lexus. I've talked to people who keep the price tags on their clothes so that they can show others how much they paid for them. It's nuts.

Since moving to the Prairie Box, I've thought a lot about the necessary amount of living space for 2-3 people. Our entire house, including the finished portion of the basement, is smaller than some people's garages. My living room is the size of a kitchen in a new house. Our bedroom is smaller than many people's bathrooms. And it's plenty for us. I would much rather have a smaller home with character than a large, cookie-cutter house. I can't say I don't want to have an impressive house. I do. But I'd like my home to impress people, not because of how large or expensive it is, but because of how cozy and inviting it feels. I want a home, not a house.

I want to be free from debt. I want to teach my son to be responsible with money, to be patient and wait until he can afford something (meaning to pay cash) before he buys it. To learn that delayed gratification is a good thing. That's something I still struggle with. But as of right now, we owe less than $5000 on our car and my student loan combined. And we'll pay everything off before the end of the year. It's a good feeling, folks.

I want to homestead. I want to know that my food was grown without pesticides and chemical inputs that can harm us. I want Ethan to know how veggies are grown and chickens raised. To watch my plants grow and teach my child that food is a gift. God gave us the sun, and from the sun, we can grow plants to sustain us. Also from plants, we can raise animals to eat. And the animals fertilize the earth and help more plants to grow. It's a beautiful self-sustaining cycle.

I want time more than money. Time to cook. To watch the stars. To take walks and hikes. To vacation. To see shows, hear symphonies, visit museums.
We only get to do this once...

Life is about priorities. What are yours?

Preparing to have the floors sanded

Yep, I'm cheating again...!  Since the baby came along, we actually have more time than money.  We rarely go out, and between our work schedules, we don't have much time available where one of us can watch the baby and the other can work on a project.  I don't want Ethan to grow up too fast, but I really can't wait until he can sit up by himself.  At least I can get yard- and housework done by strapping him into the Beco carrier.  I don't know how people functioned without a baby carrier of some kind.  It's especially nice now that he can hold his head steady.  I can just put him on my back like a backpack, then get busy with whatever needs to be done.  9 times out of 10 he goes to sleep.  And if he doesn't, he's happy to just watch what I'm doing.  It's a lifesaver.

But one thing I don't think I can manage is sanding the upstairs floors myself.  Obviously the dust and noise would be bad for the kidlet, but time is definitely an issue.  I think I can do the finishing myself.  3 coats of shellac over 3 days should be within my abilities, so long as it's on my days off.  If I can do a coat each night before bed, we should be able to walk on it by mid to late afternoon.  The only reason that's so important is because our only shower/tub is up there.  I'll be making the appointment today, and hopefully they'll have something open the first week of April. 

Too bad we'll have to move the entire upstairs into the living room for a week or so.  Ugh.  I am NOT looking forward to that part...  To prepare, I spent part of Sunday cleaning out my closet and organizing the boxes of office stuff.  I got rid of quite a bit, which was good.  It's amazing how much crap you can accumulate.  And in this case, where we never really unpacked all the office stuff after moving in, I'm amazed at how much we don't actually use.  Obviously some things you need to keep even if you only use them twice a year (stapler, envelopes, thank-you cards), but I was able to pare it down.

Another thing I'm trying to pare down is our book collection.  I LOVE books.  But between the two of us, we probably have 6 bookcases full.  I'm not exaggerating.  We gots lots.  So we've decided to donate all  books that we don't think we'll ever read again.  I'm teetering on the classics.  Some of them I know I'll never read again.  Some of the ones I have, I've never read.  But every so often, I'll pick one up and read it.  Which is how I read the Ann of Green Gables series as a 25-year-old.  I suppose I'll keep them for now.  They only take up two shelves...


Off I go again

I must be nuts.  I think I say this to myself at least a few times a month, so I'm starting to wonder if I might not be onto something... 

Here's the problem: I found a "new" house.  There's a subdivision going in nearby, and an old house is in its way.  I went into the house to check it out (first mistake), and found it to be pretty cute and in surprisingly good shape.  Then I called the developer (second mistake).  He said I could have it to move off the property.  So I called a local house-mover for an estimate (third mistake), then a realtor (#4!). 


I'm not going to push it, though.  If it falls into place, it was meant to be.  If it doesn't, it wasn't.

Still...  This has brought up all kinds of conflicting feelings.  The gist of it is that I love my house.  Really love it.  There are things I wish it had and little quirks I'm not thrilled with.  But it's mine, I've poured lots of time and sweat into it, and looking at the work I've done makes me proud.  But I don't like where my house is at.  The bar a block away drives me nuts, and my woods-removing neighbors piss me off.  Plus, I'd like more property to keep livestock and have a bigger garden and maybe a little orchard.  So I want to move, but I don't want to leave my house. 

I'm also thinking a lot about the projects I want to finish, projects that would really help future resale value in addition to helping un-remuddle the house.

We've also talked about building our own home.  Like litterally building it ourselves.  At least the shell.  A company called Shelter-Kit sells customizable kit homes that look promising.  We'd be able to tailor our house to exactly what our needs/wants are.

And then I think about what we really, truly need.  Even with the baby, 1100 square feet is plenty, even if we have another child at some point.  We're far enough away from the city that crime isn't really an issue, and we're reasonably close to shopping and family. 

And I think about what I really want.  I found architect Ross Chapin's website and fell in love with his new/old houses.  The rooms aren't impressively huge, they're small and cozy.  There are built-ins, nice woodwork, the ever-elusive "character", and good separation of public and private space.  His houses say "home" to me.

Analyzing which qualities I like in his houses, I've realized that my house has the same qualities.

Maybe the Prairie Box is the forever home we thought it was when we bought it.
Maybe in spite of the neighborhood flaws, we're right where we're supposed to be.
Maybe I am home.



I'm one of the few people I know who doesn't dread winter.  I love the snow and don't mind the cold.  That said, I'm SO looking forward to spring.  We've been blessed with a few days of 50+F degree weather, and it's been great.  Unfortunately everything looks gray, dead, and muddy, but out in the yard my tulips and peonies are starting to poke up.  And the sun is actually shining!   Ethan and I have been out for walks a couple of times, and I actually got to go for a run this morning.  I am seriously out of shape, and it really sucks.  I may have lost all my baby weight, but I also lost all my pre-baby muscle.  Hmpf.

Spring also means garden time.  And while I'm excited about expanding my beds, for some reason I'm not-so-excited about starting seeds.  I don't know where I'll put them, don't have any of my supplies...  Ugh.  I'm behind, and I haven't even started yet!

Shayne and I got a $200 gift card for subscribing to AT&T U-Verse, so I think we'll be using that to buy the lumber and top soil for the raised beds.  A friend of mine has composted horse manure and a tractor to load it into our truck, so we're squared away on compost.  It's not organic, but it's free!

I need to start calling around to get estimages for the floor sanding.  The sooner this house is done, the happier I will be.  Shayne and I have a new harebrained idea, but I'll save that for another post...


Food for thought

Life was certainly much easier before I started worrying and thinking so much about food.  I read This Organic Life by Joan Dye Gussow a few years ago, and that's what kind of started me tipping this way. I thought it was a book about organic gardening, which I was thinking about trying.  Instead, it was an eye-opening look at the food industry.  It was about gardening, but more "why" than "how".  Her book talks about how supermarket produce is shipped across the nation from mega-farms where it can be grown "cheaply".  So at my local Meijer I can find Idaho potatoes, Washington apples, Georgia peaches, and Vermont maple syrup, just to name a few.  Never mind that the climate in Michigan allows for all the same produce to be grown within 50 miles of here.  And because there's no cross-country shipping, the environmental costs are much lower.  Plus, smaller farmers tend to use more ecologically sound practices  like crop rotation and composting, and they use much less synthetic fertilizers and pesticides because of it.

And now that Ethan has come along, I haven't really been able to work on the house or even really get out of the house.  So I've been reading.  About food.  Since December, I've read Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage and Preparation, The Backyard Homestead, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Real Food: What to Eat and Why, and I'm now into The End of Food.  And the more I read, the worse it gets.

I've never really been passionate about a cause before.  I'm pretty much a libertarian, so I believe in people's right to do as they please (excepting criminal activity, of course) with little or no government intervention.  But I'm convinced, more than ever, that we are really screwing up.  We've come from a country of small, local farmers who grow food for everyone to a system of monoculture and imports.  Here in Indiana, all you see are fields of corn or soy.  None of which is actually fit to eat as is.  The corn is grown as food for cows or to be processed into various chemicals, including, but not limited to: baking powder, caramel, corn flour, corn starch, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, dextrin, maltodextrin, mono- and di-glycerides, monosodium glutamate (MSG), sorbitol, food starch, modified food starch, xanthan gum, vegetable oil, vegetable protein, hydrolized vegetable protein, vegetable shortening, lecithin, malt syrup, malt extract, and aspartame.  Take a look at any box of supermarket food, and you'll likely see more than one of these chemicals in the list of ingredients.  Considering that I don't really know what most of these things are or what chemicals were involved in extracting them from a kernel of corn makes me really not want to eat them or feed them to my child...

But millions of Americans do just that.  I'm not saying that it's the end of the world if not every meal you eat isn't homecooked.  I eat storebought cereal, crackers, pizza, and more.  And I usually enjoy it.  But I don't think that people really know that most of what you buy at the supermarket isn't real food!  If it had been left alone, it would probably be healthy.  But by the time they're done making it shelf-stable, or adding back colors, flavors, and nutrients that were lost during processing, it's not the same thing anymore.

For example, did you know that lowfat milk contains powdered milk?  The milk is so watery after removing the fat that they need to make it resemble milk again.  So they add powdered milk or "milk solids".  I was grossed out enough by that, bit then I learned that the process they use for drying the milk causes damage (oxidization) to its cholesterol, making it more likely to cause blockages in your arteries.  Plus, your body needs the fat in milk in order to absorb the calcium and protein.  The manufacturers don't have to list the powdered milk in the ingredients, since it's still considered milk.  Nice, huh?  Guess who switched to whole milk (which really only contains about 3% fat.  So 2% isn't really as "low fat" as they'd have you believe)...  And from what I've been reading, saturated fat, which comprise most of the fats in meat and dairy products, isn't terrible for you

I've pretty much concluded, totally unscientifically, that people need to eat food the way God gave it to us.  Somewhere along the way (starting in the 1920s and accelerating from there), scientists decided that they knew what was better for people to eat and that what we'd been eating throughout history was bad for us.  For example, in the '40s and '50s, doctors were telling people that cow's milk was better for infants than breast milk.  How could an educated person possibly believe that a cow would produce something healthier for babies than what their natural mothers could provide (assuming a decent diet, of course)?  People would think you were crazy if you suggested that kittens should be raised on human breast milk! 

Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now.  Maybe the weather will start to improve, my cold will go away, and I can spend some time outside doing more and reading less...!