Monday, November 30

We are very lucky

I read a blog called Cold Antler Farm regularly and today I read a post about the author having to give up some of her animals. Specifically, her goat, Finn, and her angora rabbits. I have never met this person and the only thing I think we would have in common is a love of homesteading, gardening, and knitting, but through reading her blog and her book, I actually consider her a friend. Not in a stalker sort of way, but in a way that there is a community of people out there who value the same things.

So, when I read about her situation, I literally felt sick. I could not imaging what it must feel like to have to give up an animal - whether a pet or a farm animal. It would be like giving up an arm or a leg. I just couldn;t do it. And it is partly because she rents her homestead. This reminds me how lucky I am that we own our own home. We have a huge mortgage, but it is ours. We can do what we want with the land and the house and the barns. (within the reason of normal human behavior, obviously). I can have my gardens and we can have chickens next spring and I could have any number of animals here.

Sometimes I take for granted the things that I have. Through the hard work of my husband and myself, we have built a nice homestead that we are proud of. And that we are very lucky to have.

Sunday, November 22

Soap



My first ever attempt to make soap. I am happy, surprised and a little annoyed with the outcome.

I am happy because I actually made soap without burning anything or anyone. It is actually something you can wash your hands with and it looks like bars of soap.

I am surprised because, like I said before, no one was injured and the kitchen is still standing. And I had this idea in my head of stuff running all over the counter and a bog mess, and that was not the case.

But I am a little annoyed becasue the soap base is a little "slime-like". It is slippery and not quite what I wanted. And, one of the molds broke and i did have a little counter mess but not anything horrible.

So, notes to self and other beginner soap making people:

1. Don;t buy the cheap, flimsy molds. Spend a little more and get the sturdy ones. It is sometimes hard to get the soap out of the mold and the cheap one cracked.

2. Don;t go overboard with the coloring. A little will do!!!

3. That goes double for the fragrance!!!

4. If you show your finished product to your husband, with pride and a feeling of accomplishment, do not expect him to share it. Expect questions like "Did you use the good glass measuring cup to melt that stuff?", "Couldn;t you just use the white soap base as soap and not bother with themelting, coloring and smell-adding?", "What is that smell and why is it slimy?".

Next time, I am going to look for an all-natural base and maybe clear and not a solid. I am also going to start a small pot of lavendar in the house this winter to add for texture and smell.

Saturday, November 21

One of those days.....

Today is one of those days where you just feel really thick. You feel heavy and tired and you keep bumping into things around the house and nothing goes your way.

We went to the farmers market today and even though we got our potatoes for Thanksgiving and some apples and onions and cheese, it was still a cold, dull, dreary disappointment. Not many vendors and the selection was not as good as usual. But I guess that is a fitting way to round up the better half of fall. The leaves are all on the ground and have become more of nusiance than a pretty sight to take pictures of. Its rainy and chilly and everyone and everything looks dreary.

Even stopping at Pittsford Farms Dairy did not make me feel any less frustrated.

A little bright spot however, came from an unlikly source - Debbie Supply in E. Rochester. Roy ran in quickly to get a furnace filter while I waited in the car with the baby. He came out not just with a furnace filter but with a box of pure joy.

Girl Scout Cookies. My favorite kind of Girl Scout cookies.

Every year, I get one box of chocolate and peanut butter. Just one box. The same kind. Every year.

I love them. And they are so bad for you. 140 calories in just 2 cookies. And every year the clear plastic cookie dividers get wider and the amount and size of cookies gets small. But they are still good and I don;t mind spending what equals out to be about 40 cents each for a cookie thats only a little bit bigger than the size of a half dollar.

Thank you for cheering me up a little today dear.

Now the day is slowly getting better. Roy and the baby are napping upstairs. I have the pelet stove on level 2 and it is getting nice and toasty warm in here. It is quiet and I have Prince on the couch next to me sleeping with his front leg across his face. Cheese is sleeping in her bed by the front window, guarding the house. We are waiting for the mail man to come and bring us out first real, solid proof that we are small business owners - our first payment. Most of which will go to paying off expenses already accumulated by said business but hopefully there will be enough left over to go to the craft store for some more soap making supplies.

And, while on the laptop here in my nice warm living room, guarded by a cat, I have found something else to make me feel a little better today. My favorite blog, Cold Antler Farm, has posted pictures of the new baby geese today. It is so nice to think about someone having a box of little fuzzy baby geese under a heat lamp in their bathroom. What a fun and exciting responsibility that must be and some day I hope to have the experience first hand.

Thursday, November 19

What is this plant/shrub???

Can anyone tell me what this plant / shrub is?

Our Solar in the News

The local paper got wind of our new solar panels and decided to come out and do a story and take a couple pictures.

Here is the LINK to the story.

Sunday, November 15

At Home by the Fire

Tonight is one of those nights where it feels like things are drawing to a close. It is the end of the day. The house is clean, dishes are done, the baby is in bed, cats and dog are settled in for the night, and I am in my warm pj pants and flanel shirt. The fire is going in the pelet stove and I am sitting in front of it, staring at it. The kettle let out it's shrill alarm a few minutes ago and I have a steaming hot mug of cocoa with mini marshmallows wait to cool before drinking.

And I just finished my first knitting project ever. A brown scarf with some white mixed in. I finally figured out basic knitting and even though the scarf is far from perfect, it is still nice. It is currently curled up on itself, lengthwise so it looks like a long tube of a scarf. I am very proud of it.

It is unseasonable warm lately which is both wonderful and annoying. I have been able to get so much yard work done with the weather holding out - no rain or unbearable cold - mostly in the 50's and 60's for the past week or so. All the leaves in the yard have finally been raked up and taken to the field in our big blue tarps. It is so nice to see them on the trees all bright yellow and orange and red. It is quite another thing entirely to spend days raking them up until your arms are so sore, it hurts to turn a door knob.

But even though I have been getting quite a few things knocked off my outdoor to-do list, it just doesn't feel right. I should be curled up in an afghan now in front of this stove and it should be blazing away on setting 3 rather than on the lowest setting of 1. Just enough to keep things comfortable in here. But I am actually looking forward to the level 3 days and nights where I can justify a campout downstiars becasue the biting cold killed the rising heat waves before they made it upstairs to the bedroom.

I want it both ways - I want warm days where I can get yard work done and not have to scrape ice off the windshield. But I also want the snowed-in, wind chill days where I get to wear my flanel shirt and my favorite sweatshirt at the same time.

Friday, November 13

Done!



The switch was flipped today and now out electric meter is spinning backwards. It feels great to be one step closer to self sufficiency. Well, as close as we can get in 2009 anyway.

Now that fall is giving way to winter, there will be less sun during the day but when spring and summer come and I am out in the garden weeding and planting, the panels will be towering over the grape vine fence, making free elctric for our house.

It's a great feeling.

Tuesday, November 10

Evolution

In trying to be more self sufficient and develop a homestead here in Webster, NY I have read alot of books, visited a lot of websites and put a lot of sticky-notes on the pages of a lot of magazines. So many ideas of ways to do everything from make your own soap to growing veggies all year round to re-using t-shirts. There is a lot of info out there and I got overwhelmed really fast. But after alot of reading and thinning out, there have been a few sources that I keep going back to.

Books that fostered the evolution (just a few of many):
Mad Cowboy by Howard Lyman
Made From Scratch by Jenna Woginrich
Stronger Than Dirt by Kim Schaye
The $64 Tomato by William Alexander
O Come Ye Back to Ireland by Niall Williams (yes, it seems a bit strange but this book inspires me to put myself in a situation where I will make due with less).

Mother Earth News and Countryside magazines are always laying around here with pages marked as they are a continual source of information.

And, the blogs. I find that I only return consitantly to very few blogs. Here are the ones I really, really like:
Cold Antler Farm - by far one of the most interesting and informative blogs around
Throwback at Trapper Creek
Carpe Diem Acreage
Small Measure

It was a slow evolution in coming. But the more I read, the more I heard, and the more I thought about things, it seemed like the only sensible thing to do. We grow our own vegetables, and what we don;t grow, we get at our farmers market. Why pay a little less for an apple if it means that it was shipped all the way from South Carolina? Where is the savings in that?

We heat with a pellet stove and wear a sweater in the winter instead of heating the house to 80 degrees in January. Why would I want to miss having bread dough rise on top of the fire place or getting to curl up in a warm afghan? And the dog likes it better - she's happier on the cool side.

Use less electric, buy everything you can locally, do we really need all that cheap, plastic China made stuff from Walmart? Who wants to flip an egg with a 99 cent spatula that melts to the cheap frying pan with the bits of metal coating coming off onto your food? Spend the money once and get green pans and wooden spoons.

We are not fanatical or anything and we will not be cursing the government and creating a compound our anything like that. We want to be healthy and happy and enjoy doing what we like to do. I like to crochet and to sew and to garden. We like to have a low electric bill. We like spending time at home, having campfires, and planning our garden and future livestock possibilities.

I just don't see the point of eating the cheapest food because it's, well, the cheapest. I would rather have a nice, warm scarf and pair of socks that was knitted by my Grandma or my mom or myself. I hate looking at something and seeing "Made in China" all over it. I want to be able to finish an afghan and curl up in it right then, rather than buy a blanket from the store, get it out of it's plastic wrapping and have to wash it three times before the smell goes away.

So the evolution from the "get things cheap - throw things away" mentality has been replaced with a much better view of "do it yourself, grow it yourself, make it if you can." It might cost a little more but in the long run it feels better and it lasts longer.

The solar is coming.....



Today they are installing the pole and cables in the side field for the solar panels. The panels will be installed tomorrow or Thursday.

We are one step closer to being one step more self sufficient - producing our own electricity.

Sunday, November 8

Snowy



Snowy is our 10 1/2 year old Huskey/Shepard mix. We adopted her and her sister, Lily when they were about 4 months old (?) from a shelter right after we got back from our honeymoon.

I had never had dogs growing up since both my parents were allergic so it was anew experience for me dealing with two very active puppies. We already had my two maine coon kittens, one of which is still with us. We lost Sidney, my gray and black maine coon, last year to cancer. And then we lost Lily the next month, also to cancer.

So now it is Snowy, Prince (Sidneys orange and white brother), Buffin (the huge gray short hair from a shelter), and our kitten, Cheese (our wonderful latest addition found on craigslist two months before we had our son). These make up the animal population of our homestead for the moment. Hopefully we will be adding chickens next spring. And I would love to soon add goats or alpacas.

Snowy is one big pain in the butt - in that she is wonderful and always right there looking for love or a treat. She gets plenty of both - the vet says she needs to go on a diet but I think she is old and should have what she wants. She had a hard time getting up from naps - her joints are stiff and sore with arthritis but she can still keep up witht he best of them and runs around the yard and field chasing moles and the occasional jogger.

She is a beautiful girl. She is stubborn and loving and picky. She will only go to the bathroom in certain places. She like certain types of treats and does not like to take her medicine and barely tollerates baths. Sounds like most dogs but she does it all with personality.

She does not sleep in the bed with us - no room (big girl), and that is the cats domain. Every night it's Prince and Cheese. Buffin prefers to spend his nights on the reciner. Snowy sleeps in the kitchen, keeping watch for raccoon intruders. But now, I think she could sleep through a train wreck. Her hearing is not what it once was and she is having the occasional accident in the house. But when we need her, she is there. Guarding the house and the baby.

Taking Advantage of the Great Weather



It was absolutely beautful here today - warm, sunny and great for yard clean-up. Mom and Dad came over to watch the baby and we went to work trimming tree limbs, raking leaves and filling the compost and brush pile to capacity.

I managed to not only get the entire rose garden in fron tof the barn cleaned out for the winter, but I also widened the short end by almost 2 feet. This will allow the mallow and the sweet peas to expand a little bit more without taking over the other plants and it will also leave me room to put in a ton of bulbs. I have been trying to find a nice place to put in a bunch of daffodil and tulip bulbs that would be enjoyable from the kitchen windows. So hopefully next spring, I will be gazing out onto yellow and red and while blooms.

Like all good things, our babysitters had to go one and take care of their own yard so we were on our own trying to rake the big yard in front of the barn with an 8 month old on a big blanket. He is still learning how to crawl so right now he is "slithering" backwards. Before we knew it, had a managed to get off the blanket and obtain a big handful of grass and dead leaf bits. And, is anyone with an 8 month old knows, they went directly into his mouth. After much crying and spitting up dead leaf bits, the crisis was delt with and mittens were installed the prevent future grabbing.



We managed to get the entire barn front done and some of the yard in front of the house before the sun started setting and it got chilly. But it was a good day full of accomplishment and satisfaction.

I was able to cross more than a few things off my to-do-before-winter list and no one had to go to the hospital. Only 1 band-aid required and the only casualty was an extension cord that was accidentally cut through with the hedge trimmers.

Now, it is dark and the baby is in bed and we are relaxing with our laptops and the history channel. Yes, we are homesteaders, but we are also in love with our computers and we don't miss an episode of NCIS. The pellet stove is currently off so it is a little chilly in here but it despirately needs a good cleaning which did not happen today as planned. Tomorrow it will be done and we have the oil back up heat set to kick on if it gets too chilly tonight. And we have a ton of afghans here since while watching NCIS or the Sabres games, I need to have something to work on.

My current project is also my forst knitting project ever. Between my Grandmother and varrious internet how-to videos, I have started knitting. I am working on a scarf which will no doubt turn out lumpy, imperfect, and generally all over the place, but I have a feeling it is going to be a favorite scarf. Pictures to follow...

Friday, November 6

Another step - soap!

After wanting to try this for a while now and after reading about how easy it is on Cold Antle Farm's Blog and Message Boards (my favorite blog by the way), I finally went to the store last night and got my supplies for making a beginners batch of soap.

My hope is that I can make bars that look good enough to give away as Christmas presents without people saying "Umm,... thanks.....these are really....ummm..nice."

Wish me luck!