Sunday, March 29, 2009

Another Garden Update

I think Josh has hit on the real reason our seedlings didn't do as well this year....I was suspecting it was just too cold in our back room and he just reminded me that last year, we had our dryer venting into the room for extra heat (panty hose on the end of the vent tube to catch lent), which made the room one big ol' humid, hot green house. I'm gonna have to add that note to my garden log.

Outside, we finished planting spring crops. The last of the tomatoes, peppers and melons were transplanted, lots of black eyed peas and okra planted, kentucky wonder beans and christmas pole beans, pumpkin, more squash direct seeded into the ground, basil and oregano seed spread through out the garden.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Big Hen House in the Sky

We have an entire deep freeze full of chicken! Josh did take some pictures and videos, but he told the guys he wouldn't post them. If you are interested in seeing what the process was like, drop me an email, or leave your email in the comment section and I'd be happy to share. Looking through them, I haven't seen anything I didn't expect. Like I told Josh, I'm sure the full, "smell-o-vision" experience is quite a bit different to experience, but it's what I thought was going to happen.

Some lessons learned:
* These birds SMELL. In the future, I'd like to stick to 20-30 at a time and even then, I'm glad I only had them around 2 weeks instead of 8. I do think the smell was a little worse when we first got them though, so perhaps having access to grass and getting non-medicated feed helps in that regard.

* We should have (and would have, if we'd had time) prepared better for inclement weather. If you have several acres and the chickens are living in a "chicken tractor" that moves to new grass every day, it may not be as big an issue. In our set up, we were able to get the chickens where they weren't getting rained on, but the storms this week were so bad that the ground was soaked and there was standing water on all of our property. Our egg laying hens have a raised, enclosed coop to escape too and they did fine. The meat birds had no where to get off the ground (and honestly, I haven't seen many designs that include that for meat birds--I usually see low to the ground squares that are mainly predator protection). By the time Josh loaded them up this afternoon, their feathers were wet and I'm quite certain they wouldn't have easily made it through the 38 degree night. On a piece of acreage, cultivating good pasture that drains well probably eliminates this problem.

* We need sharper knives. I never buy whole chickens and had never actually butchered one before. I don't have the appropriate knives to do a good job and I wasn't perfect, but I got very usable leg quarters, boneless/skinless breasts, wings, and back and breastbone to make stock.

* We were prepared for this, because we had one empty deep freeze at the house, but just as an FYI, 39 chickens take up a lot of space in the freezer!

* Also just FYI, we had read the birds would eat about half a pound of feed per bird per day. We went through 50 pounds every 2.5 days (for all 41, we lost those 2 within the last few days), which is right in line with that estimate.

* And one more FYI, their water had to be refilled twice a day with temps in the high 70's.

* We've always read you slit the veins in the neck in order to drain out the most blood and nearly instantaneously cut off blood supply to the brain (putting the chicken out of its misery). Apparently, the other benefit is easier plucking. The guy doing the killing says if you snap their neck, the little muscles in the skin tense and "hold on" to the feather tighter.

* Speaking of plucking, if we ever decide to do chickens on our own, especially in larger numbers, we really need to build a whiz bang plucker

Final figures:
39 chickens (started with 41)
180 total pounds (dressed weight, whole birds, no livers, etc...)
4.66 pounds--average weight per bird
$274.25 total spent (this includes: non medicated feed, a few small supplies for the coop, 40 pound feeder, 5 gallon waterer, $2.75/bird processing)
$85 income--sold 8 chickens to friends at $2/pound
$189.25 net cost, $1.38/pound for the chicken we kept (and, okay, it's not all organic and everything, but it's more free range than "free range" chicken in the store, on non-medicated feed and not factory slaughtered)

If we were already set up with supplies and just needed to buy feed and pay for processing, we could do the exact same thing next year (raise 40, sell 8), get the same poundage, and our price would be $0.73/pound

All in all, I think we did an okay job. There are definitely improvements to be made, as is the case with anything in life.

Our chickens have a date tonight

The chickens were supposed to be processed April 1st. Then, we had some pretty serious thunderstorms come through Wednesday. Josh helped them get in the coop when the rain started (they've never learned to go back in the coop at night). We watched out the window and they seemed okay. There was lots of lightening and thunder and lots of rain. We woke in the morning to find one chicken had been trampled or smothered, or something. It appeared they had all huddled together and this one got stuck underneath the pile. I've heard of turkeys doing the same thing in thunderstorms and I'm not sure of a practical way to avoid it. There is plenty of room in the coop to spread out and they didn't. When they're out of the coop, they still huddle up even in good weather, so I think they would've done the same. Also, there was a lot of water (two little temporary rivers running through the yard), so I think if we'd left them out we would have had some drownings. So, it was disheartening to deal with the dead chicken and then we checked the weather and found we are supposed to get down to 38 tonight and 34 tomorrow night, which is significantly colder than it has been. So, we called our processor and moved up our processing date to this afternoon. Josh is going to stay while they are doing the processing, I'll see if he's willing to take pictures.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

An Open Letter

A short open letter to pediatrician's (or doctor's in general, really) offices:

Hey, guess what? This is MY kid, not yours. Hey, guess what? In 20 years you'll have no clue who we are and I'll still remember every vaccine reaction and medication side effect. You know what? That means I have the choice about what to give them and when, not you. Here's a news oldest daughter did NOT have a chicken pox vaccine at 12 months old specifically because my research convinced me she would just need a booster in the future (possibly when she was college-aged and highly unlikely to get one). Instead, I made the decision to wait until she was 3 or 4. Lo and behold, you guys now include a booster in the vaccination schedule. Man, I sure was off base, huh? I wanted both girls to have the chicken pox vaccine at the same time when my youngest was 12 months old and you guys said DTaP was more important and we should do the chicken pox at 18 months. Then 18 months rolled around and you guys skipped it again (I admit, I should have paid closer attention). When I call to inform you my not yet vaccinated kids have been exposed and I'd like to get the vaccine for both of them in the 3-5 day window where it can still prevent or lessen the severity of the infection, how about you be grateful for keeping your vax numbers up (since that's all you all seem to care about anyway) and schedule the appointment? Your snotty, arrogant, holier than thou attitude does nothing but royally tick me off and make me want to avoid doctors all together. I'm sure that was your goal, right? Take a look at the records, we've made every well baby visit and unless there were extenuating circumstances, we've even done almost every vaccine (let's be honest, my 2 month old isn't going to be exposing herself to hepatitis B anytime in the next year). Oh, wait, you wouldn't know that because their pediatrician abandoned them and moved to another clinic "temporarily" (you know, only a whole year), and then abandoned them again and moved back to the original clinic. Since we value continuity of care and stayed with the same doctor, the charts are now split between two clinics. News flash---this was your doing, send a fax and combine the charts and stop acting like I'm a delinquent. While you're at it, train your office staff to understand a simple concept--this town revolves around a very large university. Maybe, just maybe, the parent on the other end of the phone has quite a bit of education and intelligence under their belt and has reasons to back up their choices (they may even have studies from your own medical literature to back up those choices! They may even be nearly finished with PhD in immunology!). As a lactation consultant and mostly as a parent, I am sick and tired of the multitude of non-evidenced based information being given out on a daily basis. If we can't trust your science and your customer service absolutely sucks, why should we be expected to be eager to work with you?

(okay, I'm done with my vent)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Garden Update

The garden is slowly expanding and will soon be taking a fair portion of my time each day. I have a lot of updating to do...

Ollas: The ollas are in the ground. We ended up putting 6 in a 4' x 12' raised bed. We planted 20 tomato plants in the bed. After burying the ollas and planting the seedlings, we watered the whole bed and filled the ollas. Each one held about one gallon of water. Since then, I have been watering the tomato plants individually only on the side of them that is closest to their nearest olla (I haven't read anything about this, but seems to me it'll help their roots seek out the olla?). The ollas are not yet covered (hoping to get out to buy something for that tomorrow) and they are losing about 1-1.5 cups of water per day. One is losing water a bit faster and I'm thinking it may have a slow leak, considering digging it up to investigate. The ollas have only been filled with collected rain water.

Strawberries: We are picking a big handful of berries everyday, sometimes more. Some of the plants are really full of berries just waiting to ripen up. I'm still seeing lots of new blooms in the garden. Since these are supposed to be June-bearing plants, I'm hoping we continue to get lots of berries. Right now, I pick berries every afternoon, leave them on the counter overnight and then wash, cut the tops off, pat dry, and throw in a gallon freezer bag. When the bag's full, we'll make jam and start in on "plan B" (eating fresh, fruit leather, dried berries, and selling them)

Potatoes: Are growing faster than we can keep up. We have shoveled dried grass clippings and leaves on top of the plants twice (the latest being at the end of last week) and they are already more than a foot taller than their highest covering. I saw a house with about 15-20 bags of leaves put out for the trash and I think we'll probably pick those up and cover the whole potato bed. Like the hay last year, the leaves may be too "airy" and not increase yield too terribly much, but it's something and if nothing else, it'll mulch back into that patch of ground.

Tomatoes: Well, I goofed on the seedlings somewhere. I'm not entirely sure where. I'm pretty sure it got too cold in our non-heated back room during the last few cold snaps, so they just didn't grow as fast as I expected. As soon as the weather warmed up, I just moved them outside and they seemed happier. Still looked like they could use a little compost tea or something. But, well, when you get right down to it, I'm a lazy gardener. I decided to take my chances and just transplant what I had. It's been about a week now and the plants are looking very happy in their home. I can see new foliage everyday. I had a little bit of cash we received as a gift, so I hedged my bets and bought two 6 packs of tomato seedlings at a local produce stand. One of the varieties I got was Homestead, which we weren't already growing and has given us fantastic yield in the past.

Melons/Squash: While I was buying the above seedlings, Sierra asked if we could get watermelon seedlings. I'm not a fan of growing watermelon. We've been completely unsuccessful in the past and the fruit we do get, we always manage to pick and cut into before it's ripe. To humor her, I got a 6 pack though. They're in the ground and I'll read up about increasing our chances of success. The other squash and melon seedlings were transplanted and they're already putting out male blooms (you know men, always trying to jump the gun!)

Onions: Some of our onions decided to bolt! Not cool! Typically, onion seed is planted in the fall, the onion grows a small bulb during cool weather, goes dormant in the winter, then puts out leaves and roots and build a large bulb in the spring and summer. The second winter, the plant goes dormant again and then the bulb sends out a seed stalk. Our onions were big enough this winter to "register" one winter gone past. Then it warmed up, then it got cold again, then got warm again. Our onions said, "man! that year sure went by fast, but I've had another winter, so this must be my second spring" and sent up a seed stalk. Once this happens, the bulb won't get noticeably bigger and the quality noticeably decreases, so the onions with seed stalks had to be harvest. We pull them up and have them hanging to dry. They are big enough to be usable, but it's still a bummer. There are plenty left in the ground and we're hoping they behave themselves and can be harvested at the same time as the tomatoes so we can use them in spaghetti sauce and salsa. these smaller bulbs we have will be used fresh and some will be dried for future use.

Other plants: The english peas are looking good, but we haven't given them anything to climb yet (remember? lazy gardener). We really need to get on that this weekend. Pole and bush beans will be planted this weekend as well. Carrots will probably be ready to harvest pretty soon. Bought a pack of cal wonder bell pepper seedlings (ours were from old seed and never sprouted). Chili pepper seedlings we started are doing well and will get transplanted this weekend.

Chickens: The egg layers are nearly back to full production and pretty reliably give 4 eggs a day. Meat birds are being meat birds. They stink and I'm not sure I'd want to do them on a regular basis, even if we had a large piece of land. If we could continue to get 4-H cast offs once a year and only have to put in 2 weeks of effort to get a year's worth of meat, that's worth it, but I'm not so interested in raising larger flocks for profit. If you read my comment on my previous post, you know there was an unfortunate run in with the dog. She managed to get into the part of the yard we'd fenced off for the chickens. The chicken she got had no bite marks, but I'm pretty sure she had a heart attack or something, because she could move everything, but she was very clearly NOT right. She was put out of her misery. There's a silver lining to everything...we now have 40 meat birds, and 40 is a much nicer number than 41 when I'm figuring costs up. Oh, and the dog is no longer allowed outside without supervision. Sorry chickies :-(

Ideally, the garden will be in full swing by the end of the weekend. I'll post pictures!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spring Break!

We've had a busy busy week! It was Spring Break for everyone at some point, so we were completely off our normal routine.

We started out last weekend with both girls having a stomach bug over night. Fun, fun, fun. There are lots of things to miss when your babies grow up....I'm assuming cleaning up vomit soaked sheets and pjs (repeatedly) is not one of them. Then on Monday, I woke up with the stomach bug. yay.

After that, things were looking up though. We spent a morning at the park with friends, we took a day trip to Cameron Park Zoo in Waco with some other friends, and took a VERY long day trip to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (super tiring, but WAY worth it). Sierra says she doesn't want to be a cowgirl and will never ever ride a horse (translation: she's not interested in barrel racing), but she was absolutely fascinated by the livestock show. 4-H kids were showing steers while we were there and you'd think that's a pretty boring thing for a 4 year old, but she wanted to sit and watch and know who won and why. I guess we might be joining the local 4-H when she's old enough. When we were home, we planted our ollas, transplanted some of the tomatoes, fed and watered chickies, transplanted squash, covered potatoes and just generally played in the dirt. The week in pictures....
Josh planting ollas
The giant moth that tried to break into the house
Checking out a giant tortoise at the zoo
Sierra and Sedona cruising the backyard
Rodeo days!
My little outlaw (yes, I know the hat's on backwards--we were on hour 10 of a 14 hour day, you're lucky there's a picture ;-)
End of the rodeo
Aunt Brandie took Sierra on the ferris wheel
Sierra enjoying the carousel
Daddy and Sedona

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

H.R. 875

Yes, I'm actually venturing into politics (aside from general get out the vote stuff) on the blog

The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 came to my attention today. Then I found another blog that pretty well summed up my thoughts (I'm good at that...why re-invent the wheel when someone has already written a concise opinion?). One thing very important (I think) that that blog doesn't mention is that the bill's sponsor is Rosa DeLauro. Her husband is Stanley Greenburg. According to a bio on Mr. Greenburg, he "provides strategic advice and research for companies, organizations and campaigns trying to advance their issues amid shifting social currents." And one of his clients is Monsanto. From his own company's website, they are "committed to [their] clients' interests" (emphasis mine). The CLIENT'S interest. Not yours, not mine, not that of the family who wants to buy their food from a local, trusted source.

Now, that blog I linked to made the very good point that a lot of people (rightly) claim that most bills never make it out of committee, but that doesn't mean we ignore them. At some point someone usually does have the common sense to say, "hey guys, this is nuts". But let's face it, ideas like this usually have a lot of big corporation money behind them and it's only human for the ideas to start sounding pretty okay unless you have (or expect to have) a large number of your constituents back home raising a stink about it. It never hurts to get the word out. Otherwise, crazy ideas like this just slip through.

And since we're here anyway, read up on (and talk to your elected officials about) NAIS too.

Living well on (much) less

A video of an interview with Annette and Steve Economides happened to pop up on CNN this evening. I LOVED this family's book, America's Cheapest Family. We have been living frugally since we got married and this was the first resource I'd read in a long time that really had new ideas applicable to us. The end of each chapter has three ways to implement the techniques in that chapter---something for the family just starting to tighten their belt on down to the family already squeezing every dime. I'm convinced the way they lay out a budget is the absolute best way to set up a reasonable money management system and avoid surprise expenses. The best part is that unlike all those news stories about how a family manages to save a little money on 100K/year, these are real life techniques for real life salaries--30K/yr puts you in good shape if you follow a few principles. The book's at the local library and it's WELL worth reading.

More chicken process!

We have more chicken process (literally!). We had originally been looking for a place to take the chickens for processing and had been unable to find anyone locally. Doing it ourselves (especially the first time) was really a "plan B". Good news, Josh found a group of poultry science majors and graduate students that will do the processing for us and let him stay and watch so he can learn the basics. So, the chickie's days are officially numbered (14 days to be exact).

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Eagle Has Landed

We have the chickens! A quick rundown of our preparations: Josh cobbled together a coop from materials we already had on hand. It's a simple triangular wood frame with chicken wire stretched over top and a tarp over that. Not the fanciest thing in the world, but we only had two days and it'll work for two or three weeks. We bought a 5 gallon waterer and a 40 pound feeder. We also bought 150 pounds of feed. All the broiler feed we found in town was medicated, so we opted to go with starter/grower feed because it's un-medicated. The important part was to get close to the right protein percentage (this is 21%)---too little protein and they take too long to grow (for instance, the laying hens only get 16% protein), too much protein and they grow too fast and become prone to heart attacks and broken legs and all sorts of not nice things. We fenced off a section of the yard with snow fencing so the chickens can roam the grass during the day and just return to the coop at night. It appears they were in a fairly small pen on plain dirt up to this point in their lives, so hopefully this is a little upgrade for them. We transported the birds by just using bungee cords to tie a tarp onto the bed of our little pickup--it made a closed in space that the birds weren't at all thrilled with, but it kept them contained.

The initial transfer from truck to yard was a bit stressful for them, but not horribly bad and in no time at all their little chickie instincts kicked in and they started grabbing bugs and grass to eat.
It also didn't take them long to find the feeder

We ended up with 41 chickens and they all seem to be handling the transfer okay. These are Cornish X birds. They are meant to be slaughtered around 8 weeks, though I've seen 12 weeks in some places. I don't know. They're 6 weeks now and when you pick them up, you can tell there's already a really decent sized chicken breast under those feathers (not at all like our red and black sex linked laying hens). I can't imagine letting them go to 12 weeks, seems like they would just get so big you'd be torturing them at that point.

Sierra has (of course) asked umpteen million questions about what these chickens are for and we've told her. We want her to understand where her meat comes from and also to respect the animals by caring for them well and slaughtering them as humanely as possible. She will not be in the middle of everything when the day comes, but we have explained the process to her and why we'll do it the way we're planning on doing it. She doesn't seem at all bothered---she's very matter of fact about it. Not the right way for every family to handle the situation, but it works for us and she is ready to handle the information (presented the right way). I'd rather her know the reality now than go through life blindly eating chicken nuggets only to find out later the horrifying things that happen in a factory slaughterhouse. Maybe when she's grown, she'll support (or run!) small scale farming operations.

The only other garden news is that some of the potatoes got their first extra layer. Josh had piled up grass clippings when he mowed the yard. They are thoroughly dried out and were shoveled onto the potatoes that had grown tall enough to be covered.

And inside the house, Sierra kept up her track record of amazingly loving and interested older sibling by reading Sedona a book (and yes, she really did read "Tails are Not for Pulling", which suprised me because I didn't know she was quite to that level of reading yet! She had to sound out some words, but she made it through!)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Here chickie, chickie, chickie...

We have been offered about 50 free 6 week old broilers (chickens that you slaughter for meat). Since you generally only raise these birds until about 8 weeks, this is a great money saving opportunity. It's not necessarily the breed of bird we would have picked and they haven't necessarily been raised the way we would have done it, but we can finish them out on non-medicated feed and let them run loose in a section of the yard (I'm hoping they'll still forage a bit, Josh thinks they won't know what to do with grass and bugs), process them ourselves and have a freezer packed full of meat for less than $1/pound. I am in no way the chicken expert here, Josh has done all the research and I just do what he says. It appears we will get about 300 pounds of meat for less than $200 though (the cost depends on what we need to buy to build a coop tomorrow before getting the chickens on Sunday--we have wood already, but will need some supplies). This will be our first foray into processing chickens, so I'm sure there will be some missteps, but our neighbor has done it before and has agreed to help/teach in return for some of the meat. We weren't quite ready to do this this year, but it's an offer we decided can't pass up. We will be busy tomorrow fencing off the section of yard they'll be in, building a coop for them out of scrap wood, buying feeders and waters for them and buying the first few bags of feed.

There are also some less gory things going on around here. Read a blog today that reaffirmed my eagerness to home school. Those who know me know I don't deal well with being told what to do. I was always the nerdy good kid--never got in trouble, always did what I was supposed to do. So, since I was getting the job done anyway, I really resented being bossed around. This was one of my biggest problems when I was in school. I'll never forget the time I got in serious trouble because I had finished writing a computer program before anyone else and started playing chess. The teacher insisted I needed to help the other students. For many other reasons, I had zero respect for the man by this point in the year and in an uncharacteristic moment (I very rarely talked back to adults, I had a fear of authority), I told him it was HIS job to teach the students, not mine. Maybe I should have been more gracious and helpful, but I had about 10 years of being given extra work because I finished mine quickly under my belt and was tired of being "punished" for doing well. This basic sentiment has stuck with me. If I'm getting the job done and it's done correctly and efficiently, I have very little patience for arbitrary guidelines. I'm not a Libertarian, but I imagine my thoughts about schooling line up with that philosophy the best----how dare someone make me feel like an incompetent subordinate when it comes to my children? This particular blog was all about groveling before the elementary school secretary to get a tardy pass for her daughter, who she had brought to school 5 minutes late. I understand in a practical sense that you can't have kids straggling in at all hours every day and disrupting the rest of the class, but it's just the mindset, that as an adult I have to justify to another adult why my child is late one day (maybe the dog puked on the rug, maybe someone had an episode of raging intestinal upset and just couldn't get out the door on time? Maybe I don't want to explain myself and shouldn't have to). Then of course, there is the dictate about what vaccines you have to put in your child and at what time so they can go to school (and for the record, I'm pro-vaccine, but that's MY choice to make, not the government's). Then there's just the whole idea that another set of adults who have known your child for a year or less trump you as the parent when it comes to making decisions. I've heard of way too many instances where the school hands out a dictate rather than working with the parent. Just a few of the things that irk me. And no, I don't think the teachers are bad, I think we've got a really messed up system. The good ol' one room schoolhouse was less standardized, but there were huge benefits to that set up too. I don't have any answers on how to mesh the two ideas, but I do know that for my family, for right now, homeschooling's the answer (unless, of course, I can somehow convince Sierra's teacher to extend her school past kindergarten!)

And lastly, I finally read The Red Tent. A review is in my 50 Books in a Year list. To me, it feels like there is largely a split between people who feel like un-medicated birth is absolutely the way to go and those who think it's absolutely nuts. The parts of this book that are about midwifery do a good job of explaining how I felt during/after an un-medicated birth. Specifically, the part where Dinah delivers her baby (after serving as an apprentice midwife) and explains the difference between knowing about birth and experiencing birth perfectly put into words my thoughts on the experience and the benefits of going through it without medication. Also, the birthing culture described in the book (midwife on hand, surrounded by women, respecting and fending off the proximity of death as you bring forth life) closely parallels what I've experienced (and rejoiced) in home birth. I'm big on accepting that my choices are not right for everyone and that obviously goes for this too, but the parts of this book that are concerned with birthing came closer than any pregnancy or birth book I've read to describing the points I keep trying to get across to people.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

More homestead ramblings

TennZenn recently made two great posts regarding potatoes in the home garden. Specifically, I found the most recent post about whether it really does pay to garden interesting. This is one of those questions that's sort of like the cloth diapering debate to me. Is cloth diapering really cheaper? Well, not the way some people do it. Gardening is the same way. It CAN be cheaper (lots cheaper), but it takes a little planning, some elbow grease and some common sense. If you pour hundreds of dollars into a small raised bed, it might take you years to make that money back. If you're gardening solely for the financial benefit, that's a bad plan. Some ways we've made gardening pay:

1) We pay attention to what we're spending and how it compares to what we'd pay in the store. Every time we spend more money, I'm mentally figuring how many pounds of produce we need to harvest to make that money back.

2) We've learned to plant what we'll eat. There's no sense in wasting time, energy and resources for something you won't eat.

3) We're getting better at eating from the garden. Not only does this mean trying to make some of our meals "garden only", but also reducing the grocery budget during harvest months. I'll admit, our grocery budget is so low to begin with ($150/month for a family of 4) that sometimes we keep it the same and just enjoy our fresh tomatoes, but that cheap budget is partly because we've been using our own canned goods for several years.

4) We've learned food preservation skills. What isn't eaten, is put up for the coming year. We've gotten comfortable with freezing, drying and canning. We've had missteps along the way and that's okay, it's how you learn!

5) We're thrilled with second-hand when it's available. We have a large stockpile of canning jars and most of them came from my great-grandmother and grandmother. These jars have been in nearly continuous use since the 50's, they've paid for themselves!! Each year, they're inspected for any damage (especially chips around the rim), but aside from human carelessness, they've held up great!

6) We trade when we can. We started freely giving eggs and produce to the neighbor in a show of good will. In return, pears from their tree and meat from their hunts has made it our way.

7) We plan not just for the growing season, but for the year. For instance, one of our goals each year is to not need to buy tomato products for an entire year. Last year we fell short. The best we've done is putting up 10 months worth of diced tomatoes, whole tomatoes, spaghetti sauce and salsa. With over 125 plants, I think this year is the year we succeed ;-) In 2007, we canned so many pickles that we were still inundated the next spring, so the 2008 garden did not include any cucumbers and we used the space for other goodies.

8) We stock up on needed supplies during sales. I know it's not especially healthy, but I like good ol' high sugar content jam, so when bags of sugar go on sale for $1 each, I buy 20-30 bags (I do a lot of baking too, I have a very out of control sweet tooth). When I have coupons for pectin, I go ahead and get it before the coupon expires. On the rare occasion that I see canning lids for sale, I buy a lot. Once, I happened to get a coupon for lids AND they went on sale (neither of which happens on any sort of regular basis)--I bought all I could at the reduced price.

9) Elbow grease. It's a vital part to gardening. If you've put the money in, be sure the plants are taken care of. Water them, cover them, pick off bugs, pull weeds, watch for disease. There's no point in letting something steal away your yield.

10) Write down what works and what doesn't. We all make mistakes and it's important to learn from them. Trust me, the bigger your garden gets, the harder it is to remember what worked for what plant or area of the garden and what needs to change.

And always remember...gardening is not all about the money. It's also about healthier food ("fresh" produce at the store is often very short on nutrients by the time you get it home) and about security.

Which brings me to my next thought of the day. Fair warning, I might get a little "hidey hole back in the woods"-ish here. I recently received a letter concerning some money I have invested in a 403(b). It's a small amount of money from a job I only worked at for a year. The letter informed me that since my account has been dormant for 5 years, it will no longer earn interest. I have to decide whether to leave it there anyway, roll it over to another account or withdraw the money and take a penalty. This has got me thinking. I have to admit, I'm only in my 20's and aside from employer sponsored plans and living frugally, I haven't put a ton of thought into specific retirement plans. This choice (and the fact that it's come up in the current economic climate) has made me more aware of my homesteading mindset. I'm a person who is very adverse to financial risk. I've never been a fan of the stock market. When's it up, I'm just waiting for it to come down. When it's down, I just think, "I told you so". I understand the argument that risk-free investing actually loses money because the interest rate is lower than the rate of inflation. But I just can't get around the very real fact that that reasoning is completely and absolutely bogus when (not if, WHEN) an economic down turn comes along. Anybody who had their money in CDs or savings accounts or even under the mattress when all this started at least still has their money. Technically flawed economic thinking, but that's how risk adverse I am. So I got to thinking, why have we all been fed this line that we need to build up MONEY anyway? It's paper with pretty pictures on it. We only need MONEY so we'll be able to buy STUFF. And the reason we need lots of money is because the stuff will be more expensive in the future. Okay then....instead of risking the money in the market (to get the growth necessary to keep up with inflation), why don't we just buy the stuff now? Why not focus on stuff savings instead of money savings? Food storage supplies, seed collection, equipment for solar, wind and/or water power, rainwater collection (for household and garden use), fabric and sewing supplies, woodworking equipment. I could go on and on. Why not accumulate the STUFF so you're self sufficient and don't need the money any more? Then you have actual goods for barter, which will always have value regardless of what the paper with pretty pictures is worth. Josh pointed out that most people cringe in horror at the idea of working indefinitely and view retirement as being on beach with a drink in hand and that takes MONEY and lots of it. Fair enough. I don't know what I'll do with my 403(b).

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Fun Filled Weekend!

It's been a fun-filled weekend around here!! First of all, in gardening news, all but 2 of the potatoes we planted have now sprouted and are growing like crazy! It seriously looks like they're growing 2 or 3 inches a day. Friday evening, Sierra and I did some weeding--we just tilled under this patch of ground a few weeks ago and some grass is trying to grow back.

Then, on Saturday we headed out for a short camping trip at a local state park. We decided the kids might get a kick out of geo-caching, so we looked up a few that were hidden in the park. Saturday afternoon, we set out to look for the first one:

Sierra and Sedona had no problem taking off down the trail

Turns out Sedona's a tree-hugger:

She made it about 3/4 mile before she decided it was time to take a break:

Our first find!!

Back at camp, we started a small fire for a good ol' fashioned "weenie roast"

After polishing off a whole hot-dog, Sierra started asking for candy, but momma assured her something better was on the menu. Wonder what it could be....

A girl's first s'more:

Also yummy for the toddler-set:

"Ooh! This has more sugar than ice cream!"

Sierra wanted to try roasting some marshmallows on her own (she wouldn't eat them though, preferred cold, not melty marshmallows---what's up with that?!?)

We walked around more after dinner. Visited a small playground and the fishing pier. Nighttime did not go well. I honestly can't remember the last time I camped in such a heavily traveled location and the ground was more like concrete than dirt from having the same spot camped on so many times. The sleeping pads that are just fine with a little forest floor under them were pretty worthless in this situation. Josh and I didn't sleep more than 30 minutes straight before we'd wake up in was worse than newborn baby nights as far as restfulness. I'm definitely inclined to stick to less traveled spots.

This morning, we went looking for another cache. Sedona decided to ride right away this time (we set her down to walk and she pointed to the pack and said, "up-pa" which means "up, please").

After a bit of circular wandering, we finally found the right location and daddy spotted the cache.

This time we had brought a few trinkets to leave so we could take something. Sierra dug through and found a card game to take.
After the morning hunt, we loaded up and headed home. All in all a good time, though the crowds reminded me of why I always enjoyed backpacking more than car camping.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Random recipe of the day

I guess it's not a recipe of the day if I don't post one everyday, huh? Oh well.

All purpose wrap/enchilada/eat it plain mix:
2 cups uncooked rice
3 cans black beans
1 can kidney beans
2 cans pinto beans
1 can rotel tomatoes
1 can whole kernel corn
1 pound monterrey jack or pepperjack cheese, shredded

First, cook the rice. Rinse the beans and drain the corn. Then mix everything together. This is a BIG batch, I have to mix it in my big pasta pot.

TIPS: I use dried beans because they're cheaper, just estimate how many you need, soak overnight, then cook for about an hour the next day. It's not an exact science, if you have a bit too few or too many beans, no biggie. We use to just roll this filling up in flour tortillas, freeze them, and eat them for lunch everyday (literally, every day for a couple years...we just liked it that much). Sometimes we'd have leftover filling and just eat it straight. Lately, I've been using it as enchilada filling--this has turned out to be our favorite and is a great batch cooking recipe because it makes several pans.

For enchilada casserole: one recipe of filling, one pack of corn tortillas, another pound or so of cheddar cheese, two-three 8oz cans of tomato sauce and spices.

First, make up enchilada sauce. There is no recipe here---open up your tomato sauce and add about an equal amount of water. Start adding spices until it smells right. Go really heavy on the garlic powder, also add a healthy shake of chili powder, cumin and oregano. Taste it and add more of whatever you need (the only way to get comfortable in the kitchen is to try and life is so much better when you aren't tied down by recipes). In your pans, layer corn tortillas, then a little enchilada sauce, filling, cheddar cheese, more enchilada sauce, more tortillas. Repeat as necessary. Finish with cheese, then sauce on top to avoid dried out tortillas. Bake at 350 until warmed through. Freezes great.

How's this for irony?

I would not have had to look at the calendar to know that yesterday was Monday.

First, I called my dentist to try and schedule an appointment to repair the filling I broke over the weekend. Receptionist looks in my chart and insists I don't have a filling in that tooth. Hmm....okay, whatever. Receptionist wants me to pay $55 and come in for an exam, then they will schedule an appointment to actually fix the tooth (to the tune of several hundred dollars). Um, yeah, no thanks. The dentist had already told me this particular tooth would need to be fixed at some point, don't feel like paying $55 (not to mention my time) just to hear the same thing again. No, we don't have dental insurance. What is available to us would cost us $90/month and only pay for exams about about 50% of dental work....we don't spend enough in a year to make the expense worth it.

Sedona decided she didn't need a morning nap yesterday, which woke Max up as well (with more kids around, I'm quickly recognizing I'm one of those "naptime is sacred" people). Oh, and they both had poopy diapers. I gave up on ever eating breakfast at that point.

Load both kids up in the car because I want to get to Sierra's school a little early. And, the car won't start. I should insert here that the car is paid for and that's important to me...I'm happy to take a few quirks in return for not having a car payment. One of the car's quirks is that when it's really cold outside, you periodically have to spray WD-40 into the ignition. The can I keep in the car was so close to empty that it barely dribbled any out. I did finally get the car started though and was still running a little early.

Sierra's school is only about 2 miles away from the house. Of course, there had to be a wreck in THAT stretch of road at THAT time, completely blocking the turn lane.

The high point of the day was actually picking Sierra up. We've been planning to talk to her teacher, but I was nervous to bring it up. Turns out I didn't have to--her teacher asked about our schooling plans and thinks Sierra is ready for Kindergarten in the fall and it's "perfect" for her to do Kindergarten next year, then homeschool after that. We also talked about when Sedona would start school and we had initially planned on next January, but I'm leaning more and more towards putting her in in the fall (so she has more time with sister there).

The afternoon was the usual insanity of feeding three kids and grabbing a bite for myself when I could. I must say Max was an absolute ANGEL yesterday, which made things a bit better.

THEN, around 4pm, I was petting the dog and found a hard lump on her side. Felt like a sebaceous cyst to me (used to work as a vet tech), but I wanted to take her in to make sure. Here's the irony to my I sit here with a tooth that's missing a filling....the DOG has comprehensive health insurance. $16/month covers just about everything she needs done (all exams, all preventative care and steep discounts on acute care) without even a co-pay or deductible. So while I try to get someone to fix my tooth, the DOG gets an appointment FOR "FREE" for first thing the next morning. Okay, we did pay some money because we asked them to cut her nails while we were there and we got another month of flea and tick preventative (which we were out of), but just to get the lump checked charge, no wait. She goes back in a month to recheck it...again, no charge. I won't even tell you what we pay for human health insurance, because it's sickening--it's 30% of our gross income, AND we still have co-pays and deductibles to meet.

So, my Monday was very Monday-y. A friend wished me a "Thursdayish Tuesday" and I don't think I'm quite there, but Tuesday has been better so far! The dog's not dying of cancer and doesn't appear to have staph (though she does have two bumps, not just the one I found). Sedona's skipping nap again (she's really ready for just one now, I fear), but she's quiet. I got to sleep in later than normal. It's warming up and hopefully the last cold snap will be the end of winter this year. Oh, and I called a different dentist who was SUPER nice of the phone and charges significantly less for the same work.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

New furniture

We live on a little half-acre plot that's just OOZING with estrogen. There's me, the two girls, a female dog, and 5 hens. In the midst of all this female-ness, my poor hubby does his best to maintain his sanity and assert the importance of y chromosomes in our world. So, after a hard night of ironing seams for me while I sew, letting Sierra put bows in his hair and studying up on his disney princesses, he retires to the backroom to be all manly and do wood working projects. I kindly ignore the sawdust in the carpet (most of the time) and have just turned the room over. In return, he asks what I want. Last night, he finished the bookshelf I requested for the girls. YAY! He put up pictures on his blog. It is all done except for final painting touches. We can't decide whether to let the girls paint what they want on it, or have them just do handprints on it. The girls are very excited and already have it stuffed to the gills with books (ummm....honey? maybe we need two...)

He asked me what the next project was on his list. I went with compost bins out back because we have scrap wood and can do that for free. The longer term project though, is to build this built in bed for our room. The under the bed drawers would be sized to hold books (like a book shelf laying down...pull out a drawer, select your book, then close the drawer). Our plan is to put this in the corner of the master bedroom so that the foot-board wall will be a new bathroom wall (and add space to our teeny tiny bathroom). The head-board wall will hold more books and be the beginning of my quest to cover the house in built-in bookshelves. swoon Obviously, that's a much more involved (and expensive) project and we might as well save up the money for the bathroom remodel we were planning before we get too far into it.

We haven't done anything in the garden this weekend (aside from taking care of seedlings) because the weather went and got all crazy again. We got down to 31 last night and forecast for 31 again tonight. Should be back in the high 70's by Tuesday.

I have been doing lots of homeschooling reading. Ever since I was pregnant with Sierra, Josh and I have discussed homeschooling. We both like the idea, but it was overwhelming and scary. Then Sierra (and her amazing, never-ending supply of energy) came along and it seemed even more overwhelming and scary. Currently, she does pre-school at a local Montessori school that goes through Kindergarten. It became clear very quickly that this is the IDEAL situation for her. Unfortunately, no Montessori for big kids around here. The idea of trying to replicate Montessori at home was even more overwhelming to me and I was starting to chicken out on this whole homeschool plan. Then, I went to a little meet 'n' greet with a local homeschool association this week and learned about the Charlotte Mason theory of teaching. I've been reading through the Ambleside Online website and falling more and more in love with this teaching method. It sounds GREAT for Sierra and sounds like something I can do without freaking out over creating a curriculum from scratch. There are things I don't like about it (testing is the biggest thing I'd change), but the beauty of homeschool is you can change things up where you want. In addition to this, I've learned that the local homeschool community is even bigger than I initially thought. There are TONS of resources here---everything from co-ops, to sports teams, to "school" dances, to a specific section of the local library with curriculum and text book resources for younger kids. We've done a LOT of talking about local schooling options this week and it looks like we will be leaving her where she is through kindergarten (and starting Sedona at that same school when she's ready), then homeschooling starting with 1st grade. Speaking of homeschooling resources...whether you're doing school at home or elsewhere, one fun resource I've discovered is Homeschool Freebies. They offer one free download each day. Especially lately, there have been a lot of GREAT things on there. You can just go to their website each day to get the freebie, but it's nice to sign up for their email list because they send out an email on Sunday to let you know what will be coming up on what days throughout the week. Lately, there has also been one extra freebie each week for email list subscribers.
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