Wednesday, March 31, 2010


I'm not sure the term retirement should even exist anymore. I think we should just call it "later stage molting" After all, I don't know anybody that talks about going home and sitting on their butts. They say that they will have time to "do". Usually it's to chase some dream they have secreted away. But what it amounts to is becoming fully self aware and fulfilling the talent that you were put on this earth to do. While you are figuring that out, I'll give you some strategies for making it happen.

You've heard Suze Orman say it a million times... pay off the credit cards. I think they are the number one factor standing between people and a happy lifestyle. It's just legalized loan sharking. The difference is mainly that they threaten your credit rating instead of your knee caps.

Downsize. I'm a big believer in downsizing anyway. If people put as much energy into making their home green as they do making it large, I can only imagine how much money would be saved on heating/cooling and on shipping building materials across country. Personally, I wish we had built with either straw bale or cordwood construction. It is still my big regret, but Mac thought it was just a little too hippy for him. ( okay, a LOT too hippy for him). But I still hope to put a heating system on a solar system and all of the outbuildings on independent solar set ups. I'd like to feed back onto the grid, but with the important parts of the house on a separate, unconnected grid, then when lines go down or power goes out, we will still be functioning in our home.

This is an IMPORTANT one. research, research, research! The more you know the less likely you are to make a mistake, especially in building. Not to mention, changing your mind is the costliest thing that you will do. Once you know your topic inside out then it is time to ....

Plan your work and work your plan. If possible dabble in your chosen existence before your molt. Otherwise you tend to scare the willies out of yourself.

The last step is the most important one. Lead your life with passion. Mac is fortunate that he is passionate about teaching, but I had to work such crappy jobs while he had the thing he was passionate about. That incongruity makes for a very unhappy existence. But that is all going to change now .... I'm ready for my molt.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

plans for today

It is just gorgeous out today!! I've already been out to feed the horses. It was light but the sun wasn't totally out. Shades of pink and purple streaming across the east. It's pretty breezy but the air felt nice. The horse lot is finally drying out a bit but their hooves have churned everything up so the ground looks as if it has been rough plowed.

This beautiful weather makes me want to do a lot. Then I get to thinking. Then I shoot myself in the foot by making a list. I am the queen of all list makers. I have been known to make a list that filled a page and a half of typing paper and then been depressed because I didn't get it all done. I try to be smarter then that now, what with my advancing years and all. Now I have a little tiny tablet. It's about two inches by three and a half inches. Even then I have to be careful. I just keep writing smaller! Then I write up the side. Then I try to squeeze small one word commands in and on occasion a symbol that I think means something but latter just leaves me saying ,"What the h.....!!"

But today, I hope to keep it simple and not make my brains explode. Some computer work this morning until it warms up a bit more. Then some brush clearing. Then some erosion control. This afternoon will be indoors. Indoors work can be so HARD on days like this. It is just too nice to be indoors. If I make myself be indoors I get really cranky and say bad words and then it works up to a bit of rage. Then I HAVE to go outdoors to diffuse my anger with physical labor.

Of course, the hard part of the day will be shutting down my brains from trying to continue planning. After awhile, you don't even see the place as it is.... you see it according to the plan. My plan (and my brain) is more complicated. I can click my vision between phase one, phase two or phase three pretty easily and in the whole course of the event never perceive reality at all. It's kind of cool, like living in a video game.... a video game where no one gets shot, but you fall in the mud a lot and where you go for very long periods of time with nothing happening. But it's cool anyway. Phase one is having the woods cleaned from all of the dead elm and the weird underbrush that has taken over. Trust me... in my head it looks very nice. Then phase two has the plantings. I can see the new hardwoods coming up. The sugar maples and oaks and some areas with some groupings of spruces. There is also a more diversified under growth with more food sources for pheasant and quail. Phase three is the hardscaping. There will be little fire rings scattered about with log seats here and there. Then there will a few bridges over small ravines, you know, for the trolls. A St. Patrick"s shrine next to a path for the travelers. There are some really good natural trails that need to be developed a little , probably mulch. I keep hoping for some sort of divine intervention that will cause a really nice chipper shredder to miraculously come into my possession. There will be little grassy glades sprinkled throughout the woods. These serve an important purpose....THEY KEEP THE DAMN DEER OFF MY TREES!!

Then there will be a happy little path that leads to a very special pretty cabin. Smoke will rise from the chimney and the sun will shine on it's roof. The window will be cracked a little and the smells of good food will waft out and then you will hear a voice coming from the small cabin..... it'll be the voice of an old broad cussing and then she will say," I told you not to get me distracted with planning and making lists! I only have time for clearing brush and some erosion control!"


Monday, March 29, 2010

respect the food!!

I have spent a fair amount of time this weekend talking to friends about food. It has been especially heavy with "this is the way things were done when I was a kid" kind of conversation. When I look at the difference between how my grandmother cooked which was very bland and overcooked and the progression to my mother, processed food maven. My mom could have been the poster child for Betty Crocker. She had a product or kit for whatever type of meal you wanted to cook. Dehydrated this, powdered that. I still gag at the thought of Hamburger Helper. I suppose it was considered the era of efficient food. But so much of it was just plain NASTY!!

I discovered as a newlywed that i could make my food budget dollar go so much farther if I made from scratch. I bought flour, baking soda, baking powder, baking cocoa, yeast, milk, vegetable oil and eggs. From these basic ingredients I could go anywhere. If i wanted to make pizza crust I didn't need that stuff in a pouch. Pancakes and biscuits defied Bisquick. I could whip up a scratch cake in about the same time it took to make up a mix. I make awesome brownies!! Add corn meal onto the shopping list and cornbread better then what any mix made could also be had. Then there were noodles! Or how about dumplings? Some of the best food could be had from the basics.

Also in the early years of my marriage, my husband's grandfather got me hooked on gardening. We would go out and poke around a bit in his small garden, pull a few radishes or onions for dinner. He introduced me to Henry Fields. That's a mail order seed company based in Iowa. And I must admit, that every compliment that Grandpa Pat paid to the Henry Fields company seems to be well earned. They have never botched one of my orders, the seeds have always been good. Grandpa's axiom was to plant everything you need for eating and then try something new or different for fun. The first year ( well, first for me) it was the easy pick bean. Over the years I got away from the garden, I'm ashamed to say.

Then in the nineties, I read about the slow food movement. Much of it , I had already been doing out of economic necessity. but it did give being poor a much better name.. I do slow food and then later... I do organic and now.... I support local, antibiotic free farmer's markets. For some this will just be a fad. Others will actually break away from the boxes for good and learn to respect the food. It should be respected. It's powerful stuff. Not enough.... you die. Too die. You abuse it by turning it into poly this, mono that, diglyceride something else and in time .... you die.

Then there is the joy! Eating gives us endorphine rushes just like getting hugs, laughing and having sex. Which is why it probably tends to be abused. That reminds me of the first time I tasted Steak au fromage. Mac had ordered it and I got a bite, which is okay. We've been married a long time and he stole blue cheese off my cob salad. It's tit for tat. That bite was worth the loss of my blue cheese. That au fromage sauce was so good! It makes you eat slowly. It makes you stop and savor. It was just so good!! That bite brought me full circle back to my garden.

The au fromage is just basic, rustic farm cooking. Much of the best of french and italian foods are the "peasant" fare so that has influenced me a great deal on how to do things around here. The big garden is, of course, a must. I am so hoping that the outdoor kitchen happens this summer. It will have the fireplace.... for me. It will have the wood fired grill.... for me. the gas grill ..... for Mac. And, I am so excited about this bit, the wood fired oven.... again for me. But this is what my little homesteading experiment is about. Food and shelter has turned into such burdensome issues. Why can't we live life on better terms? Why don't people think they can put a roof over their own heads and good food into their own stomachs. Not just good, but better then what can be provided commercially! I believe that people can do better, you just have to show them it's possible. And if this old broad can do it, then who couldn't? Not to worry, I'll show you. I'll take pictures!!


Saturday, March 27, 2010

water is, as water does pt. 2

Not only does water follow the path of least resistance, but it accumulates really, really well! When you have a prepared footing, ready for the concrete, it can quite easily take on two foot of water from a one inch rainfall. Trust me. I KNOW this!
The first guy who leveled out our building site did a wonderful job. It didn't hold water. It was amazing and it made me very happy. Guy no. 1 could not come back and dig the trenches for the footings. He was already over booked with pond building for the summer. It took awhile to find someone to dig the trenches. This was a problem that we ran into over and over. We are a small project and there is a lot more money to be had building McMansions. So guy no.2 came and dug the trenches. In the process of digging the trenches he also re-shaped the building site. Instead of flowing away, every single drop now flowed TO the trenches. Now every time we got rain, there was water in the trenches. To make matters worse, we had dug the trenches for both the garage and the house. You have to realize as well that these footing trenches were intended to hold up masonry walls. They aren't a little something under a floating slab. We are talking a trench that is approximately two feet wide and four feet deep. They are a substantial size.

There is a secondary problem with a flooded trench. The side walls get soaked and then collapse. After the first collapse, I contacted guy no.2 again. He told me that it wasn't possible to open up the trench again. He wouldn't be able to get back in there. Where his back hoe had sat previously was now the front part of the trench. I had found a local guy who was going to help me get the trenches poured. He had checked in with me and gave the situation a pretty dim out look. So. guy no.3 just didn't see how you could get equipment in there either. He didn't have a single idea on how I was to handle my moist collapsing trenches.

So, I handled it the only way I could think of... with a shovel. This might also be a good time to point out the natural characteristics of clay based mud. Sticky and greasy is an understatement. Once you had a shovel full of mud you were going to keep a shovel full of mud. It wouldn't come off!! So you would dig a scoop of mud out of the hole and then spend the next four minutes getting it scraped off the shovel. So I gave up on the shovel as a digging tool. The shovel was used to pull mud away then it was picked up by hand and thrown out of the trench. In some places it wasn't even good for that. After awhile the sandy bits were going right through the gloves I was wearing. The fingertips were gone. I kept working barehanded. After awhile the sand was getting under my fingernails and separating the nail from the finger. As I had no gloves and no options, I just took the handyman's best friend, duct tape and taped up my fingers and kept digging with my hands. But it worked!! The trench got cleared. I got the base of the footing framed and son in law, James helped me get it poured.

After this, the rain became torrential, but at least the bottom of the trench was solid. That would help. I re-dug the trench again by hand but there was too much collapsing this time and I only got a third done. More rain, more collapsing. It was becoming a nightmare. Then my kids, in their compassion, planned a family workday. They came and brought food to grill and friends to help and we got it completely dug out. James found the best gloves ever!! They are called mud gloves and are coated with rubber over the palms and fingers. They totally saved my hands!! They saved EVERYBODY'S hands, because no one could get a shovel to work in the sticky, sticky mud.

To make a long and depressing story short. We had a little more collapsing but with another family work day we did get the foam forms in. There were any number of difficulties to getting the concrete poured... like the day we needed to get concrete the plants were closed for the funeral of a local concrete plant employee. The day after the funeral there was rain. We did successfully pour the foam forms the second time they were set.

The garage trenches are another story.. They have taken on so much water that the thousand dollars worth of forms are now just garbage. Bob, my gravel guy, also does some dirt work. He and his son came over one evening to bury an electric line. With out asking they just went ahead and started digging out the garage trenches... Bless them! But it led to our usual conversation.

"Bob, I didn't think you could come in and re-dig a trench"

"Who the hell told you that?!"


P.S. for those who would like a lesson learned from this experience..... the minute you get a trench dug, also dig a drainage line and the FIRST thing you do is get a drain tile laid in!!!!

Friday, March 26, 2010

water is, as water does pt.1

One of the greatest obstacles we have faced here has been water. We are contemplating installing a couple of ponds ( when we have the money) just to slow down how fast it sweeps across the property. Then there are issues with the road, specifically water and the road. We are on what is called here, a "B" surface road. It receives minimal care from the county and there is only gravel on the first quarter of a mile. According to the county road regulations water cannot run down my driveway onto the road, but they don't have to take care of the road to the extent that water doesn't run down or across it. Our drive comes out in the valley of the road and as the water was taking the path of least resistance, which water does, the valley of the road was something of a pond.

A neighbor complained, as neighbors do. The county road engineer came out to "inspect my building project" I don't know why, it wasn't his jurisdiction, but in small rural areas talking with people, being decent and just rolling with the punches is the way everyone gets along. So, I let him inspect. He said there was a complaint. He gave me my instructions that no water from my property was to run into the road. So, I told him we should go down and have a good look at the drive. We walked the drive. I showed him where I had hand dug a ditch on the uphill side of the drive over a distance of approximately four hundred feet. I showed him where the water from my property came out into the road ditch, NOT on the road.

Then the good part, I walked over another five feet from the ditch to the center of the road. I pointed to the west and said, "Look right there, see that furrow? That is where the water just tears down the road and puddles here." Then I pointed to the east, "See over there where the ditch isn't properly cut, " That's where it overflows and then flows here and puddles. Tell the neighbor lady not to worry. As soon as I get a few more things done I will turn my attention to the road. I used to work for D.O.T. and I know what needs to be done."

This got to him. (which was kind of fun) That was when I heard the other side of the regulations. The side that said how the county didn't have to be responsible for water flowing OVER the road. I told him to not worry, if the county couldn't afford to take care of the road, I would. "But you can't", he said, "you're a resident."

"That's okay, I don't mind"

"But the road is the responsibility of the county"

"But the county doesn't want to be responsible. I think I'll get some gravel down here ,too. that'll help."

"Well, if you want to put down gravel you'll have to go to the supervisors meeting and request permission and then you can't do anything until you get a reply"

"How about I just buy my gravel from the county and one of your boys put it down. Would you be happy with that?"

"You aren't going to save any money by buying gravel from the county. It's not like the quarries give us that much of a break"

I think the look of disbelief was pretty evident on my face, because he felt a need to bring it up a notch. "People who mess with county property could go to jail"


A couple of days later my gravel guy was here. "So Bob, have you ever heard of anyone going to jail for putting gravel on their road?"

"Who the hell ever told you that?"

"County engineer was here the other day. Said I had to request permission to put rock on the road and if I didn't I could end up in jail"

"That lazy s*% of a B@#*&. I've had more go rounds with that b*&%@#%........."

Well, lets just say that the monologue went on for awhile. And then I asked him to put a part of my load down on the road cause it was getting so bad that I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get out.

Then in a total mood of civil disobedience, I went out and cleaned out the ditch. I pulled out what downed limbs I could handle, cleaned out leaf piles and dug deeper where necessary. This spring was the first time that snow and rain hasn't flooded out of the ditch and into the road. I'm feeling quite pleased with myself. And I haven't even spent a night in jail.....yet.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

the scrounger

Do any of you remember the movie "The Great Escape"? I totally relate to the James Garner character, the scrounger. He could find and liberate almost anything. He could acquire some shoe laces, a crisps tin, a fountain pen cartridge and end up with a pinhole camera, forged papers and a shiny hat. I am inspired by this!! While this behavior is no longer culturally acceptable I want to be able to do that. But I have found that as I work on creating the little farm that people (okay, Mac) wants to push me into a different mold. There's the slap across the chops, " Wake up! and smell the half caf, two shots, tall, caramel latte with whipped cream and a sprinkle of nutmeg" While that might be a nice vacation.... that's not the girl I am every day. I just can't seem to be like everyone else and my lifestyle is starting to represent that.

Here's an example... It's like we are being presented with two possible realities, neither practical nor sustainable. One is the TV program "Survivor" and the other is "This Old House". In Survivor the one thing we don't see, oddly enough, is any attempt to survive. Instead, there is a lot of challenges that are suppose to somehow simulate surviving. Then whoever wins the challenge has everyone else trying to stab them in the back. This strikes me as being more like Cannibalism 101. What's missing are the Armani suits and whitened teeth that have also been sharpened. This is a very disturbed low end.

The other extreme emulated in This Old House is that anybody can take an old house and end up living the life styles of the rich and famous. What started out as an interesting show on architecture and restoration has become a show about grasping for opulence. It is the template for conspicuous consumption. Despite what we are told, neither of these programs reflect reality.

My reality is that I'm dangling somewhere in the middle. I want to live simply and sustainably. I want enough to survive on comfortably for myself and my children. I don't want anybody stabbing me in the back or undermining my effort, and if they leave me alone.... I promise to leave them alone. I've gone a long ways in building my own house. I designed and implemented the way the floor joists were installed. I drew the floor plans for our little house. I have been told at almost every step of the way that I have over built it. But then, I want it to survive.

On the luxury side, in our little 24x34 house, we have gotten in one full bath and a 3/4's bath, a great room, one enclosed bedroom downstairs, an open loft guest bedroom and seating area, a small kitchen with ample (for me) counter space. The counter is marble tile, not gargantuan slab o' rock. The cabinets are unfinished stock cabinets that I configured, sanded and stained myself. It's comfortable without becoming burdensome.

Then there is the scrounging... dare, I call it reality? I'll have to do a fair amount to get the farm working properly. I need more fence, and fencing is expensive. I need some fruit trees, so I will be learning to graft. I want an outdoor fireplace so I will be doing a little rock hound work in the ravines in the woods. The run in sheds for the horses will be built out of hedge trees cut on the property. When the garden is finished there will be a rainwater catchment for watering plants and for a solar outdoor shower. Then I won't be tracking in mud and I will have a place to wash vegetables. There will also be an outdoor sawdust toilet. Come on! I'm 52! I'm not even going to TRY to run into the house every time I've had too much coffee. And you can bet your sweet Aunt Fannie that it WON'T be half caf, two shots, tall, caramel latte with whipped cream and a sprinkle of nutmeg!


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

let the disappointment begin!!!

Well, it's raining!!! Sucky, stinking lousy rain!! I had a to-do list. Recently, I've been very good about the to-do list and today's list was going to be the, "It's finally dry enough, let's see what I can get done outdoors!" day. I had the remnant of an old , big round hay bale that needed to be burned, so brilliant me, I thought I would rake up the old dry manure and burn that too. Then that lot would be ready to let horses back into, and it would be higher and dryer for them. Well, crap!! It's not dry anymore!! So the clean up is on hold.

Another item on the to-do list today was to get the kale and the beet seeds into the garden. They would just wash away today so that is another project on hold.

Another important task was the laying of the three inch drain tile down the side of the drive. I had done prep work yesterday. I had gotten the trench evened back out. Dug where I needed to dig. All I needed to do today was to connect and do a little fine tuning. Looks like the drain will remain unconnected until another day.

I'm also pumping water out of the foundation trench for the garage. Keeping water out of foundation trenches has been an ongoing battle for three years now. Who knew that Iowa would become known for it's monsoon season?! Though it is raining, I continue pumping. I don't want to lose ground.

Although I am irritated by my break in momentum there have been some good things. I will try to dwell on those today. For instance, when we purchased the land, it was listed as a thirty-six acre parcel. According to the USDA crp report form, it is actually 38.5. Woohoo!! It has grown under my care! Last night , I sketched out five ideas for product for my home business to sell. I will be selling on Etsy. When I get it done I will link over so you can have a look. And there was the day about a week ago when we were standing at the front window and watching a pair of bald eagles and their mid-air cavorting. Then there is the cabinet that I need to get stained today. (we'll see how that goes).

And then there is planning. Little calms my mind and makes me feel peaceful like planning does. So I will take some time and plan today. I will plan some run in sheds for the horses. And I'd like a round pen.... and a bridge in the woods ... a small barn... Oh well, I wasn't going to get anything done when it started raining anyway.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

you're so lucky you don't have leukemia......

Overall, yesterday was a weird day. For one thing, for me being alone is very rare. Mac is always here. He is always first in my thoughts and for the first time in a very long time I could just think of something else. Considering that an asian lady bug walked across my desk with a dust bunny on it's back, got to the corner and then died; I kind of thought I should turn my attention to housecleaning.

So, I start my cleaning. As I make the list and am crossing things off I just keep getting angrier and angrier. I am mad about dishes. I am mad the kitchen is a mess. I am mad at the bathroom floor. Then it occurred to me ... it was safe. Well, to explain I'll give you an example. Horses have a response called a flight line. If something scares them, their response is to run. They will run so far then stop to see if the danger is still behind them.. to see if they are safe. Some horses may just jump, some it may be ten feet, for a hotter horse it may be a mile or ten miles. But somewhere or other the horse will stop and say,"Oh good, nothing is chasing me. I'll eat grass."

That was where I was at. Mac was safely back at school and I could finally have the moment to deal with the bad news. Finally, almost a year later. I have a flight line of sorts too. I don't break down during a catastrophe. I wait until I am clear and then I break down. So I recognized that I was going through the stages of grieving minus the ones that were no longer applicable, like denial, and playing lets make a deal with God. I was pretty much left with the rage and then later the resignation/grieving part.

I was just hitting grieving when I went to pick Mac up from school. Acquaintances had parked next to me. We chatted a little. Of course, it was about Mac, and then they said, "you're lucky you didn't have leukemia." What did that mean? I knew how it felt. It felt like I had just gotten slapped across the face. It felt like they had said I had RATHER it was you who had leukemia. Yes, if only just the worthless people would get leukemia and die! Maybe I am worthless now, but I haven't always been. I have an above average I.Q. , did all the crap that was suppose to mean something but it didn't, like "Who's Who Of American High School Students" and National Honor Society. I was the one whose high school counselor told them that their A.C.T. score was high enough that if I didn't go to college it would be a waste. He reiterated that I NEEDED to go to college. I didn't feel lucky when my Dad told me there was no money so I couldn't go to school. Despite that, I continued to send out applications and letters to request applications. Lucky me ... I didn't receive a response to any of them. But I was SMART. So surely someone would at least send me the application! Finally in desperation I sent an application to a community college. I should say my counselor sent it for me. And I had requested that the response also be sent to him. He wasn't happy about it. Mr. Good had taken me aside and told me that I had presence and verbal abilities and he had hoped I would choose to be a lawyer. At this point, I had been trying to apply for a year. I was losing faith. When visiting a four year college on a senior trip, the head of the art department had asked me to go there. He said he wanted to teach me. He had told me that he could spot them. The ones with the good sense of humor, the ones that could make it. Yes, lucky, lucky me ... I went to community college.... until I couldn't stand it any longer.

And when I got married and had kids, lucky me worked my butt off to make sure Mac got through school. Then his teaching job was such crap that it didn't make enough money to live on. So I continued working horrible jobs. I have done everything from foundry work to scrubbing toilets, and I did my best to make sure that the kids went to college. Since I couldn't go to school I tried to find information where ever it was to be had. I was a sponge. The engineer that wouldn't give me a permanent position with the Department of Transportation thought I did good work and that I had it in me to go to college and become an engineer myself. Lucky me... I'm so smart. I've gotten enough dings in the fender from the crud jobs I have worked that it really doesn't bear thinking about.

Lucky me, every time Mac was in the hospital I was with him for 24/7. I was sent away for several days once because I had gotten a cold sore. I was the one that twice ripped his breathing apparatus off his face when he was vomiting into the face mask as a result of the ICU Dr. having taken away his anti nausea drugs. I was the one that kept him from tearing out his picc line when he was reacting badly to one of his meds. I was the one that could get him to calm down and sleep when he was having hallucinations. I cleaned up more vomit, blood and , pardon me, shit then his nurses. Lucky me.

Lucky me that I didn't get leukemia. Like it was destined for my family and I was such a coward that I didn't man up and take the hit. I would have... If I had just known that's the way it worked. Of course, the school's insurance is such garbage that we can only afford to insure Mac. If I had gotten leukemia, I could be dead now, and Mac would have the life insurance money and be set up to marry a woman that would be his equal. Lucky me.

But now I'm in this other place, where my last surviving dream is dancing around me like a sparkling light. Just at my fingertips. Just out of reach. I can brush up against it but I can't grab it. I can't grab it yet. But I'm going to. I've worked so hard to keep Mac from dying and now, that's how hard I am going to work to make a life.

Oh and by the way, aren't we all so lucky we didn't join the navy and come home with monkey syphillus.


Monday, March 22, 2010

back in the saddle

Well, after all of the hospital time, Dr. office visits, infusion center visits and all of the days of home IVs and med sorting, walking stairs, NAGGING...Mac is having his first day back at work. It would be nice to have a little break down. A reward for being the good little care giver, but if I pulled my finger out of the dam, I'm not sure that I would have my sanity tied back up into a nice little bundle by the time he got home. So I will forego my self gratuitous meltdown and start planning for spring.

Mac says we live on an acreage. He says that he is not a farmer. He does not farm. He does not want to farm. He says that we live on an acreage and an acreage is just an over sized yard. He just wants to have things nice.

I'm not sure how that can be .... I live on a 38.5 acre mini farm. I want to raise the majority of our food to take the burden off the paycheck. I want the little farm to be able to make it's own mortgage payment. I want to prove that you can run an environmentally sound, small family farm and survive.... actually THRIVE!! I just have to do it so Mac doesn't notice.

So, here is the plan..... first, triple the size of the garden. Second, get on top of cleaning up the woods and then get started planting ginseng and starting morel mushroom spawn. Those will be cash crops. Third, burn off the weeds and rough patches and cut out cedars in what will be the hay field next year. Fourth, start prep work for where the vineyard will go next spring. Fifth, get some sheds built!! There is just never enough storage!! Sixth, start collecting apple trees for what will be the orchard.... someday. Well, that's just the tip of the iceberg, and we will have to see if I can get it all done while Mac is at work, so that he continues to think that he lives on an acreage. It can be done! I'm just sure of it!

Tough old broads can accomplish anything. (pictures to follow)


Saturday, March 20, 2010

the hard way

Basically there are two ways to do everything. There's the hard way and the easy way. I specialize in the hard way. Mostly, I have hand tools. Hand tools are great. Civilizations have been built with hand tools. But when you are using hand tools AND working alone, then things get pretty tough. Wheelbarrows are also handy. But I have come to the conclusion that there has never been a wheelbarrow tire capable of holding air for more then two weeks. So, I'd kind of like to try doing a few things the easy way.

I want a willys jeep. The little four seater work horse of WWII. Hauling my shovels , saws and rakes, plant material, soil. It would be heaven!! Throw in one of those little ground drive manure spreaders and a small dump cart and I would be a woman on a mission!!! Just the idea of it makes me so excited that all the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up and wave!!

My wee farm could not afford or support a tractor but the idea of a willys jeep makes my heart sing! Holy crap!! I could get something done!! Once the heavy lifting is done then I can work on making a beautiful life! It'll be so cool! Just imagine.. the rustic cottage, pristine hayfields, the small, picturesque vineyard, the cool breeze blowing through the leafy woods, honeycombed with trails and small bridges, horses playing and snorting in their pasture. All I need is my willys jeep and then the heavens will open and all good things will come to me.

Just you wait.... it could happen.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Ode to spring

How does it the spring a young man's fancy turns lightly to love. Well, it doesn't have to be a young man. There are all sorts whose hearts soften with the spring thaw.

Chloe the pony, poor dear, was always at the bottom of the pecking order where she had to be kept. I hated it but sometimes situation dictates the terms under which we live. But she was the first one to come here, to our wee farm. At first the aloneness bothered here and she would call out and wait to here back from a local horse. The reply usually came from a mule about three quarter of a mile to the west on the other side of the woods.

Then came the ill fated Little Finn. Chloe adopted him immediately. He was a tender soul and she loved him dearly. Then Pip came home. Pip had been staying with a neighbor until more fence was up. So our number was now three and we were getting late into our indian summer. Chloe would give her feed to Finn, rest her head on his back and give Pip hateful looks! Her ears would pin, her eyes would narrow and she would pull up her nostrils as high as she could and in her rudest horsey language tell Pip," I DON'T LIKE YOU!!" The tension was palpable.

Then Finn started acting sick. He was worm infested. We got him separated, wormed, and started to get extra feed into him. He improved but the weight wouldn't come on fast enough to get ahead of our sudden start to a severe winter. We lost him to the cold on a saturday morning, and we still miss his gentle spirit. The absence of Little Finn seemed to make Chloe hate Pip even more. Chloe, the trickster, would leave some of her feed behind and Pip, the pirate, could not resist. Chloe was always lined up just right to deliver a volley of kicks to Pip, who could never refuse the bait.

Then things came to a breaking point... literally. When Chloe got hateful, Pip would go through the fence. It became something of a regular event to walk out the door to chore and have Pip waiting for me next to the feed cans. Back in she would go and I would mend fence while they ate. These escape episodes were extremely upsetting for Chloe. She eventually came to the conclusion that any company was better then no company. Things settled down during the course of the winter. They started doing the usual horsey things, like stand head to tail. However they did it fifty feet apart.

Recently, there has been the slightest shift of intent. A little more of the feed was left. And Chloe would move her butt over letting Pip know that the welcome mat was out. There was no kicking. Then the kindness shown was reciprocated. Pip refused to eat at her usual spot. She wanted to stay next to Chloe.

Then this morning was the final act. I put out the feed in two separate piles about twenty feet apart, as always. When I turned around there was the small brown nose next to the big white one. Both busy in the same pile of grain.

Yeah, I'd have to say there has definitely been some thawing going on around here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


There is this old army joke about a tough drill sergeant. One day he had a recruit in the mud doing push ups and he screamed at the boy, "I bet you want to someday piss on my grave"
"Sir! No, Sir!", answered the recruit, "I promised myself after I got out of the army I'd never stand in another line!"

I have decided that I WILL make it to Ireland.... dead or alive. Of course I would prefer it be alive. I have plans. I want to climb around the Giants Causeway. Stand on Tara. Watch the sun set while standing on the outermost edge of the Dingle peninsula. Most of us from the States want to ramble around a couple of graveyards looking for that name that just might be kind of, sort of related to auntie or uncle somebody or other, twice removed. Then we have that feeling of kinship, like we really do belong to Ireland in some way.

An absolute must for me is a visit to the blarney stone! As I tell my friends, I'm in dire need of the gift of eloquent speech! I don't care that I have to lay on my back off the top of this castle with some stranger hanging onto my legs while I stick my head through a hole in the wall. I don't care!! I'm going to do it!! Megan, a friend of mine, says a tour guide told her that the blarney stone was found at the bottom of an ancient outhouse. I don't care!! I'm sure that anything I have to worry about has worn off in the course of four hundred years! Besides, I DON'T CARE!! I'm going to kiss the blarney stone!!

My desire is absolute. I have a contingency plan in the event that the dead rather then alive comes into play. Each of my daughters are suppose to take three thousand dollars from the life insurance money. (hope that's enough) I'm to be cremated, stuffed into an urn, thrown into the luggage...better make it a carry on, just in case, and taken on my trip to Ireland! I won't be able to see anything this way but I am hoping for a descriptive narrative. You know, "Look Mom, there's the Dingle peninsula and the sun is setting in shades of red and blue and purple. It's really pretty" so on and so on. I won't be able to kiss the blarney stone so one of the girls will have to do that for me. We'll manage.

Then there's the tricky part. If I die before Mac then they are to find a family type grave, give me a quick introduction and dump my ashes there. My oldest daughter saw some difficulties in that seeing how most Irish cemeteries are consecrated as catholic and I'm not. So one of the girls will be assigned to distracting the priest while the other two get me dumped. I figure it's a small price to pay for a free trip to Ireland.

I'm not going into the ground here in the States, alone and defenseless. Who knows how many in-laws will be lining up to pee on my grave?!! No! I'm going to Ireland! I'll just have to make sure that the girls dump me on a grave that doesn't have any urine stains on that headstone either.... you see, I KNOW what my family is like!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

that was then, this is now

There are events that bring back memories with such clarity, that it is almost as if we were there and watching the event unfold. This happened for me last night. A reminder, a nudge from the TV and I was back in high school and helping with the saturday swim lessons. I was manager of the boys and girls swimming team and a member of the synchronized swimming team. I was as fast as a rock but swam like an otter. Which was probably a good thing for helping five year olds learn to swim. The swim team volunteers helped with one on one learning and one Saturday I drew a little boy that would not go in the water! He was in tears occasionally. The best I could do was get him to be a wall hugger but he spent most of the first half of the morning on deck. Then the dad could take no more. With a face like thunder he was off the bleachers. Across the deck. Had the little boy in his arms. Chucked him into an open spot. The child sunk like a rock. I was beside him when he came up. He looked around in panic. Took a couple of gulps of air. He was staying up with just a little bit of a guiding hand and then....he was all smiles! By the end of the morning, he was well on his way to being an otter himself. He could swim a good ten feet off the wall then push off my legs and make it back.

Sometimes we just get thrown into the deep end before we think were ready. Sometimes WHERE we get thrown in is a real shit hole. All the more reason to swim.

But, I have to be honest here. Some of the deep ends that I have been thrown into have been awfully, awfully good. And then it's an adventure.

I have SO many adventures to go on yet. I WILL have my hippy homestead. I WILL become proficient with my horses. I WILL do everything in my power to make my husband well. And I will grab with all of my strength, all of the magic that this life has to offer and I will do battle with anyone that tries to stop me.

Maybe swimming like an otter has made me a bit of a warrior woman .... well, something has.

Happy St. Patrick's Day everybody! Erin Go Bragh!


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

promises, promises

As my girls were growing up, I tried to make it a rule that I wouldn't promise anything that I couldn't deliver. The intent was that the rules are absolute but then so are the rewards. If I couldn't promise for sure then it was more of a "we'll have to wait and see how things work out" reply. I can say that there was only one promise that I made to the girls that I didn't keep. I promised them a tree house in the back yard. We did get the tree planted. This was probably a bit of shortsightedness on my part.

When Mac was first diagnosed with leukemia, he dwelt a good deal on the things he would never have. His assumption was that he would die any minute and there was so much to DO! Of course that was a demon I was wrestling with myself so it wasn't much of a stretch. His list... he KNEW he would never live in a new house. He KNEW he would never live to see any grandchildren born. He KNEW he would never own a four wheeler and he KNEW we would never make our trip to Ireland. I promised him EVERYTHING. I kept telling him that if he would just trust me I would find a way to make it happen. I started drawing house plans. I started scouring ads for used four wheelers. I crunched numbers. I was in a fervor.

Okay, this might be a good time to interject a thought.... always be careful when you promise things. When people have something to live for, they tend to survive. And I should probably apologize to the girls. I more then likely exceeded my jurisdiction in promising grandchildren.

We bought a piece of land. After many years of commuting and almost four dollar a gallon gas, it was time to live closer to the job. I marvel now that it happened the way it did. I never even walked the land. I went to the realtor asked the price. I gave a counter offer. It was accepted within ten minutes. We did some paperwork. I put a thousand dollar earnest money check down . The realtor gave me a name of a bank and the name of a banker and told me they had found them to be far more user friendly. We got the land!!

I guess you would have to say that my cautious existence would be facing a fair amount of upheaval. Running willy-nilly to a better life can be a frightening thing. To date we hadn't even been able to afford a mediocre life let alone a good one! But you see!! I MADE PROMISES!! But the upside was that I figured if I was going to keep promises to my husband, then it was time I kept a few to myself as well.

I found a nice tree for a treehouse and I know that where there is life there is hope. As a matter of fact the girls went ahead and took care of that grandchild issue for me...more life, more hope.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Let the midlife crisis begin!!

I have decided that the reason that teenagers are so fearless is because they have layers protecting them. They have, of course, themselves. Then there is mom and dad. There is a natural order to these things. They can't die until mom and dad die. Then there is grandpa and grandma. First grandpa and grand ma bite then dust. Then mom and dad. You're safe. You are no where near the front of the line. But sometimes there are twists........

My maternal grandmother died when my kids were very young. Then my maternal grandfather. Then my paternal grandfather. Then some years went by. My paternal grandmother died and just two years later, my dad, her son, also left. At times like this, despite your grief, you can't help but think..... "Holy Shit!! I'm almost at the front of the line!"

It's like you are heading towards a cliff that you don't want to look over the side of, and you just keep getting pushed closer and closer by unseen hands! It's like being five minutes into a dodgeball game and realizing that all the fat, slow kids that you hide behind are already out. You're going to get nailed! You find yourself waking in the middle of the night with every muscle tense and your thinking, "This is no time to waste time! I can't sleep! There's stuff to do! and I'M GONNA' DIE!!!" You are waist deep in anger, angst and analogy!

So the search for validity begins. There has to be more then going to work and paying bills and living next door to a guy you want to hit with the business end of a shovel. Soul searching!! Let me tell you self analysis can be completely over rated! I discovered that there was nothing I could do that would make a nest egg for my family. None of my talents seemed to have any monetary potential. And I hadn't even begun to scratch the surface of everything I wanted to try... Hold on! (Okay, at this moment, take a pause, insert a feeling of absolute crystal clarity, a moment of calm) TRY...... hmmm, this could be interesting. Try what? What did I want?

At this particular moment in time there was a convergence of sorts. PBS played a big part in it. there was a show called Frontier House. Three different families were plopped down somewhere in Colorado to see if a modern family could survive "homesteading". Well, the hippy part of my nature came out in spades and I found myself yelling at the TV. ( Why are you doing it like that?! Why are you wasting your time with those people? That's stupid! ) But then the series ended and it left me with a feeling of malcontent, but it had given me a very strong direction on what I wanted to try. Shortly after that, there was another PBS special with this awesome lady by the name of Barb Sher. She had a book and program called "Creating your Second Life after Forty" So now I had some direction and Barb Sher's program gave me the how-tos and survival strategies for going after the dream. I cannot stress enough the importance of Barb in this process.

There was one more layer that would make my quest complete. I KNEW if I was going to die soon then I had to die a horse owner. I know this will sound so stupid to so many people but you all have your "thing". There is the "thing" that you must have, do or be that is wriggling around in there, waiting for a crisis big enough, to make you brave enough, to let it out. So I started watching horse gurus on RFD-TV. For one reason or another they all fell off my radar, all except Pat Parelli. Pat had people with disabilities, age issues, expertise issues, you name it, being successful with horses. As I had quite a list of issues myself, I figured this was the guy to help me navigate these waters. He also had a different approach when it came to the human element. If you screw up, man up and take the blame, then make yourself better, so your horse can be better. ( this is my paraphrase, I don't think the Parellis would actually phrase it like that) With my mile wide social conscience, this really appealed to me.

Several months later, I took a blacksmithing class from adult ed. Then I took a reimbursement check and bought a welsh mountain pony. I named her Chloe. I was at the starting line for chasing a dream.


Sunday, March 14, 2010


These are just too easy. Start with a four cup pyrex measuring cup (you know the kind you can pour out of)

Into the pyrex measuring cup put about three tablespoons of butter. Pop it in the microwave and melt it. then measure in a cup of milk. Back into the microwave and warm the milk up. that's warm, not hot. Then beat in gently, an egg. Add a good three heaping tablespoons of white sugar, a short teaspoon of salt, three level teaspoons of baking powder (more on that in a minute) and a cup of flour. don't over beat this mix. it can even go into the skillet a bit lumpy. You want to pour some oil in the skillet but wipe it around with a paper towel so there isn't any standing oil. Now let the skillet ( I prefer cast iron for this) warm up but you don't want it too hot. A shade below medium is usually just right. Just fry up a silver dollar pancake to make sure you have it right.

Now if you want to kick it up a notch...
switch out the milk for buttermilk then change the three teaspoons of baking powder to one teaspoon of baking powder and two teaspoonfuls of baking soda.

The thing with baking powder is that you must....MUST shake up the can good before you measure out and that's every time! It can get too separated and you can end up with bitterness in the end. and baking powder has a shelf life. Date it and in six months, pitch it.

Who wants to just end up with bitterness, after all.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Okay, it's like this......

The first things I remember wanting in my early life were pancakes and horses. The order of importance probably varied on a day by day basis. But despite my early years, I held a strong belief that Trigger was too much flash and the true hero was Dale Evan's buckskin bay. Though most would have to agree that the shining star of horse heroes would have to be Flicka. At least that was the case in 1960.

The inevitable happened. With age came pancakes made of nothing more then Bisquick and the only horses I got to spend time with were on merry-go-rounds, pony rides and a wonderful pony by the name of Belle. She belonged to my uncle and she was always content to just stand by the fence with me. I was convinced that we could read each other"s minds.

Kept growing. I forgot how good pancakes could be. Growing up is about survival.

I turned out to be a bit of a hippy child crossed with the Jesus movement and with a social conscience about a mile wide. I got my first horse as a four month old a year before I was to leave home. He was given away when I went to school. I found out when I came home to an empty pasture. It was made harder because we had been able to read each other's minds.

Got married. That was followed by having three daughters and many adventures. The adventures involved more imagination then miles, but a good time was had by all. The girls left home and then my Dad died of congestive heart failure. That's when a great deal of introspection occurred and I realized that I still hadn't figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up.

This sucks. Ends up that when you're worried about what you want to be "when you grow up" during your mid-life crisis, you tend to screw yourself up a bit. As I have waded through this morass there have been some defining moments. Weddings, of course, graduations, people that enriched our lives..... some that didn't. Then two months after his fiftieth birthday, my husband, Mac was diagnosed with leukemia. Guess you could say this is where it got interesting.

This is when I found a quote somewhere. Don't remember who said it or how it went exactly, but it said that when laying on their deathbeds, no one regretted what they did do. They just regretted what they didn't do. Considering the possibility of a deathbed being just three feet away from me, this philosophy had a good deal of clout. Mac went into remission. His leukemia relapsed three years later. He had a bone marrow/stem cell transplant last July 31st. He had complications. He is better now.

I don't care what I become when I grow up anymore. And I am going to do my damndest, to not go into the ground with any regrets.

I make really good pancakes. I have a welsh mountain pony named Chloe. I have a haflinger horse named Pip (Philipa)..... and I do believe that we are starting to be able to read one another's minds.