Thursday, December 29, 2011

Attics - and a lifetime of STUFF.

When I was a child I dreamed of having an attic - one like in-the-movies or at least like the one of my very vivid imagination.  Newer houses don't have cool attics - they have crawl spaces or inaccessible places that only hold insulation and dust.  I remember looking at the attic hatch in my childhood home and thinking how sad it was that mom and dad didn't build a cool one.

I finally have a cool attic.  It's more than 150 years old and accessed by crooked stairs in the far-back-room.  The house leans heavily to the south-west in that corner making ascending and descending the stairs something you don't do without a few seconds of thought.  The stairs are steep - somewhere between really steep and a ladder.  When you look at each tread you can see that the original steps were covered over with 2x6's - probably because the groove where your foot would touch the stairs was almost worn right through.  Very COOL.  The attic's best feature??  - it can be closed with a trapdoor that weighs about 100 pounds - we plan to hide up there when the zombies come and drop the door on their heads if they come after us!

Once you've traversed the stairs you find yourself in a chipboard paneled room with a low ceiling - ok - the chipboard isn't very original or dreamy however it does save you from the falling chunks of plaster.  There's no heat up there in the winter so it's a great second fridge or freezer depending on the outdoor temperatures.  In the summer it does double duty as a dehydrator - wow - it's hot.  There's only one single-paned window that doesn't open and one light bulb with a pull string.  Rather bare bones but still it has the stuff that imagination is made of… think Home Alone!

Having an attic (and a garage and a barn) means I've never had so much storage space in all my life.  The attic holds Christmas decorations, the overflow from my daughters room (she has a LOT of stuff!) and assorted chairs and leftovers that need to be shoved somewhere out of eyesight.  I can actually leave stuff lying around up there - boxes opened and randomly shoved this way and that.  I suppose no one can really understand my excitement over this until they've lived in a teeny-tiny-house with 7 adults where you had to turn sideways in the hall to pass each other.   Space is such a luxury and one I think I will never quite get over.

I can already see the danger of it all though.  Why get rid of stuff - there's lots of room!  Someone will ask - do you want this widget and rather than say - NO I HAVE NO ROOM FOR IT (which seems more polite than NO I just-plain-don't-want-it.) I may be tempted to just say YES - every time!  It appears I need to think up another convenient excuse because I have acres of space, miles of closet shelves, a garage, a barn and an ATTIC! 

Now you have to understand why I'm so worried - My name is Anita and I like stuff - especailly if it's red, old fashioned, cool neat stuff.  I spent the 5 years previous to our move here de-cluttering our whole tiny house - TWICE!  The first time around I wasn't as ruthless as I should have been so I went on to ROUND-TWO! I don't want to lose the momentum that set us free from CHAOS.  I remember the days of boxes and mess and too much laundry and never being able to find anything.  I'm a little afraid the Clutter Monster is gonna-get-me!

We've done so well since we got here but lately I've noticed a marked increase in the items coming through the door.  It just sorta follows us home - like the fancy-metal-scroll-work-table we found on the side of the road that only needed a coat of spray paint or the adorable dishes I needed for Christmas dinner.

I am facng my fear today.  I am cleaning up the Christmas decorations and putting things away in their proper boxes which I will line up in neat rows in the attic.  I will not let this get out of hand.  I will live by my boundaries and say NO when I am offered things I don't really want.  I will stay on the wagon!  I will reclaim the ATTIC!  Take that Clutter Monster!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas story

In the stillness of a cold winter night being with the animals in the barn is one of my favorite places to be.  I can just imagine…

It was evening- we were waiting for Farmer Luke and Farmer Mom to come out to the barn and tuck us into our nice warm pens where fresh hay and grain awaited us each night.  My friends Lamb-chops and Flanders the sheep waited with their thick woolly coats covered in bits of hay from reaching up into the manger for the last of the hay in the outdoor feeder.  Mr. Sheepie waited while keeping a close eye on the comings and goings of Annabelle and Clementine as they rounded up their chicken friends so they could all run into the barn together when dinner was served in the chicken coop.  Sir Winston and Lady Bella waited while bobbing their heads to some internal beat of their own - ducks are a bit strange that way.

It was very quiet except for the soft clucking of the chickens when Annabelle spoke up and asked me to tell a story while we all waited. Donkeys have the tradition of being the barnyard storytellers so I thought back to the stories I had heard from my mother when I was just a colt.  My favorite story was one I had asked for many times - my mother had pretended to be tired of telling it to me but I could tell from the sound of her voice as she told it that it was her favorite too.

The sheep settled down in a pile a straw and the chickens and a few of the ducks gathered round finding places to roost on the beams above our heads.  My best friend Gertie sat right beside me clucking her encouragement as I took a deep hee-haw breath and began to tell the tale.

It was in a place very much like this barn and a very long time ago.  That barn was home to another family of animals - just like us.   My great-great-great-great grandmother (maybe a few more greats - my mom wasn't quite sure) was there one night when something so wonderful and so spectacular happened that she could never forget it.

It was a cold night and the other barnyard animals were talking excitedly about their day. The chickens always had lots to talk about - the big worm they had found in the apple orchard or finding the grain on the side of the road that had fallen off of the farmers cart on his way to market.  But it wasn't any of those things they were talking about that day.  It wasn't a usual day for the goats either of being let out to graze in the fields with the goat herders near by or being frightened by a bear in the distance that the goat herders had to chase away.

This was an extra-special-very-un-ordinary-day because some guests had arrived in the barn.  The animals were very curious about them.  One of the guests stood quietly near them munching some hay with a far-away look in her eyes. The others were in the sheep and donkey stall.  The animals were trying to decide who they could send to speak with her and finally decided to send my great grandma to have a donkey-to-donkey talk while they quietly crowded around to see what she would say. The cows bell jingled softly around her neck as she strained to hear what was being said.  The chickens quietly clucked to themselves - wondering what was happening.  The ducks just bobbed their heads making no sound at all which as very unusual for them.  Grandma joined the guest at the feeder and introduced herself.  I'm Grandma Maybe - what brings you to our barn this cold night?  The guest finished chewing her hay before answering - for it's impolite for donkeys to speak with their mouths full.  With the quietest hee-haw she whispered - I came with those people over there. The man kept saying - we need to get to Bethlehem. 

Grandma Maybe looked into the stall where she usually slept with her friends.  The light from a moonbeam streamed right into the pen so she could see quite well.  In the hay manger - right on top of their nightly ration of hay was a BABY!  It's parents were looking at him with big smiles on their faces.

What was a baby doing in there!! 

A few minutes later the barn got even busier!  All the shepherds came in!  They seemed excited and curious.  They looked at the baby with big smiles on their faces too. 

Weren't they supposed to be looking after the sheep?? 

One of the shepherds was a young boy who was always very friendly to all the animals.  He came over to scratch Grandma Maybe between the ears.  He seemed to be thinking really hard about something and then he said:

Grandma Maybe: we saw angels tonight.  They sang to us out in the fields!  One of them told us: “Don’t be afraid! I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.  The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”  ...and look - THERE HE IS - just like they told us!

The barn was very still - you could only hear the sound of the gentle wind outside as Maybe finished the story.  Lamb-chops the sheep was the first to speak  "That was a special night!  I wish I was there to see it myself."  The other animals nodded in agreement.

Then they all heard the sound of Farmer Luke and Farmer Mom coming towards the barn -  they wouldn't have to wait any longer for their evening meal.  The animals remained unusually quiet as they made their way into their suppers and then their beds - no loud quacking or clucking or hee-hawing or baaaaaing - everyone just went peacefully into their pens and thought and thought about the story Maybe had told them.

No more waiting...

“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

Merry Christmas! 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Homemade Laundry Soap

Saving money is most times easier than making it and I have found a way to save LOTS of money.  In our home we seem to have mountains of laundry to be done but my honest first thought when I heard about making my own soap was - all I need is one-more-thing-to-do...was the extra work going to be worth it? 

I decided to give it a try for several reasons.  The first was my ongoing struggle with allergies.  I seem to be allergic to the strangest things and at times have a wallop of an attack.  Life with allergies is no fun so over the years I have looked at nearly everything I come into contact with to see if there was some way I could mitigate the allergic response.   The second reason is financial - we seemed to be constantly buying or running out of laundry soap.  Even though the cheapest brands weren't always satisfactory they seemed to give me less of an allergic response than the big name brands perhaps because there was less scent.  Homemade laundry soap has very little scent to it except clean. The third reason is storage which I will explain in a moment.

Making your own laundry soap might seem like something super-homesteading-large-family-enviromental-frugal people do.  Well - perhaps - but it's so simple it doesn't matter what your reasons are - this stuff is fantastic and inexpensive and doesn't make me itch or sneeze (except when grating the soap!) and it super-simple-easy to make and it can be used in a HD washing machine because of the minimual amount of suds AND it does a GREAT job of cleaning your clothes.

Here's what to do:
In a large pot on the stove combine:
about 8 cups of water
1 bar of Linda laundry soap grated
1 cup Borax
1 cup washing soda
All these items are easily found in most grocery store laundry aisles - you've probably just not been looking for them.

I use a pot that is exclusively used for making laundry soap - use an old one or buy on at a thrift store.  some people say this is not necessary if you clean the pot out really well after you make it - you decide.  I also use a dollar store grater for grating the Linda soap - it's hard to clean afterwards so don't use it for food!

Over low heat and stirring often mix the contents until they are completely dissolved for about 20 minutes. Leaving it on the stove longer won't hurt it - but any shorter and you may not have it completely dissolved.

Add this mixture to a 5 gallon pail and fill the pail till about 2/3 full with hot water.  That doesn't sound very exact and that is because it doesn't seem to need to be.  Stir using a whisk, immersion blender or a hand mixer - whatever you have.  It should turn into a gel by the next day when it cools completely or it may look a bit watery like cottage cheese but either way it cleans your clothes very well.  You can re-blend it if it bothers you.  That's all there is to it! 

Use about 1/16 cup - a heaping tablespoon for the more visual among us - I have a small plastic scoop beside the bucket. If the clothes are particularly greasy or dirty use a little more.

The cost is approx. .05c a load by my last calculations. A pail like that lasts us at least three months (that of course depends on how many loads your family does each month) 

How does it save money???

Linda soap bar: $1.49 a bar
2kg. Borax: less than $5.00 (8.5 recipes)
3 kg. Washing soda: less than $5.00 for 13 recipes

But think about this... if you bought:
13 bars of soap $20.00
2 boxes Borax $10.00
1 box Washing soda $5.00
For a total of less than $35.00 you could make the recipe 13 times which would be enough for more than 3 years (39 months to be exact!)
That's less than $1.00 a month..

Can you see why I love this stuff!  We've been using homemade laundry soap for 5 or 6 years and I wouldn't switch back for any reason.  Frugal.  Practical.  Simple.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Death with a purpose

Almost a year ago we butchered the first animal on our farm. It was a sad day for Jacob the Ram and honestly it was for me too. Jacob had been on the farm for about three months to do-the-deed for our ewes - and his owners didn't want to take him home and feed him over the winter so we struck a deal. We would pay for the butchering and they would split the meat with us. Now - meat and Jacob just didn't go well in the same sentence for me at that point. Of course I KNEW what had to be done but the thought of the actual DOING was another story. It hit a home run into the knowing-where-your-food-comes-from field.

The night came when he needed to be delivered to the butchers barn and I was dreading it. The weather was terrible when his owner came to pick him up but I felt like I needed to do my part. I helped load him into the back of the van. Just to draw the picture further that's a passenger van - not a truck - and poor Jacob was squished between the back seat and the hatch so he couldn't run around. (Can't you just imagine a Children's book title to tell these stories: A Sheep in a Jeep - A Ram in a Van) I was troubled but prepared to go with him to drop Jacob off but he said: The roads are terrible - stay home. He didn't have to twist my arm. I waved goodbye and guiltily went back into the house.

About a week later we went to pick up the meat. We met up at the butchers shop and I remember staring down at little brown packages in a big clear plastic bag and trying to figure out where to put this new experience in my mind. It felt weird. That was Jacob. I had known that animal. I had fed him and cleaned up after him and scratched him under his chin. He was probably going to be the father of my baby lambs. All these thoughts rushed through my mind in a mad scramble with no where to go.

The Jacob-meat was in the freezer for almost two months before we got up the courage to eat it. I guess we needed time to adjust to the reality of how the cycles of life really worked. When the kids began to ask if we were having Jacob for dinner I knew we had all crossed over some invisible line into being keepers of animals and not just keepers of pets.

We made another trip this week to bring our 47 "meatie" birds, 7 roosters and 10 ducks to the abattoir. The day started at 4:45 when we crawled out of bed and had a quick cup of tea. Four of us rounded up the animals and shoved them squawking and quacking into specially made crates which we had picked up the night before. They were then loaded onto a trailer and delivered by the three sleepy men to the loading dock of Morrisons in Omemee. Then they went out for breakfast and I went back to bed! I guess this is the part where they aren't the happy chickens and ducks anymore!

Morrisons is the only place around that can process poultry and it's a busy place. Trucks and vans and trailers are lined up waiting their turn to load or unload. We saw one open tailer being loaded with what must have been 100's of birds ready for the freezer. In comparison our piddly 65 didn't seem like much at all in the parking lot although when it came time to deliver them and put the rest in the freezer they seemed like plenty!

This process was another great example of paying for your education with real-life experience. We figure we'll be lucky to break even this time around - here's what I learned.

  1. Getting meat chicks in September is later than I want to do this next time.
  2. I don't like cornish cross birds. They grow so quickly they can hardly walk by the time they are full grown, they eat a LOT and don't move around that much. They are completely different from our other chickens who wander the farm and range much farther. I'll be looking for a heritage meat bird for the next time.
  3. We've tried everything with the waterers - we just couldn't keep them full and finally went with a swimming pool in their pen. A disasterous choice for keeping the pen clean and dry. I'm looking into a drip system for all the birds for next spring.
  4. Ducks cost more than twice as much to butcher as chickens because their feathers are waterproof and they take much longer to pluck.
  5. We should have let the ducks get bigger before we butchered them - they ended up kinda scrawny and far too expensive for the size!
  6. We have to find another source or another way to deal with bedding in their pens - so much got wasted.

That's life at Shalom Engedi Farm and the continuing adventures of a small city girl becoming a small country farmer - who will perhaps one day actually make some money at this venture.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

How to stay motivated and keep moving forward...

My DH and I have a fair bit on our plates like most other people.  We live out here in heaven with animals to care for and 10 acres & a 150 year old home to look after but there are also the realities of working from home (that's the business that makes the money so we can live on the farm), family - including more than a few semi-grown-up young adults - friends, church activities, prepping and more.  Life at warp speed is complicated without some way of keeping on top of things.

I was finding that we were having a hard time focussing on what needed to be done next, what needed to be purchased next and what we could do ourselves and where we needed to hire some help.   Somehow moving out to the country also added the pressure of the seasons to our lives in a way we had not experienced before...consequently we also needed to find time for some rest in our crazy schedule.   It was certainly no fun to be doing everything at the last minute under pressure when it HAD to be done or missing opportunities because we didn't plan ahead.

I am blessed to be married to my best friend and abundantly blessed that we are both headed in the same mental direction the majority of the time - if you knew my DH some would say the direction of the crazy-train.  Even so the following has helped our marriage to become even stronger and reduced the frustration of unmet expectations of the Honey-Do list. 

I'm the nerd of the family.  I love lists and I am pretty organized so since it was bothering ME that we were not getting as much done as I thought we could I developed a series of LISTS.

The first is anything and everything to do with our business which we run from our home. 

The second is our finances and purchases. 

The third what needed to be done around the farm and in what order. 

The fourth our living healthy goals - family relationships, eating well, exercise and rest. 

The fifth the part time/fulltime job we have working with teenagers and young adults. 

These 5 major areas encompass almost everything we do even though life rarely fits neatly into catagories. 

Along with these lists I learned two lessons a few years ago that have become the boundary lines that frame the HOW-TO part of what we call the Priority Meetings. 

The first lesson I call the Lesson of the Green Fence.  When we lived in town we had a short section of fencing that ran between our house and the neighbours at the end of the driveway.  It needed staining.  It had needed staining for several years.  I got around to buying the green stain one summer but winter was here before we got the job done.  I was too busy discussing how I would do it and which brush I needed.  I was concerned about the weather being right and the time it would take to dry.  I talked about that fence a lot.  For a long time.  For at least a year and a half.  One bright sunny day I FINALLY talked my daughter into helping me stain the fence.  In 20 minutes we were done - that's all it took.  I had pondered and worried and talked about the fence 10x longer than it actually took to do the job.  Lesson 1: Seriously - Just Paint the Fence!  Whatever job you have on your list won't get done by staring at it and mulling it over and over.  Good planning is essential of course but there's a point where it becomes analysis paralysis which can prevent you from moving forward at all.

The second lesson I call the Lesson of the Red Couch.  We were redecorating the family room in our old home.  It was a very tiny room so there wasn't room for much in there but we replaced the flooring and were ready to put the old and sad looking TV stand back into the room and purchase a new couch.  Everything was going according to plan when when I found THE TV cabinet.  It was the perfect color and size and style and it was ON-SALE.  The problem was it was going to eat up the entire budget for the room AKA the new couch.  I made the VERY WISE and MATURE decision to buy the cabinet anyway.  Our puppy had destroyed the couch so we had already taken it to the dump anticipating it's replacement but we would just sit on the floor… it would be fine...  Well that lasted about two weeks.  It was a really dumb idea and very uncomfortable!  I had previously picked out the couch I wanted.  It was the most beautiful couch I had ever anticipated buying.  I had sat on it numerous times. It was RED. (If you know me at all you would know that was the deciding factor!)  It was also a pullout bed so it made good-practical-sense as well.  It was also expensive...and there was no way to squeeze that much money out of the grocery budget any time soon.  So we went to the furniture store (the one that has the huge headlines and colorful flyer) and bought the front-page-on-sale-special-pricing brown couch.  It was cheap.  It IS uncomfortable - almost as bad as the floor.  I HATE it.  Being a practical girl I can't buy another couch - I have a perfectly good uncomfortable couch.  I'm stuck with it until I can foist it off on one of my kids when they leave home - that would assuage my practical-but-guilty conscience and allow me to buy another one but not until then.  I still walk by that red couch on occasion.  I shoulda waited.  Lesson 2:  Wait for the red couch!  Quality is worth the extra money.  Waiting is an exercise of self-control and worth it every time!

We then chose Monday nights to conduct our PRIORITY MEETINGS. Each week we cover these 5 topics as best we can and make a detailed plan of what were doing that week and how to keep all the "balls in the air". We use the previous list and update and print it so we both can have a copy on our desks for reference. We were both surprised at how much of a difference this made in our productivity. It reduced stress too and that has been good motivation to continue meeting and discussing. The fact that we make these date nights on occasion and head for a local coffee shop is a great help as well. A bit of advice: if you choose to try-this-at-home -start small.  Somehow on Monday nights you feel like you will be able to accomplish much more than is realistic and by Friday that becomes apparent when you need to reside the garage, hoe (by hand) the back 40, stack a years supply of hay in the barn and provide dinner for 53 guests all on Saturday night. 

My list doesn't seem to get any shorter but we're getting a lot of it done.  Looking back over the year and a half we've been here we've actually accomplished a lot but most of it is quickly forgotten until Mr. Farmer the Previous Owner shows up to exclaim (or perhaps shed a few tears) over all the changes and progress we've made. 

Communicating about our goals means I know where we're at with our finances, what I need to save for and buy, what's going on this week with the business or the kids and what needs to get done.   I have a list - so now it's time to get off my uncomfortable brown couch and go out and paint another fence!

Green eggs - no ham.

The Kawartha Lakes Co-operative Auction Market or just-plain Woodville for short is the not-so-close-by place to go if you're looking for livestock animals.   I've only been there once.  My daughter and I were overwhelmed with the sights and sounds of animals, cars and trucks backing up filled with cages, people and farm equipment. We had only been living at the farm a few weeks and at that point our livestock consisted of all of 6 chickens - if you don't count the barn cats and the city dog.  I was so intimidated by the auction process that we didn't even get a number.  I could only imagine ending up with a cow for scratching my nose at the wrong time.  We decided to just stand and watch and hopefully learn.  Like any other auction - things moved along really fast and I wasn't quite sure how much things sold for or if it was a good deal or not.  We took the wimpy-route and headed for an area of the property where you could buy chicks and ducklings without the auction process.  We just went to look...and walked away with 4 Muscovy ducklings.  Cute little balls of fluff that we didn't have a clue about.  We went back to the car with them in a cardboard box and then scrambled to figure out what to do with them on the way home.

They lived in a hamster cage in our very-back-room (that's the addition to the addition) until the smell necessitated their removal to a more permanent home in the barn.  These ducks have been a great asset to our farm.  They eat an incredible amount of bugs, they are very entertaining in their strange head-bobbing sort of way, and they have provided us with fresh eggs and recently baby ducklings.

Sometime early this spring we were thinking about getting some more chickens but somehow a trip to Woodville just wasn't making it into the schedule with all the other things to do.  Our neighbour Ray was here rototilling the garden when he mentioned he was headed for Woodville the next weekend.  I think going to Woodville is his Saturday morning tradition and one he rarely misses.   Well the two thoughts converged and I asked him if he would mind looking around for us to see if he could find a COUPLE of Ameraucana blue/green egg laying chickens for us.  Somehow he thought "a couple" was 30 chicks.  Mercy - what was I going to do with 30 more chickens?!!  At that point we already had 40 or more.  We were really in the chicken business now!

It takes 18-22 weeks before chicks get big enough to lay eggs so we waited and waited...I had just given up on ever seeing a blue/green egg when finally we had the Dr. Seuss moment I had been waiting for.  GREEN EGGS - no ham.

Most adults would play this cool -  we have increased our egg production.  NOT ME!!  Yippee we have green eggs!!  It was worth the wait just for the coolness factor.

Almost everyone who hears about these new-fangled-eggs (that are actually old-fangled if you think about it) asks HOW COME?  So here's your birds-and-bees moment for the day.  Chickens lay eggs according to the color of…….. their EARS.  Really. Betcha didn't even know chickens HAD ears (yeah - me neither) White eared chickens like leghorns lay white eggs.  Brown eared chickens like our red-sex links lay brown eggs and black chickens with green ears (I have not personally ever seen their green ears) lay green or blue eggs.  Just for the record the roosters only part in this is fertilizing the eggs so they can hatch into chicks - he doesn't influence the color of the eggs.

So what do green eggs taste like?  Well - like an egg.  Nutritionally all the eggs on our farm would have similar nutritional quality because they all eat the same bugs, green stuff and feed. The color of the shell is just an interesting side bar.

Most of the eggs currently sold in supermarkets are nutritionally inferior to eggs produced by hens raised on pasture. That’s the conclusion that Mother Earth News has reached following completion of the 2007 Mother Earth News egg testing project. The testing has found that, compared to official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs, eggs from hens raised on pasture may contain:

• 1/3 less cholesterol

• 1/4 less saturated fat

• 2/3 more vitamin A

• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids

• 3 times more vitamin E

• 7 times more beta carotene

Mother Earth News also reports: We think these dramatically differing nutrient levels are most likely the result of the different diets of birds that produce these two types of eggs. True free-range birds eat a chicken’s natural diet — all kinds of seeds, green plants, insects and worms, usually along with grain or laying mash. Factory farm birds never even see the outdoors, let alone get to forage for their natural diet. Instead they are fed the cheapest possible mixture of corn, soy and/or cottonseed meals, with all kinds of additives.

Happy Chickens and Ducks at Shalom Engedi Farm -  free ranged chicken eggs - now in three colors to choose from! (that's my commercial) 

There you have it.  Green eggs - no ham - and I like them Sam I am!!  Move over Dr. Seuss!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Urban Chickens

The Cost of My Education

When I was in high school I was a mostly average student except in Math - were I was a complete dunce.  My grade nine advanced math teacher gave me and F+ - the plus for trying really hard and still not getting it.  Having to go through life and not understanding the intricacies of higher math didn't really impact me at that stage of my daily life - and I have so far managed without it more or less. Practical math was more my forte - but then again - you be the judge.

My DH and I have a philosophy in life. We are of the mind that a non-traditional financial educational system can be very effective.  Some people have another name for our philosophy - they call it paying Stupid Tax.  We've paid stupid tax many times over our lives and this was no exception - perhaps we should have had a little more input from a professional about building the coop...

Our first chicken coop was some mathematical equation that reversed all the known rules of our Universe or at least everything we had ever learned up to that point in our lives about financial wisdom.  On the whole we're a frugal bunch but somehow it all went out the window when it came to housing the girls.   I'm sure it was OK/LM x BH=UCC which means Overkill over Lots of Money x Big Headaches = Ultimate Chicken Coop

Our chicken coop was amazing!  We started out with our children's playhouse (long outgrown) and turned it into the Most Expensive Backyard Chicken Coop on the planet.  It had to be perfect.  I didn't want my chickens to live in squalor - they were going to live in a Fort Knox safe, Martha Stewart organized, Better Homes and Gardens beautiful coop.  Oh it certainly was.. We designed and painted and fiddled and had Handyman Lew come and make changes till we got it perfect. We even laid sod in the covered outdoor run. It looked so cute and adorable…

...until our 6 red sex link chickens arrived.  Darn things pooped everywhere and ate the grass down to mud in less than two weeks.  It seems they were much less concerned about looks than I was. I'm not sure that they appreciated anything since they are rather bird-brained.  They just pecked and scratched and did chicken-stuff while making some quiet clucking sounds now and then and a few loud squawks when laying eggs.

We worried about them being cold over the winter.  DH won't admit this in public but he woke me up several times on cold and blustery nights just to ask if I thought the chickens were warm enough.  My sleepy and half coherent reply probably went something like - if you are so concerned why don't YOU go an check on them and LET-ME-SLEEP!  Ok - I worried too - a little.  But I had been reassured by many others online that they would be fine even in sub-zero weather and it seems they were.

Our coop was not insulated but it was small enough that the body heat of the six girls did add up to raise the temperature a few degrees from the outside.  Of course without the wind it really wasn't unpleasant at all but then again the hens declined to give me written statements.  We installed vents near the roofline to deal with the "fumes" and in nice weather we left the windows - which were covered with hardware cloth - open.  Air quality is of great concern for birds.  A dry and reasonably well ventilated space is more important than a closed up tight and warm one.  One of the challenges of any chicken farmer is keeping the water from freezing.  We used the simplest method - we had two waterers and brought one in to defrost and fill while the other was in the coop.  We changed out the water several times a day if it was super cold but usually once a day was enough in good weather.

The outdoor run caused us the most trouble.  We built it to withstand an army.  We went overkill on the size of the wood we used but it was good and sturdy - you could walk on the joists.  We used hardware cloth - not chicken wire which is far too flimsy and not enough to withstand an attack by raccoon or neighbourhood dog.  We also added polycarbonite panels to the roof so the run wouldn't get so muddy in the rain - that was a luxury I'm not sure was worth the money.  We made one huge design flaw that we were unable to fix and that was the height of the run.  It matched up to the roofline but it was a very VERY unpleasant job to clean out the run while bent over - make the run at least 6 feet tall!

For the record we used chicken egg layer pellets from our local co-op store for feed.  That's pellets instead of crumbs - much less waste with the larger pellets.  I am in the process of finding a more sustainable feed option but it has been problematic for several reasons I won't go into right now.  At that point I was more concerned with learning how the whole farming process worked while not killing the chickens with my lack of knowledge.  Time for getting creative comes with some more experience.

Starting out with any new project means there needs to be some money involved.  I consider it money well spent when I learn from the challenges and mistakes I've made.  When I added up the expenses and divided by the number of eggs we got in the one year the coop was in use I think the eggs came out to about $6.00 a piece.  A great deal don't you think when you consider it also made a chicken farmer out of me and that was priceless!

Monday, November 28, 2011

No man is an island...

I was considering what a typical prepper family might look like and I couldn't really come up with an answer. I suppose if there was one we-wouldn't-be-it. All I know is that I have no illusions about being an independent survivalist happily living in the back woods eating squirrels and sleeping in a lean-to. I'm not even preparing for that and I LIKE camping.

We're here for better or for worse and so we're going to make the best of it.

My DH has Muscular Dystrophy. He's mobile but hindered by his condition. I live with diabetes. My son has a learning disability. We've all learned to adapt to our collective situation. My DH cuts down trees sitting in a lawn chair. He has a most awesome cane made out of shovel handle that he uses for wandering the back paddock and getting around the farm. My son and I have learned to rely on each other to handle everything from lugging heavy bags of feed (which I could hardly do last year - this year=muscles!) or chasing wayward animals back into their pens. That means the big lifting jobs and chores are left to my son and I and any extra kids I can rope into coming over to stay for awhile and help out (thanks to Jacquie, Sarah, Danny and Courtney who helped out in the past few weeks!) Some of my own kids are married and moved out, some are away at school so even though I am prepping for a crowd most of the time it's-just-the-three-or-four-of-us.

I am preparing to live in community. I know that regardless of what happens in the future the answer is to be part of a community. I have a relationship with Rebecca the sheep shearer, Lew our handyman, Karen the donkey farrier, Dale the electric fence guy, my mail carriers Cathy and Dolly, my many and assorted country neighbours, farming cousins, church members, city friends, friends online and my immediate family. I will never be an island. I would be bored silly and I'd have to start talking to myself (oh- I already do that!).

I wonder sometimes if life would be simpler without all this community fuss. It means learning to communicate and have boundaries. It means accommodating people and dealing with problems when things don't go as planned. It means putting up with extra laundry, more mouths to feed, different sleep schedules, different personalities...and dirty socks on the living room floor. Deep down I know it's worth the effort but when I'm texting SHUT UP AND GO TO BED at 1am to my teenage house guests I have a few doubts - smile. In reality this IS life and it's exactly the one I want.

I don't know how to do everything but almost certainly one of my friends does. They aren't even necessarily preppers...yet. We help each other. I can be a listening ear or an answer to a canning question for a friend. They rewire my barn, help move heavy animal feeders or take my extra pumpkins (those are extra good friends!)

Who do you lean on? Are you in danger of becoming an island? No one can do it all even in the best of health. Reach out and start building community today. It will enrich your life now and most definitely be a blessing in the future whatever it brings.

Church Penny Sale

I had heard about the Penny Sale to raise money for the local church but I didn't know what it was...until a few months ago.

Last year My-Friend-Donna-who-lives-in-town called to give me the dates for the Penny Sale and I was really disappointed that I couldn't make it.  For me moving to the country meant getting involved in the local community and this was a great opportunity and I had to miss it.  Well - I guess I went on and on about how sorry I was to have missed it because Donna decided that they would change the night - just-for-me.  I felt so special! 

I didn't realise at the time that she had ulterior motives…(smile). 

Planning work began in October.  She and her DH tried really hard to explain the whole thing to me.  I must have looked as confused as I felt because she suddenly had a bright idea.  Come with me and a few friends to the Seniors Penny Sale the next town over and you'll get to see it all in action. 

After a full afternoon with someone giving me the tour I finally understood - my visual learning style came out!  It was a great community bonding event and a lot of fun. 

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about here's the basics.

  1. A wild and varied assortment of gently used and new items are donated to the cause by community members who set things aside or make beautifully handcrafted items all year long just so they can donate them.
  2. All the items are set out on tables - much like a giant bazaar room  - and each item has a cup attached to it.
  3. First you pay a $2.00 admission fee that gets you coffee, tea and goodies.
  4. Then you buy penny sale tickets - One big ticket stub with 25 little stubs - all with the same number on them. (It used to be 100 tickets for $1.00 - now it's 75 - inflation I guess - thus the term "Penny Sale")
  5. You cruise the selection and drop your tickets into the cups of the items you are interested in.
  6. After a set time everyone settles in to hear the numbers being drawn and the winners have the items delivered right to their seats.

My biggest hint is to start ripping apart your ticket stubs at home - it took much longer than I thought it would and by the end I had the whole family furiously ripping stubs as the time to leave to serve the coffee drew near! 

It was a fantastic night.  Aunt Ruby's canning, Donna's quilted pillows and stockings and the bake table were among the highlights.  If all goes well you end up with the things you wanted - like the 100th anniversary commemorative plates and mugs from the local church or some quilted stockings! 

I spent the first part of the night serving coffee and tea and trying hard to remember everyone's names.  At least the faces are getting more and more familiar! 

DH and I sat with two of our kids and Mr. Farmer - the previous owner of Shalom Engedi Farms.  I was feeling sorry for him because none of his numbers were being pulled but then I found out he had placed ALL his tickets in the baking area.  When the numbers were called for the bake table he had a big grin on his face - I think he bought lots of tickets!  He really likes baking.  He even accidentally won a jar of jam which he promptly traded someone for more baking - guess I know what to make him for Christmas! 

It takes time to build relationships but it's worth it.  I love my small community...and I'm already looking forward to next year - besides I need to win a match to my quilted pillow! 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mistakes I've made...

Before our big move to the country I did a lot of reading.  I read every book I could get my hands on that had anything to do with homesteading, hobby farming, livestock animals, self sufficiency etc. because I wanted to learn as much as I could to avoid the painful learning curve I knew was coming when we finally got here.  I have shelves of books, stacks of books and piles of books falling off my desk. Well - it helped - a little bit…but none of it completely prepared me for our very own reality. 

I had read many times that book learnin' and actual real life 'perience were two different things.  Now I know it to be truth by my own hard-won experience.   

I did so many things wrong.  Some things went wrong despite my best intentions and sometimes I just didn't think things all the way through.  Thankfully no animals were harmed in the making of this farmer. 

Chickens got left outside the coop at night.
The sheep and the donkey got loose more times than I can count.
I fed the ducks chicken-feed because I was told it was almost the same - one duck got crook neck but later recovered.
We closed up the chicken coop nice and tight so the girls would be warm and nearly killed them with kindness from the ammonia.
We lugged water from the basement for 33 hours in the rainy springtime because we didn't buy a generator as soon as we should have. 

My blooper list goes on and on. 

I've also had to get over the fact that I can't control everything - well that was a surprise!  Animals died from unknown causes. Raccoons broke into the feed room and ate us out of house and barn.  The eavestrough 30 feet above our heads sprung a major leak right above the main entrance to the barn creating our very own outdoor shower.  I asked a neighbour to find me a few heritage breed chicks and he came home with thirty - that was my mistake because I shoulda clarified "a couple". 

But I have had more successes than I deserve for only being at this for a year and a half.  My garden didn't do too badly but I have my first List-of-things-I-will-do-differently-next-year.  I learned how to install electric fence to keep in the escapees.  I learned how not to wrestle sheep and donkeys - they follow the shepherd just like the Bible says.  I learned to count the chickens before I shut up the coop for the night.  I've learned the different sounds of contented animals and the ones that make me drop everything and run to see what the problem is. I've learned how to deal with pressure tanks, sump pumps, water softeners, wells and lots and lots of chicken poop. 

There is no book on earth that can teach you everything I've learned in the past year and a half and I am no where near done learning.  You just have to dive into your own experience - whatever it brings - and learn to live with the fact that you're human and you will make mistakes. 

Don't wait till the last minute - till things really count.  Make your mistakes now when it's not the end of the world.  Figure out how the kerosene heater works now.  Get backyard chickens.  Start gardening and canning now.  Store food. 

...and hurry up and make some mistakes before I cover them all by myself!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Boys - OH Boy!

We've had a rather exciting addition to our farm in the past week - Mr. Sheepie.  We did try to give him another name but we called him Mr. Sheepie while we were thinking about it and the name has just-plain-stuck.  Mr. Sheepie is a Shetland Ram - a beautiful light and dark brown mix of kinky hair with curly horns. Remember the horn part - that will be important.

He arrived via an ad on kijiji and was delivered by his owner who was a wonderful wealth of information of which I took full advantage.  In our conversation I also found out he was a long lost relative of the previous owners of this farm - insert - very small world - here.

Mr. Sheepie has a purpose on the farm like all the other animals we raise.  He's here to make babies.  Hopefully really cute babies that will one day provide us with pasture raised lamb.  He quickly made himself right at home and met the girls and Maybe the donkey without incident.  All was well in my little corner of the world until two days later.

The phone rang.  It was my neighbour.  She had never called me before.  A sense of dread came over me...oh are you missing a sheep?  I sure hoped not but after a description I recognized the escapee - Mr. Sheepie.  At this point - no worries - he was safely tucked away in a pen in their horse barn and I could come and get him whenever I was ready.  I don't know what we were thinking but we grabbed a halter and leads with the thought that we would just hook him up and walk him back home.  Oh how naive!

The neighbours took pity on us for underestimating how difficult it was going to be and offered to put him in the back of their jeep and transport him home.  All went well.  We were feeling like real farmers.  We had a problem and we had a solution...until Mr. Sheepie jumped out of the back of the jeep in between 4 adults and took off - towards the stallions.  Sigh...this is where things really go downhill.

We circled around seeing that he was headed for the field of 8 of the hugest horses I have ever seen.  Somehow to him they looked less scary that 4 adults with a bucket of feed so in he went.  The horses sensed the presence of the devil himself and set out to eradicate him.  They grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and swung him around like a dog toy.  They kicked (and thankfully missed) him. Meanwhile I stood back praying he would live while simultaneously calculating the cost of a new Mr. Sheepie.  My neighbours in a show of what it means to be the most-awesome-neighbours-in-the-whole-world went into the field to try to ward off 8 angry stallions.  After what seemed like an hour but was probably ONLY 5 very-long minutes they managed to grab Mr. Sheepie from the jaws-of-death and drag him - still unwilling - under the electric fence to safety.  Mr. Sheepie lived to see the inside of his own stall in his own barn that night. 

Now back to the horn part.  Yeah - you would think he would have been grateful but OH NO.  He has escaped his pen more times than I can count by pounding the walls with those lovely horns.  We have reinforced and repaired every-single-wall.  We would think THAT-SHOULD-DO-IT and he would bust out another wall, jump the interior walls of the barn and head for the open road.  So we've now chased him all over the property, down the road and back into the pen over and over like a repeating nightmare.  Yesterday he was standing at the back door when we came out to do chores.  That was the last straw! 

Tomorrow Mr. Sheepie will meet his match - Mr. Electric Fence.

Monday, November 14, 2011

This is my very first post on the Canadian Preppers Network as a blog author... you can find the official version here.

I live on a farm. When I read those words a few years ago I would be awash with a longing that almost hurt. I wanted to be able to say that! Now I can.
Self-discipline is remembering what you really want. That was the mindset that got us from the city to the country - we had a goal in mind and we kept working towards it - little by little every day. We have been preppers for 8 or 9 years now - slowly coming to the conclusion that life as we knew it was perhaps not even the life we wanted. It sure didn't have much in the way of security. If the power went out I figured we had about 6 hours in the winter and we'd be forced to leave our home. Never mind the lack of lights and the freezer defrosting. We came up with ways to avoid most of those issues temporarily but the longing remained to have a place to call our own where we could live more self sufficiently. It was many small decisions and steps that got us from that place to this place and there's many steps to go before this place is all that we dream it can be.

I live with my family on a small farm surrounded by conservation lands. We raise chickens, ducks for meat and eggs and sheep. We also have a donkey, 6 barn cats and a spoiled city dog.

Life here is an amazing adventure of FINALLYS. We finally had room for a huge garden - that had lots of weeds in it this summer but actually produced quite well. We could finally have more animals than the 6 urban chickens of our city life. We could finally sit in our "backyard" and hear - silence... We could finally run out of the house in our pjs to feed the cats or get the mail! Well - it doesn't take much to make me happy!

I hope to share some of my adventures with you in the coming weeks. From food storage and canning to backyard chickens and beyond. I'm not an expert - just someone who loves to learn and happily lives on a farm.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Solar - if this is a test I hope I passed.

Cam Mather's friend is Bill Kemp who wrote The Renewable Energy Handbook which is printed by Cam and Michelle's Aztext Press.

That book like a textbook for people like me who don't know the difference between an amp and a watt. I am a plug-and-play kind of girl BUT I am willing to learn and I am determined to learn more so I am going to study the book - not just read it.

Cam believes that peak oil is the major event that will change our world. Whether it is or isn't really isn't important because the current events are leading many of us to the same conclusion: we could be put into a situation where we need to find a way to heat and power our homes without the power grid.

He has a thermal hot water system - basically a solar panel that hooks up to his hot water tank. Between the thermal system and his solar system and heating water on top of his wood stove they will never run out of hot water!

Their solar array is capable of producing 15 kilowatts of electricity a day if there is good sun for 5 hours - that's a pretty conservative estimate for most times of the year. They use about 5 kilowatts so they often have "extra" power which is stored in a battery bank and used for days when production is limited by lack of sunshine. The average homeowner uses 35-40 kilowatts a day and at our property last winter we averaged a whooping 81 kilowatts. Our 150 year old farmhouse that uses oil heat - not even electric- and our need for running water in the barn made it very expensive to run. (I hope I got all the details right.)

Of course the best course of action is to make your home as efficient as possible because the cost of a solar power array large enough to keep up with us would be astronomical! (Hydro One sized!)  So - read up on all the ways to save energy - switching lightbulbs to energy efficient ones - there was some talk about $9.00 LED lightbulbs that are available at WalMart that I want to check out. Insulation and all the other stuff you've probably heard of already - power bars on electrical equipment etc. Saving energy is good for all of us - whether you want to reduce your consumption to be able to use solar exclusively or just to save money!  Thankfully we've already done many of those things so hopefully our electrical consumption this winter will be reduced a lot - a really big a lot!!

This area was by far the most interesting topic and new to me. We don't have a woodstove but it is within the realm of possibilities to get one installed. Solar seems a little more out there but an answer that totally makes sense to me. Of course I am not a millionaire so this will be a long term project but you need to aim for something!

The Renewable Energy Handbook is available through and any major book store - totally worth the money!!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cook Stoves, Wood Stoves and Cam & Michelle Mather

DH and I had an amazing weekend away together.  A break from our every day lives and something educational, brain cell stretching and totally different from our regular routine. (for now!) 

I follow many different blogs but one of my favorites is Cam Mather's.  Cam and his wife Michelle have a blog at which is a sometimes humorous blog about some very serious topics like peak oil, organic gardening and sustainability.  They share the happenings of life on their totally off-grid farm in Ontario and the how and why of what they do.  Well - some blogs are really cool with lots of good information but Cam's is really cool with lots of great information and they live WITHIN-DRIVING-DISTANCE!  When the opportunity came up to be a part of a whole day seminar on site DH and I signed up immediately.

So Saturday morning we got up early and headed out.  The scenery along the drive reminded me of our many years of vacations up in northern Ontario.  There was a hard frost covering the ground so it was  barely above zero at 9am.  Cam met us on the porch and opened the door as he welcomed us into his warm and toasty home - ahh - the wonderfully embracing heat of a woodstove.  We quickly got acquainted with his wife Michelle and the others who were arriving.

As I entered the kitchen my eyes went straight to the latest-object-of-my-desire - drool!  It was ALMOST the most beautiful stove in the world - a six burner gas Heartland Oval cook stove - but perfection as-you-know only comes in red.  I nearly had to sit on my hands to keep from touching it but when someone else opened one of the doors I jumped right up to have a look - (OK -that may have sounded crazy but let me remind the male species that this is how YOU sound talking about a stupid car!)  It was a thing of beauty.  Sigh. I had stove envy really-really bad.

I always thought I wanted a wood cook stove up until this weekend.  The romantic beauty of a wood fire, dinner bubbling away in a cast iron pot on the top and bread baking in the oven...but I learned a few things.  Michelle pointed out that although a wood fired cook stove seems like a great idea it has a few drawbacks.  One - it makes the whole house really hot - a good thing in the winter but not so great on a weekend like our last (30 degree) Thanksgiving weekend or during the summer - way too hot.  Two - it's difficult to cook on a wood fired cook stove - apparently burnt cookies, bread and dinner are common place for a very long time till you get the hang of it.  Hmmm… 

I was also reading last week that wood cook stoves have to be installed a minimum of 24 inches from the wall - that was going to make it a rather tight squeeze where I had planned to put it.  Gas however could be installed right up against the wall - double hmmm…

Leaving that subject for a moment…

We moved into the living room for the presentation where I laid eyes on the wood stove.  It wasn't quite as pretty but it was pouring out the heat and it didn't take me long to warm up.  Cam mentioned it was a Pacific Energy Woodstove and it was so efficient that it could be stoked on the coldest winter morning and the house would still be warm and it would still have glowing embers 12 hours later - a very handy feature when you need to leave home for the day and you can't leave the furnace on because you don't have one!  He recommended the brand highly.  I wrote it on "The List".

Ah but back to the cook stove.  What to do!  After some thinking on the way home we decided that the Pacific Energy woodstove made much more sense in every way.  It provided heat in case of a power outage and could be used in lieu of running our oil furnace in the winter, it could be stacked with kettles and pots to provide "free" hot water and we could still cook on it - slow cooker style on the top and with some messing around inside the firebox too.  Oh why does life need to be so practical!

We learned so much this weekend that I still feel a little overwhelmed.  Solar panels, thermal solar for hot water - the proper way to say photovoltaic (ahem - had that one wrong!) wind turbines, generators - most of these technical details were a little over my head.  Thankfully I bought The Renewable Energy Handbook by William H. Kemp - it will be my textbook for the next few weeks. I am determined to understand it better.  It's available directly from Cam & Michelle by visitng their website  They have many other interesting books available there too - check it out!

More blogging to come about the rest of our day.
Oh and by the way - I haven't completely given up on my gas cook stove - I'm just going to wait till we renovate and maybe I can squeeze one into the design...of course mine will be the red one.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Feeling like a pioneer...

It's easy to be thankful at this time of the year surrounded by the beauty of fall.  I love fall.  I love that cosy-let's-get-ready-for-winter feeling that I imagine all pioneers felt in years gone by.  I love cleaning out the garden and storing away things for another year and although I feel a little sad putting away the hammock and the lawnchairs and dumping the planters of dried up annuals I can say I am looking forward to some delightful days in the future curled up with a book on the couch looking outside and being happy I don't have to go anywhere!

I think I was more insulated from the seasons when we lived in town.  I didn't care as much about the weather since it made little difference in my day except to inconvenience me when I wanted to go for a walk or have a BBQ.  Now I watch far more closely - do I need to water the fruit trees?  Should we let the ducklings out if it's too cold?  Should I put the heat lamp on in the barn again for the chicks? The weather man says it will rain for the next 4 days straight - great!  Of course they are seldom right for it seems in our little pocket of the world God does things on His schedule and ignores the weatherman altogether!

This past weekend was glorious!  There were moments when I was tempted to complain I was too hot...I tried hard to refrain.  We spent as much time outdoors as we could - really until we were so tired we had to quit!  ha!  We cut down a few more trees and dug out stumps, we watched and helped a little bit as a friend built us a fence and hung the gate that has already made our daily chores in the barn SO MUCH EASIER!  We cleaned out gardens and added a huge amount to the burn pile.

I am hoping that we have a few more weeks of decent weather as there is still much to do to batten down the hatches before the cold sets in.  I know it will all get done and what doesn't get done will just have to wait till spring,  Mom always says: Anita - Rome wasn't built in a day.  Yes - I know but Rome HAD slaves!

Our volunteer pumpkin patch was a huge surprise.  The pumpkins grew all by their lonesome over the fence and into the paddock. I guess we must have thrown a pumpkin on the compost pile last fall but I don't really remember.  Our count so far: 50.  What DOES one do with 50 pumpkins you ask???  Beg people to take some home!  I have the pile down to a more manageable size now so some will become pumpkin muffins and loaf and I am going to try pumpkin scones.  Pumkin soup is pretty good but no one else will eat it but me so I will have to find some creative disguises for the rest of it.  I had some help harvesting as you can see in the pictures - thanks kid-lettes!

I'm sure glad we don't have to depend on this year's garden harvest for our winter food - it would be heavy on pumpkin and light on everything else :)  I think I'm glad I'm not really a pioneer!

Live in each season as it passes. - Henry David Thoreau

Good idea!  Happy Thanksgiving!