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!!