Friday, September 30, 2011

Hooray for public schools!

  Just a quick blog after receiving an e-mail from my son *J*'s teacher.  Evidently, they are retaking school pictures in a couple of weeks for those that missed it the first time around.  I read the e-mail and hit close to delete it;  but something caught my eye.  I re-opened the e-mail and looked at the quotation at the bottom...

"Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted." Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich
  Really?  *J*'s teacher is quoting a man that is arguably the father of modern communism (sorry Karl)?  Either she is absolutely ignorant of who Vladimir Lenin was (I sincerely hope so!) or she knows exactly who he was and blindly follows the insanity that this man espoused.  Teachers and their unions wonder why less and less Americans are sympathetic to their supposed plight.  I've had quite a few conferences with this teacher, as *J* has special needs and every time we end up in an argument.  The last one was even in front of the school principal.  I suspect that she was looking for a friendly face in her corner but he was more of a peacemaker and wouldn't take a side.  She has told me at every meeting that her curriculum is designed to prepare him for entering a state run assisted living facility and now it all comes clear.  I always get a look of disbelief when I try to tell her that we will be taking care of *J* after he graduates from high school.  I'm sure there are plenty of jobs he can do on our farm that don't involve government subsidized employment although if *J* ever made the decision to pursue that (without any pressure from progressive loons like this teacher), I would totally support his choice.

  In the end, I'm really feeling the pressure to get out of dodge and put my whole family into a more stable and sane circumstance.  Next summer won't come fast enough!!!  I just hope the world doesn't catch on fire before then.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fun in the kitchen

  Sometimes it's funny how you start a day with a plan and then you end up going in a totally different direction.  I had planned on weeding and thinning the fall garden and cleaning up the fading perennials out front since the Nazi homeowner's association sent a letter to inform us that we had too many weeds.  My DW and I went to Meijers first thing and boy did we score some produce deals.  We found potatoes at five pounds for $1 to start with.  We then found cabbage on sale for $.39 a pound.  I haven't see it that cheap for a while.  We hit the produce clearance rack just as they were putting out heads of cauliflower and boxes of spinach.  They had flats of strawberries too but we're still flush with strawberry rhubard jam from our own patch earlier this summer.  We ended up grabbing three heads of cauliflower and three pounds of spinach.  When we got home, we started with baking a batch of my mom's recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies, yum!  We then moved onto our first effort at sauerkraut.  Kraut is so cheap to buy but it was fun to see how it's made anyway.  We used a cookbook that we bought in a Mennonite bulk food store in Minnesota.

The recipes are simple and it's broken up by individual types of veggies.  We've used it a lot and it hasn't steered us wrong yet.  We chopped up a big head of cabbage and got almost three pounds.

We then started layering the slaw into an old bean pot and sprinkling it with canning salt.  I couldn't find our kraut masher even though I know we have one.  I think it ended up in one of the boxes that went out to the homestead this summer.  We ended up using a broad wooden spoon, adapt and overcome!

It was kind of neat watching the slaw go down and the juice come up.  We kept pounding until the juice covered the cabbage.

I took a little taste and you could tell something was already happening to it...interesting.  We took the book's advice and partially filled a ziploc with water to act as a weight to push down the cabbage below the juice and to make something of a seal against the walls of the pot to keep air out, anaerobic yeasties you know.

I'll let you know how it comes out in about four weeks.  After the kraut we tackled pickling the three heads of cauliflower, yum again!  We went with the sweet pickle recipe from the book and ended up with six pints.

My DW wiping down the mouths of the jars before putting on the lids and popping them into the water bath.

Ten minutes of processing later, we pulled them out and listened to the pops.  I think that's so cool!

  We've gotten pretty good at timing when they put the produce and meat clearance items out at the local grocery stores.  There's nothing wrong with the stuff.  It's just hitting its "sell by" date in a day or two.  We figure that we can eat it, freeze it, or can it right away and save a pile of cash.  Our food budget is also helped by the fact that my DW is a true maestro of couponing.  When she first started a couple of years back, she bought a lot of stuff that nobody would or could eat along with the good stuff (sorry baby, those free microwave brownies were horrendous).  Now she's honed her coupon skills down to a keen edge and we spend a fraction of the marked prices at the grocery store.  I don't know how other people get by, paying regular cost.  As an experiment in frugality and to get a feel for how much it's going to cost out at the homestead, we're seeing if we can run a household of five people and a cat and dog on $100 a week.  This includes both food for us and gas for the vehicles but not utilities since the farm is off-grid.  It's week number one so we'll see how long we can make it happen.  We live pretty cheap to start with so I guess we're just trying to quantify what it actually takes.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Finally took the big step

  Today, we reached a major milestone in our ongoing attempt to develop traditional low tech alternative back-ups to the modern day conveniences we will be using on the farm.  All the stars lined up and we bought an Amish trained horse!

  Her name is Bonnie and she is a draft cross, half belgian, quarter percheron, and quarter standardbred; but  I think she just looks like a big boned standardbred.  She was trained to both ride and drive, although the current owners haven't had her under harness.  She is very gentle and was the husband's horse.  He confessed that he was very green but I didn't see him struggle at all with her.  It was a rainy day today so I didn't get to ride her a whole bunch but I did take her around the farmyard a few times and even got her up to a canter.  I really haven't been in the saddle for quite a few years so I was surprised how smooth she was for such a big horse.  Riding her is very basic since she only knows plough reining.  I ended up buying her with her bit and a very nice western saddle.  I wasn't looking forward to finding a draft saddle because they aren't all that common.  I'm looking forward to getting her back into driving so we can hitch her up to this...

  I bought this cart last year when I was living in Maryland.  It's from around 1903 and was made by the V. Lynn Carriage Company from Brooklyn, New York.  I actually found a little information about the company on the internet, which was pretty cool.  It's a tall two wheeled cart with an awesome suspension for unimproved roads.  Trucking it to Cincinnati on the back of my little Nissan was an adventure all by itself.  I truly had the cart before the horse!

  This past summer we also bought a John Deere horsedrawn hayrake for $50 at an auction in North Dakota.  It can be set up for either one or two horses.  Here's a picture of *C* riding on it being towed by the Cub.

  We used it when we mowed the farmyard in front of the chicken coop and grainary.  The grass and weeds were about four feet tall and thick as can be.  The rake is 12 feet across so it wasn't very efficient in this small area.  We ended up having to dump rake in big circles, which resulted in an interesting whorl pattern.

  So how is this horse going to act as our low tech back up?  We should be able to have her supplement/back up both our road vehicles and our tractors.  We live seven miles from a very small town which is pretty comfortably in range for a horsedrawn vehicle.  Now I just need to find a small bobsled or cutter for winter.  We can also use her in lieu of our three tractors for work around the farm, although we're definitely going to have to dig up some more horsedrawn equipment and a forecart.  The picture above shows our 1948 Farmall Cub.  We also have a 1938 Farmall F-20 and a 1926 McCormick-Deering 10-20.

  Sorry, I didn't have a picture of the 10-20.  Three antique tractors and a horse?  Nobody farms like that anymore.  You can't make it without a $150K tractor...or can you?  Our aim is subsistence first; any surplus will be considered for sale.  Once upon a time small farms operated under this principle and were very comfortable, albeit cash poor.  We also are going to try to keep it simple with hay being our main crop.  Our whole place is only 50 acres so we'll see if we can fly under the radar and operate on a cash or barter basis.  It would be crazy to try to compete with those gigantic monoculture operations!  We recently watched a very good movie called The Sweet Land.  It showed two farmers in the 1920's, one progressive and one conservative.  The progressive farmer ended up up to his eyeballs in debt and lost everything while the conservative farmer stayed within his means.  The banker kept trying to get him to borrow money to which the responsible farmer always answered "banking and farming don't mix".  I love that line and I think in the near future it's really going to apply.  Now I just need to find Bonnie a teammate...

Thursday, September 22, 2011


  Remember the Seinfeld episode where Kramer tried to live without refrigeration?  He lasted about two days and then started using Jerry's fridge because he couldn't take it anymore.  That's pretty much what we felt like out at the homestead this summer.  See if you can spot our refrigerator in the next pic...

  If you guessed the blue cooler than you're absolutely correct!  Actually, we had a red one too but it didn't make the picture.  We knew we were going to have to face this situation going into this trip (no fridge, very little electricity and a long trip to town for ice) so we brought a lot of dry goods with us and just plain did without some luxuries.  It was especially callenging with baby *E*'s formula.  We brought both pre-mixed and powder and it didn't take long for us to realize that the powder was the only way to go.  We ended up needing ice about every other day which in itself wasn't all that much of a pain since we were running to the hardware store and hauling water from the town park every day anyway.  However, by the end of the summer we were pretty tired of the situation.  Yesterday, I took the plunge and ordered a sundanzer 12/24 VDC refrigerator.

  It's the 8 cubic foot model, which isn't very big by today's standards but after successfully dealing with about half that volume this summer, I'm pretty confident that it will suffice.  We also bought the colder thermostat for an extra few bucks so that we can change it to a freezer down the road if need be.  The small size should fit into the mud room nicely.  I'm thinking that it'll be pretty well protected in the seperate room from the wood cook stove so it won't be fighting to stay cool.

  Right now we have a small 12VDC system running.  It consists of an old 85 watt BP solar panel that I pulled off of an old sailboat that I lived aboard a few years back and an Air-X 600 watt wind turbine.

  This is my dad and *C* soldering up the splice on the cable running from the turbine to the house.  The rest of the system is a mish mash of components that I've collected over the years and the deep cycle batteries are from the aforementioned boat.  If there's children present cover their eyes!

  This Frankenstein monstrosity is the heart of the operation.  Starting at the top and going clockwise you'll see the inverter, solar controller, batteries, and finally the charger.  The whole system is pretty feeble but should be able to keep up with the demands of the 12VDC refrigerator and the house water pressure pump we have installed.  If not, we always have the backup generator.  We have the components for a 2.6 kilowatt 48VDC solar system but its installation is going to have to wait for next summer.  It's quite a rush to watch this system come together and I definitely have to thank the Navy for all of my electronics training!

  So other than the fact that making your own electricity is an awesome way to work toward self sufficiency, why would a person spend this kind of money to replace that sweet wire from Momma Power Company?  I've got two stories that should explain...

  During a tour in New Orleans, I owned an old drafty victorian house right across the river from the French Quarter.  There was an electric furnace on each floor that barely kept up with the mild Louisiana winters and it was a pig to heat just like all the rest of the homes in the neighborhood!  Just before Enron collapsed, they bought the power monopoly for our neighborhood from little Louisiana Power and Light and immediately added a 75% power surcharge fee onto everyone's bill.  Did I mention that they had been plastering the airwaves with ads touting the fact that even though the company had changed they weren't going to raise our rates one penny?  I guess a surcharge is not a rate increase.  Upon receiving an electric bill for $700, and this was small compared to my neighbors, I phoned customer service to voice my disatisfaction.  The lady on the other end listened quietly as I vented about the unfairness of it all and then replied "So what are you going to do about it, disconnect?"  I was floored and had nothing to say because you know what?  She was right!  I gritted my teeth and paid my bill, only later taking some solace in the fact that Enron went down the tubes.  I certainly hope that nice customer service lady was the first one in the unemployment line.
  My second power company horror story happened in 2004.  I had just checked into my new squadron in Brunswick, Maine after closing on the homestead that I had purchased from a Pennsylvania land speculator.  A snide (and rather effeminate sounding) customer service rep from the farm's local power company co-op contacted me all the way from North Dakota to tell me that I owed them $23 a month for line maintenance fees to the buildings on my land.  I inquired if the gentleman that I had bought the farmstead from had been paying this fee, especially considering that he had never stepped foot on the property.  The rep let me know that it wasn't company policy to give out that type of information.  At this point, I sort of lost my cool and told COMRADE power guy to pedal his butte over to my place and pull the wires down.  He followed with some kind of threat that it would be verrrrrry expensive to hook it back up if we went though with it.  I told him that it would be a cold day in hell before I ever came crawling back to a bunch of communists like his little co-op.  And that was that.  To this day, I sure hope he got all of the red references, hee hee.  I was pretty proud of them.  The next summer, I went out to the homestead on leave and found all of the wires gone and the yard power pole lying in the grass.  Thank God!

  So that is why I have NO problem  shelling out the extra bucks to escape these kind of monopolies!  Too many people I know burn their cash on new cars or the next bigger and better I-phone or an endless number of frivolities.  I guess that chasing that elusive dream of independence and self sufficiency has sort of become my hobby.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Home again...or am I?

  Wow, I haven't written anything since March!!!  It was an incredible summer, full of huge triumphs and a few disappointments.  We're home now, but to be honest, my heart is still out on the farm.

  Our adventure started with our two oldest boys getting out of school and going to stay with relatives.  Thinning the family herd out a little bit definitely streamlined all the work we had ahead of us.  We packed up our new old horse trailer with tools and household goods and headed for the old homestead out on the prairie.

  We bought the trailer through Craigslist and got it for a great price.  Probably it's biggest problem was the condition of the tires and that would come back to haunt us later.  We ended up packing every square inch and then some.  A few of the items were really heavy.  We took off after the morning rush hour and immediately noticed that our Ford F-350  was really working to pull this beast.  It was so bad that the truck was overheating before Indianapolis.  We pulled over at a gas station and I got the bright idea to check the tire pressures.  I kicked myself when I found all of them to be low, both truck and trailer.  With all we had going on, I had just forgotten this small detail.  What a difference proper inflation makes when hauling this kind of weight.  The rest of the trip was pretty boaring with myself and DW swapping out through the night until...  the real excitement came at about 4:00 in the morning as we were driving through Minneapolis.  A car pulled up beside me and the woman was frantically waving at us.  I looked in the rearview mirror and caught some sparks coming out the back of the trailer when we hit a bump.  I immediately pulled over to inspect the situation and found that we had had a double blowout on the back two tires of the trailer.  A really nice state trooper pulled in behind us and told us that there was a used tire store off the next exit and escorted us into a gas station to at least get the spare on.

  Of course it was drizzling!  Wouldn't have it any other way.  I pulled out the old crusty hi-lift jack that came with the truck and found that it was bound up tight.  After monkeying with it and spraying it profusely with WD-40, I was able to get it to go up fine but not so much down.  Good enough for me!!! But that too would come back to haunt me.  I changed out the tire on the heavy side of the trailer with our brand new spare and pulled the trailer off the jack with the truck.

  We limped about two blocks to the used tire place that the trooper told us about and waited for about four hours for them to open.  After buying a pair of nice trailer tires, I went to the crusty old jack and changed the last tire out.  Sadly, when I went to pull the trailer off the jack, it twisted and punched a hole in the new tire.  I was at about the end of my rope by this time and in retrospect was probably dancing on the edge of mental exhaustion.  Thankfully, the tire guy felt bad for us and gave us another tire.  The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful.  Our exhausted family finally pulled into the farmyard of the long unlived-in homestead and found an incredibly sad state of affairs.  But that's another blog...

  The whole summer was a real challenge and chock full of new experiences for everybody.  Despite the tremendous hurdles that we had to jump to stand the place up, there was time to just enjoy living.

  We even got a new member to our family.

  I'm going to try and write everything down while it's still sort of fresh.  DW took lots of pics so I'll try to include them as I sort through the mountain of images.