Monday, March 20, 2017

Milk House Update

THIS ?                                                                    OR THIS?       (

First, my apologies for such infrequent blogging again. I know some of you find it nearly impossible to get on with your own lives without knowing what's going on with mine. I'll get better...or I won't. I'm also had these annoying Blogger issues with many more spam comments being made now, than in the last 7 years I've been blogging. What a mess. You would think for all I pay Blogger for this blog...oh yeah, it's free...never mind.

So, an update on our milk house project, the building we hoped to construct with the used tires left on The Poor Farm, so they would not end up in a land fill like the millions of tires already there.  The new building we'd  use for cleaning and storing our milking equipment, for storage of our chest freezers (currently in the 1865 shack house on the property) and for a root cellar area to store all our canned goods, potatoes, apples  and onions. The building we could use in part as a green house for earlier garden starts and extended garden growth.

Yes, THAT building.

Well, after completing the seven page BUD (Benefit Use Determination) application for the Illinois EPA (environmental protection agency) and mailing it in and waiting and waiting and emailing and leaving voicemail messages, and waiting for a response, we finally got one.

They said no.

Actually what they said was, the project was being denied because we did not get an engineer to sign off on it. When I explained again how small the project was, how it was for our own use, how all we wanted to do was convert some of the tires left here into a useable, attractive, inexpensive, ecologically friendly storage building, they responded:

Even if you are only building a dog house with those tires you need to involve an engineer.

Once again our state government demonstrates their common sense approach to all things slightly unusual. Rather than allow us to do something productive with the rubber circles on our property, rather than accept the internet searching I submitted about the benefits of building with these materials, they want us to pay an engineer at approximately $100-$300 an hour to tell them the same information.

Also, the gentleman who called me with the BUD application denial information, made it very clear they had ninety days to approve or disapprove an application, implying of course, that our proposed project, if ever approved, might not get the go ahead for several months.

So much for our budget, (which was only $5000 to begin with) so much for our time frame of building the milk house this summer, and so much for common sense. But, as good homesteaders will often do, we've rolled out plan B. As it evolves, I'll tell you about it and don't worry about the plans for using the tires, we're not giving up, we're just reworking our plans for initiation next summer instead of this summer.

We're thinking of building a church with those tires, claiming religious immunity from overreaching rules and regulations. If it's good enough for Mel Gibson it's good enough for me.

Before I go, a couple other fun tire facts for Illinois. You can only haul or transport nineteen tires at one time without a license to do so. Thus if you are hauling TWENTY tires to your grandkids house for a playground project you better do it late at night, take the back roads, wear a red wig, and drive with your lights off.

Also, you can only keep fifty or less tires on your property without a tire storage permit. If you have fifty-one tires you must have the storage permit which requires you to keep them all covered and/or inside of a building, because we all know that forty nine tires harboring mosquitoes is so much better than fifty. Which all begs the question, if Illinois EPA would allow us to build our building, where all the tires would be filled with dirt and NO mosquitoes could breed in them, wouldn't the tire storage issue solve itself?

Finally, I discovered this little number on the internet and I had to wonder, what engineer signed off on that and how could I get his number? Oh wait, this is probably an California design not an Illinois one.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Drunk on the Power of Full Time Homesteading

Spring hits me as hard as Fall does. When I could be enjoying-for just a brief moment-the emerging green grass or the flush of beautiful fresh eggs,  I am instead rushing mentally ahead making lists of all the tasks which must be done these next six months. This year, my level of HTA (homesteaders task anxiety) is particularly high. I reason that it is due to the shift in our roles here. I am now home a hefty part of the week, while Keith is working one full time job and one part time gig.

The "job" provides us with income. The time spent on the "gig", is bartered for animal feed. A decade ago I worked off farm and Keith was here (or there since we lived somewhere else), and I pretty much left the farm decisions up to him. I helped when I was home but bringing in the cash and keeping up with household stuff, was my domain. Now, the house, the homemaking, my writing, a good ahre of outdoor animal chores, and soon enough, the garden, will all be my primary focus.

While concerned with how it will all get done, and it never does, does it?, I'm feeling a bit drunk with the power. I imagine that while Keith is at work I could...

  Rearrange all the fences to allow for lovely pathways through the property
  Construct adorable pasture gates out of bent willow branches and old jewelry.
  Paint all the out-buildings a matching shade of lavender.
  Attach flower boxes outside the chicken coop.
  Teach myself to weld and turn all our metal garbage into charming fake flowers or reptiles
          or garden gnomes!
  Pile all the burnables into a big hill and have the most awesome bonfire where my female friends
          and I will drink dandelion wine and dance nak...never mind.
  Build a village of treehouses or old campers for our grandchildren to hang out in.

First though, I'll have to deal with the fact that I don't have the same building, welding, repairing skills my husband has, and there is still, despite my loud letters of complaint, only 24 hours in the day.

If I jump into the above outdoor fantasies, I'll have to give up the cooking, food prep, laundry, writing, helping out with grandkid babysitting things I am currently neck deep in. Not to mention, but ok, I will, all the outdoor projects. Like the new milk house that must be built this summer.

What to do, what to do. How do you all structure your time? Have you given up sleep entirely or have you self actualized to the point that you can enjoy a cup of tea without filling a notebook with more "to-do" items. How do you find real peace, and how do you make it last longer than ten seconds?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Mucca's Big Jaw

This is Mucca

Mucca is Italian for cow.

Last week Keith noticed two areas of swelling on her, one on the right side of her jaw, and the other on the right side of her neck. He asked me to look at it closer and I was baffled. The one on her jaw was small, golf ball size, but very hard.

The one on her neck was larger, softer. Neither felt warm, as an area of infection might, and there were no signs of puncture wounds or cuts. She wasn't having any trouble eating or drinking either. But, we were concerned about parasites and because she is pregnant, due in a couple months,  we made an appointment with our vet.

To save the cost of a farm visit, we loaded up Mucca a couple of days later and drove her 30 miles to the vets office where he was able to see her in the back of our livestock trailer. I may have mentioned it before, but we love our vet! Been using him for over twenty years and he's so good and kind with the animals, and super patient with my nurse fueled questions. and Keith's experienced dairy man inquisitions, "So, should we try this? " or "Do you think it's this?" and "How can we avoid this?"

He tried to aspirate both swollen areas with a needle and syringe but got back nothing more than a bit of serous fluid. Looking at the cells under his microscope he didn't see any bacteria and because she wasn't acting sick, he guestimated it as a couple of hematomas (areas of blood collection) due to an injury of sorts.

We were relived it wasn't serious and that antibiotics weren't needed. We were also relieved that the total bill was just $87 . It's still over our monthly livestock care budget but Jan and Feb expenses in this area were low, so Mucca gets a pass. After we got her home I spent more time watching her and noticed how Alpha Cow Liz can be pushy with Mucca especially at hay feeding time. Both cows have horns and so it's likely Liz gave Mucca a push and hit her right side with her horns. Liz's horns are blunt tipped, which is consistent with the injuries seen on Mucca.

So, we'll keep an eye on her and hopefully the hematomas will absorb back into the bloodstream as they should. We also added another large Rubbermaid feeder in their pen so they each have their own feeder to dine from. Of course, they aren't doing this. First, they eat together out of one feeder then they mosey over the other feeder and eat out that, together.

Cows. If it's not one thing, it's an udder.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

March, in like a lion.

Yesterday, the last day of February, was as crazy as the rest of the month. Too warm, too windy and too unpredictable. Tornado weather.

Usually that hits us here in Central Illinois towards April and May, but this whole winter has been off kilter with unstable and variable temps bringing ice storms, fog and most recently, temps so warm tulips are popping up two months early.

High winds started yesterday afternoon and tornado warnings began screaming across phones and radios around 5pm. An F3 (winds of 130-160 mph) hit the town of Ottawa about 30 miles north of us,  killing one person while causing loads of damage to the rest of the town. You can see that news report and more photos HERE.

We had minimal damage on the Poor Farm. Some of our feed buckets and barrels were tossed out in the fields, but the critters were all fine. Doing chores was a pain as I got far more hay blown back into my face and eyes than I managed to get into the hay feeders! Inside the grain bin I could hear the wind but the circular shape of our home greatly diminishes the noise. Sometimes we'll be sitting on the couch downstairs and not even realize the wind is blowing until we look out the window and see the trees being bashed about.

This is both a good thing and a worrisome thing. In our old farmhouse I tell just by the degree of window rattling how severe the storm was and whether or not I needed to round up four kids and a barn sour husband to get them all in the basement.

Now, the kids are grown and we have no basement. Oh well. I think the grain bin would do well in a tornado what with its super solid concrete foundation. Or,it might spin around a bit,but no worries, I
 always was  a girl who loved a good Tilt-O-Whirl ride.

In two days they're predicting snow and after that we'll probably experience a tsunami. No, we're not anywhere near any large bodies of water, but this winter's weather has been so out of sorts, nothing would surprise me.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Ticking Off the Car god.

My father was a strong Catholic who worshipped one God, most of the time, as long as the mechanical heap he was driving  didn't get a flat, or a hole in it's radiator, or a squealing belt, a wobbly sort of frame, an oil spewing gasket. You get the picture.

When those things occurred, and they did fairly often in our household as extra money for newer cars didn't exist, my father would make reference to another power. One that waived about a large pair of channellock pliers in his omnipresent hands-one known as-The Car god. (Sorry, too many years in parochial school for me to be able to capitalize  the "g" in  any other god, even one with greasy hands and the breath of antifreeze.)

Dad would rationalize that our cars broke down when perhaps we had been negligent about making appropriate sacrifices to that ever lurking Car god. One who had the power to both inflict, and relieve vehicular injury. But, he also believed in the law of averages. After a run in breakdowns, he knew a good streak was due to follow, and when it arrived he enjoyed it. Often by driving too fast and picking up too many hitchhikers.  He never could never pass up a fellow on the side of the road with his thumb out.

This past month Keith and  have been slammed with car/truck repairs and we're wondering ourselves, what have we done to tick off the car god? First my little car needed new brakes, then a new power steering belt. Then last week my car started spewing transmission fluid as I motored down the road. A few days later Keith's truck sputtered, coughed and gagged while he was delivering a load of hay for a friend of ours.

Expenses were piling up. What could we afford to repair and what could wait? Could we dump my Dodge Neon with its 217,000 miles and just get by with Keith's fifteen year old truck? Were we healthy enough to chuck both cars and just walk the ten miles to the nearest grocery store? 

We decided to try our hand at mechanical repair ourselves after getting  the $300 estimate to fix the transmission fluid issue on my car. Turned out hoses and a new radiator was needed. Keith has many, many talents but he is the first to admit he's not so good with engines. But  he talked with our    repairman, ordered the new pieces, grabbed me for assist (I am really good at holding bolts and pointing out where one doohickey doesn't look like the same doohickey we removed and now replaced) crossed his fingers, and slid himself under my car.

It took us a couple hours, but we did it.  We replaced the radiator in my car, and nobody died.            Even filled it with antifreeze AND connected all the right hoses AND replaced all the transmission fluid lost. Know what that darn car did? It ran, just great, and still is a week later. We were so fortunate  that it was super warm that day, we didn't miss our old machine shed with shop quite so much.

                                                                         Shiny  new radiator in place

What about the truck you ask? We decided not to push our luck and took it into the garage yesterday.  We'd  hate to totally tick off said car god with our mechanical independence.

So tell me. Who does their own car repairs? Oil changes? Tire rotations? Can you even fill the tank with gas or do you bribe the fellow at the station to do it for you?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Disposing of the Disposables

Now well into our second month of cut rate living I've realized how far we've come in regard to ridding ourselves of disposable household items.

How far is that Donna? You might ask.

Far. Really, really far. Like, way out there. For example, we no longer purchase any of the following: napkins, plastic baggies, aluminum foil, wax paper, parchment paper, Q-tips, hand wipes, paper towels, plastic wrap, SOS scrub pads, paper plates, cups or silverware.

We did not accomplish this overnight, it took time, the real motivator was money and lack of it. With a grocery store budget of less than $40 /week, which includes all household non-food items like cleaners and disposables, it came down to this. Did I want to spend our money on paper towels or more fresh veggies?

The cucumbers and spinach won out. So here is how we get by without those items mentioned above. We use dishcloths for paper towels and napkins, we re-use plastic containers that come to us free with some of the groceries we buy (like cottage cheese), we recycle every plastic bag that comes through our door like with any packages that arrive or with any veggies or fruit we buy. I use nifty nylon scrubbies, a handmade gift this past Christmas, over and over. Like the dishcloths. they are washable. And speaking of dishcloths, the one in the pic above was made by Martha Witcher in Metamora Illinois. Handwoven and gorgeous, her items are high quality and meant to be used and washed over and over. Their durability is fantastic. Check her blog out HERE.

I've also become very creative with newspaper. There are three free ones we get every week. I cut them up into strips and use them to coat cast iron pans and baking wear with butter or oil, I use half sheets to wash windows and mirrors, I use whole sheets to drain greasy food like fried chicken.

We never need aluminum foil since we have so many left over plastic containers to store food (and I hate the stuff) plus I use our glass canning jars to keep quite a number of things fresh in the fridge. Yes, I do wash dishes often since we don't use any disposable dishes, but it's only a matter of keeping a sink full of hot soapy water. I wash, or simply rinse, dishes as soon as I dirty them.

In case you're wondering though, we still buy toilet paper, we're not complete barbarians.

So, tell me what disposables you live without and what you use in their place.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Only Winter I like is Edgar

Image result for Edgar winter

He looks like his surname does he not? All pale and cool, wind blown and aloof. I was reminded of dear Edgar when I was out doing chores this evening, in the cold, blowing snow. Just one of my favs of the 70's back when being cool had nothing to do with the insulated coveralls I wear now. The insulated Camouflage coveralls. Oh yeah, I'm so cool now.

The fact that we got a little snow dump today is all my fault. Yesterday, when it was in the 50's I was whining about the mud, and the dreary overcast sky. I even said to Keith, "So where is all the snow this year? A little white sure would be a nice change." I was tired of looking at the yard debri and rather than spend a day picking it all up, I just wanted it covered up.


The snow started this morning and at first, was a lovely layer of powdered sugar, but by evening we had several inches. At least afterwards it brought some sunshine. Fortunately the wind was just enough to make small drifts, not too hard to walk through, but if it picks up tonight we'll have issues. In these flat plains an inch of snow, accompanied by high winds, can cause white out conditions.

Which, in times past, I did not mind. I had no problems driving in bad weather, just chalk it up to years doing home nursing. But now, on our limited budget, I'm not so careless about venturing out on snowy or icy roads. What if I slide in the ditch and have to pay MONEY for someone to pull me out?
Now that...would be a disaster.

Dreary last evening

The brighter, whiter today.

So, big deal, we have snow. The animals will be ok, good shelter with deep bedding is all they need, but we human mammals will whine a bit more I'm sure. All in all though the winter of 2017 has been mild here. . No long cold snaps like Illinois winters of the past, and no serious snow storms (yet). Only a couple of icy rain events. I experienced  far worse in the decade I lived in the Black Hills of South Dakota. There, you could enter a restaurant at noon when the sky was clear and blue, and one buffalo burger later, find your car buried in a ten foot drift with the dreaded Jackalopes hopping back and forth over the top.

 Which is why any cowboy worth their salt lick would keep his snow mobile gassed up, ready to go, and secured with baling twine, in the pack of his outfit (aka pickup truck).

Image result for jackalope

Sometimes, especially in the plains around Belle Fourche, SD (which I still lovingly refer to as The Armpit of America ) the storms would roll in so fast, livestock would freeze where they stood. So when my fellow Land of Lincolnites complain about our tough winters, I tend to scoff.

Here, until this morning, it's just been grey and overcast for weeks. Enough to bring out the deepest Shakespearean  angst at times. Oh well, if we didn't have winter, how would we ever appreciate Spring? (with it's rain and mud and bugs...)

Image result for shakespeare quote about winter
Shakespeare: my favorite drama queen