Sunday, July 24, 2016

Alternative Means to My End

Over the years, my friend Jay has given me some great gifts. My first real perfume, Chanel No. 5 at age 16, my first crystal vase, my first life size Penguin statue (everyone should have one of those) and then my most recent gift, my future headstone.

Standing five foot high, like me, made of concrete but looking like metal, and etched in the knots of my ancestors, this Celtic Cross makes me giddy happy whenever I pass it at the end of our front sidewalk.

I love this gift because, for over a decade, due primarily to my years in hospice and Keith's loss of his first wife at the young age of 30, we have been planning our own deaths. Unlike so many, we are certain we are not getting out of this life thing, alive. So, rather than follow the expensive, impersonal trend millions of Americans follow, we plan to be buried right here on this Poor Farm property.  We will not be embalmed or encased in a metal coffin left to slide around on fake silk for eternity. Keith is leaning towards a simple pine box while I like the wrapped in linen (bought at a garage sale) route. Linen breathes so well in the heat.

I envision a sweet Irish graveyard, something like this:

Or perhaps a serene spot under a tree like Forrest did for his dear Jenny.
He knew what love was after all.

Our immediate family is fearful though, that our cemetery to-be may end of looking like this:

Oh that Stephen, he can make anything scary can't he? But I think todays funeral costs and customs are far more frightening than any piece of fiction. In 2016 the average funeral costs are close to $10,000. Cremation, which used to be cheaper, is about the same. Even if you go really cheap with cardboard coffins covered in blue velvet ( how Elvis) and no visitation service, you are paying big bucks for other amenities like: transportation of your deceased butt from place of death- to funeral home- to graveyard, embalming, death certificates, flowers, cemetery vaults, headstones, and on and on.

Turns out, most of that is not required by law. Every state has its own rules and of course each county and each cemetery has its own regulations, but you would be surprised what is not actually required by regulating agencies.  In Illinois for example, there are no laws that require a casket or embalming. See  for more info. You can investigate your specific state requirements on that site as well.

Soon, I'll be contacting our local coroners office to get the low down for us going way down in the ground, on our own property. We are all about natural composting here. Then I'll work my way through Public Health. They pitched such a fit with our outhouse a couple of years ago, I can't wait to hear them gasp out loud when I bring up THIS topic. Stay tuned for my progress on this road rarely taken. It promises to be a great ride.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Lard Love

In 2010 when we first started selling our Red Wattle pork to some of the coolest Chicago restaurants, our lives changed not just in the extra income (which was sweet) but in our knowledge of good and bad fats. Those chefs know stuff!

All through my nursing career it was ingrained in my head that fat is bad. The American Heart Associations propaganda is finally beginning to waver on this but still, for decades we Americans were sold a very bad bill of health: eat margarine, not butter, drink skim milk not whole and certainly not raw milk, avoid mayo and red meat, blah blah blah. And I, like so many others, was baking with Crisco, cooking with margarine, spraying some kind of petrol product in my cooking pans and gargling with corn oil. Yuck.

But over the last five years we've replaced all that crap with the good fats. We keep three here on the poor farm; butter, coconut oil and lard. Finally research is beginning to catch up with us good fat loving freaks, and admitting that some fats, like those from pasture raised animals, really is best.

 Some homesteaders swear by their home grown beef fat (tallow) but I prefer hog fat (lard). Like so much of the other tasks here, turning hog fat into the easier to deal with form of lard, is not difficult, it just takes time and a couple big crockpots.

When we take our hogs to the locker we always get the fat returned to us. It comes in long strips, frozen solid. When I want to make lard I let it partially thaw, and then cut into chunks. Thanks again to DIL Tab who recommended the Mercer brand of knives for my kitchen use. Love them!

The chunks are tossed into a crockpot set on low and then I just let it cook down. Over the next few hours the fat melts into a lovely cream color and gets very hot.

As more of the fat melts away, more lard is produced and you can add additional fat chunks if you'd like. Periodically I will scoop out the hot, melted lard and place in in a stainless steel bowl. When it's cool enough I'll then ladle into glass jars to keep in fridge, or plastic containers to freeze. I always keep a fresh jar of lard on my countertop for cooking. Doesn't everyone? I also set aside some to make soap, as soap made with lard is most excellent for making your own laundry soap. No, the soap is not greasy and in fact laundry soap made with lard does an excellent job of removing grease and oil stains. It's science man, I don't understand it. Go ask Sheldon.

After a few hours, what fat doesn't melt completely away, turns a dark crunchy brown and makes excellent snaking with some sea salt of course. Fat is very filling and keeps me from grabbing the carbs, always and forever my weakness.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Office

View from my tiny office. Sorry so blurry, the camera on my phone
has had some attitude issues lately.

Last October, when we moved out of the camper and into our grain bin house, I asked my husband, "Please make me a desk, any kind of desk, I don't care what it looks like." I was seven weeks into classes and so tired of doing the majority of my work at school. I needed a home base for my course work, and the previous desks we had in our prior home were too large. So, dutiful guy that he is, he grabbed a hollow core door from the decrepit house on our property, propped it up with old file cabinets and pieces of two by fours, and voila! I had a place to do homework.

I made it work but, the door/desk was ugly and I had no desire to put forth the effort to paint it. It had limited space for spreading out my work, and its feng shui was totally kitty wampus. But, we had other projects of more pressing importance like building our kitchen counter top, and securing shelter for our livestock for the winter. So my desk was put on the way, way, back burner.

Until last week.

Keith had been saving a lovely piece of oak veneered plywood for me, and he was happy to rip out my temporary desk and build me a new one. Of course as with all built-ins here, nothing is square or perfectly straight. Here is my professionally done office floor plan. Can you see the challenges?

With Keith as our scale model, he's average height and weight, you can see how cramped the space is,

and yet, he managed to do a fantastic job of cutting out my new desk to fit the curved grain bin wall. We used newspapers taped to the floor to make the template. Since his shop space is very limited, we both did much of the work outside, like sanding and applying a couple coats of polyurethane.

Supported by solid wall braces only, no legs, it gives me tons of storage room underneath. The hole at the top will allow me to thread all my computer/printer wires down to my CPU without cluttering up desktop space, which is now almost twice what it was before.

Meeting my cubby shelves at a right angle, the desk placement allows me to easily turn and grab what I need. I'm now actively seeking some old file cabinets to slide under my desk.

On the opposite side of the office is my built in seating area. We  took a solid bookshelf my father built in the 70's, flipped it over face down on the floor and placed the old futon mattress from the camper on the back of the bookshelf.  It's long enough for a grandchild to sleep on and perfect for sitting with a good read.

The white shelf unit above, also came out of the decrepit house.

After cleaning and white-washing it, it is now a great place for paperbacks and memorabilia. Thus, every piece of furniture in this itsy bitsy teeny weeny office was recycled, reclaimed, or repurposed,  putting it in solid working order for the picky ass writer-wife who felt she was above a hollow core door desk.

Personal standards are so limiting.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Once Again, I'm Cleaning Up My Act.

Image result for The Midlife Farmwife Soaps

I am one of those homesteading hippie freaks who makes her own soap, tooth powder, deodorant, laundry soap and cleaning supplies.

I have not always been like this, I in fact, was deeply addicted to The Works for toilets and only gave that toxic stuff up about a year ago. But I still miss it and I admit, still dream about its bright blue color and its ability to strip paint off a submarine or stains out of a loo. You know, like the way we dream about those people who were never good for you but had such amazing guitar skills that when you picked them up on the side of the road it was impossible to ask him to leave your single wide trailer with the blue suede that.

Yes, I have a thing for the color blue.

Image result for The Midlife Farmwife Soaps

Back to all natural cleaners. Today's blog is brought to you by homemade soap. The real kind made with lye not glycerin blocks you get at Hobby Lobby. That's not soap, its just another hobby, from some megastore lobby. I'll talk about tooth powder some late night when the snow is 6 feet deep outside.

Image result for The Midlife Farmwife Soaps

I used to make and sell soap for our retail farm store under the name The Midlife Farmwife .  Now, I have no such fancy label or a webpage for ordering, its just you and me right here right now. Maybe later after I get rolling I'll do a Facebook page again but for now, I'm keeping it simple or if you prefer, ultra exclusive.

All of my soaps  are made with natural ingredients for color (see the picture below) and scent. I use only high quality base oils and essential oils, no fragrance oils, So if you want something in patchouli, cedarwood, geranium rose or lavender for example,  I'm your gal but if want something that smells like bubblegum or White Diamonds, you'll need to visit Walmart.

Image result for The Midlife Farmwife Soaps

Email me at if you'd like prices, or more info.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Goodbye Camper, Hello Outdoor Writers Studio

Now you see it, 

Now you don't.

Last summers quaint abode, all 160 square feet of it, is on it's way to a new home. Destined to be the playhouse for a couple with ELEVEN children, I was not unhappy to see it go. It served its purpose but life last summer, from April through October, without indoor plumbing, heat, or room to do the little things, like breathe, was an experience best left in the past.

Sure, there were benefits. When you live in such a tiny space you spend most of your time outdoors, which is always healthier. You also learn to live with much less and thus moving into out 680 SF grain bin was like moving into a three wing castle. It's all relative.

It did have a working stove but most days cooking in there was just insanely hot so we cooked on an open fire outside. Storage was limited and  I had to stand on the booth benches (left) to reach into the cupboards above them. The plumbing was shot so we used our composting toilet in the outhouse, and we washed all our dishes via carried water, on a stainless steel sink set up in the camper yard.

We also showered outside, which I will admit, I miss sometimes. We had privacy, unless you drove up through the field just south of us, then it was every naked camper for themselves. But once the corn grew waist high (for Keith) and neck high (for moi) we were good. All in all we had fun (most of the time) we learned new survival skills ( how to tie the door shut with a robe belt) and we acquired an appreciation for the little things ( not having to wash our bums outside on 40 degree nights).

Now, this vacated area is my new outdoor writing studio. We don't have AC in the grain bin so on the 95 degree days I prefer to be outside in the shade. With our old picnic table placed on the deck previously used as our shower area, and a jug of ice water, ice coffee, iced beer (I believe in free choice) plus a few farm critters for company, I'm good for at least one short story.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Manure Preneurs: How Our Garden Grows

Manure Preneurs. That's us. (Any self-employed screen printers out there? Make me a  Manure Preneur T-shirt and I'll trade you some cool soap.) In this day of chemical fertilizers, Round Up ready seeds, overhead spraying by dive-bombing planes, what Keith and I do here is a rarity in our parts. We are literally surrounded by GMO corn and beans, corn and beans. Few Illinois farmers grow anything else, but we love to rock the status quo and our freaky chemical free methods...are working. Our clay heavy soils screamed for help and we responded and in return we have been gifted with the following. 

Here again is the garden just off our front door. The pic was taken May 27. 

And here it is just a little over four weeks later. 

We did this with a nearly extinct form of food raising. Hard work. So much hard, sweaty work. We no longer own a tractor, riding mower or garden tiller. Our son Kyle did initially till this spot for us, but since then it's all been just hand tools. Next year the plan is No-till since we've laid the ground work for such this year. Lately I've become very close to my wheelbarrow and pitchfork. We use older moldy hay, grass clippings (from our push mower) well rotted manure/straw combination to mulch between rows. We hand pull weeds. It is not (yet) an efficient method but in future years all the work we've done lately will pay off in rich soil which will require only minimal maintenance.

Green beans on the left and tomatoes in the middle. Peppers and onions to the right.

Close up of the peppers with zucchini behind them, onions towards middle and far right are my herbs: chives, tarragon, basil, sage, mint, cilantro, thyme, all just three feet from my front door.

 View from the upstairs window in the evening light.

Alongside the sidewalk the package of wildflower seeds are in bloom and baby's breath, calendula, marigolds, cosmos and zinnias add the color I have always wanted in a garden.

I am one stinking ridiculous happy homesteader, until of course all the beans come ready for canning next week when the temps are predicted to be in the high 90's. Oh well. The life of a Manure Preneur is bound to stink sometimes.