Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Homesteaders Obsession With Food

Lately, all I can think about is food.

How to harvest it, clean it, dry it, can it, cook it, bake it, butcher it and freeze it. Mostly I worry about how to PRESERVE it so we can eat more of our own food and less from some unknown farm 1500 miles away.

Now, at the end of August, we must take account and it's not nearly as good as we had hoped. Excuses. We have hundreds. Keith was working off farm this year, which gifted me with additional livestock chores.  I also got sidetracked with my writing career (which was equally sidetracked by my livestock tending "career"). We were busy building a barn from scratch. We didn't get enough rain. We had family needs, and of course my favorite;

                                                                              the sun was in our eyes.

Where else would it be in summer, I don't know. Regardless, our garden production was about half of what we had hoped. Tomatoes so slow, we're just eating them as they ripen, won't be any leftover for canning. Beans did get canned, but only about 2/3 of what I did last summer. Apple trees produced very little fruit and our sole pear tree died. Peppers are getting there, I may have enough to chop and freeze, but broccoli never really saw the light of day. Beets were planted THREE times and never sprouted. (Bad seed? Bad Soil? Bad Beet vibes?) Onions got in late and are in limited supply. Zucchini died before producing anything. We hardly knew she was sick.

You would think we were brand new gardeners. But no, we've been at this for over two decades. Looking back we've had tons of years with so much garden produce we could've fed five families, so I suppose statistically, we were due for a partial garden fail.

On the flip side: potatoes are being dug and providing great meals. Should have enough to store for a couple months. Sweet potatoes look great, we expect copious amounts. My holy basil and regular basil plants will provide tea and pesto all winter and we ate TONS of peas. Our cabbage patch is producing nicely and today I made sauerkraut. I'll make lots more in the coming weeks. Garlic did extremely well. We'll have enough to plant another fall crop soon and the rest is stored in cheesecloth and hung from our kitchen rafters. Vampires won't have a chance here. Finally, the bees have been very busy. We expect a good supply of honey.

On the protein side:

The chickens are laying well so we have many eggs, much of which I scramble and freeze for baking. Our broilers are gaining weight so we'll have wonderful chicken to last until next fall. We'll start butchering them in October. Two beef are going to the locker in October as well, having grown well this summer which will fill our freezers with burger, roasts and steaks and our three hogs set for the locker September 13, are HUGE. We will soon be flush in bacon, pork chops and sausage.

So I guess we won't starve but how I hate the idea of having to buy any tomato products these next few months. Anyone got a recipe for making spaghetti sauce out of sweet potatoes?

Monday, August 21, 2017

High School Reunions. Why Bother?

I don't do reunions. Unless you count the sisterly kind where my siblings and I go away for a night or two every so often. But that's not really a reunion since we all live in Illinois and see each other often anyway. It's just a long gab fest. I'm talking about school reunions, which I have managed to avoid for decades.

No grade school reunions or high school gatherings, no nursing school get-togethers or college alumni groups. Nope. Not me.

But something happened. People I've known and loved for a long time starting dying. Not in big, Department of Public Health Epidemic number numbers kind of way, but rather here and there, a trickling of disappearances. But, I am closing in on sixty and with the average life span in this country now at around eighty for females and seventy-six for males, it became obvious; none of us are getting out of this life thing, alive.

So, when I saw a blurb on Facebook last year about someone garnering interest for a forty year high school reunion I made a partially interested face, but moved on. Important stuff beckoned, like butchering chickens and rendering lard. Crucial activities. But the next day I stalked that Facebook page again. My days at Joliet East High School were fuzzy, I had barely kept in touch with two of my girlfriends from that era, Ann and Leanne, but around that time another HS friend, Greg, contacted me. Seems his daughter was graduating from UIUC just like I was and he wanted to congratulate me and say hello.

There. Now I had three reasons to attend a reunion. I went back to that Facebook page and did the most insane thing; I signed up for the Reunion Committee! What a maroon, as my sisters like to say. We used to call each other moron, but that's not pc, so now we say maroon because no one gets offended if you're likened to a Crayola shade, right?

This last year, on a monthly basis, this reunion committee met and planned venues, menus and borrowed projectors from nephews. We fretted over invites and emails and my own personal fear, listing the wrong people on the final "In Memory of our Classmates" slide.  Mostly like strangers in the beginning, we became friends again, even though some of us really didn't remember each other all that well from high school.  Hell, at fifty eight it's hard to remember your own birthday let alone who was in your geometry class. Unless it was one of those Bernhard brothers, we all remembered them.

This last Saturday all our work came to a head and eighty or so folks (out of a class of 467) showed up for our fortieth high school reunion. The reunion committee was a bit nervous, arriving two hours early to ready the room, decorate, set up a PowerPoint presentation, harass waitresses (if you could make the room totally dark at 6:45 pm for our slide presentation, that'd be greeaaat) and generally worry about everyone finding the restaurant.

They did.

The evening, like all reunions, started out a bit awkward. Name tags were moderately helpful, but we had to face it, 98% percent of us did not look like we did at age 17-18. Most of us looked way better. And after a few drinks we all thought we looked pretty good. Then the band Strung Out played Come and get Your Love by Redbone, and those of us foolish enough, danced with all the same far out moves we had in 1977.  What a scene, so glad none of my adult children were there. Died from embarrassment they would have. Fer sure.

Keith and I, always on farmer time, bowed out around midnight, but I must admit it was difficult to leave. Some of those people in that room meant a great deal to me in those HS years. I struggled with several home related issues back in the day. I ran away a couple times, got in trouble with the police (more than a couple of times) experienced the death of a sister, and generally was a hot mess as they say today. But I had my people then, and they were far more wonderful and supportive of me than I am sure I ever told them. It was good then, Saturday night, to be able to tell these folks what they meant to me then, what they mean to me still.

There was talk of a forty-five  year reunion and of course a fifty year one. There was talk of maybe taking a road trip together, of getting together at one or another's homes, of keeping in better touch, of not letting so much time go past without connecting again.  I hope we keep those promises, I believe we need to keep them, because it's just like Stevie Nicks says,

Time makes you bolder
Children get older
I'm getting older too

And before we know it, that Landslide will take us all down.

The high school me on left with my two best friends Leanne and Ann, just behind me.
They always had my back.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Family Cemetery: How Not to Get Buried Under the Rules and Regs

View of our proposed family cemetery site
at the south west end of our property

View from within the cemetery area
looking back towards our Grain Bin House
located behind the trees .

All we want to do is dig a hole, and lay down for eternity. That's not so much to ask, is it? Apparently, it is. Last October we started exploring the possibility of permanently hosting our interested family members who'd like to chill out here when their tickers give out, and now ten months later, it's still a work in progress.

I started the effort by calling our county coroner who said he could find nothing to preclude a family cemetery in our county, but still, he referred me to the county zoning board. I did extensive internet research which stated that requirements such as  embalming, concrete vaults or metal caskets were not state or federally mandated but rather requirements of specific cemeteries only.

This was good since we want our bodies to naturally decompose on our property in nothing more than a wood box.

We also spoke with a local funeral home director to get his input, and ask about the less savory details like, "if we die in another state, how can we get our bodies back to The Poor Farm?" The answer: you have to hire a licensed funeral home to do that, hauling us back in the bed of the Ford F-150 is not allowed.

I wanted to ask if it'd be allowed as long as someone tied red warning flags to our toes, but I restrained myself.

It took awhile to get a response from our county zoning administrator, I'm assuming he had other bigger building projects to worry about, but in April we received an "Application for Special Use", which we completed.

In July we were notified that we would need to attend two meetings. The first was the County Regional Planning Commission, held on July 31, and the second was the County Zoning Board of Appeals held last week, August 3rd. All of our neighbors were notified of these meetings in the event they wanted to come for more information or to register their concerns.

Since our property is 1.5 miles from the nearest town, over a half mile from the nearest neighbor, and  surrounded  on all sides by planted fields, I did not expect any neighbor resistance. I was wrong.

Enter the relative of a land owner who lives a mile from us. She arrived at the first meeting and after everyone on the committee was brought up to speed on our wishes, she proceeded to read off a long litany of concerns. Such as:

     Who was initially responsible for the property since we are not married?
     Who would care for the property after we died?
      Did I know it was a Class 3 Felony to disturb headstones if say we sold the property.?
     What type of roadway would we build to access the area?
     Did our mortgage lender approve?

     Did I know how it would affect property values?

Her last comment, I believe, was the crux of the matter. She was concerned about resale value of land around us.

When she had her say, the Regional Planning Commission voted unanimously in our favor. However, three days later at the County Zoning Board of Appeals, it went a bit differently. Some of the members of the second committee also sat on the first committee, but some were new. Since it was an official public hearing I was sworn in and allowed to give an overview of our plans again, but this time I focused on the fact that in Illinois, Family Cemeteries are exempt from the rules and regulations that govern the public licensed cemeteries. Specifically the Cemetery Care Act 760 ILCS 100/ and The Cemetery Care Oversight Act of 2009.

Thus, the majority of the concerns voiced by our neighbors relative, were moot points. She did attend this second meeting and she did speak again, but after hearing about our exempt status, she backed off the regulatory issues and focused on property values, tax assessments etc. When it came time for the committee to vote, the ones who were not at the first meeting had all new concerns such as:

     Will there be an easement to allow your descendants access to the property if it is ever sold?

     How will you keep track of where the bodies are buried and how deep?

     How can we get proof that you are exempt?

     Can you move the boundaries farther into your property?

In the end they wanted me to answer the concerns above in writing and present to them again in November. These four conditions are easily addressed and I have faith it will all be approved at that time. My overall impression of the mild resistance so far is this: as a whole we are a death denying society and we prefer to deal with death at a distance. This "distance" is provided by a licensed professional, i.e. a funeral home director and the entire process is greatly sanitized at a very great financial price.

The average person does not want to see the backhoe dig the grave, nor do they want to build their own coffin. (I'm lining the lid of mine with Supertramp Posters and Hemingway quotes and OH YES, the amazing art work of Matt Kish in his book Moby-Dick in Pictures) Nor do they want to think about what happens, natural decomposition wise, to our bodies made of mere flesh and bone. To take control, as much as any human can control anything, of ones own burial on ones own property is foreign thinking in the 21st Century even though family cemeteries existed here, and in other countries, for centuries upon centuries.

I believe about half of the committee felt we were barbarians, while the other half wished they had their own family cemetery. The county admitted that they had never dealt with the issue before and in fact did not even know it was possible to do so. Sad isn't it? One hundred years ago family cemeteries were the norm, and now they are looked upon suspiciously.

So, we move forward with our plans for the O'Shaughnessy-Parrish Family Cemetery. I've warned our interested family members that until November they should drive the speed limit, avoid high crime areas, and limit their intake of McDonalds Happy Meals.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Bones of the Barn are Up!

We've had decent weather lately, not horribly hot, which gave us great conditions to get barn work done. We borrowed a post hole digger, industrial type, from some friends and when attached to our tractors PTO, it did a fine job. Our soil is heavy in clay here which proved difficult for digging at times, but good for packing around the posts. That soil type will likely harden around the posts as well as it we used concrete.

Our granddaughter Allana was here one day when we put in the very first post, thus you get the rare photograph of this blog's author. Unlikely you'll see another for awhile, I prefer to be behind the camera.

The work was slow at first as Keith would hook a post to our tractor with a chain, then guided me verbally to the correct spot where I'd lower the post in the hole, then hop off the tractor (hop? Not hardly) then help him with leveling, securing with 2 x 4's, and so on.

As I got better with my tractor skills the process picked up speed. When our son Jason came out to help the last two weekends, things went even faster.

It took ten days but we got all the posts in for the four external walls and the one interior wall. In the midst of it, the county dropped by to check progress. (He actually dropped by to take pictures of our proposed family cemetery site, but seeing our barn work he decided to kill two birds with one pack of regulatory paperwork.)
Yesterday we made the Menards trip to order the new trusses and pro-rib steel for the roof, thus completely emptying out the last of the money in our "Barn Fund" envelope. Those items will arrive in a couple weeks and be directly delivered to the farm. Inside walls and loft floor, shelving for Keith's workshop, as well as livestock stall walls, will all be built with repurposed material we have on hand, or will remove from the old decrepit house as we dismantle it.

If you look closely you'll see the barn posts are an eclectic collection of posts from the 60 year old machine shed we had torn down, brand new posts we bought at Menards (we only had to buy two) and several shorter round posts given to us by my sister Teresa after they sold their house and dismantled that pasture fence.

Next up, we'll apply the skirt boards and purloins from post to post, plus angle braces at end posts. This will give us the structure needed to attach the outside walls using all the recycled steel from the building we purchased for this project.

Keith and Fanny below take a well deserved break.

In other news: we're making great progress on our plans for a family cemetery, we're crazy busy putting up garden produce, the broilers for next years chicken suppers are growing fast and we're making adjustments to the Looney Bins foundation insulation in preparation for the upcoming winter.

 I'll blog about it soon. Promise.