Baby Steps

This past weekend, DH said that he feels like we are living a city life in the country. I suppose I could argue that we were living a countrified life in the city and that’s why it doesn’t feel like much has changed; but to be honest, I feel like he is right. Our goal is to be as self sufficient as possible, but I’m not sure how to get there.

I know this is naïve of me, but I half expected to move to the country and instantly remember all of the information and knowledge I’ve assimilated by reading books and blogs and talking to people that have done this journey before me. Ha!

Intellectually, I know that this is a process… I know that the little changes all add up in a big way, and I know that we are making a lot of little changes. It’s just hard for me to remember that when I don’t see progress every day.

I’m glad I wrote a post about my homesteading goals for my first year on our homestead and my homestead goals for 2013.  When I went back and read the list of the things I wanted to get done – I realized that I’ve finished 75% of my list.  When I see everything we’ve done on paper, I can hardly believe we’ve gotten so much accomplished when I feel like we’ve done so little.

The worst thing about baby steps is that progress is so slow that you don’t feel like you are making any real changes.

on the flip side of that

The best thing about baby steps is that progress is so slow that you don’t feel like you are making any real changes.

Either way you look at it – baby steps really do add up to big changes.

 

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Ain’t Nothing But A Hound Dog

This has been a strange two weeks at the homestead. It went by in a blur and I know we’ve been busy, but I don’t feel like we’ve done anything out of the ordinary.

We did get another dog. He is a Transylvanian Hound and based on the research that I’ve done, there are only a few dozen of them in the US. Isn’t he a beauty? His previous owner loved him enough to find another home for him when they realized that they didn’t have enough room for him to run. It’s hard to train a hound dog not to attack our rabbits, and I’m sure we will go through the same thing once we get our chickens. It’s worth it though, this big guy already jumped in front of my big boys to protect them from a snake. He is worth is 88lbs of weight in gold to me right now.

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Meet Hugo. That was his name when he came to us, and we decided not to change it.

Our wonderful neighbors also let DH borrow their tractor so he could move some dirt piles around and make a wall of mud to turn into a shooting area in the far back corner of the property. When he was moving the dirt, he noticed a huge buck in the woods. I hope the buck comes back during hunting season. It would be wonderful to fill our freezer with venison.  The LO and I took some long construction paper and made a few dozen targets for shooting practice. Our targets all look like scary monsters with extra feet and arms and multiple eyes. It is important that the teenagers learn gun safety, but I don’t want them shooting at targets that look like people.

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DH moving dirt into the back of his truck so he can cart it to the back of the property.

When we were walking Hugo yesterday around the property line, we found some odd shaped fruits. They smell like citrus and look like large bumpy tennis balls. After a few minutes on Google, I discovered that we have a few Osage orange trees in the tree line along the property line.

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Aren’t they weird looking? Apparently, they are fantastic to use for wind breaks as they grow really fast. They are also touted to be a great form of pest control. In some studies, they have been found to be comparable to DEET. How come I have never heard about this inedible fruit before??!!?

The kids and I picked a few of them so I can try to save their seeds and also try to make a natural insect repellent with their guts. I’m not sure how I’m going to do it yet, but we have a quite a few them to play around with. If I find anything that works well, I’ll make sure to do a post about it.

Rainwater Catchment System

Our area of Texas is in it’s third year of a bad drought. One of our ponds is nearly dry, and the other two are noticeably smaller than they were when we first saw them. It’s not pretty. We try to conserve as much water as possible. One of the first homestead projects that we’ve done is set up a rainwater catchment system.

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We were lucky, our barn already had gutters set up. All we had to add was a large bendable pipe (we used sewage pipe) that we picked up at Home Depot. It ended up using $6 worth of pipe and another $3 worth of connectors.

Our local Farm Supply company sells 275 gallon totes for $180 + tax. I hate buying things for full price, so we started checking craigslist daily, hoping we could find a great deal.

About two weeks ago, we were driving into town and saw a house that had two 275 gallon water totes sitting outside with a phone number on them. We called, and ended up buying both of these totes for $50 each. We cleaned them and sterilized them very well, just to be safe. We put them on pallets, so when we use the water, gravity will create water pressure for us.

Eventually, we will connect the two totes, so we don’t have to go out and manually move the pipe from one to the other in the rain. But, for now – it’s a blessing to be able to use rain water to water the garden. The plants love it.

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P.S. Please ignore the weeds and grass in the garden.

P.P.S. We ended up spending $110 on this project. After we fill up both totes 14 times, we will have recouped our investment. This number only accounts for the cash cost of water in our area, not the cost of taxes, meter fees, and the environmental cost of using city water when we could be using rain water. This was definitely a project that was worth doing.

My Road

When we first drove out to this property, we followed the directions on our GPS instead of the directions on the MLS. That was a mistake. We ended up stuck in mud. DH and the big kids had to push while I had to steer. The road starts out innocent enough, it looks like most black topped roads that are in this area.

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Then the blacktop ends. The road is still easy to drive on at this point. The sun dries this white rock very quickly.

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As we get a little closer to our property, the white rock road ends. It doesn’t start back up again until we are a little past the boundary for our property. This is past the worst part of the road. But it still gets muddy here in the rain. The trees block the sunlight and the road will stay muddy for days at a time. The kids think it’s amusing to watch cars start down this road, then turn around and drive back a few minutes later.

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At the very end of this road, on the left, our property. Here is a picture of the southwest border of our property. Our places goes all the way past the tree line in the back, where there is a wet weather creek. Our big “no cost” fall project is going to be to clean up the fence. The Johnson Grass grows around the barb wire and it’s hard to cut out with a weed eater.

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I complain about our road sometimes, since it really is hard to drive on when it rains. And, it’s painful to have to explain to everyone who visits us to take the alternate road. I secretly love it though. It’s quiet and peaceful. I occasionally see deer and other wildlife running across it. It looks like one of those “path through a forest” computer wallpapers that are so popular. But, most importantly, it takes me home.

Canine Parvovirus

Our Rocky died of Parvovirus this past Tuesday. What a horrible illness. RIP little guy, we will miss you.

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We think Rocky was two weeks younger than the shelter thought he was, which would have made him just under 5 weeks old when we adopted him. He was only in our lives for 13 days. He started showing symptoms last Friday (3 days after his first set of puppy shots), and he went downhill quickly. He earned his name by fighting very hard for his life for 5 days. He died peacefully in my arms Thursday afternoon. Even though his life was short, he had a great life. He was able to run around and go fishing with us, attack our water hose, take long naps on our laps, play catch with a football that was bigger than he was, roll around in rabbit poo, chase his tail, and most importantly, he was able to be loved and taken care of for the time he was with us.

After he passed, I sat outside with the kids and we remembered all the fun times we had with Rocky while we watched the sunset. It was a cathartic moment – a reminder that every beginning has an ending, and for every ending there is another beginning.

RIP Rocky-boy.

 

We will be getting another dog (an older dog that is up to date on vaccinations) in a few weeks. The 4yo and DH both want to name the new-to-us dog Rocky. I think it’s a horrible idea to do that. I don’t want the 4 year old to think that we can just replace pets. Thoughts?

 

 

The good is very, very good.

In my post yesterday, I was venting about all of the negative things I’m learning about country life. There are quite a few positive things as well. Before I start on my list of positive things here’s another gratuitous shot of Rocky, our Great Pyrenees/Australian Shepherd mix. He is currently 8 weeks old. He weighs just 5.5lbs right now, but he is going to get big very quickly.

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Now that I’ve got the puppy picture out of my system. Here are some of the things I love about living in the boonies:

1) Lack of traffic. It takes me less time to drive to the kids school now (8 miles away) than it did in suburbia (2.1 miles away). The small town that I live close to has a population of under 1500. There is one blinking yellow traffic light. On most mornings, I can drive for 15 minutes in any direction before I see more than 2-3 other cars. There is no wait to pick the kids up from school and there is no line to drop them off in the mornings.

2) Lack of Neighbors. I have more cattle in a 1 mile radius of my house than I do people. The few neighbors that I do have are wonderful. Even if we don’t always agree on things, I know that I could depend on any of them in a crunch. I also know that I don’t have to worry about some rogue kid blaring music out of his car stereo in the middle of the night.

3) No Telemarketers. Yea. That’s all I need to say about that.

4) No advertising. I don’t have to look at billboards or commercials or store fronts. Nothing is telling me that I need newer or bigger or better. Most people here are frugal by nature. One of the gentlemen that lives a few streets away lives in a beat up singlewide, drives a jalopy, wears tie-dye t-shirts that have been worn so thin you can see through them, and looks like he could be a pan handler. Yet, he has a few thousand acres of land and a few thousand cattle to go with it. His net worth is easily an 8 figure number, but he still gets up at dawn, works his land, eats beans and rice for dinner, and finds joy in his daily walk with his dog. He splurges by buying a cold beer at the gas station every Friday night. He is just one example. Money doesn’t mean the same thing here that it means in other places. Security and hard work are more important. It’s refreshing. We never tried to keep up with the Jones’, and we’ve always been pretty frugal, but it’s nice to not be inundated with people saying that we need to buy more. I wish more people were able to experience this.

5) The City Paper. I love our paper. It comes out once a week and I look forward to it each week. It includes a list of birthdays and anniversaries, a little local gossip, some things to do in the area for the week, a few recipes, notes from one person to another, and a small classified section. It’s fun to open it and see that the headline is – BETTY LOU TURNS 90! HER GRANSON, JOHNNY, CAME TO VISIT HER. How fantastic is that?

6) The views. Oh, the views. My 4 year old comes in my room every morning, opens my east facing bedroom blinds, crawls into bed with me and says, “Mommy, let’s watch the sunrise.”  There are so many stars in the sky at night. I can teach my kids how to find the big and small dippers. I can also point out the Milky Way. I get to sit outside with a cup of hot tea and watch the sunset any night I want. I don’t have to worry about something blocking my views. Here is my view of the sunset.

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7) Fresh Air and Hard Work. I know that hard work seems like a strange thing to put on the list of positive things about living in the country; but, it’s extremely satisfying to do work outside, with your own hands, in the sunshine and fresh air. No matter how tired and sore I get, when I look out at the work we’ve gotten done and when I see the changes that are happening here because of that work – I feel a deep sense of satisfaction that no 9-5 job in the world could duplicate. Here is a picture of the driveway, before it was a driveway. If you spent a week shoveling all of this raking it into your own driveway, wouldn’t you feel a sense of accomplishment when you finished?

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8) Fishing whenever we want without having to get a fishing license. One of our three ponds is stacked with large mouth bass, bluegill, and some sort of strange hybrid. We call this pond ‘Lost Hook Pond.’ Here’s a picture of DH holding the strange large mouth bass/bluegill (pan fish) hybrid.

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9) Simple Entertainment. We don’t have cable and our internet is crappy, so we improvise. We play all kinds of card games, we shoot arrows, we target practice with the BB gun, we fly kites, we play horseshoes, we read books, we have time to cultivate individual hobbies and interests. We take nature walks. We work hard, but we spend a lot of time playing too.

10) The people. Most everyone is friendly and polite. Cars will stop completely for pedestrians. I can go to the store and not feel like I’m wading through a crowd of zombies, since people will actually acknowledge our presence. Most of the people around here would rather barter for things or give things away than sell and buy things. We’ve had complete strangers stop to offer to help us do things. When we pass by other cars in this area, everyone waves and smiles. There is a pride that comes with knowing we are a part of this great community.

11) We can do whatever we want to this property. We could build a shopping mall or a trailer park or the town’s first jello wrestling arena for dogs. We could build a house out of glass marbles. We don’t need permits for anything. We don’t need permission for anything. We have all mineral rights and no one can be on this property unless we give them permission. Also, we are grandfathered into these rights, so no one will ever be able to tell us what we can and cannot do here. (Obviously – we have to pay appropriate taxes and obey state and county laws.)

12) Watching the kids thrive. They love this place as much as DH and I do. When they work beside us on farm projects, they are learning real life lessons that they could never learn at school. Here is an ‘in progress’ picture of the dog house they built out of pallets for Rocky. DH helped them a little, but they did most of the work on their own. (Rocky loves it. In the picture of him at the top of this post, he is hanging out inside of it.)

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13) Security. This is the land of opportunity for us. If DH lost his job, we could fall back on full time farming. It would be hard, but we could do it. If we were ever hungry, we could go fishing in our own ponds and catch our own supper. We could harvest veggies from our garden and fruit from our orchard. We could even use our camping filter and make pond water safe for us to drink. We could chop down trees and build a temporary shelter. We could get enough firewood to get us through the cold parts of winter. This land takes care of us and in turn, I want to take good care of it.

So you see – there are plenty more good things than bad things about living in the country. I’m sure my perceptions about things will change as we become more familiar with the area and the people. It’s very different, but it’s a very good different (most of the time).  Despite the hardships and frustrations – the benefits of living here far outweigh any negatives.

Five weeks

We’ve been here five weeks and there are some things that are beginning to bug me. I knew there would be trials that would come up from such a drastic lifestyle change; but I wasn’t prepared to go through such a massive amount of culture shock.

1) Internet sucks here. Really. We get 10G a month. That’s it. For downloading, uploading, watching movies, and anything else we regularly do online. That’s it. We don’t have cable, so we usually watch Netflix streaming to catch up on our favorite shows and watch movies. We can watch about 1.5 movies a week and hit our data cap.

2) There is no trash pick up. Well, scratch that – there is trash pick up. It costs $8 a week and they will pick up to 8 bags of trash. That’s $1 for each bag of trash. Crazy, right?  Luckily, DH can throw our trash in the dumpsters at his work. It is forcing me to pay attention to how much trash we accumulate.

3) Mice. Mice are a problem I (wrongly) assumed was due to poor household management. I learned my lesson when I woke up to a mice infestation (i.e. two mice) a few days ago. They are fast little buggers. I don’t run around screaming whenever I see one, but I do try to avoid whatever room I know one is in. We have some traps set up, so I hope they work. I’ve also heard of a few deterrents I can try (peppermint oil and dryer sheets), so I’m going to try that as soon as I get to the store.

4) Snakes. I guess the mice would be more of an issue without them, but the snakes we have here are poisonous and nasty. Someone ran over a copperhead a few feet from our property line last weekend. We keep the grass mowed around the house and barn; but we need to make sure we are always vigilant when we are outside.

5)Stray dogs. There is a pack of three stray dogs that roam the neighborhood (our surrounding streets . They haven’t shown any aggression towards us; but, one of them was in our barn pesting my rabbits today. Grrrr. The city will not do anything about it – all they say is that if there are animals or people on my property without my permission that are threatening to me or to my livestock, I can shoot legally shoot them. Crazy, eh? It’s a completely different way of thinking.

6) Lack of city services. We have really slow internet with a data cap. I have more books on my personal bookshelves than the library has available for me to check out. The local police does not police my area, we have to call the county sheriff for any issues. The fire department is all volunteer and it would take them 30 minutes to get here. No one picks up dead animals out of the street (except the vultures). The closest hospital is 20 minutes away. My oldest twin cut himself with a pocket knife and needed stitches at the end of August. Luckily, I had a great first aid kit available and I was able to temporarily doctor him up until I could get him to the ER. It could take up to an hour for an ambulance to get here.

7)Roads. Our property sits about a mile and a half down a dirt road. When it rains, the road turns into a slick pit of mud. Luckily, there is a black topped road that leaves our property from the other direction. It’s a little out of the way to take the black top road, but it’s safe to drive in wet weather conditions. It’s a pain to have to explain that to people coming to visit though. Luckily, UPS knows the route and always calls me in advance to see if the road is clear.

8)Everyone knows your business. We went to church with my neighbors in a large town about 20 minutes away. After service, the pastor stopped me and said, “You must be the twin’s mom! My wife teaches at their school. She doesn’t have them in any of her classes, but she told me that they are such great kids. How do you like living in —-Insert Name that Locals Call the Area We Live In—–?” It’s hard to get used to everyone knowing your business, when you aren’t even sure of anyone’s name yet.

9)Animals in the middle of the road. Usually these animals are dead, but sometimes they are alive. You know you live in a small town, when you give directions to someone and you say, “pass that area of main where the three chickens hang out in the road, swing a right by the crazy roadrunner and it’s behind the parking lot with the orange tabby.” (And people know exactly where you are talking about.)

10) Paranoia. I know this is just a part of getting over culture shock. But, it’s pretty abnormal for people to drive by our property. I think we get about 2 cars a day that drive by, and most of them turn around before they hit the mud road and go back in the other directions (the big kids are vastly entertained by people turning around when they see the “pavement ends” sign). I’ve gotten to the point where whenever I hear a car, I have to check to make sure it’s not a mass murderer driving to my property. Isn’t that a little crazy? When we lived in the suburbs, I felt like I was suffocating by the sheer amount of people that were around us at any given time. Now, I’ve got 2 neighbors within a half mile of me, and I can’t see either of their houses. I feel so much more relaxed, knowing that we have so much space around us. But, I also feel like I lost a little bit of a safety net. We aren’t completely on our own here, we have great neighbors that I know I could count on. It just feels like we are alone. Sometimes the sense of quiet is overwhelming.

11) Dirt. Sand. Mud. Muck. Poop. Guts, Blood. Dust. Hay. Grass. Everything else that comes into my house on boots, shoes, sandals, socks, backpacks, hair, and clothes. I could sweep and vacuum all day long and still never get it all. I’m not an obsessive neat freak; but I still like to have things tidy. It’s very hard to keep things clean here. Especially carpet.

12) Money. Our homestead is proving to be expensive to set up. We have had two flat tires in the last five weeks. We spend almost twice as much on gas as we used to. Our tap water is so salty tasting that we buy in drinking water. We have a huge property that has fencing that needs to be maintained. We had to truck in gravel to build our driveway. We have a lot of projects that will save us money in the long run that cost money upfront to get started. We are taking our time and waiting to buy things until we get great deals; but it’s still much more expensive than I was expecting.

I know that we are doing the right thing for our family; and I know that I am happy here and I don’t ever want to move away from this place. This is home. I just wish I would have been a little more prepared for some of the things we have encountered. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, because I’m not. I signed up for this craziness and I wouldn’t change it for anything. But, I also don’t want to sugar coat anything. It’s going to be a hard adjustment period for me.

Luckily, despite all of the annoyances, I’ve found something that makes it all worth it. I’ve found a deep sense of contentment and peace. Life is good.

 

P.S. The puppy’s name is Rocky.