Summertime

It’s summertime!! Things have been heating up around our homestead lately. (Har har) It’s a beautiful (rainy) day today, so I figured I’d put down my gardening gloves and my Zane Grey book so I could post a homestead update.

Rabbits – Poly (our Californian doe) had 8 kits that all ended up dying. I think they had a genetic issue. We decided to cull all of our rabbits. The boy had white raised lesions on his liver. We’re pretty sure he had some form of cancer. We are NOT eating him. All of the girls ended up in our freezer. The hides are currently salt drying on top of the dog house so I can egg tan them. We will get more breeding stock in the future, but I have to take a break from rabbits.

Chickens – We still have all 23 hens and 1 rooster. One of our hens went broody. She was doing a great job of sitting on a clutch of eggs, but two days before they were set to hatch, she decided to switch nests. So, we currently have no baby chicks. That will change next week. I ordered 25 day old chicks from Murray McMurray Hatchery. I specifically ordered a Brown Egg Layer mix, so I’m excited to see what varieties we end up with.

Garden – The garden has exploded this past month. Everything looks lush and green. There are a ton of weeds. I have to spend about 45 minutes a day weeding, just to keep it in check. This week, with the rain, will mean that I need to spend a solid 4-5 hours in there this weekend to make it weed free again. So far, we’ve been able to harvest onions, radishes, snow peas, carrots, potatoes, and quite a few handfuls of herbs. (My Stevia plant is doing exceptionally well.) I have to put down more seeds in the areas we’ve harvested. I’m planning to do that this weekend. I have an entire 150sq feet section of beets that need to be harvested and canned this week. It’s a good project to do while it’s raining outside. I think I will work on that tomorrow and Wednesday.

Fishing – We learned that the House Pond has crawdads in it! My nephew was here with his family, and we ended up catching about 70-80 crawdads in less than 45 minutes. Needless to say, I got out my largest pot and we had a Crawfish Boil. It was delicious.

Projects – I asked the kids to come up with a project to do this summer around the property. It could be an educational project, an entertaining project, or a money making project. They decided that they are going to build a gazebo by Lost Hook Pond. They originally wanted to make a pergola, but then they decided they needed to make a solid roof so they could add a solar fan. I think it’s the perfect project for them to work on together and it will be very beneficial to us when we are out at the pond fishing.

Land – We had our hay baled. A neighbor baled it for us, took the hay, and paid us per bale. Our first cutting of the year yielded 67 large round bales. Next year, I hope to have a tractor and the needed implements so we can bale our own hay, but this arrangement worked out very well this year.

In a couple of weeks, it will have been a year since we bought this property. I still can’t believe that I get to live here. I love this place.

**I have a few pictures to add to this post, but for some reason it isn’t working correctly. I’ll try to log on later and see if I can get them to post.**

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Almost Spring

I’m sitting here, warm and toasty in my house. The sound of thunder and the howling wind are in the background. The teakettle is on the stove, warming water to use with my homemade hot cocoa mix. Life is good.

We’ve been busy around our homestead. I’ve been neglectful of this blog. I finally realized why there are so many blogs that tell the story of a family’s journey towards homesteading, that stop soon after the family finally started making real progress. It used to frustrated me to no end. Now I find myself on the other side of that spectrum. We’ve just been really, really busy.

Here’s a quick recap of the month of February.

We brought home Samson. Samson is an incredible addition to our homestead. He is 7 months old and already weighs 70lbs. He is a Great Pyrenees and he is just beautiful. He is loyal, obedient, and fiercly protective of us. He lives outside and he protects the area around the house, barn, and coop from Coyotes, Stray Dogs, Hawks, Wolves, Snakes, Rabbits, Strangers, Skunks, and anything else he percieves as a threat.

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We tilled the garden for Spring! My neighbor came over and tilled it for us. (I love our neighbors. They are so sweet and helpful.) He asked if we wanted it the same size or a little bigger. Of course, I said “a little bigger.” I was very happy with the size until I measured it. That sucker is 90×50. It’s 4500 square feet. That’s about 1/10th of an acre. I have a feeling I’m going to be spending many hours weeding.

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We started working on the beginning to our storm shelter/root cellar. It’s going to take awhile, but it will be wonderful once it’s finished. There will be three rooms. One for storage, one for a root cellar, and one with some cots and equipment for a storm shelter. We’ve done all that we can with the front loader, so now we need to pay someone with a backhoe that can dig out the rest of the hole. It’s going to be about 12′ deep.

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Many people in our area are dealing with the (hopefully) last winter storm of the year. It’s snowing outside. Two years ago, I was able to plant my garden in January! This year, I think I’ll have to wait until at least March 14th. What a strange winter. Yesterday it was 80F outside. I walked over past the 10 new grapevines and the 12 new berry bushes to our 14 fruit trees. This little bloom was greeting me on an apple tree….

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I know it’s not going to make it – but it’s nice to have confirmation that spring really is just around the corner.

We ordered our bees in late January. The equipment showed up already and I’m very happy with it. The bees should be shipping in a little over a month. I hope we end up with a little honey this year.

As for the chickens – before we got Samson, we lost one hen to a chicken hawk. It was fairly traumatic. It took me a week before I would let them out of the coop to free range again. I’m getting about 16-18 eggs a day. We’ve been selling and trading the extra to our neighbors. Extra eggs for grass fed beef? Yes, please.

My younger twin (15 years old) tore his ACL playing catch with the football a week and a half ago. He has to have prehab and then a surgery, then months of rehab. It’s going to take 6-12 months before he is fully recovered. He is having a hard time dealing with it, since he is usually so active. He loves running the property line with the dog and he’s just not going to be able to do it for a long time. I’m trying to be encouraging to him, but it’s hard. He wants to be outside working. I think I’m going to have him start helping me in the kitchen. It would give him something to do and help him feel useful around the homestead. I’m not sure what else I can do to keep his spirits up during his long recovery – any ideas?

Twelve weeks later

We’ve been at the property 11 weeks and 5 days now. It’s been an interesting journey so far. I think I am finally over the transition period. I did not realize it at the time, but I think I was a little bit depressed. I woke up a week ago and felt more like myself than I have since before we sold our old house. We had a lot of life changes happening at once, and it was a little overwhelming. Now that we’ve gotten past the shock and awe of moving here, I’m ready to dig in and get some real projects going.

I think my DH and kids felt the same way. We managed to get quite a bit done this past week. We planted 4 more fruit trees, so now we’ve reached our goal of planting 12 trees this fall. We’ve planted 2 yellow delicious apples, 2 red delicious apples, 2 Bartlett pear, 2 plums, 2 belle of Georgia peaches, and 2 Lisbon lemon trees in our orchard area. I also bought a Mexican Key Lime tree that I have hanging out by the front door so I can sneak it inside if the temps drop below 30F.

It doesn’t look like much now, but this Orchard will be loaded with fruit within a few years. You can see all 12 trees in this picture. They are planted 25′ apart from each other.

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Our sweet dog, Hugo, has finally proven himself to be a great farm dog. He loves the fact that he doesn’t have to be on a lead anymore. He is very protective of us, but he is quick to befriend people that we welcome on the property. He’s a great dog. I really love the Transylvanian Hound breed.

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We started work on a chicken coop over the weekend as well. We were trying to wait until we could get the materials really cheaply, but we weren’t having much luck. On Friday, I stopped by Home Depot to check out their cull wood, and they had an entire cart full. I ended up spending $80 on enough wood to build the frame and nesting boxes for our coop. The entire project has cost us $270 so far. I’m expecting that it will cost us $500 by the time we are finished.

We are making a 3 sided coop. It’s 8′ x 16.5′  with two rows of nesting boxes. Here is the first row of nesting boxes. The little one in the picture had a pocket full of screws that he would hand us one at a time whenever we needed it. What a great helper.

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The steps are from the back door of our double wide, they aren’t staying in the coop. We just borrowed them for a little while. They are much sturdy than a ladder on our uneven soil.

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Here’s an outside shot of the coop, so you can see the framing better.  We have the metal roof started in this picture and if you look closely, you can see the second row of nesting boxes along the back wall.

 

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Here’s a better shot of where we stopped last night. It took us about a day and a half to get to this point. Some of our cull wood is bent, and we didn’t have plans. We are just eyeballing everything and hoping that it works out. (ha)  On the back of the coop, we are building an easy access door for egg collection. Also, the spot underneath the nesting boxes is going to be for storage that is accessed from the back of the coop. We are going to use the leftover wire from the rabbit hutches on the floor of the coop and then put wire around the outside of the coop as well. We’re also going to dig about 10 inches down around the perimeter of the coop and make a wire barrier from any animals that try to dig under the coop. We’ll make a door using scrap wood,  staples, wire, and a few hinges. Then, we’ll be ready for chickens.

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It’s fun to see how our projects change the landscape of the property. The coop doesn’t look very big next to the barn. We positioned the coop so that we could easily walk to it when we are doing our daily animal chores. It’s also positioned to give plenty of shade in the afternoon sun and also give plenty of protection from our strong winds. I hope we can get it finished pretty soon. I cannot wait to have fresh eggs every day.

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I was having problems with the amount of mud we accumulate on our shoes. I’ve been making everyone take their shoes off on the small porch area before they came inside. It helped to prevent mud from getting in the house, but it was an eyesore to see a pile of muddy shoes on our small entry porch. I had a great idea yesterday. We have a few dozen old pallets, so I decided to put one of them to good use. Eventually, we’ll have a large front porch and I’ll have more options, but this solution works for now and it’s free!

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We’ve got a lot going on this week. I want to finish the coop, paint the coop, paint the doghouse, buy some chickens, get signed up for insurance at DH’s new job so we can cancel our gap insurance, make a few batches of lye soap, plan my Thanksgiving menu, and get started making some Christmas presents. What do you all have planned this week?

 

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.

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.

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.