Holding On (By the Skin of My Teeth)

Last Thursday, July 21, Connie had her heel and Achilles Tendon operated on. She will not be able to put weight on that leg for three months. That would be approximately 13 weeks, or 91 days. If you really want to know exactly what your partner does around the old place, put them off line for about a week.

Yeah, all that stuff.

So this last week I have worked 40 plus hours, put at least one real meal a day on the table, tried to make certain Connie was comfortable, did the minimums to keep the critters alive, had an occasional talk with the Lord God and slept. That would be about it. Had Katherine not enlisted to take care of her mother some of the time, I might not have been able to do that. On top of that, I am just not pleased when people start cutting on the love of my life. Makes me kinda want to punch them, but that does not seem appropriate in this case.

So the first week is about over. We have a follow-up with the doctor tomorrow, and Connie is beginning to get around a little better. After waking up early this morning to finish cutting my knee high lawn, and fighting back the rag weed and various poisonous prehistoric plants that are taking over my dog lot, I fell out for a nap. I woke up to find the dishes I had washed after dinner last night put up, the new dishes on there way to clean and a plate of French Toast and bacon courtesy of Connie and Katherine waiting for me. Thank you both.

Speaking about the lawn. Let me continue a little about things I would have done differently when I started this little experiment in Green Acres-ism. No matter how tough and resilient you might think you are, if you have an acre yard (plus or minus) you do need a riding lawn mower and a gas powered weed eater.

At least, if you are in your later years and have any intentions of doing things other than cut your lawn. If not a riding mower, I would suggest goats. That does not mean you need a high dollar rider. I bought mine used from a friend for $250.00. The gas trimmer I got at Lowes for about seventy bucks. (Lowes has a 10 percent discount for military veterans; bless their hearts.)

I set out on this adventure with my 5 HP push mower and an electric weed eater. From the closest outlet, which is just inside the front door, to the farthest point of my front yard is about 175 or so feet. I needed the gas weed eater. And I really got tired of taking two plus days to mow the lawn. Also, this next year I am planning to get a wagon I can pull behind the mower, to do some chores around the place.

Another answer that is a work in progress, is just getting rid of the lawn entirely. We are working on planting it in an edible garden, but that is Connie’s project and she is in no shape to work on it right now..

The bees are going like gang busters. We have harvest a gallon of honey from each hive and they are still full to overflowing. I am going to have to get at least one more super or rob them again this next week. Maybe both.

As I said, I am involved in a project to cut down and kill a very intimidating forest of weeds that are growing, well…. I guess like weeds. To supplement the physical labor of cutting down these monsters I wanted something that would kill the beggars while not poisoning my dogs, chickens, bees or land for a couple more generations.

I had heard of something and looked it up. This is the basic recipe that I am following.

Take one gallon of cheap old white vinegar, pour it in a bucket. Add one cup of table salt and stir it up well. To that add one tablespoon of dish washing liquid to make the stuff stick better and stir that in. Put your product in a closed, marked container and put some it in a spray bottle and spray your plants.

I cannot endorse this recipe yet and it is indiscriminate, it kills the good stuff with the bad if it works as advertised. Connie or I will report back to you on it, when we know how it works.

I will close this rambling post. I hope something in it is interesting and helpful in your walk. Any prayers for my lovely wife will be appreciated. Also, I will put all you folks on my prayer list. Don’t worry, I don’t mind if you don’t believe in God, He believes in you.

The night before they took my love in for the operation, I slept very little. At the hospital in Chilicothe, Mo. Just before the operation, Connie, Katherine and I joined hands and prayed. When I looked up the nursing staff and the Doctor were in prayer with us.

Next, after we had to go out, Kat and I went for breakfast in the cafeteria. At our table we joined hands and blessed our food. I have an old soldier’s awareness of what is around me, so I knew that the tables next to ours and the people walking by stopped while we prayed.

I love the country.

Advertisements

An Interesting Week

Last week, we were feeling a little bit of a financial pinch, and I really didn’t want to spend anything more than I absolutely had to. Well, we ran out of dish soap, and were on our way to being out of laundry soap. I didn’t want to use what little cash I had for that, in case we needed something really important, like feminine hygiene products or toilet paper. I draw the line at DIY’ing either of those!

I had, however, made laundry soap before with limited success, so I googled a recipe for that  and one for dish soap. I had everything I needed in one form or another, except for washing soda. I did have baking soda though, and I knew I had read somewhere that you could change one to the other, so I went back to Google.

Once I found what I needed, I decided to sneak in a chemistry lesson, so I told Kat to look up the difference between baking and washing soda, as well as how to change one to the other. Surprisingly, she did it without complaining.

Making washing soda is easy. You can learn how here. Basically, all you do is bake baking soda in the oven for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees. There is a slight change in color and a definite change in texture.

IMG_1656

Fresh baked washing soda

Then we used the newly formed washing soda in the recipes we found for laundry and dish soap. The dish soap recipe that I used did not work out well for me, so I will keep experimenting in that department and let you know what I find out.

The laundry soap, on the other hand, turned out great, and seems to work pretty well. I have not used it on Ed’s uniforms yet, but it did fine with the rest of the laundry. You can find the recipe here.  You grate soap (I used Ivory), and then mix it with Borax and washing soda, and put in the food processor until its a fine powder. I used about 2 tablespoons per load. It’s a lot easier and a lot less mess than trying to make liquid laundry soap.

IMG_1657

grated soap

IMG_1659

Before processing

IMG_1660

After. Notice the layer of dust. We let that settle for awhile before we opened it. Don’t need to breath soap dust.

Over the weekend, the dogs decided they would start playing “find the hole under the fence” again, giving Ed fits for about three days. Since they haven’t got out since Tuesday, I think he solved the problem.  He is still working on new living arrangements for the chickens, but I’ll let him tell you about that.

IMG_1670

Hanging out in the house while Ed fixes the fence . Notice the cats on the table above. Bookworm is annoyed, but think Captain is asleep

During all that, I discovered what I thought might be a spider bite on my back between my shoulder blades. I couldn’t see it with out mirror and I certainly couldn’t reach it. I enlisted Ed and Kat’s help for a few days, but finally gave in an went to the doctor on Monday. It’s an abscess..We don’t know how, and we don’t know why. She gave me a shot in the rear, put me on antibiotics, and told me to come back Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Ed planned to check the bee hives. He hadn’t had a chance to take a good look at them in about ten days, so he was kind of anxious to  check on them. When he went out just to look, the saw this.

IMG_1669

A ball of bees under the pallet the hive sits on. The usually don’t do that.

Then he came back in and called our friends at Crooked Hill. Tammie told him he needed to see what was going on inside the hive, which is what he already planned to do. So he donned his bee suit,  started his smoker and went to visit the bees. As I usually do, I went too, staying on the far side of the fence. From there, I can usually get pretty good pictures and stay off the bee’s radar. I said usually.

Since the Sparta hive had the strange activity, he started there first. All I can say is wow! The hive is crammed full of bees, brood, and honey!

IMG_1687

One frame from Sparta hive

Even with the smoke, they seemed especially agitated, and when I realized I was starting to get some attention, I walked away. When I got back to the chicken pens, they left me. A few minutes later, Ed walked over to the fence and asked me to bring him the camera. Big mistake. Suddenly I had a lot of bee attention. As I started moving away again I felt the first sting on my face, and knew I might be in trouble.  There is a an old metal washtub sitting out there near the black berries, and it was half full of rain water. I had noticed it earlier and decided that might be my best chance of freeing myself from the bees. I hit the ground and dunked my head in the tub, using my hands to splash water up on myself. Once I was pretty sure, was free of them, I went to the house and told Kat to get the plantain oil we made last fall. I know I had at least five stings. One on my face, two on my head and two (maybe three) on my arm. Ed came in a few minutes later to check on me. He got stung three times through the bee suit, but he doesn’t have the reaction I do to things like that. The plantain oil did it’s job, but I took some allergy medicine just in case.

The stings on my face and head swelled a little, but were nearly gone in a few hours. The ones on my head hurt the worst, but I think that was because they were right underneath where my glasses rest. The area on my arm got red and hot. You should have seen my doctor’s face when I went back to see her about the abscess and she saw my arm. Poor woman. She offered to give me a shot for that too, but I told her I thought I was ok. The abscess is nearly  gone.

Today, I had my pre-op appointment for my foot surgery next week. It will be an outpatient procedure so I’ll get to come home the same day. Ed’s kind of stressing about how he’s going to get me out of the car and into the house, but I think it will be fine. We went ahead and rented the knee scooter, so I could practice with it. I think I’ll be ok.

I told you it was an interesting week.

Things have calmed down a little now, although Ed is making plans for harvesting some honey. I’m sure he’ll be posting all about that next week.

Connie

 

The Art of Messing Up

 

012

This is one of the earliest pictures of the house we have. She is a nice place, warm and snug, with enough land to keep this old fella busy until the Lord calls me home.

 

Doing things right is often overrated. Don’t get me wrong. It is truly wondrous to see a person with a high level of skill, attack a task with a speed and accuracy that leaves us all breathless with awe. Still, you have to ask yourself how they got that way don’t you?

Do you think B. B. King came out of the womb playing The Thrill is Gone? Was Mohamed Ali floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee when he was in diapers? Did Michelangelo design helicopters, and paint masterpieces in preschool? I doubt that very seriously.

In all things, there is a learning process. No matter how gifted you might be, there is that period of time when you hit yourself in the thumb with the hammer, trip over the shoelaces of your dancing shoes, and drop your musical instrument on your foot. For an old reprobate retired soldier turned fry cook, the learning curve for a homesteader is pretty steep. Picture the wall of the Grand Canyon; that kind of steep.

We are coming up on the end of our second year on our homestead. I want to look at some things we did well, some things we did badly, some things we did not do at all, and some things we should never have done.

It bears repeating, doing things right IS highly overrated. I am one of those people who improves his skills by getting dirt under my fingernails. I can read a book, listen to an instructor, watch a video, then pass a test with flying colors. However, until I am turning information into action I have not really been trained.

Learning is the assembly of facts; training changes behavior. You can read every possible book on horsemanship, but your really not a rider until you are sitting on your butt looking up into the eyes of the horse that just made a fool of you. THAT is lesson number one.

So the first thing I will tell you, is that I regret spending way too much time being afraid of failure. That does not just apply to the homestead; that applies to my life in general. However, we will narrow it down to the homestead and these last couple years.

A lot more would have happened around here, were I not afraid of looking like a fool in general, and incompetent in particular. If I had taken most of the time I spent figuring out what I did not have or know that kept me from doing something, and just did it, I would have accomplished a lot more.

So, my free advice, worth every penny you paid for it, is do not fear doing things wrong. Anything worth doing is worth screwing up a couple times. Do not judge yourself against others and particularly against those you believe to be expert. You are going to start any project with the skills you have now. Done right, you will finish it with more, better, and broader skills. Even if you fail completely, you will still have learned how not to do it and what you need to know to do it.

So what are my regrets? Sit back and relax this might take awhile:

When we were shopping for a home, I went in prayer to God and ask Him to close doors if I were heading in the wrong direction. Doors just flew open to getting this place. For that reason I believe this is the place the Good Lord wants Connie and I. However, my first thought on this matter, is that we bit off more than we were, and still are, able to chew.

We considered, what we thought was carefully, and decided on between five and ten acres. Seemed reasonable to us at the time. We are two years in, and have not fully used two acres. That two acres includes about a quarter acre dog run, inside which the dogs sometimes even stay. So my takeaway?

Really give thought to how much land you need, but, if you must err, err on more than less. I can always let three acres go wild, and let somebody hay it just to knock the stuff down, but I cannot figure out how to make more ground.

Before you buy it, know your place. Had I known everything I know now, I would have still chosen this farm but:

I should have noticed that most of the center east-west cross fence was simply trash, and a lot of the boundary fencing is going to need replacement.

I should have learned that if the gates were not hanging on the fences (they were in the lean-to on the barn), they were not considered part of the property. That little mistake is going to cost me a bit.

I should have asked more questions about the septic system, but the two year old roof dazzled me with its brilliance.

I should have stopped, and talked to Connie about the interior decoration of the house (every man reading this just went to sleep). Let me leave this next statement gender neutral: The fact one of you could care less about the Disco Ball in the Den, does not mean the other one feels that way.

So there are some examples of the things I intend to talk about during the month of July. August 1st we will have slept in our home for two years. If I had it to do all over again, and with all I have learned since then, I think this is right where we need to be.