SOLAR!!!

I honestly never thought we would be getting to this point. We installed our solar panels this weekend. We have fourteen 325 watt Canadian Solar solar panels. They are HEAVY. At peak (most solar panels can be expected to run at 80% in full sun), but at peak they can product 4550 watts of energy. Considering that we have a much lower energy draw than most homes (no heating or cooling and the two appliances that would be high energy, the stove and dryer, are propane), and we have a huge battery bank, this should do us quite nicely. If now we are also planning on having a backup propane generator and are adding a wind turbine or two next year. I am so thrilled to have these up. C started wiring them too. The wiring from the panels to the battery house is finished (but not connected) and 1/3 of the batteries are in. My hope is that by the end of next weekend we may have power to the house! This would be quite exciting. The second two pictures are of us putting in the panels and building the frame.

Meal Planning Part Deux

I have had a request for a blog on my meal planning. Let me preface this by saying that I am FAR from being a type A personality. I have high anxiety which gives the perception that I’m a type A, but I’m not. I plan just enough to ease my anxiety, but I’m still pretty flexible.

I like to plan our meals for 2 weeks, but I am also in the time of the year when I do my yearly meal planning as well. I plan for 2 weeks so I know exactly how much we need to buy when C gets paid to give us 2 weeks of meals. In terms of our yearly planning I store everything that we grow in some form or another. Pickles are a snack, not a mandatory food item so I only made enough to give us 1 quart of pickles every month. If we run out and find we want more I will just keep more next year, not a big deal. The zucchini I cut up with the squash so we have some to pan fry or put in stews, but the majority I shred for casseroles and bread. The two really big ones are the poblanos and the tomatoes. One of our favorite meals is stuffed peppers. I stuff enough peppers with either bean and cheese or beef and beans for 26 nights worth of meals. That gives us one meal every 2 weeks. The tomatoes I save at least a quart of either stewed for roasted tomatoes for a 2 week period. My intention is to have a quart per week, but i’m not sure our tomatoes are good for that this year. If they are then I am also going to can some salsa. There are so many things I make that have a tomoato base, it’s so versatile. The rest of the pablanos I chop up and freeze to use in things instead of green peppers (they have the same flavor but with a nice bite). I slice and freeze my eggplant that I use later to make eggplant casserole or fried eggplant sandwiches. C dries all his peppers and makes ground red and green peppers and also really amazing hot sauce. The jalapenos and banana peppers we pickle and make jalapeno jelly. I am currently trying to get together my fall garden but it’s not growing so well. I’ll update you on that later.

Today I had C go shopping at the restaurant store. He picked up 3 kinds of cheese (two of which should last the month), baking powder, 10lbs of ground beef, a big bag of sausages, and sour cream. The total came to $90, which I’m totally good with. This is what my meal planning looks like for the next 2 weeks:

pork chops with tomato rice Mon 1
chili rellenos with fried green tomatoes Tues 1
grilled cheese with tomato soup wed 1
squash lasagna thurs 2
spinach and mushroom quiche Fri 2
quesadillas sat 2
ranch taco salad Sun 2
blackbean burgers with cole slaw and jalapeno poppers MON 2
chimichangas TUES 2
grilled veggie sandwiches with friend onions WED 2
cornbread fritters with cucumber tomato salad THURS 1
pizza FRI 1
Nachos SAT 1

We still need to pick up lettuce, cabbage, milk, cream, and buttermilk to complete the meal planning. Breakfasts and lunches are thrown together from eggs, bread, cheese, leftovers, etc. I don’t worry so much about those. Everything else, the veggies, breads, sauces, etc I make or pick from the garden. The groceries we still have yet to buy will cost about $15. That makes $105 spent for at least 2 weeks of meals, plus we are working to not have to go to the grocery store more than once a month after the new year.  All but one of our chickens were killed so no chicken until next summer (we are buying another 25 or 50 in the spring), C is going deer hunting when the season is upon us, and we will have bacon again starting in Feb.  I am very much looking forward to that.  We will have a years worth of bacon plus some to sell.  The thing that is hurting us the most is not having much meat, but we are surviving.  We eat a lot of beans.  A lot of beans, but things continue to get so much better.  We were having issues feeding ourselves at this time last year, now we have a quarter of a freezer full, and with the addition of a deer, or two or three, we will have plenty of meat.  The key is to store as much as we can in some sort of usable form.  It’s exhausting now but I will have much more time on my hands in the winter.

Hope this was helpful!

Daydreaming and role models

I don’t have much time during the day for things like daydreaming, so unfortunately I daydream at bad times, like when I am driving (which causes me to turn when I mean to go straight, oops), or when I am talking to people (which is really bad because my mom says I am not as good at multitasking as I think I am and have a hard time formulating coherent sentences when I have so much going on in my head). I just have so much going on right now and I need to daydream to keep it all straight (because my daydreams are mostly figuring things out for the future).

Right now I am trying to figure out our brand. What exactly do we want the farm to stand for and how to we get this out to people and make sure that the steps we are taking are the correct steps in this process. Well, we know that our main stance is to help people break away from the corporate greed that has so many of us enslaved. Currently I would say we have large companies that control the wealth of the country, and because they control the wealth they also control the government and every aspect of it. These companies are insurance, pharmaceutical, packaged foods, oil, utilities, and banks to name a few, I am sure I am missing some but these are the big ones. We dish out most, if not all, of our money every month to almost every single one of these guys. Very few people do not have one of these industries taking money out every month. We want to help break this cycle by showing people how they can lower their carbon footprint. The second thing we want to do is show people that eating an “organic” lifestyle doesn’t have to be expensive. We pay more for food that is good for us because we think we have to, but we don’t. The third thing we want to do is show people what good food really is. What different food labels mean, why it’s important to be able to visit the farms that grow your food. I encourage people to visit our farm, see what goes into the soil, how the chickens are raised, what the cows eat, whatever they need to see to make them feel better. We shouldn’t have to hide what we are doing, If we do then we know what we are doing is wrong.

This also got me thinking about my role models in this field we are getting into. The two that stuck out in my mind the most are Ed Begley Jr. and Joel Salatin. When I was first introduced to the work of Ed Begley Jr he was always being portrayed as the crazy environmentalist actor who runs his kitchen appliances with a bike. I am very impressed with his work though. I am impressed that he can step away from the life a “traditional actor” would lead to follow a position he feels very strongly about. He lives in a modest house with renewable energy sources, drives an electric car, and even rides a bike to the Academy Awards. He has books and gives talks about the importance of maintaining a low carbon footprint. Heck him and Bill Nye are competing for who can have a lower carbon footprint. That’s so cool.

I know I have talked about Joel Salatin before but he is definitely my role model in building the food part of the farm. I greatly respect his ideas that a farm should build on itself, and that animals should be animals. If you take care of your farm the right way there really should be no need for non organic soil additives, mass produced chicken feed, even silos. Everything on his farms builds on each other. The cows “mow” the grass, his chickens eat the bugs in the grass that the cows “mowed” for them, It’s all very cool.

What we want to do is take these same ideas and mesh them together with the idea that neither one has to be expensive.  We dont care about being a million dollar farm, or build a $200,000 home because our goal isn’t how much money we make or spend, it’s how many people we help.  If we can show people that they can build a house with a low carbon footprint and renewable energy sources and grow or buy  really good natural food while living at or below the poverty line then we have reached our goal.

I would love to hear these two speak in the near future, but more than that I would love to meet them someday. When I say I want to meet them I don’t mean in a “I’m gonna stand in line and spend a second shaking their hand or having them sign a book” kind of way. I mean that I would like to meet them because we are involved in some sort of activist thing together. Be that a talk, or a film, or whatever. I want to meet them as a colleague, not just a fan, if that makes any sense. I want to publish books and give talks, and have real conversations with people who are already in it. This gets me excited. This is what I have wanted to do my whole life. Now I just have to get our building permit….

Living as a Community

One of the most important things I find about the homesteading lifestyle is the importance of working together to help each other achieve your goals.  I think in life we don’t help each other enough, but as a homesteading community altruism is a much more desired trait.  There is a lot more trading of goods and services than you would ever find in everyday life.

A perfect example of this is our good friends A.J. and Aimee.  They have been homesteading for much longer than I have (I would say we but C grew up homesteading).  They have goats, chickens, ducks, and even a very friendly pot bellied pig.  They also have one of the largest backyard gardens I know of.  They have helped mold my views on affordable food prices as well.  In years past he has set up in small farmers markets with some of his goods and I have come away with loads of potatoes, peppers, carrots, onions, and kohlrabi all for about $10. Their aim is that real, organically, home grown produce can cost the same as the crap you get a walmart or kroger.  You can and should be able to eat well without going broke doing it, which is exactly what we are doing.  In the past few years he has taken his pepper business to the extreme.  He grows some of the hottest peppers in the world, along with the rest of his garden, and sells them online.  It’s a pretty amazing business.  If you like hot peppers check out his site: Peppers by Mail.  Mention you found him because of us!!

  
C loves hot peppers.  He finally was able to grow habaneros this year which he is very excited about.  He was going to buy some plants from A.J. this year so he could grow the hotter peppers but they went fast and we were unable to obtain any.  That’s where the “working together to help each other” awesomeness comes in.  We have about 24 squash plants and 12 zucchini plants.  Needless to say we have an overabundance of yellow squash and zucchini.  They were unable to grow their squash and zucchini this year but really wanted some.  So we struck a deal!  We are now doing a produce exchange once a week.  They are giving us red potatoes, onions, carrots, and occasionally the hot peppers (like they did today), and we are giving them squash, zucchini, honey, and anything else they want out of our garden.  It’s a great deal and allows for homesteaders to be able to focus on fewer types of plants yet still get a good variety.  it’s really important to utilize your strengths yet still help others around you.  Imagine what would happen if C and I were stingy and kept all the squash and zucchini for ourselves.  I think we would probably get really sick of them pretty fast. 

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More meal planning

Now that summer has officially hit and we are starting to harvest some of our garden crops I am once again really excited about meal planning.  We have been doing really good at planning our meals and staying within a $150 budget for 2 weeks, however…. things are about to get real!

We splurged a bit this week and spent $60 at lucky’s.  We bought 2 nights worth of teriyaki steak kabobs for $16!  I nearly had a heart attack until C reminded me it was for 2 nights.  We also bought the milk, cream, and buttermilk that we prefer but can’t justify buying because it’s almost twice the price of the cheap stuff but it’s so much better for you because it’s low-temp pasteurized and un-homogenized.  You can definitely tell a HUGE difference in that vs the cheap stuff.  We also bought butter, oatmeal, veggies that we need that we either aren’t growing this year or havent come in yet.  We got cabbage, bananas, sweet peppers, and organic onions and potatoes.  We have decided we are no longer buying root vegetables that are not organic.  We really want to get the most out of our food and until we either are growing everything we need or can buy all organic we are slowly moving towards what we feel is most important, and after reading about the soil quality of potato farms after the dirty dozen list came out we decided to make the change.  We also bought some spices, cheese, and drinks for us.

Today C is going to the restaurant store.  He is buying yeast, flour, corn meal, butter, and cheese.  My guess is he will be spending about $50.

Here are our meal plans for the next 2 weeks:

Dinners:

bean stew MON 1
teriaki beef kabobs with rice and naan TUES 1
pizza WED 1
chili THURS 2
buffalo chicken cornbread with blue cheese salad FRI 2
cornbread sliders with green beans SAT 2
spinach and mushroom quiche SUN  2
calzones MON 2
Chicken enchiladas with rice and salsa TUES 2
baked cabbage and ground beef WED 2

Breakfasts:

frittata, fruit oatmeal, omelete, fruit pancakes, scrambled eggs, breakfast burrito, pork buiscut sandwich

Lunches:

chicken sandwiches, feta and spinach fritters, steak sandwiches, curried chicken salad, stir fry veggies with rice, veggie roll ups, leftovers, homemade fish sticks

and snacks:

Bananas, banana bread, zucchini bread, oatmeal cookies, veggies with homemade ranch dressing, cheese cubes,

Now I know what you are probably thinking: “Wait a minute, you didn’t buy a lot of those things”, and you are right, but as you may recall 1) we are growing a lot of our own food 2) we have been slowly buying bulk meat and putting it in the freezer, and 3) we have both meat and egg chickens.  I have also been figuring out a preliminary dinner plans for the NEXT 2 weeks:

here is my shopping list:

restaurant store: yeast ($2), olive oil ($16), steak ($35), cheddar cheese ($12) = $65

lucky’s/ kroger: fish ($5), onions ($5), peppers ($4), chocolate chips ($3), kale ($2), raisins ($3), potatoes ($5), lettuce ($5), beans- dried black and pinto ($4), cream ($8), milk ($4) = $48

Now these things may change because I’m not sure we will need cream, and i’m going to try to find steak for cheaper than $35, and I tend to overcompensate for the price of things so that if C decides to splurge on a few things I’m not freaking out.  So right now we are looking at about $110 for 2 weeks of food.  and this is what it looks like:

thai curry fish with rice THURS 1
chicken tikka masala with rice FRI 1
stuffed pablano peppers with beans and rice SAT 1
rolled steak with cucumber tomato salad SUN 1
grilled cheese with zuppa toscana MON 1
ranch taco salad TUES 1
beef stew with beans and veggies WED 1
stuffed cabbage rolls with fried green tomatoes THURS 2
pizza FRI 2
chicken pot pie SAT 2
veggie fajitas SUN 2
green beans with pork and fried green tomatoes MON 2
grilled cheese with homemade tomato soup TUES 2
tortellini WED 2

I dont know about you but i’m pretty hungry now.  The beans slow cooking on the stove aren’t helping.  yummmmm

WE GOT THE PLAT!!!

We picked up the plat today.  We should be signing the documents that will make this land ours in the next few days (he had to have it separated from his land).  Which means we can 1) get the sewage permit and 2) get to have our own address and mailbox soon!!  This has been an area of major stress over the past few months, especially in the past month.  YAY!!!  this makes me so happy.

Frustrated

We are STILL waiting to apply for the sewage permit.  I have been calling the guy we bought the property from every day for almost a week and he isn’t returning my calls.  We need to get the plat of the property from him in order to apply for the permit.  once we turn in the paperwork we have to get a backhoe for them to do a perc test.  Once THAT happens C can take the test to get certified to install septic systems (which is thankfully free), and actually GET the permit.  We want this all done in the next week or so.  Time is ticking if we are going to be able to get the outside of the house complete before the snow hits, or it gets too cold to work outside.  There is a lot of work to do and none of it can be done until we get the building permit.  Plus the fact that this guy is stalling on this stuff is really getting me upset, because until he does all this we technically don’t own the land.  I don’t like that we worked so hard to get to this point to just be stalled.  I want this house built!!!!  The sooner we get the house built the sooner we can start saving for C’s retirement from the 9-5 and moving to 100% farm life.

Please take a moment to pray for us, send good thoughts, whatever you do in hopes of speeding this process up!

First World Problems

It’s amazing the things in life that we take for granted.  We are so lucky to have power in our home, clean running water, the choice of how we want our children to be educated.  I am visiting this topic because yesterday our cistern ran out of water (or at least I thought it had, it ended up being a malfunction with the pump which was easily fixed) and it got me thinking about how much we as Americans take for granted.  We are so wasteful and many of us dont even care.

It’s funny, it’s almost as if this is my form of fasting.  It’s a way for me to become closer to the earth and to the things God gives us so that I don’t take them for granted.  I am blessed to have these things at my disposal, it’s my job to not be a glutton to them, and to be thankful for them everyday that we have them.

Some of what we do comes from being so poor for so long, but most of it comes from our views on the environment and how we should be treating it.  So here is a brief look at the life we live.  We have about a 300 gallon cistern under the cabin we are renting.  Until we get the rainwater collection set up we are relying on filling the water tank whenever it is empty.  It takes us about 7-10 days to empty the cistern.  Lets look at this critically.  We have six people living in a household that uses 300 gallons of water in a week.  We can run 3 loads of laundry, take about 2 showers each, 2 baths, and wash dishes every day.  How can we do this in a time when most households use 100 gallons of water per person every day?  Technically we should be refilling the cistern twice a day.  We have changed the way we do things in order to conserve more water.  i wash my dishes with a soapy dish towel before i rinse them off.  The water is only on while i am rinsing.  We take short showers.  When the kids take a bath we use the same bath water.  The washer uses less water than other washers.  We also don’t wash our clothes after every single time we wear them (unless they need it, like diapers or underwear).  I have some people who call me gross, I have some people who have stopped being friends with me after finding out how we use our water, and that’s fine.  We have been conditioned over the years to believe that showering everyday, washing your clothes after every wash, etc, was more “sanitary” and that “normal people” do it.  These things have actually been shown to not be better for us, or for the fabrics in our clothes, but we have been conditioned by those who benefit from the profits of us doing these things (shampoo companies, laundry detergent companies, etc).  The one thing that I do is wash my face everyday and the places that i sweat a lot, but i do this with a washcloth.  I don’t care what people think because this is the life I want to live.

We also spend about $200 on groceries every month, nothing is packaged, we have very little food that we waste and what is wasted gets fed to the dog or the chickens.  We throw away 2 bags of trash a month, and hopefully soon we will be down to 1.  Most of what people throw away is some sort of packaging, both food and non food.  If you reduce the amount of packaging you buy you reduce the amount of trash you have.  I feel much better about adding 1-2 bags of trash to a landfill every month than i did tossing 3-4 a week.  We reduce the food waste too by only buying what we need.  Yes, by the end of the 2 week pay period our fridge is looking very bare, but it should.  I find if it doesn’t we tend to not eat certain things that end up going bad.  This way we are forced to figure out how to incorporate these things into our meals, or just not buy them again for a while.  Once our garden is up and running we also will be spending much less on food.

We conserve electricity too.  We don’t keep appliances running during the day except the ones that have to (like the fridge).  We almost never have the tv on.  We also make sure to turn the lights off when we leave a room (or at least try to, our 10 year old is terrible at this).  Although part of what helps is that we are almost never home.  I find that we get cabin fever even if we are home for a few hours with so many of us in such a small space.

All in all our footprint on the environment is very low and we want it that way.  We are always looking for more ways to cut back without compromising on our heath and well being.  I have trained myself to stop and ask “what is the least wasteful way I can do this”.  I recommend trying it sometime.  It really does make you appreciative of the things you have.

Stuff is growing!!!

Our garden is doing really well.  I am so proud of it.  The house is still currently at a standstill, but I should hopefully be getting the sewage permit this week, or at least getting the perc test complete.  I’ll feel better once we really get the ball rolling on this.  In the meantime we are diligently working on the garden!  We have been weeding at least every other day.  We have 20 poblanos that have actually started growing.  That doesn’t count the HUGE number of buds and flowers on each plant!  There are also hot banana peppers growing, and there are buds on at least 1/4 of the tomatoes and two habanero plants.  I have to start planning what I am going to do with them so that I’m not scrambling to put stuff together and letting vegetables go to waste like I did last year.  We also picked 3 pints of black raspberries yesterday and are hoping to get at least another 3 pints before the end of the season.  The blackberries should be starting to ripen in the next week or two and we have at least 20 times more than we have raspberries (although C has said I am not allowed to sell anything with blackberries since they are his favorite).

raspberries

Also once the farm gets an address, which is any day now, we will be setting it up as an official farm, business license and all.  I will also be taking the class that the state offers to allow me to start selling my canned goods.  It’s only $50 and one afternoon and I’ll be able to, which is very exciting!!  Here are my thoughts so far: I would like to can a BUNCH of sweet relish.  It’s impossible to find sweet relish that doesn’t have high fructose corn syrup in it.  Here is my plan for selling the canned goods: We will charge a $1 jar deposit which we will waive if you bring us a jar (or bring your jar back).  The cost of the goods will be different depending on what is inside but most everything will only cost about $2.  Preserves will be closer to $3-$4 because of the amount of effort it takes to collect the berries (since they are wild and have thorns, tons and tons of thorns).  I will also be selling baked goods like sweet breads, doughnuts, artisan breads, and french bread, all for about $2-$3 each.  I know I am not asking much for these things but the amount I am putting into them isn’t much and the whole goal of the project is to show people that you can eat really healthy for the same, if not cheaper, than what you are currently spending on food.  It’s not going to make us rich, but that isn’t our goal anyway.  We want people to start making the switch away from processed food to good healthy non-man made chemical foods.  We use organic cane sugar (if we dont use our honey), unbleached unenriched flour, sea salt, etc.  Plus everything we make is low sugar so that also helps.  I can’t wait until we start selling our processed chickens too.  once we really get going (our five year plan) my goal is to be selling about $500 a month through the farm.  That will pay for supplies and all of our bills.  We have a long way until we get there though.  One step at a time.

Time to get back to work

I love my job.  It’s work, and it forces me to be motivated, but when I am working I love it.  For those of you who don’t know I am a Mary Kay consultant.  I have been for over 9 years.  I was a director for a period of time until my son had major surgery and I stepped down to take care of him for 4 months while he recovered and we adjusted to his new lifestyle.

After my son’s surgery I had a hard time bouncing back.  It’s almost as if I felt defeated.  Like I wasn’t good enough to remain a director while going through such a tough time, and that’s ok.  It’s ok and perfectly valid for me to have felt that way, but it’s time for me to go back to work.  We are having trouble putting aside much of anything for the build because C’s job pays all our bills and enough money for gas and food with a little left over and that’s it.  If i go back to work as much as I was for the several years before i became a director then we can put aside a lot more.  It’s not even full time work and I can still be basically a stay at home mom and run a farm, especially since I am getting really good at time management.

So what would that look like?  I just hired someone to watch the kids two days a week for 3 hours each time (that’s 6 hours a week).  That time will be spent networking, meeting new clients, and catching up with existing clients.  I would then spend 1 hour a day the other 3 weekdays contacting clients and doing paperwork stuff, then i would hold 3 selling appointments a week totaling 3 hours each (1 hour for driving and 2 hours for the appointments).  That’s a grand total of 18 hours a week working.  When i am working like this I typically bring in $800-$1000 a month.  i know my numbers, i know my stats, and now i just need to get working.  I need to see 30-60 clients a month which is totally doable when i am holding that many selling appointments.  it’s not about people buying stuff either.  Some people i see will buy $300, some will buy nothing, that’s not a big deal.  The individual numbers don’t mean much, it’s the relationships i am building and the number of people i am servicing every month that matters.  LETS DO THIS!!  LETS BUILD A HOUSE!!