Author: GPH

This Weekend’s Progress

To be perfectly honest, this post should probably be called “Saturday’s Progress” but it’s not our fault. We had a nice and moderately productive Saturday with temperatures reaching a whopping 55 degrees Fahrenheit, followed by a very unproductive, rainy and SNOWY Sunday in. You read that right– snow in April. Maybe that isn’t all-too bizarre but it feels wrong. As per usual, Jeff seems to be working through the “good” weekends and home for the “bad” ones in terms of weather. This was one of his better weekends since the weather has been improving. Even so, it was a great weekend. We made some progress on the goat shed, had a date night out by ourselves, and spent the next day in with the kids.

What did our progress look like on Saturday? Well, I had been helping Jeff a little bit when it dawned on me that I should be taking pictures for the blog (duh!) but here is what we had going on that day (hands Jeff the mic):

 

There are a few components going into this project. First, for approximately $40 I picked up what was supposed to be a used 10×10 carport frame with no roof. As it turns out, it’s only an 8×10, which is fine because that is about the dimensions I need for the goat shed. They don’t need a whole lot of room, just enough to keep them protected on the three sides outside of their enclosure.

I decided to give them an 8×5 area for bedding and separate 8×5 off of the back for feed storage. The frame was damaged, so what you see in the pictures is only half of it. The rest will need straightened and welded before I piece it back together. Meanwhile, I picked up the plywood you see from work when they decided they couldn’t use it anymore, on the cheap. I even got some free help from our son Sampson when it came time to put it up.

In addition, I was able to pick up some free siding off of an old barn which will not only become siding but also the roof for the goat shed. All total including hardware, I will have spent less than $100 on this project. It should last 15-20 years when it’s complete.

You may have noticed a gap at the bottom of the back wall. This won’t be an issue once I add the other half, but I really should have notched the bottom of the plywood to eliminate it. Didn’t really notice until we were done with the walls. On the other hand, it won’t be in contact with the ground and acting as a wick for moisture.

We will post more pictures as we get further along so you can see the end result. After the shed is finished, we will put up temporary fencing (we plan to expand the enclosure later on) and finally get the goats moved home.

My New Kitchen Multi-Tool

This post is dedicated to my new kitchen multi-tool– that’s what I’m calling it anyway. It’s actually called an immersion blender, or sometimes referred to as a stick blender, and it sure is handy. We’ve had piles of eggs sitting around and I’ve been telling myself I really need to make some mayo, especially since we buy it almost weekly, but it always seemed like such a daunting task. I’ve made it before, with some failures and successes, but even with my trusty hand mixer, it took forever to make one darn jar of mayonnaise. So the idea of going through that again totally turned me off.

Last Friday night I finally decided to give it a whirl and– no bueno. I made a mess, it took forever, and the mayonnaise was “edible” but mediocre. So, after Jeff came home from work and got to hear me whine about my first-world problems, I mentioned an immersion blender and (supposedly as a majorly early birthday present) he got me one on Sunday afternoon. Yes, these are the things that adults get excited about.

Here she is in all of her beautiful glory:

And no, the photo is not staged. Why would I move a mess off of the counter at 10 o’clock at night just to put those items there and take a picture? Pshhh… ridiculous.

Anyway, you know I had to use this new kitchen gadget as soon as possible, so today became mayo-making day. What previously took me 15-20 minutes (which is a long time to slow-drip/drizzle oil and hold a hand mixer!) now takes less than 5 minutes. It is so easy and quick. The only damper (with this and any food preparation, for that matter) is cleaning up the mess after.

Not only did I use the immersion blender to make mayo, but I also used the whisk attachment to add spices to it and the food processor attachment to dice onion, celery, and carrots for my giant egg-salad dinner (and breakfast, and lunch, and dinner again…) Long story short, I recommend you hop on down to the store and get yourself one of these this Easter week/weekend.

Already have an immersion blender? Tell us what you use yours for in the comments below.

It’s That Time of Year!

Spring flowers are starting to pop up, trees will soon begin to bloom, and people are talking about gardens. This is our first Spring in our new home and we are so excited about the possibilities. We both have a lot to learn and practice, so this year may be a time of trial and error, but everyone starts somewhere!

“…some of us are learning more about plant-life than others…”

We decided we will let each of our older two boys have their “own” gardens to take care of. Our oldest son has proudly proclaimed he will be growing carrots and tomatoes, and he said he wanted daddy to plant an apple tree, climb a ladder and “put the apples on.” As you may have noticed, some of us are learning more about plant-life than others (haha).  Our second son wants to grow strawberries and starflowers (borage), among several other things. With the kid’s ideas and our wants and needs in mind, Jeff and I are going to be looking into companion planting, as well as considering which plants may be combative, to decide how we want to do things this year.

On our short list of things we want to grow would be cabbage, onion, garlic, peppers, basil, and sweet potatoes. As previously stated, this is our short list, but a good start. We are heavily dependent right now on our local grocery store. It’s great business for them, but bad for us. I would hope that someday we could reduce our reliance on them by about 90%, which would also help us cut down on plastic waste (another issue we hope to resolve).

We are still determining how to best use the space available to us. Jeff is going to print or draw out a birds-eye view of the property to help us with that, too. We will, of course, update the blog as we go and let everyone know how our plans are going (bad or good).

As always, thanks for stopping by, we hope you will come back to see our progress!

 

 

 

February 2019 Update

I can’t believe we’ll have a 4-year-old on our hands after this weekend! It can’t have possibly been that long? But… it has. Time sure knows how to sneak by. On that note, it’s been a whole month since we’ve posted anything here, too. I promise we are all still alive!

The weather here in northern Indiana has been crazy. Not only that, but with Jeff working over-time, traveling to the old house and to work daily, me in school, both of us caring for the kids, and unexpected interruptions (such as, but not limited to, working around a problem with our washer and its frozen hose), it can be hard to catch a moment to get things done around here. We did a rough measurement and marked the area for the chicken enclosure, moved chopped wood out of the way (when it wasn’t frozen to the ground), placed the frame for the goat shed, and got more fencing moved to the new property. It’s not much, but it’s something.

I guess it goes without saying, but the next steps are to finish the chicken and goat enclosures (coop and shed in place and all) and get the animals the heck over here. Jeff travels 38 miles down to the old place and another 35 or so back up to work on a daily basis. As you can imagine, that adds up to a lot of valuable time and money that could be much better spent.

What about me? Well, I’m in school full-time (online, at the moment) and 100% stuck at home with the kids because I currently lack transportation. It’s hilarious when I’m not crying about it. Really, though, I am just glad to be in a nice house with happy and healthy children. (Having said that, can I just give a huge shout-out to Jeff for working so hard to get us where we are today?)

While I’m here, I want to start making gardening plans for the nicer weather headed our way (hopefully soon). I need to figure out which plants we want and when they can be planted, which ones are companions or combative, a layout for them in the yard, and more. I will be posting all about it when I am done, so stay tuned!

What will you be doing this month, season, or even year? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page!

Why We Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions

You probably hear the question every year– what is your new year’s resolution? Maybe, like many people, you do participate in this tradition. I decided I’m not that into it, and I will explain why.

I worked at a gym for a little while and, unsurprisingly, gym memberships spiked with the new year. Attendance from these newly-devoted, fitness fiends would dwindle as the months went on. A few months prior, these people were willing to sign a contract that obligated them to pay a monthly fee for their gym membership, only to let it go to waste. That’s like laying the foundation and buying supplies, but not building the house. What happened?

New year’s resolutions, though they can be vague, are really just statements of goals. There’s not much point in making a resolution if you don’t have the determination to reach the goals set. The thing is, a lot of people think they are ready to make that commitment but lose sight of their goal as time goes on. So how does one avoid becoming discouraged or losing interest?

The first thing you need to do is make a plan to reach your goal. If you don’t make a plan you are planning to fail. Planning involves creating smaller goals as the framework for big goals. Taking the steps necessary to reach smaller goals will seem less overwhelming and much more manageable. Reaching a number of set milestones can give you a greater sense of achievement, which keeps you motivated.

Another big influence to your success is being realistic about your goals. For example, don’t expect a year’s worth of progress to happen overnight. In addition, don’t set your sights on something you aren’t physically, mentally, or even financially ready for.

It is equally important to remember not to expect too much of ourselves in situations where we don’t necessarily have full control. While you will sometimes reach a speed bump or obstacle which requires you to slow down or take another route, remind yourself that you will still reach your destination in due time.

All that said, I don’t really commit to new year’s resolutions quite simply because I believe we should always be actively pursuing a better version of ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, I think goals are important and it is equally valuable to leave the past behind you, accepting it as lessons learned, but don’t limit yourself to setting goals because it’s a new year. Instead, commit to making improvements for yourself on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis.

Our New Homestead

Moving into a new home and having a baby are considered to be two of the more stressful life transitions, though luckily they are also among the most positive of “big changes” that a family faces. We were fortunate enough to experience both events this year, and more or less on the same day, at that.

I became pregnant with our third child early this year (2018) which is about the time we started seriously searching for a house. It took several months of looking to find an ideal property. After a couple of delays, it just so happens that we were able to close on our home the same day I was scheduled to induce for medical reasons. After bringing a fresh baby into the world and spending a few nights in the hospital, we headed directly to our new home, initially with little more than the clothes on our backs and a few essentials. 

What we were Looking for…

First of all, we changed our budget at least three times. Houses are expensive enough, but it is really difficult to find a home with acreage that doesn’t cost a fortune. On top of that, we were limited by the requirements to receive the VA loan we needed to buy our home. Several of the houses we looked at needed work to an extent, and some of them we would have considered if there weren’t so many stipulations involved or we had the financial means to pay for repairs.

With two toddlers and a baby on the way, we felt a home with at least three bedrooms would be best. We preferred to have a basement, at the very least for storage purposes, but decided a crawl space was acceptable under the right circumstances. As for the property, we decided that two acres of land was our minimum if the price was right and it met our other requirements. That being said, we primarily looked at homes on five acres or more. In fact, the first house we made an offer on had around 20 acres, but after a couple of inspections, we decided to hold off. While the land would have been wonderful to have and would have offered the best opportunity for our goals to blossom, our number one priority was to have a secure place to live.

Other attributes we were attracted to included running water or a pond on the property, partially wooded land, outbuildings, or anything else that would contribute to our future plans for the homestead.

What we Found…

While the home we ended up with definitely pushed our budget and didn’t meet everything on our “want” list, it is a three- bedroom home on five acres, close to half of which are wooded. It has a walk-out basement with a finished family room, extra bathroom and potential fourth bedroom, which will ultimately serve as our office space. Furthermore, there is a detached three-car garage coming off of an unpaved, half-circle driveway. Wild turkey and deer like to visit our yard on occasion, too! All in all, it is a beautiful home with great space for the kids inside and out, a reasonable chunk of land, and a good place to call our home.

Plans for our Homestead…

Beyond finishing enclosures for the goats, chickens, and rabbits we currently have, we plan to make space for quail, pigs, and ducks. If you think that isn’t dreaming big enough, we will also build two greenhouses. One greenhouse will come off of the basement, which should help supply additional heat to the basement. The second green house will be a walapini, being built partially underground. The greenhouses will be for growing produce we buy on a frequent basis as well as things we should be using more often. Additionally, one will house an aquaponics system where fish and plants have a symbiotic relationship.

Inside the home we will have a rocket stove mass heater, which should help reduce heating costs in addition to the solar and wind energy we plan to install. Our solar panels will not be on the roof but placed next to the home where they will get the best exposure from the sun year-round. We were able to find some inexpensive solar panels and acquired some towers, cheap to free, from people who just wanted to get rid of them. The towers will be used as antennas (e.g., ham, CB radio) and windmills.

This is all, of course, a brief overview of our existing plans which are subject to change and expand. We will be discussing each topic in depth as we move along and document exactly what we do and how functional it ends up being, as well as any alterations necessary. We will put forth our best effort to provide detailed videos and images in addition to written documentation of the happenings on our homestead. Please continue to visit our site for updates on the adventure ahead of us!

Apple & Sausage Breakfast Pizza

Sometimes it can be fun to experiment in the kitchen. I consider myself a decent cook but that doesn’t mean every attempt at a new creation is a success. Even so, this recipe is definitely a winner as far as my family is concerned. We often use it as a breakfast dish but it is tasty any time of day.

What you’ll need:

  • 4-6 Whole Wheat Tortilla Shells
  • 1 Package Cream Cheese
  • 1 Pound Ground Sausage (Or Diced Bacon)
  • 3 Tablespoons of Maple Syrup (or to taste)
  • 2 Apples, Any Variety
  • 1 Vidalia onion
  • Shredded Cheese, Any Variety (I like an Italian Blend)

Step 1: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, remove cream cheese from fridge to soften. Dice apple and onion, then set aside.

Step 2: Begin to brown sausage on medium-high heat (or medium low for bacon, started in a cold pan).

Step 2: When it is nearly done, drain some of the excess liquid if necessary and add apple and onion. Cook until sausage is browned and onion and apples are soft.

Step 3: Remove from flame and stir in maple syrup.

Step 4: Place tortilla shells on a baking sheet and spread cream cheese onto shells. Add a layer of the sausage mixture and cover with shredded cheese of choice.

Step 5: Bake for around 10-15 minutes. Enjoy!

Tips:

-If you have a wood stove, use it to your advantage. We have successfully used our wood stove instead of an oven to make these breakfast pizzas. Simply place them on top of your clean stove and put foil over it to trap the heat.

Spaghetti Squash “Lasagna”

Recently I’ve undertaken the task of cooking more nutrient-dense dinners for my family. We don’t have a problem with the classics but any opportunity to increase the health benefits of a meal is welcome. The cold weather has given us a taste for comfort foods, making a warm and cheesy lasagna dish a great choice for experimentation. Replacing whole wheat lasagna with spaghetti squash cuts down on carbs (now you don’t have to feel guilty about that extra slice of garlic bread on the side) and gives you a little extra boost of nutrients such as vitamin C, which comes in handy this time of year. To top it all off, this recipe is grown-up AND toddler approved.

What you’ll need:

  1. 1 Medium Spaghetti Squash
  2. 1 Lb of Ground Meat (e.g., beef, bison, chicken, etc.)
  3. Pasta Sauce (Approximately 25 oz)
  4. 1 Cup Spinach (or other greens)
  5. Fresh Basil, to Taste
  6. 8-12 oz Shredded Cheeses (Mozzerella, Parmesan, etc.)
  7. 16 oz Ricotta Cheese 
  8. 3 Eggs
  9. Pinch or Two of Salt
  10. Black Pepper, to Taste
  11. 1 Onion
  12. 1-2 Bell Peppers, any variety
  13. 3 Cloves of Garlic
  14. 1 large Tomato, Diced

Prepare the Spaghetti Squash

Step 1: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step 2: Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds.

Step 3: Drizzle each half with olive oil and lightly season with salt.

Step 4: Place each side face down on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for approximately 45 minutes, then let cool. The outside of the squash should give slightly when ready. 

Step 5: Scrape the inside of the spaghetti squash into a large bowl. With a paper towel, squeeze out, remove and dispose of as much excess moisture as possible. Add a pinch of salt, pepper, and three eggs to the bowl with the squash. Mix thoroughly. 

Making the Lasagna

Step 1: Preheat oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step 2: In a deep skillet, cook ground meat over medium-high heat until browned. Transfer your meat to another container for later use and leave some of the juices in the pan. 

Step 3: In the same skillet, start your onion on medium to medium-high heat and cook for approximately 5 minutes, then add peppers and garlic. Cook until peppers have softened and slightly browned, about 10 minutes. 

Step 4: Lightly oil your 9 x 13 baking dish and layer the bottom with some of the pasta sauce.

Step 5: Transfer half of the prepared spaghetti squash to your baking dish.

Step 6: Layer half of your caramelized onion mixture, all of your meat, all of your diced tomato, all of your spinach and basil, half of your sauce, half of your ricotta cheese, and a light sprinkling of your shredded cheese blend over the spaghetti squash.

Step 7: Add your remaining spaghetti squash to the dish and cover with the remaining sauce and ricotta cheese. Top with remaining shredded cheese blend.

Step 8: Bake for about an hour until mixture is set and top is golden. Let cool and enjoy!

Tips:

-Cooking times can vary with different ovens so be sure to keep an eye on your meal.

-If cheese is getting too done, cover with foil for the remainder of the cooking time.

-Water from the squash can cause the lasagna to not set properly, which is why it is important to remove excess moisture beforehand. You can also try letting it drain in a colander, just be sure the holes are small enough that your squash strands don’t try to escape. 

-As a remedy for picky toddlers, I have found that finely dicing ingredients like onions, peppers, and spinach makes my child less likely to decline to eat his meal.

Best Dual-Purpose Chicken Breeds

When we committed to raising chicks for our homestead, we decided we wanted birds that could not only produce eggs, but supply meat as needed. Many chicken breeds are egg-cellent for laying (yep, I went there) and others are great for meat, but which breeds should you rely on if you want the best of both worlds? Here are four of our top-picks for best dual-purpose birds for the homestead:

1. Australorp

Laying around 250 eggs a year, the Australorp is a reliable laying breed that holds its own against the most prolific of layers. Roosters grow to approximately 8.5 pounds while hens generally reach 6.5 pounds, and because they grow reasonably quickly, they are an ideal choice for meat as well.

2. Rhode Island Red

The Rhode Island Red has developed a great reputation as a homestead bird. Though there is speculation as to how many eggs to expect per year, you’ll find that they generally fall somewhere between 200 and 300 eggs. Similar to the Australorp, Rhode Island Red males weigh in at about 8.5 pounds and females will top out at around 6.5.

3. Plymouth Rock

Coming in at third on our list is the popular Plymouth Rock which can lay around 200-250 eggs annually. In addition to being a great layer, hens will reach a reasonable weight of approximately 7.5 pounds. Better yet, roosters can grow to a healthy 9.5 pounds. The Plymouth Rock is a classic dual-purpose breed. 

4. Orpington

While Orpingtons are more modest layers compared to our other dual-purpose favorites, their yearly egg production isn’t mediocre by any means. They lay between 175 and 200 eggs per year, and a few dozen eggs is a small price to pay when you consider that a female Orpington can reach an impressive 8 pounds. If that’s not convincing enough, an adult rooster can weigh in at 10 pounds. 

There are several other breeds out there worth considering, but these are four of the best dual-purpose chickens and also the breeds that we chose for our own homestead. If you have any other questions or thoughts, please let us know in the comment section below.

Want to know more about these and other chicken breeds? Check out this handy reference guide from The Livestock Conservancy:

 https://livestockconservancy.org/images/uploads/docs/pickachicken.pdf

What is Homesteading?

While the definition of homesteading has changed over the years, homesteading today is, at its core, a lifestyle of self-sufficiency. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines self-sufficiency as the quality or state of being self-sufficient. More specifically, to be self-sufficient is defined as [being] able to maintain oneself or itself without outside aid.

Homesteading is encompassed by a variety of skills which enable a family to live with limited assistance from the outside world. That being said, there is not one proper way to commit to homesteading. While the resulting goal is generally the same, you’ll find that many people who claim this lifestyle have differing ideas of what it means to them. Their objectives could entail one or more of the following:

  1. Growing vegetables and fruits
  2. Raising animals for meat, dairy, eggs, etc.
  3. Preserving food by canning, dehydrating, curing, smoking, etc.
  4. Producing electricity by means of solar, wind or water
  5. Building shelters
  6. Collecting rain water
  7. Hunting and foraging
  8. Making clothing or supplies
  9. Storing food or other necessities
  10. …And much more!

Why commit to this lifestyle?

1. Emergency Preparedness

What would you do if these displays were empty?

Life in society as we know it today might not be sustainable under certain conditions. Many families would lack proper knowledge of how to care for themselves outside of the current model of living. Unexpected events can leave us without access to things and places we are accustomed to having at our disposal. Even if you aren’t facing a societal crisis, a personal emergency can come up at any time. Having extra supplies and food on hand can make all the difference.

Here are some scenarios to consider:

  • Natural Disasters
  • Unemployment
  • Power Outage
  • Medical Emergency
  • Vehicle Trouble
  • Violent Crime
  • Terrorist Attacks

In an ideal world you would never be forced to experience such a thing, but our world and our lives are imperfect and the best you can do is to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

2. Financial Security

What if you didn’t have to worry about affording groceries each week?

Admittedly, you aren’t going to start saving money overnight. In fact, the initial cost of starting up a homestead can seem burdensome at the time, but you need to consider the rewards that you reap after you sow the seeds. Ultimately, you will reduce your need to spend outside of the home to maintain your lifestyle. The tasks that you decide you are capable and willing to undertake will determine how much you rely on external sources. If you have a surplus of certain items, such as produce or eggs, you can also generate income. The more you are willing to commit to, the more control you have over your situation, which will likely allow you to feel more ease and less stress about your financial situation. 

3. Health

Food plays a significant role in your overall health.

Generally speaking, if you are in control of your food, you are in control of your health. There are exceptions to that rule, but healthy dietary habits can be a crucial step in paving the way to a healthy life. One important thing to consider is what is in the food you are eating. What better way to stay familiar with your food than to grow or raise it yourself? By growing your own food you can avoid:

  • Questionable herbicides and pesticides
  • Added hormones and antibiotics
  • Foods stripped of nutrients with artificial vitamins added
  • Excessive amounts of sodium and sugar 
  • Dangerous bacteria exposure

Additionally, you get the health benefits of being outdoors, such as the production of vitamin D. A 2010 Harvard Health Letter highlights the reasons why time outdoors can be good for the human body.

You may or may not be convinced that homesteading is the right choice for you. Maybe you do have an interest in such a lifestyle but don’t know where or how to start. Just remember that progress is progress, no matter how small (definitely not a “Horton Hears a Who” reference).