There comes a point in everyone’s life when one takes a step back, takes a good hard look around themselves – and finally gathers up the nerve to jump into the void of ‘change’. There’s a certain amount of miserable comfort in the sameness of things, the ‘job’, the stress, the workload at home, the routine of everyday life. Then there are the ‘expectations ‘ others have of you – and as an adult, you determine you need to fulfill those expectations – you feel a need to prove you are responsible, reliable, steady. Responsibilities. Ah yes – pay the bills, stay late at work or come in early, pick up the slack when others are shirking their responsibilities.

Odd how so many of us don’t put ourselves first – or second or even third.

Those of you who follow my blog, know I lost my mom last year. In the eight months following, I threw myself into overdrive and set about managing to take another persons entire life and find a way to merge some of it with my own, part with what I couldn’t accommodate, and divvie out what I thought others could; all the while remaining responsible, reliable, steady and meeting expectations.

That’s the simple version. When I finally came up for air, when I finally had a minute to think – I knew it was time for change.

I left my job. Gave the boss a months notice, and with little care about whether or not he would find a replacement, with a definite ‘it’s my turn’ attitude, set about winding down thirteen years of standing in the same place doing the same thing every single day. Winding down twenty five years of effort and commitment to the same industry – an industry that’s taxed me physically and mentally, and returned to me nothing more than a steady and decent paycheck – mostly due to the fact that I’ve stuck with it for so long.

My toolbox is now home.

I. Don’t. Miss. It. One. Bit.

Automotive is a thankless industry. Nobody pulls up to the garage with their truck needing a five thousand dollar repair, and walks in with a smile on their face – so in reality, you’re never seeing anybody at their best – and you need a thick skin because you know that although you didn’t build their truck, or break it – you are in the line of fire anyway.

Don’t miss that one bit either.

Thinking way back – I have been in the workforce since I was thirteen – so forty two years. Long enough I think. Am I ‘retired’? I actually don’t know……I’m not averse to going back to work….but I have decided to play it by ear, and I have decided it has to be something not in automotive. Something where I am creating, not resurrecting – there is a difference. I have been asked – “what do you want to do?” Honestly, I haven’t the faintest. I – like many people, have always done whatever I’ve had to do. Initially, the very idea of not going to work had me in a near anxiety – it’s taking some getting used to. I’ve been home almost a month now – oddly it seems longer, but I still find myself trying to cram chores in at the end of the day simply because I’m not used to having ‘tomorrow’ to do them.

I’m a list maker – I’m known to make lists of lists – always feeling more organized and accomplished as I’m checking things off. Things that surprise me now that I’m home? The lists are getting longer rather than shorter. When I have a few moments to sit and think, it occurs to me that I now have time to expand the garden. I have time to stay on top of the weeding – as opposed to scheduling a day to weed. The lists are markedly different – split firewood’ makes the list again – it’s not all on Bruce because I have time to split wood. The lists are now leaning in a different direction – I’ve decided to keep bees – something I’ve considered many times but not acted on for lack of time. There’s a lot of planning and prep to get ready for when the bees arrive. I’m looking forward to the challenge – and now recall that I’ve always done better in my life when I have a challenge in front of me – something new to learn. Challenge has been sorely lacking in my life for a lot of years.

My health is improving – that grinding mental fatigue and physical exhaustion is slowly fading. No more standing under banks of flickering fluorescents for hours on end, inhaling buckets of exhaust fumes for lack of ventilation, soaking up all manner of petroleum product that when I dump out a transmission has been chemically changed into god knows what. No more having to know all of the things – my job, the service writers job, the bookkeepers job.

No more rage. Rage when my only hard fought for heater that keeps my hands from cramping up in the winter because I have no heat in the back where I work – gets snatched up and taken to the office because despite the office having heat – the service writer is complaining her feet are cold. Rage when the boss decided that because he can’t actually lay eyes on me every second of the day, decides to have me fill out lengthy ‘reports’ on every single transmission I build and make the many treks to the time clock each day to punch on and off that particular job. Reports that got stuffed into a filing cabinet, that were never read, that I snatched up and brought home with me when I quit. So many rages. Gone. Goodbye to micromanagement. No more having to decide which battles to pick – we all know the squeaky wheel gets the grease -but in my industry it’s smart to understand that at some point, that wheel simply gets swapped out for one that does not squeak. Don’t. Miss. That. Either.

I’m not a spur of the moment kind of person – rather I tend to overthink things, which does not lend itself to much spontaneity. Paralysis by analysis is sometimes the norm in my personal life. I did not leap into the void of change lightly. I crunched numbers. I made sure I had the support of Bruce who is now by default the main breadwinner. I had to decide if I could live with lack of change around the farm – there is still so much to do, things to repair, house projects – and now, little spare cash flow to do them with.

At this moment – I feel I made the right decision. Each time I catch myself wondering if I should reconsider that decision, I remind myself; I do not owe anybody their living. I do not need to provemyself or my worth to anybody. Bought and paid for that t-shirt a long long time ago.

I try not to look back – after all I’m not going that way. I am now looking forward, focusing on what’s to come, what I can accomplish. Our farm year is still scheduled as usual, only now I’m adding to that schedule in a productive fashion. Bruce has noticed a change – he says I am less bitter, less hard, smile more often. He might be right…..the difference I notice? I finally feel like I can breathe.

Stay tuned….😊<


Posted in Rants, Raves and Ramblings, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 22 Comments

What the hell…..


April 30 I lost my mom. Chatted via text message (as we did every single day)at 8:00 in the morning……nothing much – just a quick conversation about the fact that she should see some sunshine (as opposed to many past days of rain), she responded that she was definitely going to get outside and enjoy it.

Sometime before noon I received a call from my nephew (her grandson whom she has raised since he was two years old) – he had called an ambulance, she was in the local hospital – chest pain.

I ‘shut down’ the minute I heard this – my mom is bulletproof. A healthy, happy, fit, going concern – seventy three going on sixty.  Anxiety attack – I thought. She’s been burning the candle at both ends – trying to wind up her bookkeeping business…..sorting, downsizing, packing, moving stuff to storage in preparation for listing her townhouse and moving on to her ‘retirement’ on the Sunshine Coast.  It does not cross my mind for a second that this might be serious.

My nephew and I messaged back and forth – she needs more help sorting and packing – I say – I’ll see if I can get a few days off, come down and give her a hand. My nephew tells me he’s helping as much as he can – when he’s not at work. We are both worried – I tell him to keep me in the loop – my big concern at the moment is her level of stress – and how can I alleviate some of it. She is going to be fine.

My next phone call – he tells me they’ve done a CAT scan – she has a bulge in an artery close to her heart and it’s very serious – she is being transferred to a large hospital where there is a surgeon waiting for her. Her friend (and his ‘second’ grandma is there) and he is following the ambulance.

He signs the paperwork for her to have the surgery as she is unable to do so herself – we message back and forth as he tells me she is going into surgery, I tell him I will be there the following day – I have messaged my daughter and she is already on her way from Edmonton to pick me up in Prince George (nine hours away), we will get some sleep and head out in the morning – another nine hour drive – but we will go straight to the hospital.

I carry on doing the dishes, chatting with Bruce, anxious – but relieved she is in surgery – confident that she will be fine, I will see her tomorrow……

My phone rings again. It is my nephew. He is crying so hard I can’t understand him at all. But I didn’t need to. The bulge in moms artery let go while they were prepping her for surgery. There is – no fixing – a dissected artery when it lets go.

I manage to calm him down enough to get him to pass the phone to her friend – who is also crying, but coherent enough to understand me when I tell her ‘do not let Eli out of your sight. Not for one minute’. It matters nothing he is twenty one years old – the only parent he’s known – was his grandmother. I tell her friend I am on my way.

I hang up. I do my very best to not come unhinged – but fail miserably – it is several minutes as I try to process that I no longer have my mom – I am a mess – I cannot stop shaking – I cannot catch my breath. When I finally manage to get my shit together – I message my daughter to ‘pull over’ and call me, I rather frantically try to get hold of moms sister – but can’t seem to get through…..I start pitching random things in a duffle bag to travel with, Bruce phones my boss and tells him what happened and that I’ll be gone at least a week. I get hold of my son who is working on the island – ‘anything you need mom’. Auto pilot kicks in. 

I feel like I’ve stepped in front of an oncoming train. At fifty four, I’m not supposed to be the oldest in my immediate family. I’m not supposed to be fatherless, brotherless, and now motherless. I am not remotely prepared for this – an entire and large part of my future has been wiped out in the blink of an eye.

What. The. Hell.

The following morning, sorely lacking in sleep – my daughter and I head to the coast. She has managed to get hold of my aunt and she too is on her way.

I am numb. I don’t feel capable of driving. We pretend we’re fine, we stop for lots of coffees, junk to eat in the car, we talk about everything and nothing. My head is spinning with ‘things to do’ lists – I am worried about how to cancel the offer on the place she made where she was going to move. I don’t know if she’s forwarded a deposit, or signed off on the subjects. My daughter is practical – and smart and is now the glue that is holding me together. 

‘At the risk of being crass mom – they can’t sell a house to a dead person’

Good point. I worry about her bills, what about her credit cards?

‘Not to be crass mom – it’s not like we’re worried about her credit rating. ‘

Good point. And around we go for hours until we get there.

Auto pilot. We walk in the door, exchange hugs with my aunt, my nephew who is pretending with forced cheerfulness to be fine but is next to manic with his chatter and his obvious inability to sit for more than a few seconds.

Auto pilot.

My daughter is an absolute rock. We know there is no Will – so there are dozens of phone calls to make – chief among them – a lawyer – mortgage broker, listing agent for the property she offered on, friend and listing agent who was waiting in the wings for mom to be ready to list. Then there are the friends. The clients she did books for. I search her cell phone for any and all contacts that may need to be contacted. My aunt had the incredible foresight to bring her laptop and printer – she gets busy making lists of people, email addresses, phone numbers. My daughter makes every single call that needs to be made – I cannot -make myself do it.

I knew mom was sorting and packing and moving stuff to storage – but looking around – I couldn’t comprehend the sheer amount of stuff that still filled her three story townhouse. I set my aunt to dealing with moms room – I headed straight for her office – she did many clients books at home – I start hunting for year end stuff that needs to be given back, personal stuff I need for the lawyer…..paperwork. I know she has storage – I don’t know where, or what unit, or the gate code. I ‘think’ I know where she banks – but I’m not sure. With no will – I will not be allowed access to any pertinent information until the court grants me probate. I don’t know if her bills show up in the mail or she gets them email version. Turns out both. Auto pilot – I am good at shutting everything off in my head and doing what needs to be done – I know if I stop and think I will be useless.

We start packing. Boxes and boxes of ‘things’. Grandmas China. Crystal. Cabinets full of stuff. I load box after box of paperwork into the car – I need to file her taxes. We create piles of donations. I start obsessing about random things – what in the hell am I going to do with the dozens of large plants she had growing up on her rooftop deck. Wonder what to do with all her treasures – I spend my time and thoughts de-personalizing her things because I can’t imagine how else to do this. This sweater is just a sweater. This vase is just a vase. I wonder how full her storage is…

I am told I cannot access her storage until I have ‘paperwork’ stating I am the executor. I find the storage contract and the gate code and the three of us head over there and waltz in like we belong there – and open the door to find a ten by twelve room about half full of neatly packed and labeled boxes. Thank god room for more.

We meet the mortgage broker for lunch – a stellar man who in fifteen minutes emailed me any and all information I might need – something a bank would not have done without ‘paperwork’. I ramble endlessly through lunch – not comfortable in a social situation on a good day – let alone in this circumstance. It was ramble on or stare at my plate. I wanted to make the effort – her mortgage broker was also her good friend.

We meet with the lawyer – a woman who in half an hour of scribbling on a yellow legal pad and copying paperwork – had me more than confident she could and would kick ass with her stilettos should the need arise.

Auto pilot to the funeral home.

I never understand, how one is supppsed to make decisions at a time like this. My daughter and I are shown to a boardroom sized well appointed room and seated at an expensive round table for the ‘presentation’. I call it the ‘sales pitch’. I feel immediately claustrophobic. I feel like I can’t breathe.

‘Are you wanting to have a viewing?’


‘Is there something special you would like her dressed in for the cremation?’

Are you kidding me? ‘No’.

And on it goes, the lady remotely clicking the mouse and scrolling along the presentation on the big wall screen.  I start attacking the bowl of mints – maybe if I eat the mints I will be able to breathe.

‘We have several choices for vessels for a cremation’ nice lady scrolls through photos of actual caskets worth more than I make in a month, half caskets, plain pine caskets…..

I point to the one at the end. ‘The chipboard’

‘Excuse me?’

‘The chipboard. OSB. Whatever you call it’.

My daughter rescues me. ‘She would like to select the one in the last picture at the end’.

It seems to take almost forever – I want the hell out of there – but on cue, near what I thought would be the end, a woman named Sheila strolls in and takes the empty chair. She is there to discuss the burial and services offered at their cemetary. I find myself looking at Sheila – there is something different about her that I’m too weary to put my finger on. I explain that we will be putting mom – next to her son – in the cemetary in Penticton.

Sheila promptly removes herself from the room. At some point, I have signed enough paperwork to sink a battleship – and I am let out of funeral home class. I wonder what percentage of the many dollars forked over go to nice sales lady’s commission. I have no idea if I made all the right decisions – but I let it go – the decisions have been made.

We head back to the car. ‘There seemed something odd about Sheila’ I say to my daughter.

‘I do believe,’ she deadpans ‘Sheila used to be a Stan perhaps’.

‘Ah’ is all I can think to say. As I’ve already fallen through the rabbit hole – why shouldn’t Sheila turn out to be Stan?

We stopped at the post office to make arrangements to forward her mail to my house. The mail lady behind the counter burst into tears – ‘what do you mean she’s gone??!! That’s impossible – she was just in here last Friday – she gave me hockey stuff for my grandson- I’ve been here twenty years! She’s been coming here for as long as I’ve worked here!!!’

Auto pilot – I don’t recall what I said to her – but it was apparently enough to have her pull it together and complete the paperwork.

I finally catch my nephew on the evening of day three – he has calmed down some, he is able to sit still. He wants to talk about ‘the day’. He takes me through it from the beginning – tells me that on the phone to 911 he answered question after question after question until he lost his cool –

What is this – a fucking survey?! Get somebody here – there’s something wrong with my nan!!!’ At which point he flung open the front door and held the phone out: ‘911! Somebody take this!’ A lady from a unit further down the complex – happened to be outside – took the phone and dealt with the call as he hung onto mom.

They got somebody there – fire department first responders, and ambulance.

When he is done telling me the entire story – I can see – at no time did anybody drop the ball. There were no delays in the diagnosis, no delays in the transfer on the ambulance. No delays at either hospital. I have been told – that it’s remarkable she made it to the hospital at all – apparently fifty percent of the people who have a dissected artery – die before an ambulance arrives.

This does not make me feel any better – nearly every day since – I feel absolutely tormented by how truly frightened she must have been.

I decide to go pick up a ‘thank you’ card for the lady down the way who helped with the call – she has stopped by and spoken with my aunt. It seems the right thing to do for whatever reason. I walk over to a drug store and am brought up short. The entire twenty foot section of cards has been rotated out for Mothers Day cards. I want to sit down on the floor and cry and never get up. Auto pilot. I dig and dig and rifle through the cards until I come across a section of ‘message-less’ cards and find something not tasteless. I can write my own message.

In five days, we manage to pack almost the entire place and move all the boxes to the garage/basement. We manage to get most of the bookkeeping stuff to most of the clients. We managed some cleaning, we managed to remember to eat. We managed to drink a years worth of coffee. We manage to find odd moments of grim humor:

‘Look’ I say, standing at a box of first aid type stuff I hauled downstairs to the kitchen. ‘It’s one of those wrist style blood pressure checker things’. I wrap it around my wrist and hit the button and wait for the result – the numbers look as though I’m about to suffer a cardiac event of my own. ‘This can’t be working’. I state, taking it off. My daughter tries it – professes it to be ‘inaccurate’, my aunt tries it and thinks it’s ‘close’ …..I take my daughters side – she’s a paramedic – therefore in my head – she knows ‘all of the things’ – and can certainly declare a bp checker to be a dud.

We all decide we’re just fine and with some ceremony – pitch the thing in the trash. Just fine 😬. Of course we are not.

We finally leave the place as tidy as we can for the time being and I leave my nephew in charge – he ‘sort of’ still lives there anyway – mom liked for him to come and go and be nearby – she liked to cook for someone other than herself, he didn’t like the idea of abandoning his nan on a full time basis.

I make it home – unload the car – walk back into work Monday morning. My boss immediately takes me aside.

‘Do you need more time?’

Only the rest of my life. ‘No. I need to work. I need the routine’.

I spend the next two weeks digging through paperwork, doing moms taxes, trying to decipher the books on her laptop as I am still getting requests for paperwork I have not found, working working working. I discover that if I just keep moving – I won’t have time to think. I go through her cell phone and start moving important emails over to mine, moving pictures to mine – I start dumping irrelevant contacts – until one day I have a near anxiety attack as I suddenly feel like I am erasing her life. Deleting who she was – like she was never here.  I stop.

I make the drive down again – my daughter flies down, my aunt drives – we are there to clean. And pack more. And organize more. At some point I will have permission to list the place – it needs to be decluttered, clean. My son arrives with his truck and starts hauling more boxes to storage, and incredibly – manages to haul every single plant off her roof top deck – down three flight of stairs – to his truck and off to her friends place where on a five acre parcel, she has room. My daughter in law and granddaughter make the trip – we clean, scrub, paint, shampoo carpets. I wire in a new light switch to replace a broken one, fix a closet door….I scrub the roof deck free of the common coastal algae and note that the finish is gone in some areas. It looks like crap. I tell my son to load any furniture he wants – he helpfully removes some of the larger items I think are just too big – things that I certainly have no room for. This time we leave the place spotless – and my nephew still in charge – with instructions to keep the place clean. 

He gets a new job that comes with a place to live – some distance away. He makes arrangements to move at the end of the month – another two weeks away. This is a good step for him – though he is worried about leaving moms place empty. I arrange for her realtor to grab a key and keep an eye on things. I find myself awake at night worrying about the stupid roof deck – it’s some 14 feet by 40 – a feature of that particular townhouse complex. I decide to make the drive one more time and paint the deck – and help my nephew sort and pack and donate……

I get there to find he is like a deer caught in the headlights. He can’t decide what to take, what to give away, what to donate, what to keep in storage at a friends place. He is missing mom something fierce – he is trying to ‘adult’ as he says – but he is ever so glad I am there. His efforts to sort and pack and sort some more – have made the place look as if it hadn’t been straightened out in a year. I take a deep breath, I get him on the right track – I go buy three gallons of obscenely expensive vinyl decking paint – and get to work – and encourage him to stay the course and get it done. I need for him to be settled in his new place before I leave for home. I manage two coats of paint, a sunburn and some heat stroke – live on yogurt for three days while I try and ‘hustle’ my nephew into moving like he has a plan. Which he does – but his plans (quite like my moms) operate on a much different clock than mine. I mention this to him after waiting two hours for him to drop off a drum set, pick up a buddy and drop off some donations. I am tired. Tired of running up and down three flights of stairs, tired of the whole project. I am trying very hard not to be bitchy.

‘Eli. I know you have a plan here – but at the rate you’re accomplishing it – you won’t get it done today. I’m leaving again tomorrow’.

‘I know – I’m sorry. Nan and I call it ‘living on ocean time’.

I try a smile. ‘Sooo….you only move when the tide does?’

He tries a smile. ‘Something like that’.

My nephew does not own a vehicle – living at the coast – with the cost of insurance, the prohibitive cost of parking – if you can find any, means most kids his age are fine with transit, the sky train, bike, skateboard – whatever. If he needed a vehicle on occasion – he simply borrowed moms. Now he has made arrangements to borrow a truck for moving and at last, all but one load is where it needs to be before he has to return the truck. It’s pushing eight o’clock – I have been vacuuming behind him, double triple checking everything – jogging those stairs like I mean it –

‘Mom why the hell did you buy a place with three complete bloody flights of stairs?’

‘Places with no stairs are for old people’  she would state.

My nephew returns the truck and a buddy picks him up to grab the last load. I am alone by nine.

I was – relieved, to see him off to a new job, a new place to live. I was sad for the circumstances. This particular job was in the works before mom died – but still……he too – is on auto pilot.

I loaded my car, piled my stuff by the front door and fell onto the couch exhausted. I could have been asleep in seconds – but I lay there instead – eyes burning from fatigue, a view from where I lay of the living room, the dining room, the kitchen…..just looking. Looking at the retro table and chairs she bought at a furniture store close out for a song, laying on a couch that went from ‘don’t sit on that!’ to cheerios under the cushions as she raised her grandson- to somewhere to sleep when I came to visit. I found it incredibly sad that she wasn’t a part of ‘getting the place ready’ – that she couldn’t see how nice it looked. That she wasn’t there. Every time my eyes started to close I’d force them open again – unwilling to give it up for some much needed sleep. Trying to memorize the details.

I feel – so very broken. 

Life moves on. The farm is still farming, there’s a new calf, there’s milk coming in the door, butter and cheese being made. The fencing is getting done, the garden is producing, I’m canning beets, freezing beans. Last years calf is in the freezer, as are the meat birds. The pigs go in next weekend. I wait for word from the lawyer that the probate has gone through the court. I pay to keep moms hydro on, her car payment made until I can sell it…..I go to work and try to focus. Try not to make mistakes. Pretend I’m just fine thank you very much.

I try to tell myself I will get through this – but I’ve little faith I will anytime soon.

Going through boxes of moms stuff I brought home from her office – I find a zippered binder. I open it – to find every blog post I’ve ever written – printed out on thick quality grey paper with a matte finish. All of them. 

It goes without saying – this post will not be printed out. I don’t know If I want to blog any more…..

What. The. Hell.


Posted in Uncategorized | 22 Comments


Every year about this time I get the urge to reset things.  Sort of like when the computer wont boot up properly and starts to get glitchy because something didn’t load right – just click Restart and try again.  We plan our year on the farm by grabbing a new calendar and hammering down dates.  Dates to get the weaner pigs, date to order the new layers, the meat birds, date to process the meat birds, date to slaughter the pigs.  There are blocks of time set aside for processing the gardens, canning the salmon, a date when Miss Daisy Duke is likely going to drop her calf. Everything is pre-planned. Twelve weeks from the date of the meat bird arrival, is a date set aside to process the meat birds. A date to process the old layers and put them in canning jars…and so on. 

For the most part, its a rigid system.  One cannot just ‘wing it’ when it comes to livestock, or putting food up for the winter…..well you can I suppose – but then the entire year turns into a gong show.  Then there are the long weekends – those ‘dates’ are set aside for projects.  This year we will set aside a long weekend to get the new fence around the lagoon strung, a corresponding cross-fence strung, and because horses are horses and the grass is always greener on the other side – we will electrify the top wire.  Projects – there are always any number of projects that need to be done on the farm, not necessarily new projects, sometimes dates have to be set aside to fix things that didn’t survive the wear and tear of winter, or the wear and tear of livestock. 

All of these dates, are also nailed down for budgetary reasons.  If we’re going to string the lagoon fence, I need to budget the purchase of more wire and more fencing nails.  If we’re going to have neighbour down the road swing by with his handy dandy bobcat with it’s handy dandy auger to churn up some clay so we can plant more fence posts – I need to budget paying the man.

This yearly reset has been something we’ve done for years – I’m very much not a fan of surprises, of the unexpected.  I’m capable of dealing with an upset to the carefully set out schedule of ‘things that will happen this coming year’, but it’s not something I like to accommodate. That calendar, with it’s blocks of time laid out, with it’s little notes in the margins, is reassuring to me, and it means I’m not going to forget something obvious.  This past year for instance – while we were up in the mountains on one of our cut down firewood trips, I happened to notice my cell phone screen flashing (generally there is no cell service up there), picked it up to see a message that our salmon was ready to be picked up. What?  Now? Today?  In an instant we are double timing the firewood project, racing (but trying not to speed and draw attention to the fact that we are hauling wood that is not cut to the required 24 inches) down the mountain, down the highway, through town and home to drop the trailer and grab the cash to go pick up the fish on the north end of town.  As I’m grabbing the cash I see a message flashing on the land line.  I stop to listen – neighbour down the road is in the middle of haying and something has run amok with his tractor and can we come take a look at it.  What?  Now?  Today? We race into town, fetch up all the salmon, race home and toss it on ice, race back down the road and see if we can figure out what’s going on with a nearly new tractor that suddenly won’t pick up a round bale.

Ultimately, this is how ones carefully laid plans fall apart.  We had scheduled zero dates for getting our own firewood, as a result I completely forgot about the salmon – and well I can’t fault the neighbour for a faulty part in his tractor.  Normally we process the salmon the day we get it….for the first time ever – it sat on ice for two days and Bruce spent his ‘day off’ canning and smoking the salmon.

I suppose adaptability is the name of the game when you farm, or homestead….and we’ve certainly learned to be adaptable in our near thirteen years here.  This coming year however….I’m not going to hit the ‘restart’ button.  I’m flat out going to pound on the ‘control/alt/delete’ keys until the entire past year short circuits into the stratosphere.  I want a clean, clean page to start over on – a page with no wrinkles, no doodles, no coffee cup stains.  I am going to take the next calendar and block out dates for me.  Yes – me.  I want a set in stone time to go and visit my mom and my nephew, to spend time wandering downtown Vancouver and pigging out on the best Samosas made fresh in the tiniest space of a store-front, to go to Banyan Books and stock up on odd things.  A set in stone time to go and visit my daughter and her family, and maybe get another ride on the street car over the High Level Bridge and spend a day on Whyte Avenue and hit all of the stores, including Spice Island. A set in stone time to catch up with my son wherever he might be hauling this equipment to that place or the forest to the factory – and spend time on a ride along either in my old stomping grounds where I grew up in northern Alberta, or if I’m lucky on one of those awesome mountain ‘goat trails’ with a load of logs – where I can look out the window and know that if the road gives way, we are in for a four thousand foot ride.  I have not set foot off of this farm other than to go to work – for over a year.  It shows.  I have forgotten how to appreciate where I live – at this moment – I barely like the place – let alone appreciate it.

I am, at heart, a homebody.  Still, there is something to be said for being able to get on the ‘outside’ and look in.  Whenever I come back from the lower mainland – I totally appreciate the breathing room, the open skies, the complete lack of population by comparison. When I return from a trip to my daughters I appreciate the peace and quiet of my house – her place is much like grand central – and I love it – but I love my quiet house more. This past year – I made the mistake of not setting aside those ‘dates’ on the calendar.  I figured (incorrectly) that I could just ‘pick a time’ and make a run for it.  I tried.  More than once.  Lots of last minute cancellations on my part……there was just no room to accommodate me. 

This year….I am going to move my job from the top of my priority list, to somewhere else on the list.  Of course employment is a priority of sorts – but in this entire past year, I have only managed to take four, count them – four (and not all in a row) extra days off.  It’s daft. I have, for several years now, been owed three weeks holidays a year. Hahaha! I have never, not once in eleven years at the same job, managed to squeak more than a single week of time off in the span of the entire year. Because I am the only employee that does the job I do – there is no one to step into my shoes while I am gone.  Excepting for the boss, who has no desire to work that hard any more, who is by his own admission ‘out of the loop’ on many of things one need to know to do what I do.  In short – I’m weary of feeling like I’m being held hostage to the place.  Some of the issue of course, is mine – I don’t like to leave the man hanging, if I’m not there, it creates a lot of stress on the rest of the employees. Still – it occurred to me not so long ago – my loyalty to the place has become a detriment to my sense of well being.  I don’t have a horse in that race – therefore I need to back off, understand that the place will still function without me in some fashion should I be ‘away’ for a week.  Or maybe two.

Well.  Here’s to a new year, a new plan, a different approach.  Here’s to recognising that I need to bring my ‘A’ game and apply it to my life, not just my job. Last but not least – here’s to a well organised, hopefully successful 2017.  Stay tuned 🙂

image                    image                                             image

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

Do over part 2: Homesteading harder


There are only so many hours in a day.  I have to tell myself that – often.  This year in particular I’ve finally tapped out on available hours, and discovered that there is a price to pay for running out of those hours.

The above pic: Daisy Duke – contented cow and supplier of great quantities of butterfat laden milk. (sorry about the blurry – I’m not often near her with my phone and had to crop the pic). Do we actually need a house cow?  No.  And yes. It’s not that Daisy is a lot of work – she takes pretty good care of herself – it’s that everything she provides, creates a lot of work, and requires a lot of planning.  Last year – come March, when I threw the towel in on milking and sent her down the road to be bred (literally down the road), I gave little thought to when the calf would be born, other than figuring on a New Years baby.  Good enough.  Now if I were raising beef cattle for market – that’s a great time to drop a calf on the ground – it’ll be about as big as it can get when it goes off to market.  But we’re not raising beef cattle – I did not think about the fact that miss Daily Duke would be churning out gallons of gallons of milk – totally at the wrong time of year for me.  I do not run my cook stove in the summer.  No cook stove – no way to make any cheese other than what I can make without heat.  Of course I got many batches of cream cheese and a few pressed cheeses made while we were still sharing her with the calf- but once that calf was weaned off (to a measured amount served up in a bucket), well – my entire life became about milk and what to do with it when you are not running the cook stove.  Creative thinking 101: we had pigs.  Now I don’t like feeding pigs straight milk – they pee a lot.  So much so – I don’t think they’re getting much out of the milk.  It dawned on me that I could make Creole Cream cheese without heat – (milk no colder than 70, no warmer than 80) – so off and running I was.  So yes – two pigs were raised on wheat, refuse from the garden, and two gallons of Creole Cream cheese a day – they were slaughter weight a month early – win win.  Problem? The piggies went to market.  Plan B.  Feed it to the chickens.  Problem? The chickens can only eat so much clabber a day. Now all this effort does not use up all of the milk – far from it – even after I skimmed and made butter, there wasn’t a day I did not open my fridge and stare at a minimum of six gallons of milk. I’m not kidding when I say there were days when Bruce came in the back door with that pail of milk and I wanted to promptly open up the side door and fling it into the yard.  There seemed not a moment of my ‘home’ time where I was not skimming, cheesing, churning, washing washing washing jars.  Solution?  This year – we trailered miss Daisy Duke to the farm where we bought her, in September – where she will continue to be milked, and certainly get bred, and we will have a June calf – and when we wean that calf, my cook stove will be up and running.

This past April – Daisy’s first calf went to the butcher as a two year old.  Sooooo worth it.  Roast on the left? From the calf.  Roast on the right? From the grocery store: Eighty some odd dollars.  Win, win and win again – there’s not an ounce of that beef that isn’t top quality, best tasting beef I’ve had in years.  Raising a beef/dairy cross gives us enough ‘beef’ to the meat, and less weight – as in we don’t need a thousand pounds of beef in the freezer.  The calf dressed out at seven hundred – I’m good with that.  Raising Holstein steers – which we did two years running – not even close for comparison.

Never a dull moment when you have a house cow: milk/cream/cheese/butter and one cooler day where I could light the stove in the house and put some of the milk to use.


Firewood.  Getting firewood is bloody hard work.  Before you set foot in the bush you need: a permit (free, but must have one), fire fighting equipment, chainsaws, water, mixed fuel for the saws, a wedge, an axe, and if you want to bring a decent amount down from the mountain – a decent trailer to haul it with.  There are ‘rules’ about getting your own wood: you must only cut windfall, or standing dead, or beetle kill.  The tree must not be more than one foot in diameter at the base, you must take all of it up to the four inch diameter at the top.  You must spread the debris around and not leave a fire hazard, you must cut it within a foot of the ground.  You may not take any trees that look as though they are in use by wildlife (bear scratched/moose rubbed etc.) You must not cut in a logging block/private land. All the wood you transport must be cut into lengths no longer than 24 inches. (Yeah, we thumbed our nose at that last one).  Finding trees that aren’t owned/blocked out/ marked by logging companies around here – that’s a project.  One would think there’d be maps of this nonsense – but none that I’ve managed to find. Regardless – some friends about an hour away kindly pointed out that behind their sixty acres was a previously logged, replanted, acres of crown land we could harvest from.  The pic above is the road on the way up the hill.

Now no matter how much one would wish, the trees we can take simply aren’t beside the road all handy to take.  You drive along, eyeballing ‘clumps’ of promising looking dead trees or blow down that’s hopefully not too far from the road, park, go scout it out – making sure to watch for irritated bears (lots of bear sign up there), decide whether or not the standing dead are not leaning the wrong way because of prevailing winds (therefore impossible to fall without snagging, as you can’t ‘make’ it fall where you want), head back to the truck, grab saws and get at it.

I can’t lift and carry a ten foot log that weighs somewhere between two and four hundred pounds – anywhere.  So I flip them, as does Bruce.  Pick up, get to the knees, the waist, the chest – walk under it and stand it up and flip.  Kind of like the caber toss – but on the ground.  It’s work.  Lift, walk, flip – lift, walk, flip, trying desperately to not flip it onto any replanted young trees and smash them, until you zig zag lift, walk, flip your way back to the truck where it can be loaded onto the trailer.  One trailer load is just under two cords of wood.  One trailer load takes about six hours of grunt to fill. It’s hot up there, incredibly humid – we are drowned rats, sweating, sawing logs, heaving logs until we can’t realistically add more weight than the trailer is designed to carry. We get the trailer loaded, we get back home – we unload trailer and saw logs into the size we need for our stoves, we stack it.  Actually, Bruce cuts and stacks on his day off.  Next free (?) day – back we go again.

Am I happy about getting our own wood this year?  Yes.  It has always bothered me that as ‘self sufficient (haha) homesteading’ type people, we bought our wood.  And no – because every day we’re up getting wood is a day something else is not getting done.  Back to the ‘only so many hours in a day’ thing.  This year – I determined I would suck it up and use the BIG SAW as I like to call it.  I’m not afraid of the saw – but it’s damn big.  Twelve years ago when I bought it – I had a go at starting it (can’t unless I stand on it and pull the cord), had a go at cutting through a log – and promptly handed it back to Bruce who has been using a chain saw his whole life. This year, I got fed up with caber tossing longs and decided I’d rather use the BIG SAW, skip chain and all. It gave me a break from the grunt, I still have all my limbs 😀

Getting hay – in my perfect world (eye roll) we would have our own hay, as it is, we generally drive down the road or so every two weeks and pick up what we need for the next two weeks.  This year was one of those ‘rain at the wrong time sun at the wrong time’ years – we drove by our regular go-to hay fields that belong to farmers we regularly buy hay from and watched in dismay as the daisies and buttercups flourished while the grass did not. We wondered how we could possibly feed that to our house cow, or our horses – we could not. As it turned out – not everybody had a bad hay field.  Neighbour to the North has a son who has a small field on the other side of the highway – premium hay.  Baled into squares for the cow. Now neighbour to the North is seventy some odd years old and works twenty out of every twenty four hours and is an absolute machine.  Anybody who can’t keep up to him, regardless of the reason – is a waste of skin.  He marched over one day and said something like “There’s four hundred squares in that field you can buy – same price as last year – come get it – it’s gonna rain by Saturday!”  And he fully expected that despite the fact I’d worked all day, despite the fact that Bruce had spent the entire day cutting, splitting and stacking firewood and doing his regular chores during one of the hottest days of the year, despite the fact neither of us had eaten dinner – we would round up a trailer and come and get the hay.

We did.  Neighbour to the North helped load it – lecturing all the while how he had the stamina of ten men while we did not – how he used to work a day job AND farm and still had the stamina of ten men and we did not….. Wow.  I bit my tongue and loaded hay – managed to totter down the road and back across the highway with 150 bales on that trailer – and a promise we would be back the following night for more hay.  I spent my entire day off humping that hay into the feed room – making hay stair cases so I could get the stuff all the way to the 12 foot rafters – five bales at a time – rest in the shade.  Four bales at a time – rest in the shade.  By the end of my day I was sitting there telling myself ‘two more bales then rest’.  Then it was ‘one bale at a time and rest’.  I walked away from the project with fifteen bales still on that trailer and likely some good old fashioned heat stroke.  When Bruce got home, we headed back over and loaded more hay. Listened to more lecturing.  I suppose if I had a desk job, I would have welcomed the exercise – but I don’t have a desk job and neither does Bruce.  It was a tough haul – we did not have all those bales over here and stacked until Sunday.



Despite all but ignoring the gardens this year (so much to do, so little time), they did well – that is to say, what didn’t outright drown in the glut of rain at the wrong time of year, did well. We’ll be okay til next year. Didn’t get hardly any pictures this year… but dry beans and carrots were banner, as was the broccoli, peas, potatoes, beets.


Chickens got processed, beef stock made, fat rendered, horses got attention – but as always it seems, not enough use – ‘hours in a day’ again.


I’ll finish off this post with what I did NOT do this year.  I did not make soap (oh I really miss my home made bar soap).  I did not get to replenishing my home made laundry soap – two weeks ago I stood in the store, more than slightly dumbfounded at the price of laundry detergent – and  baffled at the fact that liquid laundry soap seems to be the norm.  I bought some – a small bottle that professed on the label that it was good for 51 loads.  I stood in the laundromat (our last wringer washer died to death and I need a new wringer for my ‘swish it yourself’ tub) and tried to decipher the instructions for just how much of this stuff I was supposed to use per load.  Ultimately I did the guess and pour – managed to burn up half a jug on five loads.  No….the laundry did not look any cleaner or smell any cleaner.

I did not can a single tomato, or make a single jar of tomato sauce – this will come back to haunt me this winter, I’m quite certain. I did not manage to pick a single wild twin berry, or saskatoon – thinking oh well – there’s rose hips to come.  There are zero rose hips this year – I’m assuming the ‘rain at the wrong time’ knocked all the flowers off at exactly the right time to not produce fruit.

Still, the year is not done yet. The cook stove is now running most every day, I’ll still manage to get the kidney fat from the pigs rendered for pastry lard, more beef bone stock in jars, soap made again, more cheese once the cow is back from her ‘date’, possibly get on my horse for a quick ride (what? you have a horse?), and if I happen to catch a good deal on tomatoes, knowing me….I’ll buy up a hundred pounds of them (so long as they’re at least from this province) and can them up anyway.

That – is the price you pay for not enough hours – for taking on more things than you normally take on.  For every one thing you add to your work load, once you reach the tipping point – one other thing falls off the end of the list.  This year I found that tipping point – next year I need to find the right balance – the one between ‘too much and not enough’ that I think all farmers/homesteaders strive to find. Ultimately – more land (as in my previous post) is not necessarily the answer – I mean it’s all fine to grow your own hay, but now you’re adding cutting and baling it to the equation, getting wood is still getting wood whether you get it off your own property or not….. in the end, it’s about balance.  Finding the right balance is definitely something I have to work on.

Until next time….. 🙂

Posted in Rants, Raves and Ramblings | Tagged , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Do over – grab a coffee, long post.


Guest Cabin

It’s been a hectic year.  Very hectic.  Hectic to the point I began to get that dizzy ‘got my sea legs and now I’m back on land’ dizziness – only I’ve not been on a boat.  I’ve not stopped moving for months – and we’ve ‘downsized’! 

This post came to mind after we had a bout of ‘off farm’ company – that is to say friends from the city, not family. and friends of the hubby I’ve never met.  I’ve always ‘hesitated’ (and that’s putting it mildly) to welcome anybody but family to come and hang out.  For one thing the work load around here dictates that there’s barely any time to sit and visit to start with, then there’s the ‘town jobs’ that take us away for most of the week, and company….including family….means more work – for no other reason than that’s how we live – is different.  Awkward. Convoluted. 

Now the guest cabin (which is more finished than our house) is open to anybody who wants to visit. There is electric heat in there, or a small wood stove if someone wants to ‘rough it’.  There is a water system, but we leave it dry unless someone is intending to stay for a lengthy period of time.  So if one wants to come visit – I tell them to think ‘camping’. Cooking is done on the cookstove or the outside fire, showering involves a fight with our failing jet pump – usually necessitating turning the thing off half way through the shower and waiting for the pump to catch up.  I tell everyone to bring the grubbiest clothing they own, and have extra boots to hand out that are built for mud. Bring bottled water (ours is so full of mineral we use it for everything but drinking). Bring anything and everything you like to ‘snack’ on – nowhere in this house is any processed anything to graze on – no chips, crackers, cookies, dip, dry cereal, junk food. If you want food, you have to make it. If you don’t want to drink raw milk, bring milk.

In short – I can never imagine anyone having a great time here, and I worry obsessively about it.  Really, they’re stuck having to go with the flow – it’s not like we can stop doing chores, or stop milking…. or stop canning, freezing, etc. etc.  I tell them to be prepared for the raven (who is housed next to the cabin and shares a wall) to natter and talk all night – especially if you accidentally leave the light on.  He also likes to spend time picking things up and dropping them, or simply bang on the shared wall.  I tell them the geese and ducks will probably beak off throughout the night, the horses will snort, the dogs will likely bark, or howl, especially if there are coyotes in the yard, or moose, or bear, or the odd errant cougar. And yes – the roosters will start crowing at an ungodly hour – because they can. It’s a wonder they get any sleep.

Then there’s me.  I’m not even remotely considered to be sociable. A people person? Nope. If you dropped me in the middle of the mountains, I’d be just fine thank you. So….I always suffer a bout of serious anxiety before ‘company’ arrives.  It’s daft really, it’s not like I’m incapable of being welcoming and sociable, chatty, funny, interested in what people have to say – all of that, is a piece of cake.  It just doesn’t come naturally to me – unlike Bruce, who can make a friend in ten seconds flat and can talk until he runs out of breath 🙂

Well – after all that nonsense, both of our non-family guests came, we had some great conversations, they fit in like they’d been here a dozen times already, and created ZERO extra work!  So all that anxiety for nothing!  

Ultimately – having guests was a good thing.  I was forced/had a chance to just SIT. I’m not much good at sitting.  I get twitchy.  I think of all the things I could/should be doing.  Sigh.  Regardless – I got to see things from a different perspective. One of my guests, who wants to someday find a piece of property and live ‘off grid’, asked some questions – that got me to thinking of all the things we started out wanting to do, tried to do, still do or don’t do, in our quest to live like we live.  This train of thought got me to thinking of the big question: ‘If you had a DO-OVER – what would you do different?’ This year, being particularly lunatic busy, had me wondering – wee hours into the night – why is it do we get busier and busier, have to work harder and harder, to accomplish what we want to accomplish – especially when we’ve downsized?  

I don’t think a week went by this year, where I didn’t have to stop and tell myself “This is what you’ve always wanted!”  Isn’t it? What would/could/should I have done different? Here goes…..

LAND: Land, property – whatever you want to call it.  I would want more.  Much more.  Entering into this farming/homesteading adventure, we bought what we could buy, and honestly I never gave a thought to how much land was enough other than I was hoping I didn’t have to look at the neighbours.  I had no thoughts as to grazing, livestock, crops – and it never crossed my mind that one day we would have a milk cow, or horses… short – we don’t have enough land. Ten acres, half of which is in bush, is not enough to support three horses and a cow and a calf.  One must have a ready and constant access to hay year round.  This creates more WORK, more expense – sourcing hay, hauling hay, storing hay.  We need premium hay for the dairy cow and the thoroughbred.  We need different hay for the drafts who gain weight at the blink of an eye. We have to rely on local farmers and pay what they want to be paid, we are subject to the good hay year/bad hay year weather in terms of what the farmer has for sale…..more land would mean more months of grazing, more land would mean we could grow our own hay. We could green manure, cover crop – keep the weeds down.

DIRT: I never gave any consideration to dirt – until we discovered we are parked on about two feet of actual root infested, weed seed infested, grass infested dirt and about a billion feet of clay.  Solid, full of micro fossils, miserable, water holding or hard pan depending on the season – clay.  This year – the garden beds needed a ‘top up’.  Despite all the used hay, manure and so on that we load into the garden beds every year, we needed dirt.  We bought dirt.  Sixty bucks a pick-up load.  Unbelievable. If I had a do-over I would bring a shovel and dig down and see how much actual dirt existed. So although we can now grow enough vegetables to get us through the year – I would like to grow so much more – and I’m limited to what I can fit into half a dozen large garden beds.  It’s not enough.  My potato patch, which is planted in the only hard fought for patch of actual dirt reclaimed from encroaching bush – also grows a bumper crop of pig weed, bind weed (hate that stuff), thistle, dead nettles…….every year I fight to give the potatoes enough room to grow. A few years ago we built a new bed that we fill with hay to plant potatoes in.  Much success – and I see yet another garden bed for potatoes in my future.

WOOD: This of course ties into land. If you heat and cook solely with wood as we do – then you need a whole lot of it.  Generally, we go through ten cords of wood in a year – we also live in a climate that can drop to forty below in the winter, though it hasn’t got there in the last few years.  We have no wood on our property.  Yes we have five acres of trees – third growth poplar and swamp willow mostly – and some big firs that one wouldn’t cut down as they aren’t dead.  Wood was cheap to buy when we got here twelve years ago – the beetle kill issue dictated that clear cutting was the norm – trying vainly to stop the spread.  One could buy a logging truck load of pine for six hundred bucks (about twenty cords), and have it delivered.  Now, you can’t pay any amount of money for a logging truck load of pine – the pine coming out of the bush now is being bought up by the pulp mills.  I could pay sixteen hundred bucks for a logging truck load of birch – that might be dry enough to burn next year…..but that’s an obscene price, and I don’t want to exclusively burn birch. The past several years we’ve been buying/trading for our firewood from those hard working guys that go up and cut it down and cut it up and haul it to your house in their pick up trucks.  Not as cheap as I would like, but when  you need wood……this year – I put my foot down.  Not only has a a cord of wood become worth twice what I can reasonably pay, it’s almost impossible to find somebody who’s willing to reliably bring you the wood you need early enough in the season for it to dry. So this year….we decided to go get our own wood. (More on that later). Point is – if we had a sizeable chunk of land – we could harvest our own wood off our own land, and have the horses haul it out. 

LIVESTOCK: Not for anything would I ever get into the ‘production’ business of gate to plate livestock rearing.  Farming for a living – it’s a ‘go big or go home’ prospect. I could rant on for hours about this, but I won’t. The reality of it is, unless you can operate on a large scale, there’s not enough money to be made to cover anything other than the basic costs of rearing the (meat birds, pigs, goats….) and you never, ever, get paid for your labour. I know there are people out there that have found that magic formula for success – but where I live, I don’t think it can be done.  Aside from the fact that the government stepped in years ago and dictated that it’s illegal to sell anything gate to plate that started life on your farm with a heartbeat (everything must go through a slaughterhouse), there’s the issue of the customer – who no matter how you explain it (why should I have to explain it?) doesn’t understand that quality, organic, food -is worth more money.  Yes – we had customers who were more than happy to pay any amount of money to have our chicken, turkey, goats, pigs – in their freezer.  But there were just as many customers who would try and ‘dicker’ the price, who deep down, figured they were doing you a favour, buying your product – who figured it should be the same price or cheaper than in the store. The last time I put the price of our eggs up – I lost over half of my customers (and my eggs are by no means the most expensive around). Years ago, I might have backed off on the price increase – this time I simply ordered fewer layers.  I’m at a point where I’m sticking to my guns on this, and if I end up with only enough eggs to supply my own house, then so be it.  This is also the last year I will sell any pork off this farm.  Generally we raise two and sell one (we’ve long since gotten out of the ‘production pork’ business), and this year – I cut into a ham to see that despite the inspector standing right there at the slaughterhouse, something went amok in the slaughter process.  The ham (and the roast I did the other night) are full of blood spots.  That pig did not get bled out properly/in a timely fashion/ was stressed – I’m not sure. Yes – it’s still edible – but even I, with my cast iron stomach, with my ability to drink coffee at work that I’ve stirred with a handy wrench, I who can boil up a pig head for head cheese and not blink – found myself staring at that ham on my plate and wanting to slide it into the trash or pitch it straight to the dogs.  I am hoping against hope – that the customer who paid us a dear price for that ‘home raised organic pork’ did not get any of that particular pig.  I’m not holding my breath, I am expecting a phone call, I am expecting to have to give his money back.  I’m actually so angry about this, I haven’t even called the slaughterhouse.  I need to calm down before I call, I need to be able to think clearly.  I also know – he will do nothing for us – I will get the standard run of the mill nonsense about how he didn’t do anything different than he did last year….yada yada yada.  Moving on.

HOUSING: What can I say other than ‘if I knew then what I know now’….. I am not a careless person – but as a testament to my level of ‘property hunting fatigue’ twelve years ago, buying a place with a falling down house and the naiive idea that it wouldn’t take much to fix it up – wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve done.  To this day, this house is a ‘two steps forward, ten steps back’ project.  Despite the forward progress of getting the new windows in last year, this year brings a new problem – the middle of the house has dropped.  As in – two, maybe three inches, dropped.  Something has run amok with the foundation (sigh) and will necessitate cutting the floor up somewhere (likely in the unfinished bathroom) and crawling into the crawl space with any number of blocks, jacks, and whatever else, to jack the damn floor back up.  My do over? I should have thrown a match at the place on day one – bought a travel trailer to live in and tried not to freeze to death in it that first winter while we figured out where/how to build a proper house.  A straight house.  A square house. Would it be a finished house today?  What with the barn building, shed building, pole barn building, fence building….probably not.  Still – it would a project where one could move forward – not a forwards/backwards/forwards/backwards complete standstill project.

WATER: I would buy a place with water.  A river, stream, moving water of some sort.  It matters little how water frugal one is, without water you are immediately limited in everything you do.  Gardening, livestock, washing clothes, dishes, whatever……having to pay to have water delivered, made me the most water frugal person on the planet. Of course we have a well now – at about four hundred feet.  Note to self: ask around next time and find out how deep does one have to drill to find water.   The water system, the sewer/lagoon system – by far the most expensive thing we’ve done here. Am I interested in spending that kind of money again? No.  If the place doesn’t already have a functioning water/sewer system in place – then it best have water running past the place in some form. Year round.  I’d rather walk down to the river with a bucket ten times a day, than borrow a whopping pile of money and stress myself to death hoping the driller hits water before there’s no more money to drill. Hard lesson to learn, but not one I’ll forget.

HYDRO: My war with being hooked up to the grid has never really ended.  All those years ago I had this ridiculous idea that I could ‘cut the cord’ and do without it.  Simple, I thought.  Not so much.  The reality of it is, everything on this farm needs heat, or lights.  Chickens aren’t going to lay eggs in the long dark days of winter, baby anything isn’t going to make it if you don’t have a heat lamp or two on the go.  Unless you want to chop frozen buckets all winter – you need water heaters. Yes, over the years we have gotten smarter about the time of year things are born – still there’s no avoiding winter and the need for hydro. Then there’s the house.  Those of you who follow this blog know I have no electric stove, washer, dryer, microwave, furnace…. I’m sitting here right now on my laptop – no lights on as it’s daytime.  Is it peacefully hydro free?  Nope.  I have three freezers chugging up hydro at the moment.  One behemoth full of pork and beef, one smaller full of chickens and vegetables, one smaller yet full of butter and cheese.  I can also hear the fridge running – one needs a fridge for milk, eggs, food. Now of course there are ways to mitigate the use of freezers – I could, for example – process all the meat we raise into jars.  I could.  If I didn’t work off farm, if I wanted all of my meat to taste like canned meat in a jar.  I could can all the vegetables into jars and learn to love mushy vegetables.  I could develop a taste for fermented butter, or I could spend my free time turning the butter into shelf stable ghee.  I could spend more cheese making time, making shelf stable cheese cave aged cheeses.  I could keep trying to talk Bruce into boxing in the old fridge and insulating it and turning it into an old fashioned ice box (sure honey – that’s what we want to do – start having to buy ice).  I don’t know how that man puts up with me. I could go back to boiling water on the stove for a bath instead of getting it from a hot water tank…… I’m not sure on the ‘do over’ for hydro – but I do know, it’s goes back to  the ‘land’ issue.  Different land/dirt where I could dig a root cellar without having it fill with ground water would be a start.  It all boils down to the fact that if you want to store food – you are going to need hydro.  I’m sure there’s an ‘Amish’ way around almost any food storage issue – but until I can stay home and devote my time to that style of living (if you want a chicken for dinner go to the barn and get a chicken), then I will continue to have my quiet war with the hydro company.

CLIMATE ZONE: I’ve always had a thing for the North.  When I decided it was time for a move, time to get out of the city and into the country, I could have moved in any direction – but in my mind anyway, there was no direction other than North. I moved from a Zone 5, where one could grow most anything most year round, to Zone 3 – we’re lucky to have a frost free month among our ’90 frost free days’ growing season.  In my future? A bigger greenhouse.  All the root vegetable success in the world does not make up for the ‘grow a tomato’ fight, the bolting spinach, the ‘no point in succession planting’ season I have here. Would a ‘do over’ have me living further South?  Probably not – but there’s something to be said for a proper growing season.  North also means, climate change or not – snow.  Some snow, a whole lot of snow – either way, the driveway needs to be plowed, the trails to the barns need to be shovelled, and you’re at the mercy of the timing of spring weather to uncover the garden beds. I sometimes think our whole year revolves around ‘getting ready for winter’.  The cold.  Bruce thrives in the winter – he owns (as he call them) summer long johns, winter long johns, really cold winter lined long johns.  Quilted coveralls.  Summer toque, winter toque.  There is nothing that puts a smile on that man’s face like a nice forty below three feet of snow bright winter blue sky sun shiny day in February.  Me? I can live with that kind of cold….to a point.  I don’t spend a lot of time outside in it, rather I tend to enjoy the fact that with the cookstove roaring away full time I can bake bread, always have a soup simmering, whip up any number of batches of cheese, do some catch up canning of beef stock.  It’s the dark that gets me.  The short short days of winter in the North. Go to work in the dark – stand in my windowless room at work, come home in the dark.  Every year that passes I find it harder to deal with the dark. If a ‘do over’ found me any further South than I am now – it would be for the longer daylight hours, and a longer growing season. The advantages of being in the North? You don’t need to irrigate to grow crops, you don’t need air conditioning to sleep at night. 🙂

Next Post? Do-over part 2: Homesteading Harder.   

Posted in Rants, Raves and Ramblings | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Officially doing nothing…..ish.

Every morning I get up at an obscenely early hour, grab a coffee, grab my phone and quickly check my favorite blogs.  It’s nice to see what everybody else is  up to, how their gardens are going, their livestock rearing, their canning production, their foray into off grid and so on…. and of course, think to myself – I really should get back to a regular post. 

Easier said than done for sure. This last year was hectic – which I find odd because every year we are here, we make an effort to find ways to do things that decrease the work load, not increase it – and yet there seems to be less free time than ever.  Mind you, for every free hour we find, we manage to fill it with ‘things that should have been done years ago’ things to do.  Work on the house, more garden beds – and last year I decided to take a University course (Equine Functional Anatomy) that easily swallowed up about fifteen hours a week that I didn’t really have, but found – as your grades end up on your permanent record and who wants lousy grades on your permanent record? There are a total of ten courses one needs to get your Equine Science Certificate.  Nine more to go…..I would have loved to roll right into the next one but things were getting ignored around here so I let the idea go for now. 

Farming updates….I stopped milking the Jersey (and making the cheese, cheese, butter, butter) in March. I considered continuing to milk her…..but honest – I hit the wall.  Ten months was enough.  My carpal tunnel pain subsided, I took a much needed break from the place – my daughter caught up with me, we headed off to the big city to spend time with my mom which is always a good time.  And as always, she chauffeurs me around to the soap making supply place, the wood working supply place (for carving tools), book stores – I always have a list a mile long of places I want to go and things I need to get.  Honestly I don’t know how she puts up with it, if I were her I’d probably hand me a transit pass 🙂

Last year we stuck rigidly to our plan to raise food only for ourselves with some spare for family.  So only two pigs, only fifteen meat birds, and only the one calf (which is as of last week off to the slaughter house as a two year old).  Last year we also timed everything so that the chickens and the pigs were in the freezer early – no huge fall/almost winter rush to get everything done in less than optimal conditions. We ordered only fifteen layers to replace the old layers – still too  many layers if you ask me, but we still get a lot of requests for eggs so it’s not that I’m stuck with them.

The gardens did well, lots of beans, carrots, potatoes, kale, dry beans…..beets…..don’t know what I was thinking planting so many beets.  The kids came up and took beets, my mom took beets, my neighbor took beets…..still, I was buried in beets.

We finally managed to replace the windows in the house, the bathroom, the bedroom and the large front room window that has had a large crack in it from the day we moved in – loving the new view – that be the view without the large crack running through it.

We didn’t have much winter to speak of really, only half the snow as usual, and not enough really cold days to actually light up the wood furnace – I’m okay with that, it’s not every year I’m inclined to do battle with blizzard winds and minus forty temperatures. Of course when the new calf was born, it happened to be twenty four below – and four or so in the morning when Daisy decided ‘good enough, time to drop a calf in the snow’…… it was a bit of a gong show.  She managed to stand on his tail whilst madly licking him to ‘get up’ – which he did, so yes, he’s missing a portion of his tail.  Ultimately I brought him into the barn and put him by the wood furnace on a pile of hay to dry off, and thaw his ears.  That was January fifth – he’s a big bruising brat now – and we’re sharing the glut of milk momma is making with him. 

Milking…..ah yes.  Back to it.  I hemmed and hawed and tried to work myself up to it, knowing my hands were going to fail me again but also knowing like all farmers – you gotta do what you gotta do.  Then very oddly – Bruce grabbed the bucket one morning and decided he’d give it another try.  Very oddly – he figured it out!  Returned with a large pail and about two cups of milk :D! I was impressed.  I dutifully strained the milk, got it into the fridge and thought maybe, just maybe….I might not have to struggle through the milking season again. Well, the man is on a roll now….I haven’t had to march out with the bucket even once, which is awesome considering the time it takes to simply deal with the milk (strain, skim, butter, cheese, washing jars and buckets) don’t know how I did it last year to be honest. Honestly – for those who don’t know the whole story….we had discussed off and on over the years whether or not we wanted a milk cow.  We had decided on these occasions that no we weren’t going to get a milk cow until at least one of us was home full time. When Bruce arrived home one day to inform me that he’d gone ahead and purchased a Jersey heifer….the first words out of my mouth were ‘I ain’t milking no damn cow!’  The first words out of his mouth were ‘No honey – I’ll milk the cow!’

Bruce has never milked a cow in his life, or a goat for that matter (though he did try when we had goats)……and of course it was as much a disaster as I had been thinking it was going to be.  So I milked.  Milking a cow is not the same as milking goats – my hands functioned reasonably well when we had goats to milk.  Less volume mainly…..therefore less time on the milk stool….less milk to deal with.  A cow gives a lot of milk. And there isn’t anything quick about it.  My hands complained every minute of every day, I could barely make them function at work, and though I love my husband to bits – there wasn’t a day I didn’t want to whack him upside the head with that milk bucket.  The thing is – he knew it – and he felt, well, bad.  Angry with himself – it hadn’t occurred to him that he wouldn’t be able to get milk out of a cow.  This year, for whatever reason…..he suddenly got the hang of it.  I think it made a difference that it’s the cows second term and seriously, the milk was literally pouring on the ground every time she took a step.  Much easier to learn I think, when you don’t have to work so hard at it. 🙂

So, we’ve settled into a rhythm again…that ‘farming, spring, milking, getting ready for gardening, pigs, ,meat birds, layers, projects’ rhythm that dictates how each day starts and ends.  We’re both still working off farm and at this point I don’t see that changing any time soon no matter how much we wish it. 

I would like to say I’m going to get my arse in gear and try to blog more often, rather than just leaving everybody hanging without warning – but I’m not going to commit to that.  My hours in my day are full, full, full.  Although last year my intentions were to at least attempt a regular post – I found  that by the time I sat down at night, it was all I could do not to fall asleep with my head in the dinner plate. Mental exhaustion I’m guessing – my work load at work doubled in a heartbeat last spring when the only other large transmission shop in town, closed it’s doors.  Not for lack of business, rather the owner returned from vacation, wandered around his shop for a few hours and decided – enough.  Two weeks later the place was no more.  Crazy.

So – on that note, my day isn’t done yet – and I best get back at it. Hope to post again soon. 🙂

Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments

Stone Pig Kitchen Farm Cheese :)

So for those of you who have been eagerly awaiting the final recipe for this cheese (and those of you who haven’t), here we go.


I’m going to write this out so anybody can make this cheese.  Some of you will know most of these steps, some not – so will make it easy for those who haven’t tried to make cheese, but want to.

First off – I use RAW milk.  I’ve never actually made any cheese with pasteurized milk, but almost all recipes for cheese that you will find, ask for pasteurized milk – so I’m thinking you would be just as successful if that’s all you have access to.

Actually, there are two reasons we add a ‘starter’ (in this case cultured buttermilk) and rennet to the milk to create a cheese.

1 – pasteurized milk is technically ‘dead’.  There isn’t any bacteria left in it – so we have to add it back in.

2- adding a starter and rennet gives us a reliable timeline – meaning that you can reliably expect that at x time you will have a clabber ready to cut into curds.

As an aside – if you’re using raw milk, you can make many basic cheeses without adding anything.  Simply leave the milk in a warm place (I use the warming oven of my cookstove to clabber milk for the chickens) and in twelve to twenty four hours, you will have a nice clabber that is ready to be cut into curds – and you can carry on with the rest of the steps in your cheese.  Will that work for this cheese?  No.  The cream will separate and you will be unable to stir it back into the milk.


I have here, 7 quarts milk and 2 quarts cream (measured out) warming separately. This seems to be the trick to keeping the cream from rising to the top and NOT getting mostly drained off with the whey. I have come across a couple of recipes that suggest – ‘if using raw milk, top stir for several minutes longer’. I don’t know five minutes from several minutes – and apparently my ‘top stirring’ karma is lousy, because it has never worked for me, the cream still separates.
Warm the milk to 92 degrees. A dairy thermometer works nice, but any thermometer that registers that low of a temperature works fine too.
Once the milk and cream are at 92, combine and stir gently for one minute.
Now add 1/2 cup cultured buttermilk, mix thoroughly.
Dissolve 1/4 teaspoon liquid rennet into 1/4 cup cool water, add to milk and stir with an ‘up and down’ motion for one minute.
(if using rennet tablets -dissolve a quarter of a tablet in cool water and add to milk)
Cover with a lid (I use the lid off of my big water bath canner), and leave to set for one hour. Do not keep on the heat source, but do leave it somewhere free of a draft.


Now take a long knife (a bread knife will do) and cut straight across, half inch or so apart, all the way across and through to the bottom in one direction, then in the opposite direction. Now take the knife and do your best (don’t lose sleep over this step) to cut through on an angle horizontally – the goal being to end up with your entire curd ‘cubed’ in similar sized cubes. I aim for a half to three quarters of an inch cubes – if you wish, you can make them smaller yet – and you will end up with a denser end product. I like the ‘holes’ in mine, so I’m a little liberal with the size of the cubes. Now take your hands and gently stir through the cubes, using your knife to lop up any that are overly large. Once you’re satisfied with the size, move the whole issue back over a low heat.
The goal for the next half hour, is to have the curds reach a temperature of 95 degrees – and take the half hour to accomplish it. In other words – no instant ‘get it hot’ technique here, just a slow increase in heat. Every five minutes or so, simply use your hands and gently stir through the curds – the idea being, you don’t want them to matt up into a large lump. I keep saying ‘gently’ because at this point, the curds are rather fragile, and you’re not looking for cheese soup.
Once you reach 95 degrees, let them set undisturbed for five minutes.
Now find your spaghetti colander, or a ladle – and drain off the whey. Leave a couple of cups behind, put back on low heat and add 2-4 Tablespoons coarse, non iodized salt and mix in. Pop the lid back on and let set for thirty minutes longer, trying to keep the temperature at 95 degrees. Too cold? Carefully raise the heat. Try hard not to get over 95, err on the side of too cool rather than too warm.

Pop the lid off and you will now have something that looks like this. Notice the curds have shrunk, and there will be more whey expelled.image

Now flip the whole issue out into a colander lined with a good quality damp cheesecloth and let drain a few minutes.


Next, flip it into your press (more on that in a minute) and press at 35 pounds pressure, for 6 hours.  Then remove from press, carefully peel off the cheesecloth, wrap, and refrigerate.  I always taste it at this point, it is after all, ready to eat.  You should get about a two pound block/round – I cut mine in half and store separately.



You’ll notice the cheese is white, I did not add any color – it makes no difference to the taste. If you think yellow or orange cheese is more appealing, cheese color can be sourced online.

Now – you can laugh at my cheese press 😀 I put it in the photo lineup for the simple fact that you can use just about anything to press a cheese – in this case, a coffee can with the ends cut out, a wood follower cut to the same size, a honey bucket full of whatever shrapnel my hubby managed to round up on the farm that equaled a weight of 35 pounds. Yes, it’s a little lopsided, I just walk past now and again and give the honey bucket a turn to balance it out. I have the whole thing sitting in a vegetable blancher/strainer/steamer which is part of my large press, so the whey can run out the bottom. The coffee can size actually works better for a two gallon batch of cheese.


This press, works for a one gallon batch of cheese – I bought it some time ago from Lehman’s Non Electric. Now I’ve never had a complaint about any of their products, but I will say – the information isn’t technically correct. They say it works for a two pound cheese – but it does not, it’s simply too small. (One gallon milk generally equals a one pound block of pressed cheese, or two pounds of soft cheese – which doesn’t need pressing)


This particular press, is one my son-in-law made for me years ago. It works for a four gallon batch of cheese, and although I’ve tried to make it work with the coffee can – the rods in the middle that sit on the follower are spaced just a wee bit too far apart to fit in the can. It can be done if you want to fight with the thing – but usually not before I want to toss the entire issue out the front window. Hence, the odd looking honey bucket/random found weights system.

Last but not least –
Would I try this cheese with yet more cream? No. I’m pretty sure I’m maxed out on the cream volume.
Can you flavor this cheese? Absolutely. I’ve added garlic powder – you could add minced hot peppers, one or two drops of liquid smoke – I suppose the sky is the limit. If you do want to add flavoring – you add it when you add the salt, and let it ‘steep’ until it is ready to drain and put into the press.

I’m interested to hear back from anybody who gives this recipe a try, and I’m always open to be corrected, or given better information should anybody have anything to offer to set me straight.
Good Luck!!

Posted in Rants, Raves and Ramblings | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Forward into 2015 and back to the never ending story.

imageAfter re-reading my previous posts – I find a recurring theme appearing here….. seems I only find time to write when it’s winter. 🙂

So again – winter is here, though not yet in a big way that I’m familiar with…. some snow, some cold – and oddly – some rain, as in pouring West Coast rain.  Last night – freezing rain – took half an hour to chisel it off of the windshield of the truck this morning. Making an effort this year to blog more (though I probably said that last year…..) and trying to find the time to do so.  Not an easy task now that I’m milking our happy cream producing Jersey, but then I’m used to the never ending changes around here – seems no matter the chore load I still manage to get it done and get to work and so far it hasn’t finished me off.

Trying to find that work/life balance isn’t simple for me – my job dictates that I ‘be there’ not just in body, but in mind, and it’s hard to walk in the door after work and leave the work at work.  It’s also equally hard for me to walk in the door at work and leave the farm at home.  Sigh.  Don’t know how people do it – I find the whole issue exhausting.   This year for the first time in nine years I skipped out on the work Christmas party.  I am NOT a fan of them to start with – the trip into town, the late night when I have to get up at four, the same loud drunks, the same horrid service, the same lousy food.  Sitting forever and trying to catch the waitresses attention so she can bring me yet another water – because I refuse to drink and drive.  This year I was absolutely triumphant – I had an excellent excuse – “sorry, can’t make it this year – I’m milking – wouldn’t be able to get there until after eight o’clock”

I was bombarded with ‘come anyway’ ‘milk the cow early’ and so on.  I held my ground like a trooper.  The boss, not happy – got over it.

Now.  As much fun as I have popping up with occasional updates of ‘what’s going on in my life’ – I’ve been trying to get back to the original thread on this blog – or as I’ve come to call it – the ‘never ending story’.

Pretty sure I left off on getting the well drilled – so I’m going to launch into the Guess what you can do when you suddenly have an endless supply of water!

First off – huge lifestyle change. On one hand, things got easier, on the other hand – it created more work.  It wasn’t that we needed a bigger work load, but with water – comes all kinds of ideas – gardening, more livestock…..both of which means more work. The biggest change?  Laundry.  I could now do laundry without packing everything into town to the Laundromat, and with a functioning wringer washer at home, I could now do laundry whenever I wanted without having to check and see how much water was in the cistern, and figure out when the next delivery of water was going to show up.

For the average person, laundry probably seems like work – but until you’ve fought all your pairs of jeans and plaids and sheets and so on through a wringer head on a good old wringer washer, you can’t lay claim to laundry being work.  I actually like the idea of a wringer washer – you fill it up, toss in the whites, let them swish around for as long as you think it will take for everything to come clean.  Wring out, toss in rinse tub, wring out, hang up to dry.  Toss in the next load – yes, toss in the next load. Same water. Really, how dirty are your whites on an average day?

The point is, today’s machines waste water.  A lot of water.  Wash, drain, rinse, drain, spin….. Four years of jamming quarters into the machines at the Laundromat taught me a couple of things…, those high efficiency machines smell. Two, those high efficiency machines never get my clothes as clean as a good old fashioned wringer washer.

On the flip side of the coin, there are a few things one needs to know about wringer washers.  They’re no longer made new, so you are stuck with buying used if you can find them.  If they’ve been stored outside, the pump will have frozen and no longer function – meaning you have to drop the hose into a bucket and drain the old fashioned way.  If the pump has frozen, it will likely leak. If the tub has a tiny pinhole in it from a manufacturers defect – there is no recourse.  If your hubby insists he can fix the pinhole in the tub by welding a quarter over it – it will leak much worse – necessitating you lugging the machine outside where it can leak all over the ground while you do laundry.  Last, but not least – but most importantly, there is a reason all those homesteading women in the old black and white pictures have their long hair tied up nicely.  It wasn’t to have their picture taken – they had likely just come from doing laundry in a wringer washer and knew that if you were in a particular hurry, fishing for socks with one hand and stuffing the wringer with the other hand, it was a guarantee you would inadvertently manage to stuff your long hair in the wringer at the same time.   Yes – there is a quick release bar you can smack to release the wringers, but when you’re standing there – your own fool head stuck fast to the wringer head, flailing around like a landed fish while you try and come up with a good way to ‘unwind’ your hair – hair that has managed to roll itself around both rollers in both directions, with a sock,  smacking the release bar does not solve the problem.  It merely stops the wringer from wringing.

It took some doing, but I managed to save the majority of my hair 🙂

So in keeping with the ‘homesteading’ thing – I still use a wringer washer.  They don’t last particularly long – they’re already dozens of years old, and of the three I’ve had, there’s not a common part among them.  Currently I am using two at the same time – one washes and drains fine but has stripped gears in the wringer head, the other has a blown seal in the transmission that lets water in – in minutes you are standing in an ooze of water/oil – but it has a functioning wringer head.  So – wash in one, wring with the other by swinging the head over the non -leaking unit, move the whole issue into the barn and fly at it. You see what I mean about extra work – actually, if I’m being honest – my stubbornness is what creates some of the extra work. Come to think of it, if I had a running creek on my property I’d probably be out there beating the clothes on a rock – just so I could thumb my nose at the wringer washer industry – not that there is such a thing.  I am thankful, that Bruce just lets me be and does his best to go along.  If I were out beating clothes on a rock in a creek he’d be out there building me a platform to kneel on or something.

Picture below? My ‘new’ old old washing machine – hand operated, no use of hydro, not a thing to go wrong with it that can’t easily be replaced with a quick trip to the hardware store. 😀


Aside from being able to freely do laundry with our endless supply of water – we were now able to think about gardening.  Growing our own vegetables was a big big thing to me – but when you can only rely on rain water caught in barrels, and have to pay for delivery of the rest – there is no gardening to be done.  It was about this time we were forced to revisit the issue of our heavy, clay based soil.  Hardpan in the dry seasons, gloop in the rainy seasons, it isn’t designed to grow much other than dandelions, plantain, marginal grass and if you leave things be long enough, field grass for grazing.  We sat down one day to discuss maybe putting in some salad greens for a start, and realized, rather unbelievably, we were short on plain old dirt.  Ten acres and no suitable dirt for a garden.  Finally, we built a small raised bed and set about robbing dirt from the composted manure piles, the chicken yard, and managed to fill the bed and plant spinach, lettuce, a few radishes.  Pretty exciting times really, one step closer to self sufficiency. Ultimate goal? To ultimately grow ALL of our own vegetables and not have to buy ANY.  Still not quite there – but definitely getting there.  Can’t seem to grow decent tomatoes anywhere other than in the green house, and the green house being small, never enough tomatoes.  Bigger greenhouse in order next year I think.

Now one would think, that with the water and sewer problem solved, we’d get back on fixing the house, putting the rest of the plumbing in, reattaching the North wall to the house, ripping up the smelly many layered floor.  Nope.  We were too busy trying to keep up with pig orders.  We had people wanting weaner pigs to raise up, we had people wanting us to raise them slaughter weight hogs. We now had three breeding sows and a boar we had raised up from a different line – he was busy with the sows, the sows were busy with popping out piglets and we got even more busy shoveling pig manure every spare moment we had.  Yes this ties into having water.  Now that we had a well, we could have as many livestock as we wanted – and away we went.

One would think – we would grab a brain and learn to say NO.  But still under the illusion that there was money to be made with this farming business, we kept on keeping on.  Although we had backed up the meat bird bus and were now only raising about fifty or so a year, it didn’t occur to us to simply KEEP it that way.  So now instead of processing chickens and shoveling chicken manure every weekend, we switched it up.  There seemed never a moment we weren’t giving iron shots, clipping wolf teeth, mixing and grinding our own feed mix, deciding which outside pen could stand to be churned up by happy little snouts and so on.  Again – about as far removed from ‘homesteading’ as one could get.

Now we are all about the ‘natural’ way of raising livestock – to a point. When the sows littered out – they were not in crates, rather they were in their own eight foot by ten foot pens.  We cordoned off one corner of each pen with a piece of plywood left just high enough for piglets to creep under and hung a heat lamp over it.  This eliminated the worry of the sow laying over on the little ones.  We weaned by the weight of the sow, rather than the piglets – once she started looking on the thin side, they were moved along to an outside pen and within days, off to their new owners.  Now technically a sow can easily litter out twice a year, we kept our breeding to once a year if we could deal with the ‘sow in heat’ rage.  Some do better at it than others – we had picked up a Berkshire gilt to add to the mix – I came home one day to discover her loose in the chicken barn.  This poor girl really suffered through her cycles – that day she managed to work the latch on her gate and open it and near as I could tell had spent the entire day terrorizing the layers, eating as many eggs as she could find, tipping over all the feed barrels, water barrels – you name it.  The look of sheer anxiety she gave me when I opened the door to find her in the wrong place had me feeling bad enough for her I simply let her loose and walked her over to the boar pen and let her in. Wrong time of the year, another litter to over-winter.  The best laid plans…..go out the window when it comes to livestock.

Now it wasn’t that we had too many pigs (well if you’re homesteading we definitely had too many), but it became clear that we weren’t really ‘set up’ for pigs.  Sure we had individual comfy pens for the girls, plenty of space for the boar – but the barn is made out of wood.  The floor of the barn is wood.  Although I recalled my dad making the pig barn floor out of concrete so many years ago – I had thought it rather overkill.  Nothing wrong with wood, I figured – just a matter of keeping it clean and lots of sawdust down.  Not so. It seemed every moment the girls weren’t eating or sleeping or littering out, they were working at the floor with their busy little snouts.  Pigs, it seems, can get themselves into all manner of predicaments without half trying – it became a weekly event – Bruce marching into the house at what I like to call ‘no o’clock in the morning’ to announce “we have a pig issue!” before rushing back out, expecting me to follow and help deal with it. 

One such ‘pig issue’ I ran out to help with one morning – he had discovered one of the girls had worked an actual saucer sized hole in the floor and promptly lost half of her two week old litter to the lure of the smell of fresh dirt.  Six little piglets happily rooting around under the barn, (there is no access to under the barn) and a very anxious momma pig splitting her time between grunting her concern down the hole, and chasing away the remaining six to keep them from following their litter mates.  Now there is nothing more concerning to us  than an alarmed momma sow who is missing half her litter – very unpredictable.  We tried removing her from her pen but she would have none of it.  Finally, hoping for the best, Bruce lay flat on the floor, stuck his arm down the hole and fished around, hoping to fetch up a piglet.  No luck – they stayed well out of reach.  Plan B.  I fetched up a tall bunch of field grass, handed it over and down the hole it went – fishing for piglets so to speak.  Sure enough, curiosity overcame the dirt fun and one by one as they came to check out the grass, he plucked them up and handed them over to momma.  Late for work, we were – not the first time or the last – come to think of it, most all of our ‘late for work’ issues in those days, were a result of ‘pig issues’.

I don’t think it was a week later, I made my by now ‘routine’ trot out to the barn because the big old boar had slipped on the muddy walkway between his shed and his outside pen and both his rear legs had dropped straight through a crack between the floor of his shed and the wooden walkway.  Splat.  There he lay, belly flat, his legs stuck fast in the murky depths of whatever was under the wood – and no purchase for him to heave his considerable bulk out of his predicament. Bruce stood in front of him with a dozen eggs for a bribe, I pushed and heaved on his back end to absolutely no avail – trying to stay clean – after all, I was dressed for work.  It was pointless.  I finally gave it up, flattened myself onto the muck, cheek to cheek so to speak with the money making end of the old boar, smacking him smartly with one hand as I drove the other into the slop to try and find at least one foot.  Turns out the foot I managed to find had slid forward under the wood far enough he was in effect pinning himself in place. I grabbed hold, worked it rearwards, and as soon as I had it lined up under his back end he started struggling in earnest.  As long as I had his foot, he figured he had leverage – in less than five minutes – he was out.  Late for work again……..boss didn’t even blink when I told him we had to get our 700 pound boar ‘unstuck’.

So.  Water.  As long as you have an endless supply of water – you can have as many livestock as your energy level and your customer base will allow.  From one boar and one sow to five sows, a replacement boar, from two goats to four, to eight to sixteen, from twenty five layers to one hundred, from no turkeys to twenty five. Meat birds, ducks, geese – and that’s just the livestock.

I don’t say it often, but I often think it – ‘if you can’t be a good example, you might as well serve as a horrible warning’.  I’d like to think, anybody who’s following this story and has an idea that they are going to go homesteading, farming – whatever, will at least take away from this – what NOT to do. 🙂

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

Wish I Was Here 😊

imageMy son posted this on his FB page this morning. Calls it – “the view from my office”

(he’s driving logging truck)

Told him I’d trade him views any day 😊

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Almost Jackpot


I’ve been messing with this ‘quick farm cheese’ recipe – off and on for several months. I’m trying to achieve a cheese that is sliceable, grateable, melts…..and can be made with a minimum of attention, minimum of pressing, ready same day.
I make a ton of soft cheese. Lots of Creole Cream Cheese. I clabber a lot of milk for the chickens, make tons of butter.
The ‘hard’ cheese has eluded me – at least a hard cheese that I like.
I’m sure I could make a decent cheddar – problem is – time. I haven’t much to spare for cooking the curd, milling the curd, pressing, flipping and re-pressing, and the interminable wait while it ages – all the while hoping it turns out.
This particular cheese – as many times as I’ve made it – barely passed my criteria. Bruce likes it – but then he’s not hard to please. I found it too bland, too rubbery…..yesterday I threw caution to the wind (cheese is supposed to be a fairly exacting science) – and tossed an entire quart of jersey cream into two gallons of whole milk.
Win win! Almost a Havarti style texture, reasonable flavor, slices beautifully. Not perfect – but darn close.
Next batch I make I’m going to try a ratio of 1.75 gallons whole milk – to 2 quarts of cream.
I’ll let you know how it turns out 😊

Posted in Rants, Raves and Ramblings | Tagged , , | 10 Comments