Monday, November 29, 2010

Other Photos of Life Here, October 2010

Pictures of The Kids, October 2010

I just realized I didn't do one of these posts for October, so here it is now...

Geocaching on Mines Road...

At Joan's Pumpkin Patch on Mines Road...

At our gate...

Digging up a pretty rock...

A Few Cons of Remote Rural Life

There is a lot that I love about the way I am living, but as we deal with a dysfunctional heater in the freezing cold, I am thinking about the things I do miss that I had before we moved here. Obviously, I miss living within reasonable distance of a store or shop that could fix the heater for us. Right now the heater is in San Jose with Jamie. Between he and Shannon, it's malfunction is a mystery and Jamie decided to take it to someone who could help. So I continue to warm the house up by cooking and baking a lot. It does work pretty well, since we live in such a small space, but I suspect a heater would be a better way.

I also miss having a washer and dryer. I have a ton of laundry to do and I find that the laundromat ordeal is tiring when you have to drive 45 minutes to get there. If it was just me, I think it would be far easier and more tolerable. But, with the kids and cats also living here and making things dirty, there is an overwhelming amount to do if I miss a week. If it was warm, I could wash some things here and hang them out to dry, but in this cold nothing is really getting dry that I hang on the line. I wonder sometimes if we will ever have a solar power system that can handle a washer and dryer and sigh longingly.

The third biggest thing I miss is having a social life. I really enjoyed spending time with friends knitting and sewing together or going out for coffee. It is entirely impractical for any of my friends who knit to pop in for a few hours for a Stitch & Bitch. I also can no longer hold learn to knit/sew sessions. I'm really bummed about this and I am hoping I can find some interest in Livermore at least to have a knit together meet up at the coffee shop, maybe on Sunday afternoons before I pick up the kids.

All of this really boils down to how far out in the middle of nowhere I am living. When I decided to move out here, I NEEDED to get out this far. It was so clear to me at the time and such a HIGH need, that I didn't see it easing up any time soon. Now that I am feeling more comfortable in my skin and more at peace with the events of my life, I am craving community. I can see that with my long-term plans, I need to be living close to a small town where I can find others who share my interests or near some of my knitting and sewing friends. I need a small town nearby with a yarn shop and a laundromat. (And by "nearby", I don't mean the relative "nearby" that Livermore is.)

As for the heater issue, I have already decided that if I was living in a house with a wood stove, this issue would not have even come up. I think the simpler machines are easier to maintain and I am honestly already tired of the half propane/ half electric appliances of modern RVs. The straight propane appliances seem easier to deal with, even with the unpredictable propane stove I was using before we moved the new trailer in. My future plans will include heat sources that are easier to maintain and use.

This isn't nearly as positive and optimistic as my usual blog posts, but it's honest and has been on my mind a lot lately. And despite it's negativity, I am actually NOT unhappy here. I see the pros and cons and I am trying to improve things where it is at all possible and am taking notes to be sure that I alter my long-term plans accordingly. My optimism is just part of who I am as an adult, perhaps as a balance to the pessimism of my youth. ;)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Getting Ready For Winter

There are many parts of life that one needs to experience in order to know what sorts of things one might need in that situation. I think this is very true about winter and where I am living. I knew that it would get cold and that I would want a way to heat the trailer. I went through a lot of ideas and took in a lot of advice from Shannon. (I am beginning to think of Shannon as my personal Jiminy Cricket.) I also knew it would rain a lot and snow a bit. I knew it would get ice-freezing cold.

There are some preparations that were self-evident. The kids and I all need good coats and socks and warm pajamas. The van needs chains and emergency supplies inside it. And we need to make sure that everything stays water tight. So I have been picking up supplies for the van here and there as I find them and even have started stocking it with snacks and water. Both kids have warm coats and socks and pajamas. I have found all of the winter camping gear I'd been gathering for years, which gave us the wondrous Expedition-weight Smartwool socks that Maia and I have been wearing like slippers every night. The old decrepit trailer has been surprisingly water tight other than the obvious unrepaired holes that I have covered with a tarp. I am feeling amazingly prepared. I only wish I had a wood stove, as I do have wood.

So what have I learned since the freezing temperatures and rain have encroached upon our little gypsy homestead? First of all, the wind out here blows extremely hard! My porch swing went flying one day and landed a few feet away from where I had it and fell over. It has no effective way of staking it down so I am thinking that sandbags will be the solution. Also, the mud is totally unavoidable. I have a long history of driving 2wd vehicles through less than ideal conditions and not getting stuck, but the minivan isn't exactly an adventure vehicle and I do need to treat her carefully. I'm slightly less reckless than I used to be and would prefer to not have to try to dig her out of the mud by myself. I'm still working on that issue, but I have done some work to the yard to cut down on the mud tracking into the 'house'. I spread straw all over the commonly used pathways. I also used straw to cover the chicken yard and my vegetable garden. (Imagine crisp lettuce plants safely hidden under a straw blanket while the rest of the world freezes. Yay!) When I ran out of straw, I started using cardboard. But I think I could use another straw bale. One more thing I have learned is that water freezes. (Yeah, you are thinking "Duh!") But when I went outside this morning and the kitties' outside bowl of water was frozen over and there was a frozen bit of water out the end of the garden hose, I had the reality moment of water freezing. Some people just need to see or experience things in order to really get it and I tend to be that kind of person. So I am hoping that today's sun will melt the water in the garden hose and then I can empty it and take it off the spigot for the winter.

My animals are another winter prep consideration. The chickens are pretty resilient and will really just stop laying eggs through the winter and spend more energy keeping warm. Only one of them has been laying since I moved them here, so it really isn't a big deal if she stops laying too. I can suck it up and buy eggs in town for a while. They have a coop that is designed for weather changes and so I need to put the foam insulation into it's place in the roof and make sure I change their bedding regularly to keep it clean and warm in there. The rabbit seems pretty content now that we filled part of his hutch with straw and covered the whole thing with a tarp. His water bottle hasn't been freezing and he's just eating more than usual. The cats, for the most part, have been fine. The kittens seem oblivious to the cold and just run around and play as usual. The older cats are more affected and one of them, Inari, seems very uncomfortable in the cold. (I think he may be developing arthritis.) I make sure they stay warm and I let Inari sleep under my covers at night. He seems very grateful.

A few days ago, Maia took the first hot shower we've had without going to the guest house or someone else's house since we moved up here. And I am now washing the dishes with warm water without having to boil it on the stove first. This has been a major morale boost and will make winter far easier than it was looking without a water heater. It also does make it feel a little less like camping.

What I can't figure out, though, is condensation. Every night the windows get covered and even the walls in a few places. I started looking this up this morning and learned that propane gives off water when used for cooking or heating. So a propane heater isn't exactly going to help. A dehumidifier needs electricity and we have a limited supply of that through the overcast days of winter. I need ideas. I've found some websites about winter RV living and I am getting ideas, so there is hope. I hope I can find a solution soon before anything gets ruined by the moisture.

Stocked up on food, water and propane we should be fine even if roads get to be untravelable for a few days. I still see a few preps here and there that I need to attend to, but I am learning a whole lot by experiencing this directly and working on each problem as it arises. I am incredibly thankful for the Jiminy Cricket voice of experience that hounded me about what I would need for the last few months. :)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Like Always Camping

I walked outside this morning, a cup of hot black coffee in my hand, bundled in fleece and hand knitted wool. I left behind my cane and walked across the road to use the guest house bathroom. (I've been using my cane for walking assistance for the last week, so it was very nice to not need it) This morning was not as awe-ing as a few days ago when I opened my front door to find my yard and the surrounding mountains covered in snow, but it still had me breath-less at the beauty. The misty mountains were just a spectacular view for my still-sleepy eyes. I stood quietly, warming my hands on my coffee cup, remembering all of the times that I have been camping and woken up to a morning this beautiful and thought to myself "I wish I could live like this always."

Now I know why I was preparing for winter camping for years. It was not to go into the snowy wilderness for a weekend, it was to live in this trailer with my children for a winter or two. I am so glad that I am prepared for all three of us. Every day here is amazingly beautiful.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Why Would You Want To Do That?!

(I hear that title in the voice of my late grandmother, Dorothy Laakso, and I giggle a little bit.)

It occurs to me that from an outsider's perspective, I appear to have made a very strange decision in where to go in my life. This largely occurs to me because of the reactions I get from people who are not among my close friends. Otherwise, I only see my perspective. And that is? Well, I see that I made a decision to live the life of a homesteader but on a very low budget in order to allow me to get back on my feet after a divorce, learn what this sort of life entails without a huge commitment and so that I can save enough money to live the life I want to live. Now, I also see that anything worth doing in life is going to require sacrifice and hard work. I can work hard, that's for sure. But sacrifice had me thinking about how this decision would affect my kids. And I have thought long and hard about that. I also ask for their opinion and, so far, the sacrifice is worth it for them. What needs changing is being worked on and what can be improved is in process.

So let me begin by explaining what it means to be a homesteader in 2010. If you google "define: homesteader", you will get many definitions. The one I am working with here is this one: I sometimes think of it as Little House on the Prairie with solar panels and laptop computers. I have chickens for eggs, grow my own food as much as possible, store up food for winter and sometimes at night I read by candle light (or flash light). I am learning popular homesteading skills like canning and drying food for preserving. (I recently made and canned apple butter from apples grown on another friend's land.) Many homesteaders also employ elements of permaculture in their lifestyle. This makes sense because permaculture design is based on self-sufficiency, everything is tied to something else thus creating a cycle where everything is fed naturally. For this reason, we use a composting toilet. It takes a while to get used to, but instead of flushing our waste into clean drinking water to be treated chemically and released into the water system, we compost our waste into fertilizer for non-food plants... like oak trees! There is also a large community element to being a homesteader. We network and barter with other homesteader-minded people, like taking one person's fruit abundance and making canned or dried fruit to share with them. Both households benefit from this.

So, let me next go into what kind of life I want to be living. This is my dream and I have had it for a very, very long time. I want to buy land that is at least 5 acres or more in size. I want to build a home there. I would prefer land that came with an old Victorian farm house, but I'm flexible in how the house gets there and know that land is cheaper without the house already there. I can start out by moving my trailer there while I work on the house. I want an enormous food garden plus fruit trees, a flock of chickens, a few dairy goats, plus my herd of cats and a dog or two. I want solar and wind power electricity that I supply and maintain myself. (I should interject here to say that when I say "I" that this can be changed to "we". I am telling you *my* dream, but I'd prefer a like-minded partner to share it with me. I am lucky to have found Jamie, who was dreaming a very similar dream himself.) In this lovely farmhouse I dream of that is surrounded by gardens and animals, I will bake and cook wonderful foods which will be preserved and stored when it is in surplus. I want to can enough yummy things that I can send some off to my friends and family at the holidays. I will knit and sew and spin yarn and weave. I will have a wood stove with a rocking chair nearby so that when my bones ache, I will have somewhere to sit and knit. I will have a huge kitchen and a table where everyone can sit for dinner. I will write books and blogs and make scrapbooks and do all of the things that I am doing right now living in a 5th wheel travel trailer on my friends' land. But I will be doing it in a house of my own on land of my own. I was already doing some of these things living in a rented house in suburbia and in a tiny apartment in an urban ghetto. It is just going to make a lot more sense to be doing it where I can have the huge garden and all of the farm animals that I want to have.

Now to get into why it makes sense for me to be here in order to get where I am trying to go. First and foremost, I can save money living here. I put a lot of money into gas to get to and from town, which is a 45 minute drive minimum. But the rest of my money largely goes towards food for the kids and I. And we eat well as long as I remember to buy enough when I do get into town. We eat organic, I am picky about where my food comes from. The next largest expense is the hardware store. When things get broken and need fixing, that responsibility will largely fall on me and so I need to be prepared because, as I said before, the drive to town is long. This is mostly a matter of realizing what I need and making sure I have extra. I am incredibly lucky to have my friends, Shannon and Morpheus up here too, as I often can rely on them to help when I have failed to have what I need. It's a learning process and they are great guides on this path. So, I am saving money and I have help when I need it. In exchange for being here, I clean things up and play hostess. Since I naturally feel at home as a homemaker, I can manage to clean things up and play hostess. It's fun. I also jump in to assist Shannon when I can. Helping friends is not a hardship though. The limited expense allows me to save money now that I am catching up on my debt and working towards eliminating it.

For me, the decision to move here made perfect sense. Things just started to fall into place and a plan of action started to materialize easily for me. I am accustomed to being seen as weird, so I have no illusions that this will change any time soon. But what I hope to do with this life is to show others how much they also can become self-sufficient. I also hope that one day my family and friends will feel comfortable visiting me in my farmhouse, eat at my table of the food from my land and feel warm, welcome and maybe even peak some interest in learning more about sustainable living, homesteading or permaculture. There will always be a place at my table for you and a warm place to stay the night; I will make sure of it.

PS: Check out what the Dervaes family is up to: There are others like me!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Kind of Gamey

I spent a large portion of my life being vegetarian. It started when I was 14 and didn't end until I was 23 and pregnant with my second child. Even then I wasn't so committed to being a meat-eater and often went back to being vegetarian. Recently (I'm now nearly 34), I have been much more of a meat-eater since going gluten-free. There's only so much you can give up at one time. So, not really having so much experience with the cooking of meat, I wasn't quite prepared for one of the biggest lessons I've learned since moving to my mountain home a few months ago. But, I can tell you now, I have a much better idea of what one does with a dead deer.

One day I heard a distant gunshot and thought very little about it at the time. Shannon's daughter Avia was visiting and maybe that was them doing target practice. You never know out here. Later, however, I got a phone call and soon was taking a walk to their house carrying a giant stock pot. I've actually taken part in the killing and prepping of a chicken before, so the turkey ordeal was not so very unfamiliar. He was just bigger than the chicken. The three of us, Shannon, Avia and I, spent a great deal of time plucking feathers out of this enormous bird that evening. It started to remind me of plucking eyebrows strangely enough. This led to a discussion of electrolysis as a form of feather removal. Really, what else do you talk about while relieving a dead turkey of it's foliage? I ended up taking the turkey home with me and finishing up a creepy yet satisfying meticulous search for the rebellious feathers that only popped up after slightly more boiling. Finally it was recipe time. I attempted to cook the turkey legs as one might prepare chicken legs, only they are larger and so need more time. This proved to be slightly unappealing and led me to the discovery of the true meaning of a "gamey" taste. I was unsure how to improve the toughness of the meat other then stew (which is what I did to the rooster I killed a couple years ago). Then began the endless turkey stew. Each night I added new things to the leftover stew of the previous evening. It got better and better. Several nights of dinner and the strange late night of dead bird prep was totally worth it.

The next wild animal adventure was fish. To be exact, a small-ish wide-mouthed bass. I walked home from Shannon's house with this dead fish, head and scales and everything, with no clue what I was to do with it or if I had the tools I needed. But some strange faith led me home regardless, feeling like I had a plan I just didn't know about yet. This time I had in my possession Storey's Basic Country Skills, a book I had on loan from the Livermore library that has proven to be a very very great thing to have around at a time like this. The children read to me the instructions by flashlight as I followed step by step as best as I could. I started to wonder if I needed new knives during this process. I also entertained the children by, shockingly, making the dead fish talk to them with some very simple manipulation. That was kind of fun in a somewhat gross sort of way. Terran was intrigued with the whole ordeal and wanted me to extract the fish's brain and let him keep it and the eyes. I opted to not allow this at this time. Perhaps later I will learn the fine art of fish-brain-extraction, but not today. At the end of our fun, we had morsels of tasty fish with rice and veggies while listening to Prairie Home Companion on the internet. Yum.

But, our wild animal adventures were not over yet! No, by some strange twists of fate and circumstance, a dead deer ended up in the hands of Shannon and I. Now the third animal to be dressed for dinner! It was late at night and we were totally unprepared to deal with this large animal, yet here it was and not following through seemed to be a waste. By the light of car headlights and with insufficient kitchen knives, we skinned and gutted the enormous buck. Neither one of us makes a habit of hunting and/or eating deer, so this was all very new and strange. Somehow we did it though and there it was, a whole lot of red meat to be dealt with. Back to Storey's Guide I go looking for answers... Here is where I become absolutely certain that I need a better set of knives! We managed to get a large portion of meat off of this deer with a lot of help from Jamie and other people he recruited to help him. I spent a long day cooking a yummy Venison Stew for a gathering of people. It got great reviews and was gobbled up quickly. We made cat food out of the gristly bits and packaged up the good meat to be stored in my fridge and freezer. Yet still a nearly whole deer carcass remained in the cooler. Several trips from town to bring back ice and many more hours spent removing meat and prepping it for storage. My knives were not keeping up and life was just giving me too much other stuff that had to be done right away. And then... then, of course, my fridge runs out of propane while I'm gone and the meat in there goes very, very bad. All that is left is the stuff in the freezer that stayed frozen. And now, the remains of the deer in the cooler are not going to be ok for use. I just ran out of time. Thankfully, though, we got a few dinners already out of this animal and my freezer has packages of venison prepped for jerky and for grinding. I plan to make some venison jerky for Shannon in thanks for all of the meat he's been bringing to us. I'm also going to grind the rest of the venison to make it easier for eating. We've found the red meat difficult for the kids and I to eat, and especially for Maia whose braces tend to complicate her eating. So we'll eat Venison burgers and I will have mine on gluten-free bread. :)

I have concluded from all of this that it is a very good thing to be prepared for anything. I'm looking into a better set of knives and more tools for preparing food from the abundant wild animals that inhabit these mountains. (My birthday is next month, btw.)

And, this post is made possible by my dear friend Shannon who looks out for me and the protein content of my diet. :)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Finding A Homesteading Supply Store

Life has been so busy around here lately that I am only now able to write the post I had planned for a week ago.

The weekend before this last one, Jamie and I found ourselves on an adventure down highway 1 from San Francisco that resulted in us landing in the Felton/Ben Lomond area in the Santa Cruz mountains. We were on a search for a store that carried "homesteading supplies" and a little google search on the mobile internet found us a place called Mountain Feed & Farm Supply in Ben Lomond. The day was very wet and the rain was still coming down. The people at Mountain Feed & Farm Supply were friendly and happy to see us. They told us they'd just opened their home supplies section of the store where we found supplies for canning, making sausage, dehydrating, cheesemaking and other kitchen-y bits. The owner, Jorah, talked to us for a while. He's a super friendly guy, great energy. He let us know that they used to do alternative fuel there but don't any longer. He also made sure to let us know that they are able to order larger scale items like composting toilets (good to know!).

Jamie and I ooohed and aahhed over everything in that building and then moved on to the farm supplies where we found feeds, fertilizers and beekeeping supplies. Next was the pet building where I ended up buying compostable kitty litter to try out and, of course, some salmon-flavored treats for my pack of felines back home. After a good chat with the ladies working in there about homesteading and knitting by the fire on a rainy day like this one, we checked out the gifts building. I awed over the cute baby things and smelled the soaps and then we happily went back out into the rain, feeling as if we'd found a wonderful resource for the life we're building.

We plan to go back there when we need something they've got. We're happy to travel the distance to support a great business. So, if you're ever in the Ben Lomond area, check out Mountain Feed & Farm Supply. It's on Highway 9. They don't have a website, but you can find them on Yelp here: And if they don't have what you're looking for, let them know. They were very eager to hear what else customers would want them to carry. I have a list going that I'll pass on to them next time I'm there.