Sunday, February 27, 2011

Time Flies When We Are Having Fun....

As the kids are getting older, seemingly faster every second, I have found myself thinking about the shoulda, coulda, woulda, know the things that if the right opportunity had come along you would have actually done.  Each day is taking on new meaning, and I don't want to waste a single one.  Not that I regret any part of my life, as every moment good or bad has made me into the woman I am today, but now that the boys are needing less and less of my time I have been daydreaming more of things that I would like to do.  For most of the past 16 years (one month short of 17 that I don't want to admit has gone by) I have had little humans as my number one on the agenda.  Now almost exactly one month before my oldest is going to be the age I don't want to admit to, I am thinking about what I could accomplish in the next long stretch of unmentionable years...

Over the years these thoughts have come and gone with little gusto but yesterday I visited a fellow homesteader who had purchased some geese from us in the past, and in our chattering about this and that I mentioned my love for re-purposing around the farm.  She quickly ran in the house and brought out her newest bit of crafty genius.  A saddlebag crocheted out of used plastic shopping bags.  In one second my heart was filled with so much emotion.  This lady has lived so much like I have wanted to live my own life.  She has raised her children to be better people having some of her children literally all over the world doing missionary work. One in Africa and one in South America teaching the children in these countries to be more self sufficient which is where this wonderful idea is being used to teach the children there to make these bags to sell so they can support their families.
 She had fed them with things she has grown on her farm. Even before the movement of becoming organic families was the thing to do.  Her animals raised with love and care as because they are what were nourishing her beloved family.  But there was also a sadness as she told me that one she had made, the saddle bag that was right in front of me was for her Oncologist.  Just the week before she had called me to tell me she was recently diagnosed with cancer. It made my heart ache.  It was a reality that has unfortunately hit me before and each time I used it for different reasons.  Although some stand out more than others. When my youngest son was recovering from a his life treating bout with bacterial meningitis and we almost lost him, I made a vow to spend more time with the kids and make the time I spent with them count.  When my brother Vinny died I made it a point to keep the stories about our childhood, our family and the past alive in the lives of my children so they could tell theirs.  When my mother in law passed I started writing my cook book so that my children will remember me the same way my husband remembers her when I make a dish that she would make.  The kind of memory you can almost touch it is so real that when you close your eyes you are sitting there with them and the comfort is one that only they could give.  The reality is that we are only given a certain amount of time, and we have no idea how long or short it will be and wasting any part of it can only be called foolish.  So again I am on a mission to see what my time can be filled with.  Not just to make my time go by more quickly but things that will have purpose in my life and those around me.  Making the time that goes by meaningful and memorable. 

I would love to learn how to use my sewing machine...

Yes I have one and have had it for 3 years but the directions are in Chinese and well, I don't know how to read Chinese...(that will not be one of the things on my list however nice it would be to learn another language someday) I know how to do everyday sewing like a button, or a seam, if necessary, and I have made a costume or two, and a few hems that although did not hold up that long, by the time they fell out the kids were tall enough to fill the length of the pants that I hemmed anyway.  In my head though, I have so many ideas.  Maybe if I had a little girl I would have moved this up on my list of things to learn sooner as it might have taken more of a priority to me, but the fact of the matter is that I still have all these ideas and patterns in my head, dresses and curtains, pillows, and quilts it would be nice to be able learn how to make at least a few them.

I would also like to learn to crochet or knit...or maybe both...

Maybe make some blankets or scarfs, hats, and mittens for the kids.  I may even make one of those silly toilet paper cover dolls, with the crochet dresses that my grandma used to make or a toaster cozy...

I don't know why, but I am also not very good at staying on task to complete things, which is not always my fault as all you moms know.  It seems that as soon as you get into something someone always needs your help with something else (not that I am complaining), which is also one of the things that has happened less around here and I seem to have these strange and unfamiliar stretches of time I have never had before. Long enough to make me think that maybe I can finish something.  I do have to admit that this is only 1/4 of the reason that I haven't embarked on this before, the other 1/4 is that I am not the most organized person in the world.  Although, in my head everything is perfect and orderly labeled and filed in it's appropriate place. The other 1/4 is some kind of adult onset ADHD that seems to make it impossible for me to start something without getting sidetracked to something else that takes precedent on being started...(it's a vicious cycle) Which again, I think that has something to do with being Mom, as I don't really think that it would all have the same importance if it was just for myself. It is also the reason that it took me until I was done typing this,  read and reread it a billion times, posted it and then it took my 13 year old (who has also just corrected me and told me he was 14 *sigh*) to tell me that I left out the last 1/4...Oh well, you get my drift.   It seems that lately I have actually finished thoughts that started 17 years!

Over the years I have learned how to do so many things. Some I like more than others but none of those things I learned to do out of mere curiosity and some I never really even wanted to learn, but I learned to do out of necessity.  Those I can cross off my more expanded list, like maybe numbers 110-130...(*note to self*cross off...tiling floors, laying brick, hardwood, painting, framing, sheetrock & plumbing) More of household repairs than a hobby but those are the things that filled this rapidly emptying time slot before.  Nothing that any girl growing up in Jersey thinks she will ever need to know.  I have to say that I do feel accomplished for learning how to do those things and it's nice to be able to say when someone comments on something in my house that I built or repaired them all by myself and maybe in another life I would have loved to do those things as a hobby but really as much as I like the finished product not many of those things have cured my need for craftiness.  Starting a project that took more time to prepare to do or to clean up after than the actual project took to complete seemed daunting but I was also unrealistic about what my expectations were for myself.  Something that I can put down and go back to, now that is a project that seems like a good pair with me...something that can take up that busy time, help me unwind, and think, and plan, and pray, while lulling a part of me that is filled with the unknown which lie ahead.   

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Getting The Most Out Of Reclaimed Wood

This is our ugly barn.  Really that's what we call it.  We have what we call the "chicken barn" which is where all our layers stay, up near the house, and the ugly barn that sits as an eyesore in the field.  It does have it's good qualities and thank goodness looks much better on the inside than the out.  This farm was at one time a pig farm.  The barn was set up with a well system and automatic water troughs with self fill float devices (none of which are working now and are far down the "honey do" list).  The doors on the outside of the barn for each stall were supposed to slide up with a string and pully mechanism hooked on the inside of the barn (another thing on the list of restorations), and the floor in the whole barn is concreted with spillways and gutters leading out in both the center isle and on the outside wall of each stall which makes it so much easier to clean than dirt floors.  Somewhere along the way the actual stalls were torn down and when we purchased the property it was just a wide open barn (filled with a whole lot of junk) with a few reminders of what it used to look like.  You have to be able to see past what an old barn may look like to see it's full potential.  After a few years of work, this is our barn now....Still ugly I know but it is functional and with some hard work and very little money it now safely houses the animals that make this place worth working for.

 The stalls are made of reclaimed lumber from pallets and some cull pieces from the lumber yard.  The only things we had to purchase for making them were a couple 2x4's and 6- 2x6x12's from the lumber yard for support rails.

Notice the milk stand that we made out of the pallets also.  I prefer to milk the goats while standing it is much better for my bad back so when we made this we kept that in mind.  We also made a ramp that folds up to save space if needed. When disassembling pallets do not pull them apart.  Use a sawzall with a fine blade for cutting through the nails and pre-drill each board before screwing them into place to avoid cracking.  It is a little tedious but makes all the difference.

For the turkey pen we used pallet wood and 4- 1x4x10's so that we could enclose the whole thing to protect the babies from the raccoons and weasels...the chicken wire was left here by the previous owner so that was a freebie also...The roost was made from a clothes rack that was being thrown away at the local flea-market.  Old closet rod brackets screwed in to the walls are great to hold bird waterers and the kick plate at the bottom helps keep in the shaving.  (Note: The bottom sill does not sit on the floor but an inch or so above to let water flow out into the gutter for easy cleaning)

The slide up doors are very convenient for letting the animals in and out without having to go into the barn to do so.  We repaired most of them with the press board that was screwed to the bottom of the pallets and cut them to size.  Most of the outdoor channel slides were repaired with pallet boards also. 

We use old bungee cords to hold the doors up for all but the pigs who have figured out how lift them to let themselves in and out on their own. (Naughty pigs! They are a whole other story)  We also made the roosts out of some pallet wood and one out of the other half of the old cloths rack they were throwing away from the flea-market.
By the time all was said and done we had spent under $150 on materials most of which was screws, hinges and lock for each stall and built 3 stalls, a special birthing stall for the goats, and 3 bird aviaries for our chickens, turkeys and geese.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


I was struggling with what my first post would be, seeing that I have about 8 years of ideas to write about, choosing wasn't easy so I woke up this morning and had a message on my FB from a good friend.  A nice word of encouragement about this new blog and an interest in maybe seeing something about canning on this page.  So here goes....(thank you C.P.) When I first started a garden here I thought and dreamed about tons of fresh veggies then I woke up one day and that is what I had TONS of fresh organic vegetables! Great right? Yes and no...I went overboard with my planting wanting to get right into being a farmer that I didn't think ahead to stagger my harvest.  So I had 5 kinds of tomatoes, 3 kinds of cucumbers, 3 kinds of green beans, lettuce oh my did I have lettuce I don't even remember how many kinds we planted but it was more than my crisper could handle that's for sure...We had asparagus, pumpkins, watermelon, corn, squash, zucchini, strawberries and blueberries, onions and potatoes, and more basil than I could use in 3 years...I gave some away to the very few people I know out here and then sat down with a book about canning.  Couldn't be that hard...I could just in-vision my pantry shelves neatly stocked with veggies we grew with our own bare hands.  All different sizes of glass mason jars bearing home made labels...well that was a vision...little did I know how much time it takes to actually can that many vegetables...pealing tomatoes skins took 4 days, green beans took another 2 and making pickles took 3 more days...It is an all day process and once you start there is no sence in stopping until it is done because there is a LOT of clean up the end my kitchen look like it was hit with a tornado, my hands were raw from the acid of the tomatoes and the vinegar from pickling and I was too tired to do anything else that needed to be done.  And then when I sat there staring at the empty cases of mason jars that I had just spent a weeks salary on it hit me...I DON'T LIKE CANNED VEGETABLES! Why did I just take beautiful, bright, crisp, green beans and can them into salty water so I can pull them out in a couple months and serve mushy green beans? Granted they do taste better from a jar then they do a can and someday I am sure that the overhead of buying all the jars will eventually go back to the black...but truly it wasn't what I wanted for my family...So we shopped around and purchased a stand up deep freezer.  Not that canning doesn't have it's place...We still can tomatoes and some mixed bean salad, garlic pickles, and for my country husband tomatoes and macaroni are on this years list (which for a Jersey girl growing up with great Italian food it sounds disgusting to me, but he loves it so I will do it for him) So now we freeze almost everything...and I have learned to stagger my harvest by planting a few weeks apart making sure we have fresh vegetable all summer long. (I will address that more in another post) I make a few huge pots of tomato sauce over the summer and freeze them quart size containers (which greatly helps reduce the piles of basil everywhere too).  I grate my zucchini and put 3 cups to a container for my zucchini bread recipe (will post later) I blanch and freeze my spinach and asparagus, and I cook and cube my pumpkin and squashes for pies and casseroles before freezing them in their future recipe measurements for easy use later on.  I guess it was one of those things that I thought I had to be able to do in order to feel like I was really a country girl :) What I have found out is that it takes a lot of time.  If you have the time and like canned vegetable sure it is a good thing to learn.  For me I am going to stick to freezing most of our produce, canning just a few things maybe one or two days during the summer and spending the time saved with my family...