Two and a Half Jobs

Between us, Matt and I work two and a half jobs – his full-time job, my part-time job, and full-time childcare. This reality has really come home to me this week as I approach a work deadline. I work on a contract basis and my current contract is a rush job with a deadline fast approaching. Add this to a toddler who has had a recent nap strike and getting everything done has been a serious challenge.

Let’s not even discuss the garden or the bag of beets in the fridge waiting to be pickled and canned.

This realization was a much-needed dose of perspective this week. When the work piles up and I start feeling overwhelmed I get frustrated with myself. “Why can’t I get this done?” I ask myself.  Every once in awhile I need the reminder that what we’re doing isn’t easy so I can cut myself some slack about the backlog before hunkering back down to work. Speaking of which…..

Christ is Risen!

Pascha eggsChrist is Risen! For those in the Orthodox faith, this past weekend marked our Pascha (aka Easter). This was one of many years that the date of Pascha did not match up with the date of Western Easter. We had family visiting this year, which made things a bit more hectic than usual. We still found time to make tiramisu for the Paschal feast. We even made the marscapone ourselves. (It’s not hard to do but, predictably, I did not remember to take pictures.) And of course we dyed Easter eggs, though this year we took the easy route and used purchased dye. That lovely marbling effect is a result of toddler finger smudges, frequent re-dying by said toddler, and cheap grocery store eggs (the tiramisu used a lot more than we expected). All in all, a very good Pascha even if it did take us about 3 days to climb out of the resulting sleepy, fog. Now for another Easter tradition – rainbow egg salad!

Homesteaders need Community

The house we rent in Kentucky is across the street from two of our best friends and fellow homesteaders. It’s nice having friends nearby for impromptu Saturday night fish fry’s or brewing parties. But as homesteaders, community is more than just a nice social feature – it’s a necessity. In the 70′s many gave up modern life to move back to the land. Although some back-to-the-landers stuck it out and prospered, many eventually gave it up. Much of the problem, I believe, is that they lacked community.

There are practical as well as psychological reasons that community is important. On the practical side, having like-minded folks nearby means that you can share equipment, barter for goods and services, and learn skills from those neighbors. We borrow tools, brewing equipment, and gardening supplies back and forth constantly. We’ve helped each other with countless projects and tasks. (How many people have a neighbor who pops over to borrow a cup of peat moss?) As we get further into homesteading these benefits will be even greater. We can split the cost of a tractor, barter half a cow for half a pig, help each other build our homes, and tend each others’ livestock while we’re on vacation.

Plus, with a community of like-minded folks we don’t have to specialize in every skill to achieve a self-sufficient(ish) lifestyle.  If soap-making isn’t our cup of tea, that’s ok because we can trade some homemade cheese with the couple down the way.

There are also serious psychological benefits. There are going to be rough days. Having someone to commiserate with and laugh about your troubles can mean the difference between moving on and moving out.  And when you have to knuckle down and do the tough work, it goes so much easier when you have friends to share the grunt work.

Although people certain can, and do, successfully homestead without community most of us fare much better and are much happier with it. Next time I’ll discuss the importance of community more broadly.

Tutorial: Build a composter from a trash can

For several years we’ve had the problem of overflowing our little tumble composter. Now that we have a little more space (and don’t have to sneak around “refuse” policies), we can finally expand to a second composter. Here are instructions for making a super easy composter. I knocked this compost bin together in about an hour using all stuff we had laying around and with a toddler “helping” me.

Finished composter

You will need:

  • A trash can with a lid (used is fine)
  • Water, biodegradable soap, and washcloth or scrub brush
  • Drill with 1/4 drill bit that is suitable to the material of your trash can

First, if your trash can is used, give it a good scrub. Biodegradable soap means that you don’t have to worry about any residue. We used our vegetable-based dish soap. This trash can was left by the previous tenants and, even though we hadn’t used it, I thought a really good scrub was probably for the best. Julie had a lot of fun washing the lid (after I gave it a quick once-over to get off the ick). So much fun that I had trouble prying her off of it.

Washing the trash can lid

Second, drill holes. LOTS of holes. Compost needs air and it needs to be moist, but not wet. Having lots of holes helps with both problems. Make sure to get some holes down towards the bottom just in case some really soupy vegetables wind up in there or the lid blows off during a monsoon. Julie’s self-ascribed job was to turn the trash can so I could drill more holes.

Rolling the trash can

She liked this job.

More rolling

REALLY liked this job.

 

More and more rolling

A lot.

Third, start making compost.  Next week I’ll have a post detailing our (lazy) method of making compost.

New composter in use

Forever Homestead: Cautiously Optimistic

Our path to our forever homestead hasn’t been so much a straight line as a drunken-stagger-in-the-general-vicinity-of-a-homestead. It took us awhile to define what, precisely, we wanted. Even now details are sketchy. But every stagger closer helps us define what we want.

The move back to Kentucky was prompted by the realization that we want to settle down closer to friends and family, neither of which was going to happen in Illinois. Now that we’re back in the Bluegrass state we’ve, ever so slowly, started looking at land. Sometime in the next couple of weeks (in addition to contract deadlines and Holy Week) we’re going to squeeze in a trip to look at some promising pieces of land and talk to folks in the area who have successfully done green building projects. It’s a long way from being settled on our own piece of land but it’s exciting to be started.

 

Beginnings of a cottage garden

Our new house has one small raised bed for vegetables. Although the landlords don’t want us to dig up sod for a bigger vegetable garden, we’ve been given more of less free-range on the existing landscaped beds around the house.

Cottage garden beforeThis bed on the north west side of the house was a little less than inspiring. So we’re converting the large front bed to a cottage garden style bed with a mixtures of existing flowering perennial trees and shrubs, herbs, flowers, and vegetables.

A month ago we ripped out the shredded, ineffective plastic ground cover and extended the bed out slightly by turning the sod over.

Cottage garden in progressEarlier this week we finally finished prepping the bed. I pulled out weeds and broke up the soil. The decomposing, overturned grass made for some very happy worms. Julie and I had a long discussion about the various qualities of worms: they’re brown, they squirm, and they’re nice because they make our plants big and strong.

Julie helping with the cottage garden

Julie helped with some with the weeding and soil breaking but mostly spent the time wheeling tractors of dirt around.

Cottage garden prep in progressA thorough weeding and soil loosening got it looking a lot better.

Cottage garden prep doneNearly a cubic foot of composted horse manure later and we have the beginnings of a very respectable cottage garden. Some light clean up is in order but otherwise we’ll be ready to plant if the weather ever decides to stay warm.

I am not a craft blogger: Part 2

Fixed slipcoverI finished this over a week ago but what with potty training, work deadlines, and general disgust with the project I’m just now getting around to posting about it.

After ripping seams (and ripping seams and ripping seams), I made a new template and cut the pieces down to size.

Some more sewing, and I have something respectable looking. Now I just have to muster up the motivation to make covers for the pillows I was trying to make covers for in the first place.

A knitted surprise

Knitting SurpriseI have spent the last week working on a surprise for Julie.

I told myself I would put away the knitting needles and move on to other endeavors but as it turns out you can’t tuck a sewing machine under your elbow and sew while following your toddler around the house and asking them “Do you need to potty?” every three seconds.

Ahem.

So this is my potty-training-project. A little surprise for my big girl (who is thankfully almost, nearly, kind-of potty trained now).

When I actually finish the project, I’ll post about it. In the meantime just a few words of wisdom: if you give a toddler a choice of yarns they will inevitably choose the yarn that is scented. (You, being a sane person, wouldn’t even think to look for such a thing because who scents yarn?) Then you will find yourself endlessly sniffling, scratching your nose, and wondering just how bad the resultant knot of yarn would be if you just tossed the whole ball in the washer.

Cloth Diapers: So easy a toddler could do it

Cloth diapering done by a toddlerAt my baby shower a well-meaning lady asked me: “You do know what you’re getting into, right?”. After obsessively reading the internet to learn about all the options, we did have a pretty good idea of what we were getting into.

Recently, when telling a friend about cloth diapering she said (a little incredulous) “So you stuck it out?” Yes, we did. For all that it can seem daunting, it’s really not that bad. And if you do run into glitches there are plenty of good websites with information to help you out.

Cloth diapering is old hat to us now which, of course, means it’s time for the next step – potty training. Prayers and well-wishes appreciated.

I am not a craft blogger

 

I love reading sewing and crafting blogs. Made by Rae and Dana Made It make me itch to grab a sewing machine and I would read Sew Liberated even if there weren’t glossy pictures of sewing eyecandy. While I have no aspirations of being a diva of the craft blog world, I do make things – like this sprout hat that I knit for Julie in less than a week (after ripping it out 3 times trying to get the gauge right) – and once in awhile I like to pretend.

Sprout hat

We bought a slipcover for our new couch. With a dog and toddler I have no delusions that the couch will stay immaculate and I’d rather have something I can throw in the wash when the inevitable happens. I need to make slipcovers for the throw pillows, though. “I know, I’ll take pictures and blog about it” I thought. “It’ll be fun!” I thought.

I measured the edge of the pillows at 18.5 inches. I remeasured again to make sure. I then calculated out the size of each piece and drafted up pattern pieces. Easy peasy.

Slipcover pattern

I just so happened to have fabric and piping in my stash that would work. (It may have been purchased to make slipcovers for the old futon pillows. Five years ago. Ahem.) A quick iron, cut, and assembly later and I was nearly done.

Pillow slipcover

I decided to try out the first for fit before putting the last seams in the second one.

Pillow slipcover oops

Oh dear.

Advanced statistical modeling? No problem! Mapping out brain functionality from memory? You betcha! But basic math, measuring a straight line, or taking a photo without my feet in it – no so much.

Sigh.

Plan B is to cut this down to fit the smaller throw pillows on our couch. But first I must consume chocolate.

SLipcover plan B