Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bee Happy

Well, we are real beekeepers now. And by "real beekeepers" I mean there is a really irate hive slowly dying and plotting against us in a box on our property. To get the beekeeping homesteading badge, I have to keep them alive long enough to actually get some honey. The professional we hired to move them from the master bedroom to the far edge of the property said they had about a 50% chance of success. However, he never met me or read this blog before giving that outlook to Richard, so honestly I'm putting it more in the 5%-10% range.

Though we have always wanted to keep bees, it definitely was not the homesteading project we planned to tackle first. We wanted to start with mowing the lawn and maybe growing some zucchini, then advance to chickens, and in 10 years get brave enough to keep bees, but God had different plans. I am not kidding that having a gigantic bee hive in the master bedroom was a big selling point to Richard. Who am I to rain on his bee parade? Okay, let's keep bees, I say. We will see how it goes.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Floorplan Finalizing

After viewing the house a second time on Wednesday to get a formal quote from the contractor, I am feeling much better about it. The first time I saw it, it seemed very funky and that it would take so much to actually like it. Slowly I am becoming charmed by it, and we decided not to change a lot of the things we had planned on changing originally.

The floorplan will change very little. The place that is supposed to be the dining nook is too small. Some people would be trapped until others were done eating, so we will knock down the wall that separates it from the living room. Doing this will also give us more flexibility with furniture placement so that the table does not absolutely have to go in that corner.

With the kitchen we will take out a few feet of wall between it and the living room. We would like to totally take out the wall to create an island, but that would mean losing too much cabinet space. We will remove one overhead cabinet above the bar that partially separates the kitchen from the former dining nook. It will make it seem less closed off, and the cabinet was just a big box, no shelves, and was really too high for me to reach any way.

Above all the cabinets is a sloped soffit covered in 1970s paneling. Why sloped? Why paneling? Why did they do this at all? I don't know. The answers (in order) are probably: We thought it looked cool. Everyone else was doing it. Then I won't have to dust up there any more. I totally get the last answer, but right now it feels like the ceiling is trying to come to a point right above your head. Also, any time you can take a sledgehammer to paneling is a good time. Plus, it will give me storage space above my cabinets.

We are putting a door between one of the bedrooms and living room. Right now, you can only get to the second bedroom by passing through the first bedroom. I see this a lot in old houses, and I cannot figure out the reason. Was it to keep a better eye on your kids? I guess before the rampant moral decay of our culture, being sure you knew where your kids were at all times was a very noble duty. I actually really like that the two bedrooms are connected by a door. It fits our family's values. It makes it more like one big family bedroom.

One big change is adding a half bath in what is currently a corner in the living room. Right now the one bathroom is only accessible by going through a third bedroom or by going through our bedroom plus a laundry room. Though originally we were going to add a full bath, we decided against it because 1.) We don't want to lose that much space in the living room, 2.) You can't run two showers at the same time anyway, 3.) it will save money, and 4.) any future buyers who find 1.5 bathrooms a deal breaker probably won't look at a 1300 square foot home anyway.

I will try to post some actual pictures next time. I only got a couple pictures because I started getting attacked by bees and running around like a crazy person and screaming "I don't like bees! I don't like bees!" Richard was outside with the kids at the time, so I am not sure who I was talking to, but it felt good to express myself.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Excitement Builds

We are getting pretty excited about having four acres for our “homestead.” I cannot even say that out loud without laughing at myself. Yes, there will be some major plant massacres on that property when I get my hands on it. I eventually want to try to raise livestock, but I will put it off for a while. I don’t want this blog getting too macabre too quickly. I can see it now: And here’s another photo of another dead goat. Maybe they are supposed to be watered like plants? Oh well, live and learn. I mean, I will be living and learning, not the goats…or chickens…or cows…

How does one even bury a cow? (shudder) I hope I never have to write a post with that title. Okay, it has already gotten too macabre.

Moving on to something more positive, I am actually becoming optimistic and even a bit excited about raising a growing family in 1295 square feet. Only in modern times would that amount of space be considered a sacrifice for a family of four. According to the US census bureau, in 1950 the average new home being built was 983 square feet. In 1983 (the year I was born) it was up to 1725. In 2010 it was 2392. That’s down from the high of 2519 in 2008.

I am looking forward to the challenge of being creative with space and being forced to keep clutter to a minimum. That is something Richard and I agree on: we both hate clutter. Neither of us are the type of people that like to amass things. Our biggest problem is probably toys, so that will be a fun conversation to have with the grandparents. After 2.5 years and 2 children, I believe we have bought exactly 4 toys. And yet our children have a full toy chest and a full closet of toys. I actually told some people not to buy anything for Violet’s first birthday party, cruel mother that I am. That went over like a lead balloon. It didn’t work, and I looked like a jerk. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

How Does My Garden Grow?

It doesn’t, frankly, at least not for very long. In January I ordered some heirloom seeds online because that is what homesteaders do, right? I was really nervous about all the details since I have no idea what I am doing, and seed packets have only one or two sentences of explanation. I kept reading each seed packet over and over again to try to come up with a plan. I felt lost. The fifth time I started reading each pack I thought, “What am I doing?” I don’t think most people try to memorize seed packets and close their eyes to see if they remember how soon after last frost to put them in the ground. But that’s what I was doing. Then I decided to just paraphrase what the packet said in my own words and write the summary on the front of each packet. I don’t know why; I guess because I have a strange compulsion to make things very complicated. Then I went through each packet and put them in order of when they should be sown based on my summaries. Then I reread all my summaries and figured out that January 24th would be my first date of sowing. 

Of course I did nothing on that day. But eventually I did start some red bell pepper plants in a couple containers in my living room that I planned to transplant outside. The packet said to surface sow. I guessed that meant to sort of just drop them in or barely cover…I wasn’t sure which. So I just gave a handful of seeds to my 2-year-old and had her drop them in. Then we sort of rolled our hands around in the soil. I figured out of the 20 or so we dropped in, certainly 1 or 2 would be the right depth. I put the two pots in front of a window and moved on with my life. 

A few weeks later I planted some broccoli and cauliflower in big pots in the garage with the intention of moving them outside once the weather warmed up. I kind of forgot about them. One grew really leggy, and the other never germinated. I moved them both outside regardless, and nothing is really happening on that front. Big surprise.

I also planted some spinach in a little round flower bed in our back yard, which is not fun to do when it is 40 degrees outside with a toddler, and your infant is inside sleeping which he usually only does for no more than 15 minutes at a time. I majorly rushed through the whole thing, not even reading the seed packet while doing it. Despite that, a few weeks later the spinach was actually doing okay, I think. There were several different things growing in there, and I am confident at least one of them was spinach. Add "distinguishing between weeds and what you actually want to grow" to the list of skills I should acquire.

A few weeks ago while my parents were visiting, I had my dad help transplant the peppers to our front door flower bed since I had no idea how to do it. He asked me how my other stuff was doing. I mentioned to him that the spinach out back was the only thing that might actually have a chance. His face totally fell.

“That round little bed by the swing set?”


“I’m sorry.”

He looked the way you would expect a good father to look as he is delivering the news that he has crushed his baby girl’s dreams beyond all repair. 

“Violet kept wanting me to jump up and down in it, so we did. I didn't realize you had planted anything there. Sorry. Whatever was there is definitely gone now. I’m really sorry.”

See, I have a 2-year-old, and she is very bossy. My parents are very easy-going and loving people, so they do exactly as she commands them with no complaint and no regard for reason. 

I pretty much just gave up after that. My dad felt really guilty, but I thought it was a more glorious death for the spinach than what was otherwise in store for it. To make it up to me, he brought me up some well grown, robust tomato plants from his garden. He actually has gardening skills. They are still alive, but not producing or growing. They only look a little sad. I watered them today for the first time since he brought them a couple weeks ago. His at home which are the exact same age are producing little green tomatoes right now. Not mine. What a shocker. I am starting to think that watering may be my problem, like maybe I should do it every day or something. Currently I water once every couple weeks at most, or after they are dead, or more commonly never. That plan just has not been working for me.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Buying Our Homestead

We are now officially in escrow on a 4-acre property. We expect to close before the end of the month. We are absolutely in love with the land -- the house, not so much. I wish it were a cute old farm house, but it just is not. It was built in 1938, which is just barely out of the range of housing eras I like. It is 3 bedrooms and 1 bath with 1,295 square feet. It needs major work. We hope to knock out the repairs and be moved in by June 30th, since that is when our lease is up here. There is no character, no beautiful wood trim, no old windows, no vintage plumbing fixtures, no front porch, no wood floors, none of the things you would hope for in an old farm house. The ceiling is falling down. It needs a new roof. The bathroom needs to be completely gutted. We will add a bathroom and change the floor plan, since it is very funky. We are meeting with a contractor out there in a few days, so I will take plenty of pictures then and over time give a nauseating amount of details.

The land is absolutely gorgeous. It is square in shape with rolling mounds of wildflowers that work up to a ridge about halfway through the property, somewhat parallel to the road. It has a pond out back that is surrounded by trees. It has several outbuildings some of which I am tempted to call a barn, but I don’t really know what makes a building a barn, so I won’t. I mean, I would put animals in them; I am not sure if a professional homesteader would. It is rural with no residential neighbors in view. It is on a paved road and is only 5 minutes from town, a small county seat with just a few thousand people. This will be the second home we own. This is actually our third real estate deal in Arkansas. The other two did not work out. Originally we were the back-up offer on a meth house. Apparently meth houses are in high demand because we didn't get it. This is probably the 50th house we have looked at since moving here from California 2 years ago. We have made offers on 4 properties. If this one doesn’t work out, we are probably going to sell everything we own and move into a camper. That is no joke. Then I could change the name of this blog to The Portable Homestead Train Wreck.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

All Aboard

Hi. I want to write a blog about all the awesome things I grow and the animals I raise. I want to inspire you with my stories about making dandelion wine and lavender tea. I want to post about the goat cheese I make from my own goat milk. Oh, and about how I cloth diaper with the cotton I grow myself (organic, of course) and then spin it into cloth and then sew it into diapers. And, naturally, I have my own sheep herd from which I get my Angora covers. But I can’t do any of that. And yet in spite of, or maybe because of this (I do love a challenge) I want desperately to be a homesteader. 

I want to eat my own foods that I’ve grown, make tea from my awesome herb garden, milk a cow in the morning, spin my own yarn, let some milk sit on the counter for too long and call it yogurt. (I see people online do this all the time; their milk actually becomes yogurt, I swear.) Sometimes my toddler’s sippy cup sits in our 95 degree bedroom for 36 hours and it looks just like cottage cheese, but smells much worse. Next time I should just take a bunch of pictures and post it as a recipe on Pinterest.
I am used to succeeding in life. I have a college degree, a great family, and I landed my absolute dream job at age 25. That’s when I left the dreary world of drugstore management and became a real housewife of Lake County. Now I am a mother of two and living in Little Rock proper.

We currently rent a 1970s split level in a residential setting on about ¼ acre. We dream of having acres in the country, but for now this is our home. 

I am horrible at the following: gardening, preserving, sewing, knitting, all things animal related, handiwork, and generally making any sort of sacrifice in the name of quality over convenience. I stress out way too easily and also have a big procrastination problem (i.e. “I’ll water the tomatoes next week”). Oh, and I am also the poster woman for over confidence. I have absolutely no doubt in myself, which makes me very dangerous to plants and animals. 

I rationally know that me + homesteading = very bad idea, but I just can’t help myself. I cannot stand not to attempt to accomplish my dreams, though I believe them to be a futile endeavor.