Sunday, January 4, 2015

So Where Have We Been?

2014 was an extremely busy year and we decided to just drop the blog for awhile since it seemed that what was once a unique life change has just morphed into our happy other words, we have now lived here for 5 years and it no longer feels new or unusual enough to blog about. We have been totally and completely assimilated by the small farm life and we cannot imagine ever reverting to our former life or living in town.

But....I was recently contacted by a disabled elderly lady who lives in a country where rural living like we do is nothing but a dream and she implored for an update. It was interesting to hear her take on the fact that the United States still holds that romance of "the old West" where folks could pick out a piece of land and make a go of it in the old ways. To her, having this much land and being able to hunt and grow our own food is fascinating and even the extreme poverty in the area is strangely exotic to her compared to her country and the contrast between what the world sees as rich Americans in big fancy cars in NY or LA and the poverty of rural areas like the Ozarks is just puzzling to her and her friends.

So here is a brief update on whats been happening in our area. The economy has slowly been picking up and layoffs have dropped off in the factories that many of the folks around here commute to which overall is good. Springfield is the nearest big city about an hours drive from here and they seem to be having a mini boom right now with numerous construction projects and manufacturing relocations to the area. To the east of us also about an hours drive, Ft Leonard Wood has been hit with cut backs, layoffs, and downsizing due to sequestration and there is no real hope of improvement in the near future. Many of the fairly decent paying jobs have been eliminated or new hire opportunities frozen.

One interesting development though is that a large group of Pennsylvania Amish have decided to relocate to our section of rural Missouri and they have bought up many of the larger farms around us. I am actually kind of unsure of this development since land prices are now going up significantly and we are of course always looking to buy more land ourselves but overall I think its a positive development. They bring in plenty of money and will not tax the minimal services of the county, they will be opening some businesses in the area, and they will be fixing up some of the farms around here that have kind of fallen on hard times. Another plus is that though they are not without crime themselves, they generally are peaceful and take care of issues in their communities so that they don't become a blight.

On a personal note, we had a very successful growing season, Holly did well with the business and growing her clientele to the point where she will be doing an Ag show in Iowa this spring, and I have been going to college full time since last May and I have now started my third year with a Major in Fire Science Technology and Practical Nursing. Overall, despite some chronic pain with the spine its been a very productive year and we start 2015 with many new plans for the farm and for our many interests.

Shortly after we left off last April with our last post we redid Holly's shop in the rock garage. I built her a work bench and she put her Craftsman top box and red steel workbench where she wanted it and now has a nice place to do some of her projects.
We found this 1950 O'keefe and Merrit gas stove for cheap and it now sits in our garage waiting to be refurbished and installed in the kitchen. Its an awesome stove that will fit in perfectly with our country kitchen but man its heavy.
We added the third section of the tiered planters in the side yard and added several additional raised beds. We have been adding 3 or 4 a year and will add some more this spring with the ultimate goal of having a nice walk through garden surrounding our two green houses.
Man this picture makes me long for spring. We didn't get to the repairs of the big barn we had planned last year but we did expand the barnyard which made less grass to mow and gave the sheep about double the bottom pasture.
Just about every crop produced in abundance this past year with the exception of beets. In 2013 we had so many beets we didnt know what to do with them, in 2014 we just couldn't get the crop going for some reason.
We grew 6 different types of tomatoes this last year and had a bumper crop. In fact, we over did it and literally were feeding tomatoes to the chickens and we probably had a hundred pounds or more rot on the vines before we could get them all harvested and dealt with. We will cut back on the number of varieties and the number of plants this year. They sure tasted good though and we canned, froze and dehydrated them as well as sold a bunch.
It was also a banner year for our hay fields. We fertilized this year and the hay really showed the benefits of the fertilization. We have been feeding hay to the cattle and sheep now since early November and they really like the lush green hay we have put up.
 The orchard produced very well though we lost the peaches and plums to a late frost.

I picked up another little project, a 1963 Dodge Utiline with a polyhead 318 and a 4 speed. $800, couldn't pass it up.
The 1991 Dodge D-150 is now in the shop getting a new front quarter panel and other body work in prep for a paint job this spring. This thing is in cherry condition and I enjoy working on it a lot especially now that we have electricity in the shop. The 1963 will be a lot more challenging.
 And here is a hoot. I put the 86 into a local car show and took second place antique truck......there were only three entries in that category! Its a nice trophy and I got a dash plaque so it will go into the shop as a conversation piece for my "award winning" truck (Ha)!
And then fall hit and it was a mild one. Fall is our favorite time of the year, hunting season approaches, the harvest lows, temps moderate and the colors come out.
We took advantage of the off season this fall to install a new propane furnace and new AC, both made by Lennox. Our old units were 25 years old and starting to break down on a regular basis and we replaced them with ultra quiet 95% efficient units compared to the 80% efficiency of the old units. To be honest I don't really know what that means in real terms but it sounded good didn't it?
Fall was mild but like everything else it didn't last and its now cold and deep into winter but we have laid in a stock of wood and will be cutting more soon.
And we closed out 2014 with a very nice and relaxing Christmas in our newly renovated living room. Old Bandit is still around and hobbling a bit in his old age but he liked the lights on the tree and decided to nap in the red wing back chair a lot. Normally we wouldn't let him on the living room furniture but you know, it really didn't hurt anything and it gave him great pleasure so why not.
Out of the big projects planned for last year we completed (in addition to the expansion of the barnyard and electric to the shop) the renovation of the living room. Its now 90% completed and is very bright and relaxing.
 We also completed the deck on the back of the house. Its now been stained and though I still need to close off the man door and move it to the left below the deck its very useful and we enjoy sitting out there and watching the birds, even in the winter.

So that brings us up to date with the blog. It was a busy year and though like everyone else we have ups and downs life is good and when I see whats on the news I continue to be grateful we are able to live where we do and we do not regret our retirement choice at all. 

I will endeavor to update the blog more frequently in this new year!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

An Evenings Walk and Rigging for Heavy Weather

Late yesterday afternoon we took a nice leisurely walk around the farm and then came home and had our neighbor Roger over for some homemade soup. It was a nice close to the day and though it may not sound exciting to some it has become a common routine for us and we find it's very satisfying.

Our farm is small and we would love to have more land than the 23 acres we currently farm but I think that having that little amount of land gives us a more intimate connection with our land than if we had a bigger parcel. We know our trees, bushes, roads, wildlife etc almost as old friends and its our oasis in this increasingly chaotic world. Likewise we have come to think of our small community as the most literal sense. We care about what happens here, we grieve when one of our neighbors passes, and we enjoy the feeling of being "home" here where when we are working in our yard just about everyone who passes waves or honks and people stop by for no other reason than just to visit.

We worked hard this day and before we took our walk we sat out back and had a cold drink of water and sat a spell. This time of year is nice with cool evenings, everything is awakening from winter slumber, and we seem to get a spurt of energy and tackle big projects. The down side is we both suffer from a lifetime of hard physical activity and the aches and pains remind us that we need to slow down and use moderation sometimes. I am right handed and suffer from arthritis in my right hand that requires surgery to re-set some previously broken bones (its particularly swollen in this picture), my back causes much pain and Holly has a hip that needs replacement but we are just too busy for all that so we make due. Bandit is also aging out and can hardly get into our laps anymore and though we may all look funny going on our walks with all of us limping..they are happy and satisfied limps!

We greatly expanded the lower sheep pen yesterday which put some previously unused grass into good use while removing yet more grass from my mowing schedule.

Tulip and Cocoa really like it and we have purchased a new Ewe to join them and we should have her in about two weeks. We will then breed them all to Nike (our ram who is kept in a separate pasture) later this summer.

This is one of the barn cats who just had a litter of kittens. She is wild and we cant get close to her but she made a nest in the Sheep's pen in the barn and they all (the mother cat, her kittens, and the two Ewes) lay together in the straw and are very protective of each other. The barn cats keep to themselves and subsist on rodents and the occasional rabbit so they earn their keep and they are part of what makes this farm feel alive.

We poured this back patio for Judy 3 years ago and she planted a bunch of bushes, trees and flowers and she now has a very pleasant place to sit and enjoy life. The snowball Viburnum in the back has the most fragrant blooms and the whole area smells life a flowered perfume.
We started our walk this particular evening by going from Judy's place where we saw the Viburnum in the picture previously to the side of our farm house where this apple tree and Eastern Red Bud are in full bloom. This area was completely overgrown when we bought this place and we didn't even know the apple tree was there until the second year we were here and the Red Bud was just a foot tall twig. It was about 75 with a slight breeze and all we could hear were hundreds of song birds and the occasional cow in the distance.

We have already started to advertise for our opening day on 1 May and I believe we have counted over 1000 different offerings so far...vegetable and flower starts, bushes, trees, quilts, hanging baskets...its been a busy year so far.

Turning towards the road to our south pasture we have this Bridal Spirea with several large Lilacs in the background that are just starting to show signs of blooming...maybe another week or so and we will have beautiful purple flowers all over them.

One of our projects this year was to treat the wooden fence posts with stain/sealer and refurbish the gates and we started with this one. This was an old gate painted blue and we sanded it, primed it and painted it Oliver green enamel and we think it looks a lot better.

We fertilized the pasture a week or so ago and with the rain we have been having the pastures have gotten off to a good start. We enjoy seeing all of the wild life on our farm and we have lots of rabbits like this little guy, squirrels, Wild Turkey, deer, raccoons, opossum, armadillos, and there has been a panther spotted and photographed via a game camera a couple farms away. There is even a black bear family that has been raiding garbage cans in the area though we haven't seen them yet.
We never get to walk alone. If we are in the cattle pastures the cows follow us like dogs, in our south pasture like this day you can see Bandit off in the distance, with President Grant (the white cat), Piggy (in the middle) and Whiskers leading out in front of us. They will run ahead and then lay in the road waiting for us then repeat the cycle and we enjoy their company. Bandit just showed up at the farm when we moved in and never left, President Grant was from a barn cat litter, Piggy was thrown from a moving car and showed up on our doorstep a couple years ago seriously injured, and Whiskers was a pound rescue. They seem to know they have it good and got a second chance and they all add a lot to our enjoyment of this place.

This is a beautiful Flowering Dogwood that we have plans to highlight by clearing out some of the surrounding Cedars and brush...just not today.

This is an old apple tree that probably goes back to around when this farm was first established in the early 1900s and it is full of blooms. It was buried by Cedars and wild grape vines until we cleared out around it and we are hoping to get a lot of apples from it this year.

Its nice walking your own property and looking towards our farmhouse in this picture we can see all that we have built so far and mostly what we think is how awesome it is that we had this opportunity.

You can see the old pig barn in the foreground buried in the trees and our newest building the pole barn shop in the very back. This place was pretty well abandoned when we bought it but we could see the potential and it had everything we were looking for at a fire sale price. What some saw as a run down old abandoned farm we saw as a home.

This farm was a blank slate for us to build our dream and when we look at even simple things like this fence line we know that it was our hands and our labor that built it...we pounded every single T-post on the place, sunk every corner post, strung every piece of barbed wire, reclaimed over grazed and weed infested pasture, landscaped, planted, built and repaired structures and made the place live again. Our farm is much like our animals in that it was given a second chance and its repaid us many times over. We followed our hearts instead of our heads with this place and I think if we had really sat down and thought about it long enough we would have talked ourselves out of  tackling this.....but we are truly glad we are both romantics.

They don't show up too well but a raccoon had crossed here right before we got to this muddy part of the south road. This road needs constant maintenance and I need to box blade it as its full of ruts right now but its an interesting place to see various tracks.

The bitter winter has been hard on a lot of plants and we were fearful that our grapes might have been lost but the grape arbor is budding out and the fledgling vineyard also survived.

All of our chickens are doing well with the more moderate weather and we are looking at adding ducks and quail to our livestock...that project will follow in a future post.

Judy planted a Hosta garden that is thriving and we have lots of Hostas for sale. This corner of the farmhouse seems to suit them well and they all survived the brutal winter.
As for rigging for heavy weather, the was the NEXRAD earlier today and we were under threat of possible tornadoes, wind to 70 mph, severe thunder and lightening and tennis ball sized hail so we had to button everything up and get all the plants indoors.

We moved the plants into the greenhouses and basement and put anything that could blow away or be damaged from hail under cover.

We are together every day working on the farm and have been together as a couple for 20 years and I still find her just as beautiful and sexy as the day we first met. But even more important, we are best friends and we just enjoy each others company. I couldn't have asked for a better partner in life.

All of our plants are grown from seeds or cuttings and this takes a lot more work than it might first seem.

So we didn't want to lose anything to the storm and some plantings ended up back in the basement. Most of the storm has now passed but we are still under tornado and severe storm warnings for the next 24 hours as this storm lingers and its just part of living around here. We didn't get as high of wind gusts as expected (we only got to about 40 mph), no hail yet, and the rain, though heavy, was actually much needed and didn't come down in the gully washers we have had before. We will stay up until about midnight tonight, check the radar, and then probably go to bed and get ready for tomorrow.
Finally, since I passed my 6 months of Fire School and got certified as a FF II and am not starting college until June I couldn't let May slip by without something to occupy my time so I am now attending the Fire Service Instructor I course that starts this coming Friday. This will also require a lot of study and sitting for state exams at the state capital for national certification after completion of the course.....Holly thinks I'm nuts; me, I'm just enjoying the Simple Life.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Spring is here at last

We haven't posted for awhile partly due to connectivity problems and partly to just being too darn busy. The title of this blog is The Simple Life and some people have asked us why we are so busy if its supposed to be the simple life and all I can respond with is that compared to our previous 24/7 life we are living the simple life. Everyone has their own version of what simple means and if you are contemplating living in the country or homesteading you may find that your goals change as you get established. I think we originally envisioned living quietly by ourselves on a small farm and decompressing from the careers we left behind but what we found is that we enjoy being active and we are social creatures by nature.

Part of it for me is that now that I am entering the last quarter or so of my life I just refuse to stop going forward. When I was injured and I was undergoing surgery after surgery I almost fell into that trap where I started feeling sorry for myself and just about decided I needed to accept my fate and veg out in front of the TV or sit in the back yard and contemplate what might have been. The problem is, I still have so much I want to see, so much I want to try, eat, experience, feel, do etc that I had to change my attitude. So, for us, we are living our dream and we enjoy every day we are here and all I can say is if you are looking at retirement or making a significant lifestyle change follow your dreams and go full tilt because you only get one go around and the only ones you have to please are yourselves. I had someone make a comment one time that I was wasting my potential and education living the old fashioned farm life (I think the term that was used was following some kind of fantasy)and passing up some opportunities I had but this same person is so in debt and stressed out he and his family are in constant crisis and thanks!

When I first got here I was recruited into the Fire Department and to be honest I never really had any desire to be a "Fireman" but I enjoyed the excitement and camaraderie so I decided to go fully into it and started the long journey to gaining national accreditation and I am now the EMS Captain for the Dept. First I completed Fire Fighter Basic, then completed national certification as an Emergency Medical Responder early last year and then at the beginning of August last year I started the Fire Fighter I and II course...6 months of training both physical and academic and tested through practical examination, written examination and then sitting for the state board of certification testing in the capital of Missouri Jefferson City. I must confess it was more difficult than I expected and we had close to a 50% attrition in the course but I am now an IFSTA certified FF II. This has now spurred me to go back to college and pursue a degree in Fire Science at the Ozark Technical College and I start full time in June courtesy of the GI Bill which will end with me being certified as an Investigator and EMT-B.....simple life indeed! I will tell you that I was about 25 years older than anyone else in the course but it gave me a great appreciation for the volunteers in this country who provide 75% of the fire fighting services and to anyone who thinks this younger generation are nothing but self indulgent and aimless I suggest they get out and meet some different young men and women because the ones I know are anything but.

I don't know if I would have embarked on this certification if I had known how much effort it would turn out to be but I am glad I did it.
This has been a brutal winter and according to the weatherman, its been the snowiest and coldest since the mid 1800s. We are still having occasional frosts in the evening and this was a week and a half ago but I think we have finally turned the corner to spring.
As I was just typing this blog entry Holly called me to the french doors off our family room and pointed out 6 young deer but this is the only picture I could get before they spooked. Spring is definitely here and all of the wildlife are out and about.

Over the last couple months of bad weather we decided to tackle some projects on the inside of our old farmhouse that we had been neglecting and one of them was to finish the re-wire of the place. The old wiring, some of which went back to when this area received the attention of the Rural Electrification program in the early 1940s, was top of the line in the day but nothing was grounded and time had made some of it really scary. When we first moved in we installed a new weather head, new service panel and a few grounded circuits for the equipment that needed it but put off the rest for later and we just pretty much ignored it since everything still worked. But Holly wanted some outlets and lights in the basement so she could start seeds so we decided to finish the job. Look at the mess above....some of the wiring was so brittle it broke off just moving the wire and the cloth covering was so weathered in some cases it was hard to determine the hot and neutral.
We started in the basement and ran 12/2 Romex, installed new junction boxes, GFCIs for all circuits, new outlets and switches, and eliminated the old. This of course led to replacing all the wiring, outlets and switches up stairs as well and it turned out to be quite the project.

All this old stuff is gone.

I strictly follow the NEC when doing any electrical work but the installer of some of our electrical service just used whatever was available and even when you could see what was hot and what was neutral by the color you couldn't go by that. In one case they had the black wire which should have been the hot as the neutral and vice versa and it was a royal pain to figure out what was what. We had one metal junction box energized by a bare wire that had rubbed through the insulation, we had lots of loose connections, hot wires stuffed in the walls with nothing covering them other than some cloth electricians tape from way back when, and in general the efforts of the home owners over the years were not acceptable. In general I am against what I see as governmental over-regulation but the lack of any code enforcement around here results in messes like we have had to deal with. I don't claim to be an electrician but I am pretty competent with basic circuitry and residential wiring and I am glad we faced up to this and fixed it ourselves. Doing it ourselves cost about $200 while having an electrician do it would have been 2K or more and if you are a home owner you really ought to know how to do some basic residential wiring because even new houses have some scary installations made by the lowest bidder subs on new construction projects that get built in a few weeks. 
One of the things that was important to me was having GFCI protection for any circuit in the basement so that Holly and Judy would be protected while they worked in the basement with their seed starts.

Some electrical problems are also not always obvious. This duplex outlet cover I took off from the outlet next to my side of the bed where I plugged in my bedside lamp had been arching for awhile yet was white on the outside with no visible burns and the light never gave any indication of trouble. This is the inside of the cover...yikes!

When we replaced all of the outlets and switches with grounded service we ended up pulling up the wall to wall carpet in the living room and found old oak floors in need of patching and repair but still viable. The previous owner had patched some of the damaged flooring with leveling compound prior to laying cheap wall to wall carpeting instead of fixing it and all I can do is shake my head. We will repair the floors and refinish them and it will look great so why do people do things like that? I really don't understand why you would put wall to wall carpet that just collects dirt over original oak flooring.

We did find some interesting things though, there used to be a wall right down the middle of the living room when the house was built in the 1930s and they sure were small rooms.

So our interior remodel continues and we are tackling the living room now. Its a great room that is very peaceful and when we are done it will be very satisfying.

We cant wait to get sanding and replacing some of the damaged flooring.

Spring also means servicing the various pieces of equipment on the farm but its not without its hazards. I got a second degree burn from working on Judy's Ford Ranger when I laid my arm against the exhaust manifold to remove the oil filter from above because my arms are too big to reach from underneath. One of the problems with my spinal injury is I don't have a lot of feeling in my arms and legs so my first indication that something was amiss was a sizzling and smell of burning flesh...oops.
Another physical issue we both have is advancing arthritis and the the orange handled screw drivers (in the middle of the photo above) I have had since high school are harder and harder to grip as I have gotten older. So when I was at the electrical supply warehouse and saw the Klein Tools rubber handled screw drivers in the picture above I bought a set and they really help.

The rubber grips and slightly larger diameter makes a big difference in my ability to use the various drivers and they are also a very high quality tool. Not ideal perhaps for wrenching on vehicles where they may get greasy and oily but its a compromise I am willing to make.
We have a full basement with a storm shelter and we are glad to have it because the plumbing and electrical are all accessible and with the plumbing being so far below grade we don't have any issue with frozen pipes like so many around here but it was largely unused until this year when Holly wanted to set up her grow operation for vegetables, flowers and herbs to sell.

It stays relatively warm in the winter down here and cool in the summer so its actually a pleasant space but it lacked electrical outlets and lights which we rectified. Now we are expecting a visit from the Sheriff about the "glow" from the basement windows and all the activity!

Using the basement for our business just makes sense and its working well, particularly with the cold spring we have had.

The happy entrepreneur.
We live in a low crime area but we live remote and LEO can be 45 minutes away so everyone around here is generally armed and prepared to defend themselves. I believe its one of the reasons the crime rate is so low here but others don't understand or believe that and I respect that opinion. I have been armed for my work for most of my life and not being armed for me is like not wearing pants and I also really enjoy shooting so all of our weapons get frequent use. This is my newest carry, a S&W MP40 Shield with a laser sight and high capacity magazine and I like it a lot and highly recommend it for those who are looking for a lightweight concealed carry that packs a good punch. Pistols can be dangerous and all you have to do is think of all the people you know of who shouldn't even drive a car to know that its kind of scary thinking of how easy it is for someone to be licensed to carry or purchase a weapon like this. I don't mean this to be political but in my opinion unless you are highly trained and fire your weapon at least monthly you shouldn't carry. That is just my personal opinion and I realise not everyone will agree with that.

I have also gotten the HAM radio bug. I bought this off to use during our brush fore season since it has excellent range and is so cheap its almost disposable if you lose it or break it ($36.00). Its a Baofeng UV-5RA and I got all the accessories to try them out for our department and it spurred me to get my HAM license. For the price, its pretty amazing with long battery life and excellent range and audio pickup.
We fertilize and lime whenever our soil tests indicate we need to which seems to be about every other year and this was one of those years. 1K out the door with the first application but hopefully we will get big returns with our hay production.
We just built the third tier to our side raised bed flower boxes and stained it yesterday. With the price of wood we have been going bit by bit every year and slowly adding as we go along.

We also built another raised bed for herbs (no dirt in it yet) and have two more to build this year.

Holly came up with the idea to add Shepherd hooks to each corner of the tiered flower boxes and it was a great idea and she hangs her hanging baskets that she sells from them.

We have also been doing a bit of landscaping which is important for our business.
This time of year is nice with mild weather and things starting to bloom like these tulips but it also means hard work.

The old greenhouse is full of seed starts and hanging baskets.

We sell herbs, bushes and trees, vegetables, fruit trees, herbs etc.

Holly found this old display cart at a yard sale and fixed it up to show her herbs.

The new greenhouse is full as well....opening day is May 1st.

We found this Mantis tiller while buying some repair parts for a lawn mower. We were waiting for the part to come from the back and looking at a new Mantis when the sales guy (this is a small local place) said well those are on sale for (I don't remember exactly but it was like $279) and we just kind of laughed and said we were looking for used. He then said he had a used one he took in on trade that he had refurbished he had on sale for $150. We looked at each other and said "well we don't have that much to spend right now"...him.."well how much you got?"..."$100 we said"..."cash?"..."Yup"..."Sold!" You have to love small town dickering and it works great.

Poor Judy works as hard as any of us but she enjoys it. This time of year still has spotty grass and lots of weeds so its not the best looking time of year but its hard to beat the was about 75 degrees today and a slight breeze.

We have learned the benefits of composting and have several compost operations going that provide us with rich black nutrient rich soil.

This is a welcome sight after cold and freezing weather that literally just let up a few days ago.

We are expanding our sheep pens and adding more sheep but Tulip is already pretty happy.

Maybelle enjoys the new grass...

 And our bull calf Buster is really growing. We have a friend that is lending us a small bull for breeding purposes next month and we will be breeding again to expand out herd.

We have 12 different types of daffodils but these are my favorite.

We work hard, we play hard, and we enjoy life...yes this is truly the simple life.