Stir Crazy

OK.  Im normally a huge fan of snow.  Like I said before, Im from the Chicagoland area, and snow is the thing I have missed the most since moving to the South.  Well, snow and deep dish pizza, but mostly snow.  Snow means a totally different thing in the South than it did back home.  The first year we lived here, I thought they were crazy for panicking at even the threat of it.   Now I understand how very different it is here then it was there.  It shuts the town down.  The threat of snow, even if you haven’t seen a flake means classes get canceled.

When I talk to friends back home, they laugh at us and say stuff like “You will be fine, YOU know how to drive in it”.  Snow in the South means ice under a layer of snow.  It means we only have one snow plow to every one hundred they had back home. It means giant pine trees come crashing down on power lines and roads and houses.  It means burst pipes because ours are buried at more shallow depths than they are up north.  It means freezing cold houses because we use heat pumps in the South and they cant keep up with 8 degree temps.  It’s a totally different world here.  Its got to be.  It would be foolish for the South to spend the money on all the supplies the North has when an event like this only happens once every ten years or so.  

So we shut down and enjoy the snow, we know it will usually be gone in 24 hours anyway.  I like it better normally, but this is the third day of being stuck inside and Im getting stir crazy.  This has been the harshest winter we have had in the ten years we have lived in NC.

Snow starting to come down in N
Jettison is stuck on the porch. He gets too cold in the snow

I know we ended up being the joke of CNN and other news shows because of the storm. I guess it was our turn to be Atlanta.  

We had five deaths (2 related to car crashes, 2 good Samaritans were run over while trying to help someone stuck in the road and 1 lady was crushed by a falling pine tree) one giant car fire (with a ton of hilarious memes) and hundreds of people that abandon their cars and walked home. Im glad Charles and I were both home before it started. Had I still been working, I would have been so far from home, I would have had to sleep there.

Original photo of car fire and abandon cars, then 3 awesome memes.

We did get lucky this time around, we didn’t lose power. I really though we would have.  We got about 3 inches of snow on the ground and the freezing rain started.  We watched the tree our neighbors yard lean under the weight of ice and start to bend over the power lines.  It never snapped.  We lost part of my favorite pine tree, but at least that one is nowhere near the house.  I walked out to the creek today to survey the damage and it’s not too bad.  We lost a bunch of branches off trees, but the trees seem to still be standing up straight.

The twisted pine lost a bunch of heavy branches, but is still standing
Pine tree mess

It got above freezing today and the ice is starting to melt away. This will be the last day I am stuck in the house and I cant wait.  Im going to run around in public like a crazy kid on too much sugar.  At least today was warm enough that could go explore a little bit.  The ice is still to dangerous to be driving in though.  The ice crust on top of the snow was thick enough to hold my weight without cracking.

I am going to spend this last day stuck inside doing an inventory of our pantry and household supplies.  I have been maintaining a better pantry since I stopped working out of the house, but I haven’t been grocery shopping for real in about two weeks.  I am running low on all kinds of things.

I was able to plant two early garden beds the day before the snow started.  I just got some early stuff planted like cabbage, onions and radishes.  I would like to get out in the backyard and get the rest of the garden beds prepped for the March/April planting.

Next week we are supposed to be in the 60′s!  I should be able to get all kinds of out door projects done. I cant wait.


I do think that with 3 snow/ice days and Valentine’s day being all in the same week, we should start taking bets now as to what % of an increase in babies born nine months from now will be over the previous year.  The Triangle better get ready for a million baby showers.

My Valentine’s day bouquet! I got daisies

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I Have No Idea What I am Doing On The Homestead

Im serious.  No clue. I have found that I learn much better by just jumping into the deep end and either sinking or swimming. We’ll see what happens.

Two weeks ago Charles and I decided that I should quit my job and work on the homestead full time.  I loved my job, but it was just time for a change.  We realized we have been in this house for almost ten months and we hadn’t gotten anything accomplished. Realistically nothing was ever going to get accomplished with both of us working full time. This is a scary step for me, I have an overwhelming amount to get done, but Im also really excited about it.

My plan is to use this blog to document what I am doing and the learning process I have to go through. It would be great to end up getting a discussion going with other like minded people and exchange ideas.  I’m sure there are people like me that don’t know what they are doing, but would like to learn from my mistakes and I’m sure there are even more people out there that have some knowledge they would be willing to share.

My goal is a huge one.  I have about 1 1/2 acres of 7 year growth that I want to clear and replant with more food bearing trees, bushes and garden beds.  I want to re-design our land so this growth becomes more self sustaining. I want to learn how to can and preserve food so we can have it all year.  I want to do all this in the most natural way possible.  This means hand clearing the land.  I spent 2 hours outside working on it today and it went well.  Hand clearing will be a fantastic way for me to get more familiar with the slopes and dips the land has and help me come up with a better plan of action for water flow utilization.  It also keeps the dirt nice and loose.  I don’t want to bring in heavy trucks and compact the soil.  My concern is that had clearing takes a lot of time and I really wanted to get it done in time for March/April planting.  I will work like this for now and reevaluate how far I have gotten in a few months.

I have a ton I need to get done inside the house too, painting, cooking, building shelves and learning to sew, can and bake better. In the 2 weeks I have been out of work I have already painted our bedroom, cooked real (not out of a box) meals, and started baking bread again.  I have actually washed clothes AND put them away.  That alone is a major accomplishment.  I am also trying to put together a more functional pantry so we always have what we need in stock.

This will be a ridiculous amount of work but I am so ready to get started on this project.  My hope is that in about 2 years time I can be in a situation where I am growing about 75% of the food we are eating.  I hope I can do this?

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Building An Outdoor Table from Pallets

It seems like doing projects with pallets is all the rage these days. If you are a Pinterest fan, I am sure you have seen the hundreds of cool things people built with old pallets. The appeal of using pallets is big. If you have ever worked a retail job, you probably know how many pallets are used to ship goods. My favorite things about pallets? They are free!

We decided to try our hands at making 2 small pallet tables. Something we can use in the backyard while sitting around the fire pit. Here are the materials we used:

  • 2 hardwood pallets
  • 1 extra 2×4
  • dry wall screws
  • finish/trim nails

The tools that we used for this project were:

  • Hammer
  • tape measure
  • square
  • reciprocating saw
  • Miter saw (all cuts can be made with reciprocating saw)
  • Safety glasses and gloves

We didn’t have any plans to work from when starting the table. We let the size of the pallet dictate the size of the table. Our tables turned out to be 18.25in wide 29.5in long and 26in tall. Think about the size of an end table. That is what we were going for.

I started by looking at the pallet that I planed to use as the top. I chose the cleanest one for the top. The was also the one that was a good width for the project. This results in less cutting. Here are the basic steps I used to make 2 tables.

  1. Lay out your pallets. Get a good look at your materials. Try and build the table in your head.
  2. Take some measurements, and mark how you want it to look.
  3. Cut away! I used the reciprocating saw for all the cuts, other than the legs.
  4. I used a finish nail gun to tack the top and side boards
  5. Build the legs. This is the only step that I tried to get equal length boards.
  6. I used drywall screws to fasten the legs to the table top.
  7. Cut and attach the side boards to the legs
  8. Put a beer on the table and make sure it works. This is the most important step

This project is just that simple. The overall time for both tables was about an hour. The total cost for this project was FREE! Now, I had all the screws and nails we used. The reason I used drywall screws is, I had them. If I had a budget for the project, I would have used nails or screws meant for outdoor use. Since Jenn will be painting the tables, I am not worried about it.

If you do not have the power tools to build these tables, don’t worry. You can use hand tools, it will just be more work. I will recommend investing in these power tools for your homestead. Buying a $100 Dewalt reciprocating saw is worth every penny!

I am pretty pleased with how the table turned out. I will do another post when we paint the table. Not only does it hold that Makita impact driver, it holds a pint of beer really well too.

30 Preps in 30 Days

Part of homesteading is being ready to function with out systems of support. What do we mean by systems of support? Think about the things we use daily, weekly, monthly, things like:

  • the power grid
  • Your local gas station
  • The local grocery store
  • Local police and fire service

Why did we start this?September is national preparedness month. This is the month that FEMA encourages folks to take steps in their home to be ready for a disaster. Now it doesn’t really matter what you think of FEMA, being ready for a disaster is something we all need to think about.

What is a “Prep”?
The way we think of preps is almost as important as the prep itself. With each prep we do, it is to deal with out. We stock up on food in case the stores are closed. Having emergency lighting, and energy are important to have if the power goes out. Being ready is really more of a mindset. As we move through the month, shifting all our mindsets is the most important thing.

Some Prep Ideas.
Doing this 30 in 30 challenge will not be easy. It will also not be very hard. And don’t worry, it doesn’t have to cost you a ton of money. Will we spend some cash? Yes we will. But we have no plans to break the bank. Here are a few prep ideas to increase our self reliance and self sufficiency:

  • Inventories
    Taking stock of things as they sit now is step one.
  • Audits
    We will be auditing each of the 5 survival needs. With each audit we can see where we are strong and where we need improvement.
    1. Food
    2. Water
    3. Shelter
    4. Energy
    5. Security
  • Stocking up
    As you might expect, we will be adding a little extra to each area of our needs.
  • Gardening
    We eat all the time. Providing our own food is vital
  • Maintenance and repair
    Being sure that all our equipment we own is in good working order. Having a flashlight with dead batteries when power goes out is useless.

One last point I want to make. We are not doing all of this for the “Zombie Apocalypse”. We are doing this to be more reliant during everyday things. Storms hit all the time. Some idiot hitting a power line can knock power out in a heartbeat. This is simply to be able to not only ride out a storm, but be comfortable while doing it.

Are you up to the Challenge?

The Toxic Homestead

When we first started out looking for a homestead, we really wanted to move to Pittsboro,NC. It is a cool little town just west of Raleigh,NC. After looking at 100s of houses, mostly online, we had found our homestead. A nice house on just over 5 acres. Of the 5 acres, 2 acres in the center of the lot were cleared. This could have been a perfect homestead. The only real drawback was it did not have a garage.

We decided to move forward on this property. After some pretty easy negotiations we settled on a price. We also set a good amount of time to do our due diligence. That is the time an owner gives a buy to do inspections and what ever tests they want. Getting an extended time for DD would turn out to be a life saver.

The house was built in 2001 so we wanted to be sure that we had a clear understanding of any issues with the home and the lot. We used our due diligence period, we opted to do every inspection we could.

  • Well test
  • water
  • Radon
  • Septic System
  • Pest inspection
  • Full home inspection

The reports came back very positive. There were a few issues that needed to be addressed by the home owner. Those items were small things like loose outlets, a wobbly fan and a leaking faucet. Everything was looking like it was coming together.

All that came to a halt when the water test came back. We found out that the well water had 1.5x the acceptable level of lead. The owners were shocked to find out their water had high lead levels. We told the owners that we were still willing to move forward,  but they would have to make some concessions. We asked that they install a whole house water filtration system. The owners did not take that offer very well. They wanted to perform their own water test. The just did not believe the professional water tester. They decided to pull their own sample and have it tested.

While we waited for the results of the second test to come back, we did a ton of research about the area. It turns out there was much more to the area than we though. The property we were planning to buy backed up to a cement mixing plant. We knew that going in, but didn’t know just how bad it really was. The area had been deemed a Superfund. That means it as a hazardous waste site at one time. On top of that, there were several petitions to block the company from expanding. The company was trying to get rezoned as heavy industrial. That would allow them to pollute more. It would have been a heavy industrial zone, right in the middle of a residential area. There were also complaints of the company running 24/7 during the summer, and their truck drivers speeding and driving reckless.

The water test the home owners did came back perfect. It is odd that the test came back perfect for their test, but bad for ours. This was the final red flag. We made the tough choice to walk away from the property. It cost us about $1500 to not buy this property. We are thankful that all of this came to light BEFORE we moved in.

Here are some pictures of the property we walked away from. UPDATE: After 8 months on the market, the house is no longer for sale. I would be interesting to know exactly why they decided to take the house off the market. That $3000 filter is not looking so bad right now is it.

Here are some pictures of the property we walked away from. UPDATE: After 8 months on the market, the house is no longer for sale. I would be interesting to know exactly why they decided to take the house off the market. That $3000 filter is not looking so bad right now is it.

Extremely Cold Weather and Really Cool Finds.

Things have been all over the place around here lately.  Our weather has been fluctuating from the 60′s down to 8 degrees.  We are not used to this at all.  We have a heat pump system on our house.  They are supposed to be more efficient for weather in the South, but it has not been able to keep up with the low temps we have gotten lately.  Our house has been so cold.  It’s our own fault really.

We tend to be the type of people that are prepared for anything. I used to get made fun of at work because of all the random emergency stuff I keep in my car (first aid kit, jumper cables, bungees, tie-downs, socket sets, 15ft industrial extension cord, food, jackets…..) . They laughed at me  until they had to borrow stuff. Well, this time, we dropped the ball.  We have a fireplace, its just one of those stupid propane ones.  We wanted a real fireplace, not a fake one, so we never hooked it up.  It was a stupid choice.  It would have saved us a bunch of very cold nights.  When we needed it, we couldn’t get it because of the propane shortage.  We now have a work order in for a company to come install a large propane unit that we will connect to the fireplace and our gas grill.  Lesson learned.  Im a little embarrassed about it, we are usually so ahead of the game with that stuff.

Snow! A rare thing where we live.
Foggy morning
Ice in the backyard

We recently got a metal detector.  I had found a bunch of barbed wire out back when I was cutting down trees and we thought this would be a cool way to find the rest of it before I tripped over it again.  It has turned out to be far more helpful than I ever imagined.  I have spent hours going over the property with it.  It has helped me really get familiar with the land.  In the fenced in part of our property ( about 1/6 acre for the dogs to run) I have found a bunch of old nails buried pretty far down.  I guess they came from the farmhouse that was here a long time ago.

While digging, I have learned that the soil varies greatly in just that small area.  I have beautiful black dirt in one part of the yard, but 20 feet over I have a big vein of sand that cuts through.  The soil over there is much drier and sandy spreading out from the area.  I now know what parts of the yard have old heavy root systems running through and what areas have tons of tiny healthy roots growing through.  I have found that just outside the fence and to the left is full of rocks.  None of them are visible from the surface, but as soon as you get about 3 inches of dirt removed, its nothing but big chunky rocks.  I thought the metal detector would be kind of fun to play with and maybe helpful with clearing out the barbed wire, but I never thought it would be a useful tool for learning about our soil quality.

Searching out back with the metal detector

The junk we have found on our property has been kind of cool too.  We had walked the property a few times before and we were pleased that we didn’t find any trash thrown around.  While using the metal detector we have since learned that there is trash out there, but it looks like it was thrown around in the 60′s or so.  I found glass coded from the mid 40′s, We found parts of a mess kit or a pocket knife  buried about 6 inches down in the dirt, I found a glass mountain dew bottle and pull tab Schlitz cans.

The coolest thing we have found so far wasn’t metal, but we would have never found it if we weren’t out there looking for metal things.  My favorite find so far has been a set of deer antlers.  Now, my husband and I were raised just outside the city of Chicago.  We didn’t grow up hunting and we didn’t have large areas of wilderness that we played in we had city planned parks.  I had an area behind my house growing up that we called the “forest”, but in reality, it was just an area of trees that separated my house form the fire station and baseball fields.  So deer sheds may be common knowledge for you, it’s not for us.  I’m embarrassed to say how excited we were to find them.  I had to show a photo of them to a hunter friend just to confirm that they are real.  I was worried that I had just got all excited and in reality just put a set of plastic deer calls some hunter dropped on display over my fireplace.  He confirmed that they are real and told me I found them because of the weather lately.  He said it was actually early for them to shed antlers.  I did some research on deer sheds and found out that this is a form of hunting that some people do.  They don’t look for the deers to hunt, they just go out during the normal shedding times and hunt the antlers. I guess our normal time to hunt will be mid Feb to mid March.  I think I accidentally found a new hobby.  I know this may be common knowledge to everyone else in NC, but like I said before, I have no idea what Im doing with this homesteading stuff.  This is all a learning experience for me.

glass coded from mid 40′s
Old glass Mountain Dew bottle
pull top beer cans
Whatever this is, its metal. Maybe some kind of farm equipment or a lock?
Deer sheds


The first few weeks

It has only been a few weeks since I decided to quit my job.  I’ve started a few projects around the homestead.  The weather has been really weird this year in NC, so I am kind of bouncing around a little bit and not able to focus on one particular area yet.

I have started hand clearing  the back.  I need to research the types of plants growing back there because there seems to be some sort of vine that has tied everything together.  Its weird.  You could chainsaw trees from the bottom and they don’t move, this vine just holds everything in place.  I have found that some areas clear better if I just go through and manually snip every vine from the top down.  Some of the vines have grown together and have formed what looks like boating rope.  It is so strong.  Im going to have to find something to use it for.

vines and thorny growth

I am working on a small garden bed in front of the shed.  This is going to be an area that I need to plant shade tolerant plants because it is probably the most shaded area in the backyard.  From the research I have done so far, it looks like that will be a lot of greens and sweet potatoes.  I have some small garden beds that we set up when we moved in, but  I would like to have them all over the enclosed backyard.

Working on the future shaded garden area.

It’s been crazy cold for NC and rainy too.  We usually dont get that kind of weather here until at least Feb, but this year has been tougher than most.  The weather has given me a chance to get some stuff done inside at least.

I have started painting the house.  I have the master bedroom and bath done.  I have picked out one of the colors for the entry way into the living room, but I am stressing about the accent color for the connecting walls.  It seems stupid to stress about it, but I hate painting and I don’t want to do it again for a long time.  Luckily, I am very happy with the colors I picked in the bedroom and bathroom.

Jettison is helping me with laundry.

I have also started baking again.  I used to bake for fun and I even worked as a bread maker at a local company for a while.  It’s been about two years since I have made anything and I have definitely lost my touch for bread making.  I will have to practice more.  I would love to get that skill back.  Making cakes and cookies has always been easy, but fresh bread takes much more work.  So far I have made rosemary farmhouse bread and a bread with spent grain a local beer brewer gave me.  Both breads were edible, but not nearly as good as I used to make.  Im sure Charles will be happy to be a taste tester and help me practice more.

Bread baking attempt #1

9 Trees

I have a goal of clearing enough land to plant 9 trees by the spring.

That may not seem like a hard goal, but clearing has proven harder than I thought it would be.  I really thought I would just be able to go through and chainsaw everything to the ground and then go over most of it with the lawn mower.  The joke was on me for sure.  I told you I have no idea what Im doing.  It turns out these vines are the toughest thing that nature has ever made.  If you try and hit them with a chainsaw, they just get pushed out of the way.  You have to actually go through and snip each and every one by hand.  Its been a pain in the butt, but it has been a great way to learn about the land.  I am learning about every dip and slope and tree and plant out there.

Some of the vines and thorny growth with a cool bird feather stuck on it.

I am fascinated by these vines.  I tried an experiment where I cut all the branches off a tree that was about 3 inches around at the trunk.  The branches that came off the tree were probably 4 ft long.  I cut off all the branches that came off the trunk and not a single one of them fell to the ground or dropped at all.  The vines are so bad they hold everything up.  They tie one tree to the next and everything back there is connected.

Vines, Vines, Vines!

We got a donation of a truckload of burlap coffee sacks from Larry’s Beans (local coffee company).  I am hoping that these will be good natural weed barrier and tough enough to fight some of the vine re-growth.  I have been dropping those around the areas that I have cut down already.  We will transfer some of them to our garden beds in the backyard as well.

burlap coffee sacks to use as a weed barrier

I had plans to go out there today and cut back more, but it is pouring out.  I probably wont have a chance to get out there again until Christmas day.  I feel like as long as I get a good 2 days a week of clearing done, I will accomplish my goal of 9 trees by spring.

Clearing space for the first 9 trees

Three Dog Night

I don’t mean the band, I mean a night so cold you have to sleep with three dogs to keep warm.  Today its 8 degrees outside in NC.  Im originally from the Chicago area so this shouldn’t be a big deal for me, but I have fully embraced NC and it is just way too cold for me now.  There is no way in heck I am working outside today.  Even the dogs wanted to stay in bed.

Fugazi is staying in the covers today

Lately I have been trying to make food ahead of time and then freeze it in ready to go containers.  I have learned that I should label these containers when I put them in the freezer because I have been playing “Is it soup or is it chili”. Hopefully my husband will start to take his lunch with him more often and at the very least on days that I don’t feel like cooking I will have food ready to go. Having more time to cook real food has been one of my favorite things about not having a job outside of the house.  I have been using Pinterest for a while now and have a bunch of recipes saved on that site, but until now,  haven’t really had time to make anything.

When I cook, I always follow the recipe exactly the first time I make something then I change things the second time around to make it more to my taste. I recently found a recipe for Curried Carrot and Cauliflower soup that I thought was just perfect as written. That almost never happens so, I will have to go back and check out some of the other recipes on this ladies blog (my recipe link goes directly to her blog).

I have  been trying to work out a recipe for a slightly healthier carrot muffin that Charles can take out of the freezer and bring to work for a snack mid day.  He is VERY allergic to pineapple and most carrot cake/muffin recipes have that in it.  I am so far away from the original recipe I used its not even worth linking to it, so I will just write out what I am using.

Carrot Muffins (test batch #2)

– 2 cups all-purpose flour
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 1/2 cup brown sugar

– Spices to taste (I use heavy cinnamon and also add cardamon, ginger and nutmeg I sometimes use clove too.  I like to change it up, so I don’t use measurements on spices.)

– 2 tsp baking soda

– 1 tsp salt

– 1/2 cup raisins

– 3 eggs
– 3 cups shredded carrots (packed)

– 1/2 cup applesauce
– 3 tbsp water
– 1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix dry ingredients together, mix wet ingredients together.  Mix wet/dry ingredients together.  Pour into lined cupcake pan.  Bake for approx. 20 minutes.

So far, I really like test batch #2.  The muffins are denser and chewier than carrot cake. I like things much less sweet than most people, so if these aren’t sweet enough, you can add another 1/2 cup of  sugar I think I cut at least that out of the recipe I started with..  I would just rather taste the carrot and spices more than the sugar. The original recipe used less eggs and had a bunch of oil in it.  I think with the carrot and applesauce you just don’t need oil. The original recipe also was covered in frosting, but I wanted something that was more of a snack than a dessert.  Like I said, my recipe is so far from the original one now, its unrecognizable.  I may try a little coconut in it next time for texture or maybe I will just shred the carrots a little thicker.  Im not sure yet.

I think I will spend the rest of the day trying to keep warm by doing laundry, reading a bit of the permaculture textbook I have and  trying to vacuum up the dog hair tumbleweeds that have accumulated under the couches. With three hounds, that last job is never ending

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