Sunday, December 29, 2013

This Man

This man.
I just don't have the words to express how much I love him, and even moreso,  how much he loves me.

He loves me by digging post holes by hand, because we have to do it that way right now.  It's the only way it can get done, so he does it, even when it exhausts him.
He loves me by telling me to rest, to keep off my bad knee, though a lot of times I don't listen to him, and then he loves me enough to realize I'm stubborn and really like to work beside him.
I don't do as much.  I paint the fence posts with tar, or hold a post he's trying to position or balance one while he makes the hole deeper.
He never asks me to push myself, and it makes me want to more.

He worries about our future, my future.  He works hard in the now.  He worries about my health, and I worry about his.  We try to better our health together, and sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we have an extra slice of pie together.

I can't imagine my life without him.  I don't have to...I already lived too many years without him prior to our ever meeting, and I don't want to go back.
I love that he always showers before bed...always.  He loves getting grimy and sweaty and using his physical strength.  And then he loves to get clean and relax.
He usually loves my cooking.  And I love to share that with him, and so many other things.  Countless things that are just him, and that have, this past 9 years, become us.

We looked at the tomato seed packets that arrived in the mail, gleefully.  We could almost taste the little multicolored cherry tomatoes in our minds.  He was as excited as I was...sugarplums dancing our our heads.  Sugarplums that can be planted, nurtured, watched, and if reaching maturity, eaten...and then the seeds saved for future plantings.  Dancing in our imaginations and in our future reality.
That prostrate plant is the wild muscadine that has fruit all over it
 I was in the ER this weekend, and that was unexpected.  I'm not an ER person, so this was a last resort.  We have no idea what expenses will arise as a result -- I am uninsured.  When I stabilized, I chose to leave and to try some followup through my own doctor.  We did check into the Obamacare insurance.  If we signed up today, it would not cover us until early February, so those decisions will have to wait a few days till  we get more facts.

Any trip to the ER jeopardizes our ability to get safe, to get to the land.  Getting to the land is what we equate with some level of safety both financially and practically.  Those who do not think like us will not understand, will not understand why we have to keep trying to do it, to make that happen.  They will not understand our choices, what we go without, what we keep in place, why we carve any spare time up with trips an hour away to do a few hours work, mostly Jack's own labor, to inch-by-inch Make A Place.

We need to finish the fence.  That's a huge project, because it's all on Jack.  It's being done by hand.  Then we need to do some  more clearing, dig a well, put up a panel and have a temporary pole (electric) run, then buy a used trailer.  At that point, we're IN.  We NEED to be IN.  After IN is dig out a cow pond, put calves on the acreage, get bees, plant trees, field plants, medicinals, on, with joy in each step.  But getting IN, that is the priority.

I'm praying for a tractor.  As impractical as it might seem to pray for one out of the blue, too's the one piece of equipment that seems to be most needed in various capacities.  One which we cannot afford to buy even used, but can be prayed about nonetheless.  God tells us to ask for what we need, and I look at my husband, his ability and his age and the fact I don't want him to become injured, and I ask for a tractor.  I'm used to being redirected in my requests if they are not wise or timely.  And we're both used to working instead of waiting around for golden sunbeams and pixie dust.  But God has answered so many of our prayers in ways that exceeded our expectations, and He is our true father.

I pray that I will be ok, that He grants me and also grants Jack the wisdom to know what health actions to take, what tests to agree to have run, to  know when it's ok to forgo them and just live the best we know how.

I do not want to break the bank, to risk our future, to put more financial burdens on Jack.  He works for my future...I work for his.  I feel  he carries the lion's share, and now he's a little scared after that ER visit.  He wants me around, and I want him to live beyond beyond. 

This man, he is my heart, he is my miracle from YHVH's hand.

Every one of these posts that are now in the ground are not just the beginnings of a fence.  They are acts of love.  With every shovelful of sand and grubbing hoe severing a root system, it's "I love you."

I pray that this refuge he cherishes for our future and willed to existence through prayer and sweat and sore muscles...and laughter and shared wonder and blue skies and endless loads of supplies and tools...I pray that it comes to be.  Because it is the desire of his heart.  I am the desire of his heart, and I am humbled, daily.  I am in love with this man and life with him.  I thank God daily for the miracle, and I close my ears to anyone who does not understand it enough to be happy with our endeavor...this love I may never have had and may never have had to give were it not for God's mercy and goodness to me, to us.

I need for those who understand to pray for my husband's success and blessings to pour upon him.  He is truly a friend of the Almighty.  And he is my beloved.

YHVH hasten all Your blessings upon this man.  Your man.  My man.  My very heart.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Wild Muscadines


P.S. Greenbriers are Delicious!

These weeds are everywhere to be found around the smilax family of plants. Here's a Green Deane youtube video.   I just learned a few days ago they're edible, and we have so many coming up where Jack mowed at the farm, I've been picking the tender tips on site and eating them raw.  Ours are much smaller and newer plants than the ones shown:

They are delicious...they taste like fresh, delicate asparagus! (to me)

Here's another link, Merriweather's Texas foraging site...  The key in identification is to make sure the vine has both thorns AND tendrils, and alternating's the link

Friday, December 27, 2013

Update, and Untimely Cigars

Quick update, before any more time gets away from me.  It's shabbat and I can't sleep.  I had heat exhaustion earlier today, at least I think that's what this is, even though the temps were in the mid 70s.  It was overcast and I had no idea I was soaking up all that sun, but boy, it did a number on me after several hours out at the farm.

If I don't feel better by later today (and a good night's sleep, hopefully?) I may have to break down and go to the doc.  But anyway...

Last week Jack chewed up the southern property line, all 660 feet of it, with a walk-behind bush hog.  It was not the bigger type machine he was hoping to find at a rental place-- in fact he was unable to find the kind he really needs anywhere.  Yet.  Knowing him, he'll keep on looking, because we really need something more substantial.  He had to wrestle that machine over so many palmetto roots that he was really sore and nearly sick from the physical exertion of it, and he's a pretty strong guy.  He was in temporary agony the night after that throwdown, muscle cramps and such.  I played nurse but he didn't get much relief those first few hours.

This week he dug all the holes for the posts along the front, the east side facing the roadway.  It's mostly sand, but a few of the holes hit palmetto roots and he has had to work his way downward slowly with a grubbing hoe/pickaxe thingy, which was also really physically demanding.  The first day this week, he used both the shovel and the manual post hole digger (clamshell type), but today just stuck to the shovel.  The posts have to go in about three feet and the posts themselves are 6 inches wide and 8 feet long.  We got about half the run in the first day and most of the rest today, and I painted the asphalt paint to coat them all (and, as usual, part of myself, ha).

We just couldn't finish up in time, but only a few are missing and we hope to get them in next week, weather and schedule permitting.

I began a new assignment at work and I just don't know how it's going to bode for the knee.  I was simply exhausted this week -- it was three consecutive 12 hour shift workdays in a row, and that's an awful lot for my knee, without being able to put it up at any point during those hours.  I was in such pain by the end of the third day I could barely walk.  It comes down to needing the money and needing to stay as active as possible.  I've decided that it will either work or it won't, but I won't know unless I try.  If the knee worsens, I'll have to try, again, for a different assignment, since on this one they won't allow just two days, for reasons necessary to the client.  Let's see.  I do miss being home those days.  But...we need the income.

I'm exhausted.  Going to head to bed now, finally.  I've been sipping lemon and water and such but don't feel restored yet.

I did get some pics of a beautiful wild muscadine vine loaded with fruit at the back of the property.  We see the wild grapevine sprouts all over the place, but have never seen any fruit yet all this time.  What a wonderful first!  I think this is the bronze variety of muscadine because the fruits at this point are a bright yellow.  I'll hopefully post the pics soon.

The wildlife spotted today was of course beautiful...a very large otter ran across the highway on our way in, loping along, black with a brown underbelly.  We heard herons all day and saw some fly over.  At one point there was a flock of thousands of swallows wheeling was neat!

No snake sightings today, but  a grim reminder was retold from one of the employees at Tractor Supply.  He's a local to our area and like us chooses to locate there because of the rural beauty and privacy and wildness.  I was asking about snakes and he mentioned he was struck by a large rattler/Mexican viper cross snake (which I've never heard of and am not happy to learn about) just this summer and barely made it in time to the hospital.  He was treated with antivenin and I think the treatment ran into the 20K price range.  Ewwww.  That kind of thing makes me want to slash all the palmettos flat to the sand and burn the duff and gnarled roots down to nothing...I confess.  We did pick up some handy tips from the man about local stores, rental places, and questions about getting Ag exemption status.   Which is all premature since we are frankly inching along with the fence, but we gather facts anyway.

We finally met someone from the property next door, the one that had the large encampment of people with offroad vehicles around Thanksgiving...and none of whom introduced themselves to us.  Till today.  A  younger friendly nephew of the owner and one of his friends came by on a 4 wheeler and chatted with Jack a few minutes.  We're pretty obviously a presence now on our property, fairly regularly, and it was nice having an introduction to one of the neighbors we share a boundary with, and letting them  know we do plan to live there eventually and are putting a perimeter fence up.  And he assured us their rifle targets will be positioned  safely (we didn't ask, but nice to hear it).  We also put up two of the No Trespassing signs, one at each of the front property corners.

A family also drove by, out looking for land and trying to locate some of the For Sale properties out there.  The signs usually go missing ,and it makes for a fun search for those willing to actually drive out that far.  We're hoping someone nice hangs in there and buys the foreclosure  home at the end of the road.

And, finally, a special moment.  Somebody upstairs has a real sense of humor, I'll just say...

When I know I'll be using the tar paint on the fence posts, I'll wear the "tar outfit" from home...a lightweight men's longsleeved shirt, my oldest pair of jeans, both of which are smeared with black tar streaks that don't wash out (and ruin the washer trying, so we don't...)   Well, it's a little humbling if caught in my full getup, but then I've never been a slave to fashion, and we don't get out and go into stores or anything if we're wearing something really grimy like that (and it is).  I thought maybe the exception would be the loading yard at Tractor Supply, since surely actual workers doing actual work probably frequent the place to pick up fencing and posts and things.  So Jack is helping load and tie down a number of 8 foot posts into our short truck bed, and I'm standing by, chatting with the two employees helping without a care in the world.

I'm off my game in the early morning...I've never been a morning person to start with, never will.  And that morning we had thrown some  last minute things into the vehicle on our way out.  The day was yet young.  (too young and not enough caffeine yet)

I was not aware enough to fully realize that the younger of the two employees was not exactly making eye contact with me as I chatted, and the old man had a bemused look on his face.  But I was too uncaffeinated to notice just then.  And then Jack decided to get more posts, went back inside to pay for them, and we chatted some more...sort of.  I was vaguely aware I was getting some odd vibes, but mentally dismissed it as my awesome tar clothing ensemble reaction.  Until Jack returned, we finished loading, and I got into the truck again and was putting on my seatbelt.

(I've debated whether to include this anecdote here or not)

Still in my early morning brain fog, I reached across to fasten the seatbealt, and then noticed what I had failed to notice all during the chatty little conversation with the two store workers.  I had earlier that morning grabbed what I'll delicately refer to as  "feminine supplies," stuck then in the front shirt pocket of my workshirt...and there they had stayed ever since.  Not concealed, noooo.  They were prominently displayed sticking halfway out of the pocket, like a handful of plastic-wrapped cigars, still in their rather feminine-supply-ish packaging, for all to admire.

And of course Jack never noticed.  And he had a good laugh over that, and still is laughing.

I'm sure I will get my sense of humor back one of these days.  ;-)

OK, that's all I've got for now...

Sunday, December 22, 2013

I Can !!!

The pressure canning retries were not in vain (a mere 6 hours later)!  5 quarts of homemade soup all pinged, hooray!!!

I can!  I'm a canner!  I'm canning!  I can!

Substitute the word "can" in this video for the word "sail" and this is how I feel...move over, Bob Wiley...Ahoy!!  heehee!

Presto 16 Quart Pressure Canner

It's finally jiggling.

And I've been talked back off the ledge.  Thank you to Kathie, my canning hero(ine)  for being the calm sounding board I needed after the first fail, and for her "I knew you could do it."

And I am doing it!

I thought I knew I could do it until the first attempt had to be aborted after the very screaming sound coming from the valve lock thingy.  That rattled me, truly.

We purchase a $64 Presto 16 quart pressure canner recently with money I gleaned from the grocery budget by being frugal, a challenge to myself to see how low I could go one week from the usual amount.  The All American was our first choice, but the Presto has its fans, too, and the price was right, which ended up being our determining factor.  The other determining factor was that it is safe to use on our glass stovetop.

I've NEEDED to can for years.  Why I've been this resistant I don't know.  It's mental.  I just was not ready.  I was "stuck" with too little direction for too many projects I wanted to do, and a lot I needed to complete.  Money has become more of a factor right now, and I need to use every batch of food to its utmost.  Too many times I'd make a large batch of this or that, such as chicken stock or soup, just to have the leftover amount languish too long in the fridge between other incarnations.  Not only was it perfectly good food, it was perfectly delicious food sometimes wasted and oftentimes inconvenient to reheat, always having to take a small amount from a larger pot to reheat and so on.

Part of my resistance has also been that I really don't need more kitchen contraptions.  I'm a less is more contraption person...I'd rather do without.  The ones that have found a home here are ones that get really used and are worth the headache of finding space for.

I've taken years to get to this point of wanting to begin canning since the few years in my childhood when my mother taught me how when we had an overflowing garden.  I've taken days to leisurely (read Not Stressfully) read all the enclosed instructions, various other canning sites, and sending private emails to a few folks who are already pros at this.  And I chose a day I had few distractions and nobody else going to and fro through the kitchen.  It's 2:39 and at 3:05 I will turn off the stovetop and wait a little longer to hopefully take out the first batch of canned goods I've made since 1981.

I made soup yesterday, a big batch that was really good (to us) and got the kitchen ready for a new project.  I followed each instruction to the T, with the one hiccup of forgetting to stick a plastic knife in each filled jar and jiggle to remove air bubbles before wiping the rims and adding the heated lids and then screwing on the rings.  I had them all the way in the canner, water included, when I saw I'd skipped that step, so I undid them all and got the air bubbles out (or the invisible air bubbles out, I never saw any) and rewiped/hot lidded/screwed rings on and replaced in the canner.

I had meticulously gone over the whole canner with a fine toothed comb (figuratively) and given it a good washing and drying, checking that all holes were no clogged, etc.

Even after all that, something happened after the exhaust phase (steam blowing out the valve for 10 minutes before attaching the rocker) when I attached the rocker.  It didn't begin rocking.  The other valve atop the canner is the pressure lock valve which sticks up from the surface of the lid when pressure is present.  I made the MISTAKE of pushing on it a couple times with my finger.  Oh MY.  It screamed.  SCREAMED.  And wouldn't stop.  One long screech that lasted longgggg minutes before piping down.  I mean the kind of school fire alarm squealing all through the house screaming.  My husband who is sleeping in preparation for tonight's 12 hour shift at work sat bolt upright and asked me to shut the bedroom door.  The door was closed already.

I turned off the burner and took the canner and set it to the other side of the stove, off the heat.  It still SCREAMED.  Until pressure went down.  Mentally I knew there is an additional rubber plug that, in the case of a pressurized emergency, would blow off and release the pressure so the thing would not blow up.  Knowing that was little comfort during the screaming incident.  The dog hid.  I consulted Kathie and a couple websites and the Presto guide.  And started all over, taking everything out, pouring out the water, measuring again, taking needle and thread and making SURE nothing was plugged up anywhere and re-oiling the gasket.

This time it worked.  WHEW.

No screaming.  I'm sure I'll get the knack of this before long.  If at first you don't succeed, and all that.  I'm just relieved.

I was going to bake bread and other things, but I'm just applying cups of coffee to my jangled nerves and waiting till 3:05.  It's now 2:58  (I'm a slow typist)  And nothing yet has blown up.

I think we'll rack this up to a "get to know your equipment" day.  Note to self, the rocking stays steady at number 4 of the stovetop dial.  Second note to self, it takes about ten minutes with this one, at least with quarts, to reach rocking.  Third note to self, steam does escape from both valves, and I need to start counting "exhaust time" when I FEEL the steam coming from the main valve instead of SEE it.  That's all for now, Self...

IF nothing is broken and there is no more excitement in the next few minutes, I may have my first 5 quarts of homemade CANNED soup to put in the pantry instead of a big stock pot in the fridge.

HOOOOO freaking RAYYYYY !!!!!!!!!!!!


(Smiling victorious Rosie the Riveter smile) long did it take for YOU to not be terrified of YOUR pressure canner?? :)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Kitchenaid Mixer! and decal

And lo, there was in the kitchen of Robbyn, a newly-acquired-from-craigslist used Kitchenaid mixer!  And the people rejoiced!!!  (Robbyn sure did! )  And yea verily she kissed Jack for nigh unto forever for having bought it for her!

And it was white, and Robbyn googled "decals for Kitchenaid stand mixer," and she found many ideas.  And she found out they were removable, so she felt adventurous.  And she ordered one in "subway art, lime green."

And she applied it and managed not to mess it up.  And there was angelic singing, and many loaves of bread to be made.  And the people rejoiced again!!  (Mostly Jack, who likes to eat the experiments)  

And Robbyn bonded with her mixer and felt like the most spoiled cook (and wife) in the entire world, even though it is a real bargain (especially because it is!)   And she is not used to having THINGS she is this happy about, because she's all about simplicity and not really into "stuff."  But she is joyfully, unguilt-ily, so stinking happy about this!!

And now deciding to discontinue typing about herself in the third person...ha!

Oh dancey dancey dance!  I'm glad I did hand mixing all my life till now.  I learned bare hands and a wire whip or heavy spoon are how historically all mixing was done and are completely masterful to this day.  They worked fine for me.  I was not discontent.  I was just infatuated with Kitchenaid mixers through the years (my former MIL has one and used it all her life), and I also used to scout the new ads that advertise the ones that come in all sorts of beautiful colors...I'd even pick out my favorite dream colors.  The lady who was selling this one was only doing so because she had remodeled her kitchen with stainless steel appliances and said the white mixer stood out too much.  I sort of can't relate to that, but I'm glad it equated to an almost impossible bargain, complete with attachments and grinder, and pasta extruder. 

The decals were just fun.  I had wondered if they made stickers or such for stand mixers and laughed aloud when I saw all the things available in vinyl...have fun googling it sometime and you'll see what I mean.  Ordering the decal was just the cherry on top, fun!  And removable if needed down the road.  Anyway, that's the kid in me just wanting to play :)

I've long been curious about how a machine can knead and do big batches.  And now I'm finding out!  I have to get used to not kneading everything by's become a habit.  But it's fine with me to get to do other things while the mixer does all that..

Wow, I'm grateful!  And I hope this machine lasts long enough to be passed down to future generations.  It's definitely going to be shared in the sense that a lot of folks are going to be receiving tokens of my baking experiments....hooray for floured counters and hot ovens!!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Calabaza Again

These tropical squashes/pumpkins are like gold to us.  They begin on the vine as variegated green-striped orbs and later ripen to a beige and cream exterior.  This is the inside flesh of one we picked just last week, a small one.  I'm not good at guessing weight, but I'd say it was in the range of 6 or 7 lbs, maybe more.

The flesh is golden light orange and thick at this stage.  These pumpkins can be hardened off by leaving them on the back porch out of the rain for a couple weeks and then can be brought inside and kept in a dry, cool area for months.  I think one year we harvested in October and ate our last one around June of the next year.  Over time, the inside flesh thins out and is a bit stringy, but still very easy to work with and delicious.  At this early stage of harvest, though, it's prime.

What I'm happiest about this year was not the harvest itself...there are probably more on the vines to pick, and we had an exceptionally wet year this year.  We were late in starting the ONE plant that produced these (it doesn't take a village with single plant can take over an entire lot!).  But this is truly a survivor plant and was grown from seeds harvested last year, and that year's harvested from the year before.  This is a third generation plant from the same seed stock, hooray!! It's SO MUCH fun seeing the vigor repeat itself in a plant truly suited for this climate.  We REALLY believe in trial and error and sticking with plants that thrive in our own climate conditions.  This has not proven itself to be a bad philosophy so far :-D  Here are the seeds for next year's plants...and then some.

Tonight I peeled and chunked the calabaza and brought it to a boil.  Essentially by the time it reaches that point, it's already done.  It's silken and delicious!  I grew up in a family in which my father despised sweet potatoes.  We really seldom had them and when we did, they were so over-sweetened that I never really had any desire to eat them again.  However, as an adult, I grew to enjoy sweet potatoes baked and eaten with only a shake of sea salt and some butter.  I love them that way.  When I married Jack, that was the first time I'd ever eaten a pumpkin type squash, other than in pumpkin pie.  It's simply delicious!  It's not stringy or grainy, is not "dry," not quite as nutty flavored as butternut but with the same beautiful texture and very versatile.  Usually I just pierce a whole calabaza with a sharp knife and bake it whole on a baking sheet or roasting pan till it slumps in on itself.  Then removing the outer skin and the seeds is really wielding a huge knife and hoping the fingers stay intact (it's hard to slice through).  And I do make a pumpkin souffle just by using the classic Libby's Pumpkin Pie recipe (on back of the pumpkin label), but substituting the calabaza instead and making it without a crust.  It always turns out great.

But sometimes the simplest way is the most appealing, and that's the case tonight.  Calabaza, sea salt, butter.  Delicious!  Here's to years more of simple, satisfying food right from the vine...

Homemade Lox???

Why have I never considered this could be made at home??  I LOVE lox...had NO idea I could home cure it!!

Thanks, Dabblist!!   Her post on curing salmon, here

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Honey Oatmeal Loaves


bought for me...

from craigslist...

a used, heavy duty...

 Kitchenaid stand mixer...

Don't count the slices that are missing from this loaf...ha!

HOOOOOO   RAAAYYYYYYYY !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Pics of actual mixer to come later when it's not in use making more goodies!!

This was a recipe for Honey Oatmeal Bread straight from the Kitchenaid insert handbook.  It's very good!  As with all bread recipes, it's good made by hand kneading or machine, either one :)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Tomato Tease

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds' Blue Beauty Tomato.  Click to see catalogue!
I'm in love with amazing tomatoes.  The quirkier and more flavorful or complex the tomato, the more smitten I am.  With the advent of the black, white, striped, fluted, purple and every other non-supermarket type, I'm in tomato heaven.

We get really hot summers down here in Florida, with weird extremes.  Some years are monsoons, others are drought, and with others you can throw in freak freezes or a couple of hurricanes or two.

It seems the cherry type tomatoes do very well for us when we try them.  In fact, some have just refused to give up the ghost until simply mowed down come cooler weather...that's a survivor plant!  As our focus has been to move to the farm (first getting it set up) we've had to forgo the plantings we did here in the yard in other years.

But I have to have some tomatoes soon.  My body craves them.  And the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog is no help!  I'm addicted to their pictures and descriptions and the really broad variety of traditional and rare plants from all over the world, all GMO-free and open pollinated.  I mean truly addicted.  I keep the catalogue by my bedside to pore over, pen in hand, reading EVERY description and making notes or circling the ones on my wish list.  The tomatoes always figure prominently in my perusal.  And then there are the peppers, gorgeous!  And the squashes, funky, diverse, captivating!  And the melons...oh my.  And so on.  The pictures are glossy and I end up hungry for fat little cherry tomatoes and so much else to grow, grow, grow!

The picture shown above is shamelessly nicked from their catalogue (and promptly linked right back to it) to show you the eye candy that has danced in my dreams from the MOMENT I lay eyes on it.  Which was mere days ago when I received the latest 2014 catalogue.

So tonight I went online to order THE SEEDS......And They Were SOLD OUT.  Of the Blue Beauty tomato seeds, all of them.


head smack, head smack,  head smack


So I ordered the cherry tomato version, Blue Berries, FAST.

I just had to share the tomato burlesque...just had to share THE PICTURE with those with the same sickness so as not to feel bereft.  Blue Beauty, there's always next year...


Friday, December 13, 2013

Mystic Mud

We join with Michele's family at the blog Mystic Mud in celebrating the life and grieving the loss of their precious youngest, baby Finn.  Though it's across the miles, we feel the ties of heart that bind us to the joys and sorrows of each other, this diverse homesteading community.  I thank Michele and David for sharing this part of their lives with us...we are better for it.  I hope our love and prayers can be felt at even times like this.

Dempseys, you each are very, very loved.  There are no adequate words to express our sorrow.


Robbyn and Jack, and so many others

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Other Kind of Neighbors

And on the horizon, amidst the gunshots we hoped were target practice, there arose ten or more sets of these...

We officially have no neighbors other than one family a couple miles down the dirt road, and a few folks who are periodically stopping in to do this or that to their properties nearby, much like us, as they can.  All our real neighbors stop anytime they pass, or wave.  We catch up briefly, swap names or updates or scribble phone numbers for clearing/fill dirt/ etc work referrals.  For Florida, we have a fairly remote location.  You hear no unnatural noises unless it's an occasional semi gunning it on the highway or a tractor somewhere unspecific as-the-crow-flies. 

But then there was the weekend of Thanksgiving.  Our lazy idyllic swamp and palmetto backwater became The Four Wheel and ATV Convention Arena.  A large truck and trailer were parked cattywhompus at the head of the road.  The ten acre undeveloped property just next to our five is show above...the pic doesn't do it justice.  Off to the right on the boundary of our land was the shooting range.  And over the tops of the really wild land bounced along the topside of a huge swamp buggy, crisscrossing private lands with not a care, probably hunting wild hogs.  The ATVs were tearing up and down the roads, and all over the private lands that were unfenced.  Our property had been crisscrossed as well.

I get it.  It's rural, it's remote, it's prime for all that.

I DON'T get being passed by all these people multiple times, sometimes in a not so friendly way, without even a nod of the head or stopping to chew the fat.  The camping and RV convention that seemed to be underway next door, with big obvious tracks through our ditch and land to theirs despite their well graded entry road to theirs went on strong without a single acknowledgement of our very obvious presence.

It kind of chapped me.  It seemed pretty blatant. 

At least they know we're there now.  And IF we ever get the REAL fence up and post the trespassing signs, hopefully their gun range will be a little less cozied up to us and we won't have to worry about getting accidentally blown away.   Gunshots and whining engines are fun and fine.  Having a ton of them descending on the general area without so much as a howdy or a tip of the cap...not so friendly to me. 

And there are the big dogs.  When we have livestock out there, I'm not too happy about free roaming big dogs they brought in with them and didn't keep close by.  I've read too many accounts of the killing dogs can do when not supervised.

Jack says good fences make good neighbors.  I hope we get that (blinkin blankin) fence up soon.  I like our real neighbors, the ones who have animals in their fields, or crops or trees or are slowly clearing some space for their families.  The vote's still out about weekend people who hunt hogs on unfenced private lands (ours, and everyone else's), and tear by a dozen feet from you on the road in the middle of nowhere and don't even give a nod.

Maybe it's seasonal.  The next week, they were gone.  Till...the next holiday weekend?

Fences and Flying Shovels

 Clear blue skies with fluffy clouds.  No sinister omens in sight to warn of how steep our learning curve is when it comes to putting up barbed wire...

This past week went well in some respects and in others it was humbling and frustrating. One thing that's really important when it's just the two of us is learning to work together. My husband and I have very different work styles and abilities and teamwork skills. That is the preface for this update post :-D

Fence Not Done Right

 There are several factors that slow us down in working at the farm, the biggest one being

We're complete rookies and often have NO IDEA WHAT WE'RE DOING.  I can't repeat that enough :) Book-learning and youtube videos are indispensable, but they are not infallible and they don't replace the actual hands-on that happens.  The learning curve is steep.

We had better have our act together before heading out there, because it's an hour's drive each direction and fuel costs are prohibitive, so we have to plan each trip. Sometimes we do better than others.

This past week we pretty much flopped. Another slow-down factor is whether Jack is up to the labor or not on any given day. Because he works some night shifts, the off days are hard "daytime" days on his body's time's like constantly switching his sleep/waking cycle complete opposite hours every few days. My schedule can be like that, too, when I work night shifts. But it's less crucial for me because I'm not doing much of the actual physical labor at the farm. His digging post holes, lifting those heavy posts, unloading the heavier items from the truck, and so on requires him to not be so jet-lagged. So often he will simply sleep an entire day in between his work days and a farm day. And I don't want to push him, no matter how anxious I am for us to have a day there getting things done. After all, this is SO THAT we can be together for the long term, not at the expense OF being together. Jack's my treasure. Got to take care of the man :)

EXPENSE.  We can't throw money at everything because we don't have it.  We have to pick and choose the highest priority expenses, to make much of little.  This equates in things going very slowly for us, pay as we go and do it ourselves.  We are unable to take advantage of a lot of labor-saving help because cash is rare and we have to do much of it ourselves or not at all. Some things we have no choice but to save for...for instance the initial clearing. And recently chainsawing down a big tree.  We don't have the tools to cut into thick unbroken palmetto, and we also paid to have the culvert dug and installed because to rent the equipment ourselves and have it delivered on site cost just as much as hiring a neighbor to do it and would have been more hassle. It took a LOT of saving...months and months.

Other people's realities are not always ours.  This whole process up to now has been that way, but it's hard to explain to folks sometimes. Yes, it would certainly be smarter and faster and probably even better to use professionals to do the work. No, we can't afford it. And we're not whining. It's our reality. Anyway, I mentioned Jack and I  are learning to work together in new ways. Sometimes that means getting better at communicating, sometimes it means we find separate tasks one is better at than another, sometimes we do not see eye to eye, and sometimes we argue and then have to walk away.

Pine tree to left, needed to be cut down, too near power lines
Unexpected jobs arise. One of those recently was tree removal. We want to keep all our trees, and this past year I've had to understand that some of the plants just had to go. Some areas just have to be cleared to be accessible. Some areas were cleared with equipment hired in (the few jobs we planned and paid for) and others have been cleared by hand. Jack's downed some small trees himself and a lot of bushes and brush.
This week a dear friend and another man came in and took down a pretty large pine tree. It was deceptively large and was a bigger job than originally thought (by me...Jack estimated it better...he won that bet). The man cutting the tree literally shimmied up the trunk with some rope and a chainsaw and took it out limb by limb by tying himself off with the rope way up high and systematically felling portions. It was a little tricky, but he made it seem easy.

The tree had to come out because it was growing too close to the electric line overhead. There was a lot of praying going on while that man chainsawed things while balanced way up high in that tree! Thankfully all went well... This is one of those times when I wish we had more cash for these projects. There are experienced people like this man who could have our fence put up in a jiffy for a fair price. He's willing, we're willing. It can't happen without the cash, though. SO...

The tree that was bigger than what it appeared

Wednesday while the tree was being cut down, we began putting some barbed wire on the front corner section, the short one. It was a lesson in patience and starting over a few times. I can hammer staples and help unroll the wire and hold it. Jack does the lion's share of everything. His knee was so sore after being out there just a little while, he needed to just put it up and rest it that night, and he was in pain. This has rarely happened, but it's important not to push a potential injury. So...

Thursday was a day for him to recoup. He mostly stayed in bed and I fed him good food.

Friday we wanted to finish reinforcing the front brace posts.  
Here's what went wrong...
1. Ever had a day when you felt like a zombie for no reason? We both did. We didn't load everything we needed into the truck before setting out. We thought we had, but we hadn't. That's happened before.  Once we forgot specific tools.  Another time we forgot the 5 gallon potty and TP.  (If you're going to be out there ALL day, it comes in handy)  Sometimes  a particular tool.  It's frustrating if you take the paint but leave the paintbrushes behind, and so on.  Time for a master checklist...
2. We were both out of sorts. Not sure why.  But feeling like we still have no clue after reading and TRYING to have a clue on some particulars can contribute to frustration...
3. Jack understood what he wanted/needed to do...I did not. And we had not communicated well about the day beforehand.  It began to seem to me like we did not have enough of a plan for how to proceed with the fencing. I wanted to understand better and adjust our plans early on rather than continue doing something the wrong way if that were the case. Being ON the job sometimes is not the best time for losing the time needed to get on the same page.
4. We have a HUGE disagreement about whether to run the wire inside the perimeter posts or outside them. I vote for inside, according to all I've read and for the reason we hope to have cattle. I also noticed that spacing the wire a foot apart was probably not going to be close enough together. I had images of cows running loose or leaning against the wire and popping the staples out. Jack disagreed and gave me no real reasons why, other than his feelings on the subject. That just didn't go over well with me. If felt we should work this out now, not wait till later. With that said, I found plenty of evidence that if the fence is constructed well enough, the wire can probably be fine either side of the posts. I just disagree with Jack's lack of reasons to do it that way, especially since most of the ag fences we see in that area are run with the wire inside. THAT was the beginning, and the continuance, of our being out of sorts with each other those days. And I still feel like the wire needs to be run on the inside, but 'nuff said.
5. We looked at sizes and prices of the actual fence posts at tractor supply, and I was calculating costs. Originally we wanted to put up woven wire around the perimeter, but the barbed wire is much less expensive and would still suit our purposes for the larger livestock. So far we have 8 foot posts on the front. Jack wants a five foot fence, and I don't care if it's four feet or not at this point. After much back and forth (some of it heated some not) we're going to put in the 8 foot posts (five feet high above-ground) along the front roadway, and consider doing the sides and back with the six foot posts (four feet above ground).

Before our amateur fence wire attempts...

We did all the wrong things so far with the barbed wire. I don't like that Jack doesn't wear long sleeves or heavy enough gloves working with that stuff. Those barbs can rip through skin in no time. I reckon he'll find what works for him, but since the days are in the mid 80s and up still right now, he gets mighty hot with long sleeves. I wear them anyway, and I burn up. In retrospect, after a very polite and kind employee at Tractor Supply walked us through the fencing tools section answering a lot of questions while I jotted notes and drew diagrams in a notebook, we found out some of the things we were doing wrong.

 Friday, when we were finally out at The Fence That Wasn't, we saw that the three strands of wire we had already put up were sagging. Sagging enough that when I put my foot on one, it would just go downnnnn. Even rookies like us know that's a lousy thing. So I asked Jack to see if we could just get them tight enough before doing anything else. He used the fence stretcher, which would have worked ok if we knew how much tension to keep when cranking the handle. He got the wire to a good tension and the part grabbed in the stretching tool was supposed to be tightened, I think, by using another tool to grab and turn it till taut. It worked, initially, till we did one turn too far and then it broke (the wire). Then Jack tried to figure out how to splice another wire there, and he did, but when we released it, the wire was still too loose.

At this point, this whole procedure had taken about an hour. I think I said "we have to learn to do this the right way so we don't repeat this every time" and it was apparent we just weren't doing something right or this was going to be the longest running wire-breaking-and-repairing nightmare ever. We were too disorganized, too ignorant of just what to do, and too irritable to flex and find a better task to round out the day. A couple adult tantrums were thrown under a beautiful blue sky, and I believe also a shovel was thrown into the ditch as we "discussed" things.

So I think we realized that it would be better to regroup and write out questions, make a master list of supplies as a checklist for future trips, and to make a trip to Tractor Supply for exact prices and sizes of things (as stated above). Then we went and got tea and all you can eat fish at a local dive that was on the way home, and started THE LIST.

Then we went to Tractor Supply and spoke to The Very Nice Employee and his sidekick, who gave us these two enlightening instructions that may save our fence and our marriage (ha!) ;-)...
1. Use the "come along" tool for the initial installation of the barbed wire strands. I drew diagrams, he showed us the gadgets and how to use them, we plopped them into the cart and removed other gadgets from the cart we did not need.
2. Drawing a diagram of the corner posts, we were beginning the wire on the wrong post. The wire is wrapped on THE corner post a coupe times, all the way to THE OTHER corner post, and tightened up using the "come along" tool, NOT the fence stretcher tool. THAT was supposed to be for repairing fence breaks. Even though it seems very self-explanatory, those two little steps, because we had not been doing them or doing them the right way, are crucial and basic. SO...let's see if we can figure them out the next time.
Oh, and we bought a roll of SMOOTH WIRE for reinforcing. They were out of it before, but they had a roll this trip. And SMOOTH WIRE is.......SMOOTH.

That's all. We're still together. We still love each other. Being two stubborn people working on one stubborn fence will try us both. Better planning. We hope that's in place now. We're not going to be defeated by a few strands of barbed wire. Let's see if we can actually GET IT ONTO THE FENCE now...

See?  I'm smiling....  :-D

Just keep the shovel out of throwing distance a while longer...