My Three Things

Sorry about the interruption of the Polyface Farms trip. Since we got back the Mad Farmer has been exceptionally busy at the primary place of employment. It’s sad how taking a vacation somehow results in twice the work when you return. I don’t think that’s how it is supposed to work, but somehow, it seems like that does become the end result. Perhaps the Mad Farmer is doing it wrong? Seems likely.

In the meantime the Mad Farmer has started listening to a new podcast – Living Free in Tennessee. The podcaster is Nicole Sauce, who is also an Expert Council member for Jack Spirko at the The Survival Podcast. The Living Free podcast is much like it sounds, it’s a podcast about homesteading and being more sustainable and self-sufficient, right up the Tiny Sustainable homestead alley.

One of the things that Nicole Sauce is a big fan of is something called “My Three Things”. As the Mad Farmer understands it My Three Things is basically about prioritizing the three most important things that you need to get done each day. Everyone is always busy, that’s a side-effect of current life. Everything is fast-paced and it’s easy to lose sight of what your goals are. My Three Things help you keep track of that. Lots of people keep a To Do list, the Mad Farmer keeps multiple lists of all kinds of things, lots and lots of lists. So many lists….

So of all the things you want to get accomplished in a day, pick out the three most important to complete that day and actually write them down. It can be a help if you write them down in a public way. Currently on MeWe (a social network platform that doesn’t have ads and doesn’t sell your info the way Facebag does) Nicole has a group called “Living Free in Tennessee” (anyone see that coming)? On the group page a lot of followers post their three things that they are hoping to accomplish that day. It generates a group encouragement and helps folks to tackle those tasks. Seems like a good idea, or at least a helpful one.

So, the Mad Farmer has started two “My Three Things” lists. One for the homestead and one for the workplace. So far the it’s been an interesting experience. Helpful, not too much different than than all the other lists, but the component that is missing so far is the public posting. The Mad Farmer has started sharing the three things with Miss Mercy, so there is some semi-public accountability. Will it work? Only time will tell. If you would like to hear it in a better and more coherent form, then you can listen Nicole Sauce’s podcast “Balance Your Short Term and Long Term Success with My Three Things“.

I’ll Take “What’s Airbnb” for $100, Alex”

So before we left Topeka we added a couple of days travel time and when we looked at our trip there were going to be four main areas of expenses: Gasoline, Food, Accommodations and location expenses (admission costs, event costs and tour costs). As far as gasoline costs that is not something you can really control if you are driving. You can budget for approximate cost, add about 20% and that will be probably be pretty close. If you know your average mileage (about 18 mpg in the Family Truckster) and the approximate round-trip mileage (about 1,500) and the average cost of gas (estimate the high side, so $2.50 per gallon) so that works out to about $210.00 in gas. Add 20% about $40.00 and we figure $250.00 for gas (I know, you can see where this is going). I’m pretty sure given side-trips, add-ons, and the occasional “did I miss a turn? I missed that turn. Okay, find a place to turn around”, Miss Mercy and the Mad Farmer probably will add 500 to 1000 extra miles on this trip.

Admission costs we knew about from looking up ticket prices on the inter-webs prior to the trip. For example, the Monticello Evening Tour tickets were $65.00 per adult (well worth it and will be the subject of a future post). The least expensive tour price, was $20.00 per adult at Polyface Farms (the destination that started it all). Ax throwing added $20.00 at Williamsburg (also worth it). Anyway, admission and tour tickets prices were pretty steady. Food we planned as a mix of self-created meals (sandwiches, snacks, trail mix, buying drinking water in 1 gallon jugs for $1 for use with our water bottles instead of $3 for a bottle of water other places) and purchased meals. We knew going in that eating at destinations and restaurants on the road would be pricey so we planned in a few instances of that (more on the dining experience also in a future post). So that was pretty fixed. Which brings us to lodging.

Usually when we travel we tend to say in clean, reasonable hotels along the way. The last time we did a major trip (to the Pacific Northwest) we mostly stayed with friends and the family that Miss Mercy has in that area. Our lodging costs were very minimal. Given that the Mad Farmers relatives did not come to America until the 1860’s (Miss Mercy’s family history is hers to tell, if she likes), there were not too many relatives back East that the Mad Farmer is close enough with to spend an evening. According to documented family genealogy the Mad Farmers Grandfather on his Mother’s side was related to Mary Todd, Abraham Lincoln’s wife, as an eighth-great cousin or something (if you are really interested let me know and I’ll dig out the exact connection for you). As swell as that is historically, I don’t feel that it entitles the Mad Farmer to show up at basically a random strangers house, yell “Cousins”, hug them and ask to crash the night. So we were looking a pretty hefty budget item in the form of hotel fees.

So, this is where the Airbnb part comes in (everyone heaves a sigh of relief “he finally is getting to the point”). Miss Mercy’s boss at one of her part-time occupations had recently returned from a vacation trip with his wife to attend a Grateful Dead concert in a far off land (remember the reference from the very first post – I was sure it would come around sometime). Masterful Mike (he is a very good vegetable and mushroom farmer) was extolling the virtues of an Airbnb location they had rented while on their trip. Remote location, view over a lake, meals cooked by a chef (okay, I probably added that last part – he was going on a bit about how great it was). Sounded wonderful, Miss Mercy and the Farmer said we might give it a try. So fast forward to the first day of the trip. We’re off schedule and stay at a chain hotel the first night. Because we’ve built some cushion into the schedule the Farmer suggests to Miss Mercy that we try out the Airbnb thing and try and find a place to stay in Staunton, VA, the second night of the trip, so we’re not killing ourselves trying to drive all night and it seemed like a less expensive option than another night in a hotel.

So Miss Mercy is driving the second part of that day. The Mad Farmer signs up for Airbnb on his phone (it can be done, but it’s a bit challenging when the signal drops and you lose internet and have to start over). The Mad Farmer searchs the area, as a complete newbie and comes across a listing for a room at a house close to where they will be. New remodel, access to the backyard, kitchen and laundry, not too expensive – great! We’ll reserve it! Get 4/5 ths of the way through reserving the room and the app crashes. Go to re-reserve and the site is no longer available – what! Did we reserve it? Did someone else get it while we were trying to get back online? What is going on? Good news, after 10 minutes of trying to figure out what is going on we get a confirmation from Airbnb. The reservation is ours, instructions for how to get in the house are sent and the address as well – we are on our way. We message the host and tell her approximately when we will be arriving. Everything is going swimmingly.

Then, disaster! We forgot about the time zone change from CST to EST and for some reason all our devices were not set to auto-change time zones. We’re getting in an hour plus later than we thought. Frantically we text the host of the issue – the response “no problem, it’s all good”. Wow, huge sigh. Turns out most hosts have some form of self-check in. Apparently a lot of times people get in late, crash, leave early the next morning and the host never even sees them. We learn this later, but at the time, it was nerve-wracking not knowing if we were going to be able to actually check-in.

We finally arrive at the destination. Self check-in goes smooth. The house is newly remodeled, everything is lovely, the room is nice (although only one outlet – reminder to self, pack an extension cord) and the bathroom is clean, stocked with towels and essentials and has a tub with jets! We’re pretty tired, so we crash and when we wake – we find out we mis-read the communication from the host – she works nights, so we have the place all to ourselves. It’s peaceful, we make coffee in our french press. Have a look at her garden, look at her cookbooks (some of which Mercy owns or wants to own) and then pack up and head out on our journey. Never met the lady, but super experience. Can’t recommend that site enough, a great first experience.

Next Up: Colonial Williamsburg Day 1

The First Travel Day (aka “Have you Made Friends with Construction Cones”)

So as the Tiny Sustainable Household started their trip East to Polyface Farms we expected to run into traffic delays because of road construction in Kansas. We had a hard winter with extreme bouts of “freeze/thaw” temperatures, which tears roadways apart in short order. The current running joke is “Europeans drive on the left, Topekans drive on what’s left”. If I remember correctly our state motto is “Welcome to Kansas, we’re under construction”. So we are used to construction delays in Kansas. We expected some delays in Missouri, both because of construction and traffic. Contrary to belief outside the Midwest, Kansas City and St. Louis are both major cities. Interstate 70 East between the two is the Midwestern equivalent to the I-5 mess between Portland, OR and Seattle, WA.

What the Mad Farmer did not expect was that the roadways in Indiana would be the best of the whole trip. For the most part, not many potholes in Indiana, things are patched well and the few places that did have construction underway were clearly marked, fairly short in duration (in Virginia we ran into construction zones that were 20 plus miles in length, with a top speed of between 55 mph and zero), and actively being worked on. Never thought I would say it but, “Kudos to Indiana”. So the point to this is we ran into construction zones early and often. A lot of sections of highway that weren’t under construction should have been. So the construction, combined with the rain delay in starting, meant that by the time it got past dark both travelers were weary and ready to stop for the night. We originally had hoped to stop in Lexington, KY. We made it to Evansville, IN the first night.

If you have never been to Evansville, IN it’s a pretty nice town. Evansville is the third largest city in Indiana , about 120,000 people – similar in size to Topeka, KS. We rolled into town about 10:30pm CST and managed to book the last room open at a La Quinta Hotel. La Quinta is in the Wyndham property group, think Days Inn, etc. Usually they are pretty clean, reasonably priced and offer a “continental breakfast”. Almost every hotel out there now offers some sort of “breakfast” for the traveler staying at their facility. If you really enjoy breakfast you might want to consider dining out somewhere else. This trip Miss Mercy and the Mad Farmer splurged on a stainless steel french press (shout out to Jack Spirko of the Survival Podcast and his “Item of the Day“). The press, along with a Hamilton Beach electric kettle that we got for $3 at an overstock store (thanks for the “heads-up” to our good friend Lady Erin of the Mad Shopping Skills), and a bag of our favorite “Seattle’s Best No. 5” we have had excellent coffee on this trip, no matter what “breakfast” is placed in our path

After what passed for “breakfast” the Farmer and Miss Mercy hit the road, and then, once we got into Kentucky and West Virginia, we hit even more road construction. The Farmer really wishes he could grow orange construction cones, he would be rich beyond his wildest dreams, but alas, he can’t. Given the delays, the fact that the trip did kickoff earlier than planned, and, a discussion while driving (many are had between the Farmer and Miss Mercy during these trips – it’s one of the best things about them). It was decided to stop in Staunton, VA and re-evaluate the travel plans instead of attempting to drive non-stop into Cape Charles, VA. So, at this point, where will the intrepid duo stay?

Next Up: I’ll Take “What’s Airbnb” for $100, Alex”

No Plan Survives Contact with the Enemy

General George C. Scott, oh wait, that was the actor. General George S. Patton, once said “No plan survives first contact with the enemy”, or something very close to that. So it was with the Mad Farmer’s travel itinerary. The Mad Farmer hates to work on his birthday, so he suggested that instead of leaving on the original travel date that they bump up the departure and leave a couple of days sooner, so that the Farmer and Miss Mercy would have the opportunity for a more leisurely drive and possibly more time to “vacate”.

Sounds great doesn’t it? It was a great idea for moving the travel plan forward. Alas, General Patton’s observation came into play. In the days prior to the planned departure date the Farmer and Miss Mercy expected to have a couple of days to pack, finalize their plans, gas up the Family Truckster ( extra points if you know where that reference came from) and set on their merry way. Like most things in Life, Life, itself, got in the way. Work things popped up, minor emergencies had to be dealt with, lists were made, reviewed, and left on the kitchen counter or mis-read while shopping. Things that should have been in place weren’t, things that hadn’t moved in years, migrated. All the typical behavior that happens when you are “trying to get ready” and things go normally, instead of perfectly.

No worries really, there have been two days added to the trip, so slight delays shouldn’t cause any problems, you weren’t even planning on traveling on that day anyway, right? It probably should be mentioned at this time that Kansas has had one of the wettest spring/summer seasons in recorded history. Yes, it’s been said that 200 million years ago Kansas was a vast sea hundred of feet, maybe miles, deep. The Mad Farmer and wife don’t live 200 million years ago, so getting constant spurts of 12-14 inches of rain in 5-8 days is pretty unusual. So the morning of the planned departure, because God or Mother Nature (your choice or insert other deity/higher power here – not gonna debate religion today) decided to open the heavens and bless the Homestead with high winds and several inches of rain, massive storm clouds, flash flooding watches and county Emergency Declarations, just when the Homesteaders were hoping to leave. Did we mention the high winds that dropped a good-sized limb onto the Homestead from our Silver Maple? No one or no thing was hurt, but starting out on vacation thinking of the time that is going to be spent with a chainsaw upon return from vacation is not the best way to start a trip.

Finally things ease up. The Truckster is loaded, the coolers are in place (but not as full as envisioned). The last minute ritual shopping trip for last minute items is completed (sorry about the lack of Diet Coke and Frozen Pizzas most beloved Youngest Daughter – those were all on the same line of the list and the Mad Farmer missed them), and the trip gets under way. Because of the late start (or maybe it would be better phrased as “starting later than expected”) the Farmer and Miss Mercy did not make as much progress as hoped. Delays were encountered, which will be more aptly described in greater detail in the next post. All-in-all not a bad start, but not exactly according to the “plan”.

Next Up: The First Travel Day (aka Have you Made Friends with Construction Cones)?

Planning and the Polyface Farm Trip

So, the Mad Farmer and Miss Mercy have the beginnings of a trip plan. Historically the Homesteading duo has a destination in mind, including activities they want to pursue and, in most cases, the trips kind of plan themselves by working backwards from the destination activities and the time allotted to be out-of-town.

Side note: Isn’t “Out-of-Town” a wonderful phrase? You can tell people “No, I can’t do that, I’ll be “Out-of-Town”. I’m sorry I cut you off in traffic or did something stupid in front of you, please forgive me I’m from “Out-of-Town”. Where’s a wonderful place to …, I’m from “Out-of-Town”. Some of the best things to do and places to eat have been discovered because it was mentioned that I was from “Out-of-Town”.

So the Farmer is excited to have tickets to the farm tour at Polyface Farms. So that’s set, but the tour only takes about two hours on a Saturday morning, so clearly we have some time to explore the area. It’s been many years since the Mad Farmer has been back East (more of a Pacific Northwest, Parrothead, type of guy lately), so possibilities abound. Miss Mercy was attending a presentation on Presidential Gardens (has it been mentioned she is a Master Gardener?) and Thomas Jefferson’s gardens at Monticello were in the presentation. Miss Mercy asked the Farmer if he wants to go check out the gardens at Monticello? “Heck Ya” (sometimes, when the Farmer gets excited and forgets he was born in the Midwest, he slips into a Southern style exclamation).

So putting Monticello on the list brings up other historic places in the area (apparently there are just a bunches of them), so the Farmer is asked “how about Colonial Williamsburg”? Another “Heck Ya” later and that’s on the list. Hey, we haven’t been to the Smithsonian together, and D.C. is right there, and the Ocean is only two hours away, and we could go to Newport News. The Farmer says “I’ve always wanted to go to Kitty Hawk”, then suddenly realizes they are currently only planning on being out “Out-of-Town” for about eight days, including almost four days of travel time. Doing some basic math the Farmer realizes, he won’t get to eat or sleep on the trip based on the expanding itinerary. Suddenly, it doesn’t sound like much of a vacation. So gingerly (because Miss Mercy loves ginger) the Farmer points out they only have a few days to work with. Miss Mercy’s travel balloon deflates a bit, but, because she’s such an excellent wife, she agrees that perhaps a more moderate travel plan might be in order – but hey, we can still go to the beach.

So, it was eventually settled on that the intrepid duo would go to Cape Charles (apparently there is an awesome bridge across Chesapeake Bay), Colonial Williamsburg, Monticello and Polyface Farms (the whole reason for the trip). It sounded like a do-able plan, and so things were now coming together.

Next: No Plan Survives Contact with the Enemy

The Mad Farmer’s Trip to Polyface Farms

For those who personally know the Mad Farmer and Miss Mercy it may come as no surprise that this year the TSL Urban farm duo decided to take a trip to Polyface Farms owned and operated by Joel Salatin. For those who don’t know, or who tune out when the Mad Farmer starts talking about subjects that interest him (but perhaps not the listener), Joel Salatin is a pretty big deal in the world of regenerative farming. He is often a keynote speaker at Mother Earth News Fairs, a sought after guest on permaculture and farming podcasts, the author of multiple books, including, “Confessions of a Lunatic Farmer”, and “Everything I Want to Do is Illegal” (the Mad Farmer’s personal favorite) as well as a bunch of others. He offers a farm tour every other Saturday in the summer at his Shenandoah Valley farm.

Because Miss Mercy might be the most understanding and loving spouse on the planet, when the Mad Farmer came home from his day job (he is an IT professional at a very old and established bank in Kansas) and said “it’s time to get out of Kansas, let’s go see Joel’s farm”, she did not hit him with a rolling pin, have the Farmer declared insane and file for Power of Attorney or throw heavy objects at him, she said “that’s a great idea” (told you she wins “The Most Understanding Spouse” award). For those not familiar with fore-mentioned award the first year it was awarded was when Joel Salatin said to his wife “Honey, let’s start a grass fed beef farm”.

So the Mad Farmer and Miss Mercy started planning their trip to see what a working, regenerative, soil-building, farm looked like. By “planning” we mean that Miss Mercy looked online, saw that tours of the farm were offered every other Saturday in the Summer and the tickets were $20 per adult, asked the Mad Farmer if he wanted to do this, and, when told “yes”, booked tickets. That ticket purchase set in motion two things: One, the most spontaneous and loosely planned trip the Farmer and Miss Mercy had ever undertaken and, two, an instant increase in devotion and love for his spouse beyond what the Mad Farmer thought possible. That statement might seem either trivial or overly dramatic, depending on who is reading it but, for the Farmer, already really enjoying his marriage to his favorite partner and best friend, it was a kind of “Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day kind of moment”.

It is always a surprise to the Mad Farmer that, in God’s infinite mercy, He allows room in the human spirit and heart for growth beyond what you think is possible. When the Farmer’s first daughter was born the Farmer really thought “How could you love anyone more than this tiny child”? When the Farmer’s second daughter was born, he discovered the answer to the first question was “This is how you can love more. You don’t have less love for the first, your heart just grows to hold love for the second”.

When the Farmer met and married Miss Mercy, his heart grew some more. Miss Mercy has put up with a lot of wild goose chases, random quests and downright off-the-cuff projects from the Farmer. She puts on a smile, checks her common sense at the door and either follows the Farmer down the path, or puts bread crumbs on the path back to sanity so, when the Farmer comes to his senses, he has a trail to follow back to solid ground. When Miss Mercy got on board for the trip to Polyface, the Farmer’s heart grew, the Universe made a little more sense and a trail of bread crumbs sprang into existence.

Next: Planning and the Trip

Worm Farming

Yesterday the Mad Farmer Homestead became a vermicomposting homestead. In case you are not familiar with vermicomposting it basically is “worm farming”. Worms are placed in some kind of container, usually with varying types of worm bedding materials and then fed with kitchen scraps, shredded newsprint, all sorts of things really. Once the worms process the input materials they extrude output materials. In case that’s too vague they eat lots of stuff, process it, and then poop it out (I’m not a huge fan of the Oxford comma, but this post feels like it’s going to be peppered with them, so feel free to let me know how you feel about it).

If you know Miss Mercy at all you would know that she loves worms. Big worms, small worms, any worms at all really. Growing up her dad owned a bait shop and because at the time she was young Nike had not yet been accused of using child labor for personal gain, her dad would send her and her brother out after a rain storm to collect Night-crawlers to be sold at their bait shop. Oddly enough, from the Mad Farmers viewpoint, it is hard to reconcile her collecting worms to be used as fish food in her younger years and her current gentleness when planting in the garden and making sure no worms are harmed in the process. The Mad Farmer has plenty of childhood memories that don’t make much sense when taken in an isolated context. There is no accounting for which memories you look on fondly I guess and it’s really more background info at this point.

Miss Mercy is a Master Gardener and is familiar with vermicomposting and, because the Mad Farmer has been researching Permaculture and ways to improve soil and plant productivity, the Homestead has been interested in vermicomposting for a while. The Mad Farmer’s sister, the Swamp Gardener, had gifted the Homestead with a commercially made worm bin. The unit stacks, has a spigot for collecting worm tea (nutrient rich liquid created by the worm byproducts) and multiple trays for allowing the migration of worms to new medium and the collections of worm castings (poop) for use in the garden. A princely gift that lacked two things: actual worms and the knowledge of how to work it (and possibly an overwhelming amount of other projects, but I guess that might be three).

Two years ago the Farmer created a structure at his homestead that he has dubbed the “Pub Shack”. A picture of the structure is the featured image on the TinySustainableLife blog. The Pub Shack has a garden shed on one end, a Key West themed bar/entertainment space in the middle section and a small deck on the far end. In the bar space there is a refrigerator made of a converted chest freezer. The only reason this comes into play is that one day the compressor on the freezer failed. The Mad Farmer had watched multiple YouTube videos on converted freezers to vermicomposting bins so of course the homemade freezer conversion was more appealing to the Farmers “tinkering” nature than the fully functional worm bin that had been gifted to the Homestead.

So fast forward, the Mad Farmer has watched videos, done online research, looked at books, and converted the freezer to a worm composting bin, filled with growth medium, kitchen scraps and set up for success. Squash, carrots and other edibles started growing in the bin, sowed by the introduction of kitchen scraps, but so far no worms. Then, because Miss Mercy has contacts everywhere there are Master Gardeners, worms became available. You might have heard the expression “When the Student is ready, the Master will appear”. The Mad Farmer equates it with “If you Build it They will Come”. Either way, a Master Gardener who was ready to pass on their worms overheard Miss Mercy discussing the project and, suddenly, hundreds of red wigglers appeared at the Homestead.

The worms are currently learning the layout of their new home. The Homestead is excited to have access to worm tea and highly nutritive worm castings. Miss Mercy has been super excited and overly concerned for their well-being. The Mad Farmer is hoping he has better success on his first foray into vermicomposting than he did with beekeeping (you can see why Miss Mercy might be overly concerned). How will it work out? How will worm farming enhance the Homestead? What happens next week on the same Bat Channel? Stay tuned to find out…

P.S. If you are a worm farmer yourself, we would love to hear about your experiences. Just leave us a comment.

Homestead Maintenance

A while back the Mad Farmer and Miss Mercy were planning on having some dear friends over to the Homestead. It was going to be the first time in a year that we were all able to be getting together after a very trying time for our friends. The day before we thought they would be able to come over we lost all water pressure in our kitchen sink. Not an ideal event when you are planning on cooking a turkey, making side dishes and would like to be able to wash up, clean vegetables and in general, use your kitchen.

So, the Mad Farmer did what any thrifty person would do, instead of calling a plumber at over-time rates for an after hours on-site visit, the Farmer got under the sink, turned the water off at the hot/cold taps and discovered that our hard water had corroded the taps to the point that you could not shut the water off locally. After a whole-house search and a quick call to the Mad Farmers brother, who originally owned and re-modeled the house, the main water shutoff was located and turned off, allowing the Mad Farmer to proceed.

The Mad Farmer would like to say he’s an expert plumber. The Mad Farmer would also like to say that he just won the Lottery, sadly, he can’t say either thing without it being untrue. The Farmer is a mediocre plumber. I understand the basics and have replaced toilets, sinks and made minor repairs. In this particular case after struggling to finally getting things loosened up and disconnected it was discovered that the hard water at the Homestead had created calcification and mineral deposits in the connecting pipes and pieces had broken off and clogged the faucet. Because it took the Mad Farmer a significant amount of time to get to the point where he knew what he was dealing with it was dark, and late.

So, we’re at Home Depot, about 1/2 hour before the store closes, deciding on a new faucet. God Bless America. There are countries in the world where there is still not access to clean, potable, running water. In America you can need to replace a part of your personal infrastructure (your homestead) you can hop into your fossil fuel burning conveyance (your car) and mosey on down to your local home improvement store. Where there were a bewildering number of choices at 9:00 pm on a work night. After a discussion on various features that we would never use we finally decided not to get the faucet that you wave at and it would tell you the time and instead went with one that basic functions, like on and off, but also had the intriguing “bell shield” technology that would create an impenetrable outside “bell” of water that would prevent food particles from devastatingly flying into unrestricted corners of your sink while washing your plate off – cool right?

So, two hours later, with the water at the homestead shut off, the Farmer knew (because he has been married to her for eight years) Miss Mercy would be much happier in the morning if she had coffee and and a shower. The Mad Farmer finally had the new faucet and hoses installed and SUCCESS – water in the kitchen sink of a pressure they had not seen the purchase of the Homestead. It was 11 pm at night and the Farmer was tired, but proud. Resting comfortably on his pillow knowing he had excelled at a mediocre job in 2-3 times the time it would have taken a professional. In hindsight everything takes at least 2-3 times longer and based on experience where “Everything’s a Project” he should have know it would be.

Fast forward six weeks. Water pressure in the kitchen is worse than when the Farmer replaced the faucet. Fearing that he had overpaid for a faucet, the Farmer scheduled an appointment with the Department of Making Sad About Your Water to come check his pressure. After several scheduling mishaps he finally was told by an employee of the Department that his water pressure was outstanding and way better then the employee’s water pressure at his homestead. The Farmer groaned. This meant a trip under the sink. Learning a lesson from the original problem he turned off the Homestead water first. Under the sink, unscrewing connections, small space, not pleasant, the Farmer could not find a problem, probably because he was a mediocre plumber. Finally, the actual way to unscrew his new hi-tech nozzle was discovered. And, what did he see?

The brand new nozzle was completely clogged with small bits of rubberized particles. It was weird looking. Clearly a problem. Fortunately there was small wire screen preventing said particles from clogging the nozzle. The Farmer wonders if the screen was in place because the faucet manufacturers knew this was a potential problem but failed to disclose it to unsuspecting consumers or if it was just far-sighted design on their part to prevent problems – no way to actually know, just it was there. After dislodging said particles, water pressure in the kitchen miraculously returned to previously exciting levels.

The moral dear readers, is that if you have a Homestead, there are always going to be surprises and sometimes the simplest explanation is covered by Occam’s Razor. What surprises have you had at your homestead? Were the fixes simple or complex?

Technology and the Microwave

About three months ago the light bulb in our under-the-counter microwave in the kitchen burned out. No big deal, just put in a new bulb, right? Well, when the Mad Farmer removed the old burnt out bulb the entire bulb housing came out of the microwave with it. Because the Mad Farmer is just human and occasionally makes mistakes he attempted to just re-insert the bulb housing back into the Microwave without unplugging it first – you can probably see what is coming….

Cue a spark, a flash, a pop, a circuit breaker tripped and a very startled Mad Farmer. After resetting the circuit breaker the outlet tested fine but the microwave was still non-functional. After a quick search of the inter-webs for a repair manual for our particular brand and model of microwave (aren’t the inter-webs amazing?) and after a little time with a circuit tester it was determined that our microwave was kaput. The Mad Farmer was briefly upset for being a Dufus of the 1st degree for not unplugging the microwave. Then came the awkward discussion with Miss Mercy about destroying our microwave (by accident, but definitely not functioning) and what we should do – repair the one we had or get another.

Much to the Mad Farmer’s surprise Miss Mercy went way outside the box and suggested we not replace the unit, at least not right away. The wise wife suggested that we try an experiment and see what it was like living without a device that re-heated or cooked our food with super-excited molecules and could make people sterile if there was not proper shielding in place. The Mad Farmer was open to that suggestion so we decided to give it a try. Right away we noticed two immediate issues: the Mad Farmer started really missing the light for cooking provided over the stove (the actual initial trigger for the entire process) and we both missed the clock/timer function that allowed us to easily discern the time and, optionally, allow timing of dinner preparations.

Eventually we discovered the other downside to not owning a working microwave – you can’t instantly reheat food. Turns out somethings reheat in a cast iron skillet very well, somethings reheat in the oven really well, somethings reheat in a pan on the stove very well. Somethings don’t reheat well at all no matter what method you use. Interestingly this started to change what we decided to cook and eat. Miss Mercy dislikes left-overs for multiple days in a row (unless it’s tacos – that seems to be okay) so we started to try and select meals that are easily reheated as leftovers or not have leftovers. It is interesting how we started to adjust what we cooked and how we cooked to start to take in account how leftovers impacted our future meals, mostly lunch.

The Mad Farmer started reflecting on his history and realized that he could not really remember leftovers growing up. We probably had leftovers, but I don’t think it was very often. We had a family of five, Mom, Dad, two boys and one girl. Breakfast was usually cereal, either hot or cold (Malt-o-Meal was the best), Lunch was often sandwiches, Dinner was the big meal of the day and it was usually on the table at 5:30 pm. If we were having hamburgers I’m pretty sure there were five made. I remember a lot of casseroles so either they were appropriately sized or I’m sure they were reheated in the oven.

My dad was born on a farm and grew up with farm food, hot, lots of it, but not a ton of variety. My country Grandpa had two freezers in the barn, one for beef, one for pork. Grandma raised chickens. Typically we were sent to the barn freezer and told to bring something back. Didn’t matter what, they raised their own animals so eventually everything was eaten. Might be burgers one night, steaks another, chops another and so on. The Mad Farmer’s homestead is a little more adventurous when it comes to food and we’ve been trying to reduce the carbohydrate intake, so we don’t eat a lot of sandwiches or bread. Typically we start the day with Porridge or eggs. Lunch is usually salad (or should be), sometimes leftovers and dinner tends to be either home cooked or leftovers.

The point to this trip down memory lane is that growing up, at least until I was a teenager, no one had microwaves. My city grandparents bought the first microwave we had ever seen. It’s amazing how pervasive the technology has become since the initial introduction. Office breakrooms used to sometimes have a “toaster oven”, rarely, but sometimes they might have an actual stove. Most people tended to bring sack lunches. Now every place you go has a microwave available. We also have vastly increased incidences of cancer and other diseases that did not seem to be around when I was growing up. Maybe those things are showing up because we’ve knocked back all the things that used to get us before cancer. My personal theory is that it coincides with the introduction of highly processed foods and massive amounts of corn sugar (clearly a post for another day).

So to sum up, Miss Mercy and I decided to not replace the microwave. When we removed it we did install a super-cool motion sensitive LED under-the-counter light that has six different color settings so that the Mad Farmer can see what he’s cooking. We are learning to re-heat things the old fashioned way – using a cast iron skillet, pots and pans on the stovetop or in the oven. So far it’s working out okay. It does require a little more planning and slightly more time but that’s not always a bad thing. The upside is the food does tend to taste better. If you’ve never had toast in a cast iron skillet you should really try it – once we did we got rid of our toaster.

What’s your experience? Would you consider giving up your microwave? How much would that impact your life? We’d be interested in hearing others thoughts.

Homestead Progress

One of the on-going discussions that Miss Mercy and I have is about progress on the homestead. Sometimes it seems that nothing is going right, things we planted last year have died or are failing to thrive, all of the bird feeders we put up are full because a hawk moved into the neighborhood and has eaten or scared off all the birds. The first year I attempted to keep bees I was generously gifted two hives, equipment and about 60,000 bees. I was desperately attempting to learn how to keep them alive, attending meetings of the Kansas Bee Keeper Association , reading books and then suddenly, small hive beetles! I understand that small hive beetles are a natural part of the world, I understand that they only do what they do because they must – but I dislike small hive beetles with the same passion that I dislike squirrels.

The slow progress we seem to be making seems overwhelming at times. Sometimes we sit on the deck and discuss the lack of progress. The interesting thing that we discovered while discussing our lack of progress was that we were discussing it on our deck. Five years ago when we moved in to the Mad Farmer homestead there were two decks. One deck was what we called the “Fire Deck”, that was an existing deck in one corner of the yard that had been created to facilitate “fire pitting”. The second deck was a smaller deck that extended off the back of the house. The Deck that Miss Mercy and I were sitting on, drinking our morning coffee, discussing the lack of progress on the homestead was a deck extension we built three years ago about 22 feet by 17 feet of deck extension that wrapped around the house. The same year the Mad Farmer built his lovely bride a Pergola on the old portion of the deck. We are literally sitting on an example of progress.

When we bought the property it had many trees, it had weird bushes in strange places, the earthworm activity was good but lots of bare soil. Five years later we now have four decks, The Main Deck, The Deck Deck, The Fire Deck and the Dock Deck (actually this build is in progress). We have a scenic pond, a partially completed decorative pond (waiting until the rains pass and we can finish it). We have removed the dead trees, the scrub trees and weird vegetation in the easements. We have the Pub Shack and the Hugel mounds. We are clearing space for a Green House and Miss Mercy’s Flower garden is starting to bloom – the Hollyhocks are amazing! When you look at pictures from when we moved in until now the changes are actually amazing. Miss Mercy has dug a lot of post holes. Your humble Mad Farmer has moved a lot of wood chips and dirt. We have a plan on where we want to go. We’re working on it. I’m not sure who initiated the phrase “Every step in right direction is a progress”.

Every movement forward is in the right direction. As long as it’s forward, it’s progress. Life is like that – every moment is either forward or backwards, always pick forward and you are moving in the right direction.