Thursday, December 30, 2010

Scenes from a No Name Farm/Ranch

Just a little of this and that from around the place.

Jer demonstrates the life-altering benefits of owning a hay spear. Hay spears change lives.

Seamus completely non-plussed at the sight of his Person perched atop the bale. But then, nothing really impresses Seamus, probably because he is a cow.

Boo contemplates life.

Noni and Jezebel pose.

And Noni skillfully demonstrates the chubby-donkey-roll.

Our New Place! & Scheming

Lucky for us, we've located our dream property a mere 1 mile down the road from our current place. Seeing this haven from the road, we are grateful that the house build has fallen to pieces so that now we can buy this amazing property!

Do you see the red barn? Be still my heart.

She even comes with cows. More cows!

Rolling pasture. White picket fences.

Thick forest!! And is that a donkey in the pasture? Do you like our new place?! We're very, very excited. We'll be even more excited if it ever goes up for sale. 'Til then....

we're scheming, planning, and making a list of "if yes, then" and "if no, then" charts so that we can make some sensible decisions without messy emotions getting in the way. For example, today we'll likely learn whether the sweet-talked appraiser manages to add more value to his appraisal so that the bank will lend. If "yes" he does, then the cabin's a go. If "no" he doesn't (which is what will happen) then we go back to a builder waiting in the wings to use his metal sided home bid. And then we start over. New lender. New appraisal. Fingers crossed. Again, again, again.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Homesteading Tuesday

We had a very homesteading night last night. It started with us both in the kitchen. Jenna was pulling out the frozen, cooked chicken carcass and left over vegetables from a roasted chicken dinner she made last week in order to make a nice soup for this wintery night. I was at the kitchen table cutting the meat off the deer quarters I had killed this weekend. While Jenna prepared the soup, I hacked away at the meat. A few hours later, most of the meat was cut up, with some marinating for jerky I will be dehydrating. We just finished the delicious soup, and Jenna pulled out her knitting to round out the evening while I cleaned up the kitchen. Overall, a pretty productive night. My granny would have been proud.

That's One Way To Meet Your Neighbors

Well, she did it again yesterday morning. We woke up to the sound of a distressed chicken making her obnoxious noise right about sunrise yesterday. The featherless Tila Tequila got confused or fell into the neighbor's yard again. Unfortunately this time it was a little bit earlier in the morning and she was walking around in the main part of the yard not 15 feet away from their back door. I wasn't too keen on hopping the 6 foot privacy fence and chasing that chicken around their yard right in plain view. We couldn't coax her into the corner where we performed the previous rescue, so it was off to meet the neighbors at 7:30am. Jenna and I run around the block (we're in a cul-d-sac so this particular neighbor is behind us and therefore around the block) in our PJ's. It wasn't obvious if anyone was up yet, but they were going to be soon because of Tila's racket. So we knock gently and hope the occupants don't answer the door with a gun or something. Nothing. Jenna knocks again and a woman answers with a "what-the-heck-are-you-doing-at-my-front-door-at-7:30am" look on her face, understandably so. We quickly explain that we have a chicken in the back yard and need to fetch her. She nods, still looking confused, and points to the gate on the side of the house. We head back there, but Tila was none too eager to let us pick her up, so we spent a few minutes entertaining our neighbor with the chicken chase. We finally get her, drop her over the fence and head home. Last night, I put her in the coop and shut the door before she had a chance to get in her tree. I guess we'll have to do that for a while until she grows her feathers back. Ah, the joys of owning chickens in the burbs.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Feathers and Ladders and Merry Xmas

Tila Tequila, our most prolific laying hen, has lost her feathers. She molted a month later than the others this winter and not in the normal way which is by dropping one feather here and one feather there. Instead, she dropped them all at once overnight and has been careening awkwardly around the backyard, with feathers wringing her neck and a few stragglers sticking sideways from her wings. It's...a little creepy, if I'm being honest. Reminds me of Dumbledore's phoenix who exploded into smoke and was reborn a new, naked chick. (And no, I won't apologize for the Harry Potter reference). I'm not so bothered by Tila's stubbly naked body except for one thing - without feathers, a chicken can't fly. This is troublesome if the naked chicken sleeps in trees. It means that, although she can easily hop into the limbs, she cannot easily control her flight down from the tree in the early morning when the birds wake up to stomp around the backyard. That's why we woke this morning to pained screeching from the neighbor's yard where she landed, since she couldn't navigate her path back down into our yard. And that's why we had to run for the ladder and argue over which poor soul would scale the fence, toss her over, and then scramble back up the other side. In my defense, I DID try to be the brave one. I climbed the ladder and perched atop the fence but imagined my ankles breaking on the other side and refused to jump over. Let's face it, I've never been anyone's hero so Jer pushed me aside with a grumble and climbed the ladder, jumped over, snatched the chicken (sssqqqqwwwwAAAAAACK!!!) and tossed her over. 28 degrees and in our pj's, it was a truly splendid post-Christmas morning. Which reminds me: Merry Holidays! I hope yours were warm and free of chicken rescues.

Friday, December 24, 2010

For Mature Audiences Only

I think the ladies were in heat this weekend. How do I know this? Well it's because of the donkey orgy that took place while I was putting out more hay. The 4 ladies, 3 mini's and 1 standard, took turns mounting each other. Ironically Boo, the closest thing we have to a male, was more interested in getting his butt scratched and staying out of the way of his crazy companions than participating in this not-so-natural act. Below are some videos so you know we aren't making this up.

This is just awkward.

Jezebel got a little turned around here.

The asexual Boo was content with a good butt scratch. Life must be so much simpler without any hormones.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Chill Weekend

After all of the drama recently, we took this last weekend to relax at the property and remind ourselves why this patch of dirt is worth fighting for. We got to spend some relaxing time with the animals and traipsing through the woods followed by sitting around a campfire with some friends and family. Overall, a really good weekend at the land. I think Jenna's coming back around. :) Below are a couple of videos from this weekend.

A girl and her Boo.

My Saturday evening.

Boo Naps

Donkey life is exhausting.

It Tasted So Familiar

These days it doesn't take much for me to become a blubbering mess. But Jenna's recent post over at Cold Antler knocked me down like a punch in the gut. If you also suffer from the Barnheart disease she so eloquently defined, then head to her blog and check out the video montage of her first year as a farmer.

Cheers to all of us searching for our own patch of dirt, this scrappy group, with the country in our blood and bones.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Break-Up

Over the weekend I dumped the land. To my credit, I arrived at this decision in an incredibly mature fashion which involved a pros and cons list and a game of rock-paper-scissors with Jeremy. I won. Meaning: although we had a good run together, it may be time to part ways with the property.

Jeremy was (is) not ready to kick her to the curb just yet. The sweat and blood equity he's invested is exponentially greater than mine. They went through a lot together, Jer and the 15 acres. Together they've weathered drought, a broken tractor, and a recession. It's fair to say that I also have invested deeply in those acres, more emotionally than physically. But my eye wanders. It always has. And I'm prone to reach a tipping point after so much disappointment. The thing is, it might be..well..we're just not that compatible and have grown apart. I think it's over between us.

Well - at least - that was my stance by Sunday night. Sunday afternoon I spent cheating. Drove around the other side of this county and scoped out available properties. With houses. AG EXEMPT. Fantastic school districts. Shining tube fences. Horse properties. Our land can't compete - it's a no-contest situation.

I scrapped together a list of available properties, picked three contenders, and developed an argument to force Jer's consideration. But his devotion is powerful. He's a second-and-third-chance type of guy. I both love and hate this about him. His argument against the break-up was also powerful by simply stating that most other land is out of our league. "We're scrappy people," he reminded me, "and so we need scrappy land." Who needs horse fencing, standing homes - running water?! Isn't half of the thrill in the blank canvas we've been given? Utilities and barns already prepared and ready for us?! WHO WANTS THAT?! - he questioned.

I question.

I've questioned a lot over the course of this most troublesome half-week, during which our options are simultaneously seriously limited, but possibly also re-opened for consideration. We can roll the dice with our current situation. Submit appraisal after appraisal. Move from lender to lender until the stars align and someone finds sufficient value in our pocket of the county to provide a loan. We can do that. Or we can pat our backs for a job well-done, pack all of the lessons learned away into storage, and move on down the road to something already, well, READY. A spot with a house, utilities, a barn, some fencing. That sounds like a lovely relationship.

In a single day I fluctuate between wanting to completely divorce myself from the land, to feeling snively about the thought of losing it all because of one lousy little recession. The emotional separation has begun, and I can picture my life without it. But I know I'd have regrets. So there it is; an update without an update. A break-up being reconsidered. Or rather, a relationship on the brink. If possible, I'd like to work through this in therapy; me and the land together. Primarily I'd like to know why it makes forward progress so incredibly difficult and how it keeps us too enthralled to walk away. Evil seductress.

Most stories have one beginning and end. Ours seems to have many.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

It Never Occurred to Me

(Image source:

In the process of putting floor plans together, interviewing builders, going through soil tests, receiving bids on electric, septic, water, researching land slope, considering angles of the sun, assessing equity - we never imagined that the appraiser would undervalue the cost of building.

Today, the appraisal was completed, submitted, and reviewed. Our land is at its highest historical value. Fantastic! And our house plans were valued at less - MUCH LESS - than the actual cost to build the house. Fantastic! Values have receded nationally - we all know this. However, in every possible configuration of how the house build might play out, it never occurred to me that the appraiser would tell us that the house would be worth a fraction of its cost to build. After interviewing 10 builders and receiving 6 bids, it never occurred to me that our lowest, and arguably fairest, bid would still be considerably higher than local values. Meaning? No loan. No house. No build. Until markets recover or a wealthy relative leaves us a large sum of money - no house.

An interesting realization on this day, the anniversary of my birth, in which I (we) feel so very ready for the next phase of life, whatever that may bring, to discover that we're more deeply rooted than ever in our current situation. Here in suburbia it seems we're planted, despite the daydreams of land and forest and donkeys and tractors. At what point does one heed the warnings and retreat? This might be the wrong property. Building might not be an option. I looked at real estate listings tonight for 15 acres with a house. They're out there. They might be the next step. 2 years of planning, scheming, organizing, interviewing, drawing, re-drawing - culminate in this most disappointing revelation. Onto the next phase. We'll let you know when we figure out what that happens to be.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Time to Move: Reason #672

4:30 am. Chickens screaming in the backyard of our suburban neighborhood. Fumbling in the morning darkness to find bathrobes and jogging shoes. Turned on porchlight and found hens scattered around backyard, screaming and walking stiffly, looking in all directions.

Since I didn't have time to put in the contact lenses, I walked blindly into the backyard and listened as Jer told me where the chickens were located. I shrieked repeatedly, "Are they OK because I can't SEE any of them?! Where are they?! WHERE ARE THE FREAKING CHICKENS??" Jer calmly reported the location of each (3 at my feet, 3 in the tree and 2 on the coop) and marveled yet again at my incredible lack of vision.

Our best guess is a hungry raccoon made a misguided attempt to snag one of the hens last night. Chances are it will return, therefore, chances are we'll spend many more frantic early mornings running through our backyard shushing hens, half clothed, in 30 degree weather for the next few months. If you ever wondered how I look in a robe and jogging shoes, I can assure you it's pretty awesome.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Into the Woods

5 acres of the property are woods. There's nothing spectacular about that little parcel aside from the stark contrast it strikes against the 10 acres that roll out before it to the east. A soils report we pulled shows a distinct line at the edge of the woods where the soils change. Clay turns to sandy loam. Mesquite disappears and oaks suddenly shoot 40 feet into the air.

The ground is sliced with deep, dry creek beds. Berries and vines creep around the elm, crawl along the ground, slither over roots. This place is alive. Originally, we did not want the woods. We showed up to view the 10 acres listed in the real estate ad, but while on our "tour" of the place, the agent just kept walking - up a hill and into the dense woods, announcing that "this is for sale too," and "it's actually 15 acres I'm selling." Ooops. It's real important to proof read those real estate ads.

We actually tried to negotiate for the original 10 acres proclaiming, "Woods??!? Who needs 'em?" Now I can't imagine being out there without that patch of trees, the sideways stumps standing crooked from the ground, the wood pecker nests, and the oak leaves that swirl down and crunch underfoot all year long. We're building our house in the woods.

This weekend we focused on cutting and burning in the homesite area, making way for the septic field and "front yard"; the notion of which seems pretty silly out there. (At the end of the day, we're still fairly conventional people.) This means of course that Jer cut, and I pulled a limb or two into a pile before slipping silently into the woods when the tractor needed repair. The dogs followed along, running and sliding down the slope of the creek beds. It's their favorite place too, this new backyard. If not for the realtor's typo, the property would not have come up on our land search. The fortuitous omission of "5" led us out there in the first place; the missing 5 becoming home.

2nd Anniversary: Animal Edition

(Guess who.)

It's been exactly 2 years since we backed the little trailer up to the round pen, opened the back door, and livestock spilled forth into our lives. Sometimes we ask the other, "How did we used to spend Saturdays?" We don't remember. Whatever it is we did, we're not missing very much.

To all the four legged creatures that have helped transform our lives (head count: Chula, Boo, Seamus, Matilda, Rooney - and now Jezebel, Noni, and Brownie) - thanks guys. You're awfully expensive entertainment but, eh, you're worth it.

Cow stretch.

Cow scratch.

Jezebel before yawn.

(Bookmark this page. Better yet, print this picture. Put it in your wallet. View repeatedly on a bad day. Day = better. Problem solved.)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Chore of Wednesdays....And Other Complaints

For almost two years now I've made a trip to the land every Wednesday afternoon. I have missed only two Wednesday trips; the first of which led to a fairly traumatic cow illness. Rest assured, it was more traumatic for me than the cow. The second missed Wednesday led to nothing in particular except more gas in the tank and, therefore, extra money in my pocket. Oops - does that make it sound as if I'm complaining about my Wednesday trips to the land? Does it?!

That's because I am.

Don't get me wrong, being at the land is the only place I want to be in most situations. I love the look of it, feel of it, smell of it - but I don't like leaving it. In the middle of a day that falls in the middle of a week, hopping into the car down the long roads that point towards country, I feel more trapped than free. It's another commitment that I fear I've half-a$ed because I'm fitting it in between things, peeking my head over a fence, patting a donkey head, and waving goodbye before I'm out of the car. Another example of the dual life dilemma that hopefully does, in fact, have a happy ending. But 'til then I feel guilty driving all that way just to count animals and check pulses, only to turn around and leave again. This doesn't rival the magnitude of natural disasters and federal economic crises - but on a personal scale - it's a responsibility that feels more chore than privilege. So today I made it more privilege than chore. I spent some extra time giving the animals treats so I could walk around undisturbed. Followed a path down to the "pond" (transformed back to dust pit). Watched as woodpeckers hammered into dead trees, their red mohawks gleaming in the sun. Walked to the homesite and back to the animals where I found the cows had chased the donkeys off into the pasture. Wandering makes Wednesday less of a chore. But it doesn't make the leaving any easier.

While there I snapped a shot of one of the many doors that needs to somehow get sanded, primed, and painted (hardware replaced, cleaned, blah blah). I like this one an awful lot for some reason, which just figures since it's in the worst shape.

I also found the most unusual and stout berry/grape type of plant growing in the middle of the homesite. Let me know if you can identify the thing. It seemed to bloom and wither in a matter of 48 hours. Is it poisonous? Medicinal? Delicious?

But now it's the end of Wednesday. And it's cold outside. I know this for two reasons. 1) Jeremy made a fire, and 2) Simon the cat is glaring at me through the back door. See, we've decided that our cat Simon only appears on the back stoop, quietly mewing (Not to be mistaken with a meow. This version is waaay more pathetic) - if it's at or below 45 degrees. The cat doesn't tolerate chilly weather. As I type, I see the glow of 2 little eyes peering through the door. And I hear him too, "meeewwwwww. sniff. meww" Yes Simon, it's cold. Thank you for the weather update.

It's almost Thursday (Friday, Saturday!). Cheers.