Sunday, May 29, 2011

New life on the ranch

I love spring.


The wildflowers.

The new calf.

                       The new kid.

C'mon Grandma, play with me!

I was hoping we'd have baby chicks, but for some reason they didn't hatch, but that doesn't deter the Broody hen, she's back sitting on more eggs for another 3 weeks!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Off-grid living: a dream or a reality?

When I first met my hubby, he told me he dreamed of living off-grid.  I was a little skeptical, could we really live 'normally' off-grid?  I wasn't sure if I could live without TV or the internet.  Granted, I read a ton of books, but I enjoy the boob-tube as much as anyone else and I really didn't want to drive 50 miles to check my email. We did research, contacted companies and read a bunch of Home Power magazines.  I discovered I could have it all!!

Could we really do it?  It seemed like a lot of work, but the decision was pretty much made for us.  We lived 1.5 miles from the nearest power line and if we wanted power, we would have to pay for them to run it.  Since we live in the Pacific Northwest, we get a lot of snow in the winter and high winds so we wanted to have the lines buried where they'd be less vulnerable to the weather.  The cost at the time was $9 per foot.  Let's do the math..... $9 x 6600ft = $59,400.  {GULP}.  We could do a complete off-grid system for less than $40k.  We found a local electrician who was familiar with alternative energy and he did most of the work.  We were his first customers who weren't tied to the grid, so we both had a learning curve.   We had looked at photovoltaic arrays, wind generators and a water turbine.  First we ruled out the water turbine, although we have a seasonal stream in one of the draws, it would be too far away from the house and the cost of running the line was prohibitive.  Wind was also originally ruled out as too expensive.

We went with a 9 panel PV array and a bank of 9 batteries.  These aren't your grannie's batteries, these suckers are HUGE (and expensive).  The array is on a sun tracking system, which turns the panels to constantly face the sun and it puts itself to bed at night by turning back to it's starting point.  (Very slick!!)

The 'all-seeing eye'.

We have a shed devoted to the power system, housing the batteries and all the electrical components for the system.

My hubby has a HUGE binder full of notes and instructions.  Thank goodness he's handy and electrically savvy because he does all the upkeep and trouble-shooting.

Monday, May 23, 2011


I'm not a fan of snakes....or spiders, but we have both here, and venomous kinds.  We didn't realize at first that we had rattlesnakes, our first encounter was with a bull snake that acted very rattler-ish, both in striking (a lot) and shaking his tail.  Once my hubby shot it through and through and was coiled up, so one bullet hit it numerous times.  I got down and examined it (hey, I was a biology major...can't let a little necropsy pass me by!) and realized that it wasn't a rattler....boy did we feel dumb.  We had killed a snake that actually kills rattlers!  Oh yeah, we found out later that they mostly get killed because they act like rattlers....they might want to work on that.

Once I learned that we do indeed live in rattler territory, I went all out in snake-proofing my clothing.  I bought snake-proof boots for me and my hubby.  I even bought chaps.  I think I wore them one time and almost passed out from heat exhaustion.  I don't think my hubby even tried his boots on.

I wore mine until they fell apart. 

We don't have monster-sized snakes here, we get these small little guys.

I know they pack a punch.  Just ask our dog, Stella, who was bitten after, I'm sure, much provocation on her part, right on her nose.  My hubby & I had just gotten home from a quick Vegas trip to celebrate our anniversary when Stella came up to me with a swollen snout.  $800 & 3 days later, I brought her home, and her face was kind of floppy from the swelling subsiding.  It would have been kinda funny....if I hadn't spent so much money (ok, most were my Vegas winnings, so it didn't hurt too much).  The worst part of that whole ordeal was the realization that my Mom had been babysitting the munchkins while we were gone and they had been playing outside everyday, ALL DAY!

We keep a tally on our chalkboard of our yearly snake kills.  I definitely see a trend and it ain't looking good for this year.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Unglamorous side of farming

I know that farming looks all glamorous and fun, and it is fun, but I wouldn't want everyone to run out and get some chickens would I?? (YES, YES I WOULD!!!) 

But it's not all fun and games.  What?  You didn't know there was an unglamorous side?  Oh yes, most of the time I scrub down multiple times upon entering the house, and my outside clothes never get past the mud room. 

Just the other day I did my annual cleaning of the chicken coop.  Ok, it's more than annual, but I don't want to scare you off (yet).  In the warm weather months, the chickens spend the majority of their time wandering the ranch looking for goodies.  The goodies consist of bugs, grain the cows missed, or grass.  Should I mention their favorite past time is digging in the cow plops for maggots and undigested grain......Mmmmmmmmmm!

First I need a nice calm day, that way the poo dust is kept to the minimum.

I dress for the occasion.

This pile is not all from the chickens, the goats and cows contributed to it.  Most of the pile I picked up pitchfork by pitchfork....ok, fine, my hubby helped out a little (lot) with his tractor.  After a while, it will turn into compost for our garden and we'll spread some around the pasture to fertilize the soil.

Ahhhh, a nice clean coop with fresh bedding!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The house

I always had a dream of owning a log cabin, I used to clip out pictures from magazines.  They are massive and beautiful.....and expensive.  We went to many home shows and subscribed to all the log cabin magazines. My hubby and I found a builder and general contractor.  We had the plans drawn up and picked the spot on the prairie to build.  Then the builder stopped returning our calls.  This couldn't be good....the ground hadn't even been broken and he's already flaking out on us?  We decided to take a step back.  Did we really want to build a 5200 square foot house (YES!!!)  Did we want to take on more than half a million in debt?  (NO!!!)  We decided to put up a temporary house (no, not a Yurt!!) but something that would enable us to live on the property and escape the city and all it's light and noise pollution. 

We had heard about a bunch of trailer parks selling their land to developers and kicking the elderly residents out.  We felt terrible for their plight.   Here they are settling down into their golden years in their nice manufactured houses, their tiny, manageable yards, surrounded by friends only to have their security yanked out from underneath them!  After visiting about 5 different parks, we found some we really liked and felt would work with our growing family.  The best thing was the houses were in practically brand new condition.  Those elderly people didn't have wild parties or kids coloring on the walls.

We had our site prepped and the electricity, water and septic in.

Moving day was right before I gave birth to our second daughter.  I couldn't watch it for fear that the house would tip into the draw and I would spontaneously give birth.  So I sent my hubby with the camera.

 Down the very steep hill.  This guy was very brave, imagine standing downhill from a teeny, tiny, tractor holding back 1/2 of a house!

Around the corner and the edge of the draw.

Up the other hill and squeeze through the gate.

It was slightly faster than building a house, but it still took us over 6 months from closing to moving in.  Then we still had to sell the city house.   However, we got a great price on this's not a show-piece, but it's ours and it's paid for!  We were calling this our 5 year plan....but it's looking more permanent, I can't stomach the thought of being in debt.  Our only regret is that we didn't put a basement under the house.  Imagine all the space for food storage and toys!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


A some it's ugly or just a building, but to me, it was a thing of beauty.  My hubby let me choose the color.  The freshly poured concrete floor was sparkling clean, he was fastidious about sweeping it when we left.  It was so open and HUGE!  There was no way we'd ever fill it up, right?  It provided a respite for the wind and sun, both of which were in abundance on the Prairie.

I envisioned the kids riding their bikes and scooters around on the floor, playing some b-ball....but reality set in, and we started {gasp} using it!

We also improved the driveway, leveling out the ruts and put down fresh gravel.  I keep saying when we win the lotto, I want the whole 1.5 miles paved and heated, so I don't have to plow it in the winter.

Well, it's no longer empty or clean.  We desperately need to clean it out and throw a bunch of stuff away, but I still love the thing!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Peek at Summer

Just yesterday it was over 80 degrees and muggy, the sunshine and rare lack of wind made me happy.  Today, though, we woke up to barely 40 degrees, rain and wind....blah....a perfect day to laze around on the couch in front of the aforementioned favorite pastime...the boob tube.   It's better than slogging around in the mud as I did this morning moving the various critters from barn to pen.  Unlike me, they were smart enough to avoid the mud.

It's almost as if it was a dream


However, I have the reminders of the sunshine

 and lots of blue gel to apply to them.

Firehouse Sale

Our little community had it's annual Firehouse Sale this weekend to support our all-volunteer fire station.  The neighbors donated things to sell and made food for the bake sale.  I took a truckload of stuff that somehow found itself taking up space in the house and barn....most likely purchased from last year's Firehouse sale!  I was considering taking some dark chocolate truffles or some raspberry brownies, but I feared if I made them they wouldn't get out of the house.

At the fire truck, there was a competition among the kids to see who could put out the house fire the fastest.

Face painting and a fishing game to pull a toy out of the water were new this year and a huge hit with the girls.

Of course we loaded up on the baked goods before finishing off with some brats and baked beans (dessert always comes first, don't you know?!)

 Now I need to go unpack the rig from all the 'new' stuff that we couldn't pass up!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Spring Flowers

We haven't spent much time on flowers in the past couple of years.  Either I was pregnant and too sick to move or had a newborn who required all my time.  This year, I decided to spruce things up and plant some flowers.  I spent 2 days cleaning off the deck which seemed to attract garbage over the winter (don't look in the barn!!!)

Once I got started, the big girls just HAD to help me.  I let them go, getting their hands dirty.  I see this as training for future weed-pulling in the gardens.

They even wanted to decorate their playhouse.

For the adults, I planted hops for our home-brewing.  I planted Cascade, Fuggle and Willamette.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Taking out the trash

When we first looked over the property, there was an old truck topper that was housing the well's pump control box.  All we needed was a generator to get the well to work and bring us up some fresh High Prairie water (and man is it good stuff).  There were also various rusted containers and a 55 gallon drum buried in the ground that the owner before us, who lived in his camper, used as a septic system  (ewwwwwww).

Upon further investigation, we found out that the guy also used the property as an unofficial landfill.  There were over 300 tires, many plastic garbage containers filled with nails and other trash filling up the small crevices in the land.  He had also pushed a couple of campers over the edge of the cliff in our only copse of trees.  There was a lot of work to do if we wanted the place to be clean.  We (ie. my hubby, I was too pregnant to be of much help) spent every weekend that summer and fall filling up the truck and trailer with garbage to haul 25 miles to the dump.  We got to be well acquainted with the guy who runs the dump, Little Eddie, his Dad, Big Eddie, runs another transfer station....must be a family thing.

Little did we know, and I'm glad we didn't 'cause I would've popped the baby out right then and there, but the place was crawling with rattlesnakes.  It was only the next year when we had our first run-in with one of those!