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Monday, June 30, 2008

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Keeping a Deep Freeze

Tonight Ethan was gone for a bit so I decided it was a good time to reorganize my deep freeze. Since I just added about 20 lbs of frozen strawberries, it was needing some rearranging.

When we were shopping for freezers, quite a few people said not to go with the chest type. They said that too much stuff gets lost in them, and the upright are much easier to keep organized. Well, we looked at the prices and decided that a chest freezer was the way we were going to go. We would just have to be diligent about keeping it organized.

So I thought I would share some of my tips with you and also see if you have any tips of your own.

Here is a picture of the inside of my deep freeze. I found some plastic shoe box tubs that fit wonderfully inside. I have grouped my frozen foods in these tubs: meats, veggies, fruits, desserts, etc. This makes it easy to find what I am looking for, and a lot easier to get to the bottom of the freezer. Instead of having to pull out multiple packages of things, I just pull out a few tubs and I am at the bottom. One drawback of this is that you do have some space that isn't being used at times, but it is well worth it to not have something buried at the bottom of the freezer for a couple of years.

If you noticed the gloves on top, they are always in there. Things get COLD in a deep freeze (duh!), but these stretch gloves don't. They make digging around in it a lot more comfortable (and quick!).

Another thing I do is put milk jugs filled with water in the dead space. This serves a couple of purposes. One is that a full freezer takes less energy to run so the ice jugs help save some money when the freezer isn't filled with food. Some of the ice jugs are labeled "Drinking water". These are used for long days at the farm since we don't have water out there yet. They slowly melt, so we can still have cold water by the end of the day. The ones that aren't labeled drinking water just get put in and out of the freezer as needed. They make great ice packs for coolers too though. Also, if electricity goes out for awhile, the ice jugs will help keep things from thawing as quickly.

Another thing thing that I was told about deep freezers was that people forget what is inside of them and half of the food goes to waste. I can't remember where I found this next idea, but it is a great one!

I have a white board that I keep specifically for my deep freeze. I have it sectioned off into categories and have a list of things that I keep inside my deep freeze. When I take something out or put something in, I just change the number by that item. It not only saves me time digging through the deep freeze to see if I still have something, but it is great to glance at quickly before heading to the grocery store. (This is just for things in the deep freeze by the way - not for things in my fridge freezer, but that is easy to check on.)

In order for this to work, you have to be willing to take a moment and change numbers, even if you are super busy after a shopping trip or preparing a meal. The time and money it saves is well worth it though. I will admit that mine does get off by an item or two sometimes, but when I reorganize my freezer (maybe 2 or 3 times a year) I will be sure to update it.

As for other tips, I have heard of people who keep a sack of ice cubes in their freezer in case electricity goes out and they didn't know about it. If your ice cube bag is all of the sudden a solid block of ice, there is a good chance that food in your freezer thawed, refroze, and could be dangerous to eat. I don't do this, but I probably should.

Also, some people keep rugs and blankets over their freezer to help save energy. Our freezer is in our yucky basement though, and I'm afraid of what might jump out of the blankets if I had them on.

So what about you? Do you have any tips for your deep freeze?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Canning Refried / Burrito Beans

I have been wanting to can pinto beans with spices added for quite awhile, but I just hadn't found the right recipe to want to do multiple jars of it. This week, however, I stumbled across one that won my husband's approval, as well as mine.

Since yesterday was a cool, rainy day I figured that it was a good opportunity to try a batch of these. (I don't like canning if I don't have to when the house is already warm, since it does produce a bit of heat.)

If you haven't ever canned pinto beans before, you can look at this earlier post. All that I did differently was dump in the seasonings right before I added the water just prior to putting the jars in the canner.

Here is the recipe I used. It just a tad bit different from the original. (These proportions are for quart jar size.)

4 T tomato sauce
2-3 T chopped onion
1 tsp chili powder
tsp paprika
tsp salt
tsp cumin
tsp black pepper
tsp garlic powder
tsp sugar
tsp ground oregano

If you want, instead of measuring out for each individual jar, you can just add an equivalent amount of spices to the water that you will be adding to the jars. The reason I don't do this method, however, is because sometimes there is left over water or not enough. This will change the strength of your seasoning in your jars.

These jars will come in quite handy this summer when we are busy on the farm and tired of sandwiches. They will be great for a quick, high protein meal. All you have to do is open one up, mash the beans with a potato masher, and heat them up. (Although it is pretty good cold too.)

The beans can be added to tacos, rolled up in a tortilla, used for a side dish, or even just be a yummy dip. To jazz it up a bit as a dip, just sprinkle some cheddar cheese on top.

Also, this recipe (minus the tomato sauce) can be used to substitute one packet of store bought taco seasoning. I tried it with our taco beef, and it was great in that as well.

** To learn how to pressure can beans, you can check out my series on Beginning Pressure Canning. **

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Tools of My Trade

Beans must be pressure canned due to their low acidity in order to kill all bacteria that would cause dangerous food born illnesses. They can be safely canned by using the recommended times and pressures given for your altitude. I have a couple older Mirro pressure canners given to me that work wonderfully, and my mom has a newer one that she loves as well. If you do some asking around, you might find someone who has given up canning and has one available, or you can look for one like the one pictured below. It should hold around 9 pint jars or 7 quart jars.

This book is a wonderful book for beginning pressure canning.  It includes the science behind safe canning, tools needed for canning, the method of canning, and is filled with tons of recipes that will help you can anything from produce from your garden to meats and broths.  I still enjoy flipping through my book to find new recipes to try!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Rainy Day Accomplishments

The lightning storm from last night brought with it a day of rain. Our meeting with the electric company and electrician to stake out the line was canceled, but there was still a lot accomplished today.

Throughout the day I spent over an hour on the phone with various people. I got new savings accounts set up for our kids and talked to a variety of people concerning our building project - including a storm shelter manufacturer, our builder, and a couple of lenders.

The problem with the posts being the wrong type was easily resolved with the builder. After talking to him, he agreed that we had asked for laminated posts and told us he would switch them. He also mentioned that the posts he got in yesterday were supposed to have been installed yesterday, but the delivery was 3 hours late. Probably frustrating for him at the time but a relief for him now. (Just in case you are wondering what the difference is, solid posts can twist and warp over time - which is a huge problem if you have drywall attached. Laminated posts won't do that.)

As far as my phone call with the lenders, I learned that we are not just working with 3 lenders, but 4. The land lender (bank 1 from a previous post) works with another bank. I got sick to my stomach today when I received an e-mail from our home lender (bank 2) saying that this other bank (bank 4 - the one I just learned about) informed them that they wouldn't release the land for the home loan because we were building a home on the released land, and that is what their loan was for. Our home lender (bank 2) let me know they couldn't finance all 40 acres to do it all themselves, so unless we could figure out the land release, we would not be getting a home loan.

I called the land lender (bank 3), who said there was no problem, and then I called their sidekick (bank 4), who had a problem. I did as much smooth talking as I could, and they agreed to release the land. I just have to write bank 4 (who had only talked to people by means of a middle man and didn't know our plans fully) a letter stating our intent to build a permanent residence on their land at some point in time and that this building is only a temporary permanent residence until we get that home built. Now we can try to close this again . . . and just in case you were wondering - the lender's assistant who deals with the land release from our home loan (bank 2) has another vacation all next week.

(edited in July to add - We have now found out that bank 4 also has an investor they are working with in this who is quite slow as well. So that makes 5 investors that need to coordinate themselves to get this thing done!)

Apart from running up town to sign some papers concerning building business, that is all of the building updates I have. I know, not too exciting. But one of my reasons for this blog is a journal for me, so feel free to skip around. :)

Some other things that I did besides building project things were working on new cushion covers for our camper, canning some pinto beans with a newly found homemade refried bean/burrito seasoning (for the purpose of quick high protein meals when things get crazy with the building process), and spending time with my family, of course.

Tomorrow we will try to meet again to get the electric staked out. We are next in line to get water hooked up, and our new posts have been delivered. Hopefully the now saturated ground and filled up post holes will dry up quickly, and we can take some more steps forward.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A 7:00 am Lesson

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4

This morning, when I sat down to do my morning devotions, I felt drawn to start reading the book of James. I got to the above verses, and I thought to myself, "Although I know this is true, I really don't feel like I am in any trials right now." And then I remembered that my day was just beginning, and I never can know what will come about.

I finished up my "the kids are still in bed" time with a bit of exercise, a shower, and some breakfast.

About 8:30 we got a call from our builder. The project that he was supposed to be starting wasn't quite prepared for him. He wanted to know if he could dig the holes for our posts today. Of course we were thrilled and said, "Yes!" We hurried to finish getting the kids ready, and we were in the truck to meet the builder by 9:05.

When we got to the farm, we went over the building plans once more and then let them get to work. After a quick pass to greet the pigs, we headed back home.

Once home, I cleaned up the house a bit after our rushed morning, had lunch with the kids and Ethan, laid Caleb and Hannah down for their naps, and then started making some more final phone calls about the building project and electrical set up - which has been quite the ordeal in itself, but it is coming along.

Not too long later, we got a call from our realtor. There was someone who wanted to walk through the house at 7:00 tonight. Although it would be another rush time to get the house and youth center cleaned up, Ethan and I were quite excited again. This showing was a second walk through, with someone wanting to show their husband and in-laws the house.

So Ethan and I got the place shined up and then went to McDonalds with the kids so the house could be shown. We decided to also head out to the farm to see the holes that had been dug for the posts. It had been quite an exciting day, building started sooner than we thought and someone interested in the house enough that they wanted to see it a second time.

As we were driving out to the house, we were wondering if our builder was going to continue our project through or if he was just digging holes to fill a day while waiting for the other project to prepare their site.

Our question was soon answered as we pulled onto our property. All of the posts and lumber for our building had been delivered. It was an incredible feeling to see the framework of our house sitting right in front of us. But that is where the evening changes a bit.

I hopped out of the truck to notice that the posts that were delivered were not what we had in our contract. These were solid wood posts, not laminated - which do not warp or twist. I tried to not get too discouraged and walked around enjoying seeing all of the holes dug that outlined our house and showed where the posts would go. I figured I would try to talk to the builder in the morning and deal with it then. After all, it had been a pretty exciting day, and we did have our house being started.

Not much longer though, I heard my husband talking to his dad on the phone followed by hearing, "I have to go." Our new boar was gone. Out of the pen. Gone.

I loaded up the kids and started driving around the roads looking in fields. Ethan was on the tractor checking our property. After a bit of searching, Ethan found the boar. On our land. Dead.

The best we can determine is that he got spooked either by the construction going on or the flat bed that delivered the lumber for the house. He went nuts in his pen, got his nose under the heavy cattle panel fence, and started bending and peeling it up. Then he was off. We really don't know the rest of the story. Maybe dehydration, a heart attack? We didn't see any signs of any other problems on the road or anywhere. We are praying that no calls will come in of problems either, even though we have no visual reason to believe there were.

So Ethan got on his tractor to move the boar while I repaired the fence as best as I could. (Thankfully the boar was separated by himself and no other pigs got out.)

As we started to head back home well past bedtime, and potty time, both kids had to go potty. Unfortunately, there was a lightening storm coming and neither wanted to try outside, even with a portable potty. So on the way home we ended up with a wet car seat to complete our evening.

When you have such a shift in emotions in your day, it isn't easy to keep a level head. Thankfully, my 7:00 am lesson popped into my head.

Facing trials . . . testing faith . . . perseverance.

I am not always a victor in this, but tonight I am happy to say that our children saw Mommy and Daddy deal with an evening turned discouraging in a way that I would like to see them deal with one. I'm sure that there will be many more that will come on our farming journey.

I am also sure that God is faithful and good in all things. I was reminded of that lesson just a few days earlier.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Swine of Mine

As of today, we now have hogs on our farm. We have 8 feeder pigs, one sow, and one boar.

I am quite excited to finally have these on the farm. We have been having quite the time getting our garden ready due to the really wet spring. Until we get our perimeter fence up, these pigs will be residing over half of the garden. I'm counting on them doing the final garden prep work!

We most likely won't use this section of the garden this year, but it will be nice and worked up (and fertilized) for next spring. As for this year, we will just be putting the basics for preserving in the other half of the garden. I'll try to post more on that later . . .

Even though the pigs should be very beneficial for our garden, it isn't the reason that we bought them. They will be going out on pasture and in the woods as soon as we get electric fencing around the property. We will be keeping the sow and boar for breeding, and the piglets will be sold for meat when they reach market weight.

This first batch of feeder pigs will be ready in the fall. We will be selling them by the whole or half. If you would like to be added to our waiting list for pork, just let us know. (We also have a waiting list growing for pastured beef, but we will probably not have any available until fall 2009.)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Sidetrack to a Rainbow

Today we drove an 1 hr and 15 minutes to Ethan's uncle's to pick up some things for our new pigs which will arrive soon. We loaded up a hog feeder, hog hut, and some panels, visited awhile, and then headed back home.

When we got home, we packed a farm lunch, loaded up the kids again (they are great travelers - most of the time!), and headed out to the farm to set up the hogs new home.

We were just getting going on the gravel, and I started to hear a strange sound. After we rolled down the windows we figured out that it was a tire rapidly loosing air.

Since we didn't have a spare (it either was stolen from under the truck or the wire broke and it fell off), we called around to some people from church to get a lift home. The mechanic from our church happened to be the one home. He not only gave us a lift, but took us to his shop to patch up our tire enough to get the truck and the trailer back home too.

When we got back to where the truck was, the rain that had been teasing us quit, and the sun came out. Right over the road where we parked the truck was the most vibrant, complete double rainbow that I have ever seen. The pictures don't do it justice - and I even missed the brightest part of it.

Just another reminder that not everything will always go perfectly, but God continues to be faithful through it all.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Lenders On Vacation

Okay, I wish that I could say that I'm on vacation here, but I'm not. Actually our lenders are.

Well . . . I don't know if they are here, but they are somewhere.

Here is some a little recap of how we ended up using 3 different banks for getting a loan to finance our farm. (You may need to remove all distractions if you want to follow it all.)

Bank 1 (in Kentucky) - The only bank I could find that would lend us money on a 30 year fixed rate for 40 acres of land. (Almost all of the other options were balloon rates - bad!, and there were a few 15 year terms - too high of payments.) This bank gives this loan under the assumption that a permanent residence will be constructed somewhere on the property. They didn't consider a pole building a permanent residence, however, so they would lend us the money for the land but not the building. We almost didn't get this loan (she was just about to hang up with a sorry), but I mentioned that we planned to build a stick house on the property sometime in the future. Bingo! We qualified for the loan again. So the land was taken care of . . . now for the building.

Bank 2 (our town) - This lender obviously wouldn't finance the land, but considered a pole building house a suitable residence. They were also one of the few banks that would allow us to be our general contractor. One catch. They don't do construction loans - just home loans.

Bank 3 (Des Moines, IA) - This lender works with our home loan lender to finance the construction phase.

So here is how it works. We closed on our land loan in April. (bank 1) We then started the home loan process with the lender in our town. (bank 2) They will have the land loan lender (bank 1) release them land for the home loan for legal purposes. (In case they have to repossess the house - so the lender who owns the house also owns the land under it.) The land released, however, can't include our planned building spot for a stick house since the land lender (bank 1) requires that a house is planned to be built on the land they are lending money for. (Even if it is 15 years down the road.) Now, in order to close the house loan (bank 2), the construction lender (bank 3) has to finance the construction loan. When construction is completed, the house lender (bank 2) will pay off the construction lender (bank 3). We will then be left with 1 land loan (bank 1) and 1 house loan (bank 2) to pay off.

Sound confusing? It is! I think it took me at least a month to find banks and piece it all together. I had no clue what I was doing, and right when we were about to give up and say it couldn't be financed, an idea popped into my mind and we could keep going. (Like when the land loan person was seconds from turning us down.) God is good!

So why is this a post on vacations? Well, lenders take a lot of them I figured out. Our home loan lender (bank 2) has had 3 week long vacations since March. Last week I called her to check on things and her assistant was on vacation. She couldn't help me because her assistant dealt with the land release. This week I called back, and the lender (still bank 2) was on vacation. Thankfully, her assistant was there and was able to carry things through and answer questions. One problem though. This week the land lender (bank 1) was also on vacation, so they couldn't finish the land release. So the loan didn't close this week. Hopefully it will next week when Bank 1 and Bank 2's lenders are all back from vacation. Although, Bank 3's lender has to be around too in order to finalize it all. I'm hoping that her vacation for the month is done!

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Berries for the Freezer

Today, sandwiched between working on the camper, I took off to pick some strawberries to put in the freezer. (While we are still in this house, I can occasionally leave at nap time. Ethan's office is attached to our house so I just flip on the baby monitors.) My hope is that in two years I won't need to go to strawberry farms anymore, but I will be able to have enough from our own place to freeze. I don't cook much with the strawberries, but on Saturday we have berry day where we add berries to our cereal and oatmeal. It is my favorite breakfast of the week!

Today I picked 20 lbs of strawberries. I started freezing some tonight, and I will finish tomorrow. I thought I would show you some things that I would not do without for strawberry time.

The first one is a new one for me. I worked at a strawberry farm with my friends in high school and my first year of college. I found ways that "worked" to pick strawberries for long periods of time, but they all had their drawbacks. I could sit on my knees, but the straw got pretty itchy or I would kneel in strawberries. You could also sit, but you might end up with the nickname my dear friend got,"Berry Butt". There was also squatting or hunching, but both of these are hard on the back. So today I took with me a small gardening mat. Wow! Have I been missing out! I could kneel and sit without the straw poking me or berries staining me. Wish I would have used this years earlier . . .

The next thing I wouldn't do without at berry time is a baby spoon. It does a wonderful job of stemming the berries. It is the quickest thing I have found yet, and there is hardly any waste.

And last but definitely not least, a hard boiled egg slicer. Just set your berry in, push down, and you end up with beautifully sliced berries, thinner than I could ever do with a knife. (If you put the stem side down it slices cleaner too, by the way.)

So there you go. My favorite tools for berry time.

After I have a bowl of berries sliced, I lay them out on a cookie sheet with wax paper (will rip) or cereal bags (don't rip) underneath. I quickly get them to the freezer before they juice out and then flash freeze them. (So they are frozen on the outside, but not necessarily all the way through - about 15-20 minutes.) Then I scoop them up with a turner, put them into sandwich baggies that go into a large freezer bag, and I have berries ready to pull out for berry day.

Oh, I forgot to mention. I also eat a lot along the way. Mmmmm . . . I love this time of year!

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Little (or long) Update on Our Happenings

Wow. Three days of posts in a row. Maybe even more. :) I realize that my blog posting is very random. It kind of goes with the randomness of our schedule and life I guess. (Just a plug, if you want to make reading my blog easier, you can sign up on the side to receive my new posts by e-mail. I can guarantee that my posting won't get predictable any time soon!)

The weekend before last Ethan helped head up a city wide music festival that was tied in with a missions group that came through. He worked with a couple other youth leaders to do this, and it turned out to be a great event.

Last week we had Vacation Bible School at our church, immediately following the weekend's music festival. Both Ethan and I helped out with the VBS. Ethan actually coordinated it too. Our house kind of turned into a home base where we would dump our stuff and sleep. I also spent the week hauling laundry back and forth between our house and the pastor's house. Although we were given a $5 washer from an auction, it needed to be repaired. Our pastor and his wife were kind enough to let us use theirs so I wouldn't have to go to the laundry mat again.

Our Saturday was also full with a farm auction in the morning (we got a chainsaw and hay rack!), and then Ethan had to help with a wedding in the evening. Ethan also fixed our washer. More on that another day . . .

Sunday we went to church in the morning, and then Ethan took a leisurely Sunday drive to pick up our hay rack when the kids were napping. We celebrated Father's Day by taking the hay rack to the farm. We also took with us a camping stove, hot dogs and hamburgers, and a little picnic table that was given to the kids. It was a very enjoyable, and relaxing, evening.Today, Ethan and a friend from church moved the fridge to take the old washer out and put the new washer in. For the rest of his day off, he went to his dad's to work on farm things and a livestock trailer that needs a new axle. I decided that I would spend the day STARTING to tackle getting the house back in order after our stretch of dumping and running.

I was encouraged along in this by a phone call from the realty company at about 10:00. They had someone that wanted to see the house at 5:30. I had to get our messy house not only picked up but polished. Since Ethan was gone, I also needed to pick up the yard, clean the youth center side of our house, and keep the kids content. Thanks to 2 Baby Einstein videos (I rarely do this!), I was able to get it all done by 5:05. It was a good thing too, because the family who wanted to see the house was 20 minutes early!

So there is our mostly non farm side of life. For the farm side:

Last week I wrote a check out for the rural water company to get started on our hookup. I found out that the line they have to come off of is in a farmer's field, and we may have to pay crop damages. It appears that the farmer hasn't planted yet, so maybe we will sneak past that one.

Last week I also contacted our electrician and the electric company. Ethan went out to the farm to meet with the electric company, however, they never showed up. It worked out great though because the water company was driving by to scope things out. Ethan talked with them about putting a hydrant in, and they marked the meter spot. We picked up a hydrant at the farm store so now we are ready for their call when they are ready.

We continued to try to meet with the electric company, but they had to take care of other things each day due to flooding in the area. Totally understandable. We'll keep trying this week.

I called our construction loan lender to talk about how that was progressing. Hopefully the loan should be ready for a closing date this week!

Today I contacted the septic contractor. Still waiting to hear back . . .

I was going to call the quarry about the drive, but that will have to wait until tomorrow. Too much cleaning today.

Also on the schedule this week is getting our camper finished off. It seems like things are really going to be rolling out there soon, and we want to have the camper ready to go.

So there you go. That's a little of what has been going on here. Although there is more, I don't want to bore you any longer. I feel like sometimes I can put a couple posts on a day, but those are the days that I don't have time to post anything. :) When things get rolling on the farm, I might just have to post photos of it all. I don't want to miss recording the exciting part for our family to look back on, but I also don't want to spend time on the computer when I should be doing other things . . . umm . . . like right now! :)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Vegetable Frog Garden?

I have read about people making living quarters for frogs in their vegetable and flower gardens. They will take clay pots and partially bury them on their side, or just lay broken ones down too. The idea of it is that the frogs will reside in the pots and then come out to hop around happily in the shade of the plants and eat the bugs that are eating the plant's leaves.

Well, I don't think I explained this concept clear enough to my wonderful husband. He has been working hard to try and prepare my garden for me. Instead of putting pots in the garden though, he has made swimming holes for them.

This is a picture of what our garden has looked like lately. Ethan was able to plow up the ground, but it has been too wet for working on any further. 80 some of Iowa's 99 counties are declared disaster areas because of all of the flooding. Our garden is a very small illustration of that. Unfortunately, the way our garden is filling up with water is how many people's homes are filling up with water - even up to the roof tops.

So we continue to wait on our gardening. We do have a plan, however, that may be implemented in the next week, but you will have to check back to get more details . . .

Pasture Berries

When we were at the farm last month clearing fence, I would walk diagonally across the pasture to go check on how my mom and the kids were doing. While I was doing this, I noticed that there were berry plants that had been planted by birds right in the middle of the pasture - and quite a few of them.

I know that there are blackberry and raspberry plants by the woods, but I was excited to see these in the middle of the pasture since the middle of the pasture is free of poison ivy. I haven't seen poison ivy by the woods yet, but I can count on it being in there since poison ivy likes shade and was definitely in the fence line!

With all of the water and the warmth this spring, these pasture berry plants are doing great! I checked on them last week, and they are just loaded with little berries that are starting to form. I'm guessing they are raspberries, but they could be black berries too. It's hard for me to to tell without the old canes - these are all new ones.

I will keep checking on them either way, and keep dreaming about freezing, preserving, and eating them! This will probably be the only year for pasture berries far from poison ivy. Once we get the cows in the pasture and the hay making going, I will have to count on going down to the woods or starting a patch by the house. (Which I will most likely still do both of this year too!)

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Although my garden isn't quite what I had dreamed it would be this year (I have finally got pictures loaded of my pot garden from two posts down), I have had at least some fruitfulness from it this spring. Strawberries! Last summer I was given 4 strawberry plants from my mom. I babied them as much as I could, mulching around them and feeding them coffee grounds. When they would shoot out a runner, I would position it to where I wanted it to root, and then clip the lead once it was established.

This year I have a nice little berry patch. I have placed our abandoned chicken pen over them to keep the birds out, and I have been enjoying strawberries the last two weeks with my kids. Every day I am able to get enough for all of us to enjoy. I am excited to see new runners coming too.

Once we get our new garden established, these little gems will move over to our new property. I may even try to make a garden/patch just for strawberries, as my mom has quite a few more plants to pass on this year.

Next up . . . raspberry season!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Wetland Septic System??

Last week Ethan and I picked up a runner sled, some lumber, and a push yard sweeper that was listed on freecycle. I am really excited about the yard sweeper! I like to rake grass and put it on my flower beds and gardens to keep moisture in and weeds out. It works wonderfully, and it is amazing how many worms now reside where I have done this. Anyway, the yard sweeper will make this much easier to do.

The family that was gifting these items is an incredibly giving family. The husband heard about our building project and offered to let us use his cement mixer. He also told us that if there was anything we saw that would be helpful to us, to let him know. He told us to let him know if there was something specific we are looking for too since he has things constantly cycle through his place. People know he gives things away left and right, so they bring things left and right. (When we picked up the lumber, he even had it all loaded on his trailer. He told us to just take the trailer and bring it back the next day when the lumber was unloaded.)

Well, while we were there, he gave the kids and me a tour of his place and his set up for his animals. We got to talking, and it led to him showing me his septic set up. Their land didn't perk either 8 years ago so they had a wetland septic system put in. He said they were much more affordable than the other traditional options for land that doesn't perk.

I did a little bit of research on these today. They look really interesting. Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids even has one for their center. You can read about it here and here. I contacted them today, and hopefully I'll be getting some more information about this type of system.

I'd love to hear from anyone who knows about these too.

[Edited 6-10: Well, I got a quick answer on this one from talking to someone tonight who installs them. In the past, putting these in saved a lot of money. They use to use limestone that was tested for the proper hardness. The quarries don't want to mess with testing limestone hardness anymore, however, so these systems now have to use river rock - which is quite a bit more expensive. To go this route, it would cost us about $7000. The sand filter system is around $8000. Most people who are putting them in now are people who want to run tests on them - like college biology labs and nature centers. With the maintenance of the plants and the pasture area that it would take up (a sand filter can be grazed ovcr), it is not something we are going to pursue any further. It was interesting to learn about at least though. ]

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Monday, June 9, 2008

7 Years!

Today Ethan and I have been married 7 years, and a great 7 years it has been!

Ethan's favorite number, or at least the one he picks if he is asked to pick a number, is always 7. I find it appropriate that this is the year that we are moving out to the country and starting a farm. Our dream since we first got married (and even before, when we knew we were going to get married) was to have a house in the country that included a nice piece of land. To be able to farm it is the icing on the cake.

This year we decided that instead of exchanging anniversary gifts, we were going to pick out something together for our new land/farm. Maybe a cool mailbox, a sign for the farm, a nice tree . . . we haven't decided yet. I'll try to remember to post what we end up picking out.

If you don't mind me being too sappy though, the best gift Ethan has given me is his love through Christ, his perseverance in his work, and the opportunity to move our family out into the country.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Garden Progress

Our garden is s...l...o...w...l...y progressing. Last week, Ethan and Caleb went out to the farm, and Ethan plowed up the rest of the garden spot while Caleb watched. The ground was still quite wet, and it has to dry out quite a bit before we can do any more work. With all of the rain that we have been getting (many areas and cities around us are flooding worse than they have in over 10-15 years), it might be awhile!

The plants that I started are desperately wanting to get into the garden. Their growth had halted in their planting pots. Yesterday I dug out all of the old pots that I have been storing (I was keeping them knowing we would eventually move out of this parsonage, and I wanted to be able to take my flowers with me), and I planted my garden starts in them. If I can get my hands on some more pots, I will try to start our pumpkins, cucumbers, and melons in them - with hopes that I can transplant them.

I also am going to see if I can encourage my starts along with milk jug greenhouses. Since tomatoes do most of their growing at night, from what I understand, the greenhouses help keep them warm and moist throughout the night so they can grow better. Just in case it is too warm for milk jug greenhouses now, I don't have all of them covered. Plus . . . I ran out of milk jugs. :)

So although it's not much progress, it is a tiny step ahead towards a garden. My hopes for the gardening year are to get enough tomatoes and peppers to can enough spaghetti sauce, salsa, and just plain tomatoes to get us to next summer. Also, I am banking on being able to plant a nice crop of fall beans to fill the cupboards with (one of the few vegetables Ethan likes) since last year my fall beans were the nicest. Anything else, I will just take as a bonus during this year of transition.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Poison Ivy Treatment from the Cupboard

I really haven't done much besides clean since my last post. Since I was going to be gone Saturday and Sunday, I cleaned up the house quite a bit on Friday for a realty agent walk through that was yesterday. I also did even more polishing and cleaning last night and today since there was someone who wanted to see the house. It's amazing how much time the polishing takes up, even when everything is already clean!

So since I don't have much news, I thought I would give a summary on some home treatment I used for this round of poison ivy. I have been VERY happy with how quickly the welts and blisters have gone away and how well I was able to keep the itch under control. It will be good for me to record what I did this time anyway since I seem to get poison ivy every year. I'll list the different stages and what I used.

(Please note, these are some home remedies that worked for me from various things I gathered together from people who aren't in the medical profession. I am in no way qualified to give medical advice!)

Stage 1 - Contact
I missed recognizing this, but if you know you have come into contact with poison ivy, wash with degreasing dish soap and cold water ASAP. It only takes a few minutes to react. (See later in this post why not to use hot water.) Then wipe down with rubbing alcohol, along with wiping anything off that might have also come into contact with the plant and picked up its oils.

Stage 2 - Bumps and "Pimples" Forming
If you notice that you are starting to get a rash, wash the area frequently with cool to warm water using a degreasing dish soap. Also, rub the area lightly with salt, rubbing light enough not to break the skin. Also, frequently wipe the rash with vinegar. The sooner you can do these things, the quicker and less intense your breakout will probably be.

If itching has started, you can also make a mixture of any of the following to dry and leave on: dish soap, salt, baking soda, cooked and cooked oatmeal, vinegar. When you rinse it off, use cool to warm water. These things really helped take away my itch. DO NOT itch with your fingernails as poison ivy outbreaks are notorious for infections - which I have had with mine twice now. (One resulting in blood poisoning.) As awful as it sounds, a light salt rub (mixed with some soap) really feels good and will take the itch away for awhile.

You can also start taking oral Benadryl, although it can make you quite sleepy. Be careful with the Benadryl cream. It does a good job of taking the itch out, but some people will react to the cream when they have poison ivy and make things worse.

Stage 3 - Blisters (with oozing)
When you start getting blisters, you really need to keep the area clean to avoid infection. You can continue with the mixes of dish detergent, salt, baking soda, cooked and cooled oatmeal, and vinegar. Salt rubs mixed with soap also are good to keep up, (and feel great!) but take extra precaution not to break any blisters. If your skin seems really weepy, letting a paste of baking soda or cooked and cooled oatmeal dry on the area will help dry things up.

You may feel like although your skin is really weepy, it is quite dry too from all of the treatment. If this is the case, oatmeal works better than baking soda, and after you get done washing something off, an application of aloe will nourish your skin a bit. I found that sometimes my skin was just weeping because it was getting overly dry, and the aloe would stop the weeping for awhile.

Another thing that is good to use at this time is plain yogurt or buttermilk. These contain good bacteria that can help prevent infection - although if you suspect infection, it is important to see your doctor to get an antibiotic. Trust me!

Also, during this time, you can keep up the oral benadryl if you can stand the drowsiness.

Stage 4 - Healing
This is the stage where the blisters dry up and your skin is healing. You may still have itching at this time, but you are over the hump. Soap and salt rubs are still helpful, as well as aloe, buttermilk, and yogurt. Only use the baking soda and oatmeal if you really need to relieve some itching that the others won't, as your skin might be quite dry by now. Try to add as many moisturizing things as possible.

This whole process can take up to 3 weeks (or more). The least it has taken me to get to the healing stage was 1 week, which was this time. Something to note, however, is that the outbreak doesn't all go at the same rate or at the same stage. The concentration of oil you recieved and the thickness of your skin where you came into contact with the oil will make a difference on when the rash shows up and how quickly it clears up. It may seem as if the rash is spreading over a week or two, but the rash is not contagious and most likely the new spots are just areas that received less oil so they don't react as vigorously.

Also, oil will stay on shoes, door knobs, steering wheels, etc. for even up to a year. If you really think that your rash is spreading, you might want to wash or take rubbing alcohol to anything you think got oil on it.

Something to be cautious of too is heat. Heat will open your skin's pores and can possibly drive the rash deeper, making it worse or making areas that just received tiny bits of oil break out if they wouldn't have otherwise. The hard part is that heat feels really, Really, REALLY good on an itchy rash. Even while knowing this, I fell into the trap of using heat this time to relieve the itch. Instead, try a soapy salt rub. I came to realize this brought the same results as the heat for me.

So there you go. That's what I know about poison ivy remedies from your cupboard. If you have any that you fall back on, I would love to know.

As far as things not from the cupboard, (I guess Benadryl is one), I have heard that over the counter Zanfel is great (but expensive). Also, I have gone to the dr. to get steroids more than once, and they knock it down like none other. This has been my 2nd worse case of poison ivy, and it probably would have benefited from steroids, (my worst case involved lymph nodes swelling and red streaks racing up my arm - signs of impending blood poisoning leading to shots of powerful antibiotics and steroids) but I was so excited about how things from my cupboard were working that I decided to just finish off with them.

I hope you never have to use this information. :)

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Tools of My Trade

Since writing this post I have gotten poison ivy multiple more times.  I finally broke down and got the poison ivy treatment described below - oh my!  I can't say enough about it!  Now, if I can't get my hands on one of the following, I will use the above remedies, but I am going to always try to keep the below on hand because they are worth every penny!

I first used Zanfel, described underneath, until I learned that it was actually the same formulation and company as Mean Green Power Hand Scrub, which is much, much more economical by volume. I now keep a container of this hand scrub in my medicine cabinet.  It not only feels wonderful to use on a poison ivy infection with its gentle exfoliants, but somehow they have figured out how to come up with a product which helps remove any remaining or deeply absorbed poison ivy oils from the skin. My rashes that used to last 3 miserable weeks or more are now gone within a week - and the itching is immediately relieved throughout the day with applications just a couple of times each day until the rash is gone.  I have used this on my young children, and we have not had misery from poison ivy rashes since. It almost makes me not so fearful of getting into poison ivy anymore . . . almost! (Just Google Zanfel for instructions on how to use this product for poison ivy.)

Zanfel was the original tube of poison ivy treatment I purchased, at the suggestion of a friend.  It is the same formulation as Mean Green Power Hand Scrub, just marketed in a smaller tube at a higher price for poison ivy relief.  If you don't want to wait for an order of Mean Green Power Hand Scrub to  come in, I would highly suggest driving to Walmart or your local pharmacy to purchase a tube.  It will still be worth every penny. 

I have not personally used Rhus Tox, but a couple of my friends have introduced me to this product. Judging by the reactions I see them get, they are either more sensitive to poison ivy than I am, or they get into it more than I do. (One of them has it all over her yard.) They go on and on about this product whenever they have an outbreak. Not only does it help once they get one, but it has made their reactions much less severe as they start it in December and take maintenance doses throughout the season. (I'll have to get the schedule they use.) Now that I can spot poison ivy better, don't get into it much anymore, and have Zanfel on hand, I have not had the need to try this. If I were to get a major outbreak again, I think Rhus Tox (helping the body to heal) might be great to pair with Zanfel/Mean Grean Power Hand Scrub (removing difficult residual oils which continue irritation).
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