Sunday, May 30, 2010

Henhouse #2

Started the last of the walls on the coop and all went well.  Had a little help putting the walls up and was really happy about how well they came together!  Everything was square and true.  Yay!  I use 3 inch coarse dry wall screws as i find they are easy to use, efficient and can also be taken out if I have redo something.  Now that the walls are raised, I think I'll be starting the roof next.  The dimensions of the coop are 10'x6'x6'.  The door is a bit over 5 feet high and that's perfect for me at 5 '2".  Having fun!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Introducing Sherman & CJ!

Aside from me, my partner and Micky the Thoroughbred, Sherman & CJ are part of the crew here.  An odd couple, to say the least, but perfectly matched.  Sherman is an almost 8 year old rescued Boxer.  He was a backyard discovery in a litter of 12 week old Boxer puppies.  A couple of his siblings had already died, and he was close behind.  The vet said he was about half the weight he should have been, malnourished, dehydrated, had several infections and would probably not lived more than another 24 hours.  Well, as you can see from his picture below, he made quite a comeback.

CJ stands for "Carlisle Junior" and is an 8 month old Pug.  He is named after Carlisle who died about 9 months ago at the age of 8 years old.  Sherman had never been alone, and when Carlisle passed, Sherman withdrew and was not himself.  So, a couple months later, we found CJ and they have been the best of pals.  A puppy is a good match for Sherman since his Boxer genetics keep him quite lively!  Sherman watches over him well, they are inseparable and are constant entertainment for themselves and others.  CJ must think he is a different breed of dog since this week alone, he has on different occasions pranced up on the porch with a rabbit leg and a squirrel carcass.  How, I'll never know.  He must have had some help, but it wasn't help from Sherman.  Sherman loves a good chase and has passed many an hour chasing rabbits, but wouldn't know what to do with one if he caught it.  And, he could if he wanted.  He's one of the fastest dogs I've watched. 

So, that's the dog crew.  I know Sherman will love the addition of more "chaseable" wildlife in Arkansas and CJ will love the cool green grass in the spring and summer.  Here in the desert, summer is not much fun for either of them with the exception of early morning and night.  Of course, they get to stay inside where it's cool when it gets too hot!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Tricky Mickey - How a Horse Chose Me

I'm a mental health therapist and had the idea that I wanted to incorporate horses into my therapy - a method very successful and becoming more popular called Equine Assisted Psychotherapy.  Keep in mind I grew up at the beach and my experience with horses was limited to a few guided trail rides throughout my life.  About 2 1/2 years ago I called a stable close by and asked them if I could volunteer a couple times a week doing grunt work in exchange for the experience of getting to know horses better.  So, it began... I mucked a lot of stalls and did a lot of grooming and began building my confidence with horses on the ground.  I noticed there was one horse who had a strong, sad, powerful feel about her and nobody ever seemed to ride her or work her. I loved to brush her because she would exhale loudly, drop her head and close her eyes. Her name was Mickey.  "Impressive Mickey" as her Jockey Club papers illustrate.  Mickey is a 20 year old, 16.3 hand registered Thoroughbred.  I'm 5'2" and can't see over her withers. 

I was told that Mickey had been kept in the small stall for 5 years and only taken out 4 times during that period and the owner didn't invest any time or care in her.  My heart went out for this amazing creature and I felt connected immediately.  I asked the owner if I could feed lease Mickey so I could then begin turning her out in the arena and let her large body move.  The owner agreed.  I then soon noticed that Mickey was lame.  At first it was an abscess in her hoof due to standing in a stall with feces for 5 years.  The owner wouldn't get Mickey medical attention, so I raised the needed money and got her abscess seen by a veterinarian.  Then she got lame again.  We didn't know what it was but she was limping a lot and seemed to be in pain most of the time.  Everyone I knew said, "Stay away from that horse - she is older, lame and problems are just waiting to happen."  Did I listen?  No.  I went with my intuition.  It took about 5 months, but I kept asking the owner if she would sell her to me.  Originally, she agreed to $1500 "because I paid more and she has papers".  By the end of the 5 month negotiation, as Mickey's health continued to decline, I purchased her for $1 and that included all her tack.

Now what?  I have a lame horse and no horse experience.  I saw a neighbor I had never met riding a horse on his 40 acres of property.  I asked this stranger if I could board my horse who wasn't doing well at his place.  He thought about it for a day, called me back and said let's give it a try.  Fast forward.  Mickey has a new home with two other Thoroughbred friends, a large space to romp and is 100% sound.  With proper feed, space and care, she put on about 200 lbs, is in no pain, and has no lameness.  My neighbor has been teaching me for about a year, so not only did Mickey get a wonderful home, I got a good friend and a mentor who has rode and trained his whole life. 

Mickey during feed lease period.  After abscess & before lameness.

I'm getting much better and much more confident.  Mickey tests me all the time, but knows just where to stop.  There were times when I was in tears saying I couldn't do it, that she "was too much horse" or "she needs an experienced rider".  But neither Mickey nor my neighbor would have any of that. A Thoroughbred is intense - they call them "hot blooded" for a very good reason.  Her energy is concentrated and always right there on the edge.  I'm getting a lot better at riding and have no intention of ever letting Mickey go to someone else.  I made her a promise she has a home with me for life and that one day, she'll have a pasture instead of a desert floor.  So, when it comes time to move to Arkansas, we'll be loading her up and taking her along.  I've put my idea of Equine Assisted Therapy on hold.  I'm selfish.  She's my therapist and I don't want to share.  She teaches me how to move through fears, how to be patient, to trust, to get out of my own way and out of my head, to hear subtleties in the moment versus certainties from the past.  We're making a pretty good team.  Thanks, Tricky Mickey!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Henhouse!

Starting the Foundation

Working on building the Henhouse!!  I actually don't eat eggs.  I've never liked them.  I'm also a vegan.  But, I know enough people who eat eggs and I would love to give them fresh, cruelty-free eggs so they don't have to buy the factory farmed ones.  I get the pleasure of tending to chickens and learning how to keep them.  Nothing against roosters: I think they're beautiful!  I just don't think I'm ready to hear one this close day and night.  It's a bit tricky out here in the desert because the coyote are crafty and ever alert.  So, although not as "free range" as I would like, they will certainly not be cooped up and will have as much space as I can safely give them outside their henhouse. 

Finished Foundation

I started to build my henhouse last weekend and am continuing this weekend.  A cinder block foundation with bolts concreted in every few cinder blocks to go through the kick plates of each wall.  Tomorrow I begin the walls.  I am handy, but I've certainly never built anything this big.  It's a 10' X 6' henhouse.  I have tons of ideas in my head how I'm going to decorate it inside... roosts they can hop up on, nesting boxes I can hopefully make out of things I scavenge up in the desert, their little ramp, etc...  I orginally wanted to do a strawbale coop, but the cost of straw has gone up so much, it's cost prohibitive.  So, I'll insulate nicely and put plenty of ventilation.  I don't have any building plans, so hope what's in my head actually transpires!

Any good suggestions for hen names??  I've got Gertie, Matilda, and Hattie for starters.  Ha!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Why Homestead?

The original use of the term no longer is applicable for us as government is not giving out free parcels of land to anyone willing to reside.  The current term that came about in the 60's is tied to the back-to-the-land-movement where people began leaving cities and returned to the land for a more simple, self-sufficient, sustainable lifestyle.  In today's culture, there is a revival of this - just as there have always been periods of time throughout history where groups sought to return to a more agrarian way of life.
For me, when I think of homesteading, it's a way of life: a philosophy, a value system, a part of who I am  and how I want to live.  I believe it's the most compassionate way I can live.  Currently, it's a struggle not to be disconnected from my food, where it came from, the land and the people who grew it.  It's a struggle to get to know your neighbors in a genuine way.  I mean, everyone is in a hurry.  When was the last time you saw some people in the city just sitting on their porch for 2 hours on a Wednesday night talking? (Alcohol gatherings don't count... these seem to be quite frequent, but disingenuous if i can speak my bias)  I am planning my move to a small, but diverse, town in North Central Arkansas because I want to know who I live among.  I want to be a part of my food's growing process, and if I can't grow it, I want to know who did.  If I ever choose to eat meat again, I need to be able to raise the animal and know the person who dresses it, if not do it myself.  How could I not give thanks and have gratitude after being involved from beginning to end?  As I read in Barbara Kingsolver's book, "Plants work hard".  It's amazing what they go through to mature and we reap the benefits with the lighter load of work.  And, conventional farming is poisoning our land, our seed supply and killing the small farmer.  So, I want to return. I once heard that "repent" means to "turn back".  Hmmm...

 So, I imagine... my horses grazing on my own pasture with hay from my land or my neighbors' in the winter, food from my own land watered from my own well untainted by chlorine and other chemicals, neighbors I know and help, animals cared for and living the way they were intended, quiet, peace, tranquility.  And, hard, hard, hard work.  I guess I and the plants have to both work hard!  And, this is it, my HOME.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Making Time Matter

One of the Arkansas Natives I Saw

I do my very best to stay content here in the California high desert despite an unsettled heart.  I know I don't belong here anymore, but at the same time I know there's a reason for being here.  Life is short and I try and make every day matter.  I'm grateful for the tomatoes I picked today, the off leash walk with my dogs, the desert sunset, and the clients I saw in my private practice.  I'm grateful for the small desert homesteaded cabin from the 1950's we've restored and the 5 acres around me.  And I'm grateful for a whole lot more!  I try not to focus on what I'm discontent with and instead turn my energy toward hope and gratitude.  I do what I can with what I have today and try and create a better tomorrow.  This struggle is not mine alone, I know!  We all battle with discontent to some degree.  Some settle and resign to it dropping anchor where they are in life, some blot out the moment with malcontent and others try and strike a balance.  Looking forward helps me in the moment.  I look forward to moving to Arkansas, floating the rivers, having a beautiful organic garden, my horse on pasture, water from a well, and the sound of nature instead of the sound of cars, stereos, parties, motorcycles, etc.  Sound really carries in the desert and ironically, I've found that many people come out to the desert to escape - not to escape the city but to escape, period.  And, they often don't appreciate or respect the quiet and the nature unique to the desert.  Many folks come here because they have no where else to go.  With hope and gratitude comes a softer heart and for me, excitement.  I'm very excited about life.  I'm excited about this moment, tomorrow and my dreams for the future.  Hope, gratitude, excitement.  And Love.  A love for my life, the land and all it does.  I'm grateful for the land.  It works hard for me.  I'm grateful for animals.  Although I'm vegan, they sacrifice for us.  I try and thank God, thank the land and the animals every day.  I haven't forgotten people.  Although I get worried, I still have hope.  So, off I hope I soon go to find a true community of friends and neighbors.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


I have no idea if anyone will read this. It's great if you are, but it's ok if you're not. I have decided to put my thoughts and dreams in the form of a blog as a diary of sorts - a record of fluctuations and progress as defined by Hope. My Hope for Homesteading.

So, hello. I'm a 43 year old woman, have a partner, a goofy rescued boxer, a silly pug and a beautiful thoroughbred horse I rescued about two years ago. The horse lives at my neighbor's as she needs to be with others and have a herd. I knew nothing about horses when I rescued her from a very neglectful owner - she was lame and underweight. I helped her recover completely and she teaches me a lot of things - but largely about patience. I live in the High Desert of California and have a small mid century home on 5 acres. I grew up on the beach of San Diego in the early 1970's when kids could walk the boardwalk by themselves, ride bikes without helmets, and swim without supervision cause their parents knew they could. The beach was safe and largely different then. It's now full of rules, regulations, signs, drugs, and untrustworthy people. I thought coming to the desert would give me the inner solitude I was seeking. I've long been anamored with open spaces, quiet and solitude. But, the desert isn't doing it. I'm doing a good job at making it work temporarily, but my partner and I are planning on moving to north central Arkansas - in the Ozarks close to the Buffalo River. My dream is to have fresh, clean water pumped from a well, a beautiful garden where I can grow a large amount of food, pasture for my horse and a companion horse I'll buy, squirrels and butterflies for my dogs to romp after, and a change of seasons to celebrate. And, a break away from California and all its rules, regulations, high taxes, overpriced real estate and plethora of signs. And, the dream of a real community - people that will be there when you need them and help each other when the time comes. It'll be great when someone says, "let's do lunch" and know they mean it!! So, this will hopefully be a patient expression of my days until we can leave for Arkansas. There are some obstacles, and no need to go into them now. So until we pack up the boxes and animals, I try and stay content with my desert home, the chicken coop I'm building, the few container vegetables I'm able to grow, my big, beautiful horse I get to ride every weekend and my good fortune of being self employed. If anyone does happen to read this, please share your thoughts! The more company along this journey, the better.