Thursday, July 29, 2010


Well, maybe I shouldn't have posted so quickly about the property to be.  It really felt right and it felt like home. 

We had the home inspection on the Arkansas property on Tuesday and the inspection discovered water seepage either through the foundation or basement wall.  Fixing that may be a simple matter of redirecting water or could be a major, major undertaking.  And considering the home has sat vacant for 6 months with basement leakage, who knows if there could be a mold problem.  Since the home is a foreclosure and is being sold by Fannie Mae, there is no room for negotiation and we terminated the contract.  So, I'm disappointed to say the least.  It will be very hard for us to afford a property that had everything this place had, but we might have not been able to afford the repairs so we had to back away.  Too many unknowns.

So, plan B?  Well, I'm trying to adjust my attitude, get my chin up and move ahead!  I have my health and my work and wonderful people in my life so that is more important than a house and there will be more homes.  Our plan is to work hard for the next 6 to 7 months and I'm going to put my desert home on the market in about 4 to 6 weeks and the goal is to break even.  It's a shame to only break even as we have done sooo much to this little desert homestead and made it into a very nice little house.  And, even though we bought over 3 years ago after the market dipped, it still dipped once we bought so we're hoping to come out even with all the improvements we made.  We learned a lot and will take our knowledge and skills with us to the next home we buy.  We'll most likely buy a fixer in Arkansas (with a dry foundation!) so we can have more home for less money.  If my home sells early, we can move our RV to my neighbor's home where my horse lives and it has an RV hookup.  We'll live there, work hard and take off towards the end of February in the RV with the dogs and take a month or two traveling to Arkansas staying on BLM lands and out of the way places.  When we get to Arkansas, we will get work and be local to look for homes as the listings appear.  We'll also secure work of course.

In the meantime, I will try and make my blog interesting and keep canning, finishing my coop, learning what I can and having a few final seasons in the desert.  I think next time I'll wait till after the inspection to post the home success!  I get very excited and just didn't dream it would have a seeping foundation.  But, it was a heck of a trip and I had a great time even though we drove two 24 hour days!  Memories are good and I wouldn't trade that one.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Might be Heading for a New Home

A lot can change very quickly.  A week ago I felt like an indentured servant to the desert, and now we might have a new home in the Ozarks.  Long story short, the realtor we are working with in Arkansas emailed last week with a brand new listing that had come on the market.  It was a bank owned repo she said.  The home was built by an artist couple about 35 years ago and 3 years ago it sold to a family who subsequently foreclosed on it.  The price was sure right.  So, at the spur of the moment, we rented a car, threw in the contra ban dogs and did a non stop 24 hour drive from Joshua Tree, California to Jasper, Arkansas.  We put in an offer and found out it was accepted.  Now, we need to do the inspection and if no deal breakers show up upon inspection, looks like I'll have heading to my dream homestead!  With the price so good and mortgage so low, I will try and sell my California home soon or rent it.  It's doable now.

living room (they painted solid wood floors black, so we'll sand and refinish)

The home seems to have good bones but is in need of a lot of work.  The bathrooms and kitchen seemed to be in the middle of a remodel and it looks like people just walked out.  The grounds are very overgrown and need a brush hog taken to it in a bad way.  There are 6 acres.  It has a well and a cistern.  The home has 1500 sf in the upper main portion with a beautiful glassed in sun room over looking a pond.  There is a downstairs basement type portion with another 900 sf.  A guest cabin is also on the property which once again has an unfinished bathroom remodel and it will one day make a great nightly rental generating some income.  The original small homestead house is still standing with all that lovely old wood and a shop of some sort next to it made of the same wood.  The original house is just an old relic to look at but the old shop building can still be used for some storage.  There is also a nice sized newer storage building of some sort around 300sf with a/c and power.  Existing is also what was a pottery kiln but we do not know if any of the pottery equipment was left - it was in bad condition on the outside and we didn't enter that yet.  Down the way appeared to be a good looking structure that I think is a chicken coop - yay!  Since it was overgrown didn't want to take the chance of chiggers or snakes since I drove from Southern California with only a pair of flip flops.  So, the home will need kitchen and bathroom remodels, paint, wood floor resurfacing and general TLC.  The outside siding was mostly great with only a couple boards to replace and the fascia was 90% good as well.  The grounds can be beautiful again once cleared.  The home will take a lot of work and time but we are up for it and we think it will be a beautiful home again.  We were told that the home used to be on the "homes tour" of really great homes in the area. 

anyone up for a project?

sun room off the living room

sun room overlooking pond

So, within 10 days we'll have to go to Arkansas again.  Send good thoughts on the inspection.  Excited and scared at the same time.  Well, I know that's normal.  That's all for now... didn't sleep so well last night cause the mind kept going and now it seems to have stopped.  Ha ha.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Gathering of Loose Ends

It's getting harder to stay patient and remain content here in the desert.  Got another wave of the "doldrums" and it's a pretty strong attack.  We thought we had a house that might have been a real possibility in Arkansas.  6 acres, nice big home built by an artist, guest cabin, pond, pasture.  It is a repo, needs some work which we can do and was going for a great price.  But, this morning found out it is right on the highway there.  Steep land and busy roads are deal breakers for us.  We are not going to move half way across the country in search of peace and quiet to hear the rush of cars all day.

Time in the summer seems to move slower here in the desert.  Sometimes it barely has a pulse.  I'm a very upbeat, motivated person and extremely positive, but when these waves hit me I become more pessimistic.  I still own a house here that needs a bit of work and will most likely not sell because of the poor real estate market.  The thought of actually getting all my belongings, including cars, horse, and dogs moved to another state seems like fantasy sometimes.  Loose ends seem like they will forever be loose.  For whatever reason, certain days can wreck havoc on my state of mind and life doesnt' feel like my own.  On good days, I know that all the obstacles can be worked around such as finding someone to tend to my home when I move, use it as a weekend vacation rental for Joshua Tree National Park visitors and working a few more hours than I would really want to in a week to pay for the mortgage until the market rebounds.  But, a negative attitude can grow like fungus if one is not careful.

I hesitate to put up these types of posts, but I want my blog to be honest and real.  I could create the happy, idyllic picture of me in the desert planning my move to a beautiful homestead in the Ozarks, but it doesn't always feel that way.  Most days, they do feel that upbeat and hopeful, but some days I feel the weight of a heavy force that we all carry at one time or another.  I figure it will help me to put it down in writing and I hope that someone enjoys reading though my journey without thinking it's too narcissistic.  The desert can be a lonely place and I love being able to connect through this medium. 

So, today, I'll work on gathering those loose ends that brush away hope and childlike enthusiasm.  I do know that feelings and moods shift and bend and rarely stay for very long without some alteration.  But, they can do a little damage at a time if not careful.  Kind of like termites invading the spirit - you can't let them remain or they could do some structural damage

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Little at a Time... Hen House #5

I'm not gonna write much cause I am tired, tired, tired!  Got a break from the heat today (yesterday it was 107 degrees) and we had cloud cover and it was under 100 degrees so I got to get back out and work on the coop.  I have to say I'll be happy when the "building" part is over so I can move to getting the inside ready and then the run.  I still hope to have my chickens by first week of August.  So, here's the latest progress pictures!  The roof will be the last and I still have the 1"x3" boards to run vertically along all four corners of the building which will also be painted red. 

Friday, July 9, 2010

Making Homemade Pectin

Apple, Pectin & Jellies!

An essential ingredient in almost all jellies, jams and preserves is pectin.  Today, most people go to the store and buy liquid or powder form pectin, but I won't put it in my jellies as it's highly processed and not natural.  Your grandmother didn't either!  Pectin occurs naturally in apples and that's all you need to make your own.

To make your own pectin, you need to get apples - unripe apples are the best and crab apples are said to be the very best but any apple will do.  There is a higher concentration of pectin in unripe apples and crab apples, but pectin is present in all apples.  I have only used ripe apples since I don't have access to a tree right now and the only organic apples I can buy are ripe.  The pectin turned out fine last time.  The first time I made it with ripe apples, I think it was okay, but I didn't heat it long enough.  Trial and error.

So...  to just make a couple batches of jelly, you can use just a few apples.  With a few, I made enough pectin for about 3 batches of jelly.  I froze what I didn't use after my initial use.  Since the highest level of pectin is concentrated in the core and skin, cut your entire apple into chunks, put it all in a pot and pour water to where it almost covers the apples.  Then simmer for quite a while stirring occasionally.  The apples will start getting soft and when it looks and feels like apple sauce, they are done with the cooking stage.  Of course, you can help to get to the apple sauce stage by mashing it while stirring as the apples get soft.

Next, take a cheese cloth and pour the apple sauce like mixture into a heated jar (so it doesn't crack).  When most of the liquid has run through and the apple sauce mixture has cooled some, squeeze the mixture to extract as much juice as you can from the mixture.  There's your pectin!!

For my last batch of jelly, I used about about a half cup of liquid pectin for the recipe.  This will vary depending upon how much natural pectin is present in the apples before you make it and there's no way to tell exactly... part of the fun of the process!  Pour your liquid pectin into the jelly mixture after all ingredients are mixed and heat to a boil and stir and stir and stir!  Be very careful not to leave it unattended as it can leave you with quite a mess.  After about 20 minutes of stirring mine, I felt my wood spatula began to drag a bit on the bottom and I knew the pectin was working.  I stirred until it was a light gel and no longer runny like water.  There is a way you can test the pectin level, but I have not used this method.  I'll copy the instructions below:

"There is a test that uses rubbing alcohol to provide a rough indication of the amount of pectin in the fruit. Mix 1 teaspoon of cooked, cooled crushed fruit with 1 tablespoon of rubbing alcohol. Use a closed container and shake gently. Juices from fruit that is high in pectin will form a solid gelatinous lump. If the fruit is low in pectin, it will form only small rubbery particles. Those with an average pectin content will form a few pieces of the jelly-like substance.It ought to be needless to say, that just as you should never put a cup of very hot coffee in your lap while driving a car, you should not eat the test mixture (that with the rubbing alcohol in it) as rubbing alcohol is a poison."

If for some reason you have boiled your mixture for a very long time and it's not gelling, add more sugar.  Chemically, sugar is part of the necessary component of the gelling process because:

"high-ester pectins at soluble solids content above 60% and a pH-value between 2.8 and 3.6, hydrogen-bonds and hydrophobic interactions bind the individual pectin chains together. These bonds form as water is bound by sugar and forces pectin strands to stick together."

In addition, natural pectin has been shown to have many medicinal purposes that can't be replicated by the processed form.  Is has been shown to help detox from heavy metals, kill cancer cells, and lower cholesterol.  Maybe that's where the saying, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" comes from!

Good luck!  I would love to hear about anyone making their own, their experiences and anything I left out you feel is important!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Chosen Chicken Breeds

After talking to the local "chicken man", I've picked my breeds I'm going to have in the coop. I'm going to get the Rhode Island Red and the Turken, aka the "Transylvanian Naked Neck". The latter looks more like a turkey and is so ugly it's cute! Both breeds will do very well in the high desert heat here. Hopefully I'll be getting them within a month!

Rhode Island Red


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Orally Fixated Pug

Mr. "chew everything in sight" even has to have something in his mouth when he falls asleep!  I'll sure be happy when he grows out of the puppy chew stage.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Making Butter from Raw Milk

Had a fun time making butter and it turned out great!  Start with raw milk that has not been homogenized or pasteurized.  After a day of sitting in the fridge', you'll notice there are two layers - the cream has risen to the top and milk to the bottom.  Skim the cream into a container because that's what your going to make your butter from.  Another easy way to remove the cream is to pour the milk into a container with a spigot on the bottom.  When the cream rises, you can drain the milk out through the spigot and what is left in the container is the cream!  Next, put the creamer in the container you are going to churn it in.  I used a glass gar and filled it almost 50% full - don't fill in more than this if you use this method.  An easier method (but not as fun!) is to put the cream in the blender. 

Next, take your jar and shake, shake, shake...  you will need to shake anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes and then the fat molecules will begin separating and you'll start getting globs of yellow butter.  Keep shaking!

Soon, it will look like most of the cream has turned into butter and then pour out the milk that is left.  Add some cold water to the butter and shake again for a minute or two and pour out.  Do this a few times and the water will be mostly clear that you pour out.  You can then spoon out the butter from the container into a bowl and let it sit in the fridge for a while.  Then, spoon the butter (mash it), trying to push out any water that may still be in the butter.  Pour out or remove any water and you have your butter!  This is a fun project and much healthier than buying the store bought.  Have fun!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Henhouse #4

Well, I got the door constructed and hung complete with barrel bolt.  Whoo hoo!  Very pleased that I found that great pair of hinges out in the desert.  A little WD40 and they are as good as new.  Love to find things!  A lot of the wood I'll be using to frame the windows has also been found and that's fun.  So, it was a day of pleasure and progress and hopefully tomorrow will be the same and I'll get the chicken door and first window framed and hinged.  While picking up hay today, I noticed they started selling chicks and chickens and I found a great contact for someone to help me choose the best breed(s) for my purposes.  Eggs only, but I want them to do well in the heat as it can get to be a bit over 110 here in the summer.  Hopefully, by next summer we'll be in Arkansas at our new homestead, but for this summer, gotta keep the birds comfortable!  Hopefully, in a month, my coop will be up and running.  But, I've got a lot of work to do yet.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Teetering Vegan

I grew up eating meat.  I have no issue with eating meat in general.  I became vegetarian over 20 years ago when I heard about the injustices and cruelty of the mainstream meat industry know as factory farming that replaced the many preceding generations whose communities raised and dressed their own animals.  I now continue my way of eating for moral and spiritual reasons.  But, I'm teetering between veganism and vegetarianism.

About 7 years ago I became vegan because I wanted to take my vegetarian principles to what was my logical conclusion and became vegan.  I am beginning to rethink my veganism but on a small scale.  I am currently building a chicken coop as I see no harm in eating eggs from chickens I tend to and know can roam and are well treated.  I can also feed them organic feed and a variety of scraps knowing the eggs will exceed the store bought ones in nutrition as well.  Actually, I don't even like eggs, but my neighbors and dogs will and the chickens will lay them regardless!  But, I'll bake with them - that's new for me.  I haven't eaten an egg or anything made with an egg in over 7 years. 

I'm also rethinking some dairy products.  Lately, it is easier to buy local, grass fed TRUE free range raw milk and raw cheese if you know where to look and live in the right area.  I'm a big believer in raw milk and cheese because the nutrition hasn't been heated out of them.  Raw goat cheese from grass fed, free range goats is also getting a bit easier.  Free range often means little more than having ACCESS to some open space, but often equates to little more than a bit of wing or elbow room.  Hardly free range.  But, there are some dairies close by that can be visited and again I'm beginning to think that I can relax my standards a bit.  My goal is to live in a rural community where I have neighbors who have these animals and I can get my own raw milk from them and not have to rely on a business per se.  But, for now I do think there are some good ones out there who humanely treat their animals in the manner in which I feel they were intended. 

So, I'm teetering on the fence of veganism.  I don't know if I'll ever change from a vegetarian.  I don't think I could ever, ever raise an animal and then end its life.  I just become too attached.  I name everything I own, including my cars!  And, my belief is that if I can't go through the process myself, then I have no business having someone else do it for me.  That's just me - my point is not to tell anyone else what they should be doing.  I respect others who raise their own animals for food. 

The way I have chosen to eat is largely due to ethical and spiritual reasons.  I think when we were given "dominion over the earth and animals" that this implied a responsibility, and responsibility means stewardship and care.  I think it's a sin the way we as a country mass produce animals and regard them as a mere commodity denying them respect as a life form.  I feel a moral and spiritual obligation not to participate in any factory farming methods that dominate our society.  I hope for a return to simpler, earlier days where communities raised and shared food and animals with one another, and relied on one another instead of big agribusiness.  Local equates to self sufficiency, better care for animals, healthier food and healthier and stronger community.  So, here I am teetering, still not sure.  But, I do know I'm gonna make butter tomorrow.  Yep, it's been 7 years since I've had butter - will I even like it?  Hmmm...