Friday, May 29, 2015

Two Whole Years of Semi-Regular Blogging! What Now?

You guys. My blog is two years old.

Two years of reading my hilarious prose. Two years of absorbing my magnificent, melodic composition. Two years of sopping up whatever jacked-up issues I'm dealing with, whatever jerk projects I've got going on, and whatever flaw-filled lessons I've learned.

Thank you.

Last year, I evaluated how well I was doing with my blogging goals. This year I've added a couple new goals. Why blog? Why keep this thing going? Well let's get down and dirty with it, shall we?

Write to feel better
Jen Grade: A
I absolutely love writing this blog. Seeing my words in print, cemented out there for anyone to see, gives me a huge adrenaline boost. It's awesome. And the topics help me stay focused. I write myself through my issues. Sometimes these blog posts are quite literally my first moment of clarity during a tricky situation. Other times these posts are intended to help me did this, Jen. This is something you accomplished. It's awesome. Totally makes me feel better.

Write to practice
Jen Grade: B
When I look at posts I created back in 2013, and compare them to posts I'm writing today, I definitely see a difference in my sentence structure. My clarity. A reduction of verbosity. Not to mention, I started a novel last year. I've been editing it since January. I'm practicing, all right. Not all the time. I skip days. I've skipped book editing for a while now. But I keep something coming, no matter how rough stuff gets. I am still practicing. And for the first time, I'm seeing improvement.

Stay away from monetizing
Jen Grade: A
Still not making a penny from this blog. Not one cent. Sometimes I second guess this goal. Maybe I'm being a total idiot. Maybe making money here would allow me to feel more free in other areas. But maybe making money here would make me feel less free here. No tellin' what could happen, which is why I stay pretty stagnant in this area.

Stay positive
Jen Grade: B
I've gotten better with this goal this year. Despite the numerous things I sometimes want to whine about online, I am sticking to things that are primarily informational, funny, positive, or useful. It keeps me positive, ya digg?

Don't be scared
Jen Grade: A
Again, I'm getting way better with this. I care less and less what my friends, family, and general public think about what I write....and maybe that's because I'm finally coming up with things people actually enjoy reading! I've received some really lovely feedback this year from a number of readers and I can't tell you how happy that makes me. I'm less afraid now than I have been in many, many years.

Now for some of those new goals...

Expand my reading and my audience
Jen Grade: F-
I'd like to have some new blogs to check in with each week. Have any blog friends you'd like to share? I'm talking the real friends - people who you love to read and who love to read you. I'd love to check them out! I've done nothing to help myself along with this goal. I've pretty much abandoned my blogging groups (they are so huge and overwhelming sometimes!) and spend my free time checking in with my regular blog loves. It's time to branch out a little more!

Revamp my blog site
Jen Grade: F--
I've had the same standard blogger template for the past two years. I've tweaked stuff in the sidebar, but what I'd really like to do is hire someone to create a beautiful blog site for me. I'm fine with keeping the .blogspot in my name....but I'd love a new look. Again, if you have any whimsical blog design friends, let me know! I'm in the market!

Head on back and watermark those old pics
Jen Grade: F
Man I am not nailing these new goals at all. I have some older posts with pics that need watermarks. I have some old posts with pics that need to be resized. I'd love to take the time sometime in the next 12 months to get that shizza cleaned up. Pro-style!

Create a separate page or section on my blog to discuss my homesteading adventures
Jen Grade: F
I really love talking about all the sweet new stuff I'm learning and the adventures I'm heading into these days.....enough to maybe make it a separate space on my blog. The crunchy life can be twisted to sorta match, but isn't exactly inline with my original theme (stories and lessons about my flaws, forgiven). I just can't stop writing about my little nature lessons, though, because I love maybe a separate section is where it's at. What do you guys think?

And of course, no anniversary post would be complete without a blast from the past! Here are some of my favorite posts (in order from oldest to most recent....can you tell a difference??):

Video Games for Hott Chicks, Working Women, and Moms

Grass Fed Beef 101

Crazy Hooker to Crazy...Homemaker?

10 Surprising Facts about Working from Home

Is the Crunchy Life Worth it?

8 Things I Learned in 8 Years of Marriage

7 Truths I Want My Kids to Understand

Any other goals you'd add up there? How do you feel about changing things up around here? If you blog, what are some of your goals for the season? Tell me all about it in the comments down below! This wouldn't be nearly as fun without you guys. I thank you for reading, for your comments, for pulling me aside and telling me that you read my blog because honestly that makes my heart explode with happiness more than anything else in the world

Friday, May 15, 2015

How Homesteading Saves You

I get it. You've already read about the benefits of homesteading. Financial freedom. Independence. Healthy living. Community involvement. Connecting to nature. Going back to your roots. Instilling values in your kids. Becoming stronger.

What I've never read about...what we rarely see how homesteading, or hobby farming, or urban gardening, can save you.

I should know. You see, it's saving me right now.

It started a little over a month ago. 8 years of arguing had finally taken its toll on my husband and he decided it was time to head on out, take some time to think, decide what it is he wants. Can't say I blame him too much....things have never been easy for us. Sometimes, on my bad days, I think our struggles are some sort of divine punishment for me being somewhat of a hooker when we met. Most of the time, though, I just figure this is part of life. Nobody's perfect. No relationship is flawless. This is a flaw-filled world. You need to work to find happiness. It doesn't fall into anyone's need to actually seek it out, make it real, mold it into your life with passionate resolve.

And so I supported him. It's kicking my ass, but I support him still. I want happiness with him, very much. I learned in counseling that just because something doesn't happen the way I would do it, it doesn't mean it's wrong....but you can still feel the sting of incomprehension, though. Ever had someone say they are happier when you're not around? It burns. Makes you doubt yourself. Takes a lot of energy to push those negative thoughts about yourself away. And if there's one thing you don't have when trying to run a household by yourself, it's energy.

So what I most want to do is throw in the towel. Not just on my marriage, but on all of it. I want to take off, hide out, write books to pay for my eco-shed in the woods and just grow old in the comfort of quilts and dried flowers.

But I can't do that. I have kids to take care of. Family and friends who need me. Seedlings that need to be hardened off. Chickens that need feeding.

And that brings us full circle. When home breaks apart at the seams, when stability is threatened, when life as you know it begins to slip away, what are you really left with? Eat, drink, work, love, sleep, repeat. Strip away objects, possessions, impressions, and riches, and you're left with your true needs. Life, simplified.

Homesteading, gardening, hobby farming, whatever you want to call it - it is a basic, elementary, bare-bones version of life. You dig into the soil you came from. You plant and forage for your food. You pray for rain and rejoice in sunshine. Alarms become sunrises. Bedtimes, sunsets. Responsibilities transform into direct functions of life.

I'm forced to replace doubt with books. Swap uncertainty for certainty. I do not know where my life is heading, but I do know if I plant this seed, water it, and give it sun, it will grow. A truth that can be realized with my own two hands.

There's reliability in work. Homesteading never stops. It's like being a parent - you can't take a sick day. No time for heartbreak. No waiting until life fixes itself. You've gotta get out there and clean the coop. Track the rainfall. Figure out which days will be warm enough to plant. Straightforward and reliable. Impossible to ignore.

There's calm in simplicity. Chickens lay eggs. Strawberries need light to grow. Attract birds to eat bugs, bees and butterflies to spread pollen. Rain means no watering. Frost means no planting. Dead plants mean you need to try the next trick. Feed the plants. Feed the kids. Feed the chickens. Feed your day with the tasks that mean the most to life. Simplicity.

There's perspective in raising animals. Life is short when you're a chicken. They live to eat, drink, love, and sleep. Period. Three years, five years later, it's over for them. Then they add to our years.

There's comfort in routine. Wake up. Tea. Kids. Chickens. Watering. Exercise. Work. Cook. Bathe. Bed. Do it over again tomorrow...not necessarily because you want to, but because it needs to be done. Life does not stop needing you because you're hurting.

There's peace and tranquility in contribution. I've given life, provided comfort, made room for growth, and killed off predators. I may not have it all together, but at the end of the day I can say I put food on the table, in the coop, in the dirt. I've fed someone other than myself. I've contributed to the life of something else. Gratification.

Now I don't know about you, but some pretty strong antidotes for pain include reliability, calm, comfort, peace, tranquility, and gratification. You could even say these things, these positive, self-inflicted actions, can save you from your sorrows. They sure help me.

So yes. Homesteading isn't for everyone....and those who do enjoy it often tout the health, freedom, and financial benefits. But I'd like to take it one step further and use myself as living proof that even a flaw-filled life can be forgiven with just a few minutes of sinking your hands into the dirt. Courage restored. Confidence renewed. Faith replenished. Saved.

Any of you experienced freeing simplicity at any point in your lives? How did it change your thoughts? How has it impacted you today? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so very much for reading. 


Friday, May 8, 2015

Homesteading Like a Jerk: Herb Spirals for Free!

I took some time this winter to learn about gardening without working. I am aiming for a fully-functional, high-producing food yard that I don't need to put any effort into.

So it's almost like divine intervention that I stumbled upon something that can actually give me what I want. I learned one of the great, magical, fundamental principles behind a low-maintenance garden is permaculture. Yep. Permaculture is the creation of your own little mini ecosystem, right in your own backyard. You use permaculture techniques to create self-sufficient zones on your property...zones that care for each other and provide each others' biological needs so I, the jerk homesteader, don't need to. 

I'm obviously over the moon about this. 

My first permaculture project was the creation of an herb spiral. 

What's an herb spiral, you might ask? Well that's a great question. It's not just a fairy-looking fun thing like I originally thought. Herb spirals are specially designed to hold your herbs in a particular order so they may naturally receive their water and light needs without any outside assistance. 

Now as awesome as the idea of an herb spiral was, I didn't want to go spending a ton of money on anything. The great thing about herb spirals is they can be built out of anything you want. I had a ton of old bricks left by the previous owners on the side of my shed, so I went with those. I've seen people use rocks, pavers, wood, buckets, glass bottles, whatever you've got. Just stack 'em and go. I also had some of that awesome half-price, sun-damaged weed barrier left over from two springs ago and I laid that down over my lawn to try and keep my soil medium fresh and clean. 

If there's one thing I hate, it's buying dirt. I'm going to need to bite the bullet here and get a little, but before I do, I'm building up a nice layer of other soil-building components. I want to buy as little dirt as possible, you see.

So unbeknownst to most people, mulch can be found for free through local townships and road departments. My township was giving the stuff away and all I needed to do was shovel it into my *new* truck and haul it home. 

Got the first part done.

Check out that sweet back-up job. 

My helper :)

Only a few more trips to go. 

This mulch isn't the best mulch in the world. I found some plastic in it, prolly the most carcinogenic kind. But it was free, and for the most part I just need this stuff to hold space and decompose, so I put it on the very bottom of the spiral and covered it with some peat moss. Jerks like to cover things up. 

Next came some poop-filled bedding from my chicken coop and some compost. Last but not least, I'll top it off with some store-bought dirt. So maybe this herb spiral is not completely free. Maybe that was just a jerk move to lure you in. Worked, didn't it?

In just a few short weeks I will plant my herbs...once that pesky threat of frost has disappeared.  

My spiral planting order from top - down:
Lemon balm
Water lillies

**violets and marigolds are gonna get planted throughout - these are good companions for herbs -  they play well together...guess you could say they are in I am with permaculture....**

Check out some of these key design features:

1. The direction the spiral goes matters ~! Water in my hemisphere runs clockwise, so my herb spiral was built with the spiral running clockwise to facilitate natural runoff.

2. The top of the spiral is hot, gets a lot of light, and has well-drained soil. Your sun-loving, well-drained soil plants will like this area.

3. The sides and bottom of the spiral is cooler, with more shade and damp soil. Your shade-loving, wet-soil plants will enjoy these areas.

4. Herbs planted with other herbs helps facilitate better herbs. Feel me? Companion planting at it's best.

5. That little tin at the bottom will collect water runoff during rainstorms. I hope to plant water lilies here. Lily pads are rad.

Not too shabby, huh? I'm excited to see how it works. Next year I'm going to shoot for a tree guild. Yea. That's right. A freaking tree guild. It's a thing. Until then, I'm going to kinda sit back and enjoy my very first permaculture project. Nothin' better than looking at chicken butts after a hard day's work. 

Any of you experiment with permaculture or specialized gardening techniques? Any of you think I'll attract a plethora of fairies to my garden with this thing? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you for reading :)

Friday, May 1, 2015

Homesteading like a Jerk: Spending Money You Don't Have

Yahoo has an endless supply of finance-focused articles aimed at teaching folks how to spend less, save more. Grow your own food, they say. Do the work yourself, they say. Spend time, not money. It will save you bundles. And for the most part, I agree.

But one thing they rarely talk about is exactly how much it costs to start your own garden, or own your own flock of hens, or find materials to build a DIY furniture set. Contrary to popular belief, I've rarely, if ever, received my gardening supplies for free. Now, you uber-awesome folks who upcycle everything and have insane scouting and dumpster-diving skills, I salute you. And you should probably stop reading because chances are, you'll see this post as one huge bunch of excuses. Real jerk behavior.

And you'd kinda be right.

You see, I wanted to avoid purchasing the cinder blocks for my raised beds this year. I know there are millions of cinder blocks just sitting out there, alone in the world, just waiting for someone to come transform them into something useful. But I couldn't find 'em. Craigslist? Nothin. Local Facebook group for homesteading supplies? No go. Random drive-bys in my run-down Toyota Echo when it looks like there's a construction project going on? Nada. Zilch. Nothing. And even if I did find them, how would I haul them home? My car has quite the trunk storage, but only four, teeny, wore-out tires holding up all that weight. Not cool.

So I bought the cinder blocks. I spent money on cinder blocks...a material the non-jerks out there could likely find for free in a matter of minutes.

But ah - ha, never fear, readers. I came up with a mighty good solution for the next time I need cinder blocks.....or pallets for my dream patio furniture......or a really nice set of hay bales.....

A truck. I bought myself a truck. That's right. I spent more money.

Feast your eyes upon the glory of all glories...the champion of all mighty steeds...the white knight of the highest beautiful, strong, pallet-picking chariot of goodness....

That baby put me back a couple thou.....and where, you might ask, did I get this couple thou? Good question, because as you may have figured out by now, this post is all about spending money I don't have. And my goddess roller was no exception. I took tax refund money we'd earmarked for a well-water filtration system and I spent it on the truck instead. All of it. Poof. 

Just look at her, all parked and gorgeous in the Farm n' Barn parking lot.

So we'll have yellow stains on all our white bowls and appliances and cups and clothes for the next year....but I've got a truck. I can pick up stuff. I can dumpster dive with no regard for my interior vehicle upholstery. I can lay out a sleeping bag and sleep like a real cowboy if I wanted to. This truck has taken me to a new level, let me tell you.

I'm starting to realize real quick that this whole homesteading thing isn't all sunshine and recyclables. It takes some serious, knee-jerk financial investing to build something like a raised bed, or a chicken coop (especially if you want one painted all cute-like), or a hoop house, or a self-reliant food system in your own backyard. Did you know I spent close to $100 on seeds this year? That doesn't even include the seed starting medium, the little pots I ended up buying when my "upcycled toilet paper seed starters" fell apart and ruined my life, or the lights I bought to keep the seeds alive, or the rack I bought to hold the seed trays that hold the seed pots that hold the seeds that will someday, hopefully, turn into food I can eat.

Now, I get it, I'm a newbie. I'm still learning. I will probably try those dang toilet paper seed pots again next year and maybe they'll work for me. I'll get better at recycling, repurposing, all that jive...and I've even got my Pallet Picker to help me with the big stuff....but that doesn't negate the spending I've done thus far to get this whole endeavor up and running. Yahoo doesn't tell you about how a recycled raised bed made out of old fence pickets actually needs some sort of dirt inside of it, and unless you live on hilly, fertile land, you gotta get that dirt from somewhere else...normally in exchange for money.

But (and this is a huge but)..

I keep thinking that maybe, just maybe, once this startup phase is over, I might start seeing a return on my investment. Maybe these beautiful girls will be worth their weight in gold (plus some for all the eggs they'll lay). 

I keep thinking that someday, maybe, I'll master the art of breadmaking and won't waste so much dang money on epic Pinterest fails. 

I mean, after all, I spent money on tulip bulbs last fall instead of a couple extra bags of Halloween candy....and that turned out great.

Any of you ever invested in something way more than you ever expected to? How did you make it work? What did you take from to support your project? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading! Happy May, all!