Monday, February 25, 2008

Our Horses







I love this little girl so much. I cannot explain to anyone how much this horse means to me. She is my pride and joy. She is an ex-racehorse, banned from the Fingerlakes track as she refused to race. She was the fastest in all the breezes and the track people thought she should have been a perfect racehorse. But on race day, she went over twice in the starting gate with the jockey (I am sure, he beat her for that one!). Then she would lag behind 50 horse lengths. I cleaned stalls to get her.



I wanted a horse my whole life. Then when we grew up, Mickey, my brother, has always had one. But I lived where I couldn't have one. So I never really was around them too much. Then when Larry and I got together, he had grown up with horses, and worked around them now and then. When we moved out here, he started training and caring for horses at a local farm, where they raised Thoroughbreds for racing. He took me to work with him and I fell in love with the horses there.



But Georgie, especially, won my heart. She would pace in circles in her stall. The stall gate was covered so she couldn't look out. She was not friendly at all. Very high strung. I just took a liking to her. She had been their darling. She was the perfect racehorse, even the people at the track thought so. She would be the fastest in the breezes, no other horse could catch her! But, she did not want to be a racehorse. So she would show them how fast she could go, but the day of the races, a few times, she went over in the starting gate. Then when she actually did race, she'd lag, way back. The jockey could beat her with his crop, she didn't care. One thing, I have learned about her, is that she likes to be your partner - not your slave. And she is very smart. She doesn't "give" to anyone easily.



At the barn where Georgie Girl lived, she and all the other racehorses were only allowed to be outside for about 15 minutes every day in a covered arena, while their stalls were being cleaned. They would race around and play. All of them got to be in there with another horse. Only Dark Shadow, who my husband ended up buying, was made to be alone in the arena. She could not stand it and would whinny at the top of her lungs and race full tilt around that arena like a crazy horse. She was never worked with or even had feet trimmed. Everyone was afraid of her. At that time, she was only 3 years old. When I first went there, I thought she was the stallion. She acted like one.




Larry did make friends with her. And he did get on her and she went over twice with him. He doesn't get thrown off a horse normally, he usually goes down with them. If they rear up with someone on them, many times they will lose their balance and it'll cause them to go over sideways. He did manage to talk his boss into letting her go out in the pasture with the "wild horses" (as we called them). They were not wild (my Tawny was one of them), but horses that were not used for racing so they could go out on the 50 acres that was fenced on their hill.






The first week Dark Shadow went out there, Sally, the lead mare (and my Tawny's sister) just ran her down for the whole week. Dark Shadow went into that little herd of 10 horses like gangbusters! She wanted to run, and Sally did not let up on her. By the end of the week, Dark Shadow was friends with Sally and pretty tamed down. That's how it is for a new horse joining a herd. They have rules!



When the owner offered to sell me Georgie I could not believe it. Then one day he came to me and told me since she is now my horse, I can let her out with the wild horses that are out all day, if I wanted. He warned me that she might get burdocks on her if she did though. Larry and I looked at each other for half a second then ran to her stall to get her! She walked along with Larry like she was a little girl going somewhere......or she thought he was making a mistake and she didn't want him to know!



Larry led her out to the group of other horses waiting to go out for the day in the pasture. They all smelled her, as they might live on the same farm, even in the same barn.....but they did not know her as the racehorses are kept separate. So she just walked along with them in the group and they seem to have accepted her. I was a little worried about her as she was the newest member of the herd......and in the horse herd that means she was on the bottom. And she was not used to being with others in a group like that.



So a few days later, I saw Sally, the boss mare and she seemed to be pushing my Georgie! I did not like that but there was nothing I could do if I wanted her out in the pasture with the others. She had to learn to take care of herself. But I worried about her after that.



Then about a week later, the wild horses gathered in the paddock in front of the trail to the pasture and did not go straight up it. Usually when that would happen, I would take a hold of Sally's halter and lead her and the rest would follow, as she was their leader. I took a hold of her, and led her......nobody followed! ???? I looked at the rest of them and didn't know what to think. Georgie looked at me, then walked straight up past me.....and the rest just fell into place behind her................ My worrying had been for nothing.....my Georgie Girl had taken over the herd! She was now their leader!


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Setting Our Homestead Up



One of the things I have really liked about living here is that we are "off the grid". Which means that the power lines do not come to our house. That is why this was always just a seasonal deer camp for all the previous owners. The people we purchased from were from Long Island. So people were surprised when we started living here full time.


One feature of this house was the root cellar downstairs. It also has a built in wooden bin that is connected to the ceiling. It may have been used to store apples as there are so many apple trees through out our property and the adjoining state forest land. The cellar also has a dirt floor and the foundation is built with field stone. It is a perfect root cellar for our climate. It is well below the frost line and doesn't get much lower than 50 degrees all winter.


My plan is to build wooden shelves downstairs in the root cellar. Haven't progressed to that point as of yet. There are other priorities right now. So I have things down there, but the improvements I plan for down there will just have to wait.


The pantry is right off the kitchen, and you have to walk through there to get to the cellar stairs. That is the way pantries were built. I have put shelves up on the walls, a peg board at the end holds all my kitchen utensils, a metal cabinet with a wooden door is where I keep our dishes. It is my favorite room. I will also do many improvements on it when I can. But it will do for now.


The kitchen had built in cabinets when we moved in, but I had my husband take them out. I wanted windows so I can look outside and see those massive trees and thick forest. Who wants tiny windows and cabinets that I have to get down on the floor to look for things in? I prefer everything to be kept in the pantry. My cast iron collection sits on a big wooden bookcase that my father built, and I put behind my wood cookstove. They need to be close.


My goals have always been to be as self sufficient as I can be. We have never paid for firewood since we came here. We use the wood to cook and heat. We do have propane and need it for the refrigerator. But we are very frugal with it. Our propane cooking range is very nice and big too, but I use it only when I have to. So I am able to keep my bill down.


The only other household bill I have is for the telephone. Since we have 2 phone lines and 2 internet connections, it does cost a little more, but I'd say it is certainly worth it. I purchase kerosene for our lamps because I like them. I can skip it if I have to as we have some electric lights. We also purchase gasoline for our chainsaw, our generator and our truck. You can not get away using some fuels no matter how you try. But you can just try to be as frugal as possible with it. We hardly drive anywhere more than once a week, so we do ok with what we spend for gas.



Sacrifice is what I have learned to do, to have what I want. You have to put up with certain things if you want things done a certain way. Some people would just have borrowed money to remodel a house like this. I see it all the time. But in three years my mortgage will be paid off. So I did not want some big loan to pay when I was finished with the mortgage. So we do what we have to do to get these things done. Little steps. Little bits of money at a time is easier to live with.


Every year we have added more raised beds. Cut down more trees. Cleared more property. Now we have lawn, horse paddock and a big two story barn. It took my husband awhile to build our barn. He did it little by little of course. The day we were on our way to the building supply store to order our metal roofing, we had half of the money for the amount we needed. So we decided we would buy half then and half at another time. Even though we wished we could buy it all at once! We stopped at our mailbox which was a mile from our house at that time, and there was a check in there from Workmen's Compensation for the mileage he had from driving back and forth for treatments (he had a bad accident at work and was on Workmen's Comp at the time) for over a year. It was more than enough for the rest of the roofing! So we were able to do it all at one time.


Working alone on a tall building such as our barn was a challenge for my husband. Especially since he was working with a crushed right arm. But he never gives up on something and figures out how to do it. The only thing he had any help on was when his son came over, and helped him put up the big beams on the top, that would hold the metal roofing. Other than that, he did it all himself. It was scarey for me watching him put the roofing on. He built a scaffold along the side to finish nailing down the roofing on the end, as there was no place to stand once you get to the end.


At the time we had only the two horses. Georgie Girl and Dark Shadow. Georgie got where she could not walk or rather, would not, walk through the mud. So he had to put up a lean-to first for them, as it was cheaper and quicker. He already had been working on the barn, as you can see from the pictures. But we needed something now. So he started building on it.......and she started watching him build it.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Road To My Homestead




As much as I loved living at that home, it was not our own property. It was just off the interstate highway 88, which is the highway that goes straight up to Albany, New York, and is traveled very heavily. We were out in the country, but always was that constant noise of the highway. At night, you never had the peacefulness that I craved. Big trucks traveling on the highway late at night.


When we found our property and moved here, I would be lying to say I was not a little nervous. My husband worked at that time at a fork-lift manufacturer in a nearby town, but on the night shift. Here I was going to be living in the middle of thousands of acres of state forest with no nearby neighbors. At first, we did not even have a telephone. I have not always been the bravest person, so this was going to be a whole new experience for me.


This house was completely surrounded by the state forest. And I mean it came right up to a little tiny yard. When we were outside, the forest was right there. My husband had to completely clear the land for gardening and for our horses. Though at the time, we did not own horses, we always knew we'd get some. So we needed a paddock area as well as a barn.


We had bought a Sun-Mar composting toilet before we moved here as we knew it only had a outhouse. Also our cast iron bath tub, we bought at a little junk shop, and I still love that as much as when we first found it. I was preparing before we moved to have all the things we needed. I thought it would be difficult making the transition to living without electricity, but it really wasn't that difficult.


When we first moved in, we used a 1920 gas stove that I picked up in an antique shop. We would buy the gas tanks used for gas grills and that was what we used for the gas refrigerator (that came with the house) and the stove for cooking. We already had the wood cookstove, but we never did hook it up till two years later! It just sat in the kitchen unused. We just could not afford the chimney piping for it at that time.


The house already had a wood heating stove, which was huge compared to any I have ever seen or even since. I never see one this big even in stores. But the chimney they had it hooked up to could have never been used for it. So we don't really know what they did for heat. This was a deer camp and was used in cold weather. My husband thinks they just brought kerosene heaters with them when they came here.


We had to buy all new stove pipe and triple wall for it. My husband had to cut a whole in the ceiling to the upstairs and one up through to the roof. Then he installed it so it went right through the bedroom from downstairs. The upstairs is usually warm and cozy.My husband changed jobs not long after we moved there and was hired to train horses at a local horse facility where they raised horses for horse racing. So he wasn't gone at night after that. And most days, I could go to work with him if I wanted to. This was when I began my love affair with horses!


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Homesteading Lessons Little By Little




The house that we rented was part of a big farm, and it was originally about 475 acres. It included a big old fashioned farmhouse, a big old fashioned red cow barn, a metal barn, our house (a two bedroom ranch house), a one room cabin with a covered outdoor patio on a beautiful pond with a boat dock and a windmill (to keep the water moving), deep woods, waterfalls and many cornfields and pastures and orchards. It was an awesome place to live.


When I found this house to rent in the paper, my husband was out driving a regional tractor trailer. He wasn't too keene on renting and wanted to keep staying with my parents till we had a down payment for our property. But I talked him into at least taking a peek. It turned out the owner was interviewing several couples before renting it to any. They had 4 little girls and was concerned about who they rented it to. So we thought for sure, they would turn us down as we did not have any children at home (ours were all grown and on their own). Wrong! That turned out to be in our favor. So did the fact that we wanted to be homesteaders. They liked that.


After we started living there awhile, the landlord asked me if I would take a hike with him and his two daughters. At the time, his wife was pregnant with the last one and the two year old was too young for the hike. I found out later, he wanted to see how the girls reacted to me, if they liked me and all that. Then a few days later he asked if I would be interested in babysitting in exchange for rent. So most of the time we lived there, I babysat those little girls instead of paying rent. It was great.


We grew our first garden there. We installed a woodstove and my husband taught me how to operate it and how to build fires and how to keep them going. Now I can build a fire anywhere and keep it going. Some people just can't get the hang of it. We also started using kerosene lamps in the evenings. I started canning. My father taught me to can grape jelly and grape juice the first year. I progessed from there to many other things. It is now my favorite thing to do! Our garden there was so beautiful! All the people that came to my landlord's house could not get over it. My husband plowed up an area with a wheel hoe (like a manual rototiller - uses people power instead) and we used no fertilizer or pesticides.


We were so busy. I was gardening, harvesting, and canning. Babysitting the little girls, had a job as a home health aide for a lady in the little town, plus we were both doing a wild west show that my brother had every week end. It was a busy schedule. I finally had to quit the wild west show. My son had moved to the little town near us so he could be closer to us. My mother was bedridden and I started going there a couple times a week to wash her hair and bathe her. I loved it being involved with our family and homesteading too.


Then we even got our first puppy, Nikita! To say she was a handful is a understatement. It was a very happy time for us though. We were baking bread, bought our wood cookstove and was doing most of our cooking on that, canning everything we could get our hands on. My husband even started canning using his grandmother's pressure canner. He did about 48 quarts of creamed corn, 40 of regular corn, 44 quarts of green beans and we both canned tons of pickles and I did about as much of tomatoes. I am blessed to have a man who liked to do it all.


There were deep woods surrounding our whole area. So we used to hike up into the woods almost daily. My husband bought a chainsaw and was able to cut all the wood he wanted. For exercise, I have always done what is called race-walking, and there was a huge hay field behind our yard and I would walk that every day. Coyotes would sit on the hill and watch me. They were all over and would come out even in the day time as no hunting was allowed there. This is where I saw my only bear and he was a big one. He sat down and looked at us, as everyone was trying to take his picture! He was wondering what we were up to.....then turned around and went back into the woods.


I stored about 40 gallons of water in the cellar of my house when I read a article Jackie Clay (an author in Backwoods Home Magazine) wrote about storing it for emergencies. Then we had a horrible snow storm and the landlord plus all the people around us had to go stay with friends and relatives, but we did not. We had woodstoves for heat and cooking, water for drinking and to pour into our toilet to flush it, and wasn't afraid to survive it on our own. None of the neighbors could believe that we stayed there and just went on as usual. To tell the truth, it was an adventure and we loved it. Even my brother in-law wanted to know how I knew to store the water! Just smart I guess!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

How We Started Our Homesteading Life




My husband and I have been living here on our Peaceful Forest Homestead since 1999. It took us four years to find our property. Before that, we lived in St. Petersburg, Florida. We both worked at Home Shopping Network in Clearwater. I worked on the floor taking the calls from people who were ordering items that were on the televised shopping program. My step-daughter, Hollie, worked with me there too. My husband got a promotion due to his background working at IBM for many years, he was able to work in the Telecommunications department. It was like having four complete telephone companies in one place. They made over $100,000 a minute and that is no lie.


There were several things that happened to us down there that gradually changed our values and goals. We started reading Countryside Magazine and Backwoods Home Magazine and saw that there were other ways to live that seemed to make more sense. More sense than that rat race. More sense than seeing who can die with the most toys or the faniciest houses or cars. So back we came to our home state of New York.


My husband took a job driving a over-the-road truck that took him all over the whole country. So I put all our belongings in storage and we thought we'd have a chance to see what part of the country we wanted to live in. Of course, our eyes were focused on the state of Wyoming. But every time we came back toward home, when you cross from Ohio into Pennsylvania, our eyes would glisten. Green mountains, tall trees, thick forest, the beauty of our home area as he drove that eighteen wheeler into New York!


We did find a property to rent while we prepared to learn our homesteading skills. It was a modern house on a farm. It had a woodstove chimney so we could get one and I could learn about it. It also was on 200 acres of land and we were on a dead end road and our house was beyond the dead end. It was perfect for someone learning to homestead! It was like an adventure was beginning for us.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Living The Good Life??????

Living the good life. It is not what it seems. To most people who are into homesteading they think you have to raise livestock and a majority think you have to kill them and eat them. But that is not the way I see it. Nor would I ever consider that as an option. Scott and Helen Nearing, thought of as the leaders of the homesteading or back to the land movement did not raise any animals at all. They were able to leave their homestead during the winter months and travel in Europe with no regard to livestock or animals on the homestead.

They raised in their gardens the foods that they consumed. No animals. No meat. I can live without meat for the most part. A good steak or roast beef once a month would be enough for me. So I am trying to plan a menu of meatless meals that we really like. It is much healthier anyway and you can not be sure of what is in most of the meat we puchase in the stores now.

So if you grow most of your food and only buy the supplies that you just can't grow, that saves you a bunch of money right there. Then the next thing is to can or preserve all your food that you harvest so you will have it through out the winter. I like to make mixes for things like cakes, biscuits, cocoa, salad dressings, puddings, etc. to have on hand for when you want something quick. That way you aren't buying them in the store or using products that are questionable.

I am also weeding out my dishes, utensils and cookware to only have the things I absolutely need and use. The Nearings had only one bowl, one cup and a set of silverware each. They both cleaned their own dishes. Kept it very simple. One person was not stuck washing dishes or cleaning up after the other one all night. I really like that idea alot!