SmartSteader

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So that big announcement? We launched our app this past Saturday at a homesteading conference in Virginia! It was an amazing experience and so far so good…we have over 400 people playing with our app! It’s a bit surreal and what’s even more surreal is that since I volunteered to tackle a lot of the business side of things (Neil obviously is the developing genius who is swamped with all the new features we want to add in), I get to re-learn accounting and economics stuff. And yes I do actually love that and am having fun! Our partners (the amazing people behind Reformation Acres ) are heading up social media and marketing (hallelujah) and it’s been so cool to watch it slowly spread. I’m working on refining our investor presentation and business plan so that hopefully in the next few weeks we can start talking with possible investors. When we get funding we can do everything bigger and faster. It’s pretty unique to be able to start a business like this and know that since we funded it ourselves we have no pressure or debt or anything, and we can make this work regardless of if we can get outside funding. It would just be really helpful. The website is www.smartsteader.com if you want to see the promotional video that we put together, featuring the only actors I had at my disposal…the kids and cows and chickens and one handsome farmer man. We are so excited!

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[This is Arty. The face of SmartSteader]

I also promised a farm update. Whew! What a season. Here’s a smattering of my favorite pictures then I’ll give you some numbers at the end. Enjoy!

Still can’t really get over the fact that stuff actually grows here…so naturally I completely over-planted. Again.

Before the numbers though some fun things:

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I grew peanuts and then made peanut butter! Someday when I have lots of time, I won’t eat any other kind, it’s that good. In the mean time, it’s nice to know that it’s possible and waiting for me.

We put in an orchard and our Asian pear tree just put out blossoms…in the middle of October! (pic is up above)

We have at least 1 female turkey and turkey eggs are tasty…just like chicken eggs only bigger.

I started making soap again with Mei’s milk and lard from our pigs. It’s awesome and I forgot how much I missed making soap.

Some garden/farm stats as of right this minute:

We produced:

  • 2,143 lbs of milk (252 gallons) this year
  • 1,608 eggs (134 dozen) this year
  • 440 lbs of pork loveliness
  • 292 lbs cucumbers
  • 282 lbs tomatoes (didn’t get to at least 50 more lbs…those went to chickens)
  • 70.75 lbs Summer Squash
  • 40.5 lbs misc. peppers

We have 11 blueberry bushes, 15 fruit trees, 2 elderberry bushes, 4 turkeys, 3 rabbits, 2 cows, 30-ish chickens, 2 cats, 2 gerbils, and 1 green anole.

Now I just need a partridge to put in my pear tree.

 

 

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This was a big one

The thing that hit me hardest about this birthday, was the reminder that she is learning she is a girl who will one day be a woman. She is exploring femininity and what a lost skill and art being feminine is. She swished her hips to make her dress make sound not because she wanted to pretend at being sexy. She did it because there’s nothing girly-er than swishing a new dress while you wear your mom’s pearls. There was a profound lesson here for me. To focus more on being feminine and less on being sexy. Sexy is great and fun but it requires someone else and, therefore, is essentially out of our control. I can be perfectly, beautifully feminine when I’m alone in a room and it’s a gift I can give myself. Its an acknowledgement of my inherent beauty as a woman that is there whether someone is looking at me or not. Hmmm. I need to stash these musings away and really dive in deep…sometime in the next 8 years before she really starts terrifying me.

My Naomi (aka: Naynay, Nays, Yeomi, Naybean, Naynay girl, Nay) turned 8 this year. This is a big deal for a few reasons…It meant she had the chance to choose to be baptized and become a member of our church. We are Mormons or Latter Day Saints (belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) and eight is the age when a person is capable of making promises with the Lord and is capable of honoring those promises. She did great and it was so cool to experience this with her. It’s a first step in a life long journey.

Grateful for this stud who is an amazing father to my children. Can I say how much I love that he gets really choked up sharing spiritual moments with his kids? Seriously one of my favorite things about this man is that he cries.

Lots of support from family and friends made this day memorable for her, and totally made my mom heart happy. Also made me happy that her taste in baptism dresses was within my sewing skill level and that she was thrilled with the end result.

Next reason this was a big birthday…She got her ears pierced! I went back and forth but ultimately opted for a tattoo parlor with a professional pierce-er. We were both very pleased with the experience. She was a champ. So brave. She calmly sat with her nervousness and quietly dealt with it. She held my hand and then bounced out of there like it was nothing. Also, luckily, she takes the daily upkeep and maintenance very seriously and has attended to that with much more attention than other areas of personal hygiene ([cough]brushingteeth[cough]).

The trend lately is for the kids to design and decorate their own cakes. This more than anything makes me want to wail, “My babies are growing up!” It wasn’t the ear piercing or leaving cub scouts that made me choke up…no. It was the passing of the cake making baton. I’m just not ready for that!!!

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It was a friend birthday party year and after suggestions of a slumber party, fancy dinner at a restaurant, epic barbie play date, star wars…she settled on picking up friends and going to McDonald’s. Then we went to a park for cake, ice cream and presents. It’s like my monkeys sense when I need things to be easy and they magically run with that. They must love me or something. It actually was really cool in it’s simplicity and all involved said it was the best night ever. There’s another lesson here, I just know it.

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My mom was in town for the baptism so we took some family pictures to really round out our summer season. Can’t wait to update our gallery wall and my children can relax their sore-from-smiling cheeks until Christmas. Next blog post is an huge (and long over due) farm update, with a very exciting announcement.

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Coco Shea

She doesn’t pronounce her R’s correctly (so her name sounds like “Co-wa”) and she calls her leotard (which she very solemnly dons whenever she decides it’s time for an impromptu ballet class in the living room with Mommy) a “lelotalla.” Yesterday while the kids were playing before bedtime I heard her exasperated little voice say, “I’m always the princess! I never get to be the dragon!” I’m pretty sure I’m doing something right…

My baby turned four the middle of August and it is good. She is currently fascinated with hearing all the details of all of the kids birth stories (her favorite thing ever is when I talk about my water breaking and how it felt like I peed my pants) and in the telling and re-telling I don’t find myself longing for babies. Corra is now without a doubt a little kid, not even a toddler anymore, and it’s good. I’ve savored each stage so completely and I feel so peaceful about our decision to be done at baby #4, that there isn’t even a twinge of sadness at her growing up. I marvel every day at her beauty and her passion for life. Like I’ve said before, she filled a hole in my heart that I didn’t even know was there…and to think I cried the day we found out she wasn’t a boy. Good thing the Good Lord knows how to do this whole life thing way better than I do.

Corra’s favorite color is not pink. And the indignation comes out in full force should one even suggest it…luckily this barbie has blue (the actual favorite color) hair which made it possible for us to overlook the pink shirt. We had the hardest time nailing down specifics for her first friend birthday and at this point I don’t even remember how we landed on a barbie dress cake…Her Halloween costume will probably be made day of (right now we’ve gone through Merida, an alligator, the pirate fairy, and a dragon).

I did my best to distract from the pink with as much blue frosting as I could manage and have it still look like a fancy dress. We declared victory and the birthday girl was happy. Someday I might just even get an actual cake platter instead of just using dinner plates…maybe.

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Again, not sure how we arrived at a princess and knight theme…but we did and everyone came dressed up and ready for revelry. Garyn and Naomi graciously volunteered to be evil dragons. [as a side note: I love that these little girls are helping Garyn grow up slow. He still enjoys My Little Pony, gives me squeezes unasked for through out the day, especially when Layna closes the car door on my finger, and is willing to drop everything to play with his sisters. Sometimes I worry that he is acting too young, that he should be moving beyond childish things. Quickly I’m reminded that all too soon he will move on and just because other kids get hustled right through childhood, doesn’t mean it’s right or better.]

They built a “castle” and had a balloon free for all. Garyn ended up not being the only big brother there so he, Charlie, and Naomi made sure that no balloons went un-bopped into the air.

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The princesses played pin the Kiss On the Frog. Neil flew home from a work trip to Las Vegas the morning of the party so he wasn’t here to work his graphic design magic and make me a huge frog, but we made due.

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Our knights played pin the Dragon On the Shield. Naturally.

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Cake and Ice Cream. I’m pretty sure more than half the cake went to chickens but I just needed pictures, which I got. Our animals sure do love the combination of birthdays plus me trying weird cake recipes that kids may or may not approve of. Also Corra had her first hair cut so her hair is now just above shoulder length. It really suits her and she couldn’t be happier with it, but I’ll confess…I cried after she went to bed. I can’t wait for the curls to grow back.

Presents and more balloon frolics and we proverbially dropped the mic on year number three. She is already planning all the delightful things that will happen when she turns five.

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The rest of the trip…

[quick pause from birthdays for more catching up]

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Legoland was only one day of the six we spent in Orlando. The other days were filled with all this stuff…

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Not only does bowling allow for awesome foot gear it offers a chance to experience the vast array of human emotions. The depths of despair (for a gutsy boy insisting on no bumpers for the very first time), hope and perseverance (He’s such a good sport and didn’t fuss or fret. He just buckled down and kept trying…I love that kid), and of course the very peak of joy and elation:

Because Orlando is the theme park capital of the world and Legoland ate my theme park budget in about 1.3 seconds, we had to look for other options. Luckily, Grandpa found a super fun crocodile preserve (free admission) with all sorts of other animals to go visit. It was more than enough zoo for us and plus they had Swamp Freezes.

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7-11 day with the grandma who started the love of Slurpee’s young and paddle boats with the great-grands. (I found brand new muscles in my legs…oh joy).

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Coco Beach and local Splash Pads. Florida knows how to do summer right.

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The kids missed their Dad, and I missed my partner in crazy. Amazing Grandparents, a fun hotel/resort to swim at (and play mini golf, and go to the beach by the lake, and watch movies, and play with mini-figures, and do art crafts at), and adventures to be had helped distract us. We were all glad to get home and get back to normal. Well, as normal as we ever manage around here.

P.s.

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Leonine catch up

This farm is home to a disproportionate number of Leos. When you figure there are 6 of us and three are Leos…yeah…we win. The end of July ushers in the season with my now 11 year old [insert freaking out emojis here], then the baby a few weeks later and then my birthday 10 days after that. So the next few posts will be birthday catch up plus eclipse. Because yes. I now understand why people travel ridiculous distances to see total solar eclipses…totally worth it. But first, Hallelujah it was an off year for the boy. Every other year the kids get a big friend party. The way it works out is that all the girls have friend birthdays on one year and Garyn is the opposite year. So his birthday was mercifully low key right in the middle of cupcakes and princess, pink and barbie parties. He wanted to go ice skating. [aside: I have no idea why my kids love ice skating so much. I roller-bladed all through middle school and high school so ice skating isn’t such a stretch, but my kids? It just confuses me.]

I’d known for a while that my little sister wanted to come visit before she heads off to a dance study abroad program on the opposite side of the world. Happily, the dates worked such that she and my mom came down the week of his birthday. It was so fun to see her and teach her to milk a cow…Mei even kicked the bucket over just for her! Also not sure how I thought I could ice skate with two little girls simultaneously by myself had my mom and Baylie not been there…Sometimes I’m delusional.

At one point I had the brilliant idea that I’d just hold Corra and skate. Just needed to not fall, right? Riiiiighhhtttt. I totally wiped out and luckily managed to minimize her impact on the ice. I was asked if we were okay by no less than five fellow skaters (all under the age of 12) It must have truly been a spectacular fall.

The big ones just kept a running tally of their falls. They’d hop right back up again and keep going. I think if we keep to our every other year ice skating excursions, they’ll be passable skaters by the time they leave home. Valuable life skill successfully imparted = check.

Speaking of life skills…every boy should learn how to cook and decorate a cake. Garyn insisted on doing his own cake and I was happy to oblige. He also humored me and let me make it a zucchini cake I’ve been wanting to try as I cook my way through my friends cake cook book. The cake was amazing as all the cakes have been thus far. I’ll talk more about some other cakes we’ve tried in later birthday posts.

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Presents at his birthday dinner at Grandma and Grandpas house.

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And eating said cake awesomeness. Naturally.

 

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meat birds

When one embarks on a new hobby, one very quickly becomes immersed in a brand new subculture. And what is culture if not a collection of disagreements on how things should be done? Well, in the “raising my own meat chickens” community there is the conundrum of efficiency vs. quality.

On the side of efficiency you have the Cornish Cross. If you buy chicken of any sort at the store you are buying a Cornish Cross, a veritable miracle of breeding for purpose. These things get to market weight in 8 weeks or sooner and they produce tons of white meat on much less feed in the shortest amount of time possible. Less feathers and large body cavities make for very easy processing. The trade off: If you let them grow too big, their legs break under them. They can have heart attacks. People contend they taste awful or at least not as good as other breeds. They are gross and don’t move around a lot, except to feed frenzy their food.

On the side of Quality you have the Red/Freedom/etc. Ranger. These are a heritage meat bird that can get up to market weight in 12 weeks, but still retain the ability to lay eggs and mate naturally (the Cornish cross can’t do either). They are smarter and don’t face the health problems if allowed to grow beyond a certain age. People say they taste better as a result of being more active and they are prettier running around the yard.

We figured we’d do our own comparison to see which we liked better and had decided to start with the darling of hippie homesteaders everywhere: the much more natural Red Ranger. However, the feed store told us their hatchery had a break out of avian flu and lost all those chicks for the year so if we wanted chicken to eat it was the Cornish Cross for us. In perusing forum threads and blogs, I ran across some advice about managing these frankenbirds. The guy’s point was that one had to be aware of the nature that has been bred into them and work with that. These things are eating machines, therefore giving them free choice feed (like you would do with any other chicken, meat or layer) is a recipe for the above ickiness.  Our birds got fed twice a day and we found that while kind of pathetic and without grace, beauty or charm…these critters weren’t too bad to raise. Also I’m new to home raised chicken, so naturally these guys taste better than store bought to me and until my palette becomes more refined, I have no complaints.

*****Pictures of dead chickens: no blood, no guts, kid friendly*****

Here’s how it went down. We had 16 to process plus two roosters from last year. [Those two gentleman are still pecking about with our laying hens because after 4 hours of work in the hot and humid for both of us, we were done. Some day though, those boys are destined for the stock pot.] YouTube, the internet and books gave us the general idea, plus we did a few in Vegas. The killing cone was new and it worked well. Funny thing about chickens. When you hold them upside down they struggle and flap, but then they go limp and it’s like they just find their zen. This is convenient because then they slip right into the cone which confines them (theoretically) through the death throes. I say theoretically because one managed to flip itself out of the cone and around the shed for a solid minute sans head!

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Next the scald pot at 150 degrees with some dish soap in the water. This helps feathers loosen, cuts down smell and presents much less manure to be dealt with while plucking. And yes, I do most everything on the farm in my flipflops.

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And my sexy overalls. They do all the farm chores too.

Handmade plucker. It’s not fantastic but did get the areas I especially did not want to touch. It was fine for the amount we needed to do but any more birds and I’d want something more robust. They have motorized drums that can pluck multiple birds in a minute or two. A girl can dream, right?

What’s up? Chicken Butt. [Inner 12 year-old boy back in the box] The husband man and I settled into a fairly good system of killing (him), scalding and plucking (me), gutting (him), final cleaning and weighing (me). Pretty sure he got the short end of that stick.

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Not bad for a first try.

After hanging out in the fridge for a few days to chill and relax it was time to wrap them for the freezer. Nifty shrink wrap bags made this part so nice. Bag the bird, dunk in hot water, zip tie. Done.

It still boggles my mind when ever I grow or raise something that looks and tastes even better than store bought. These bird are so tasty and make spectacular stock (once I threw in the feet and necks). One and a half birds turned in to 7 quarts chicken pot pie filling, and another three got pressure canned (canned chicken makes amazing chicken salad).  I still think I prefer rabbit for the overall experience, but chicken will be in the rotation every year. At least one flock (15-20) of them…I mean from chicks to this it was only nine weeks, which is a very easy time commitment. We averaged about 5 lbs and $2.28 per lb. all said and done. We could bring the feed cost down if we were better about moving them to new grass and going with cheaper feed, not to mention a more efficient feeder with less waste potential. I bought the good stuff and it was still very reasonable. New meat source…Check! Next up in November, Turkeys! (We’ll definitely need a bigger cone.)

 

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Legoland

Almost without fail my long term plans change. Gasp! I know that phenomena comes as a complete shock and that it is an extraordinary occurrence only ever happening to me! [end sarcasm]. Back in January I looked at my blank calendar for the year and was content, nay excited, that it would be a non-traveling year. No big trips or excursions, just hanging out on the farm doing farmy stuff. Maybe even use the husband’s time off for a stay-cation to do even more farmy stuff! But then my sister-in-law invited us to an incredible beach house and the price of admission was playing with cousins. And then my grandparents invited us to an incredible resort down in Orlando and the price of admission was a few home-cooked dinners with stuff from the garden and pantry. Needless to say we did indeed travel to the Sunshine State and it was totally worth it. Now, Orlando is the the mecca of all epic vacation plans. As my husband had to stay home (he does still have a job and we do still have a lactating bovine tenant) I wasn’t about to tackle Disney anything. But Legoland…that I could manage. Not to mention their promotion for 1 kid free per adult ticket purchased made it financially feasible (we’ll go ahead and start saving now for the eventual Disney trip…I’m looking into the going rate for kidneys. Hey, I only need one, right?) Plus the more I read, the more I realized that my kids are the perfect ages for Legoland. Soon they’ll be ready for more (they’ll always be die hard Lego-ers but young adults do need more than duplo stations at somepoint). However, right now? This was just right. Few thoughts and lessons learned: Naomi is a roller-coaster, thrill-seeking fiend. Garyn needs more robotics in his life. I get why people think my little girls are twins. Lunch in air-conditioning is divine. Trading mini-figures actually was really fun. And last but not least, if they say on every sign possible on the ride that you will get wet…you will probably leave the ride drenched. Here are some of my favorite pictures of the eleventy billion that I took.

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