Who Rescued Who?

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It’s high time I introduced our cats to everyone! These two sweethearts have our hearts wrapped around their little claws, and you’ll only see more and more of them as our homestead journey continues.

This summer marks year 2 with Olivia and year 4 with Cattigan, and no, they aren’t siblings. These goofballs have become fast friends (as evidenced by their occasional brawls and excessive amounts of cuddling) thanks to some careful introductions.

Cattigan is our senior cat, somewhere around age 11, and he’s a big softie. When we first brought him home from the store where he was a store cat, the big guy clocked in at a whopping 18 pounds! Thanks to a steady diet, his hyperactive sibling, and an unfortunate spat with diabetes this winter, he’s dropped down closer to 12 pounds and is back to chasing squirrels and prancing around. His old name used to be Caesar, and he is very much our little prince – he tucks his paws in, sits with his chest puffed out and proud, and chirps at us all day long. His meow is a strange one – he makes more of a sound between a “bruff” and a “mehrow” that is a little rough around the edges, but is very signature “Cattigan.”

Catti had a rough start to life – he was raised in a house full of cats that stressed him out and made him terrified of not getting fed enough, so he ate everyone’s food and got very fat very quickly. When he lived at a store downtown, he got affection when he was fed once a day, but his poor owners were allergic to him and couldn’t bring him out into the store very often, so he spent most days lonely and craving attention.

IMG_1288When he came home with us, he had a pretty severe eating disorder – come dinner, he’d refuse to eat and cry unless you sat with him and petted him, and once settled he’d wolf down the food so quickly he’d vomit it right back up. The poor guy ended up needing his food spread into four meals a day and lots of petting and encouragement to finally find the perfect balance of food and affection without the terror of never being fed again.

Nowadays, he’s living a happy, comfortable retirement, spending his days sleeping next to the warm vents in the house or curled up in our laps. Our big teddy bear loves his humans, that’s for sure!

Our spunky Olivia came home from the humane society with a nasty kennel cough, rough fur, an insane energy level, and a timid loyalty for her new humans. When we adopted her, her name was “Lucky” – she was rescued as a stray and had a litter of kittens with her, and the poor girl was barely a year old! Cattigan got his name as a play on “The Great Mouse Detective” – the big bad rat, voiced by Vincent Price, was named Rattigan, so our cat became Cattigan. That meant that our next kitty needed to follow in the same family, so we picked Olivia, after the little girl mouse that gets kidnapped in the movie. (If you know the movie, we joke that the next kitty ought to be named “Fidget” and be a three-legged, black cat – special cats need the most love, after all!)

Sweet Olivia took nearly six months to fully warm up to us and balance her diet so her skin and fur could improve, but now she is my loyal bedtime companion and practically beats Cattigan to the door to greet us when we get home. She is a spunky girl that chirps and paws after birds through the window and even has her own dedicated wall stairs for climbing and adventuring.

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Human is not amused by parrot-cat.

She loves to patrol the garage for mice and ride on her humans like a parrot, rocket through the living room and roll in the dirt outside. Her energy peaks and troughs are hilarious to watch – she will be bounce around the house like a rubber band, but when she’s down to sleep she’s as limp as a rag doll. Wake her up too soon and she sleepily blinks at you and drags herself into the living room to stare at you with heavy lids and slow limbs. She’s not a delicate thing, by any means, often sitting with feet spread apart like she’s ready to bolt at any moment, but she can weave under furniture, bound over tables, ricochet off walls, and change directions mid-air.

These two rescued goofballs bring light and cuddles to our home, and we are so grateful we get to share our lives with them! “Who rescued who?”, indeed!

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Staying Busy

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We had the house inspection on Friday, and while there were a couple of minor plumbing and electrical issues the main hiccup is the roof – some unfixed hail damage and improper flashing installation means we need a second opinion, and maybe a new roof. Seeing as we’re already at the top of our price point, if the seller (in this case, a bank) isn’t willing to work with us, we might have to back out of this property.

I find myself relieved to know the details of the house – to know what needs attention, how old the furnace is, all sorts of things that foreclosed houses can’t tell you. While some of the best deals can be foreclosures, they can also be scarily silent about what’s transpired under their roofs – if you haven’t lived there, you can’t disclose anything about the property, so they bank can’t share a thing about the state of the fuse box, what’s hiding behind the dry wall, or the quality of the garage.

But, of course, seeing as how it’s the weekend, we must simply twiddle our thumbs while we wait for news from a roofing specialist on Monday and then begin the terrifying process of negotiating with the bank. We can’t pack, we can’t plan, even dreaming can be dangerous if the house falls through – so what can we do? Garden and keep busy, apparently!

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Early blueberries

The last couple of weeks have been so hectic and trying that our poor seedlings haven’t gotten much attention. They have really taken off and are tangling together under the delicate warmth of their plant light, so it was time to start transplanting to larger pots with more nutrients to offer. We picked up some compost from our city compost center and I spent some of Saturday afternoon in the sun, with the kitties, transplanting the scraggly seedlings into reused pots from last year. Evan planted double what we will end up needing, so I sorted out the weaker ones for compost and planted the stronger. I spent time transplanting our butternut squash, spaghetti squash (which got pretty shocked by the transplant – hopefully they bounce back!), our Roma and heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, cayennes, and jalapeños. Our bell peppers are still too young – we had a late start planting – to be ready to move just yet.

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My potatoes are flourishing in their potato “cage”  – I hope that we can gently disturb this cage and move them successfully to the new place, because I would love to see how successful of a crop we have this year. Hopefully, the garlic will be somewhat close to ready when/if we move, as well, because WOW! My garlic is gorgeous! Thick, hefty stalks and green growth that stretches high to the sky. I’d hate to miss out on our first batch of one of my favorite culinary ingredients.

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My mother-in-law is moving up here on Friday – wow, how the days fly! – so I’m feeling anxious to clean and purge. Even if we do not move in a couple of weeks, it’s always a good exercise to step back and ask yourself if you really need seventeen different purses and that garage sale book of which you only read half. There’s no point in packing items I’ll just get rid of at the next house, so I started a big pile for Goodwill out in the garage of clothes, shoes, purses, and random electronics we haven’t touched in ages. I also spent a good deal of time vacuuming and prepping the guest bedroom for her – I’m going to be really grateful for a companion during my evenings home alone since Evan works so many evenings! Not only will I have a friend to help decode those strange sounds out in the country, but Sharon is being unbelievably generous in how she is helping us with our downpayment. We would not be looking at the land or houses we have without her love and support!

As I’m purging, however, something I can’t be too quick to get rid of are bottles! My batches of cider are starting to come around – they’ve spent somewhere between 2-3 weeks fermenting, and are now bubbling happily away! My first batch was just bread yeast and apple juice – the latest batch substituted a cup of apple juice with a cup of rosehip syrup, which I think made things very tasty and upped the level of alcohol content, as the additional sugar gave the yeast more to eat off (there didn’t seem to be much alcohol at all in the first batch).

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As you can tell, I was trying to keep busy with things around the house. I have a lot of worries and anxieties swirling around this potential new property, from the lack of closet space and small bedrooms (it was designed as a vacation home, therefore we have to get creative!) to flood insurance because of the river to just the sheer responsibility of owning such a large home, acreage, and the accompanying mortgage and fees. I’m in love with the place, but oh my, am I drowning in the potential adult responsibilities, plus my checkbook is steadily leaking cash throughout this process. All the calm thoughts you can send my way, the better!

I’m going to continue to keep myself busy – that’s not hard to do this time of year when you’re a teacher – and hopefully that will mean some additional blogging, as well. It’s surprisingly soothing, to take the time to document and share my journey – while it does take time, it certainly helps me understand, express, and explain our challenges and dreams. Hopefully, in a couple of weeks, we’ll be one step closer to a bunch of our dreams, and I will be busy in a different sense – by beginning our work on our homestead.

Hurdles

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The past couple of days I’ve just been reminding myself to breathe. We’re taking small steps at a time towards our homestead – we’re at the point of getting insurance lined up, but until I have the keys in my hand I’m not willing to call it ours! We walked around the property and thought it felt too good to be true – close to town, 2 1/2 acres, mature trees but ample growing space, a wood stove, and a dock on the lake. We’re jumping hurdles at the moment, one piece of paperwork or check from my checkbook at a time. The finish line still feels laps away, so until we’ve crossed it we won’t call it a victory just yet.

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We’re at the point in the year where students are under stress from assessments and we teachers are trying desperately to keep them motivated, interested, and engaged while also not checking out ourselves. I have a few more lessons planned with my students, mostly to wrap up some work stations with recent concepts: we presented la in 1st grade, eight & two-sixteenths in 4th grade, and we’re diving deeply into instrument families in 2nd grade. My 5th graders are working on guitar, 3rd grade trying out recorder, and my kinders wrapping up their program. We’re about to tie up a nice and neat knot on our year, and what better way than to get out some of that extra energy with some folk dancing? We’ll spend the last three or four lessons just dancing, from traditional folk dance to maybe even the Macarena or the Cha Cha Slide (I mean c’mon, I can’t have these 5th graders not ready for their middle school dances!). I’m looking forward to wearing my comfortable dancing clothes for the last couple of weeks and having little to worry about in terms of lesson planning – all it takes is gathering a list of dances for each of my grades and prepping the music to go along. Heck, we might even go outside with my Bluetooth speaker!

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After crossing the hurdles with school, it starts to come down to cleaning and prepping our rental for the move. We have our inspection on Friday for the house, and if all goes well I’ll start making moving plans this weekend. I have garlic in the ground from last fall and onions from this spring, so the time will come to decide to take them with me and try transplanting or to let them be a gift to the future tenants. They’ll love to have 93 onions, right? It will be bittersweet to leave our rental – we’ve lived here for three years and have made so many memories here, from helping install a beautiful patio with our landlord to toiling over the garden every season to try to improve the hard, clay soil. I know it’s silly, but this home is where we had our second “baby” – Olivia, our little girl cat, has only ever known this house with us, and she and her “brother” love basking outside on the patio and chasing squirrels around our yard. There’s an emotional hurdle to cross when we leave, for sure. This home has been just that – our home. I will miss it when we move, though I know we have some wonderful times to look forward to wherever we end up.

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My last hurdle is my prep for my level 3 Kodaly course – the past two summers, I’ve enrolled in level 1 and level 2 certification courses through Wichita State University as part of my master’s degree. (Am I now regretting the financial impact of enrolling in 5 hours credit for the beginning of June after settling closing costs mid-May? You betcha.) Learning a new methodology for my teaching has changed my career – it gave me direction, inspiration, creativity, and a path to lead my students to true music literacy. It’s been an exhausting and thrilling three summers, and this year is the last I need to get my certification! I’ll spend two weeks in intensive courses and there is a bunch of homework I have to complete before I head down to Wichita – close to 50 songs to analyze for classroom use and multiple others to find myself for analysis, research, and presentation. Whew!

A month from now we will be days away from the last day of school and maybe even signing our contract on our house, and that sounds unbelievable even as I type it! Deep breath. Gotta keep my eye on the finish line.

One Year

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My goodness, have these past several weeks been a whirlwind. I apologize for the radio silence – we’ve been deep in the excitement and trepidation of homestead shopping, and it’s meant a lot of focus, stress, and intense amount of communication in our family as we count down the days to combining my mother-in-law and my husband and I into one big family moving into a home together. Without wanting to speak too soon, we are cautiously optimistic on a home that we put an offer on at the beginning of the week – there are a lot of pieces that have to fall into place (potential flood insurance, inspection, appraisal, stressful amounts of cash), so trust me, you’ll know when it’s a done deal because the three of us will be doing back-flips. In the meantime, I wanted to take a quiet moment to document a thought that has been pretty central this week.

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On the eve of our first anniversary, my husband and I got this darling card from my grandparents (HI GUYS!). It made me stop my whirlwind in the kitchen this evening, pause, and take a moment to consider how much we’ve really relied on each other and grown together over the past year. Like every couple, we’ve faced a lot of ups and downs and faced some stressful times (vacations can be stressful, but man, we handled it like pros – no shrieking children, crowded buffets, or sunburns could tear us apart!) and through every situation we’ve come out the other side relieved to have been through it together and wouldn’t exchange it for any other person. I’ve come to think of our relationship like my foundation, my home, and when stress or problems invade I retreat back to my comfort zone, which usually consists of my husband, our cats, and a fuzzy blanket on the couch. (Oh yes, don’t forget the glass of wine.)

We’ve also done so much growing in learning what we want our goals for our homestead to be and what each of our roles will be going forward – Evan jokingly says that while he’s the thinker, I’m the do-er. If you couldn’t tell from my blog already, I take DIY projects and run with them, and I spend a lot of time making sure our home runs efficiently and cleanly. Evan takes care of the growing and plant concerns (herbs and flowers are my projects), doing the digging and harvesting, and researching the best ways to be sustainable and reach our goals. We complement each other quite well, though it’s taken over six years to find that balance and we’re still not perfect.

Stepping back to the card from my grandparents, I most resonated with it because it was “us” – one year together, throughout the seasons, each one bringing new challenges, new stresses, and new rewards. Each season is different – fall brings the start of school and preserving food, winter the quiet boredom of the homestead but excitement in planning for the future garden, spring with busy schedules, summer with the promise of growth and worry of future success in the coming school year or the harvest. But through it all, he’s still my partner, my friend, the person without which I can’t imagine embarking on this journey. Here’s to year two!

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The Search Has Begun…

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We’re officially in the market for our homestead! The more we investigate, the more we think that we’ll be investing in a home with an extra large yard – in our area, houses in the country are just outrageously expensive for teacher and manager income. An existing home might be a great stair-step to help us build equity and save for building that open floor plan dream home with a pond and chicken coop out back, but there’s no reason why our first home can’t be a small, humble slice of paradise.

My mother-in-law will be joining us on the house hunt, so we’re looking for a little space to preserve the sanity of all of us, whether that means a separate wing or a separate building. (Let’s be honest – I’m spoiled by my husband working most evenings and getting to do whatever I feel like, so even having him home and around me constantly would be hard!) I am really excited to have an evening companion and to rediscover our city with my mother-in-law – we have so many fun bars or dinner spots to visit and having a companion will be so enjoyable!

We are also seeking some garden space. Ideally, I think 3/4 of an acre to an acre would be a beautiful spot for a handful of chickens, a couple of playful goats, and rows upon rows of tomato plants and veggies. Today, I visited house #4, and it just didn’t excite me. There was decent space in the yard and the bones of the house were in good shape, but my creativity juices didn’t kick in and I just didn’t feel the chemistry. We saw a house on Saturday and fell in love with it – extra den with a loft for our mother-in-law, open floor plan between the kitchen and living room, walk-in closet, even a pool, but it was next door to this hideous chemical plant that, after further investigation through the EPA website due to a weird smell outside, has apparently failed it’s environmental inspections for the last 12 quarters and had OSHA out investigating health complaints in February. It was devastating. Here was this beautiful, quaint home that boasted beautiful soil and we had to say no. I shed a few tears of frustration, to say the least.

It reminded me of an experience I had in high school. I was lucky enough to have my dad pay for my first car when I graduated high school, and I had a miserable time when we started test-driving cars. Dad picked out one he thought was suitable, I test-drove it, loved it and said yes, and the negotiating with the dealership began. Long story short, the dealership wouldn’t give as good of a deal as what my dad wanted, and he said no. I was heartbroken over losing that car, but it took that moment of letdown and frustration to approach looking at any other cars. I entered into the “shopping” with a much more level head and objectiveness than I had before and looked for cars that provided the right fit, not the one I fell in love with right off the bat.

I needed the devastation of losing that wonderful home that, in retrospect, was probably wise to let go. The sellers preferred cash and wanted to negotiate with full-asking price offers only and were proving to be stringy about the money. I needed to be let down by what I thought would be the house so that I can objectively move forward and evenly evaluate the others moving forward. It doesn’t mean that I’ll compare them to that house, but I can approach them with a level head and let them speak to me, rather than me justify their merits in my head.

Breathe, examine, think, and show patience. The house will come.

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Makin’ the Bacon

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Nope, I’m not talking about makin’ money, I’m talking pork! Last week, my husband and I visited Happy Basset Brewing Company in Topeka, which was showcasing a new favorite farm of ours – Stirring Soils Farm! My husband is the associate general manager at one of our local restaurants, J. Wilson’s, known for “inappropriately good” New American cuisine that revolves around local, sustainable, and healthful products. At the restaurant, J. Wilson’s, Evan and Chef Ty have brought on this marvelous farm that boasts biodynamic pork. Not only do they raise happy pigs – their pigs are allowed to be pigs out at pasture, without antibiotics or deformations of their bodies – but their farm is centered on supporting the pigs and soil as a cohesive unit. The happier the soil, the better the pasture grasses and greens grow, the higher number of nutrients the grass (pig food) contain, the healthier the pigs become, the tastier their meat is, the healthier you are when you eat them. The pigs are even given vegetable scraps and spent grains from the brewing company – talk about connections!

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The resulting pork products are the best we have ever tasted – and I didn’t think I could’ve felt so supportive of being a carnivore again. We have tended to eat vegetarian at our house since we started looking into the living and slaughter conditions of animals that become our food products – it was horrifying. (Ever wanted to try being vegan or vegetarian? Nothing converts you faster than watching a food documentary on Netflix after a glass of red wine – cue the onslaught of tears and frantic check-writing to PETA.)

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But when you eat pork that comes from a sustainable, loving, healthful environment, there is nothing to feel guilty about – there is only gratefulness. We came home with a bag full of ground pork, chorizo, breakfast sausage links, and bacon ends – a plethora of delicious goodies.

My favorite meal so far? Breakfast! Let me paint you a picture: Stirring Soil zesty breakfast sausage links, farm-fresh eggs served scrambled with Alma, KS cheddar, homemade blackberry jam, piping-hot fair trade coffee, and homemade sourdough biscuits (oh my goodness, so fun and easy with my sourdough starter!). Perfection. 

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We’re thrilled to support farmers who value healthy soil and healthy, happy animals, both at home and J.Wilson’s, Evan’s home away from home. Cheers to Chris and Stirring Soil Farms!