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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Self Sustaining And Micro Farming In Suburbia- Our new blog

Well, we finally launched our new blog, "The Pioneering Parent" for families that want to create self sustaining homes, even if they live in suburbia like we do.  The site has categories for all things related to beging self sustaining.  We have sections for gardening, micro farming, cooking, survival skills and even a section for 'family business & finance' for parents to learn how to instill the entrepreneurial spirit in themselves and their kids.

We have information on a lot of topics already published, and we have some more great stuff to come too.  Plus, on our blog, we are documenting everything we are doing in our own lives.  As parents who are confined to the suburbs because of our jobs, we're always seeking creative ideas for becoming self sustaining, so should anything ever happen to those jobs, we'll be fully prepared to deal with the situation.

But the Pioneering Parent isn't just for parents.  It's for anyone who wants to be self sustaining.  We've even recruited long time survivalist Michael McQueen to be our managing editor, and we will be publishing information on everything 'survival related,' from gardening, to canning, to prepping, to self defense, to shelter construction, wilderness survival, urban survival, hunting, fishing, livestock like chickens, rabbits and fish farms.  The Pioneering Parent will be a full service site. Please visit The Pioneering Parent and share your thoughts with us.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Homemade Tangerine Syrup Experiment

After much deliberation about renting, or renting to own, a house with a good amount of land, or moving back into the house we own, we chose to move back into the house we own, for the time being.  We decided that this was the best deal for us right now, as it was the least expensive way for us to live, allowing us to use any expendable income to rent to own vacant land that we can garden, and eventually build a house on. Our house is a good size, at 1620 sq ft, with 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, a living room and a family room, and a 2 car garage.  We also have a pool and our land is a double lot. So there is enough room for gardening here.

We also live on a main road, so the kids can't play out front anyway, so the entire front yard, as well as at least one, if not both, of the side yards, will make for garden space.  

We also have a mature tangerine tree!  I must say, I'm really happy to be here. The house is big, and so is the kitchen!  I've even started cooking again.  And so it was the other morning, as I made my kids French Toast, while they sat at the bar and watched me, that my eldest said to me "Mom, we should make our own syrup, like healthy syrup, like apple and grape syrup."

The wheels started to turn, and I got all kinds of ideas.  After all, IHOP has blueberry, boysenberry, and blackberry syrup, why not other fruit flavored syrups?  So I set about doing some research on homemade syrup, and I asked my friend Lee Dobbins, Best Selling Kindle Author of "Healing Desserts" and "Healing Herbs & Spices" what she knew.  She easily found me two sites that show how to make maple syrup and blueberry syrup. 

I decided to start with the tangerines, because I have the tree in the yard and they just happen to be in season right now too.

Here's what we did:

First: We picked the fruit right off the tree.

At first, I thought this was a loquat tree.  The tangerines are very, very small, and I recall a friend of mine from many years ago, showing me a loquat tree she had in her yard, and the size and color were so similar.  But... after picking one and smelling it's boquet, I realized that it smelled, and looked, like a tangerine.  

Step 2:  Peel the tangerines.
I'd guess this to be around 4 cups of tangerines.  I only wanted to attempt 1 cup for now, since we just moved in, aren't fully unpacked and I don't have proper canning tools for preserving.  But the kids had so much fun picking the fruit, that I just let them go.  We all enjoyed picking at the tangerines all day too.  I even made them part of the kids Saturday 'make your own lunchable' lunch-  (Ritz and Saltine Crackers, cheddar and swiss cheese, turkey slices, grapes and our brand new tangerines, fresh from the tree.  

I gave the kids a separate bowl for saving the peels for composting

And then I added today's coffee grounds to it 

(here on the "Nature Coast" of the Sunshine State, we don't have 'soil', we have 'sand', so I have to do all I can to enrich the soil... I'll be using this particular composting formula for my blueberry bushes, since they thrive in acidic soil)

Step 3:  is where I screwed up.  I ran all over town today looking for a blender.  But didn't find one I liked anywhere.  (hours later, after hearing me complain ALL DAY about not being able to find a blender, my darling husband informed me that our food processor was in the garage... <strangles husband>).

I used the bottom of a coffee cup to 'smoosh' the fruit through a strainer and into a bowl under the strainer...

Mistake Part II- I hadn't actually 'read' all the directions on the site Lee gave me

  • I finally put 1 cup of fruit in a large spaghetti pot... (5 qt pot maybe...)
  • "Smooshed" the fruit with a ladel
  • Turned the burner on high, and brought it to a rapid boil
  • Strained in a strainer, into a bowl
  • Poured 1 cup of sugar into the mix
  • Stirred until thick
  • Poured into a creamer cup- (it was handy, and I'm sacrificing my 'creamer' for my coffee for this, so be nice!- I'm improvising until we finish unpacking.)
  • Then I put the syrup in the fridge to chill.

I'm going to make some French Toast slices for dinner tonight, and let everyone try the new syrup.

Once I followed the directions, the process actually doesn't take long at all, mainly because I'm only making small amounts thus not needing any canning equipment or procedures for canning.  I'm sure I will start that eventually, as part of 'prepping,' but for now, it's just fun to experiment with new recipes from fresh foods which we do or will grow ourselves, learning how to be creative with food, especially food that we can and will grow. 

Plus, it's teaching our kids to think creatively and tactically for their own survival.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Worlds Smallest Chameleon...

Well, this doesn't really have anything at all to do with being a 'self sustaining family,' but I thought the article was interesting anyway, and so many of us are pretty in tune with Mother Nature, that I thought it would be enjoyed by all... here's the article...

A juvenile of the tiniest chameleon species ever discovered perches on a researcher's fingertip. Image: PLoS
A species of chameleon small enough to easily perch on a match head has been discovered on a tiny island off Madagascar, a group of scientists has announced.
In addition to the discovery of Brookesia micra, now the tiniest chameleon ever discovered, the researchers also announced the discovery of three additional tiny chameleon species.
Adult males of the B. micra species grow to only just over a half-inch (16 millimeters) from nose to bottom, making them one of the smallest vertebrates ever found on Earth.
From nose to tail, adults of both sexes grow to only 1 inch (30 mm) in length.
Lead researcher Frank Glaw said the team already had experience finding tiny lizards in Madagascar, "but it was also good luck."
The team searched for the tiny lizards under the cover of darkness, using headlamps and flashlights to seek out the sleeping chameleons. All four species are active during the day, and at night climb up into the branches to sleep.
But for such tiny critters, "up into the branches" means a mere 4 inches (10 centimeters) off the ground, Glaw told OurAmazingPlanet, so finding them is no easy task. However, once spotted, the tiny lizards aren't tough to catch, Glaw said.
"They are sleeping and you can just pick them up. It's like picking a strawberry, so it's easy," Glaw said. "They do not move at all at night."
The team of scientists found the tiny reptiles in Madagascar's wild northern regions during expeditions between 2003 and 2007. For three of the species, "we immediately identified them as new species," said Glaw, a veteran herpetologist and curator at the Museum of Natural History in Munich.
"In general, these tiny chameleons are so small that it's really hard to see the small differences with the naked eye," he said.
The researchers warn that at least two of the newly-discovered chameleon species are extremely threatened because of habitat loss and deforestation in Madagascar.
Glaw, who has been going to Madagascar to research its ever-expanding list of amphibians and reptiles for a quarter century, said that B. micra may represent the limit of miniaturization possible for a vertebrate with complex eyes, but said it's impossible to know for sure since each time scientists have proclaimed the discovery of the tiniest one yet, another, tinier species appears.
"Maybe there's a potential for a smaller species," Glaw said.
Another group of researchers recently announced the discovery of the world's smallest frog species in Papua New Guinea. The scientists also declared it the world's smallest vertebrate, but others contend that a species of angler fish is the smallest vertebrate yet discovered on Earth.
Glaw is planning another expedition to the region of Madagascar in November.
"I'm sure there are many surprises awaiting discovery," he said.
The research is published in the Feb. 15 issue of the open access journal PLoS ONE.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

we finally found the land, but now...

Well, it's been an interesting couple of weeks.  First off, I'm sorry I haven't updated this blog in so long.  I did try a small garden here at the place we're at right now, but nothing survived.  This was partly due to my own negligence, and partly due to some not so great soil conditions.  Actually, the plants were doing so poorly because of the soil that that is the reason I started losing interest and just more or less gave up.

Just to give you a little 'background', I owned a house in suburbia, that I let slip into foreclosure when the economy started to fail back in 2007.  I also got divorced at the same time, making the house impossible for me to keep up with, so I abandoned it and rented something smaller.  Then I met my current husband.

He lived and worked a good two hours from me when we met, and since I worked at home, it made sense for us to move closer to his job.  Move we did, only to discover that the house we rented was in foreclosure- after having dumped close to $7,000 into the move and fixing up the house.

Faced with the prospect of having nowhere to go, we chose to go stay with a friend, back up even further from his job than I had lived.  We decided that he would give his notice, and we would both find jobs in that area, and I would keep my work at home job for a third income to help get us back on our feet.

But living with friends doesn't work out for very long, and we were certainly no exception to that rule.  We wound up living in a motel for about 5 weeks.  I worked my work at home job to cover the expenses, and very soon found a full time job. We then moved to this house.

It was cheap, close to work, and on the bus line.  But it's still not ours. And as time went on, I became more and more interested in finding ways to be more self sustaining and less at the mercy of others.  I wanted to know that I could grow food and build shelter.

In 2011, I became fascinated by the survivalist lifestyle.  I spent countless hours on forums, and reading blogs about gardening, micro farming, raising chickens, building shelters, DIY boats, alternative energy... anything you could think of.  I even started watching "Rocket City Rednecks."

 As much as I wanted to move to some land somewhere, it just wasn't in the cards with one income. Then I got laid off in Sept 2011, and I had mostly abandoned my work at home job for my full time job, and my husband didn't find work until Dec 2011.

Finally in December, my husband found a job driving a cab, and in January, I started doing the same.  The job is ok.  We work some very long hours just to make enough money to get by, but it's cash in our pocket every day, and we run the bank. There is no worry of showing up to work one day, and the doors being closed with the company owing us 2 weeks worth of pay.

We finally felt that we could be secure enough to move, so we started looking.  We found one place where the land was 1.7 acres and that was perfect, but the house was just too small.  We found another one where the house was huge and the owner claimed that the land was on 1.5 acres (but it looked more like 2.5 acres to me, and I have a pretty good eye for square footage).  Hubby was worried it would just be too much work for us to take care of, and the worst part was that there was a lake behind it. It was fenced off, but still, my kids are engineering enough to climb right over that. Plus, water moccassins and gators had me a little freaked.

But, we had decided to take it anyway. Until...I called my title company to find out about the status of the house I had abandoned to be foreclosed on back in 2007.  Well, it turned out the banks attorney was indicted on federal charges for robo signing last year, and the bank had to start the whole foreclosure process all over again.   They never did, and in October of 2011, the judge sent the bank a notice to either respond to questions about the case, or the court would dismiss it.  The bank did not respond and the courts have now dismissed the whole case.

So, title says we can live there easily for another year and a half to two years, and all we'll have to pay are the utilities.  Which are less than just the rent on the house we were looking at, and are about the same amount we've been paying for rent with utilities included in this tiny house we're in.

The main drawback is that there's still no land.  It's also on a main, busy road, and it has a pool.. (which is nice) but with two small kids, it's not the 'safest' house.

However, on just one income, we can cover our living expenses.  We have two incomes now, so effectively we could simply rent some vacant land to farm somewhere else.  I can have the chickens that I want at this house, and I can grow a small garden too.

Of course, we'll be looking more for land that we can buy with owner financing, rather than just renting, for our garden/microfarm.  And since we can have chickens and a garden at the house we're moving to, we'll wait on finding the extra land for a while, and use the money to build up some passive streams of income so that once the house is foreclosed, we'll at least have enough cash and income to that land either with a house on it, or build one ourselves.