MENF Wrap-up: A Homesteader’s Hindsight

The second session I attended at the Mother Earth News Fair on Saturday was “A Homesteader’s Hindsight: 20 great ideas and 20 not-so-great ideas” presented by Philip Ackerman-Leist, author of the book Up Tunket Road and professor of Environmental Studies at Green Mountain College. The idea of learning from someone else’s mistakes is perfect; who better to tell you what to do and what not to do then someone who has done it all already?

The session started off when he told the audience to first pick a realist for a partner – check! –  and to be very clear in your wedding vows (buy me a farm in the mountains) – I missed this one. He said the burnout potential for homesteaders is very high, and many relationships don’t survive it. Some of his advice was pretty common sense, but would be easy to overlook in your desire for property:

  • If you have a spot that wants to be a pond, make a pond
  • If you have a road that wants to be a river, don’t buy the property or you will be walking in and out of your homestead
  • Build a house on a firm foundation with a shaped basement (square) – heat rises
  • If you are building in the north, don’t build a house on sono-tubes like they do in the south – what works in one place may not work in another
  • Build a garage or tool shed first (it gives you a place to store tools so you don’t have sharp objects hanging around your living space
  • Build an outhouse with a view
  • Build it right the first time
  • Search out your neighbors – the will be a great source of information
  • Right of way – it is best not to share a driveway because you may not always agree on what needs to be done
  • Always remember to check township rules and local ordinances before you buy!
  • Take a chain saw safety class
  • You may not need a sawmill (but try sawmillexchange.com if you do)
  • Live on the site for a year or more before you build
  • If you can, live in a state with good health insurance
  • Don’t get kicked by a cow (whether you have good health insurance or not)
  • Your community can save you/ homesteading is all about interdependence despite the “doing it on your own” hype
  • Live the questions – put your values to work
  • Don’t assume new always means good or old always means sustainable
  • Animals and gardens will become the center of your day
  • The homestead can become a constraint
  • Visit other homesteads to get ideas and if you can, ask about finances – it’s the topic no one talks about that everyone needs to! – see below
  • When you visit a homestead, remember you are seeing it at only one point in time. How long did it take to get there? 5 years, 20 years?
  • Be clear in what type of homesteader you are
  • Look for these books: New Pioneers: The Back-to-the-Land Movement and the Search for a Sustainable Future by Jeffrey Jacob and At Home in Nature: Modern Homesteading and Spiritual Practice in America by Rebecca Kneale Gould
  • Don’t set yourself up to be a superhero
  • Begin as a homestead and then segue into a farm if that is the direction you would like to go.
  • Farming might take away from the homestead; for instance the home garden may not get as much care as your focus shifts
  • Farming takes you from producing to marketing
  • Thrift stores are a great way to get what you need for cheap
  • BUT… you don’t want to buy someone else’s problem
  • Homeschooling -> comes out of teaching to the test
  • It might be a good idea if, for instance, your kids would have to spend 1.5 hours or more just getting to and from the bus stop
  • Homeschooling also:
    • makes you tighter as a family unit
    • kids get more exercise (school has very few outside activities)
    • you get “stolen lessons” – those things kids learn just by being there
  • A lot of homesteaders have an off-the-homestead job to provide income that is re-invested in the farm
  • The trade-off is the person who works off-homestead becomes more distant from the family
  • If you feel good about what you are doing, share it!
  • “You can judge a person by the integrity of their compromises”

Answers to audience questions:

  • Solar panels on his farm – 800w system
  • Grid tie in is better than stand-alone
  • Solar Water pays off quicker than a solar electric system, so that is usually the best investment
  • His house has a 24×36 basement + 2 levels and an open attic and a separate entrance for bedrooms so they can be rented
  • Finances:
    • $50k / year from job
    • house was $140k to build
    • they bought more land with an inheritance
    • to prepare for college, it is better to have $ invested in land than in the bank
    • pay off mortgage ASAP

The above tips were what I gleaned from the presentation, which was peppered with stories about life on his homestead. It was a wonderful, entertaining session and while the information he gave is above (to the best of my abilities), actually being there was fun! He also answered questions from the audience, and you can see the answers above.

I’m Famous!

When I was at the Mother Earth News Fair two weeks ago, I stopped by the Storey publishing booth to check out a book called Ecothrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier, Healthier Life. I checked it out not only because I’m very interested in the topic or that I have been to two presentations by the author Deborah Niemann, but because she had asked for suggestions for her book on Facebook and I had happily shared (for those who know me in real life, you know I’m always sharing my ideas)!

So I picked up the only copy of the book left because it had already sold out and I paged through it and saw this:

on page 155.  I’m famous!

I also got to talk to Deborah in person, which was awesome because she is so agreeable and we have the similar interest in living both green and thrifty – she wrote the book I was going to write… someday 😀 and we had a great conversation!

Now the book is on my Amazon list and seeing as my family loves books as much as I do I’m pretty sure it will show up around Christmas or my birthday, which is good as I have about 7 books on my bedside table to read and only one is fiction (I love those non-fiction books, but I can take weeks to read them instead of days).

So, if you’ve ever wanted to see me “in print” you can, plus you’ll get a helpful book out of the deal! Win-win!

Great Cookie Debacle Part 3

I am not going to keep you in suspense.

The order form wasn’t in Abby’s room either.

Is there an evil Girl Scout Fairy who visited my house? I’m trying not to worry, but I know this means I have to walk Ari back to a few house and try to figure out some orders. Ugh… Chuck will tell you I hate admitting it when I make a mistake. Please don’t ask for stories though.

The upside?

Abby’s room went from this:

To this:

Girl Scout Cookie Debacle Part 2

I’m 99.5% sure the Girl Scout Cookie order form was NOT in Ari’s room. I know this because there is very little in Ari’s room right now. There is a small chance it is stuck in between something but I have little hope. Next, on to Abby’s room (she is notorious for taking stuff and stashing it somewhere you wouldn’t think to look).

Ari’s room this morning:

And after 3.5 hours, here is what you would see now:

… and that’s because it is all here:

My plan is that when Ari comes home she can pick 150 things to keep and everything else will disappear somehow. Am I a mean Mom? I can’t see that she needs all of this stuff!

Girl Scout Cookie Debacle

This year I have TWO Girl Scouts, one a new Junior and the other a new Daisy. So of course, we’re selling Girl Scout Cookies; practically FORCING loved ones to buy them. Each girl has an order form and with our neighbors and fellow Girl Scouts L & B, we went door-to-door and took turns selling. It was great!

But it couldn’t last. Sometime between Monday 9/17 and Thursday 9/20, Ari’s order form went MISSING! I really thought a 9 year old could take care to put it on the counter where all of the other Cookie stuff was, but it is gone. We have retraced our steps to the point of talking though a TV-crime-show-type backtrack of events. Ari claims she put it on the counter near the microwave OR the stove 9/17. The next day (she thinks) she took it to another room and perused it while sitting on a beanbag chair and then returned it to the kitchen. She CLAIMS it never went upstairs to her room.

In the past two weeks I have moved lots of heavy furniture, swept in places that haven’t been swept since 2009, and even looked under the cabinets in the kitchen (IKEA cabinets with feet and removable baseboards). Not a clue has turned up.

Now for the plan. Tomorrow I will be home because Abby is STILL sick (temp currently 103.1) so it is my turn to stay home with her. I made a list of jobs for tomorrow. It is fairly short, but I’m hoping it will produce results:

To translate for those of you who aren’t teachers and therefore can’t read scribble, it says:

  • Clean out Tiggy’s litterbox (Tigger is the cat and it needs a scrub)
  • Clean out Ari’s room
  • Clean out Abby’s room
  • find stupid order form

By clean out I mean, remove everything and put it back in later. I don’t know how it will go, but if you’ve seen their rooms you can guess it can’t get worse. This is a new strategy in my war against scary rooms (and missing order forms).

Wish me luck!

and perhaps bring me a drink… or two.

 

Update: Ari’s room is cleaned out. No order form was found.