Monday, November 26, 2012

A Cornucopia of Randomness

Columbus is a happy man-child now that he has his own room.  He finally got most of the way moved in last week.  The first thing he did, before he even moved in any furniture, was hang his Oregon Ducks wall calender up.  Next, he hung his American flag, then his copies of the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
 He is so excited to have his own room he has slept over there most nights, even without any heat over there.....that's pretty darn excited, if you ask me!
 Back in October we went on a major grocery shopping trip in the big city.  We found this handmade wood chest at a thrift store for $15.00.  I told Columbus that he should buy it to use as a tool chest.  He was wanting one of those rolling metal tool chests, but they're a little spendy.  Columbus took my advice and bought it, and then came up with the idea to paint it in Oregon Ducks colors.

I think that he did a good job on it!

We woke up Saturday morning to freezing temps.  I knew it was supposed to get down into the twenties, but I thought we had a few more days.  Wrong I was, and consequently our water barrel hoses' froze up on us.  We had no water all day Saturday.  My Man and Columbus got to work moving the water barrels into the enclosed wood stove area as soon as we got home from the coin show.  They also got the rest of the wall finished - they hadn't done between the bottom of the mobile and the ground, they had only got the three big walls up.
Columbus built the new door on Sunday
 They also moved in the water pump and power supply, and they finished insulating the rest of the pipes under the new mobile, and they protected the well head against the cold. 
 We've started storing extra water in five gallon containers for when we run out.  Last week some nameless child left the hose on and the well ran dry.  When on the rare occasion that happens, it takes a day or two for us to get back to full capacity with our water.  I had to go borrow water from a neighbor to get through the day, which I don't really like to do, so we are now storing some for just in case.  Besides, when the hose froze this weekend, so did our well - so it's always a good idea to have some extra water.

 Since we had no water on Saturday I decided to try out this "dry shampoo' that a friend sent me.  I had never before used this product, or any other dry shampoo product, because I was too cheap to spend the money on them, but since I had a can of it and no water, and we were going out, I decided to give it a whirl. 

It was kind of weird stuff - it sprays on like hair spray, but it has something else in it that reminded me of baby power, and it did leave a white coating on my hair, but you brush it after you let it sit for a minute or two and the white part goes away then.  I can't say that it made my hair feel clean, but then again I never use any type of product in my hair, so I'm not used to feeling anything but clean hair, or dirty hair pulled into a bun, depending on our water  But it did make my hair look better/less oily.  I would use it again in a pinch, but this two ounce can stopped working/spraying after I used about one fourth of it, which really kind of made me mad.  I can still feel that the can is most of the way full, but nothing will come out!

Living large - I splurged on Black Friday and bought us some new socks! 
They feel so, so, SO good!!!

Aw, and I saved the best for last.  If you don't know Lotta Joy from Witless Relocation Program, you can check out her blog here.  Back in October, when I did my wool blanket giveaway, she made it pretty clear she wanted one.  I think that she may have even whined a little, but I can't be sure, the whining I heard may have just been normal background news at my  At any rate, she is a super nice person and she always leaves me thoughtful comments, and I love an opportunity to share and make people happy, so I surprised her and sent her one with the help of Kymber from Framboise Manor.

As a thank you, she sent us the sweetest handmade card filled with ten little owls that she made!  Can you believe how cute they are?  She even made seven boys and three girls - one for each of our kids!  I love them so much I am going to frame them so that I can keep them and enjoy them forever.
 And if that labor of love wasn't enough she padded the envelope with McDonald's gift cards!!!  12 of them!  That's a lot of Big Mac's!!
Thank you, again, Lotta Joy. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

For the Record......

Yes, we own a television

Today wasn't the first time that I've been asked if we own a T.V..  No, over the years I've been asked that question more times than I can possibly recollect.  Some people are just rude, or stupid, or a combination of the two, while others, I think, are just trying to make conversation.  Either way, most times it seems to me that many people lack a filter between their brain and mouth.  I don't mind when people come up to me and say that the kids are well behaved, or that I am blessed, or even try to talk to me about my family size in an intelligent way, but the wannabe comedians get old.  I wish that they realized that I've heard it all before, like a million times, and that it is no longer all that funny to me.

Honestly, I've learned to just keep my head down when we go out in public.  I avoid making eye contact with people in hopes that they won't open their mouths and say something stupid to me.  I focus on the kids and count heads.  I herd two five year olds, who do happen to be dressed for our public outing, with the repeated commands of don't touch that, keep walking, or answer them NO to the thousands of questions that they ask, like: can we get cereal?  Can I have fruit snacks?  Can we go look at the toys? 

It's not hard to avoid people with my crew in tow.  Seriously, think about navigating your way through Walmart with an entourage of 10 other people kids.  It's a cluster f*ck, at best.  Don't get me wrong.  I love taking them all out with me, and it is rare that I don't have all or most of them with me when I go out.  We even do our major once a month grocery shopping together, but even I, a seasoned pro and their mother, can want to scream just get out of the way! when trying to make my way down an isle for something simple like a jar of peanut butter.

I know that the sheer number of us draws attention, and honestly, I don't blame people for gawking.  I know I would, too.  A passel of kids is just rare enough that people are intrigued, and with the popularity of reality T.V. shows about big families people feel like they are getting a first hand peek into the real deal.  I just wish that people understood that they should stare with discretion, or that it just might be construed as rude to actually point and count, or stand there with your mouth open, or obviously elbow the person you are with and then nod in our direction. 

Or ask things like do you own a T.V.?  Even tongue in cheek I find this question offense.  It implies that I am not educated enough to know how NOT to get pregnant and that I have simply breed myself into double digit kids out of sheer boredom, and it touches on the very personal topic of my sex life.  Why even go to any of those places, even in jest?

So, Einstein found a local coin show that he wanted to check out today.  We loaded up and headed down the mountain for town and found the coin show.  It was a small show in the banquet room of a small hotel.  We entered the room full of old guys, about seven of them, who no doubt have been staring at each other for the last few years of their retirement.  They've heard each others stories, they know the first names of each others wives.  It was late enough in the morning that I'm sure they had all asked about each others Thanksgiving, and filled each other in on their latest health issues, and other than that there probably wasn't a whole lot new to talk about.  Enter US.  You could see the old guys glance questions back and forth.....Whoa there Stan, we got a crowd here today!  What, did a school decide to make a field trip out of our coin show?  Were did all these folks come from? 

The main old guy, the one stationed right by the door, he started talking.  He's the leader of the pack and he gave me a form to fill out.  I kneeled down so that I could write on the table, pen in one hand, Baby Man in the other.  These all your kids, he asks?  Yes.  Well, we left some of them at home, I answer.  (we *only* had eight of them with us)  Seriously, he asks, you have MOREYeah, seriously, I tell him.  You got a T.V., he wants to know?  I politely laugh in response.  He asks again, you got a T.V.?  I look at him and smile this time, like yeah, I heard you - you're funny.  Then, old coin dude asks me again!  He is seriously asking me if we own a T.V..  At this point I start to size him up a little and wonder if I should answer this question with the same carelessness and crassness that I feel it is being asked.  I wonder if he would laugh if I said yes, but it only gets porn channels.  Instead, I stop filling out the form and look him right in the eye, just to make sure I am understanding him correctly.  Sure enough, the old coin dude is waiting for an answer.  Mentally, I take a nice big deep breath.  I think of the kids and the other old coin guys just sitting around watching this exchange.  I think of them all cringing if I answer the way I want to, and so I reel in myself and tell the pushy old coin dude; kinda, we only have an antenna, no cable, so we don't get many channelsNo cable!?, He repeats back as a question and with a chuckle.  Yeah, I say, no cable.  Is that the problem?  You think we should invest in cable?  He told me we might want to consider it.

I know that the old coin dude wasn't really being mean, I just wish he had thought a little before he opened his mouth and kept pressing.  I wish he could have thought up a better way to start a conversation.  I will give him credit for not yelling at us that we should find a new hobby like one guy did in the parking lot of McDonald's, and that was back when we only had five kids.  He also gets points for not having a disgusted look on his face.  Sometimes, worse than the stupid comments are the silent disapproving looks that we get.  If I could tell these people anything, I would tell them that we are a family of individuals that make up a large group, and that we love each other very much, just like they do their families, and that really, there isn't that much difference between them and us - we just drive a bigger car and it takes more food to feed us.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Turkey, Black Friday & Electronics

We had an awesome Thanksgiving and hope that you did too!

Baby Man discovered that he loves fudge!
 We spent the two days before Thanksgiving preparing food and baking. 
 By the time turkey day rolled around we were ready for a day of rest and relaxation.  We sat around and ate, watched a movie and looked at the Black Friday ads. 

I used to love Black Friday.  It was a great way to save some money on Christmas gifts, but every year the retailers keep starting the sales earlier and earlier.  Honestly, it really bothered me that this year most stores started their sales at 8:00pm on Thanksgiving night, and so I hesitantly took this pledge.....

Taking the pledge was easy, but I was worried about following through with it because I've gone Black Friday shopping every year for about the last fifteen years.  Secretly, I was worried that as 8:00 approached I'd start feeling like I was missing out on all the great deals and head off for town, even if it meant that I was supporting retailers pushing consumerism onto a national holiday that in my opinion should be a day off for everyone to spend time with their families. 

More than the shopping, I like saving money.  If I know I'm going to have to buy something I'd rather buy it at the cheapest price I can get it.  As our finances and lifestyle have changed over the years there is less and less that we even want from the ads.  Most of the kids are old enough now that brightly colored cheap plastic junk from China doesn't make them go light in the head wanting the latest and greatest, and we're pretty well past the electronics, which seems is what most of the ads are peddling. But there are always still a few deals that we want.  We like to stock up on some new movies, and the little people in our house are still conned into thinking that the smiling kid on the box, happily playing with their new toy, can be them.  They are still too inexperienced to know that half of those toys fall apart if you look at them wrong.  Think Hot Wheels race tracks!

Speaking of Electronics; I just read a post titled No Christmas Electronics over at A Homesteading Neophyte earlier today.  We too "pulled the plug" on our kids a few years ago.  It started one fine spring day when we were driving along the road and I noticed how green and pretty the world was looking.  I went to point it out to the kids in the back of the van, but before I spoke I looked into the review mirror and all I saw was the tops of heads as everyone had their noses pushed into one screen or another. 

It made me sad to think that they were missing out on the world and its beauty, but then I had a scary thought.  It suddenly occurred to me that none of my kids could probably find their way home if I dropped them off inside of even a five mile radius of our house because they wouldn't know any of the landmarks.  They had no clue what was around them.  They couldn't tell you how far that big red barn was from home, or even which direction home was from the barn.  Their eyes and minds were too tied up in playing games and trying to beat a highest score. 

I didn't say anything right then.  I took sometime to think about things.  As a mother I already didn't like the games, but I justified them by telling myself it was normal and everyone else was doing it.  I struggled with finding my voice about what I thought was right against a world dominated by screens in the form of easy entertainment and necessary.  I finally realized that since we were already making some lifestyle changes that giving up the games just became a natural next step in those changes, and I hoped that the kids would be cooperative.

I didn't start out by asking for everything.  I don't think things would have gone well if I had.  At first I just asked them to try life without their handheld systems.  I explained why I wanted them and why I thought they would be better off without them.  They agreed to try it and we packed up the handheld systems into a box and put it up.  And then something amazing happened - they went outside and played.  Suddenly, tossing the football was fun, and they played tag, they even built forts.  They interacted with each other and they discovered a whole new world.  The started living life rather than controlling a virtual character.  Things went so well that they agreed to sell the handheld systems - they didn't miss them or even want them anymore! 

We still had several gaming consoles on T.V.'s and they played those on the weekends, but overtime the consoles started robbing them from living life just like the handheld ones had.  Again we talked and again they agreed to pack them up.  It didn't take long for them to agree to sell those too.  By that time even they could see how different life was without the games and realized that what I was saying was true - they were being robbed of living real life.

That was a few years ago and we haven't gone back since.  Recently, someone offered us a game system for free.  It was easy to say no because saying no to a game system is saying yes to real life.  The kids do have MP3 players that they listen to music on, and our oldest daughter is an avid reader so she has a Kindle.  Before we moved I took her to the library all the time for new books, but when we moved to our mountaintop I knew that it wasn't going to be possible to go to the library all the time so we helped her buy a Kindle so that she would always have new books to read.

I'm so glad that the kids are unplugged now.  They spend more time playing with each other, just exploring the world, and they use their imaginations more.  It is really amazing to me to watch our younger kids who have never played any games, and compare them to our older kids, who at the same age were already starting on the games.  There is a huge world of difference on their creativity levels!

I don't normally give advice, but if you're thinking about unplugging your kids I would highly recommend taking the lets just try it and see approach.  I think it overwhelms them to think about giving it all up at once, but if it just goes in a box and gets put up for a bit it feels a little safer because it isn't like it's all gone forever.

I hope that all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2012

On the Mountaintop One Year Later

Our old house
 It was a year ago that we left our cozy house in the country for our four raw acres on the mountaintop.  It was a year ago today the twelve of us woke up, for the first time, in our tiny 600 sq ft trailer with no heat, water or power.  We were glad for it, even if we were unsure about it.  Our new mountaintop life marked the end of some hard years that, at times, felt like they would eat us alive, and started the beginning of a new chapter.
The first trailer
 The last year has brought us closer together.  It's as though we've stood naked and raw before ourselves, and each other, and found that we still love each other.  We discovered a new respect.  Respect for surviving it all together, respect for working our way through it, respect for continuing.  At times, life up here felt like we were swimming in the deep end of murky water and there were no life saving devices to be thrown our way.  At times it seemed the biggest task on a given day might be to simply not give up.  To keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how aimless it felt, just continue on. 
Adding a second mobile home
 More than those times I remember our achievements.  We struggled and fought our way through to a place that we now call home.  We hauled water until we got the well working, and then we got a hose through the window and the washer and dryer, and now we have water that runs through the pipes, even hot water.  We added new animals and planted a garden.  We cleared land for weeks on end.  We pushed and pulled our way to make life as normal as we possibly could.  For 365 days we rode out our days until we finally got to where we are now.  I write this post and I look back on all of our pictures and I am absolutely amazed at all that we have done in such a short amount of time. 
Getting power
 This last year, it has been the greatest adventure of my life so far, and I imagine that our kids will always remember this time.  Even if they forget parts of it, this time in their lives will never forget them.  They have been shaped into whole new people because of this experience, and I truly believe that they are better off for it.  They now have an inherent understanding of life and its rhythm's, and I hope the skills and soul to survive what comes their way.  They've learned that love it not things or places, it is an act of dedication and commitment.  It is a verb and not a noun.  It is care for another as much as for yourself.  They've learned that love is hard work, but that it is worthwhile. 
Clearing land
 On this Thursday, when we gather to break bread for Thanksgiving, I will be more thankful than I have ever been in my life.  I will sit at our table and look around at the people who surround me, and my heart will overflow just as my cup of life has.  These people, this family of mine, I have so much love and pride for them.  They are so young, so immature in life and its ways, and yet they work and smile.  I asked them for their understanding and commitment when they had no way of knowing what was really being asked of them - and they gave it to me.  They delivered their best when the return seemed uncertain.  The believed me when I told them to have faith and that even if I didn't know how - everything would work out and be okay.  They trusted me. 
Clearing more land
 And now, one year later - here we sit and it is okay.  It did work out.  A mothers promise made good.  Imperfections and hardships begin to blend into the backdrop of life and make room for normalcy in the foreground.  Simple, mundane, normal.  Feed the dogs.  Toss the football.  Argue with a brother.  Watch a movie.  Have your own spot at the table.  Take a hot shower.  Find joy in what others take for granted.  Find pride in your contribution.  Find your place in a large family and feel your value.  Unintended lessons, but some that I am most thankful for.
and clearing MORE land
 None of us will sit at our table this Thursday and not think of our Saint and the overwhelming generosity shown to us.  None of us will forget to take a moment of silence to reflect on the power of unexpected kindness and support that a single Saint can deliver.  And then we will talk about our Saint.  We will wonder aloud where we would be without the help we have received.  And because there is no way to answer that question with certainty, but we know that we wouldn't be exactly where we are, we will be reminded of that gray area of uncertainty in life and be all the more thankful for the help in getting us here.
A view from the road
 This mountaintop life - it's dirty.  There is mud and never ending work, but there is also a profound sense of being one with our environment.  We learn to know our land, our house, our animals.  We spend our days in care of everything that is ours.  We strive to learn more about what we need to be self sufficient.  We look for a new way of life that is nothing any of us has ever known before, but that we trust will deliver us to a better tomorrow.  We juggle what we need now with what we want for our future.  It takes a lot of patience to live up here.  Nothing goes as planned, nothing even goes as planned for plan B, or plan C and D, often times.  Frustrations can mount, but they are also on opportunity to accept our limits, re-set priorities, or find solace in the comfort of each other. 
Hauling water
 365 days on our mountaintop and past the worst of it, and I have this to say:  if I could give you what I feel today, I would, because it's a gift to have the sense of love, unity and accomplishment that I now feel in life.
A water and laundry trip to town

Hanging it all to dry

The temporary chicken coop - still their coop one year

Collecting rain water

Installing the wood furnace

Finally - some heat

Adding a gutter to collect more rain water

The first toilet

Moving up on the mountaintop - a Humanure potty

What I call "man litter" - it's used to cover your scat in the composting toilet.

Humanure compost

Haircuts and bath time

Sleeping five to a bed

The barn that My Man and the boys took down before we moved out here.  This is the wood that we used for shelves, counter tops, the kitchen back splash, making our composting toilets, the rabbit hutch, and even some curtain rod holders.

Starting the office

The office now

Cold winters

mean freezing pipes

The shower - word of advice, don't bother.

My Man made me a hot pond bath - a favorite memory of mine.

Washing clothes by hand

The outdoor shower

A view from the inside

Meat chickens - the sight of them still makes me cringe with shame.

The rain saucer trial

The water tower - our attempt at gravity fed water.

When gravity fed doesn't work

Baby Keets - none of them made it.

Baby goats - all of them did make it!

Our first rabbit.

Our first garden.

Planting the garden.
 At times the smallest of accomplishments felt big......
stepping stones to help with the mud.

A drain pipe.

Planting flowers.

Putting up the tent......Columbus called it the "conjugal tent"......rofl!!

A nasty old freezer, but less trips to town for food.

Adding gravel to the driveway so that we don't get stuck in the mud.

The hose through the window.

Adding some counter top space.

Now, was that an awesome year or what!?