Sunday, March 25, 2012

Greenhouse: Broken panes and dragonfly glass

What do you with glass that looks like it came from dragonfly wings? There are all sorts of things to do with it actually. This glass will probably go into the creation of a sealed mural. Or perhaps it will be used to create a decorative pressed glass wall. That would be where you take to panes of glass and arrange bits of broken glass between them in a pattern to form a thicker decorative wall or door panel. Whatever we decide to do with it we’ll have plenty of dragonfly glass to work with.

This is why. Yesterday Da Man went out to deal with one of the structural problems with the greenhouse. In this case a tree that had been grown from either a seed or volunteer seedling, but then allowed to grow in the greenhouse for far too long. This is one of those things that the Odd Handymen of yesteryear were supposed to have been dealing with, but decided they would rather not.

The tree eventually grew to a size where it competed with the structure of the greenhouse and pushed it’s way through the exterior wall, forcing a path between the glass wall panes and their wooden frames. Yay. So, when Da Man went to remove the tree he found there was no way to do so without the glass exploding into the greenhouse. It was safety glass, of course, so he wasn’t hurt, but it shredded the plastic sheeting on the other side of the greenhouse.

To make matters worse, one of the many reasons the tree needed to be taken out was so that I could get to the underbrush growing beneath it. Now all that dragonfly glass that exploded into the greenhouse has fallen down into said underbrush. Thank the maker of work gloves!

The glass pane was replaced within the hour, so at least that’s out of the way. That’s one of the reasons it’s always a good idea to get and keep extra panes when you build a real glass greenhouse. Especially if you live out in the middle of the boondocks like we do. Buying these panes in bulk is far less expensive than buying them one or two at a time. And when you live this far out it can take days to weeks to get replacement glass delivered.

Once the cleanup is done we’ll get to decide what to do with all that dragonfly glass. Today, however, we’re dawning work gloves and grabbing the bucket. Time to get off the computer and get to work!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Geenhouse Makeover Phase One

Since we can’t be out planting things in the gardens and fields yet, we’ve been working in the greenhouse. But, our greenhouse is in very bad shape, so before we can really do the things we want to in there we have to fix it up. Oh sure, we’ve been getting some seeds, but for what really want to do we have a lot of work to do first.

This was our greenhouse a week ago. It was so overgrown that we could hardly walk through it. Hippylady’s been doing her best, but with her declining health it’s been harder and harder to keep it up. Add to that the odd handyman or two that decided to do their own things (none of which turned out to well), and now there’s structural problems as well.

This is our greenhouse as of this morning. We’ve been working in there, cleaning things up since the snow let up a few days ago, and just the little bit of effort we put into it has made a huge difference. There’s still quite a few things that need to be done, but we’re getting there.

Our goal: For us the greenhouse should be more than just a place to grow plants and start seeds. It should be a place that people actually like to be. It’s also a kind of physical therapy for Her Majesty and myself, as we both have vicious arthritis and the warmth in the greenhouse helps tremendously.

To this end we’ll be installing universal sitting and work areas, along with finishing out the inside wall and greenhouse office. Yes, our greenhouse has it’s own office on the west end, but right now it’s in such bad condition that I refuse to post pictures. I have taken some ‘before’ pictures, and I promise to share them once we have some decent ‘after’ pictures to go with it.

We’ll also be widening the path, which even now, is way to narrow for a wheelchair or walker to go down. We have to keep that whole accessible gardening thing in mind with everything we do. This also means that we’ll be installing pavers down the path, but instead of buying brand new fancy pavers we plan to use old broken concrete that used to be a house foundation (or some such thing) once upon a time.

As you see here in this picture, someone already started laying concrete down, but this is far from what the greenhouse path will look like when it’s finished. We plan to use grass mortar to hold it all together in the end. Of course, we have to take these ones out and level the pathway first. Because we need to allow room for roots to grow under the path we won’t be using normal leveling techniques or leveling sand. We plan to put the blocks directly onto packed soil, then fill the gaps with enriched topsoil. Then, of course, plant grass.

As you can see, there is much to do in our greenhouse. Hopefully you can also see the potential as well. We’ll keep you all up to date on our progress and share the details of the projects we complete. Maybe the blood we shed will help someone else. No, really, Grossmond and I are bleeding today after fighting with the creeping periwinkles. But, that’s a story all by itself!

Monday, March 19, 2012

We’re Prepared for the End of the World (and didn’t even know it)

As I’ve said before, I’m a freelance writer by trade. I have ongoing contracts with several publishers and news agencies and I’m constantly getting guides and prompts from my editors telling me what I should be writing about. I’m not a hard hitting news writer, mind you, I’m proud to be a ‘Fluff Writer”. I write about food, health, gardening, and whatever else I can think of. I write articles like “The Art of Making a Milk Free, Egg Free Coffee Cake” (click the link to read that one). I usually stay away from things like politics, unless I feel very strongly about something.

Every once in a while something comes across my desk that makes me laugh, sometimes hysterically. Like this one prompt that came in from a publisher a few days ago about “Doomsday Prepping”. I don’t write about such things for this publisher, and never really considered writing about it for any publisher (other than the lady that publishes my scifi books). But, I always read the description of the prompt before putting it in the circular file.

This particlar one was described as how to go about storing things like water, food supplies, guns, fuel, etc. I went to one of the suggested source sites and read the list of things they (professional doomsday preppers) say one needs to in order to survive the end of the world. The list included: 200 gallons of water, private well, diesel generators, 3 cords of firewood, one firearm for each person in the family, ammo and relaoding equipment, foot powered sewing machine, 10+ bolts of fabric of different weights and function, an assortment of knives, gardening tools, full set of cast iron cookware, wood burning stove, outdoor and indoor farming facilities, anti-venom, road salts, and more.

As I read the description I forgot what the list was for. It was only when I finished that I looked back at the top that I was reminded “Doomsday Prepping for the End of the World”. My first reaction was “Huh! We do that here. But we call it “preparing for winter”.

It just blows my mind that these things are considered end of the world type stuff. It reminded me of a scene in a book by John Ringo where the kids are playing hide-and-seek in gilly suits they made themselves in school. My reaction to that was “Doesn’t everybody?” And yes, I really did play hide-and-seek in gilly suits, but we didn’t make them at school. We just took old burlap rice sacks and stuck whatever vegetation we could find into them. But that’s just what farm kids do, especially when you have 25 acres between you to play hide-and-seek on.

And the really funny part is, I know that all the city slickers reading this think I’m exaggerating. People, I’m not.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

False Spring

This is what we woke up to this morning. That dreaded white stuff: snow.

I hate snow. Yes, I know it’s pretty, but it’s also cold, and wet, and slippery. I got enough of it growing up to last me a lifetime.

This is the reason we haven’t been jumping on the big market bandwagon and planting new flowers yet, or why we sow our seeds in containers in the greenhouse instead of in the ground,like that packaging says we can. Despite the warm, Spring-like weather we’ve been having for the last few weeks we knew this day was coming. This sudden hard freeze that tries to kill everything in sight.

You see, while other places have “April showers” we have “April snows”. We always have a false spring, which drives the Hippylady mad. She wants to be out working in the soil and putting in plants, but she she knows better. So, she muddles her time killing zombies on the computer, and then rejoices when the snow finally comes. It means the end of winter.

Of course, this is an early snow for us. It’s still March, so we have to wait another month before we can start getting busy in the gardens. Oh, there’s clean-up to do. There are plants that need to be removed that we intend to compost instead of transplant, and there’s the dead tumbleweeds that plague the area. As soon as you clean those up a wind comes along and blows more in from one of the open fields nearby, and you have to start all over again. But it will be another month before we can start putting plants in the ground.

Now, why did I call it the big-market bandwagon? Because, all of the chain stores around here with gardening centers have been bringing in merchandise and opening up said garden centers for big ‘spring sales’. They set up these large displays that extend well into the parking lots so they can try to draw shoppers in and sell them plants and trees during the false spring. You can always tell who’s a local and who’s new to the area by watching what they grab. Locals snap up tools and fertilizer, while our most recent human transplants walk out with carts full of baby plants and garden soil.

The local, independent nurseries and garden shops, however, look like ghost towns. They know it’s a false spring. They know what’s going to happen, and being locals themselves, they aren’t going to push plants onto unsuspecting people who have no idea what’s going to happen to any new planting that’s put in to ground right now. The big markets, on the other hand, are more than happy to do so, and then sell you replacement plants when the first ones die in the April snow.

Now, it’s going to freeze again tonight, and we’ll get more snow. Tomorrow it should start to warm a little, and in a few days we’ll be back up to the mid-70s. It will stay that way for a few weeks. But, in another month we’ll see a weather report that looks like 75, 74, 76, 26... **blink blink** Yes, it will happen that quick. Nature will be playing nice and then all the sudden she’ll say “SIKE!”, and the entire Prescott Area will be covered in snow again.

In the mean time we’ll be patiently (or impatiently) waiting for the first week of May. Until then we’ll keep the snow pants and mittens handy while we refrain from putting new baby plants in the ground.

Friday, March 16, 2012

101 Uses for Milk Jugs

We got quite the response to out last post “101 uses for Mushroom Boxes & Coffee Cans”, and a few of you who contacted us had some great questions and ideas. So, today I’d like to share with you all our philosophy about the Three Rs: reduce, recycle, reuse.

A lot of people today have a hard time figuring out how to achieve these things in their daily lives. But, the way I grew up we had no choice. It was reduce our expenses across the board, directly recycle everything we had into something new with our own hands, and reuse everything as many times as we could (until it died, at which point it was recycled), or starve. I actually find it somewhat humorous that nowadays living that way is considered ‘cool’. I’m all for it... except for the ‘or starve’ part. That just sucks.

To give you an idea of how much someone can get out of a single item lets take the average plastic gallon milk jug. We don’t have a milking cow, but we do have lots of kids, so this is something we end up with a lot of. We don’t save every single jug mind you, but we do tend to keep a running stock of empties. Those that we don’t keep are cleaned, crushed, and tossed into the recycling bin.

The ones we do keep are put to good use. They all get cleaned really well with soap and water. Or vinegar and water, depending on what we’re going to use it for. Some are saved for things like iced tea concentrate or homemade juice mixes. Since they were designed to go in the fridge in the first place they fit nicely, where some drink pitchers are a bit awkward.

We also use them for making things like liquid plant food, various cleaners, and soap solutions for around the home. They also make great watering jugs if you poke a bunch of holes in the lid. In this picture, Her Majesty demonstrates how this works.

Side note: Her Majesty is only mostly confined to her wheelchair. She does have some use in her legs, but cannot extend them fully. Still, to her doctor’s amazement, she learned to walk on her knees in smaller spaces, such as the greenhouse.  

Another way to reuse them is to use them as planting pots. I’ve actually seen quite a few people do this. You cut away the top front, leaving the handle, and poke good-sized drainage holes in the bottom. This is great for hardening off indoor sprouted seedlings before planting them outside, because the handles make all that moving around easier. You can also hang the pots by the handles on just about anything. Just this morning I saw a picture on Pinterest where someone filled them with spilling flowers and hung them on a fence. Brilliant!  We’re going to have to remember that one ourselves.

But, plastic milk jugs don’t last forever. So, what do you with them once you’re finished with their ‘resuse’ and it’s time to actually recycle them? You can either reuse them again if they’re still in good condition, or, if they’er not, break them down to become solids for soil building. The key here is to actually break them down chemically, or they’ll last forever. To do this you simply set them out in the sun for a while until they become brittle. The more sunlight the better. Once they get to the point where you can crush them into pieces with you bare hand they’re ready to go. Once they get to that point they will continue to break down in the soil. Da Man jokingly calls this the ‘jug half life’.

Severely brittle jugs can also be ground into powder and added to cement and other such things as a filler or texture.

This is the way we treat pretty much every materiel thin in our lives. We try not to overdo it on anything so we can reduce spending, then we reuse as many things as we can as many times as we can, before finally recycling it either directly or through the local recycling center. We apply this same process to everything from clothes and linens to plates, cups, and silverware to containers to just about anything else you can think of.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

101 uses for Mushroom Boxes & Coffee Cans

I was planning on telling you all the story of the Sewage Imp today, but it turns out I've over-booked myself (again) and don't have much time. So, I'll save that for when I have the time to give the story the attention it deserves.

Instead, today I'm going to tell you about something we're doing right now: planting seeds.

I know, how much can be said on that subject? Well, quite a bit actually, but I'll keep it to one trick we're using to help save money. It's a direct recycling trick that many farmers are aware of, and one that any suburban farmer can employ.

A few ideas for containers that can be directly reused.
You know all those plastic containers starter plants come in? Those can be reused to plant seeds! All you have to do is take care not to crush or tear them when you remove the starter plants you got them with and store them properly when you're finished using them. A dry dark place is good, as plastic degrades in sunlight and heat. But, be sure it's not someplace that freezes either, as this too will cause damage.

Other plastic items that can be used for this purpose are things like microwave dinner plates and those Styrofoam mushroom boxes. You can actually get many, many years out of a mushroom box, and use them as pots for small plants as well. They're perfect for small house plants that you want to keep next to a single-pane window where the roots might be exposed to freeze in winter. They offer insulation against the cold, and  block light (that can sunburn the roots). When you're finished with them you rinse them out and toss them in the recycling, like you would with a new one.

And you know all those clear clamshell containers that berries come in? they make great little seed starting greenhouses. Just line the bottom with cheesecloth or another loose-weave undyed  fabric and fill with starter soil. We use these for starting the more delicate plants, like cilantro or parsley. We remove the entire bed as one piece by lifting out the cheesecloth and laying directly into the final pot or plot. The fabric breaks down with the soil, and helps the bed hold together until the baby plants grows strong roots.

In the picture above there are several different types of containers that can be directly reused instead of thrown away. Opaque plastic coffee cans are another thing we tend to save and reuse in the garden and around the house. We keep one empty can next to the coffee maker to put old grounds in to be carried out to the plants that love them (which is most, lol). They also make good storage for seed packets and other small gardening supplies you want to keep dry and out of the sunlight. Her Majesty also loves to use them for crayons and markers because while they're big, they have those nifty built in handles, and they stack really well.

Well, that's it for today. I'm off to pick up the child-sized gardening tools for Her Majesty. They went on sale this morning and I don't want to miss them like I did last year!  

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Possessed Pluming: How to Exorcize Water Pipe Daemons

“There’s a new pond forming in the driveway.”

We first heard those words close to two years ago, while we were still living our comfy little lives in suburbia. Hippylady called to tell us that a pipe had burst below ground and she would need help to get it fixed. My first thought was that she was mistaken, and that it was the t-junction beneath a riser. After all, there were no water lines beneath the driveway. Of course, I was still thinking like a suburban housewife at the time.

So, Da Man took the next day, which turned out to be a Friday, off of work. We packed up the kids and the tools, arranged a cat-sitter, and headed north for a long weekend. My brother-in-law, who shall be henceforth referred to as The Cajun, met us there with his own teenagers in tow and few spare shovels. Between us all we could get it knocked out in a day and have the rest of the weekend to barbecue and catch up.

The daemons in the water pipes had other ideas though.

Upon arrival we found that the break was indeed in a driveway, it just wasn’t the main driveway where people park. You see, we have just enough land that we have a service road that goes right down the middle of the property. It was under this service road that the pipe, one of three water 'mainlines’ hard burst... 5ft down. It was about then that our bright shiny shovels didn’t look so impressive anymore.

It took the rest of the day to dig out the line and locate the ruptures, which there turned out to be many of. The pipe was over 40 years old, and was falling apart. It wasn’t even the right pipe for the job. One of the many ‘gifts’ bequeathed to us by the former owners, who had installed all of the utilities in the first place. (this last is important to note for later reference)

Unfortunately, the ground was still mostly frozen and replacing the pipe at that time was not feasible. So, Da Man decided to patch said pipe, and replace it in the summer, when he would be able to dig up the entire line. So the patch was put on, the dirt was thrown back in (but not tamped down), and this took the entire weekend. Much cursing and many blisters later, we loaded the kids back up in the van and headed back down to Phoenix.

A few months later the ground thawed and I began planning the excavation of the water pipe ruins, not realizing they were haunted. As if on cue, Hippylady called to report that the pond had not only returned, but had become a headwater. There was now a small stream running down the service road. She failed to mention the new lake that was forming on the lawn by the front gate because of it.

Side note: As soon as Her Majesty saw it she immediately got excited and asked if we could go fishing. Upon telling her that there were no fish in what she had dubbed ‘Lake Little Big Leak’ she informed me that WalMart had gold fish on sale for 15 cents each, and then promptly volunteered her tooth fairy money for the cause. You just gotta love her optimism!

Back to the daemon... We had come prepared this time. Before coming up I had arranged for the rental of a backhoe and a small army of family and neighbors to assist in the excavation. I had arranged the troops into ‘cooks’, ‘runners’, and ‘tool bearers’ to help Da Man and The Cajun (our valiant knights in greasy armor) get the job done. Even Her Majesty had a job; she’d volunteered to be the official 'drink holder’, and sat on the edge of the ditch with a glass of iced tea in one hand and a soda in the other.

Now, the one thing the Da Man hadn’t been able to get a look at in the winter was the pipe fitting. We had assumed that it was, in fact, held together by fittings, because that’s how water pipes, even mainlines, are attached section to section. Except when installed by the previous owners of the this property. (These people were obviously practitioners of dark juju).

Oh no, they didn’t trust fittings (thread and screw mechanisms) because they might come apart. So, in their brilliance, they had welded five 40ft pipes together as one solid piece. After Da Man and our favorite Cajun stopped laughing (this took a awhile) they disappeared down the road, back to the Home Cheapo to consult the pluming specialist. Since the nearest Home Depot is actually 25 miles away, this took most of the day. The rest of us spent this time firing up the grill and getting lighting set up so we could sit by the ditch and use the tractor as a seat for dinner.

As we were sitting there enjoying our burgers and singing songs that embarrassed every teenager within 5 miles (of which there were many by this time) we heard a groaning coming from the ditch. This was an odd sound for a non-functioning waterline to be making, especially since it had been turned off at the pump. There was no running water to the entire property. Yet, there was that groan. That distinctive sound known by both sailors and plumbers the world over. Metal stressing under the force of extreme water pressure. We double checked the pump and confirmed it was off. We even checked the wellhead to make sure it was reading zero pressure. There was no reason the pipes should make that sound, and yet they did.

We eventually decided to pack it up for the night, but we never did find out what was making that sound. It was then we decided that, even though we were sure there was a perfectly logical explanation for it, that section of pipes would be dubbed ‘haunted’.

The next day the guys managed to banish the water pipe daemon by cutting the line, installing fittings (did I mention The Cajun is a master welder?) and getting the ruptured portion replaced. The ditch was filled and finally tamped down. The pump was turned back on, and all was good.

Little did we know that the Water Pipe Daemon would be avenged by it’s buddy the Sewage Imp the moment we moved in...

Monday, March 12, 2012

Meet the Family

Everyone in the family wanted me to start by telling you about our pluming problems. But, I’ll save that for the next post, and instead introduce you to the players involved in this little endeavor of bringing the farm back to life.

The first thing I would like to tell you is that while I am a member of the media, and by default something of a ‘public figure’, my family has requested some small measure of anonymity. We love nicknames in our family, and everyone has a four or five, which describe the different aspects of their personalities. So, it has been decided that we will use our primary nicknames here.

Mom: That’s me! I think I did a pretty good job of describing ‘me’ in the first post. All I have to add (simply for clarification) is that I’m a freelance writer and special needs support facilitator for a living. I’m the only one in the family who is currently working full time, though that could change at any minute. My family would like me to make sure that you know that I am the designated... erm... ‘witch’ in the family. I have always had a terrible temper, and have, over the years, learned to use it to my family’s benefit.

Da Man: My husband was raised a Marine Brat, and moved around quite a bit growing up. He eventually joined the Navy and served for eight years. Since then he’s worked in the trades for the most part, with a small excursion into IT hardware support over a decade ago. He’s worked in HVAC for the last twelve years, which is a very feast or famine line of work. He is (technically) employed, but currently in a famine period. This is very hard for him, especially since he’s not really sure what to do with a ‘farm’, lol. He doesn’t like not having anything productive to do, and if left to his own devices will take up strange and unusual hobbies. His current hobby is blade crafting, as in making knives, metal work and all. He is exceptionally gifted in the realm of mechanics and engineering, though he would say he’s not. But machines he knows... plants baffle him.

Hippylady: My mother is a tried and true old hippy, and very proud of it. Not to be confused with ‘flower children’, who preached peace, love, and pacifism, a real hippy questions everything and makes a great ‘devil’s advocate’. This describes my mother well. She is also a woman of many talents. She’s been here on the farm for 35 years. Her formal education is in fine arts, and she achieved the level of Master the old fashioned way. But, her current physical condition has left her dependant on others, which is very frustrating for her, because she’s used to being extremely independent. She isn’t used to having teenagers at her beck and call yet, but she’s getting there. She has a vision for the farm, and I see it as our job to make it happen. She has always tried to practice green, organic, sustainable living, since before the current crop of young people in the world were born, much less knew the difference between cloth and disposable diapers.

VJ: Our seventeen-year-old daughter has sever-moderate autism and moderate-mild cognitive impairment. We started calling her VJ when she was ten because A) those are her initials, and B) she turned out to speak fluent VCR. She took great pride in becoming the official family video jockey. She’s one of those people that everyone immediately loves, even animals. She’s always been that way, since the day she was born. She is also a minor prodigy in art, which is more than an autistic obsession with her. She has talent that leaves even Hippylady, who formally studied the subject for 15 years, a little jealous. Emotionally, she is only just now becoming a teenager. She looks forward to living on her own someday, but no day soon. As far as the farm is concerned, she doesn’t like to go outside. It’s dirty outside. There are people outside. Still, we make her go outside. Once a new house is built and she has her own space, she’ll be happier. She just can’t see it right now.

Grossmond: Our twelve-year-old has Aperger’s Syndrome, and is very much a tomboy. She is very mechanically and mathematically inclined, but reading and writing leave her frustrated. She got her nickname, which means “full moon” in German, for the way she is around others and the way she effects them. She is beautiful, powerful, and yet totally disconnected. She has a very strong pull on the people around her, and tends to illicit extremely strong emotions from them. She is simple, and yet mysterious, like the full moon. She is also a tried and true city slicker, so this move has been very hard on her. In her opinion, the farm is a great place to visit, but living here sucks, and she lets us know it in no uncertain terms. No waiting for the teenage attitude with that one. It came right on schedule. Still, she is a very adventurous sort, and loves to go exploring. She examines ‘what is’ in great depth and detail.

Her Majesty: Our youngest, a nine-year-old who was born with deformed thigh bones and an oblique talus in her right foot, got her nickname for the way she commands the people around her, and how she sits in her wheelchair. It isn’t a wheelchair, as far as she’s concerned, it’s a throne with tires. She’s extremely ambitious and very assertive. She’s had to be in order to survive. She’s been dependant on others her entire life, and hates it with a passion. She may, someday, be able to stand on her own feet and walk, but that day is still a long way off. She is, however, an extremely determined individual, and has found ways of doing things that her doctors and experts have sworn she would never be able to do. One would expect that she would be the one person who hates the farm the most, but instead, she is the one who loves it the most. She is very forward thinking and goal oriented, so when she sits out on the ramshackle porch looking out upon 'her domain’ she doesn’t see a bumpy driveway that is dusty dirt when it’s dry and sloppy mud when it’s wet surrounded by dead trees and yellow field grass. She sees beautifully paved pathways surrounded by raised beds spilling over with blooming flowers, trees heavy with growing fruit, and hears the sound of laughter. She’s the kind of person who knows 'what is’, but focuses on 'what will be’ and takes joy in the journey there.

So, that’s us. We’re a somewhat motley crew, but we get along. We may not be the world’s most functional people, but we are very tight as a family. Where one of us falters another will compensate. We don’t make a practice of complaining about what we have to deal with, but instead try to deal with what we have. Every day is an adventure in our house, and here on the farm there are no shortages of surprises to get us started on those adventures.

Our goal, as a family, is to transform this dilapidated five acres of land into something attractive, sustainable, and functional. We plan to build a new house out of mostly reclaimed materials if possible, finish a rain collection system that is currently half finished, and much more. There are so many ideas, and we have so many projects planned and underway that there is sure to be something for everyone in our journey.

Next up: Possessed Pluming: How to Exorcise Pipe Daemons and Sewage Imps!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

How We Got Here

I grew up on a small family farm that was slightly north of central Arizona, in a tiny town called Chino Valley. It wasn’t the kind of farm that most people think of when they hear the word ‘farm’. We only had five acres, and only grew what we needed. We didn’t sell crops to grocers or distributors. We weren’t the kind of farmers who took out loans to get us through the growing season. We were just an average family trying to live a simpler lifestyle.

Like most kids, I left when I was young. I actually had the privilege of going to the Los Angeles area to attend high school, so I got to leave a little younger than most. A lot of people told me I would be back, and like most kids, I said, “never.” That was almost 30 years ago, and now I find myself right back where I started.

My life progressed as lives tend to do. I got married and had kids. I went to college and began a career. My husband and I weren’t rich by any standard, but we managed. We might have done better, but with the children came surprises. Very expensive surprises.

Between us, my husband and I have six daughters. Only the three youngest live with us now, as the rest are grown and on their own. But, those three youngest each have disabilities. The two older of them are autistic, one of which is also effected by moderate cognitive impairment, and the other was a born with type-1 diabetes. The youngest was born with sever orthopedic disabilities, and is, for the most part, confined to a wheelchair. These are things that don’t just cost money to deal with, they change your entire way of life.

Still, we managed. We moved back to Arizona. Not to the farm, but to a cozy little suburb in the north-west Phoenix Valley. We loved were we lived. It had pretty much everything we needed. Sensible shopping that was close, great neighbors, and a back yard just large enough to put in a kitchen garden. Everything was handicap accessible, and we never had any problems taking our youngest daughter, chair and all, out to do anything. In general, we were pretty happy.

Then the economy collapsed. At first we were okay. My husband had a decent job, and I was working part time from home. Then my husband lost his job, and for a moment we freaked out. But, he got another job within two weeks. I began writing full time, still from home, and we cut back quite a bit on our expenses. Still we were doing okay.

Then my mother, who still lived on the farm a hundred miles north of us, had a series of mini-strokes. She could still take care of herself for all the little day to day things, but those things became much harder for her. We spent more and more time on the farm, which hadn’t been worked in 20 years, doing the yearly chores, like weather treating and repairing roofs, fixing porches, and general maintenence. The plumbing was starting to collapse, and we ended up having to replace a water main line. Pipes began to burst both above and below ground. The added cost of helping with all of these things was taxing our already fragile budget, but these weren’t things that we could ignore.

Then the inflation began hitting us. Food, gas, and rent sky rocketed on us, leaving us completely unable to pay our bills. Our cost of living increased by almost 40% in six months, and instead of just barely getting by we were suddenly drowning.

We had already been planning to move back to Chino Valley to take over the family farm and take care of my mother in her golden years, but not until after we were able to put a new house on the property and lay in some needed accessibility items for our daughter, like pathways and ramps. The old mobile home in which my mother lived was a 950sf 2br that was falling apart in ways I can’t even begin to describe. We would be a family of six with special needs... like running water.

But, the day came when we no longer had the luxury of waiting or planning. If we didn’t move immediately we would be evicted and find ourselves homeless. So, we packed up the kids, the cats, and the wheelchair and moved back to the farm. My husband had to quit his job to do so, but I could take mine with me, so at least we had that. That was eight months ago. Now, with a hard, rough, penniless winter behind us we prepare to begin again.

So, what follows now are the chronicles of our efforts to reclaim the family farm and, slowly over time, get it back up and running. It is our hope that our story helps others to find ways of living cost-effective sustainable lives as we do so ourselves. We have chosen to share our trials so that we can also share our triumphs and the solutions we find to the problems that face us.