Saturday, December 22, 2012

A New Old Tradition (and S'mores!)

An era ended and a new one began on 12-21-12 according to some interpretations of the Mayan Calendar. We're all still  here so I'm going with that. A new tradition started in our family which rings in a new era for Tortuga Flats Farm.

The mid-winter Solstice celebration has been around as far back as history is recorded. Cultures all over the world celebrated the darkest time of winter. Neolithic farmers were fearful that the sun and their crops might not return. Fire played a part in symbolically bringing back the warm sunny days. Romans decorated their homes with evergreen plants and had various celebrations to lift the spirits during the long winter months. Celtic traditions are many for winter and the Solstice. Native Americans had Solstice traditions. It was a time to reflect on the past year and hope for the new. Sprinkled in all these traditions across the globe were Shaman gift givers, Santas in various forms, holly, ivy, bells and all the other things we associate with Christmas.

As farmers, we decided to start our own traditions for this season. Our first Solstice included a meal with much of our own produce, a fire and reflection (and of course s'mores!) and the exchanging of gifts. I doubt the ancient neolithic farmers had s'mores but after all that reflection, chocolate and marshmallows were in order. On Christmas Eve we will have another big dinner and continue to give thanks. Christmas morning we will empty our stockings and see what Santa brought us. We'll then go south and visit the rest of our family.

We had a great time with our first Solstice. We decided it could evolve and include others in our celebration. Next year, we will for sure have one new person, my granddaughter! She won't be able to add verbally to the fire circle, but her presence will add to our richness.

If you'd like to see some more of our Solstice celebration pictures, you can go to my personal Facebook page where I've posted other shots. Click on photos and then go to the Solstice album.

And if you haven't yet "liked" my author page on Facebook, I welcome you to do so. Would love to see you there.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

From Head to Dirty Floors

My first prairie blog stated:

You'll hear all about our trials and misfires and what works. Maybe my glimpse into retiring with nothing in the bank but love will inspire (or scare) others in the same boat. Keep the bucket handy for bailing. Oh by the way, the retiring part is my husband. I will still be toiling away at my writing career, which is in its infancy - but I work hard!

Looking forward to more sunsets
Now, we're nearing the year mark, and I thought it'd be good to take inventory on what I discovered - financially speaking first. Maybe these money saving discoveries would work for you too. A little disclaimer here on senior discounts. I'm lucky that Frank is always able to get them but there are places that go as young as 55 for discounts. You have to ask.

Hair. Funny, my head comes first, but I've always said finding a good hairdresser is harder than finding a good doctor. After paying around $150 a visit for the last few years, I had to make some changes.
Result: Beauty school hair style $6.00 plus tip
          Drugstore hair dye $8.00
Downside: My color is not streaked and multi-shaded like I prefer but I don't look ugly either - I can live with that.

Will the Verde overflow its beginning this year?
Entertainment. This encompasses a lot.
Result: Senior movie discounts - you can't beat $5 movies
           Ask for your senior discount at restaurants. Nearly every eating establishment has some sort of senior discount. Hey a free drink is worth it!
           Hotels often have senior discounts too. Ask. If you're not a senior, then travel on the cheap days. Example: During the week, Laughlin, NV has hotels that charge $10-$20 a night compared to $45-$75 on the weekends.
           Parks, both state and federal have a couple of ways to save. Seniors get discounted lifetime passes. For $10 we get into any federal park. If you're not a senior, check on yearly passes which are much cheaper than paying for each trip.
           Wherever you go, ask if discounts are available. Often, they aren't advertised. 
Downside: None from our point of view.

Result: We all look for the cheapest stations. Up here it's Maverick or Costco. Another way to get cents off is to trade at a supermarket that gives points. Safeway and Frys in Arizona do and have their own stations.
Downside: The store stations are not plentiful so you have to plan your gas filling trips.

Charge card benefits.
Result: We charge most things and accumulate points. We now have two airline tickets. On my other card I had enough points for a couple of Christmas presents.
Downside: None for us because we pay them off entirely each month. So please take caution if you choose to live this way. Don't charge what you can't pay off.

Christie, Lance, Gabby, Xena
Sharing expenses.
Result: We couldn't do what we're doing if we didn't cohabitate with my son and daughter-in-law. It's working for us so far. Financially it's a win-win.
Downside: I don't always get my way! We have to agree on what big expenditures come first, and there is compromise.

I can't do a point by point on all the other aspects of how our experiment is working. I think we've barely scratched the surface. Next year won't be like this year - the farm is expanding, a baby is coming and other milestones are expected. But here are a few observations after the first year:

I've lowered my standards on neatness, others have improved.

Frank keeps asking me what part of retirement don't I understand.
Gabby, Rusty, Xena

Rusty is so much happier with a larger pack and someone always around.

Two cooks in the house makes me happy (since one of them isn't me).

I have to be careful to command myself to write and not get caught up in ALL the farm and household activities.

Shopping is not an activity anymore.

I love eating what we grow.

"Going into town" is a real thing and not just a line off Little House on the Prairie.

So much for my wrap up. Now I'll gather my thoughts on the upcoming year and what we intend to do with it. Hint: we have a tractor! I'll be a grandma!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thankful Thursday/Fried Friday

Thanksgiving 2012 on Tortuga Flats
I wrote this on Friday and didn't get it posted before I headed off to do a bit of Black Friday shopping. I went to one store with my coupons. My intention was to run in, grab a couple of things and get the heck out. I didn't go early to avoid the rush of madness. Ha. Stood in line at the check out for and hour and a half with my measly little purchase. What I'll do to save a buck! So here's the post finally.

After Thankful Thursday, it's Fried Friday on Tortuga. We hosted the family and friends Thanksgiving dinner yesterday. No way would I face the crowds before noon today. Besides, we took to the farm on a shoestring budget, Christmas follows the same guidelines. It's never been about the presents for me anyway. But I do need to get busy on gifts. We've made quite a few already. I have a few items to buy and then I'll get the rest put together.

The seasons of the earth are magical to me. I bought a book on Winter Solstice. We're going to resurrect some original traditions and put our own twist on the season. For one thing, there really are twelve days in the season and I'm all for celebrating for twelve days! The Christmas traditions had their start with Winter Solstice origins from the tree to the yule log. I want to know the why and go from there. 

With sister and Mom on Thanksgiving
No definitive plans yet on what this farm will look like next year. We did find out conventional financing is out of the question. There are government loan options but not until next year. We have to have a viable year and plan in action before submitting. Kind of the old saying - takes money to make money. We'll figure it out. We're pretty resourceful.

Christie wants to make goat cheese. We'd like our own goats but not sure when. Goats as pets are pretty easy and not too expensive to keep but if you want good milk goats, there is considerable expense. We also want chickens. Both are on our list. But they fall below farming more land.

Our major expense for this year is at least out of the way. We now have a back up hand pump for the well. If we were to lose electricity for any length of time, people and plants would be dead on the vine. So tick that one off our list. The next major expense is the tractor and a greenhouse. I have my own little major expense wishes like new carpeting and flooring but since those don't generate any income, no one else has them on their list.

Frank got the watering system winterized. We have grass now in all areas of the yard which is sort of like winterizing - keeps the mud down that the dogs bring in during the winter.

We'd like to clear the land before the tumbleweeds start blowing which is right around the corner. Without a tractor or the very least a ride on mower, we can't do it without hiring it done. So...looking into that.

Where the pronghorn play
And while researching my current book, I learned American antelope aren't really antelope at all. They're pronghorn, the only surviving member of an ancient family that dates back about twenty million years.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Humongous and the Sexy

Whenever it gets to be near the end of the year, I rethink how I want next year to go. I start making lists and marking the calendar for next year.

2013 is going to be a humongous year on Tortuga Flats. At least it should be. We have all kinds of ideas we're brainstorming. And then there's the baby! And then there's the hope I have for the mystery series I'm writing sold.
We'll need to quadruple this for next year

One of our last harvests
We're researching how we can get our other two acres farmed, what we should grow and how to sell the crop. Should we grow several things or specialize? What's our market? Two acres really isn't all that much land but still quite a bit for four people to handle. We're also brainstorming different ways to bring in help. I'm gathering Farmers' Markets information. Frank is researching crop prices and output per acre, etc. Lance is planning layout of the land and what equipment we're going to need. I'm looking into nontraditional avenues of funding while Frank is looking toward traditional means. Lance is on the lookout for the really nontraditional ideas. Hopefully, by the first of the year, a plan will unfold.

My sexy new hero looks like who??
I've established some self-imposed deadlines for my writing projects. I'm having a little trouble right now nailing down my latest hero, Mason. Who he is in my head is not translating on paper, but once I get that figured out, my newest novel needs to get completed.

I've decided to have a regular schedule for this blog and my web page newsletter. Next year I'll blog about the farm on Tortuga Thursdays. On Mondays I'll blog about writing. And occasionally I'll have guest bloggers on all kinds of subjects. I'd like to hear what you think about this sort of regular schedule. My web newsletter has only gone out sporadically when I've had something to announce. I'm going to start sending it out quarterly. If you'd like to get on that mailing list go here:

Mom on her 80th last year
Last week, I spent three nights with my mom. The trip to the big city had three purposes - three month full body dermatology check, shopping with mom and an all day writers' workshop in Scottsdale. Mom and I shopped for two days straight at the mall. No wonder I'm under the weather today and staying in bed. I'm not a good shopper. But I felt like the country gal who couldn't get enough of the big city stores! My mom is eighty and she ran me ragged.

Wish I had some interesting pictures of Tortuga Flats to post, but this is that ugly in between time of year. In another week or so we'll (well, not me actually) burn and turn the land. I'll get some of that recorded.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Fire and Mice

The Halloween hullabaloo is over - which for me was several blogs. Prizes are awarded. We didn't get any kids at our door but then we didn't expect any. When houses are acres apart, on rough dirt roads and it's SOOOO dark I wouldn't let my kids trick or treat either. I'm guessing there were things in Chino Valley for kids to do.

We had our own belated trick last night. We switched the AC over to heat and it set the smoke alarms off. It smelled like an electrical fire. There was debate whether it was just the dusty heat smell of using it the first time or not. I say not. Definitely electrical. We turned it off and will try again today in the daylight. Keeping fingers crossed.

We have mice. I happen to think Mice are cute but I DO NOT want them roaming freely in my house. I suppose with the cold temps they are coming into the warmth. When I'm sitting in bed with my laptop and one darts across the floor, I'm not a happy writer. Frank is our mice trap setter. He's got three so far.

Last weekend, we had a family barbecue with my immediate family. We'd hoped for some of Christie's family but her grandmother had surgery and they all stuck close at home. She's fine by the way. Ten minutes before everyone arrived, the well quit. No water. We had some emergency containers so no real problem. We had a great time. But we were without water for three days. Our pump had to be replaced. So very, very glad we had the home warranty program from when we bought the house. This could have cost us thousands. We paid $55 for the deductible. Whew! Our neighbor across the street let us refill our containers as needed. I made a trip to my sister's in Prescott one day and took a real shower. Ah!

Speaking of the neighbor across the street, she adopted Debo, our cat. If you remember, we inherited Debo from a friend. We can't have him in the house cause Christie is allergic so we lock him in the garage at night to protect him from coyotes and feral cats. But he's decided to start peeing on Frank's life jacket. Not nice. Sharon, our neighbor, loves Debo. He spends a lot of time over there anyway. She gladly adopted him. He still comes to visit.

Frank had a birthday. Christie made his requested dinner - pizza and chocolate cake. I think Christie's belly might be getting in her way now. LOL It was quite a feast!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Haunted Garden Halloween Hop

My blog today is part of The Wild Rose Press Haunted Garden Halloween Hop. You can win prizes and enjoy fall, Halloween and have a little fun. You are now trick or treating on my blog. Read on, leave a comment and you could be the winner of the treat - candy of course! BE SURE TO LEAVE YOUR EMAIL IN YOUR COMMENT!!

Part of the garden last March
A month later, rows and planted (all by hand)

I'm supposed to write about something fall related and with all the harvesting done and fall clean up in full swing, the timing is good. I thought I'd share some of the highlights of our past year becoming prairie dwellers and small farmers.

It's been one year this month that Frank retired, we bought a home on acreage in Paulden, Arizona and had no idea what we were in for!

If you haven't been following my prairie posts from the beginning, you might not know why we embarked on this new lifestyle. In the first post, I explained it. And then the farming began. So here goes:

January 2012

What do you do for retirement when the main financial contributor to the household has been out of work for three of the last five years - thanks to the not quite a depression of the last several years - and your retirement accounts have been cut in half due to the same state of affairs? I ask this question knowing so many others have found their life to be in the same fix. Do you work until death do you part? After considering that, we said no.

Two years ago, in the midst of wondering what the last half of our life would be like, my son, Lance, called and proposed we join forces, create our own little commune. Oh, I liked that - always wanted to try that life style way back when. After considering the pros and cons of living under the same roof as our son and his lady, we came up with a plan to do just that.

Peppers, peppers, peppers

June 2012
Farming is not for the faint of heart or weak of limb. Although, Lance is the lead in the vegetable garden and does ninety percent of the work, the other ten percent leaves me exhausted at times.

So now we can add Blister Beetle to our list of pestilent visitors which includes frost (killed eighty tomato plants, damaged the potato plants, froze off the flowers from the peach trees, apricot trees and blackberry bushes), wind which threatened our baby pepper plants and tomato plants, tiny black bugs that nearly destroyed all of our spinach, broccoli and rendered our radish tops really ugly.

Geared for battle
I've been the messenger of death lately - or actually the hand of death. Waging war against weeds is an endless effort, and today I got serious. I took the weed eater to the garden. The heck with hand-pulling in this heat.

July 2012

I'm so excited about the garden today. We're seeing even more vegetables make it to our table and promises of more to come.

August 2012

It's windy here most days at least by mid-morning. But one evening the wind blew so hard we feared for the veggies.

Meanwhile, several things are ready to harvest and we're getting overrun with veggies. We have fourteen more grocery bags of peppers, patty pan, and zucchini sitting in the kitchen waiting to be blanched and frozen. In the fridge, there are bags of purple green beans and okra waiting for the same fate. (side note here: I love okra, the slime factor when blanching it to freeze can make me gag)

September 2012
Harvesting continues. With lots of sneezes and wheezing. Neither Christie or I were bothered during the typical spring allergy season that plagued us in Phoenix. But August and September have been miserable if we work too long in the garden.

That's a single tomato plant
Frank is wondering if he really is retired. Working the farm, keeping up the house and all that goes with it - not much time for the front porch rocker. And right now with all the crops coming in, none us of are twiddling our thumbs. Lance is now calling his dad Pickle. He's getting pretty good at canning pickles and relish.

October 2012
These final harvested veggies aren't pretty. They're survivors, and I'm sure they still have plenty of nutrition. 

To celebrate the fall harvest and the Halloween season, I'm giving away candy - trick or treating blog style. And not just any candy but See's Halloween chocolates. Leave a comment between October 26 and the 31st and I'll enter your name in the drawing. Check out these other blogs during that same time period and see what goodies they're giving away. Good luck!