2014: We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!

slaton black and white on bed 10660153_10203447765213843_6462675026137501480_nWe’ve been really busy this past year!

Let me catch you up to speed in case you have forgotten. Or if you never knew.

About a year ago we were living an idyllic life on the homestead. The temperature sucked, and so did the snow, but life was great. Our less than cozy cabin provided us with all of the luxuries of home. We had our dogs and our cats – and goats, and chickens, and ducks. It was a chore to feed them every day. The toughest part was providing them with water. Ice was easy enough to come by, but water was a different story.

We had decided to have a baby, so we were also working on that. And we had been working on that for the better part of a year. That was pretty frustrating. We didn’t have as much money as we could have used, but we were getting by.

Then we received good and bad news at the same time. We found out that Jen was pregnant at just about the same time that she was fired for not complying with her employer’s demand for her to submit to a flu shot.

I started looking for work. I found it in the little town of Clinton, AR. I don’t have any ill will toward those with whom I worked, but there were some shenanigans going on there. Not to mention the hours and the pay weren’t all that great. But I knew that going into it, so I couldn’t and didn’t complain. I had to get out of that one.

I applied for some positions, and ultimately accepted one in Springfield, MO. Springfield is close enough to family to be practical, and the position fits my skill set quite nicely. So we made the move from Arkansas to Missouri.

The move itself was interesting. We had an apartment lined up. On the day of our move, as we were headed to Springfield, we found out that the leasing agent who we had been working with had let our apartment go to someone else. Jennifer made many calls during that trip (it was a 3 hour trip, after all) to line up some places for us to look at.

Only one place that sounded reasonable had an apartment available for us to move into that day (thanks Joceyln!). We liked it, and it was just a couple of minutes from where I would be working. This was a good thing since I had to start work the next morning at 7 am.

We made it through the spring, and the summer. Baby boy was born without a hitch in September, a little later than expected.  He was born about as naturally as we could manage without having all sorts of questions to answer.  We don’t regret that at all.  We do regret that it wasn’t even more natural.  Maybe things will be different if Slaton has a little brother or sister.

Now we’re into winter. Same temps as last year. Not as much snow. No real hills or ice to speak of. We have electricity, which makes things much warmer, even if less cozy.  We have smartphones, cable, internet, central heat and air, microwave, and water that doesn’t start in the form of ice.  No wood cutting is required to ensure survival. I’m working, and Jennifer’s working. In fact, Jennifer has two jobs in addition to being Slaton’s Super Mommy.

To sum it up, we are laden with the all of the trappings of modern convenience once again.

We also have our 3 dogs, which is pretty inconvenient seeing as how we live on the third floor. We lost our oldest cat after the move. That was pretty sad. We also have 3 more at my mom’s house in Arkansas. That’s pretty sad as well. But the apartment is crowded enough as it is, so the cats won’t be coming anytime soon.

In addition to those things that often define a modern lifestyle, Jennifer has found a nice little motherhood support network. I found a volunteer gig in addition to my full time job. We found a Vegetarian/Vegan group.  We don’t have many friends here yet, but come on; we have a 4 month old!

While we don’t have many friends, I have met many of Springfield’s least wanted, and many of Springfield’s finest. There is a lovely bunch of wannabe gangsters that live here.  417 yall!  But the police employees aren’t half bad.  Maybe better than anywhere we’ve lived so far.  The guys who write the laws are a different story.

091013_2122_DefectiveBu1.jpgWe also discovered a few things about Springfield that would have been nice to know before moving here.  First up, Boomer is illegal here.  They actually put people in jail for violating an ordinance against pit bull dogs and those dogs that look like pit bulls.  Some of our friends have donated money to help us get him legal.  We are almost to a point where we can do it.  I’m not sure how our apartment manager is going to like the big “Warning:  Pit Bull Dog” sign on our door.  Nobody here has a problem with Boomer.  I hope nobody has a problem with the sign.  If you are a fan of pits and not a fan of breed specific legislation, there is an ad on this page where you can donate money to help legalize Boomer. Once he is legal, he and I are going to do some protesting.  Be sure to check back for updates.

Secondly, it is legal to openly carry a firearm or other legal weapon within the city of Springfield.  Who knew?  The fact that Arkansas had just passed a law decriminalizing the carrying of weapons made me a little hesitant to leave, as Arkansas is one of the few states to recognize a person’s right to carry a firearm without a permit or license.  I didn’t know that Missouri had a similar law, only it varies from city to city.  Luckily, Springfield is a city in which it is legal to openly carry a weapon on one’s person.  Why is that lucky?  Let’s just say that I’m not a very popular guy with a certain subset of the populace here in Springfield.

We made a trip back to the homestead a week or so ago. It was the first one in a long time. I’m planning to make those trips much more frequently in the near future. I have a plan to get some things taken care of down there. And we plan to start on a real house in the coming years.

slaton and sock monkey christmas croppedWe can’t wait to move back to the homestead.  We’ve learned some lessons.  We’ve done a little growing.  We know what we will do differently the next time around.  We hope you stay around to see how this turns out.

2014 was really a busy year for us. It brought us all sorts of ups and downs. But here we are!


The Monitor Lizard Who Wasn’t

I’m posting this a little late. I guess you could consider it a “Throwback Thursday” kind of post. I wrote it over a year ago, in the spring of 2013. I was recovering from an almost fatal battle with the flu. That battle gave me a chance to look at things from a different perspective. Life has changed more than just a little for us since I wrote it, but I think the message is still relevant. Here it goes:

Today I managed to get five mounds of cucumbers planted. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I’m still planting. Still planting? That’s misleading. I’m not still planting; I’m really just getting started.

Not that it is entirely my fault. A mouse problem kept us from starting seeds early inside. A late spring didn’t help any, either. Rocky soil, terrain, and shady trees also contributed to the lateness of my planting. And I needed a fence up before planting to keep Boomer from running through the beds.

Add to all of that the normal day to day activity that it takes just to survive on the homestead. Even if there were 5 of me, I would still be planting.

After the cucumber seeds were in the ground, I had to work on getting more poles up for the green beans. Our garden is about as unconventional as we are. We have beds spread out in different places instead of just one big garden. This lets us work around issues caused by rocks, shade and soil. We are also better able to make use of the natural lay of the land to help naturally irrigate the plants.

When I made it to the green bean bed, I found a monitor lizard observing my approach. Well, it was a regular lizard, not his larger cousin, but he had appointed himself monitor of the green bean bed. Doesn’t that make him a monitor lizard? I mean, he was monitoring, after all.

It was a chore to go get my cell phone, which doubles as my camera. But when I returned, the lizard really hammed it up for me. He seemed as interested in me as I was in him.

This is quite the opposite of the green snake I walked up on yesterday. I almost stepped on him because he looked just like a green stick. He wanted nothing to do with me. He couldn’t move very fast due to the coolness of the morning, so he was stuck with me much longer than I assume he wanted to be. I helped him out by putting him on a sunny rock. He quickly warmed up and was off.

Little lizards are easily overlooked or ignored, probably at least as much or maybe more so than green snakes. However, both play important roles in keeping the insect population under control in a natural way. We like natural on our homestead.

I assume that this type of lizard eats insects. I can’t imagine them eating anything else. Judging from the number of lizards I see in a day, I have an army of reptilian warriors ready to help repel the insect army that is surely coming before harvest.

The little green bean monitor lizard was just one of many that I saw sunning themselves – and occasionally scurrying about – in today’s warm sun. There is no doubt that there were birds on the hunt for those same lizards. Maybe even some snakes would have made a meal of lizard had the opportunity presented itself. Not to mention Boomer, who will swallow anything he can get into his mouth. But the lizards didn’t make excuses. They had things to do and they did them when they needed to be done.

Today, the monitor lizard who wasn’t really a Monitor lizard did more for me than devour some insects – he schooled me in the subject of personal responsibility. He helped me realize that I am the only one to blame for not having my garden planted. No excuses. Just get it done. We admire personal responsibility on our homestead.

For all of the philosophical wisdom imparted by the little lizard, he didn’t make a sound.

On The Gray Homestead, we apparently have lizards who teach personal responsibility. We can’t wait to find out what the frogs have to teach us. There are at least 22,487 tadpoles in the pond; surely we can learn something from at least one of them when they crawl out of the water. We’ll keep you posted.



Surviving Change, Surviving Plans, Planning Survival, and reaching 10,000 Views!

We surpassed 10,000 all time views of our blog today! It probably doesn’t mean much to anybody except me, and there are probably a million other blogs that have passed the 10,000 view mark. But still, it’s pretty important to me, even if it has taken us a year or so to get to this point.

I’ve been trying to find some inspiration for posts lately. Maybe this is what I needed.

Writing about our adventures as homesteaders is not very viable at this point, since we aren’t really homesteaders anymore. I’m not sure we were ever anything but wanna be homesteaders. We had some successes, and we didn’t die, so I guess we were at least partial homesteaders. To that point, we’ve been toying around with some ideas about what direction we should take “The Gray Homestead”.

First, our homesteading adventures are going to be a little less frequent. Secondly, with a baby on the way, time for homesteading activities is going to be further reduced. I don’t see us driving a newborn down the road to the cabin. I usually get a new pain in some part of my body every time we make that particular descent. Thirdly, posts about Boomer are extremely popular. Maybe I should post about his adventures at homesteading. Well, in his case, maybe I should post about his adaptation to city life. Boomer has lived most of his life on the homestead. Come to think of it, Apollo was born and raised on the homestead. He’s having a little difficulty conforming to city life, but I digress.

We’re open to suggestions. I am considering spending more time researching other homesteading blogs and reblogging them. I’m also considering commenting on current libertarian issues that could be considered relevant to homesteaders.

One plus side to our moving off of the homestead is that we have learned to appreciate our time on the homestead. We now look back and miss some of the things we took for granted and some of the things that made our homesteading life difficult. But, there are things that we now remember are enjoyable about city life. As I write this, our apartment is at 78 degrees – the coolest it has been since noon. They can’t get our air conditioning problem straightened out. At least on the homestead, when it was hot, we knew why.

I’m also seriously considering offering my services as a home made wine consultant. You provide the ingredients, I will help you make a batch of the most satisfying wine you will ever consume. The first year I tried, I had decent results, especially for a first try. Last year’s wine turned out extremely well, and that wine was made on our off grid homestead, and fermented in some seriously less than ideal conditions, including sub zero and 100+ degree temperatures. Looking back, with a little extra work, I could have drastically increased the alcohol content of the wine during those particularly cold times. Seriously, if you are interested in making some wine, contact me. Blackberries are coming into season, so the time to act is now. The muscadines won’t be in until later in the summer, so start planning now!

Another idea we are playing around with involves opening the homestead up to people who would like to do a little part time homesteading, or maybe just want to try it for a week or a weekend. If this interests you, let us know. We are willing to entertain serious proposals. The homestead is still there, though nature is sure doing a good job of taking it back. We could use someone to help out with it. Surely we could work something out that is beneficial to both us and someone who wants the opportunity to do some part time homesteading – without having to make a large investment.

Also, we would consider consulting for anyone planning to live off grid. It’s a serious undertaking. We benefited from the help of a neighbor who had been living the off grid lifestyle for a couple of years. His experiences were valuable to us. We also learned a lot from my sister and brother in law, who live an on grid homesteading lifestyle. We would like to be able to pass some of what we learned on to others who think they are ready to take the homesteading plunge. One piece of advice that I would like to share with anyone considering the lifestyle without any real life experience with it comes in the form of a quote attributed to Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, a German Field Marshal who served in the late 1800’s: “No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main strength.” In other words, no plan survives first contact with the opposing force. This guy was wise beyond his years. He is actually the guy who came up with representing friendly forces with the color blue, and enemy forces with red. If his plans didn’t survive first contact with the enemy, then no matter how good yours are, yours probably won’t, either. Please consider some help with those plans.

So, if you are in the Ozarks and would like to discuss any of the above over a glass of home made wine (or any beverage), send us a message.

We hope to get back to homesteading in the future. We aren’t really sure when or how, but I’m sure we will. Maybe in 18 years or so?

Here are the stats for thegrayhomestead.com over the last year. We finally passed 10,000 views!

I know the text is small, but this graphic represents where the viewers of our blog live. As you can see, we have readers from many different countries.

The New Normal

I have to start this post out with a disclaimer: we love our cat and my mom. The cat, Meow Meow, has been with us since ’98. Once she was like a child to us, but over the years, she has become more like a cantankerous aunt. My mom has been with us – well, with me at least – since the beginning. And she’s, well, like our mom. We don’t mean to poke fun at either of them. They mean the world to us.

Last year, my mom had a stroke. It was pretty bad, but could have been worse. Mom’s stroke affected her left side, which was lucky for her, since she is right handed. Mom didn’t let the stroke get her down. Her speech is nearly back to normal. She still has a limp, but she doesn’t let that stop her from doing what she wants. She recently bought a small car which is easier to drive than the SUV that she was driving.

Well, that’s all old news. What’s new is that it appears Meow Meow had a stroke earlier this week. I left for work one morning and she wasn’t acting right. She was just lying around. Jen picked me up from work and told me that something was wrong. Meow Meow wasn’t able to stand without falling over.

At first, we feared the worst. We have recently lost 2 cats. However, Meow Meow still had her appetite. I opened a can of cat food and put it front of her. She couldn’t stand up to eat it, but she put a paw on each side of the can and ate almost the whole thing, after I stuck some in her mouth using a straw. I put some water in her mouth using the same method.

She ended up urinating on the towel that I had put under her for comfort. She was hiding in the pantry, which has tile floors. I knew it was bad if she couldn’t make it to the litter box.

But, other than just lying around, she seemed to be ok – as long as she didn’t try to stand up. We just assumed it was something that was terminal. Since she didn’t seem to be in any pain or distress, we just tried to make her comfortable.

I did some research and came to the conclusion that she had a stroke. There doesn’t appear to be much in the way of rehabilitation for cats who have had a stroke. We resigned to just make sure that she was comfortable, hydrated, eating, and eliminating wastes.

As the week went on, however, Meow Meow surprised us. She never really stopped eating. She stopped eating dry food, but she eats as much canned cat food as she ever did. She only started drinking water on her own just today. But she has been as lively as a stroked out cat can be. She started using the litter box pretty quickly, even though she couldn’t walk very far before falling over.

She’s getting around quite well now – at least for short periods. She cleans herself, eats, drinks, uses the litter box, and stands her ground when the dog gets near her. The only way we know that there is something wrong is that she falls over after she has been on her feet for a while. It’s like her legs just won’t work right. She still has control enough over them to scratch herself with them. She still has feeling in both of them, I’ve tested that out. When she walks, she walks on the part of her leg that extends from her foot to her knee, like she has no support from the ankle – at least on one side.

She reminds me a lot of my mom. Mom has to wear an ankle brace on her left leg to keep from falling. And she still falls every now and then. She told us that she fell just the other day when she got up from a chair. She said a stranger had approached the fence to speak to her. Her dogs and Helo barked at the male stranger, while our Boomer stood by her and watched. When he does that, I say he is being skeptical. He doesn’t run away or bark when he’s unsure about a person. He just stands his ground and watches.

So mom stood up to talk to the man, and promptly fell over. She said that the man asked if she was ok, but didn’t offer to come in to help. Toby is a big dog, especially for a mutt, but he’s a baby for sure. That guy didn’t have anything to fear out of Toby, who was barking away at the guy. However, mom said that Boomer stood right by her, just being skeptical. So much for the big bad pit bull!

Mom was ok, the guy left, and things went back to normal – the new normal for mom, and the new normal for Meow Meow.

Thoughts on Springfield

After a month or so in Springfield, I have developed some opinions about this fine city.

First of all, it is a city. Therefore, my opinion may be a little skewed, as I have learned to like life outside the city and all of the freedoms that come with that life.

Springfield roads are bicycle friendly. Springfield drivers are not.

Springfield is not pit bull friendly, but it is bullshit friendly. Really, I cannot find one ordinance against cow feces on the books in Springfield. It’s pretty easy to find the anti pit bull ordinance.

Springfield is Amish friendly, Muslim friendly, and Christian friendly. It’s even mega church and weird church friendly. Springfield is not very agnostic or atheist friendly.

Springfield is beer friendly. And beer friendly it is. This works out well for me because I am as well. Check out Springfield Brewing Company, White River Brewing Company, and Mother’s Brewing Company – all located right here in Springfield.

Springfield is tattoo friendly.

Springfield isn’t all that vegetarian friendly. Moe’s is. Chipotle is. In fact, at both of these dining establishments, the staff has been extremely knowledgeable about the food they serve. We have also tried a local Indian restaurant called Gem of India. While not as vegetarian friendly as other Indian restaurants in which we have dined, the host was more than helpful when we inquired about the vegetarian dishes. When we asked questions for which he did not know the answer, he asked the cooks directly and provided us with frank answers.

The accents are somewhat neutral here. I was expecting more northern accents. I guess Springfield isn’t really northern or southern, so all of the accents kind of wash out.

Sweet tea at the major chains such as McDonald’s and Moe’s is real sweet tea. Any place else is hit or miss. You may get a northern version which just doesn’t taste right.

People here seem to be a little more weight conscious than some of the other places I have lived. In Arkansas, it seems that 5 out of 10 are overweight and out of shape. I would put it closer to 1 or 2 out of 10 here.

There is a large number of scooters traversing the streets here. Small scooters that require no registration. Small scooters that require the driver to have no license. Small scooters that seem impossibly small.

That’s about all I have an opinion on at this point. Check back later for updates.

Is There a War on Dogs?

As you may or may not know, I’ve been doing a lot of posting to Facebook lately about dogs shot and killed by police. Then I saw a Facebook post stating “Its a War on Dogs!” The first thing I noticed about that post is that someone forgot to or didn’t know to include an apostrophe in “it’s.” Then, for some reason, maybe a little imaginary creativeness, I conceived a play on the word “dog” and went off on a wild tangent of searching for “War on God” web sites. That led me to http://hollywoodswar.com/home.html. That led me to nothing, and I went back to thinking about police officers shooting dogs.

I had a dog once that snapped at one of my friends. My dad swore, until the day he died, that he had nothing to do with the 90 lb or so dog’s disappearance days later. At this point in my life, I would be able to understand a person “disappearing” a dog that would bite without real provocation. Police shooting bad dogs is understandable, in some circumstances, I suppose. Of course, I am an unarmed civilian (most of the time) and I do not have ready access to less than lethal forms of weaponry or the hundreds of hours of classroom training or years of on the job training that police officers have. Therefore, I guess I would have to kill a dog much sooner than a police officer. To date, I have been attacked by 4 dogs. I also have 3 dogs, none of which have attacked me. I haven’t had to kill a dog yet. Additionally, I have had to shoot 2 dogs – both of which suffered no lasting effects. Note to officers: “Shotshell” is less than lethal at less than point blank range unless one is intending to kill. If one is shooting to stop the threat, shotshell can get the job done. Probably would work on human attackers as well. I’d like to see a study on that one. Of course, one would have to know how to use it, and the effects that it has when used in most semiautomatic firearms.

Defective Bulldog

We did a lot of research into dog breeds in order to find the most vicious dog breed in the world. We wanted a dog that would rip a person’s throat out with little more than a soft growl as a warning – a dog that would be relentless in an attack. Jennifer wanted said dog to be big.

Big, mostly because Helo, our Bichon-Papillion mix is physically small, regardless of what size his attitude tells him that he is.

My research started with people who work with dogs. However, people who work with dogs think that their breed is the gentlest breed to ever walk the earth. My research continued.

I moved on to looking for academic studies, which were very lacking. Most were laymen and laywomen trying to write academic style papers. These studies seemed to be infomercials for the author’s breed of choice. I continued.

I looked into actual statistics. Statistically, Labrador Retrievers are the most vicious breed as they attack more people annually than any other breed. I have had a few Labs, and they have all been less than fear inspiring. In fact, they were all big babies.

So, I started looking into anecdotal evidence as reported by news agencies. I found that a couple of breeds are all over the news. According to what I read, pit bulls seemed to be exactly what I needed. Many stories reported how a pit bull attacked a person (man, woman, or child) without the slightest provocation or warning. The pit bull is so vicious that they have been banned by local governments throughout the US. This sounds like exactly the kind of dog that I am looking for!

A little over a year ago, we acquired a pit bull as a puppy. We named him “Boomer”. There’s a theme. First one to email it to me is the winner. For whatever good being the winner is. He has a documented pedigree and papers – neither of which is doing me any good.

I think our pit bull is defective. Turns out he isn’t as vicious as promised by the media and local government.

In fact, he seems to be a big baby. One day this past winter, for instance, he didn’t want to get out of bed. Evidently this pit bull is temperature sensitive. He can’t get out of bed if it is too cold. Likewise, he can’t get up before 10 am. Guess this pit bull needs his beauty rest. He refuses to get out of bed before his 26th yawn of the morning, and without proper stretching he just won’t get going. I didn’t find any mention of the propensity for sleeping in, yawning, stretching, or intolerance of cooler temps in any of the literature.

And it turns out that he is intolerant of temperatures over 90 degrees. Unfortunately, we have already reached the 90’s this year. Since we do not use air conditioning on the homestead, the coolness of a hole dug under the cabin (usually that one of the other dogs have dug – he’s a little lazy) must suffice between swims in the pond and in the creek.

He isn’t very fearless, either. He is scared of flyswatters – terrified, actually. He is skeptical of any machine with a motor. And he was scared so badly when confronted by freshly fallen snow (the first snowfall of his life) that he turned around and retreated to an easily defended position – our bed. He also is routinely bullied by Helo, who weighs 17 lbs. Boomer, the supposedly big, bad pit bull, can’t eat until Helo lets him eat. Boomer weighs 70 lbs. His head is almost as big as Helo’s whole body.

He is skeptical of new people. However, once he decides they aren’t going to hurt him, Boomer usually insists on some petting.

I took the picture on the left one chilly winter morning. This is Boomer’s favorite sleeping position: sleeping between his mommy and me. Turns out that Boomer sleeps best in a bed with his humans, just like all vicious dogs! He rests best when his head is on a pillow but even then his snoring is pretty loud. When it’s cold, he needs to be under the cover.

I’m convinced that this picture alone is evidence that Boomer is defective. Vicious, ferocious, 70 something pound dogs bred to kill dogs, men, and children alike, could never lie between two innocent, sleeping people without ripping their throats out – right?

Actually, after meeting other people with pits and pit mixes, I’m beginning to see that Boomer isn’t defective. He is an average pit. Pits with a behavior problem are not average, and they are certainly not the norm. I think that most behavior problems in all dogs are caused by the dog’s interaction with people. They form a personality based on their experiences. If they are taught to be aggressive, they will be aggressive. If mistreated, they may become untrusting and aggressive.

Boomer will sit when told to do so. He will lie down when told to do so. He is learning to stay on command. He has a few people that he likes so much that he cannot help but jump on them. He doesn’t jump on strangers or Jennifer and me. He has no food aggression – I can take his food away from him while he is eating. Boomer and our new puppy eat out of the same bowl at the same time. Helo sometimes lets Boomer eat with him. Boomer will sit with great intensity and watch me eat without as much as a whimper. Boomer has very good manners unless he is overstimulated and even then he’s not aggressive, just very active. Like a bull in a china shop.

There is a problem with pit bulls, and it is not that they are defective. The problem is that some people use them as status symbols, or as a symbol of their own physical prowess. Those people should be banned – not the dog breeds that they favor. Dog breeds aren’t defective; individual dogs are, and most often it’s the caretaker of the bad dog that has caused the dog to be defective.