Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Rendering Lard

I’ve tried to explain our process for rendering lard to people and never feel like I do a good job. So when we rendered a pile of lard that we got from a friend that had a pig butchered, I took some pictures of our process.

 We have a 45 qt cast iron kettle that we put on a cut off 55 gal drum that Mike cut into a base for the fire.

We cut the lard into chunks and add a little bit, about a cup or so, of water in the bottom of the kettle. We cook the lard until all the chunks are soft and starting to float. 

Then we add in a few pounds of potatoes cut into chunks. The potatoes serve two purposes. They help to pull impurities out of the lard and make it white. They also make a great snack.

We continue to cook the lard, stirring almost continually. When the potatoes are golden and the cracklins are also golden and floating we remove it from the heat and scoop it into the lard press.

The lard press is an old family friend.

For those who haven’t seen one before, I’ll explain a little on how they work. There is a grid in the bottom of the press that fits inside a metal sleeve that is perforated. This holds the chunks inside the press and allows the lard to flow out the bottom. We put a wine filter bag over the spout as well. We spoon everything into the press and wind the plate down to press all the lard out of the cracklins.

So what are cracklins? They are simply the flesh that holds the lard. When cooked, pressed and salted they make a great snack and some people grind them and put them into cornbread.

When the lard and cracklins are all pressed and the lard is in a pan we then filter again through a wine filter bag into jars. If it is hot enough we just top with lids and they seal. If not hot enough we water bath them for 10 min to seal them.
We use lard for deep frying, just about every frying we do, pie crusts, and biscuits.

We eat the potatoes and cracklins get put into a container after they are cooled and kept for a snack.
Some people render lard in a roaster or a slow cooker. Ive done it in a roaster in the oven but this is so much quicker and we have better results. The whole process today took less then an hour.
If you have never had French fries deep fried in pure lard you are missing out.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Is a little peace too much to ask?

Yesterday was a bit of a stressful day here in the mountains. Everything seemed normal and calm. I was cleaning up from baking for 2 weeks, holidays, and then recovering from an illness that decided to pay us a visit. Watching movies with the granddaughters and just relaxing.

Should add that we live off grid, 6.5 miles from blacktop, 10 miles from a gas station and 40 miles from a larger town.

Our son was fixing a neighbor’s 4 wheeler and was going to plow the driveway if he could get it fixed. He and the youngest granddaughter took it for a ride and there was a guy who was not dressed for the elements walking along our road. He said that he and a friend got stuck in the mountain and ran out of gas. Son gave him a ride down to our place and the only vehicle here was the one wood truck. He left with the granddaughter and the walker to go into town, 10 miles away that has a gas station, to get gas for our other truck and this guys truck. 20 min after they left I got a text from a friend that works in town that there had been a shooting by our house and asked who lived at an address. I called her right away and told her that they had left in the wood truck with a stranger and were headed into town. She told me that the sheriffs and Highway Patrol were all over town. We had no way to contact my son or to let him know that he had a criminal, possibly armed, in the truck with him and his daughter.

Called husband at work and told him to start home and keep and eye out for son because we didn’t know where he was going at this point. Called Sheriff department and gave them a description of the guy, son, granddaughter and truck. Then waited…

Husband got to town and found son in the fire station being questioned and called to let us know he was OK. Called the neighbors, 2 miles away, and let them know that there was still an armed guy who was wounded running around out here.

One neighbor is ½ mile from us and she was home alone with 2 kids and not very good cell service. Her husband was at the end of our road, 6 ½ miles away, with my husband and they couldn’t get a hold of her. She has no idea what is going on. I had no vehicles here that ran to get there. Tried to start the 4-wheeler and couldn’t start it. So I took 3 dogs, big dogs, my gun and cell phone and went for a walk. Thru waist deep snow drifts then down the road ½ mile to find her house empty. She had gotten a text from her husband to come to my house and decided to go to town instead. I called husband who was with the deputies and told him I was walking back and he gave the sheriffs my description so they wouldn’t shoot me. Got back home and brought in enough wood for the night so we didn’t have to go out after dark if it wasn’t resolved by then. Sat on the couch with the pistol on my lap and the rifle by my side watching movies with the girls.

They got the guy in another cabin about a mile from our house and finally let everyone come home.

Yesterday my cell phone was a very important tool to us. It allowed us to know that there was a danger we would have otherwise not known about. It allowed us to communicate to neighbors, family and the sheriffs. Vital information was exchanged. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be sitting here with no idea what happened to them when they left and didn’t come back. And I don’t want to think about what would have happened if the other guy would have come to our house with a story about an accident and we would have had no idea that he was armed and the circumstances.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Off grid anniversary!!

One year ago today we moved off grid. No batteries. No solar panels. No water. But we had a lot… We had: a 1950’s trailer with an addition that we had stripped out and cleaned up.  A wood stove.  A generator.  A few battery powered lights. A battery powered shower pump. 20 gallons worth of water jugs. 93 years (between us) of learning from our grandparents, parents and any way else we could prepare for this. A dream. Guts.

We have made a lot of progress on our goals this year but not as far as we wanted to be at this point. 

We had a lot of clean up to do and we have most of it done.  Last winter we spent one day every weekend tearing down and cleaning up and starting a fire. The next day was feeding the fire and cutting firewood for the house. We made it just fine.

So where are we now? We now have goats and kids, chickens and a garden spot for next spring. We have the area cleared out for the house build in the spring. We have a barn that is almost finished for the goats and a chicken house for the chickens. We have a 1000 gal tank for water that we fill from the neighbors well or from town until we develop a spring or dig a well. We have a composting toilet system in place. We have solar panels and batteries so the generator is just a back up now.  Yesterday we installed a water heater shower unit.  It’s not pretty but yet it’s beautiful.

We wanted to have our house done by this winter but unfortunately that was not to be. Mike was only working part time during the summer and we didn’t have the funds to dig out for the house. It was very discouraging to not be able to get that done, but we are comfortable in our home. I am in a job that I love and Mike now has a job that he likes as well. Our dream was never to be able to make a living off of our land so having good jobs was very important. Everything happens for a reason and sometimes you just have to wait for the blessing cause it comes in its own time.

So one year later we are happy, and have had some interesting experiences.

Something that has amused us is the responses people have said upon learning about us living off grid. Here are some samples for your own information or amusement:

Do you go to bed when it gets dark?  No we have lights just like you.

How are you online if you are off grid? Well, this is 2016 and we have this nifty little thing called a cell phone that is equipped with a hot spot. Actually, this one is a little controversial because some people believe off grid is like going back in time. This isn’t the case in most situations. Most off gidders embrace technology and we probably have a better understanding of it then most grid connected people. We need to be able to understand how solar power works and what a charge controller or inverter does as well as the difference between AC and DC or pure sine wave and modified sine wave power. On grid is just plug it in and it works.

How do you cook? Well on a stove or in an oven of course.

How do you get food? Anything we do not grow ourselves we buy at the store. We are in Montana not Antartica.

What do you do for heat? Wood stove

How do you keep your clothes clean? We don’t.  We wash them at a Laundromat until we get a better source of water and more power for our own washer.

How do you wash dishes? In the sink, that is possible ya know.

Where do you go to bathe? UUUHHH… My shower.

The best was when Mike went for a job and they found out he lived off grid. They expressed concern that he wouldn’t be clean enough to work in the garage. You know like we don’t shower everyday and put on clean clothes.

And the latest: You are still connected to the grid, it is just a self reliant one. This one is like saying my car is public transportation for just my family.

Most people have been really supportive and genuinely interested in what we are doing. Their questions are just a way of learning. But it is a sense of amusement.

It’s always an adventure and we enjoy most of it. One year closer to our goals.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

You win some, you lose some.

We had our first kids born here this week. Beautiful babies. Mike had to help with the delivery a little, but every thing ended up fine. First time mama is doing very well.

We have always taken the kids immediately after they were born. We milked and this would allow us to milk and get the kids away early. However our barn isn’t finished and the goat that delivered first is a mini so hand milking is very difficult. She does have a nice bag and looks to be a good producer but very difficult to milk with such tiny nipples. So we have left the kids with her. She will let us milk her but we are allowing the kids to drink as well. Not entirely sure how that will work out, but we will see.

Because the  barn isn’t done the goats are also not in a fence. The goats are out at night because of the bear activity. I don’t want a bear to get into the pen and they have no where to go. They freely raom the property and keep the weeds under control.  But we were a little concerned with coyotes and bears after the kids.  Our neighbor on our back line lost 3 lambs a couple of weeks ago and we didn’t want that to happen here. So we brought up a dog pen and stuck it up by the house with mama and babies in it for the first night. They did well and after that she didn’t keep them in there and instead buts them in the crawl space under the house. The other goats all stay close and keep guard.
One thing that we have noticed is how much goats act like deer. Mama will take the kids somewhere and put them down to nap, then wander off to graze. Then she comes back to get them, much like a deer does with a fawn. Of course a fawn doesn’t have a dog keeping an eye on them like these kids do. Our cockapoo , Reese, thinks that he has to watch them if mom isn’t near, and of course they get plenty of attention from the girls. 

A few weeks ago we traded our buck and a bred boar doe for a doe in milk. When we looked at her she was healthy and happy. When they brought her a week later, she was very ill and appeared starving. We spent a week nursing her back to health. Finally got her healthy and was able to get some milk from her. She was the goat that didn’t know she was a goat and she always wanted in the house and wouldn’t run with the other goats. She was finally starting to make friends and would go to the meadow with them and we were hopeful that she would be fine. 2 nights ago we were awakened by a goat screaming outside the living room window. She was on the ground in obvious distress. All the signs were anaphylactic shock. We have no idea what actually happened to put her in that condition. No sign of injury or illness.  I know that we should have epinephrine on hand, and we always did when we had goats before, but every trip to the store I’ve forgotten it. So my negligence led to us losing our first goat here.  I believe that her body and organs were damaged from the state she was in when she came here and despite our efforts to get her healthy again, it was too much for her. We have no idea how old she was but from experience, I would guess at least 5 years maybe more. I do know that whatever happened to her before, but she was happy, cared for and loved the last few weeks of her life.

Everything doesn’t go as planned all of the time but you learn from it and go on.  You accept the good with the bad. This life isn’t all good and wonderful. Some parts are very tough to deal with, but it is all worth it.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

some updates.....

Been busy around here the past few weeks. Since we only have a short summer we get as much done as we can. We got the rest of the trailers torn down and the rubbish burnt. 

I will need to add that pic later as I didn't bring it with me. 

We have been working on the barn. I will try to take some video this weekend when we are working on it. 

We also have officially started on our house. One log peeled!!! Only 50 or so to go. 

Have a good week everyone!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Turning a dream, into a plan and into reality

The name of our blog and Facebook page is “ Nothing happens unless first a dream.” It is a very profound statement if you stop to think about it. Some people have no dreams or no vision of where they want to be. I feel sorry for those people.  Most people have a dream of where they want to be in 10 years or before retirement or some other milestone marker.

We’ve been told we are dreamers and have unrealistic dreams. Our dream was to live off grid in the mountains in Montana. Crazy? Maybe. Unrealistic? Nope. No dream is unrealistic, unless you are dreaming of living on mars or something like that.

The Plan

Dreams are not enough to get you where you are going. You must turn those dreams into a plan if you want them to become a reality.  The difference between them is that a plan has goals and deadlines. We have always had a plan, but when a plan wasn’t going to work, we regrouped and made a new plan. We went from a fifth wheel camper in a campground to a home in a converted garage on a piece of land that we were looking to buy.  We could have made it work but it wasn’t going to ever get us to our dream. It was beside a highway, on grid and didn’t meet our criteria.
One segment of a good plan should define the tangible elements of the dream in quantifiable measures. We laid out a list of criteria a long time ago about what we wanted in a piece of land.
Our land needed to be:

South facing and in the mountains
Some trees
A workable home site and garden site or greenhouse location
Access to water
Winter access
Not too far from some “civilization”

Notice I didn’t have good growing soil on the list. I knew that we could amend the soil to be able to get us to a suitable soil.

We were able to find this property by a private sale and it met all the criteria but one. No water. There is a year round creek across the road and by talking to neighbors and others we knew there are several seasonal springs on the land. I also researched the wells in the area and found that the 2 closest to us were under 100 feet. So water wasn’t a concern as it was a fixable issue, and we could haul water till that issue was resolved. It is south facing, has a lot of trees, is 10 miles from the local gas station/convenience store and is located on a county maintained road.

There were good places for building and gardening. The land also had a LOT of makeshift buildings on it. Some of them were nothing more than a slide in truck camper set into the ground and a makeshift frame built around it covered in tarps.

So our plan had changed again. We were planning on buying bare land, starting from scratch, camping for the summer while we built a house, and having things in place before winter. Instead there we were cleaning up 12 plus years of neglect, moving to a piece of property we had only spent 3 weekends on, in October, in the middle of a snowstorm. We had taken a trailer that was in the best shape and stripped it out and scrubbed and painted to make it livable for the winter. This wasn’t our original plan but it was still a path to our dream.  See the difference?  Your plan is the road to get you there but it needs to be flexible.  Unless you have an unlimited amount of money to accomplish your dreams, you need to be able to have a flexible plan to resolve the different issues that pop up along the way.

This doesn’t just apply to moving off the grid or homesteading. My daughter had a dream of being an RN. She started school in a very good nursing school. Circumstances on where she was living and working for school made her change her plan. She changed schools. She didn’t change her career, her dream, but she did change her path, her plan. She is now an RN living in a different state then she planned, in a relationship she didn’t plan, having a life she didn’t plan, and these are all improvements, but she has realized her dream.

Don’t sabotage your dream without a flexible plan.

It is so easy to get stuck on a plan and not change it and sabotage your dream in the process. When we first got to our land we planned on putting the house on the east side of the land and the barn on the west. A few weeks in we noticed that the barn would have the best view, best access and best shelter from the wind. So we flipped it. That meant more work, because we had to remove three trailers that were fastened together under a large roof and filled with trash before we could even start on our house, but it was the right move to make.  We also planned on putting in a larger barn that would house our goats, milking area, feed storage and chickens. Then a bear showed up and began making a pest of himself. So now we have built a smaller chicken coop, that has no food storage, and a smaller barn that will house the goats, milking area, some food storage and is built from logs to keep the pesky bear out.  We will also put in a separate animal food storage area later. We can keep enough food for a couple of weeks in the barn but we would like to be able to store a couple of months in another building.

The reality

Our reality is that our dreams are not fully realized yet. We have the land, we’ve cleared a lot of trash, we’ve built some things we needed, but it is not a full realization of our dream. We have a long way to go but we are still working our plan. Our full dream is still out there in front of us. We have a destination in mind and we can see it. It is so close we can almost taste it. We have accomplished parts of it so part of the dream has come true. Some parts have gone thru the complete dream, plan, and reality process, and it is so rewarding to see parts of your dream in place and be able to fully visualize the rest.

You can turn dreams into reality. You just need a plan to get there.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

After effects

So you have probably all seen our show on Discovery. We have dealt with a lot of emotions this week regarding the show and the after math. We have had old friends that were really concerned that we were starving and that thought that we were on the verge of breaking up.  They thought that I had transformed into some crazy woman and poor Mike couldn’t do anything to make me happy.  We even got a letter from a well meaning , although a little crazy, homeless woman that wanted to come live with us and teach us all she knew about gardening. 

We have been told that we are pathetic, live in a rat trap, and are failures or will fail. People feel sorry for Mike cause I am not happy with anything and we fight all the time. None of this is the truth. We are happy and do not fight. We are living the life we want to live and building our home, not just a house, together. We are not failures in anything and will not fail.

The show was able to portray me that way because they are the ones that made me mad. They flat out lied about a lot of things and wanted me to lie. Well I don’t lie and when you make me mad, I don’t hide it either. They also thought they were going to make me do some things that I wasn’t going to do. Like bring my goats here when we didn’t even have feed bowls for them or feed or even a water bucket. I fought for my animals because no animal deserves to be treated that way.  They also would not put anything in place to make it easier to accomplish our future goals. Kept telling me that I make too many plans and dream too big. Tried to convince me to not make any plans just make it through today. That is a recipe for failure if I ever saw one.

Mike doesn’t like confrontation and wouldn’t give them any, he just sent them to me. That is the way we work.  Kind of better that way because it would have been a whole different kind of show had his temper flared up.

It didn’t really bother me too much. Kind of just dealt with things and moved on. Then Friday night happened. We don’t have cable or satellite so I didn’t get to watch the show.  I saw some comments before I went to bed and then when I got up in the morning. I was shocked and appalled at what this has turned into. I guess it didn’t push my buttons when it was me but when it was someone else, well…

I had exercised extreme restraint in the past week, for the most part, but this pushed some buttons for me. The couple on Friday nights show were shown like they abused their animals. People were saying things like the ASPCA should have been called. Their friends and people who knew them were defending them  and posting links to their farm website and facebook pages that showed what their life was really like.  The fact that they were misrepresented even worse then we were really made me mad. I felt so bad for them.

So I went back to social media and started responding to people that believe everything they see on TV.  Had some good conversations and cleared some things up. Most people were seeing through the editing but things didn’t make sense to them.

So you may ask, why did we do this show. Well at first it was presented that they wanted to show people what it was like to live off grid. How hard it was and what it was really like. They talked about putting in a well, a house, barn stuff we needed. When you look at all we had to do, just bringing in an excavator for a couple of days is a huge help. So that is why we did it, not that we “needed” the help but because it would have given us a leg up.

There are things that we are not supposed to talk about and reveal to the public but people deserve to know that some things are not as they seem.  Later I will do a post that has all the down and dirty details on what not to do. If discovery wants to do a show about living off grid and actually inform some people then they should actually listen to people who live it and show the why behind some of the stuff not the drama. I feel really sorry for folks that watch this and think that some of these things work.

But we don’t work all the time. We have fun too. Last weekend we went fishing with some friends. So this is how my hubby spent father’s day. Fishing in the Missouri river.