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Today we are halfway through our second full month of budgeting on a single income, and staying on track so far. This is also my first week back to working five eight-hour days instead of four “tens”. It has been a long week but nice to get home a little earlier. Even though my job right now lacks the challenge and meaning I long for, I am fortunate to have it and look forward to where it might lead. Heading to town for work while D heads down the hill for work continues to feel right. We are so thankful that at this time in our lives, we aren’t tied to two incomes. D works harder than anyone I know, and his work pays in money saved (showing up now in smaller gas and grocery bills) and inner peace gained (for both of us). So, here are a few pretty updates.

We’ve been eating LOTS of vegetables. Shelly beans, tomatoes, and potatoes are doing especially well. D has the garden in really amazing shape, and our double fence/chicken run has so far been successful at keeping unwanted pests out. We took the goats over from my parents almost four years ago, and haven’t bred them in two summers due to time constraints. This summer, missing the sight of baby goats I am guessing, Dad bought a new Boer buck, Gibbs. Gibbs will breed our females when he gets a little older, but until then, he is busy being cute and hanging out with his pal, Davy. And with Adella in her new pasture, D is making progress breaking her to work. He has even been on her back a few times!

D and I spend Sunday evenings with his family on Pine Mountain. His family has shared the mountain with mining companies for decades (for more about mining in Spruce Pine, check out this recent article in Our State magazine, featuring an interview with Derrick’s cousin!). A few Sundays ago we walked to the top of the mine, and it was such a thrilling sight, to see the exposed gashes next to whole green ridges, banks of snow-white sand against the summer evening light. It reminded me of how complicated this area’s relationship with mining is. More about this in another post, maybe.

We also had a visit from family. Look at these two flower girls in our garden. We showed them the horse and the chickens. It was a joy to share some of our home with them.

As it is a joy, dear readers, to share with you. More later!

And as is usually the case, photo credits to D.

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year four

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Summer slithers toward the blue certainty of another October. Vines lengthen. Fruit ripens. Animals grow. Flowers start to seed.

I trudge to Spruce Pine and back every day. I come in, change, pick up the dirty tomatoes and hold them, one by one, under the cool clear water. I exhale the stale dust that has hovered eight hours between my keyboard and screen, inhale the thick, sunny steam of our kitchen.

I want to hear about his day.

He calls me to ask about punctuating the haiku he is writing as his Instagram caption.

I text him a question about our weekend plans.

We load the canoe.

We irritate one another.

We walk up the road in the evening light, back down in the glow of August’s hazy moon.

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‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free/’Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,/And when we find ourselves in the place just right,/’Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

 

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we did it! (or “budgeting and pictures and a kevin costner link!”)

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Today marks an important milestone for the Smith-Cook Homestead. Even though we’ve been at it for seven weeks now, last month D still had a couple last paychecks come in, so July was the true test of our financial stability with a single income. Despite all our planning and budgeting and reassuring ourselves, I was still curious (and a little nervous) to see how it would go. I worked on a detailed budget that allows me to track every purchase we make and sort them into categories. For each category, I allocated a certain amount for the month, which was based on spending in that category over the last three months. The total allocated amount for the month was a little less than my monthly paycheck. Our hope was to have a tad left each month to go towards our checking account buffer (one month’s expenses). Once the buffer is met, those small monthly surpluses can go to savings….And we did it!

I know this all sounds like basic budgeting, but I learned a lot this month:

  1. I found that the trick to building up our checking account buffer, for emergencies or direct debit mishaps, is to keep our monthly income fixed as one month’s actual income, NOT our checking account balance (which changes from month to month). That way, I don’t end up mindlessly spending because my balance went up a bit (especially right after getting paid, for example). Instead, our fixed income starts over and stays the same each month, and we are forced to spend within that amount. Those small (okay tiny) surpluses each month will slowly contribute to our buffer, without us really thinking about them because again, we are working from my monthly income, not our checking account balance. Maybe it is common sense, but it has helped me this month and I hope we can keep it up!
  2. I also realized that this change is forcing us to change our lifestyle in ways that we wanted, but probably could/would not have done if we were both still working. Kind of like the whole “if you build it, he will come” idea, but sort of backwards. If you want to live in a more sustainable way, you may have to reduce your financial income, which will cause you to reduce spending, which will force you to live more sustainably, or something like that. Yeah. I love you, Kevin Costner.

Anyway, enough boring money talk! Lot’s happening this week, here are a few highlights. D discovered Tomato Hornworms munching on our plants and fruits this week. So nasty, so destructive, and so camouflage! Once the chickens overcame their fear of these large, strange pests, they took care of the problem for us.

The livestock have been enjoying the cool summer. One of D’s recent projects has been getting the horse moved down to the pasture at my grandparents’ old house. Here, the land is flatter and she is closer to our house, both of which should make it easier for D to work with her. After a few days of repairs on the fence left by the previous renters, she was ready for the move. The rams and weathers now have access to her shed, which they seem pleased with.

The chickens have also been playing musical coops this week. We moved the teenagers from the mobile coop to the big run, where they’ll hopefully teach our three lazy, unproductive Dominiques how to be real chickens! The youngest brood moved up into the mobile coop, where they have a little more room and green grass. Soon we hope to have all 22 birds in the big run that surrounds the garden, eating bugs and weeds and laying yummy eggs.

We are right on the cusp of that time of summer when everything seems to ripen overnight, and we get inundated with vegetables. We’ve been enjoying onions, radishes, peas, beets, lettuce, summer squash, potatoes, shelly beans, tomatoes and rhubarb for weeks now, but it is looking like several things are all going to come in any day. D will be busy with canning, freezing and drying, and I will be grateful for his presence at home.

Finally, we had two wild animal sightings this week! Vicious creatures!

All in all, it has been a wonderful month. Thanks for reading, and for your prayers and kind comments. I will keep you posted!

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showers of blessings (and rain)

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D and I are approaching the end of Week Six of our new normal, homesteading on a single income, and it is starting to feel less like a big terrifying risk and more like a comfortable, though exhausting, routine. In general, life seems to be running more smoothly, thanks in large part to many blessings we’ve received lately. This post is devoted to some of those blessings, with photo credits to Nell Smith and D.

After two straight days of rain, the clouds broke on Harrell Hill and we had a bridal shower for my brother’s sweet fiance, Rachel. It was beautiful. She was even more beautiful. Friends and family and babies attended. It was perfect.

The weekend also included a visit from Brianna, our sweet cousin who we don’t see enough and who always brings joy and light when she comes.

We’ve seen more of the sweet boy this summer, thanks to his Dad and his Rachel. I am so grateful for our family who keeps on working for love, learning and grace, even when we aren’t always the most graceful at it. And for Corn Hole. We (mostly D) have enjoyed many hours of Corn Hole fun with the boards his brother made for us.

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On a slightly darker note, we’ve had a black snake in the chicken coop! Thatcher caught her in the act of eating an egg two weeks ago, and then D found her with the baby chicks last week! Thankfully, she has been taken far, far away. It is a blessing to share our home with other living creatures, reminding us that we aren’t in control of all things, that the cycles of life continue regardless of us…

I think I had the funnest day of my life (seriously) canoeing and tubing the Toe River from Spruce Pine to Penland. I now want to be on the river ALL the time. I am thankful for the days of rain we’ve had that will feed plants and streams and make for good canoeing.

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And above, the table and chairs that now brighten our living room, thanks to Aunt Deb and our local thrift store! We continue to enjoy working in, around and on our little home.

This summer, unlike some past ones, we have had timed to help friends, cook for family, and even recreate some, blessings I am so very thankful for.

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What mother among you?

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What mother among you, when you heard about the kids at the border
Didn’t feel a wrench in your gut like a key turning a deadbolt,
An urge to set out walking, running
To race out the front door of your office
Or tell your husband you’re sorry but maybe you’ll be back,
To catch a ride,
To blow your life’s little savings and
By whatever means necessary
To get yourself down there?

Who among you who sent your sweet firstborn
To preschool or daycare or her first day of highschool or her first day on the job
Can resist that pull deep and low in your stomach
To struggle through roads and routes
And maybe soldiers and people and night,
To knock on doors and hold up your hands in innocence
Or knot up your your fingers into fists and fight and spit,
And just get yourself down there,

And find one, just one child
And stroke his hair and tell him,
“Yes! I know; I know. Yes!”?

Who, like me, looks again to the half-written email or spreadsheet
And sits, tense in your chair, holding your breath between your shoulder blades
Until the intestinal clench moves upward, farther into your chest and throat,
Where guilt and helplessness go?

Child detainees in a holding cell at a Border Patrol facility in Brownsville, Texas (http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2014/07/15/331477447/who-is-smuggling-immigrant-children-across-the-border)

 

 

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sweet summer

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All is well in summer. We are in the middle of Week Four of homesteading on a single income, and so far things are continuing to be pretty wonderful. The holiday brought a lapse in posts, so here is a little update.

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A video posted by Dora (@doravsmith5) on

A few highlights:

  • Listening to the sweet peeps of new chicks
  • Canoeing with the boy and tubing the Toe (check out this amazing resource: Toe River Canoe Trail!)
  • Eating D’s summer specialty,  smoked pork
  • Inhaling cool rainy evenings
  • Observing the magic of the Rhododendron maximum and the slow ripening of tomatoes

As summer continues, I can only hope for more of the same. I’d also like to give photo credit for my header image to my very talented little sister, Nell Smith.

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week two

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Week Two is almost through, and while lots of important work got accomplished, thanks in HUGE part to D’s mom and dad (more below), D also captured some pretty neat fellas during his time at home this week. They were just too cute not to share!

Now, for the very big homesteading job that got tackled this week. Last summer we bought some Jacob sheep (jsba.org) from our neighbors who were moving. We weren’t sure what we’d do with them, but they were there, we had fence, and I loved them (wu wei style!). Unfortunately, we didn’t get them sheared last summer because it was so late in the season, we were worried their wool wouldn’t grow back in time to keep them warm for winter (we also had no idea how or who might be able to do such a job). This year, we were determined to get them sheared. They were starting to look like woolly mammoths, and they were clearly miserable in the heat of spring. We got some names of local shearers from fellow Jacob breeders, but had trouble tracking them down. Apparently there is a shortage of skilled shearers in the region. So, we called on Diane, D’s mom. He had a hunch that she would be a good hand with the electric shears, and he watched some videos about how to hold the sheep to keep them still. His hunch proved correct!

Diane and Kenny came down and sheared three sheep one morning and four the next. She did such a good job and the sheep are so much happier! D and I are blessed to have such wonderful, helpful parents. Not every mother-in-law would jump right in when asked to come a shear and bunch of dirty sheep! Thank you Kenny and Di!!!

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week one

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It is almost the end of D’s first week at home (and since I am working four ten-hour days this summer, it is definitely the end of my time in front of a computer for the week). I won’t write for D (and hope he’ll write some later), but for me this week has been strange, wonderful, freeing and blessed. I left for work Monday morning feeling a weight rise from my shoulders, a deep peace knowing that he was home. When I came home that evening I was bursting to know the details of his day. I am marveling at the big and little improvements he’s already made. A few updates:

At the top of D’s list: Daily work with our horse, Adela. We bought her with hopes of breaking her to work a plow, but so far have barely had time to see her.

The chickens have moved up to a larger coop. Pretty soon they’ll be ready for the big run which surrounds our entire garden!

A real weekend! Now that D can contribute to work at home during the week, we can actually spend some time together on the weekends (instead of playing catch up on chores on Saturdays). We checked out two local farmers markets to see what folks were selling, and spent the afternoon hiking around Mt. Mitchell.

Supper. I don’t want to gloat, so I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

One of the most gratifying changes for me so far has been that we now have time for evening walks. So precious, these strolls have made a huge difference in my overall sense of well-being.

D has already had a couple requests for help and catering, and he has actually been able to consider them, since he would have time to do them now. More updates coming soon!

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a new light

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With the change I wrote about in the last post, I’ve seen a new lightness in D’s step, and a new light illuminating our home.