Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Homeschooling on one income

I just received a comment as follows:

"Patrice: Slightly off topic -- can a family of six homeschool with one parent staying home on a $35K a year income? Thank you for your reply."

Of course they can. However I'm having a busy streak at the moment (getting ready for the preparedness expo, expecting visitors, writing deadlines, etc.), so I'm going to open this up for discussion and invite readers to give their thoughts.

C'mon, folks, let's help her out. How best can a large single-income family homeschool on $35K a year?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Plumbing woes

The first indication that something might be wrong with our plumbing was late last week.

It was early in the morning, before the rest of the family was up. I was doing a load of laundry. During the spin cycle, I kept hearing GLUG GLUG GLUG. What on earth could be glugging? I walked into the bathroom and heard the noise coming from the toilet. Lifting the lid, I saw big air bubbles coming up from the pipes.

Weird. But the washing machine worked fine, so I didn't give it much thought.

Then the toilet started acting up. Always capricious at the best of times, we had to plunge it after almost every use. Okay, doubly weird.

Then someone took a shower and the tub stubbornly refused to drain. This isn't anything unusual -- the drain often clogs -- but this time the tub hadn't drained after a full hour.

So Don snaked the tub. He has to snake the tub every few months anyway. Leaves a mess, but it always works.

Except this time... it didn't.

So the evidence so far: a toilet that bubbles when the washing machine drains; a tub that won't drain; and a toilet that needs constant plunging. The consensus? The septic tank is full.

Okay. Don called the septic guy and made arrangements for him to come out the next day. However this meant we couldn't use any of the facilities in the house.

And I mean nothing. We had plenty of water, but no way to drain it. This meant we couldn't use the toilets, the tub, the sinks, the washing machine, or anything else that required water to exit the premises.

Fortunately I had just washed the dishes, but we couldn't wash any more. Nor could we wash our hands (we used wet wipes). Braving the wind and rain, we used the barn's compost heap when nature called (one of the advantages of not having close neighbors). And we skipped brushing our teeth.

Meanwhile we had to find the septic tank. We had a general idea where it was -- just off the yard -- but didn't know specifically. So we got shovels and started digging. We dug holes here, we dug holes there, we dug and dug until it was too dark to see.

Don took over digging the next morning. He dug here, he dug there, all to no avail. Then he decided to try probing the ground to greater depths, rather than futilely digging in random spots. But what would press downward? He tried clamshells (too unwieldy). He tried a breaker bar (too big). He tried a well rod (too blunt). He tried brass rod (too soft). He finally hit upon an iron rod from an old wagon, of which he ground one end to a sharp point. This allowed him to hammer the rod into the dirt in various places and probe down to three feet.

After several hours, he located the septic tank. Success! Well, partial success. Next he had to locate the hatch leading into it. Using the iron rod and not a little sleuthing, he finally had the hatch located.

Next he had to dig it out. It was, of course, three feet down. Standing in the mud and muck, he dug and dug. (As an aside, I don't hear any feminists volunteer for chores like this whenever they complain about how men don't do enough housework.)

Finally he had a hole down to the cover. Because we've had lots of rain lately, it promptly filled with water.

Don spied a frightened little vole at the bottom. I took a shovel and gently scooped him up and released him. (Voles are annoying in the garden, but they're remarkably docile little critters.)

Finally, late in the afternoon, the welcome rumble of the septic pump truck was heard.

He backed his rig up to the yard gate and snaked his hose through the yard...

...and into the tank (you can see the tank lid on the left).

The pump operator was cheerful, friendly, and efficient. He had the tank empty in about fifteen minutes...

...then he was on his way to the next destination to rescue another desperate family (an unsung hero, in my opinion).

Delighted to have drainage back, I celebrated by doing the dishes and then taking a shower.

But wait! While in the shower, I heard the ominous sound of the toilet going GLUG GLUG GLUG.

Grrrrr. We looked out back and saw that the clean-out pipe was overflowing, indicating that there was a blockage in the pipe somewhere between the house and the septic tank. Don pulled the cap and tried snaking the toilet snake down the pipe, but nothing doing (the snake was too thin and too short).

Grunt. Back to square one, no drainage. Some dear neighbors told the girls they could come shower at their house. Meanwhile Don jumped in the car, drove an hour into the city and hit Home Depot for some plumbing supplies, and drove home again, arriving well past dark.

The supplies he got were a beefy fifty-foot snake, and a drain cleaning bladder (which attaches to a hose, snakes down the drain, inflates to the width of the pipe, and blasts out blockages as it goes). It was too late to fuss with this by the time he got home, so we went to bed with a clogged tub, dirty dishes, and unflushed toilets (back to the compost heap again, whenever nature called).

The next morning we uncoiled the snake...

...and Don started feeding it down the clean-out pipe.

When he thought he had sufficiently loosened up the blockage, he followed it up with the bladder.

Wheeee! At last the pipe was cleaned out!

...Or was it? I did a load of laundry and soon heard the ominous GLUG GLUG GLUG coming up from the toilet. We hastily turned off the washing machine and Don re-inserted the bladder into the clean-out pipe, snaking it as far down as he could, then blasting the water. We could heard it shooting into the now-empty septic tank. This time we let the water run, full blast, for five minutes before shutting it off.

And that seems to have done it. The facilities are working fine and we've heard no more air bubbles coming up from the toilet. It also gave us a DEEP appreciation for the wonders of working plumbing!

It also made me re-appreciate my clever and hard-working husband who got himself filthy on our behalf... and, not incidentally, solved our plumbing woes without having to call a plumber.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Ugly people

Many years ago when we lived in Oregon, we knew a woman who occasionally worked at our local library as a substitute librarian. It would be hard to find someone who was uglier than this poor woman. She had scraggly black hair heavily leaning toward gray, blackened and rotting teeth (many of which were missing), and a plump shapeless body.

And I have seldom met anyone so beautiful.

I'm serious -- she exuded a sort of goodness from every pore that, within thirty seconds of talking with her, you forgot all about what she looked like and only saw what she WAS like.

She and her husband (who, I might add, doted on her) had raised their kids and were in the process of taking in a succession of foster children, some of whom they adopted. While I have little patience or liking for CPS, the world needs more foster parents like these. This lady was a natural mother, blending love and consistency and strictness into a wonderful whole.

Recently I saw a Bible verse highlighted: "The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

This struck me as eminently sensible on the part of the Lord. We're not all blessed to be model-beautiful. Those who are beautiful are noticed immediately -- it's a human characteristic to appreciate physical beauty -- but it doesn't take people long to figure out whether beauty is skin deep or body-deep.

While I have no doubt this librarian was occasionally snarked by thoughtless and shallow people who saw only her poor teeth and unattractive face, those of us lucky enough to know her a little better saw the ugliness swallowed up by the inner beauty. And, not incidentally, those fortunate beautiful people who open their mouths and spew hatred and vitriol are soon enough viewed as the ugly people they are.

Do people notice pearly white teeth or a pearly white soul? Do people noticed blackened and broken teeth, or a blackened and broken soul?

Audrey Hepburn, whom I admire because her beauty was far more than skin deep, was once asked how to be beautiful. Her immortal response:

"For attractive lips, speak words of kindness. For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people. For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry. For beautiful hair, let a child run his/her fingers through it once a day. For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone. People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of each of your arms. As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands; one for helping yourself, and the other for helping others."

Another sage, Marguerite de Valois, once observed, "Have a care lest the wrinkles in the face extend to the heart."

I would far rather be friends with the ugly librarian than the beautiful people who might mock her for her ugliness.

Just some thoughts on a chilly Friday morning.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Magazine article illustrations

Recently I submitted an article to Backwoods Home Magazine entitled "Disposing of Disposables." I heavily used all your extremely helpful input you sent in response to my request on this subject.

The following photos are for possible inclusion with the article for purposes of illustration. I'm posting them here so my editor can choose which ones she wants.

Photo 1 -- A drawer-ful of terrycloth dish towels

Photo 2 -- Recently washed Ziplock bags upended over utensils to dry

Photo 3 -- Cloth napkins

Photo 4 -- Plastic food containers and "shower cap"-style plastic covers

Photo 5 -- Tattler reusable canning lids

Photo 6 -- Old-fashioned metal "butterfly" razors

Photo 7 -- Bandanas. We have dozens.

Photo 8 -- Rechargeable batters, AAA and AA

Photo 9 -- Battery charger -- can be powered by solar or electricity

Photo 10 -- Corelle dishes resist breakage

Photo 11 -- Shark upright bagless vacuum cleaner

Photo 12 -- Gold mesh reusable coffee filter

Photo 13 -- Cheap wash clothes in storage as reusable toilet wipes

Photo 14 -- Used aluminum foil, folded and waiting for another use

Photo 15 -- A terrycloth dish towel always hangs by the kitchen sink.

Photo 16 -- The towel holder works by snagging the corner of the towel. Because the adhesive isn't very strong, we reinforced it with a screw to hold it tightly in place.

Photo 17 -- A bulk bale of 60 terrycloth towels lasts for years

Photo 18 -- The rag basket holds old absorbent fabrics of all types, suitable for messy cleanup jobs

Photo 19 -- Cloth diapers, washed and drying in the sun

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Northwest Preparedness Expo

I'll be a speaker at the upcoming Northwest Preparedness Expo on May 2 and 3 in Prosser, WA (right outside of the Tri-Cities area in the SW corner of the state).

I'll be giving three talks (two subjects) -- Preparedness 101, and Prepping on a Budget.

Friday, May 2
- 2:30, Preparedness 101

Saturday, May 3
- 1:00, Preparedness 101
- 2:30, Prepping on a Budget

As a speaker, they're giving me a table where I'll have some copies of the Simplicity Primer available for sale; but if there's room, I may be hanging out at the Backwoods Home Magazine booth (not sure which).

Admission is $10 for anyone over 13, but I have some $2 coupons available, if anyone would like one. If you're interested, please drop a note to and include your name and mailing address.

Please do NOT request a coupon unless you honestly believe you can attend (in other words, I won't be mailing any of these to readers in, say, Florida or Maine or something).

Hope to meet some readers at the expo!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Resurrection Sunday

Our Sunday started out beautiful and sunny. Here the morning shadows stretch long from the east.

The animals lounged under the awning.

Smoky greeted the morning on top an old tire.

Everyone seemed pleased by the mild spring weather...

...including pretty little Dusty.

Later in the morning we attended a community-wide church service, since it was led by our pastor. We’d never been to a service this large – so big, in fact, that it was moved into a college performance hall.

We didn’t know what to expect, but in fact it was splendid… even if things were a bit more “showy” than we’re used to. But the pastor gave a rip-roaring joyful sermon (he's a joyful guy anyway), and we came away energized.

No one in our neighborhood potluck had any special plans for this weekend, so we decided to have a Pascal feast (at our house, since it's our turn to host). As I post this, we have a turkey roasting in the oven. The house is clean, the stuffing is made, and our Lord is risen.

Happy Resurrection Day!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Missing the point

Here's a comment representing an alternate viewpoint that someone just left on an older post on butchering one of our young bull calves, Beefy.

Killing is always painful. Beefy lived with you as a family member with the hope that he is safe and protected in your family. But you people butchered it. Instead of rearing more animals restrict and protect the existing animals. They will feel blessed and you in turn will be blessed by jesus to compensate for the loss. Just save one animal and see. You will feel great when you see it happy.

I'm afraid this person is missing the point of raising cattle. We're not raising them for pets -- we're raising them for milk and meat. We're not looking to expand our herd so we can be blessed with more cattle -- we're looking to expand our herd to continue feeding us.

Just saying.

Anyone missing an old photo?

This morning I received an email from a woman named Mary Ellen as follows:

I purchased a copy of "The Simplicity Primer" at Goodwill in Nashville TN and found a snapshot inside of a lovely young woman holding a precious baby. On the back it reads, "spring or summer '52." Goodwill of course has no clue as to owner. I thought if it was someone who followed your blog, and you mentioned it, they would get in touch with you and I'll send it to them. The photo is in excellent condition so it meant something to someone. Thank you.

I thought it was very kind of Mary Ellen to try and reunite the photo with its owner, and she gave permission to post her email.

So -- if anyone recognizes this photo, please contact me at and I'll forward your claim to Mary Ellen.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Life without Ruby

Thank you for all your support for our difficult decision to butcher one of our herd matriarchs, Ruby. The butchering went off without a hitch last Monday.

So what is life like without Ruby? As predicted, much calmer.

And I mean, seriously calmer. The big test comes each morning and afternoon when we feed under the barn awning.

Up to this point we fed over two fences -- the barn awning, and another fence into the feed lot. The reason for this is because Ruby would literally take over either one feeding spot or the other while she ate, while much of the herd would ebb and flow to the other feeding spots in accordance to Ruby's whims. Anything to get away from those horns. With that jittery dynamic no longer a factor, everyone has been grazing more peacefully under the awning, protected from the weather as they're supposed to be.

The animals still jockey for position, of course, but that's just normal pecking-order stuff.

I've been keeping an eye on Alice, Ruby's calf. At ten months she's certainly old enough to be without her mother, but that doesn't mean she wants to, if you know what I mean. But because we always make sure butchering is done out of sight of the herd, Alice doesn't know her mother is dead, just gone. So far she's adjusting fine, with a minimum of fuss.

But I did catch her sneaking a drink from Matilda, along with Matilda's calf Amy.

God bless Matilda, whom we affectionately call our Universal Donor. At one point three calves were trying to cop a drink, which is pretty funny since she only has two working quarters. But it's nice to know there's a little comfort food for Alice if she needs it.

One of the reasons we were anxious to see what life would be like without Ruby is because we plan to build feed boxes this fall, under the awning. Feed boxes would reduce the amount of wasted hay, as well as keep it cleaner (out of mud, poop, and urine). But feed boxes assume you don't have a domineering horned animal going around goring everyone.

So for the moment life is peaceful once more. It's really amazing how one animal can affect the herd dynamics so strongly.

Our other herd matriarch, Jet, has been in the bull pen with Samson, our bull, for the winter. When she comes out, we'll see what happens as far as dominance goes. Jet is also fairly bossy and she has horns, but she's never had an ornery mean streak as Ruby had, and was never inclined to gore other animals.

If that changes... well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.