Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Extra Photos can be found here for those who have expressed an interest and appreciation.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Crazy Dog: Still Crazy

Silly, silly Big Man. Everyone knows that our modern culture is based on nothing but adoration of and interest in all things banal.

Many of you have inquired about how our bizarre and troubled pooch, Ursula, is adjusting to country life. Robbed of all the threats of the city, such as garbage trucks, school buses, passers-by and loud noises at all hours, she has identified the largest local threat, and bravely guards the Big Man and I against it. This threat is a herd of happy beef cows, that pasture within view (and hearing) of our living room.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Backstory

It's occurred to me that some of you readers may not be totally up on the path we walked along to get to where we are. I can be piss poor at keeping in touch, and I know Johnson has her lazy moments as well. I'm going to try to keep things short, I have to cover at least four months.

Johnson's masters program, in Islamic studies, was due up in May of this year. Neither of us were particularly fond of Chicago as a city, although our friends there were stellar and there are many friendships that were just starting when we left, ones I hope I'll have a chance to develop in the future. That being said, we were ready for a change, and we'd always planned on living rurally. We decided to move back to Philadelphia for four years, buy a place, save up some money and move to the country as our next step. I had an exciting job at a school I liked, and Johnson could find work doing something at least vaguely related to the degree she just dropped a mint on.

Then I didn't get the job, and we got to thinking about whether the intermediate city phase was necessary. We determined, through careful calculations, that we had enough savings to take the risk so we jumped in with both feet. We moved from Chicago the second week of June, a comedy of errors in and of itself, and shacked up with Becky's parents in Youngstown, OH while we figured our shit out. We had decided to look in three geographical areas, Western MA and CT, Eastern PA and central upstate NY. We picked the first two because we'd be within 50 miles of a major city or populated area where we could hopefully market our wares, and get jobs in the meantime. We keep the Ithaca region as an option because people around here are coo coo for local sustainable food, and we're still within the radius of the NYC farmers market system so we'd have marketing options. I contacted realtors in all three areas. Our stipulations were simple: less than $150,000, at least 5 acres of tillable land, and no manufactured homes. We were priced out of western CT instantly, none of the 10 realtors I wrote to or called would get back to me. I had a few fish on the hook in PA, but that waned quickly as well.

Not to go off on a tangent, but realtors suck. They're useless. I don't mean to offend, but even within the Ithaca area EVERY property we saw I found a listing for on the internet. Every single one. We worked with three realtors, since they won't drive more than 15 miles from their office, and all they were good for was knowing the combos for the lockboxes. You're telling me they deserve 3.5% for knowing how to open the door (I even had to help them figure out the door locks on at least three houses)?

We ended up spending two weeks in July at my Aunt Pam's house up in Lodi, NY while we looked about. We saw a total of 36 properties, if I remember correctly, and ultimately settled on this nice little parcel I'm sitting in. The house is old, at least a hundred years, and it's showing it's age in a few ways. All in all, it was the most acreage and the best barn for the money, and the house is very serviceable, for the most part it's square, level, plumb, and true. I just roughed in 19 window openings and I only had to shim more than a 1/2" over 5' once, don't know if you can say that about many 40 year old homes let alone 100 year old ones. The property is covered in trash, to the point that I have trouble verbalizing the scale. We've already dropped three tons off at the dump, a lot of it demolition waste, and I wouldn't be surprised if we pulled another 20 tons out by the time we're done. Here's a picture of the upper barn, to give you an idea.

It's hard to tell, but that general refuse is atop about 2 feet of rotted hay. I plan to scrap the metal I can, burn as much paper, cardboard and wood as I can find, sprinkle the hay around the field like I'm Tim Robbins in The Shawshank Redemption, and then pay to haul away the rest. The county only charges $40 a ton for whatever I bring 'em, so I'm not complaining.

We closed on 9/11, the day the world changed, ultimately paying $115,000 for the property and around $3500 in closing costs. Our property taxes are about $2300 a year, so after our mortgage payment (~$600 a month) and our homeowners policy (~$600 a year) we still come out below what we were paying to rent a relative postage stamp in Chicago.

finally, I realized that not many people know the origin of our nicknames. I hope it's not too cutesy, but Johnson seems to have stuck pretty well to Becky, a few friends call her that exclusively, and I figure I should suffer the same fate. So, without going into the ooey gooey lovey dovey details, here are the two videos that can explain it all.

This one's a one hit wonder:

This is part of a series, if you haven't seen the entirety of R. Kelly's Trapped In The Closet, you haven't lived.

Last but not least, this post was inspired by a question from a friend, and while Johnson seems quite content to post based on our regular Goings on, I tend to find that somewhat banal. If you have a question or something you'd like me to expound upon, drop a comment.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Hole in the Wall

We were ripping out windows, and one led to a particularly troubling discovery of rot. We knew something like that might be coming, since there were vines living in the wall (!)

But we were not expecting so much rot. So much rot, in fact, that there was a snake living in the wall -- Big Man found four different molts of skin under there.

We worked until 10 pm rebuilding the wall with cement and new wood.

We also decided to restore the original style...two windows symmetrical with the upstairs, instead of the picture window that had been added later. An interesting observation is that all the structural problems with the house seem to stem from these later additions and changes.

The whereabouts of the snake are currently unknown.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A bit of perspective

I really like maps. I have a few maps in my brain that I constantly reference, it might be one of those autistic mannerisms I'm so often labeled with. With that in mind, I wanted to flesh out some of the things around us.

View Larger Map

our house is the "A." I guess that could go without saying, but just in case. As you can see by zooming in, the barn is on the other side of the road, an interesting and challenging layout. Just yesterday I was saying to Johnson that if I could change one thing about the property I'd change the lay of the land, it's an odd shape and the slopes change up frequently. In actuality I hope that we can work with our odd shaped parcel and make it more useful and productive than others would. The large body of water to the northwest is Nanticoke Lake, not be confused with the town of Nanticoke. It is a state owned fishing preserve and we walk Ursula there daily. She is trying desperately to learn our new set of commands regarding walking off leash, I'm sure her sides are sore from me kneeing her in the right direction. I'm guessing the lake is entirely man-made, although the southern side is the only one that is artificial. When you come we can swim in it.

The large factory farm near us is to the northeast, further down Caldwell Hill. They milk 1500 cows, and this satellite imagery must be old because they now have at least two more barns. if you look along the southwestern side of their complex you can see the large concrete bins they've made to hold hay and manure, like a mother and child reunion. This farm does not bale hay, which I've never seen before, they just truck it in, dump it and cover it. at the northeastern corner of their complex you can see their poo lagoon, which was eluded to by Johnson. Surprisingly, we have not been more than 200 feet down Squedunk road, there may be all kinds of crazy shit down there. If you feel like it pan around and look for stuff we should check out. I know there's at least one teenager up there who's more than happy to dig a pit in his backyard and burn tires, there'll be more on that later.

Now you may be wondering which land is ours? so are we, to be honest. There are some old fences around, but I don't think we should trust them. Here's an image of our tax map, don't forget our land is on both sides of the street. the Zs mean that two separate parcels share an owner. I apologize for the poor quality of these, I'm tired, besides the fact that Photoshop and Blogger don't seem to get along. All of the images are clickable, you'll see a better version if you click through.

These tax maps are wonderfully nosey and voyeuristic, some parcels that look small from the road are immense, and the inverse is true as well. Finally, Here's the Google Map with our boundary outlined. Much of this land I have yet to step foot on, Johnson and I have only been in the lower pasture onece, about two months ago, and we both got lost.

Friday, September 18, 2009


A new-to-us neighborhood issue. We share the road with 1,500 cows who live in a barn. A waste "lagoon" swelters nearby.

Factory dairy operations out west are also an issue for immigrant workers (as are many mass food production jobs), profiled here (this article also gives a useful general overview of factory dairy practices. I was especially floored to learn that a mere 40 years ago American dairies had an average of 19 cows. Two years ago the average was 550.)

The Nation has a whole issue on food and democracy. Predictably, I am especially enamored of Michael Pollan's contribution (I had forgotten about Jimmy Carter's solar panels on the White House!! As it turns out, there is going to be a documentary about these very solar panels' travels and tribulations since Carter installed them). Pollan quotes Wendell Berry, a writer, philosopher, and essayist who has been promoting sustainable agriculture for decades:

"To be interested in food but not in food production is clearly absurd. Urban conservationists may feel entitled to be unconcerned about food production because they are not farmers. But they can't be let off so easily, for they are all farming by proxy. They can eat only if land is farmed on their behalf by somebody somewhere in some fashion. If conservationists will attempt to resume responsibility for their need to eat, they will be led back fairly directly to all their previous concerns for the welfare of nature."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

First Burn

The Big Man decided that the burn barrel was an optional amenity, and took this opportunity to prove to me that "Grass doesn't burn. Well, it burns but, you know, doesn't burn."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Note on our First Post

Ah yes, the "no buying processed foods" thing. Well, taking a lesson from the government, we quickly decided that the ongoing Wars on Mice, Trash and Substandard Home "Improvements" were going to take too much time and energy for the somewhat lofty idea of making our own, say, tortilla chips, crackers and cereal. At least until these fronts are stable, we may slip a box of mac and cheese and a jar of pasta sauce into the cart every once in a while. First we win in the Afghanistan of making our house smell nice, THEN we take on the more ideological, less pressing Iraq of the food industry.

It's Official

As of Friday, approximately 3:15 pm: We own the farm. The fields full of goldenrod, the house full of mice, the barn full of trash. We have cleaned (the first floor of the house, half of the first floor of the barn) and moved our lives into the first floor. The dining room is the bedroom, an old dresser is kitchen storage. The War on Mice, Trash and Previous Owners' Substandard Building has begun.

Move-in was, as seems to be tradition with us, hectic, wet, slippery and dark. But it happened, and it was followed by a bottle of champagne that had, apparently, drifted by balloon into the pasture. Today it started to feel really like it was ours...I think the sun, the lingering smell of last night's first non-pb&j supper, and the delivery of the ny times this morning had something to do with that.

And now, with a To Do list of epic proportions, the work really begins. First on the list is the 2nd floor of the house, accompanied by scattered hours of trash hauling by the trailer load to the dump.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What we are doing, and Why we are doing it

Ah, mission statements. Nothing could be more intimidating to write, and potentially boring to read. We'll keep this short and sweet.

The Big Man and I have lived in cities. We have had bosses, commuted to sundry employments, encountered idiotic landlords and neighbors, reveled in accidental gems of neighbors, been thankful for 24-hour public transportation and enjoyed instant access to burritos, pizzas, karaoke and microbrews. We have cursed the crowds and gloried in the energy. It was nice. Nevertheless, all the while we had anticipated an end to this urban period; we would transition smoothly to the next phase of our existence when the time felt right, sometime in the Future.

Then Plan A fell through; followed quickly by the demise of Plan B. And we found ourselves with, basically, no plans but that Future one, the one involving the end of the urban period. We rethought the timeline; we fled the city. We bought a farm. We are going to be farmers.

Moreover, we are going to try to make as much as we can from scratch. Have a garden that will supply us with as much year-round produce as possible. Grow our own meat. Make our own jams, tomato sauces, breads, beer. Build our own furnace. The things we cannot make we will hunt for in waste streams (whey for the pigs, waste vegetable oil for the cars). Try to get the animals to do the work of a tractor, of fertilizer, of pest control, so we can spend more time sitting around a fire, swimming in a lake, and catching wild yeast.