Monthly Archives: May 2021

The Great Kentucky Adventure, Vol 3, part 1: Ice Follies

Descent Into The Long Winter

At dark-thirty on New Year’s Day, we made the last, treacherous slide down the long, winding, icy driveway with the final load of our possessions and animals. Seven people, three horses, a cow and calf, and FIFTEEN dogs arrived. This included a brand-new litter born to a nervous first-time mom, who proceeded to nip the landlady our first day there. Not an auspicious beginning (Side note: At this point in our homesteading adventures, I will be the first to admit we were not the most responsible animal owners. We were so excited to start our farm life that we rushed in unprepared and overdid the large animal and multiple dog thing. This is probably our biggest regret, and fortunately, we have grown and learned a lot since then. Before we left Kentucky, we made sure that all our livestock were rehomed with people who were able to care for them properly).

The next day, Mike was in the laundry room installing the washing machine. Suddenly we hear “Get a bucket, quick!” The plumbing was very old and brittle because the house had been sitting vacant for many years, unheated. The main 2″ PVC pipe had shattered. There stood Mike, unsuccessfully attempting to stem back the deluge with his hands, while icy water sprayed him from head to toe. Having just moved in, it took a frantic couple of minutes to locate the water main and shut it off. In the meantime, we fashioned a pitiful bucket brigade, which was no match against the frigid waterfall. By the time our mop-up operation was done, that laundry room floor had never been cleaner.

Slip-Sliding Away

That driveway. 1/5 mile of rocky, muddy, serpentine twists and turns going down a 30-degree grade. At this time, I was a stay-at-home Gram-Gram, and my three adult kids were working in Stanton. Most nights when they came home, they had to park at the top of the driveway and slide down on foot. It became a game of driveway roulette: “It’s not supposed to ice tonight; should we risk driving down the driveway? Will we get out tomorrow?”

One night the kids gambled and lost. We were trapped there for days, while Mike, Jenny, and Justin were out on their hands and knees, chipping the ice in the driveway, putting gravel in the sunny spots, and praying for enough melt to get the truck out.

Flu Fun
Photo by Katerina Holmes on

Jenny and Justin did not succumb to the flu that January, but the rest of us went down like a ton of bricks. We turned Mike and Jen’s bedroom into a sickroom, and Mike, the kids and I lived there for over a week, sleeping and trying to take care of one another. It was far and away the worst flu we have ever experienced. To this day Mike says, “I finally understood that you could possibly die from the flu, because I felt THAT sick.”

We suffered a week or so of near-constant catatonic sleep. This was punctuated frequently by rib-cracking coughing episodes during which we got to watch a partial episode of Calliou before passing out again. Finally, Mike and I felt ready to attempt some real food. Having the recent expenses of moving and the adults missing days due to ice storms, there was really nothing to eat.

That night, Jenny came home with all the ingredients to make a huge pot of chili, which would feed us for a couple days. While I love to cook, I long ago abdicated the chili creation to Jenny; while mine is fine, hers is epic. We all came downstairs to finally enjoy a few bites of some delicious food together as a family, and then go back to sleep.

We had not been able to buy a refrigerator yet, so the big shelving unit in the huge screened in back porch became “Jackie’s Fridge” for the winter. The massive pot of leftover chili was placed there, with happiness and anticipation that we had some real food to look forward to. Fast-forward to morning. Apparently, the door from the kitchen to the back porch had not quite been closed all the way, a fact which was quickly discovered by our insatiable mama dog, Alice. We woke up to a very satisfied dog and a nearly empty pot of chili.

The rest of that winter passed rather uneventfully, and we settled into a grey, depressing routine. Mike, Jen, and Justin worked every day, and I stayed home with the kids. We had no dryer, so a spare bedroom was converted into a makeshift drying room, with clothesline, a fan, and a dehumidifier. It actually worked quite well; laundry dried quickly, albeit stiffly. This massive house had electric heat and sat right on top of an underground lake, so we were cold all the time. I spent my days trying to clean this depressing, moldy house; I baked a lot of bread and scoured Jackie’s Fridge for leftovers I could fashion into some kind of healthy soup or stew for dinner.

The One Bright Spot

For all its drawbacks, this new house had one huge plus: We moved right next to Jimmy and Bonnie! On cold, boring winter afternoons the kids and I would bundle up and walk through the woods to go visit Bonnie and her daughter. The kids would play, and Bonnie and I would visit and chat by their cozy wood-burner in their adorable cabin.

One afternoon in the early spring, the kids and I got ready to make the trek to Jimmy and Bonnie’s place. Alice had a habit of wanting to follow us there and then starting trouble with their dogs. Alice’s puppies were bigger now and she didn’t mind leaving them for a while. After repeated warnings to get back home, it was apparent that Alice was determined to accompany us. So I put her on the lead that was wrapped around the corner porch post, surrounded by her pups, and away we went.

After a lovely afternoon of visiting our friends, we headed back home. As we came out of the woods onto the driveway, I looked down at the house. Something was very, very, wrong. Alice was nowhere to be seen. And even more importantly, the corner of the porch roof was falling down! In her zeal to come with us, Alice had pulled so hard on the lead that she had managed to pull the entire supporting post down. Alice was a strong, beefy dog. And Alice was cowering under the porch, safe and unharmed.

I brought the dogs safely in the house and waited for the other adults to come home. Fortunately, they were able to fix everything in short order and nothing was damaged.

The Search for a New Home
Photo by Athena on

Spring and summer at Jackie’s house were not all that terrible. We spent a lot of time visiting our friends on the mountain and swimming in the local rivers. Justin and Jenny explored caves, much to the chagrin of the rest of the family. It was in the woods behind Jackie’s house where Jenny, the kids, and I spent a glorious afternoon picking morels for the first time. When it became unbearably hot, we lined an old waterbed frame with a tarp and made a refreshing, chest-high sitting pool. Many hours were spent there relaxing with some frosty beers (We had finally bought a fridge). Downside: Frogs like to lay eggs in pools. The first time we discovered this was quite an experience. The frog “slime” tends to lie in the bottom of the pool, so you don’t really notice it until you get in and start moving the water around. Suddenly you’re wondering why the water is literally slimy. It’s a pretty big yuck factor. So we took to just dumping the water frequently and refilling the pool every day.

While Jackie’s house was fairly survivable when the weather was pleasant, we all knew that there was no way we wanted to spend another miserable winter there. The fact that we were sitting on a giant sinkhole over an underground lake was not comforting. In the few months we were there, we watched the shape of the stream in the backyard changing as parts of it sunk. And so began the search for another new place on the mountain…

Next: The Great Kentucky Adventure, Vol 4, part 1: A Deal Too Good To Be True

The Homestead Grows…

“Real Life”
Mike plowing the new garden like a REAL farmer, with a tractor and plow!

After my ridiculous call week of 71 hours in 5 days, I woke up Saturday morning at 5 ready to jump into what I like to call my “real life.” The plan was to find a used washing machine to replace our dead one and then get to work on the farm. We drove the 30 minutes to Houston, MO, only to receive a call that the washing machine we were going to look at had been sold.

As fate would have it, there was a big auction going on at the fairgrounds. We decided to see what was there. We walked in, immediately won a much-needed new stove for $20.00, and then wasted the next several hours waiting for something else good to come along. We should have just taken the stove and left. But it was fun, and we enjoyed the afternoon.

Playing “Chicken” With The Weather

My greenhouse seedling nursery has been bursting at the seams! I up-potted, and those larger pots are already too small. Everything is root-bound right now, and looking quite peaked, droopy, and sad. The issue is the weather. We are having such cold snaps that it is a crap-shoot regarding timing of transplanting. Tomatoes in zone 6B should be out on Mother’s Day. But with lows of 37 degrees, that’s not a very good idea. Our other issue is that I have nowhere to plant said vegetables. The ground has been so very wet that we have been unable to till up the ground. Now that Mike has fixed the tractor, he will be able to continue his project of directing rainwater runoff so that our living and gardening area is no longer a swamp. Unfortunately, we are in for another 4-5 days of heavy rain, so my poor plants continue to suffer in their tiny pots. I finally made the choice to tuck what I could where I could outside so that at least we will have some fresh veggies this summer. Our growing season is pretty long, so I am hoping my late starts will do fine. I also have the greenhouse, which is just overflowing with food.

The archway Justin built last year from cattle panels revealed a happy surprise when I removed the pots from last year: Mulch had broken down into a nice, black soil that was full of earthworms! I mixed in some sand, peat moss, potting soil, and my very first batch of homemade compost and got to planting.

I found that squash and tomatoes are good companion plants, so I put in a little of everything: Three varieties of Heirloom tomatoes, a zucchini, a cucumber plant, and two White Ghost pumpkin plants. I can’t wait to see them all making a living, green tunnel of food!

The Greenhouse

I have totally revamped my approach to growing in my greenhouse this year. When I first started, I ever-so-carefully made arrow-straight rows of lettuce and spinach, everything spaced the way the seed packet said. It was picture-perfect. But I realized that Nature does not flourish like this. Nature has variety and symbiotic relationships and an ecosystem. This year, my summer greenhouse garden is a chaotically-organized tableau of companion plants in varying stages of maturity, which will ensure a steady supply of many garden basics: Lettuce, spinach, onions, carrots, nasturtium, tomatoes, and peppers. Nothing is labeled, because I really don’t care. I can see with my eyes the difference between buttercrunch and oak leaf lettuce. It is so much fun to go “shopping” for dinner!

Next Steps

We are STILL waiting on Mike and Jen’s tax refund to arrive so we can get started on our forever home. Fortunately, there is plenty of work to be done while we’re waiting. Next on the list is to get proper ventilation in the greenhouse so we don’t have the stunted growth and awful tomato production we did last year due to ridiculously high temps. Mike has some plans for some ventilation windows built into the sides of the greenhouse. We will be installing the shade cloth we got last year. The row cover inside will need to be rolled up and tucked out of the way to make room for the tomatoes’ rapid vertical growth.

I’ve ordered the carburetor for our second better-quality weedwhacker, so that two people can now work on beating back the ever-encroaching brush and grasses. We are also awaiting the new steering kit for our little John Deere tractor, which has been sitting idle since last summer. Mike is designing a trailer for it with a boom so that super heavy containers can be moved with ease by old ladies like me! We are also repurposing an RV water tank for the trailer, adding a pump, and we will be able to drive 45 gallons of water to any garden on the property and not be reliant on the length of our hoses!

If it ever dries out Mike will plow up the garden close to the kitchen and the old pig pen area. Then we’ll be able to till it with my new tiller and start getting food in the ground!

Saturday Night Sauna

Saturday night we had an all too-rare sauna, which was absolutely healing and relaxing. Justin is our resident pyromaniac, so he got that sucker roaring: 200 degrees! The sauna is part of Mike’s cabin, and it was entirely designed and built by him and grandson Gabe. We spent many cold winter nights enjoying its comfort!

The best way to enjoy a super hot sauna (at least, the way we do it), is to get yourself very warm, and by the time you are ready for a rinse in the shower, you will be simply pouring sweat. Walk into the shower room and take a shower as cold/cool as you can stand it. If you shut the shower off and you’re still steaming, you’re not cool enough! Get back into the sauna and repeat. Because my muscles are warm, I like to do some long stretches. It feels so good to move in that heat! My chronic neck, back, and shoulder pain is greatly relived after some stretching in the sauna. An added bonus is then sleeping like a baby!

Back to the World

Tomorrow starts another work week, and I am kind of sad about that. Please don’t get me wrong. I love my job. I love what I do (I’m a dialysis nurse, by the way.). I get great fulfillment in helping people feel better as a direct result of my treatments. But my heart, my soul, and my passion is inspired by what we are doing here on our homestead. I am never more alive than when my family and I are sitting around the campfire tossing ideas around and refining plans for this place. The thought of taking some dirt and some seeds, nurturing them into a harvest, and then preparing or preserving that food for my family is simply joy to me. I look around me and all I see is either what we created, or what we are creating. I see it all as beauty. I often forget that to outside eyes, this place is a little, ummm, rugged. Some would even feel sorry for us. But in reality, I feel sorry for them.

To find joy and satisfaction in the pursuit of one’s loftiest and grandest dreams and desires is to truly live. And even though I wish I had more time to travel this path, I am immensely grateful to have had the opportunity at all. So many live and die trapped in their little boxes of conformity, never knowing the satisfaction that comes from living fearlessly.

Peace to you!

The Great Kentucky Adventure, Vol 2, part 3: Losing Everything

Photo by Enric Cruz Lu00f3pez on
Cascading Failures

Our second summer at Sam’s house was mostly enjoyable, but there were some storm clouds looming. Primarily, the mountain began chewing up our vehicles. First, my old PT Cruiser simply could not handle the mountainous 1:20 drive to and from work each day in Lexington, and one day, she just gave up the ghost.

Having limited funds precluded us from obtaining a more reliable vehicle, so we began a downward spiral of desperately-purchased, poorly maintained used cars which promptly all died in various spectacular ways. In that last year at Sam’s we went through a total of SIX vehicles.

Finally, with no other options, I was regretfully forced to terminate my employment at the hospital. This left us with Jenny and Justin working at the closest jobs possible at a factory down in Stanton, and I began a new chapter as a stay-at-home homeschooling Grandma. We had one vehicle for seven people and some very meager income. To say we were struggling would be an understatement.

Losing Our Beautiful Mountain Home

Of course, at this point, purchasing Sam’s property as originally intended was simply not going to happen. It was in the fall that Sam put the property on the market. In short order, a wealthy South African gentleman expressed interest. The realtor arranged a walkthrough of the home. It was understood by all that we would be able to remain on the property as renters if he decided to purchase it.

Appalachian Kentucky has animals (and some people!) that wish to do you harm. Like many rural families, we kept firearms for sport and protection. So right around Thanksgiving, the walkthrough was scheduled and the couple came and looked at the house.

Shortly after, we heard from Sam. The South African gentleman was going to purchase the property; however, there was a change in plans: Because they saw our firearms, they no longer wished for us to continue renting there. No negotiations, no compromises. You have a month to get out. Merry Christmas!

At this time, we had seven people, three horses and a colt, a cow and a calf, and dogs. So very many dogs, including one with a brand new litter of puppies! We also had no money at all for a security deposit nor for a U-Haul.

By this time, however, a few of the locals had somewhat accepted us and were a little bit more helpful to us in finding a rental on the mountain. We were introduced to Jackie and his wife Johanna, who lived in a nice home on Watson’s Ridge. Jackie had his old family home on the mountain, about a mile from Sam’s. We explained our situation to him, and he agreed to let us stay there with one caveat. The house had been vacant for years and was not only filthy, but mildew had permeated everything. In lieu of a security deposit, we were to clean the house.

It was not the most ideal situation for us; the driveway was treacherous, steep, and impassable during ice storms, and the house was precariously situated on a gigantic sinkhole over an underground reservoir. However, there was room for people and animals and we were not going to be homeless on a remote Kentucky mountain in the winter.

So the rush was on. Our entire family spent a full week, including all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, with buckets of bleach water, mops, and rags scrubbing away the grime, filth, and mildew that covered every square inch of this cold, desolate home. One bathroom was so moldy and decaying as to be unusable, and we simply kept that door closed for our entire stay there. Bedrooms were filled with debris, which all needed to be bagged and taken to the dump.

And so, for the second time in my life, I moved house on New Years’ Day…

Next: The Great Kentucky Adventure Vol 3, Part 1: Ice Follies