Monday, January 27, 2014


We had our biggest snow of the season this weekend, with around four inches of accumulation. I wasn't home to see it, though, as I was visiting a friend in Lexington. It snowed there as well, and I was totally caught off guard when we got out early Saturday morning to find no roads had been cleared, not even the Interstate.

Temperatures were warmer yesterday, and by the time I came home yesterday most of the show had melted. The warmer temperatures are forecasted to stick around, though, and we're looking at another round of bitter cold. This winter is definitely shaping up to be a cold one.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Obtaining Raw Milk Via a Herd Share

Andrea and I recently bought into a herd share, as a way of obtaining raw milk. Unfortunately, in Kentucky this is the only way of legally obtaining raw milk, short of raising the cows yourself. The selling of raw milk is illegal by state law. There are, however, no laws regarding herd shares. There has been legislation proposed to protect herd share arrangements, but so far nothing has been past. For those of who do not live in Kentucky, you can check this graphic, from the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund to find out your state's position on war milk and/or herd shares.

For those of you not familiar with a herd share, I"ll give a brief summary. Basically, a herd share is an arrangement in which multiple people buy a share of an animal, such as a dairy cow or goat. By having part ownership of the animal you are then allowed a portion of the milk it produces. A regular fee is then paid to the person who houses the animal, to help pay for feed, milking, and any other care that may be needed.

I learned of this particular herd share through an online group, and we emailed the organizer a couple of times, before we decided to sign up. The farm is a just over 20 miles away, but because it is on the way to Berea, Richmond, or Lexington, we figured we could manage a trip per week. Andrea will normally be doing the pickup, but I was able to go with her the first day, which was good since I was already familiar with the area in which the farm is located.

On the day of the first pick up, we headed out immediately after I got off from work. We had no idea what to expect, so were a bit nervous. Once we arrived at the farm we were greeted by Amy, who runs the herd share, and then given a tour. We first met the resident farm dog, and then met the cows and calves, and were shown where treats for them are kept in case we want to interact with them on subsequent visits. We were then shown around the barn and milking room.

Amy has a nice setup, with a newly constructed room off of the barn specifically for the herd share. Before the addition of the room she was operating it off of the front porch of her house, which I imagine was less convenient for all involved. She explained the pick up process, which is very straight forward. The door to the room is left open, so we can help ourselves if she isn't around. The milk is stored in a refrigerator so it can be kept cold. Each bottle is labeled, so there is no confusion as to which bottles to take. There is a table to the side on which the empty, and cleaned, bottles from the previous week can be left

There was a $25 up front buy in fee, and a $25 per month fee for the herd share.. This entitles us to one gallon of milk per week, during the milking season, which is estimated at nine to ten months. This is more milk that we typically use, but we expect to be able to find uses for the excess. At $6.25 per gallon, the cost of the milk is less than we'd pay for a gallon of our preferred local milk from JD Country Milk. The fact that the milk we're getting from the herd share is raw, so can be used more easily for things like cheese making, and can have the cream skimmed from the top for making butter or pasta sauce are definite advantages. We're only a few weeks in, but so far I think the herd share is going to work out great for us.

Itasca Winter Snow Boots

I have been looking for a good pair of winter boots for the past couple of years. This year I picked up a pair of Itasca Winter Snow Boots as a Christmas gift. The pair I have are slightly different than the ones linked to, but the differences appear to be entirely cosmetic.

The boots have a rubber bottom and leather upper. They feature thinsulate insulation, which is very nice in cold temperatures. I've had a chance to put the boots to the test in both water, and cold temperatures, and have, so far, been very pleased.

These boots are not going to be water-proof, nor do they claim to be. However, I was able to cross the shallow creek on our property without getting my feet wet. Obviously this is very important in a cold weather boot, since wet feet very quickly turn into cold feet in low temperatures.

My biggest priority was finding a pair of boots that would keep my feet warm. So far these have exceeded my expectations in this regard. Yesterday I slipped them on, without socks, to walk down to the mailbox. The temperature was around fifteen degrees fahrenheit, and, in addition to the boots, I was wearing insulated underwear with sweat pants over that, a t-shirt, sweatshirt, and insulated hooded sweat shirt, gloves, and a toboggan. By the time I got back to the house my feet were the warmest part of my body, even though I wasn't even wearing socks. That meets my criteria for cold weather performance, since temperatures rarely drop below twenty degrees here, at least during normal winters.

Fit was another considering when choosing these boots. I have wide feet, and often find it difficult to find boots that fit correctly. The rubber boots I have, for example, are too narrow to be comfortable for more than short periods. The Itasca boots, however, fit great. In fact, I think they might be the most comfortable shoes that I own. I suspect this is, at least partially, due to the padding and insulation.

Having only owned these boots for a month I can't comment on their ruggedness. They seem to be well constructed, but only time will tell how well they hold up. If I run into any issues I'll be sure to update this post with that information.

So far I'm very happy with the boots, and would recommend them to anyone needing a pair of insulated winter boots for occasional use. They certainly do the job I need them to do.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Rural Living vs City Living Series - Shopping

For my third post in the Rural Living vs City Living Series I am going to look at the topic of shopping. By shopping, I do not mean shopping as a leisure activity, but the act of obtaining material goods that are needed for use around the home.

I think that, when it comes to shopping, living in the city has less of an impact on the environment than living in a rural setting. Sure, there is the impact of destroying ecosystems to construct shopping malls and parking structures, but I consider those to be infrastructure and not shopping related.

The biggest reason I feel that city living has the advantage is that, in most situations, all of one's shopping can be done relatively close to home. In a rural setting, however, while some of the shopping can be done close to home, there are always situations that require travelling farther to get speciality items. Unfortunately, for us, these speciality items include organic foods, meaning that we make regular trips to London to shop as well we trips to Lexington every few months. Likewise, the transport of items to the store in rural areas requires the use of much more energy, than transporting the same items to an urban area, due to the rural areas and stores being so spread out.

We overcome some of the travel issues with shopping by doing a lot of shopping online. I have seen evidence that indicates that having products delivered, rather than buying from a brick and mortar store has less environmental impact, especially in situations such as ours. We regularly buy entertainment, household items, and even tools from online stores. The bulk of our food, however, still requires travelling to the establishment.

When it comes to shopping, I feel that natural living, sustainability, and self sufficiency are all very closely related. I believe that rural living has an edge over city living in each of these categories. One big reason for this is that stores in rural areas are more accustomed to providing the types of products required for a natural, sustainable, and self-sufficient lifestyle. Gardening and farming supplies are typically readily available in such areas. There also seem to be more opportunities to purchase direct from small, local businesses, which can be more flexible. This includes things such as saw mills, which can custom cut lumber, even using logs provided by the customer, if desired.

I believe that reusing items, by buying used, is a very important part of sustainability. I do sometimes think that it would be nice to live in or near an urban area to have increased access to used items for sale. Browsing the Lexington Craigslist page versus the Eastern Kentucky page really makes it obvious that the more people in an area, the more used items that will be available. However, one thing I've noticed is that, often, the type of items needed for living the lifestyle I'm trying to live are more readily available in rural areas. People in cities do not have the same need for certain items as people out in the country, meaning they are also less likely to have those items for sale. On the other hand, though, household items, clothing, etc can be found at thrift stores, which are abundant in cities.

Ultimately, I think that city living has the advantage when it comes to the topic of shopping. Having access to a wide variety of items in close proximity to ones home can be very beneficial. I do not, however, want to overlook the benefits of shopping with local merchants. While both rural and urban areas have a mix of locally and corporate owned stores, it seems that rural areas tend to have a higher percentage of locally owned businesses. This is more of an economic advantage, than a shopping advantage, but I felt that it deserved to be mentioned.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Conservation vs Cost Dilemma.

Back in September, as we were preparing for our annual trip to the Mother Earth News Fair in Pennsylvania, we were faced with a strange dilemma. Neither of us has SMS service on our cell phones, but we wanted to be able to send text messages to each other while at the fair. I was able to add it to my phone relatively cheaply, approximately $5 for the month. For Andrea's phone, however, it was going to cost closer to $10, if I recall correctly. That itself wasn't a big deal, as it was going to be worth the expense to have the functionality while at the fair. The odd part was what Andrea found out when she shopped around.

The local discount store sells pre-paid phones. At the time they had a deal that provided a new phone and more text messages that she would need for the trip, all for $6. Our preference would have been to add the service to her existing phone. It seems wasteful to buy a new phone just to save a few dollars on the SMS service. However, we didn't especially like the idea of rewarding our provider for attempting to over-charge, in my opinion, for a service which we could get elsewhere for less. In the end we decided to go with the new phone, which was used only for that month, and is now sitting in a drawer.

I feel that the situation illustrates a real problem we have in our society. For most of my life most consumer electronics have been priced low enough that replacing them was often more practical than having them repaired. Now, however, we are starting to see situations in which buying a new device is cheaper than adding a service to an existing device, even if the new device is only going to be used temporarily. There could, conceivably, be a situation in which it is cheaper to buy a new pre-paid phone each month, and then throw it away and buy a new one, than adding minutes to an existing phone.

Electronic devices should not be disposable, yet it appears we're continuing to move in that direction. With so many people prioritizing price over all else, I hesitate to even think about the amount of waste created by situations such as the one we found ourselves in. I suspect that most people would gladly buy a new phone in order to save money, with little or no regard for the amount of waste resulting from that decision.

On the flip-side, many people are only able to be motivated to conserve if it results in a noticeable financial savings. When there are financial incentives for not conserving, however, most would not even consider it. Even in a break-even scenario, most people would likely choose to own a new device over conserving resources by keeping their old device. This doesn't bode well for the future of conservation, if people view it as something that costs them money, rather than as a way to save it.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Book Review - The Toilet Papers

I have, for quite some time, wanted to read The Toilet Papers: Recycling Waste and Conserving Water by Sim Van der Ryn. A few months ago I picked up a copy, and just finished reading it.

The Toilet Papers, along with Joseph Jenkins' The Humanure Handbook, is one of the books most often suggested for information on alternative methods for the handling and treatment of human waste. While some of the information was dated, having been originally published in 1978, I found that the frequent recommendations were spot on. This is certainly a must read for anyone interested in the idea of humanure composting.

Amazingly, in spite of being just 122 pages long, the book not only covers the topic of human waste, but also of gray water systems and specific toilet designs. The chapter on the "Notes on the History of Easing Thyself" describes some of the various toilets in use throughout history, and explains how we ended up with the modern, water based system, that we have today.

Rather than go into more detail about the information provided in the book, I am just going to recommend that you pick up a copy and read it for yourself. Its a quick, and enjoyable read, while at the same time being very informative. Even if you have no intention of ever using anything other than a traditional toilet, it is likely you'll find some tidbit of interesting information, such as the benefits of relieving oneself while squatting, rather than sitting.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Yesterday was a productive day, even though we didn't do any projects around the house.

We recently learned of a local farmer offering raw cow's milk via a herd share. Because sale of raw milk is illegal in the state, herd shares are the only way of obtaining it, other than raising the cow yourself. We've been interested in this for some time, so decided to sign up when heard about openings in this share.

After work we drove the 30 minutes to the farm, where we met the cows and calves, and was given a tour of the barn and milking room. After a pleasant conversation with the lady running the herd share we took two half-gallon jars of milk from the storage refrigerator, then were on our way.

After leaving the farm we drove on into Richmond to attend a class at the Madison County Cooperative Extension Service Facility. The class was entitled "All of the Alliums" and was offered as part of a monthly program by the Eat Local, Grow Local organization. The class focused primarily on onions, which is what we hoped, as we have only grown them once, with minor success. It was an informative session, and because of it we plan to grow additional varieties of onion this year in hopes of having being able to have onions on hard throughout the year.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


As you might expect, I haven't done a whole lot productive over the past week or so. Thankfully the weather has improved, or at least the temperature has, but it has been rainy. We received a lot of rain Friday night and Saturday morning, leaving more mud than I like to deal with. Instead of trying to stay home and work, I spent the weekend visiting a friend in Lexington.

I did go to a farm equipment auction in Richmond Saturday morning. I was hoping I might find a good deal on a set of pallet forks, but didn't see any. I stuck around long enough to get a feel for the prices that equipment was bringing, then headed on to Lexington.

Yesterday I witness something that I'm at a loss to explain. The shed where I park the RTV has two 2x4x running horizontally at 'ceiling' level. These are not structural, but were installed to provide a place to store things overhead. Last week, following the extreme cold weather, I noticed that one of those 2x4s had bowed enough that the RTV was rubbing when I drove under it. At least I thought bowing was the problem. When I got the RTV out yesterday evening, to take out the compost and trash, I discovered that I had close to an inch of clearance between the RTV and that 2x4. I had suspected that the cold could have caused the initial problem, but never dreamed it was only temporary and that it would be back to normal once the temperature improved. I've been assuming that something had changed with that 2x4, but now I wonder if the change occurred elsewhere.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Christmas Gifts - 2013

I decided to do a post this year, similar to my Christmas Gifts - 2012 post from last year. There is a striking difference between the gifts I received, which I find encouraging.

Itasca Mens Winter Snow Boot - I've been wanting a good pair of insulated boots to wear in the winter. Several months ago I ran across a pair that fit the bill at a farm supply store, so picked them up with the intention of them being a Christmas gift. Since my grandmother always gives us money to pick out a gift, I decided the boots would be from her.

Stanley Thermos - This was gift was a surprise as I received it as part of a gift exchange which typically includes lesser value items. I'm assuming that whomever gave it had either gotten an incredible deal on it, or had received it as a gift and didn't need it. Either way, I'm very pleased to have ended up with it, and will put it to good use keeping my hot chocolate warm this winter.

West Chester Insulated Deer Skin Gloves - I have been using West Chester gloves for a couple of years now, so typically ask for a new pair for Christmas, since I know I'll use them. This year I was pleasantly surprised a pair of the higher quality deer skin gloves, with the Thinsulate insulation.

Black & Decker 18-Volt Cordless Pole Saw - This was another item which I picked out for myself, as a gift from my other grandmother. Earlier in the year I had tried pruning limbs from the Black Walnut trees along the driveway, and after a lot of frustration decided it was time to get a pole saw to make the job easier in the future. I considered investing in a gasoline saw, but due to the cost opted for the 18-volt.

Torin Big Red 3.5 Ton Fast Lift Service Jack - My parents typically try to buy a Christmas gift for me that I don't know about, but this year decided to go ahead and buy this jack, since I had expressed an interesting in getting one. In fact, my Dad had me pick it up one day when I was in London, and just keep it here rather than transporting it to their house to open it, then back home after Christmas.

Torin 3 Ton Jack Stands - To go with the floor jack, Andrea picked me up a set of jack stands as a gift from her mother. I was going to buy a set anyway, so it was certainly a good choice.

Amazon Gift Card - Since much of my shopping, especially for items like books and music, is done via Amazon I asked for gift cards this year. It worked out well for my uncle who wasn't able to make it in this Christmas, as gift cards are much easier to ship than a physical gift would have been.

Visa Gift Card - Andrea and I also received a Visa gift card to split. Its always easy to split something like this, as we can just use the card for household purchases and then spend an equal amount of money in cash on whatever we choose.

TGI Friday's Gift Card - This was yet another gift card that Andrea and I received as a joint gift. One of my aunt's likes to buy restaurant gift cards for us, which is always appreciated. The closest TGI Friday's is in Lexington, but we travel there often enough that we should have no problem spending it.

Cash - Finally, I received cash from a couple of different people. Andrea's grandparents use to write us a check, but have, in recent years, switched to giving cash instead. We also draw names with her aunts and uncles, and this normally results in receiving a gift card, although sometimes cash is given instead, which of course if appreciated. I can't think of anyone who couldn't find a use for cash.

I was very pleased with the gifts I received this year. I have nothing that needs to be returned, unlike last year when I received four truck nets. I also received fewer gifts, eleven, compared to the twenty-two I received last year. This is from a combination of receiving more higher priced items, and from not getting a gift from as many people. I'd love to see this drop even more next year, if I can convince some of my aunts and uncles who still buy for us to stop, but I'm very pleased with the decrease.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


We survived the extreme, at least for KY, cold weather of the past few days. I didn't accomplish anything productive during that period, other than staying warm and making sure the animals were ok. Luckily we had only had the dogs and cats to worry about, and no chickens or livestock yet, that would have required actually going farther outside than the front porch to care for.

Monday night was the coldest, with temperatures dropping down to six degrees below zero. Wind chills were being forecast to top twenty below. As if the cold nights weren't bad enough, though, the days weren't much better. The high temperature yesterday was only thirteen degrees. It was cold again last night, although not nearly as cold, with a temperature of eight degrees when I woke up. The high for today is forecasted to be in the upper thirties. It looks like we made it through this cold spell unscathed, which is certainly the worst since moving here.

We're fortunate that we did not lose power, like some people did, even in cities as large as Lexington. We would have managed without electricity, since we would be able to cook, and use a propane heater to keep one room warm, but it would not have been pleasant. We were also fortunate to have not had to deal with frozen or burst water pipes. I know several people who did have this problem.

Monday, January 6, 2014


I had a fairly productive weekend. As mentioned in my previous post, we woke up Friday to a cold house and a furnace that wasn't working. I quickly found the problem, which was the same as the last few times I had someone come out to repair it. There is a small electric motor, that must be running for the furnace to fire, and it wasn't coming on. After fiddling with it, I finally got it to come up, although didn't really do anything specific to achieve this. Its been running fine ever since, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed since we're expecting the temperatures to drop below zero in the next day or two.

We spent Saturday running errands and grocery shopping. We began the day with a quick trip into town to buy straw, which would later be stuffed into the dog houses to provide Luke and Jack with some extra warmth in preparation for cold weather. After this we went to both London and Corbin, primarily to do grocery shopping, but also made a few other stops. We're trying to play ahead and buy a couple of weeks worth of food at a time, including food for the dogs, which, by itself, is about 70 pounds of meat.

The weather on Sunday was surprisingly nice, especially considering the bad weather that was forecasted to move into the area. We decided to take advantage of this and do some work outside to give the dogs a warmer place to stay during the cold weather. We started by enclosing the porch, or two sides at least, with plastic. It didn't turn out as well as it did last year, when I had my Dad helping, but as long as it holds up during this abnormally cold period I'll be happy. After finishing with the porch we stuff straw into the dog houses, covered one, to block off the ventilation holes, and set up a place for Daisy to sleep on the porch, in case she didn't want to use her house, which is under the shed. I feel pretty good about the preparations we've made, and that the animals should be fine.

Before coming in for the day I decided to plug in the heat tape for the water lines. I haven't used it since we finished installing the insulated metal panels around the base of the trailer, which was three years ago, but we've also not had temperatures this cold. I considered not using it, but decided that the small amount of electricity it will use is a small price to pay for the piece of mind of not having to worry that the pipes will freeze and burst.

Much of the rest of the day was spent at the computer, paying bills and working on the budget for 2014. The budget for 2013 had some holes in it, and needed some tweaking to fit our current spending patterns. I added new categories to the variable expenses account for things that we spent money on regularly in 2013 that wasn't budgeted, including pet care, home improvement, and workshops/classes. We've also added a regular monthly deposit to our savings account, so that we're adding something every month. Last year I planned to only add when we had money left over, and that didn't happen as often as I would have liked. This year we're putting in around 8% of our net income, which isn't as much as I'd like, but is much better than nothing. We'll add more to that in months that we have money left over.

Friday, January 3, 2014


As mentioned before, I've been having a serious lack of motivation this winter season. You might imagine, then, how nice it felt to kick the new year off with a day outside working. Wednesday was a happy coincidence of a day I had off of work when the weather was actually fairly nice, sunny and temperatures in the 40s.

Andrea was attending an event with her quilt club that day, so I had the place to myself. Once it warmed up I decided to hook to the mower and do some clearing work I had been wanting to do. I had tried this once before, on a particularly cold day, only to find the mower would not start. It was stubborn again this time, but finally started for me.

After a couple of hours of mowing I started seeing smoke. When I went to see what was going on, I realized it wasn't just smoke, but also a liquid spraying out of the mower. After getting it shut down, I realized that the oil fill cap had been torn off by some briars, allowing oil to spray all over the mower. The smoke was from the oil hitting the hot engine. I covered the opening left by the missing cap, and pulled the mower home and parked it. I'll need to get a replacement cap, and change the oil before using it again.

With my mowing brought to an end for the day I decided to run into town and pick up lunch. I also used it as an opportunity to fill up a can with diesel, since the last time I used the tractor I very nearly ran it out of fuel, thinking I had a full can back at the shed.

After having lunch I went ahead and fueled up the tractor, and then greased the front end loader. The manual suggests greasing it after every 10 hours of use, but with the way I use the tractor its impossible to know how many hours of use are actually on the loader. I've been trying to grease it every 15 to 20 hours, depending on what I've been doing. Its a quick job, and doing it too often is definitely better than not often enough.

I'm hoping that my productive first day of the year is a sign of what is in store for 2014. Unfortunately today I woke to find the furnace not working, which is really bad since we're going into the coldest temperatures of the year so far. I'm hoping I can get it to fire up on my own, otherwise we'll either have to get someone out here to look at it quickly, or resort to using the portable propane heater. Andrea and I both have electric space heaters running in our bedrooms this morning, which work well for small rooms, but not the entire house.