Thursday, November 17, 2011

somewhere to park my ass and melon

With all the money we saved by using our miles to buy our tickets back to the holler, we'd like to get a few basic furniture items for the cabin. Thanks to the eagle eyes of my BiL, we were able to find some bar stools for the kitchen island last time, and we almost bought a small love seat, but funds were already tight at that point, and we didn't want to spend anymore money than necessary.

Poorly done 3-D layout of the big cabin.

The layout of the main room in the cabin (living room/kitchen combo) is kinda awkward in that there's only really one place to put a sofa or seating, which is up against the wall between the two bedroom doors. It might be possible to float a sofa in the middle of the living room, but regardless, we need something pretty short. I saw this sofa in person at Target the other day and it's quite petite and it folds down click-clack style into a guest bed.

Target's Thompson sofa bed in Mocha.

I can't believe I found a mid-century-ish sofa bed at Target for $200! I'm sure it's cheap as all hell, but as long as I can fit it in the Grand Cherokee, I'm totally stoked on it. (Target does have free shipping, but it requires a delivery appointment be set, and I don't know if we will be able to do that with our limited cell service out at the holler.)

We slept on the shittiest air mattress in the universe last time and would like to not repeat that experience. Also, I've been dying to try out one of those memory foam mattress and platform bed combinations, so here's what I think I've decided on (yes, I realize I'm saying "I" instead of "we" but Jay just really doesn't care about this stuff):

I better get some lucid dreams like this mattress promises.

For $249 and free shipping, I don't see how you could go wrong with it. The smell is supposed to be a bit strong for the first few nights, but it has the best reviews, and I'm sure the consumption of many cocktails will help alleviate any issue we have with plasticky smells.

Of course, you gotta have something to put the memory foam mattress on - a regular bed frame won't work since there's no box spring.

This is about as basic as it gets.
Because this is the holler and we're not fancy like that.

Good (non-squeaky) reviews and $135.99 with free shipping.

My only concern is that although we have an address, we have no mailbox, but I don't think that really makes any difference to the shipping companies. I guess we'll find out. I will sleep on the floor before I get onto that air mattress again.

Less than $600 for what looks like will be a pretty dang comfortable bed and a decent place to sit and relax while imbibing and/or possibly playing Mad Gab.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

how to fund travel to your land before you move onto it

I hate paying for airfare.

And in all honesty, considering the way airlines go belly up and are so poorly managed, I don't think they make much money on even first-class seating let alone crappy coach tickets. But that doesn't make it any easier to enter my credit card information and hit the buy button when I want to go somewhere.

I think I was born in the wrong era. I fantasize about the glamour age of air travel, where pretty stewardesses in mod sixties uniforms took pride in their occupation and made being stuck in a steel tube for several hours actually enjoyable (back before they were labeled "flight attendants". hello BORING). Now I realize that there was a lot of sexism back then and a lot of women were probably mistreated by sleazy businessmen and not everything was all hunky dory, but I want good service dammit. I want something edible, and I want a decent cocktail.

So this presents a problem for a nomad like me that likes to travel. I like to drive, too, but when planning a vacation where I just want to relax, or have limited time, or, hmmm, want to maybe scout some property out of state, a road trip isn't ideal. Paying for airfare, motel, and car reservations can get expensive fast. That's how I found out about credit card sign-up bonuses.

Honest, I'm not selling anything. I just think beating the system is rad and want to share: I just booked two first-class tickets for Jay and me to the homestead for a whopping $170 ($85 each). Let me explain.

Credit card companies love to give you sign up bonuses in the form of either miles or points when you spend a certain amount on a new credit card within a designated time frame. Case in point: I applied both of us separately for a Chase card that would automatically post 50,000 points to our individual accounts after spending $3,000 on each card in 92 days. Those 50,000 points can be transferred to a number of travel vendors, like Continental or United or Avis or whatever, at a 1:1 ratio.

50,000 miles on Continental can get one person a first-class ticket across the U.S. with only one short layover and decent arrival and departure times if you're good at searching for fares.

We also got a Citi card for each of us that delivers 50,000 points after a $2,500 minimum spend in 90 days. Those points are not transferable to anywhere else, but you are able to book car rentals and hotel rooms through their shitty reservation site. About 48,000 points is enough for a Jeep Grand Cherokee rental for a week as well as one night at a crappy hotel next to SFO that offers free parking for up to seven days so we don't have to beg anyone to drive us to and pick us up from the airport.

Do you see where I'm going with this?

If I were to book a first-class ticket for both of us with the same itinerary, the same car rental, and the hotel room and pay for it with cash, do you know how much it would cost?

$2,202.30 per person x2
= $4,404.6 for both of us
+ $383.18 for the Cherokee rental
+ $96.65 for the crappiest room at the Vagabond Inn next to SFO with free parking
= ALMOST $5,000

That's insanity! Even if we sat in shitty coach seats for the same itinerary, the whole trip would cost $902.13.   With 50,000 miles, you could conceivably book two coach tickets if you didn't want to apply separately for whatever reason. Why you would pass up another 50,000 miles and first class is beyond me, though.

There are a ton of online discussion boards and blogs about this, too, if you have the time to devote to learning more about credit card churning, which is what they call it. This is a legitimate way to get virtually free travel as long as you're not a total idiot when it comes to paying your bills.

There are, however, some caveats:
1. You must have excellent credit (in order to qualify for so many cards).
2. You'll probably need to put all of your everyday spending on a card in order to meet the minimum spend requirement (unless you're just filthy rich, in which case you might as well just pay cash).
2. You must keep track of said credit card spending and make sure you pay off your balances during the grace period to avoid interest.
3. A lot of these cards waive the annual fee for the first year, but you have to remember to cancel the card by your anniversary date or else you'll be charged for it.
4. You must be willing to take the ding on your credit from each new application. This is usually only a few points. Your credit score will usually go back up a few points after you start spending on the card and pay it off right away because it shows that you have a lot of credit but little to no credit card debt.
5. You have to be able to meet the minimum spend requirement, and most mortgages or utilities can't be paid with a credit card so be sure you're up for it.
6. Reward tickets can be kind of a pain in the butt to book. There are generally fewer itinerary options for rewards tickets, especially first-class ones, so you have to be flexible.

Y'all need to get on board with this. get it? LOLZ

So, if you want to fly classy and scout out property for your future homestead but don't want to spend an arm and a leg doing it, here you go. YOU'RE WELCOME.

Monday, November 14, 2011

cover crops

Earlier this year, I had never heard of cover crops before, and frankly, it sounded really boring and not-fun-gardening like tomatoes and onions and squash and summer bountyliciousness are. What, you just grow them and then... let them die? Waste of my precious weekend time, people. Besides, I can't grow anything in winter anyway because redwood trees have a habit of being really tall, and coupled with the fact that our property is on the north side of a mountain, the low winter sun doesn't quite grace us with its presence. Stupid sun.

But then, I kept seeing cover crops being mentioned on the absurd number of homesteading blogs I read, and then I noticed that my local feed store carried a multitude of cover crops in bulk, and then I learned that cover crops will probably grow even in limited, dappled, lame sunlight and that they will replenish my beloved raised beds with tasty nitrogen and organic matter with relatively little work on my part. Ding ding ding ding!

So, I seeded a bunch of my beds on October 16, and holy smokes, that shit took off like Snyder's hound!

The Octagarden agrees that cover crops rule.

I bought two different cover crops to start out with. I used red clover on the top half and a clover/rye mix on the bottom of the front yard Octagarden. My pepper plants are actually still trying to put out some bell peppers. In November. And whoda thunk that nasturtiums would reseed themselves after my brutal mass extermination in mid-October, but I will take whatever I can get considering my slacker gardening conditions.

Now I'm a little disappointed because as you can see, the clover is clearly not red. I surmise that my limited sunlight might be hampering the redness, but it's still nice to have greenery instead of wilted, dying, unkempt summer crops littering my beds. 

Clover in the middle and clover/rye mix in the back.
Stampeded and buried tomatoes in the front.

In the back yard, which gets even less sun than the front yard, the clover and clover/rye mixes are happily growing away. I invented my own experiment for the front bed: it was overrun with volunteer tomatoes (from last year) that I never staked properly so the fruit was just rotting away. I ripped those motherfuckers out, smashed them down into the bed, fruit and all, and buried them with a heavy layer of used peat moss I had lying around. I'll either get a shitload of more volunteer tomatoes next year (that I promise to provide support for) or the whole thing will turn into a rotting, disgusting mess that I will forget about and unknowingly stick my hand into come spring. Fingers crossed for Option 1.

Now forgive the ugly bare dirt surrounding the above beds. I had this covered in bark mulch up until yesterday but then had the bright idea to shovel it all into the chicken run and grow grass in this space instead. Since I know now that I can grow rye here, I want this area seeded in grass. Because I need more maintenance and yard work to do. Smart.

Strawberries clearly grow without sun.

Strawberries are not a cover crop, but because they provide me with greenery year round and they remind me of a cover crop, they deserve a mention. The strawberry bed will hopefully yield us some fruit next year. I painstakingly plucked every last fruit at the first sign of it this year because I read somewhere that you'll get much better yields the following year if you keep your strawberry plants in a phase of vegetative growth the first year. Also, note that strawberries do not like being confined to garden beds. Kept trying to sneak its way out all summer with a little tendril here, another one there. strawberries are sly like that

Happy clover everywhere.

I'm not really looking forward to ripping out all the cover crops and letting them rot into the soil because that will mess with my sense of organization and garden feng shui. However, I am interested to see how many times I can reseed these beds over the course of the remaining fall and into winter. I see myself going a little bat crazy in the bulk cover crop aisle at Mountain Feed soon.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

icky hair

Folks, hair happiness is not using baking soda and apple cider vinegar in your hair care routine. I started The Craziness on October 18 and barely made it over three weeks. And truthfully, my hair didn't look that bad, and I didn't smell funny, and I was enjoying being able to curl my hair, but it just wasn't worth it because of one thing: STATIC CLING.

That shit was driving me totally bonkers, and when I got home later than usual last night, all I wanted to do was eat something, relax, and take a shower and not have to rub grit through my hair or spray food on it. Furthermore, any semblance of shininess had quickly run for the hills once I decided to punish my flaxen strands this way, and dang it, I like shiny and soft. Crisp and straw-like isn't what I had in mind.

Although I was shooting for a month of trial, I'm pretty sure three weeks was long enough to conclude that hippie hair is not for me. Today, my hair is soft, smooth, straight, and not plastered to my forehead like a piece of wet plastic wrap. This method may work well for some people and I had certainly done my research, but at this point in my life, my hair clearly requires some level of chemical in it to be in happyland.

Mitsy has happy hair once again
and is not a hippie anymore.

Stupid hippies and their baking soda/vinegar shenanigans. Miss Ali, my hair care professional and friend extraordinaire, can rest assured that The Craziness is definitely over. for now

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


I am a total map addict. Crazy for 'em, I tell ya.

When I was a kid, I was the official navigator on the bazillion road trips my parents dragged me on. And holy moly, when I got my hands on my first GPS unit for my automobile, I just about dropped it out the window with excitement. Now I have 4G navigation on my smart phone, and guess what lead me down the long winding driveway to the holler in the middle of the night in a place I'd never been before, just me and my MiL? Google Navigator, baby. Topo maps, aerial imagery maps, vintage maps, trail maps, star maps, if it's a map, my eyes belong on it. I LOVE maps.

So I'm going to inundate you with a timeline of aerial maps of the holler ranging from 1997 to 2009 as well as a overview of the various outbuildings on our property. The interwebs are so freaking awesome, amiright?

March 16, 1997 aerial image depicting location of farmhouse, single-wide trailer,
and pastures, all of which are now gone or “grownup” (aka, overgrown).

September 17, 2003: RV canopy would soon become little cabin.

December 4, 2006: RV canopy transformed and farmhouse gone.

Topo map showing barn location and approximate boundaries.

Isn't it fascinating to see the history of a property through aerial imagery? I only wish they had left the old farmhouse! Being the anal-retentive person I am, I plan to use the most recent aerial imagery to plot out fence lines, garden areas, pastures, animal housing, and whatever other infrastructure I can think of, much like my favorite homesteading blog, The Walden Effect, does.

Monday, November 7, 2011

water resources

When we first started to get to know our property, one homesteading aspiration that kept popping into my head was to dig an idyllic farm pond. Actually, we already have a pond, but it is very small, maybe 12 feet in diameter, located partway up the mountain, and tucked in a small hollow among the trees. It supports who knows how many frogs, turtles, and other wild critters. While kinda awesome just because of its secret location, it's not really an ideal location for supporting livestock, although we have talked about enlarging it and making it into a cool little respite up the mountain, perhaps with a little sleeping cabin and fire pit for friends or family that want to visit but have some privacy.

We have two springs, a bubbling creek, and what appears to be sufficient water to support ourselves, a large garden, and at least a few animals. If our water supply ever becomes an issue, we figure we'll try the rainwater catchment route. But considering the average monthly rainfall in our region ranges from 3 to 5 inches per month year round, I don't think we're going to be hurting for water.

One of our two springs. Free water!

500 gallon holding tank. It doesn't get any better than this, people.

This is what I envision:

Image courtesy of Creek Country Real Estate and taken from  MLS #735200,
which is also in Kyles Ford, TN. Buy it and come be our neighbors!

We might have a pretty ideal spot near where the old farmhouse use to be. We were told by the former owner that a farmhouse that was built around the same time as our barn used to exist in the meadow above our spring. The house was falling apart, so they disassembled it and sold the vintage wormy chestnut logs and wood that originally formed the skeleton of the house. The shape of our meadow kinda reminds me of the image above, so it might be a good spot, although we were warned to be careful when digging a new pond because you don't want to drain your spring!

Forgive my crappy MS Paint representation of a pond.

I've read that ponds can be a rather delicate undertaking. You must ensure that it is dug properly, has some sort of overflow relief, has an efficient liner if your soil does not have enough clay in it, and supports the ideal ecological makeup for your area so that maintenance can be kept to a minimum. I'm not real sure that this location would be ideal for the livestock we end up with either, but wouldn't it be awesome to go skinny dipping in it on a hot summer night? YES PLEASE.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


So, I've been real interested in going shampoo/conditioner-free, which, if you've been living under a rock and don't know, is the latest rage! Well, maybe not so much, but I am intrigued by the idea of not needing to use commercial hair care products.

See, I've been a Finesse girl since about the age of 12. I just love the smell of that shit. And it really does make my hair soft and silky. But I have to continually rotate my hair care products because after a few weeks of use of my beloved Finesse, my hair starts to get weighed down and droopy and lifeless and blargh. And I have pretty awesome hair to begin with, despite the abuse I throw at it.

Anyway, I took the plunge a couple weeks ago and starting using baking soda as my 'poo and apple cider vinegar as my conditioner. When commenting to my mother the fear that I would smell like a derelict, she promptly replied, "You won't smell like a derelict, you'll smell like a salad!" I love you, Mom!

My current hair care regimen. Exciting.

Ignore the spray bottle label. Our late boy Blue (R.I.P my sweet dog) would occasionally get hot spots from sitting on his ass (American Bulldogs sit on their butts like people. Because they think they're people), so I kept this (somewhat) natural remedy on hand.

So far, I'm relatively happy with the results, although I miss having pretty smelling hair. The first time, I did smell like a salad, and it kinda sucked. Once it dried, it was barely noticeable, but smelling like a salad is kinda gross. Then, after a few times, it didn't smell salad-y at all. Or maybe I just have become immune to it. I do make everyone I see these days smell my hair now to make sure I don't smell like a salad, and they assure me I don't, but they could just be humoring me.

Clyde Dog thinks I smell like a hippie and is keeping his distance.
I read that it takes at least a few weeks for your hair to re-calibrate from the stripping (shampoo) and moisturizing (conditioner) action of commercial hair care products. And it was super greasy and gross after the first anti-chemical wash. But it has definitely balanced out and is getting softer and shinier with each use.

A few observations: my hair takes the curling iron now like nobody's business. I have super straight hair and would devote the time to using a curling iron on occasion and then the curls would promptly fall out the minute I walked out the door. It actually holds a modest wave all freaking day now, which is radical!

It also takes me a good five minutes longer in the shower to work the baking soda through my scalp (you mix it with water to a toothpaste consistency), which actually makes for a pretty invigorating scalp massage. I put the vinegar in a spray bottle because dumping it on my head from the bottle seemed rather counter-productive.

Lastly, I used to wash my hair every day, but I now go about three days between washings, including actually showering the rest of my bod, much to the chagrin of Jay. But my hair just doesn't get greasy like it used to, and I'm generally not a stinky hippie, so I've enjoyed the extra time I've gained from not showering as often. Hopefully, I haven't totally grossed you out.

I plan to continue this experiment for at least another month. It's dirt cheap, seems to be working well, and I'm always down for trying to reduce my reliance on commercial products. And I always have apple cider vinegar on hand because I have an arsenal of vinegars and like to make bomb homemade salad dressing. And baking soda because I like to make a mess in the kitchen.

Friday, November 4, 2011

introducing rural Appalachia

Some images from our July and September trips to the holler...

Hwy 33 along the Clinch River (on the left).

Rad Victorian with copper roof.

Sunset from our front porch.

Back into Tennessee from Virginia.

Kudzu: one of the most hated and invasive species in the Southeast.

Sunrise near Bean Station, TN.

Norris Lake (dammed portion of the Clinch River).

Stunning, no? And we've come to find that the local town folk are incredibly welcoming and friendly despite our concerns with our "California" appearance. We've already met a few neighbors, the Highway Commissioner, wonderful new friends from Knoxville, the owner of the package store down the road, the school bus driver, and a few locals in front of the laundromat. I love Appalachia.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

the beginning...

The purpose of this blog is to document for all eternity the adventure that my husband (Jay) and I (Mitsy) have embarked on in the form of buying a rural homestead and turning our dreams of self-sufficiency into reality.

Our we-wanna-be-homesteaders aspirations began some time ago.
I built that chicken coop myself. Clyde Dog was not much help.

We searched for and investigated property in many shapes and forms for several years and finally closed on our little homestead in the Ridge and Valley Region of rural Appalachia on July 20, 2011. Our requirements seemed simple enough, but finding the perfect piece of dirt proved to be quite challenging.

Number one was that it had to be in the mountains - any mountains really. We both grew up in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, and finding another beautiful mountainous area was imperative. We be mountain folk to the core, ya'll. We had already lived in Central Oregon for some time and were not interested in the Pacific Northwest - too cold and wet and we had already been there, done that. Southern California was out because, well, Southern California totally sucks. We wanted to get out of state anyway. The Southwest was appealing, but it's hard to find property that is ON a mountain, not just next to one. And as much as I love the desert, creating the infrastructure to become self-sufficient in such an arid climate seemed a bit daunting. We looked at NW Arkansas and Southern Missouri, and while very pretty, just couldn't find anything we liked there, and the mountains were rather piddly in size anyway. New Hampshire/Vermont/Maine had beautiful mountains and the coast to boot, but it's really fucking cold there, and I just don't know that I'd survive very long blanketed in snow for six months of the year.

My search focused on East Tennessee, SW Virginia, and SE Kentucky. We wanted at least 20 acres, total privacy, a reliable water source, full sun year-round, plenty of mountainside and woods, and within reasonable driving distance of basic shopping. It needed some sort of habitable structure, but it didn't need to be fancy. We almost bought a turn-of-the-century farmhouse in SE Tennessee, but the transaction was fraught with red flags, and needless to say, we're really glad it didn't materialize.

Finally I came across a listing in NE Tennessee that included wintertime images of the property, which I considered a bonus because it's easy to fall in love with land at the peak of summer when everything is lush and green, blooming, and full of life. I want to know whether I will thrive somewhere when the garden is a dead, frozen mass, my fingers almost fall off feeding animals when it's butt-fuck cold out, and I'm wearing a thousand layers of thermals because I'm really a cold-blooded lizard and unable to function until I warm up.

The property spanned a south-facing hollow (or box canyon) all the way to the top of the mountain. It was at the end of a county maintained road and had a rustic but solid 2/1 built in 1999 and an even more rustic 1/1 that was built in 2006. Bonus for the in-laws and any visitors that trudge out to see us!

Cold but sunny. Totally workable.

60 acres? Yes, please.

A guest cabin so people don't have to
wake up to our ugly mugs when visiting.

Definitely needs color. But solid and secure.
And it has reliable heat. And the roof doesn't leak.
And, and...

I showed the listing to Jay on May 17, 2011, and we booked his flight to see it the next day. (Okay, slight exaggeration, but you get my drift. We were excited!)

I won't bore you with the transaction details, but after getting a survey and jumping through many hoops, we were finally able to get our loan and closed on it the day I flew out to finally visit it with my MiL. Jay and I finally got to see it together for the first time at the end of September.


My BiL came out to enjoy the scenery with us, as did my parental units. They totally get it. Family compound? Maybe not, but we'll keep that idea on the back burner.

So for now, the hollow (aka, "the holler") is our refuge and we remain in California until we can figure out what to do with our current house. Although the idea of just packing up and moving away without taking any responsibility for our current mortgage holds some appeal, we both know this is not practical (or ethical for that matter), and fulfilling our mountainsteading (yea, you heard that term here first, people) dreams will take some planning. And we have to figure out what to do for income in the poorest and second least-populated county in the state of Tennessee. Hey, that means minuscule property taxes and fewer social services I have to pay for, and I am A-OK with that. Onward!