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Friday, July 23, 2010


For the first time, we have a setting hen. I had not planned to get any chicks from these hens for a couple reasons. First, I butchered all of the roosters that we got with them. Second, Rhode Island Reds are not generally broody. They have been bred to produce lots of eggs, then forget about them. We have Reds that are more of a heritage breed (as opposed to Production Reds who have even less of their maternal instincts in tact). So I wasn't too surprised when a few (out of 19) of them starting sitting in their nest boxes all day.

The problem is that when they go broody, they don't lay eggs. One hen in particular was very persistent and since we recently got a few roosters from a friend, I decided to let her give it a try.
We took all the eggs that were laid that day and stuck them under her until she couldn't cover any more. I might have let some other hens try, but a couple days after starting with this hen, our last rooster got picked off by a fox. All we had left was pile of feathers. Hopefully he will leave us a legacy. The Lord killeth and the Lord giveth life (1 Kings 2:6).

It has been an interesting couple of weeks. I have already learned a lot about hatching eggs. Unfortunately I tired to leave her in the coop with the other chickens. That was a big mistake. Other hens still tried to squeeze in there and lay more eggs in that nest. Finally a couple eggs got broken. One was unfertalized, so no big deal. But for the other I could see an embryo in there. Then of course the broken eggs made a mess all over the other eggs. As I was cleaning them I broke another one that had an embryo. So we are two down already.

Last week I candled eggs for the first time. To make a long story short, I think we have four or five good eggs. There were three I wasn't sure about, so I left them under the hen. Then a couple others were unfertilized so I pulled them out. We now have about nine days to go. It will be pretty exciting to see what we get!

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Pickles, originally uploaded by KMantoan.

July Reflection

Summer is always a busy time for our family. Adding a garden, homeschooling and animal care on top of family vacations, picnics, graduation parties, etc. means Labor Day is upon us before we know it. Our schedule is compounded by regular specialist visits for our youngest, plus the added doctor visits for 'new baby' and me. (We don't share baby names until the child arrives so around here, everyone addresses my growing mid section as 'new baby'.)
My husband's unemployment has been a mixed blessing. His free time is quickly consumed by tasks that would have otherwise dragged into the evening or stole precious weekend hours from the family. Farming, and homesteading, is a full-time job but unfortunately, doesn't provide the money for the mortgage or enough food for the refrigerator -at least not yet.
Reaching the point of self sufficiency is certainly a ways off for us. Plants will only grow so fast and hens will only lay so much and we understand so little of it all. Unfortunately, the learning curve is costly. We thought baby lightning bugs were living amongst our plants. Come to find out they're striped cucumber beetles carrying bacteria that are already in the process of destroying our melons, pumpkins, zucchini and cucumbers. Unlike our ancestors, we can always run to the store, so this lesson doesn't equal starvation but it means we won't enjoy more than the two jars of pickles in the fridge and probably no homegrown pumpkins.
But there's still hope for the soybeans, and despite a late start, the carrots, basil and pole beans too. As a consolation prize, we've been allowed by our neighbor the farmer to pick as many tomatoes as we'd like. Despite being coated with pesticides, I look forward to freezing batch upon batch of homemade sauce.
Life in the Garden State means the remainder of summer will be spend in the soil and playing in the sand. Being only a short trip from the coast means leaving animals and returning before they miss us, a luxury afforded few homesteaders. And once the shore is out of our system maybe we'll finally start talking seriously about getting that family cow.
The pleasure of the summer season and the joyful anticipation of many things (Fulton's wheelchair, a month off from school, the new baby) is a welcome change from the melancholy of the spring. Even the thought of reworking the budget and becoming more 'creative' with funds isn't enough to dampen my spirits; rather, I am excited by the challenge. There is much here that is ready to bear fruit and lay seed.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Hello TNW readers! As my dear wife mentioned about four weeks ago, I am joining her here on TNW to write a bit about our homestead. For a while now we have been thinking about starting a new blog about homesteading, but since she renewed TNW, we decided just to do it here. To start with, I will give an overview of why we homestead.

Initially we wanted some measure of independence from the modern food supply system, and from the broader economy in general. We are not far along with that, but even the fairly minimal progress we have made is very satisfying. It is also about living more simply. By providing for ourselves, on our own land and by our own labor, we know there are few things that are under own power to provide, and what ever happens to the value of the Euro will have no bearing on them. To my mind, that brings a little bit of sanity to an insane world. Simple living is also antithetical to consumerism. Being committed to that life style means that we live with less stuff, we have fewer gadgets, machines, and trinkets that demand our attention. By using and having less, we reduce our bills and thus reduce the income that we need.

There are also spiritual advantages to working the land (to whatever extent you can). When you grow or raise your own food you are working directly with the system God made for us. You see first hand how His creation works, and you even participate in it! You have to pay attention to the rhythms He established in the seasons and in the weather. There is even a kind of liturgy to it. Indeed there are many facets of the Church's liturgy that dovetail with agricultural activity. There are Rogation Processions and Embertides, and various rites of blessing in the Roman Ritual. Soon you find yourself paying more attention to the work of God's hands, and less attention to the works of men.

Finally, homesteading is also a great education for children. They see where food comes from, the work that goes into it, the value of good food. They learn some measure of self sufficiency. They learn how to make do with what is available. They learn a little about the animal kingdom, and learn how the natural world works. It also prepares them for modernist twaddle about human oppression of animals and that kind of nonsense. As a good example, my daughter was reading a silly book about giants the other day. In one part of the book the nice giant tells the little girl in the story that humans are the only beings that kill their own kind. Giants don't, and neither do animals, according to this large fellow. Well, tell that to the rooster we had last winter who got dethroned as king of the roost.

In short, homesteading isn't just a hobby for us. It is part and parcel of our lives. To some extent is even part of how we live out our Catholic faith. Hopefully it will not be long until I can write more posts about the specifics of what we do here.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Government "Charity", Part I, The Problem.

On June 28th my youngest son Fulton turned 2, a day we were uncertain we would see a year ago. As mentioned in an earlier post, Fulton has Spinal Muscular Atrophy. When we received this diagnosis just we were under the impression he presented as a Type 1. Most children with Type 1 SMA die before their second birthday. (Since those early days, we've come to realize Fulton does not have this most severe form of SMA and we anticipate more memorable birthdays with him and all our children.)
With the arrival of his toddler years, we are anxiously awaiting his power wheelchair. Our 15 passenger van is equipped with a wheelchair lift and we recently christened (at a Nativity of St. John the Baptist Party) our new deck with handicap ramp. Though somewhat bittersweet, we have rejoiced at these developments; brought about not through government programs, but through the overwhelmingly charitable acts of our friends and family.
Being the parent of a special needs child has opened my eyes painfully wide to the problems inherent in government run social programs. I have always argued here on TNW that charity is best carried out by Christians and neighbors not faceless agencies and government bureaucracies. It is now with personal experience behind me that I more fervently defend my earlier assessment. (The only exception I will make is for the NJ Early Intervention program. So far, it has been a lifeline for me, especially in regards to my social worker. But I will touch on them more in Part II. )
Our experience with other county and state agencies has been nothing but red tape, misdirected calls combined with a continuous waiting game. For example, my son will be receiving a powerwheel chair.This is standard for SMA children his age. Our cozy farmhouse needed major modifications just to get Fulton and his chair through the door. Thankfully, we already had a bedroom and full bath on the first floor. And because of his age, his chair should be small enough to fit through even our old, narrow interior doorways. But we needed at the very least a ramp and new back entrance door. The first agency I was referred to was just reorganized due to budget cuts. I was bumped from one office to another, given mis-information by the second office, re-called the first office after getting help from my social worker and told my request for ramp was submitted and someone would be contacting me. I was informed that once contacted I would get an evaluation of my house and the evaluator would then determine our families needs in regards to renovations and what their office would contribute. Then I could get three estimates and, with the departments approval, have the work done. That was four months ago and I have yet to hear back from them.
Our county ran a program similar to the state one, but, when employed, my husband made too much to qualify. Once he was laid off we inquired again and learned it was at least a four month wait to initiate the process. And then once the ball was rolling, the county would select our builder and take a lien again our house, so while we would save money now, the total cost would be deducted from the sale of our house.
These are the programs that are in place to help families. Seriously.
I won't even launch into all the issues we're dealing with applying for medical aid. That's a whole separate post.
Thankfully, we had friends and family throw themselves into getting our house ready ASAP. This was crucial because Fulton's chair is arriving in just a few weeks-ahead of schedule even! If we had relied on a government program, Fulton's chair would be sitting unused, for possibility months.
So what about those who don't have the support of friends, family or the community? What of those who can only turn to the government for aid? They're going to have to sit and wait. Either trapped in their homes, unable to get out, or stuck in a hospital or rehab facility. I've been investigating the ramp issue since last winter because I knew Fulton's chair would be ordered this spring or summer. What about those who are effected in a sudden accident? A car accident victim no longer able to walk-his family is expected to plan for home modifications and fill out reams of paperwork while making life or death decisions in the ER? Because otherwise, how will anything be done by the time he's able to come home?
I understand the need for government programs to provide a safety net so no one slips through the cracks but relying on the government for immediate needs seems downright impossible and even dangerous. When first told of all the programs available to help us, I was so relieved, but as I quickly saw the restrictions, limitations, etc, honestly, I panicked. There were programs to help, but that would take to long as mentioned above. Programs that would pay, but we'd have to pay the money up front.-which we've done to modify our van with a wheelchair lift; maxing our card out in the process as we wait for the reimbursement check. And there are programs to help with medical expenses but they require a regular scouring of our financial records and if we make too much one month, sorry, no help or, better yet, whoops, we overpaid, your family owes the government some money back.
Families who come to rely on these programs quickly learn that getting ahead equals less assistance even if getting ahead only means a promotion to night manager at McDonalds. That promotion may bring you more income but not enough to meet the demands of raising a family member with a disability. So one is forced to stay destitute, and live off the system, or become independently wealthy in order to cover all the needs of their family member. Those of us trying to stay middle class and not fall into poverty are totally screwed, to put it mildly. Our family's financial planning in regards to saving for our children's future and our retirement is actually detrimental to obtaining certain types of aid. We will have to exhaust all these savings, ie wipe them out, to become eligible for certain coverage. Because we acted fiscally responsible, the government will not help us. We are not wealthy. Our kids do not have millions set up in a trust fund somewhere. Our 401k will not last us very long, especially given the fact that my husband was just laid off. But rather than helping us to protect those assets, which will make our family less of a burden down the road, we need to burn through them- a scenario familiar to many people before they reach the level of poverty the government deems worthy of assistance.
It is a difficult situation to understand unless you're in it. People do not want to rely on government aid, however the burden of raising a medically needy family member will consume, in time, all your resources. The average middle class family does not have a huge amount of savings and usually has a bit of debt. It is hard to adjust an already tight budget for the unpredictable financial demands that accompany any medical disability.
Once a family comes to rely on the system, it is hard to escape and when you are trapped in a hopeless situation, it is easy to see how some people come to take advantage of the system or feel entitled to its benefits. The system itself is so demeaning, it is easy to be callous and demeaning right back at it. What would be your enticement for improving your situation? It's not simply a matter of picking yourself up by your bootstraps. Medical costs are high. You might be able to save a thousand here or a hundred here but when your child requires an emergency visit that totals tens of thousands of dollars, pinching pennies will not help you. Outside assistance is necessary because, who has tens of thousands of dollars in reserve?
The government does of course, but to them, you are a number or case file and in order to be fair and not have their resources abused you must take a number, wait your turn and follow the government protocol. You might never meet the person who processes your request or set foot in that departments office. To my friends and family, I am Kelly M., mother of Fulton. If I am in need, they will step forward and offer prayers, meals, money or just a shoulder to cry on within hours day or night. I can visit them or they will show up at my door and they give only because they want too and not because I filled out my form properly and waited six months for them to process my request.
How can we as Catholics, and Christians, save people from falling into a hopeless system?

Thursday, July 01, 2010


Winnowing , originally uploaded by KMantoan.

Tonight I plan on baking bread from our first harvest of winter wheat. Despite being trampled by children earlier this spring, our small patch managed to produce enough flour for an entire loaf of whole wheat bread. Not bad for my husband's first experiment with grain. I have a recipe for 100% whole wheat bread from King Arthur Flour that the whole family can agree on. If you visit my Flickr stream you'll see the progress from harvest to sifting. It went well enough for us to plan a larger patch for next year.