Holy Cow!

Robert and I have discussed buying a side of beef several times, but never were able to pull the trigger, so to speak.  As luck would have it, though, I learned a few weeks ago that our friend Kirk had half a cow remaining for sale, so we decided to go for it.

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There are a lot of websites and blog posts that talk about how to buy a side of beef, from finding a farmer, to determining how much of the cow you should buy, to selecting cuts, to the type of freezer you should have.  Talk about information overload!  We got to skip the first steps this time since we bought from a friend.  He arranged to deliver the cow to the butcher, where steps were taken that I really don’t need or want to know about before we finally got the call to find out how we wanted our cuts.

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Half a cow is a lot of meat.  On average, the beef is 1/3 of the hanging weight, which in our case was 900 lbs.  So there was approximately 300 lbs of beef, and we purchased half of that.  Since it’s just me and Robert, we were more interested in getting cuts of steak and roast, rather than maximizing the ground beef.  I also made sure that we requested the bones for soup.

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Yesterday, our meat was ready for pickup, and we were told to bring 3-4 large coolers.  We didn’t have that many, so we borrowed them from Steve and Ginger.  There’s something a little wrong about filling Chick-fil-A coolers with beef – “eat more chicken – really?”  LOL

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When we got home, we unpacked the coolers on the island to sort the meat and take inventory.  By having a list, we can flag that the rib roasts are for our rock salt prime rib, and also keep track of how many pounds of hamburger are remaining after a summer of grilling.

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After the inventory, it was time to fill the freezer.  Although I could have fit everything into what I like to call our “big-a$$ upright freezer,” I kept the steaks a little more accessible in the bottom freezer portion of our refrigerator.  After all was said and done, we actually ended up with right at 136 lbs of beef.

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So . . . what things do you need to think about when buying a side of beef?

  1. Find a farmer you trust, and learn how the cow was cared for and fed (ours was primarily grass fed).
  2. Save your pennies. Half a cow is expensive, and then you’ll also pay for the butchering fees.
  3. Make sure you have freezer space to store your beef. Usually websites say that a side of beef will feed a family of four for about a year, but Robert and I eat more meat than most people, so we don’t expect ours to last quite that long.
  4. Diversify. I not only put part of our meat in a different freezer for space and accessibility reasons, but also as a hedge against an appliance dying.  We want to protect our investment.
  5. Prepare to plan meals further in advance. You’ve got to give your meat time to thaw.
  6. Plan to learn different ways to cook various kinds of beef.  What exactly is a Pike’s Peak/Heel Roast anyway?
  7. Expect to have family and friends inviting themselves over for dinner a lot more often.  :-)

Did we save money on this investment?  Maybe, maybe not.  We paid a little more per pound for high quality ground beef on sale at the grocery store, but a lot less per pound for our steaks.  I also expect our monthly grocery budget to decrease significantly as well.  But more importantly, we don’t have to worry about chemicals and additives in our meat.  And that, my friends, is priceless.

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Starting from Seed

With all the hype about eating organic foods and the whole GMO debate, it’s only logical that the best way to avoid chemicals and additives is to grow your own food. But even buying starter plants can be questionable unless you know the source.

I posted a while back about our trip to the Baker Creek Seed Company, and we finally got some of those seeds started. Using an Aero Garden, we started 66 pods with various herbs, tomatoes, and peppers. Once those are ready to be transplanted, we’ll start strawberries and other plants from seed.

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Not everything starts at once . . .

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Baby plants!

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We’re having fun checking their progress (apparently peppers are slow!) and patiently waiting for the last frost date to pass.  Of course, until we get the soil mixture in the raised beds, they don’t have anywhere else to live!

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Designing a Custom Home – Part 15 – Decorating

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a professional decorator, but I do think I’ve got a little bit of the decorating gene in me.  My mom was one to rearrange the furniture on a whim, but also put her favorite paintings and pictures up every time we moved.   My dad loved the gallery wall of family photos she’d put up, and it was hard to take down after he died.

So my first tip for decorating is to make sure you personalize your space.  Back in the day Home Interiors was a big deal for home parties, and everyone and their mother had the same “groupings” with the same picture, shelf, and matching porcelain figurine, all wrapped up with a bit of faux grapevine.  Instead, blow up some family photos or pictures you’ve taken on your travels and hang them.  Your walls will mean so much more to you.  (Some of the prints in this photo are Rebecca Lowell‘s artwork we bought in Maui, mixed in with our own photos.)

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Don’t look up.  I read many home blogs and get a lot of inspiration from them, as well as tips.  One I’ll pass along here is one from the old Home Interiors days as well (yes, not only did I have a lot of those products, but I actually sold it for a brief time during college).  Most people hang their pictures, shelves, etc. too high.  In my opinion, items are best at a height slightly above eye level.  If I have to stand on my tiptoes and bend my neck back and look straight up, then that picture is hung too high.

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Next tip – edit.  Once you’ve arranged your table, shelf, wall space, etc., remove one item and see how it looks.  Too many items in a space make it hard for your eyes to know where to focus, not to mention making it harder to dust.  Just because you have extra items for your home doesn’t mean they all have to be displayed.

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Don’t be a slave to trends.  If you love to decorate and change things up for every season or occasion, that’s great.  If you get your house exactly like you want it and don’t change it for years and you’re still happy, that’s great, too.  I tend to fall in this latter category.  I may change out a picture now and then, and bedding and rugs may wear out (especially with pets in the house), but for the most part, I like the comfort of things being constant.

Admit your mistakes.  Sometimes you buy things that are non-returnable, and they just don’t work.  That’s ok.  Move on.  Don’t try to force them to fit where they don’t work.  Put them in a garage sale, on Craigslist, donate them.

Fix your mistakes.  If possible, and you love the item, then figure out what you can do to pull a Tim Gunn and make it work.  I framed a collage of our wedding pictures and invitation and they’re beautiful.  BUT – they’re in quite elaborate gold frames – totally not my style anymore or the style of our new home.  I might be able to make the frames work by painting them white, but more than likely I’ll need to replace the frames.  (I’m leaving them for now, though.)

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Limit your collection.  This one is in honor of my friend Annie.  When she says limit your collection, she’s referring to having too many African Violets (she’s a champion grower).  But this applies to any other collection as well.  I love Disney and have several Tigger and Belle figurines and memorabilia.  But do I really need to display a cheap McDonald’s Happy Meal toy next to a limited edition Lenox piece?  Keep the good stuff and trash the crap.

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Do your research.  The above aren’t rules by any means.  They’re what work for me.  Read blogs.  Read Better Homes & Garden.  Watch Property Brothers and Love it or List it on HGTV.  Figure out what you like and how you want to live.

Last, ignore others’ opinions.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched HGTV and someone talks about how a light wood floor opens up the space.  That may be true, but I think light floors are ugly.  Not gonna happen in my house.  I’m also the person that doesn’t want an “open concept” floor plan.  Give me walls and a defined space.

What did I miss?  What decorating tips do you have?

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Hiya, Herb!

I can’t help it, every time I see the word “herb,” I think of Herb Tarlek from WKRP in Cincinnati. Cue the theme song in my head.

We bought these planters from Sam’s, along with the bright colored pots.

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My friend Stephine recommended this book as a good resource for all about herbs, so I’ve been perusing its pages as I plan my planting.

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I wanted the herb garden on the deck so that it was easier to access from the kitchen. They’ll get plenty of sun, and there are some shadier spots for those plants that need it.

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The left planter is for the herbs that need to stay hydrated. The right planter is for the herbs that can tolerate drier conditions and don’t like to get their feet wet.

Because mint is quite invasive, it will get its own pot, as well as the cilantro.

Steph suggested some edible flowers like Nasturtiums in the other pots to add a bit of color to our deck – and our salads. We’ll see what ends up in those.

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Becoming Homesteaders

Part of our lifestyle change in moving to the country is that we are becoming, as Robert says, farmers.  I prefer the term homesteader.  We’re not planning on raising animals, except chickens, and to me, it’s more about living off our land, as naturally as possible.  For years now, I’ve been more aware of the dangers of processed foods, and the importance of eating foods as close to their natural state as possible.  The logical next step is to grow our own food.

We’ve got big plans, and I hope to cover a lot of this journey in the blog.  It’s just another one of our adventures in life.

So first up is to get the gardens growing.  Although we’ve got just under 6 acres to work with, we have opted to go with raised beds.  First, we’ve read and have talked with others in the area that promise you can feed a family of four for a year with four raised garden beds.  There’s just two of us, so there should be plenty to preserve (but that’s for future posts).  Second, it’s a lot of work up front, but should save us in the long run.  We shouldn’t have to worry as much about weeds, and it will be easier on our backs and knees at harvest time.

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When we went to the Lawn & Garden Show in February, we bought the video from Gardening Revolution.  It’s got a lot of interesting tips, and more than its share of bad jokes, and honestly, the video quality is poor so I don’t recommend it.  If you’re in the area, you’d be better off to take the weekend class.  Additionally, he charges a pretty penny for his soil mix, so we won’t be purchasing that from him, but we are using the recommended layout for our raised beds.

To start, we purchased 200 concrete blocks.  At 34 pounds each, that’s literally over 3 tons we had to move by hand.

We laid out heavy duty landscaping fabric, and placed it 4’ beyond the beds on all sides.  You don’t want to be mowing around the beds because you could spray grass seedlings into your garden and cause weeds.

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Next was building the actual beds.  We placed the blocks two high, and each bed is 4’ wide by 12’ long.  Any wider and we couldn’t reach the middle from outside the beds.  You don’t want to walk on your beds.  Our beds are in an offset “L” configuration, so that there is space in the middle to walk.  We’ll be putting mulch down on the landscaping fabric at some point.

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Now that the beds are built, we have to fill them. After doing a ton of research, speaking to local nurseries, friends, and other “experts,” we decided to use a mixture of potting soil, peat moss, compost, and vermiculite.   This was only one trip.  :-)

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Here’s the rest of it in the garage.

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Coming soon, the plants . . .

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