Did you miss me? No I Didn’t Die But ….

There have been times recently when  I wished I had.  I was thinking this week that this year has been a complete waste of time.  I was having stress issues and that blossomed into a whole lot more.  Here I am though, finally coming back to the land of the living; new hardware in tact and healing up and eager to getting back to running the JAZ Farm.

I intended to take a leave of absence from work to deal with what looked to be some pretty bad stress related issues.  No sooner did that happened, the pain in my hips hit a crescendo and became a very serious problem.  I haven’t been on a leave of absence, I have been almost completely disabled.  Except for myriad trips to Physical Therapists, then pain specialists, three steroid injections, “Dry Needling” therapy, then a hip surgeon and then a referral to a spine surgeon, all of them screaming about my blood pressure and elevated pulse, I have been staring at the ceiling and playing a lot of computer Solitaire.  I have been tortured for months – all with no pain relief.  The best way to describe it is to imagine someone taking high voltage power lines and stabbing you in the thighs with them.

The long and short of it.

After navigating the maze of our medical system to get a proper diagnosis, it was discovered that the nerves in my lower back were being badly crushed.  When an MRI was finally ordered, it showed that my entire lumbar spine down to my Sacrum looked like it had been hit by a wrecking ball.  The hip surgeon had even asked if I’d been in a car wreck.  The disc in S1 was gone completely.  The disc in between L3 and L4 was what they fondly called a “toothpaste tube” as it had been completely herniated and was squeezing against the nerves.  Two others were completely dried out and the vertebrae themselves were full of calcification that was further impinging on the nerve roots.  I never really understood what it would be like to actually scream and pass out from pain.  I do now and if you are suffering from chronic pain you have my undying empathy.  For months the only relief I could get from the worst pain I’ve ever experienced was to lay down.  I spent months on my dog’s orthopedic bed in our living room, my wife brought me all of my meals to my bedside, and up until this past week I hadn’t driven for months.  It eventually got to the point where I had to lay down on my right side…. which of course started to affect that side as well.  I haven’t slept well for months.  I have to admit that because of the unimaginable pain, that had I not gotten a good diagnosis and finally given a path forward I was going to have to tell someone who’d matter that I was going to become a danger to myself.  I found out that rock bottom actually has a basement.

So that killed the farm work for the year.  We had to cancel our chicken and pig raising, the big garden has 4 foot weeds in it that has sent me into depression; especially when I think of how much work had gone into it and how much work it will take to get it ready for next season:  I’m optimistic that I’ll be back up and around by the end of the year.  I’m not sure about real work.  It might be time to hang it up for good.  A friend said something that I agree with:  that my lower back was where I hid all of my stress.

So once the spine surgeon got to see the MRI it proceeded almost as an emergency.  I don’t know how they did it but we got the insurance approval and I was in for surgery 6 days later.  It was about a 5 hour procedure because of how much had to be done.  They removed the discs from L3 to S1 (what there was left of them) put in spacers, fused 4 vertebrae, cleaned our the vertebrae so the nerves could move and quit being crushed and then tied the whole thing together with two Titanium/Cobalt rods with 8 bolts.  Here’s what it looks like:  (I post these so the folks that like to diminish the seriousness of someone else’s issues can get a little squeamish.  Also, its for those who love to tell you, “Oh that’s nothing!”  My wife’s cousin from Frog Balls Arkansas had it WAY worse than that”, can seriously jump off a cliff.

This is 7 inches long:

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For two weeks we had to wrap it with plastic wrap before I took a shower.  It felt like a whole bunch of bee stings when they took out the staples.

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Frankenstein’s child:

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The surgical PA said that they put in heavy duty rods and bolts because this is a typical rancher type injury and they knew that I’d be back at it.  I have been doing the recovery by the book though so save the “don’t over due it” lectures.  I CANNOT go through this again and the most important part of the recovery is getting a good solid fusion.  Yesterday makes the 5th week since surgery and the recovery guides say that by 6 weeks the fusion should be well in hand but it needs at least 3 months to get strong enough for regular activity.  So I am under orders to engage in no BLT’s:  Bending (try putting on socks or wipe!  TMI). Lifting  (nothing over 10 pounds) or Twisting.  I have all manner of gizmos to help me do everything.  I use a gripper to get things off the floor, a gizmo for the bathroom, a shoe horn with an extension handle, elastic, no tie, shoe strings, a thing to help me put on socks, a walker, and my ever present hiking poles.

I am happy to say though, that the surgery seems to have worked.  The screaming nerve and hip pain has gone.  My toes are awake again and I am walking straight up and down (I was canted severely to the right trying to offload pressure from those left side nerves).  I am now in a Physical Therapy program to help recover range of motion and, as of yesterday, restrengthening muscles that haven’t been used in over a year and that have atrophied severely.  I made the joke that a little 5 pound weight is a lot heavier than it was 18 months ago.  I am working to increase my walking and have been out every day with the dogs going up and down the driveway.  I’m currently at about 1.5 miles of steps with a goal of 3 miles by Halloween.  Here is the gimp actually up and around:

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So that is how 2017 has been going.  This, after having had to go to emergency around Christmas time of 2016 because of a ruptured Bursa in my left arm.  Its been unreal!!

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I must say thank you’s for all the help I’ve been given.  I have been completely useless and I simply couldn’t have done it without my wife.  I have never seen someone step it up and exhaust herself like she has.  We have been through so much together, and she had to take up the farm slack, run the house, cook, clean, wait on me, AND at the same time SELL a house and all the requisite issues of cleaning, packing, listing, getting the new apartment set up virtually ALL on her own.  I love her to the moon.

In addition, my mother came out twice to at least get the greenhouse and the surrounding beds planted.  We will be canning tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers, salsa, and chili because she came out to take over as JAZ Farmer.

Once my son was done with school he came out and just lent a hand where needed.  He has a very big heart and just having him around was comforting.  The day I first saw the X-Rays, I had a pretty serious mental melt down.  All I could think was that I was Frankenstein’s spawn.  He was there and after having been through his own issues over the years, he had an insight that, I don’t think, anyone else could appreciate.

So it sounds like after 3 months I will be cleared to do housework and light yard work. At 6 months, which would be around the 1st of the year, I should be able to go out and resume the farm project. The fusion will be complete at about 12 months.   I fully anticipate being able to run the farm full time by next planting season.  As it seems I will now be only running the farm and simplifying the shit out of the rest of my life, maybe I will have successfully exorcised the demons that ate my back.

The surgeon pretty much is in agreement that the combination of a seriously stressful job, sitting in a bad ergonomic office, tense, leaned over a desk in front of a computer, along with years of hard farm work (both in the city and then the farm) was a recipe for this.  I will remove the stress component at all costs.  I worried too much about my clients.  If this is what it costs then it is way too expensive.

I am happy to re-engage the farm blog.  We have plans to can big time this weekend and I’ll post the results as it happens.  Thanks for your patience.  Of all my “prepping” this is one that surely snuck in under the radar.  Thank goodness we had a lot of food put up.  In that respect, preparedness proved itself very valuable.

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Getting Caught Up

It’s been a wild year.  I apologize for going so long without updating the blog but it has been a tough summer.  I’ve been going through, lets just say, an illness, and I haven’t felt much like blogging.  We managed to bring the garden in and the food processed and the pigs processed, but between that and the hell that I call work, I have been somewhat reclusive. 2017 looks like it has the potential to destabilize our world in a way that we thought was behind us and that we were better than.  I’m having to kind of start all over mentally and physically.  While some folks don’t always show scars and can put on a happy and professional face, it doesn’t mean the problems aren’ t there.  Let’s just say that 2017 will bring many changes.  But in the meantime, lets show you what has been going on.

The Garden:

We were plagued by grasshoppers this year.  They really made the plants have to work hard to grow.  Some did well, some didn’t.  We lost most of our hard bean crop, the potatoes produced but were very small and many of the herbs were feasted upon.  The Squash and the melons got attacked as well but they did quite well anyway.  The onions, beets, carrots, peppers, green beans, tomatoes, tomatillos and the Blackberries did pretty well and the canners ran for days and days as we worked to get things preserved.

We Canned dozens of pints of tomato saucecanning-2016-1

Because we had so many tomatoes we made lots of Salsacanning-2016-2

The onion harvest was crazy.  However, not all of them were storage quality, so we made quarts and quarts of canned French Onion soup.  The quarts up on the counter are chicken soup and chilicanning-2016-3

The Tomatillos lost their minds. They really like to grow here.  So we made Tortilla soup.canning-2016-4

The potatoes struggled because of the grasshoppers.  They weren’t a good enough quality to store in the cellar so we canned as many of them as we could.  They work great as pan fried, mashed, and in soups or stews.canning-2016-5

We found some strains of onions that do well here (and love Chicken Manure fertilizer).  We found some mesh bags and we tied them up and hanged them in the basement.  These should keep for several months.  Considering how many recipes use onions we will likely go through them with no trouble.hanging-onion-1onion-hanging-2

Where the Deer and Antelope playantelope-2016

I have really burned out mentally.  I brought on a partner at work to help relieve some of the strain.  After training him and introducing him to my clients I am thrilled to know that I will be able to take the entire planting season and summer off from work.  I haven’t had a real vacation in 30 years and if my clients want me to stick around, they’d best understand why I’m doing this.  I love em all but I refuse to die because of someone else’s financial whoas.  I desperately need to “Live Like a Hobbit” for a few months.  Either that or I need to quit altogether.  At this point, both are on the table.hobbit

We contacted the Dumb Friends League this year and picked up a couple of “working cats” or what ranchers and farmers call Barn Cats.  Their job is to hunt and eat mice.  We think they are doing their jobs.  They are quite feral so they are not looking for human companionship.  This is allegedly where they sleep.  We know they are around because the food and water disappears.  But this picture shows how much we know about them and what they look like.

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One of the funniest things that happened this fall was washing a chicken in the kitchen!  Yes you read that right.  We had taken the pigs to freezer camp the week before.  However, their wallow was still sloppy and muddy.  The chickens love to go into the pig pen and scratch around and eat any remnants of food left behind.  One evening Zina was out rounding the hens up to put them to bed and she noticed one was still in the pig pen.  When she got closer she saw that it had gotten into the wallow and was stuck up to her wings in mud.  The rescue attempt involved putting a plank out onto the mud, pull the chicken out and bring her into the house to rinse her off.  She was amazingly docile and is now doing well, but now we can honestly say we gave a chicken a bath in our kitchen.  I feel so fulfilled!

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We have commenced work decommissioning the gardens in the city.  We have decided to sell that house because the equity in the place will pay off the farm.  Zina and Aaron will maintain an apartment instead and I will pretty much live full time at the farm.  I lugged the boards we used for the raised beds to construct compost bins for the garden waste and chicken litter.  This past year we spread the composted chicken litter on the garden beds.  While it was terrific as fertilizer it was also full of herbicide resistant Amaranth seeds that sprouted the second we applied water to the beds.  This is an attempt to try to keep those down.  There were thousands of those infernal plants.

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Our newest members of the flock started producing in October and even with the shortening of the days into the winter we have never had a shortage of breakfast food.

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I never thought I’d see the day when our country could become so divided.  This was the unfortunate discovery of the fall.  We have a militia training facility about 7 miles from the farm.  These folks are pretty “out there” and I hope they have sense enough to leave well enough alone.  That mound of dirt running along the upper third of the picture is actually a big horseshoe shape containing a very large shooting range.  I fear our country has lost it’s mind and could be considered clinically insane.

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So as the farm progresses we have decided to start breeding pigs ourselves instead of buying piglets to raise.  We have some fences and pens to complete but if all goes right we will have a Hampshire Sow and Boar to raise in the next year.  If successful, the sale of the piglets we don’t want to keep should pay for the feed and thus allow us to have our meat for free (minus the physical exertion of raising them and processing them).  A lot of folks do that out here and between eggs, chicken, and pork, we see a way to completely offset our grocery bill.  That would make us, food bill, electric bill, water bill, house payment and car payment free.  Someone in this household is one hell of a financial planner!

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I thought this shirt was cool so I ordered it!

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The puppies had a ball this Christmas.  They could smell that there were treats amongst the gifts and when Christmas morning arrived they couldn’t wait to join in!

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So there you have it y’all!  The JAZ Farm has progressed despite our silence.  Not only are we looking forward to the growing season in 2017, the new pigs, and ordering our new meat chickens for the year, we will be hatching some of our new layers with our incubator, moving from the city, paying off the farm, taking the summer off, building a livestock barn, fencing in a pasture and perhaps, if the timing works, buying some pet goats to help with the lawn mowing.  If there is one thing that can be said for our homesteading/prepping project its this:  It Is Always An Adventure!  Happy New Year everyone!

 

Zina The Reaper!

Zina’s birthday present arrived this past week.  She has had so much fun with the wheat growing and harvesting she decided that she needed something more efficient to cut the stalks with.  As this is nowhere near needing machinery the Scythe was the logical choice.  She has all the gizmos:  The scythe, the peening stone and holster, sharpening kit, and book to teach her all the ins and outs.  I don’t dare sleep now, I may wake to the grim reaper standing over me!!  Happy Birthday Sweetie!

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We Are All Official Now!

We saw an ad on Facebook awhile back and were astonished to see our name on some shirts.  After grousing a bit about how nothing is private anymore and that they likely got our name from our Facebook information, we thought, Wow!  That might actually be fun.  It was kind of interesting that they were able to custom make JAZ Farm shirts, hats and sweatshirts just from information we typed into their website.  They turned out great!  I guess their online marketing works!

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Canning Is Easy

So we were up at dawn again today.  Aaron’s new work schedule has really changed our internal clocks.  He has to be at work at 6 am and that gets us all up around 4:30.  Even on the weekend it feels like a luxury to wake up at 6!  I went out to the garden around 7 and pulled up a couple of bushels of carrots and sprayed them off.  Took them inside and began the task of canning them.  There is nothing particularly difficult about canning except that you have to make sure to keep things clean, know what you are dealing with in terms of type of produce (acidity determines whether you can water bath them or have to use a pressure canner), and have a full day of uninterrupted time.  The last batch of 20 pints of carrots began depressurizing around 2 o’clock this afternoon.  For those of you who have been following along and want to know how to do this all you need is this book:

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It is kind of the canner’s bible.  It has recipes and instructions, and cooking times.  Up here at 5300 feet we have to add time to both types of canning because water boils at a lower temperature than at sea level.  If you don’t boil them for long enough you can get very sick.

Here is the pressure canner set up out on the deck:

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This was today’s end result:

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Here is a freak carrot that I pulled up today along with the rest of them.  It looks almost like it has tentacles.

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I am going to be experimenting with canning soups this year, as well as potatoes.  I understand that one can can stock as well to preserve for things like crockpot recipes.  The extension of this will also be building a root cellar.  Canning takes a lot of time and energy (including propane).  Root cellars can let one put up produce for months without having to do a thing to it.  But of course, since this farm has been built from scratch…. I have to back hoe it out and build the thing.  Just another chapter I guess!  In the meantime, our pantry is getting very full.  Zina has been hand cutting, threshing and winnowing wheat as well.  Now we need to find a way to grind it and see what kind of bread it makes!

 

Outstanding In Her Field!

What other person do you know who on her birthday would be out cutting wheat by hand?  My wonderful wife, when we heard that the farmer who leased a lot of our land to plant wheat had abandoned it because of hail damage, didn’t want to leave it to simply die.  After all, it might not be a good harvest for the industrial combines, but it certainly is good straw, chicken feed, and…. people feed!  Right now there is over 30 acres of it just standing there.

She started messing with the idea of getting a Scythe.  Not knowing much about them and not wanting to spend a ton of money should it turn out to be a dumb idea, I ordered her a sickle designed specifically to harvest wheat!  What a birthday present!  Anyone you know get a sickle for his/her birthday!?  I’m thinking I ought never make her mad again!

So this morning out she trots into one of the wheat fields and starts hacking away!  We got a couple of wagon loads; one of which we fed to the chickens and the other she is still out tying into sheafs.  We watched a couple of videos on how to thresh it and process it and we may be onto something!  What fun!  Making our own homemade bread from wheat harvested on the farm!  Whoda thunk it?  Pretty sure the neighbors (conventional farmers) must think we have a serious case of the loonies.

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