Why we Left the Middle Class

This copied piece came up in my news feed today (see below.) The main theme of the conversation was about why the middle class still matters. This set me to thinking. This also set me to writing this piece. “Why I Choose to Leave the Middle Class” and sharing this with Frontline.

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Our simple country style pool and pool shack.

What’s the state of the American economy? What are the forces shaping it? And where do you see yourself in it?

Last March, FRONTLINE, APM’s Marketplace and PBS NewsHour joined forces to investigate America’s economic reality in a series called How the Deck Is Stacked.

Over the past year, we’ve crisscrossed the country, producing short films, radio reports and written stories that explore how a sense of economic unease has persisted for many people, despite an unemployment rate that’s below five percent and other positive big-picture indicators.

As this year-long reporting effort draws to a close, explore some of the stories we’ve told:
  • For years, interest rates have been down to stimulate economic growth. Now, under President Donald Trump, they may be set for the most dramatic rise we’ve seen in eight years. Here’s why.

Thank you, as always, for watching, reading and listening, and for letting us know what you think.

–  Patrice Taddonio

Assistant Director of Audience Development, FRONTLINE

March 1, 2017

Dear Frontline Editors:

I watched you recent program titled How the Deck is Stacked. I have some thoughts and experiences to share with you.

My husband (age 72) and I (age 67) are retired and the due to my autoimmune illness two of us are living on basically on one retirement. We raised and educated our four children from our first marriages. We were both divorced at mid-life, remarried each other starting over at ages 50 and 45 and like many in our community we are struggling as we age.

The only reason we are surviving is because 15 years ago I predicted that we were going to have to become more self-reliant if we were to survive during our retirement years. We moved from the city (with high taxes and ever-increasing prices) to very rural Allegan County, MI (the largest agricultural county in our state and began to homestead with few sevices and lower property taxes.)

Forr nine of those years my husband made the long drive into the city for his job while I stayed home and renovated our old home, began a small home based business and started our garden. My job was to create a comfortable and healthy new life for us here.

We keep chickens for eggs, raise vegetables, DYI whenever possible and buy our food that we can’t grow directly from the farmer (at wholesale) and our clothes and household items from Goodwill, auctions or a flea market. Here no one cares what we wear, or if our hair is cut and colored in an expensive salon with a $120.00 price tag or by our $12.00 per hair gal in her home-based shop. For us silver is the new black.

Our entertainment is working in our garden, playing with our chickens, walking our dog in the Allegan Forest or picking in-season fruit and freezing it. We read, we birdwatch and we listen to music or NPR on the radio. We have no Smart Phones, no Cable TV, no big screen televisions, no air conditioning, no vacations, no new vehicles and keep our life as simple as we can. We have not been to a movie theater in over 15 years. We still watch DVD on our ancient DVD player. Our one big splurge is our once a week $9.00 yoga class.

Our biggest expense now is trying to pay for our out-of-pocket health care needs and healthy organic food. We paid out over $12,000 alone in out-of-pocket medical costs in 2016 and had to draw out our savings and retirement funds to do that. Maintaining our aging 1950’s home and 5-acre property is a constant challenge too as we age. In spite of these challenges I try everyday to maintain a positive outlook and be grateful for the small things in life.

Our primary values are to live our life now as mindfully as possible, is to make choices that benefit the land, the birds and our health. We believe in sustainability, living simply, protecting the earth, the air, the water and above all people over profits.

We left middle class America by choice. I felt it was our only option to survive.

Donna Allgaier-Lamberti https://smallhousebigskyhomestead.wordpress.com

 

The Art of Aging Gracefully on the Homestead-Mother Earth News

We are in the current issue of Mother Earth News!

My latest contribution to the current issue of Mother Earth News has hit the news stand. This magazine for those of you who might not know it; is a guide to living wisely while being self-sufficient on the homestead or farm.

The article is titled Aging Gracefully on the Homestead. This is a piece about the challenges of senior homesteading; a topic we know a little something about.

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Although I pitched an ongoing column geared to senior homesteading they opted for a one time “how-to” article. Perhaps they know more about the age of their readership than I do! My contribution was four photographs (out of the eight published) and a part of the text.

Double click on this PDF and I believe that the article will open up. aging-gracefully-1

Homesteading is hard work, and Gene and I are not getting any younger. I doubt anyone will argue with that. There are definitely multiple challenges to continuing to do the physical work required by homesteading as one gets older.

We moved to the Small House Big Sky Homestead fifteen years ago. We started out getting as much done as we could and added additional outdoor projects like the chicken complex and the water containment system each summer. And worked on the house during the winter months. This was a good thing we got a lot done in those early years since even then we weren’t spring chickens. (We were 50 and 55 years old.)

Eventually we got the major items on our to-do list knocked down. Every year we try to accomplish a project or two more outside during the nice weather and a few more small indoor project in the house during the indoor winter months.

Now that we are 65 and 72, our age and our health is beginning to be a real consideration. Fortunately, I started thinking about this several years ago. I asked myself what will I do and how will we manage when it becomes more difficult to do the work we need to do?

This past season I hired hourly help in the garden and yard. We found a local young girl of fourteen who is strong and looking to make some money for school clothes. It’s not a perfect system as Olivia is only available on Sunday afternoons because she runs cross county and runs her daily miles every school night, but we have managed to make it work. And this past winter when Gene had his hernia operation we hired a local small business in the short-term to plow our driveway and another local boy to run the snow blower to clear our paths.The total cash out of pocket during Gene’s recovery was less than $100.00.

Some homesteaders find an apprentice or a farm worker and offer room and board in exchange for work. Others turn a spare bedroom or cabin into an Air B&B for extra cash income on the homestead.

Obviously, there is more than one way to make this work but this is what is woring for us.

The moral of this story is to plan ahead about how you might make your elder years’ on the homestead work for you and how you can turn your homestead into a property that will sustain you when you are older.

I hope to convince the editors at MEN that a monthly column written by me with interviews of senior homesteaders who ARE making it work will be both inspirtional and informative.

To help support this idea please send your letters/e-mails to:Rebecca Martin martin@ogdenpubs.com>

As always, thank you for following and if you are aging homesteaders and want to share tips with me about how you have made senior homesteading work for you, please contact me. I am always looking for new ideas on how you in the hometead trenches are making it work!

Small House Big Sky Homesteader, Donna

Front Loader Pedestal Makeover

As many of you know front loaders washing machines and dryers require quite a bit of bending downing to load and unload them and that is why they sell these very expensive platform pedestals for them. When I bought my units over 10 years ago these matching pedestals cost $300.00 each. I have no idea what they cost now.

A friend of mine had mold in her old front loading washing machine and got rid of it. She bought a new top loader washer and dryer. I was lucky enough to inherit her old pedestal. I saw this as an opportunity to not have to bend quite so far down to remove my clothes from the dryer. And she saw this as an opportunity to save this piece from the landfill. Another win-win!

After maneuvering the pedestal into place and I realized that it stuck out quite a bit further that both machines did before. The power coated metal pedestal didn’t look as smooth as I would have like so I set my thinking cap on for a way to camouflage it.

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Part of the wood base cut and screwed into place waiting to be painted. We also built and slid a top piece on to cover the metal base as well. 

When a not-so-pretty but highly functional pedestal base came our way for FREE we decided to take advantage of the windfall. Once it was in the my laundry room I then had to figure out a way to camouflage the unattractive metal. One day I was looking at our fireplace and realized the mantle cover up-piece was the exact answer I was seeking. All we had to do was build a kind of cabinet cover piece of wood, paint it and slip it over the offending pedestal and ta da, we now have a DYI pedestal cover!

Gene purchased the pine wood while in town one Monday and a friend helped us to cut it to size on his portable table saw one day when he came to Sunday dinner. I served Frank grilled salmon and chicken along with a fancy tossed salad…can you hear that refrain “I work for food!”

washer-and-dryer-from-angle-and-rugI primed the raw wood using Zinsser sealer and primer and then painted the frame pieces in a Benjamin More white semi-gloss trim paint to make it blend in nicely with the white washer and dryer. I had contemplated staining it in the maple wood tones to match my laundry room cabinets but I also realized that color matching pine with a maple finish was a time-consuming project I did not want to get involved in at that time.

I admit that the tight fitting appliancedwere a real pistol to get into the snug space between the existing two cabinets but with the help of our two friends and lot of jiggling we managed it. When I had my cupboards layout designed the kitchen designer asked me if I planned on having a pedestal installed and I said then, I did not. I wanted them of course but the added expense was pretty hard to justify.

I could however justify the expense of my commercial-size top-loading washing machine because prior to buying it I had been driving the 10 miles into town (and back) at least once a month to wash our bed quilt. Iwas alsomaking that drive  more often to wash seasonal items like my husband’s heavy hunting coats and outside work clothes. That drive, my time, plus the extra $10-$15.00 cash spent at the laundromat eeach month basically paid for the move up from the standard size machine to the commercial at home size washer.

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Anna our RIR photo bombs the photograph of the washer and dryer before we added the pedestal.

I love my front loading machines and have been very, very happy with them. I know from reading on-line articles that there was a class action suit on these machines due to mold that developed in the rubber seal located just inside the door. But I have been very careful from the beginning to carefully wipe out all of the moisture in the rubber seal after every wash and then to leave the door open to dry out thoroughly overnight. With this small extra effort, I’ve never had an issue of mold in my machine.

That small extra effort paid off big.

Small House Big Sky Homestead, Donna

Master Bedroom Refresh

I have been searching for a king size bedspread or comforter for our nearly ancient water-bed for months now. (My husband brought this waterbed to our marriage over 20 years ago and we still use it today!)

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The colors and weight of fabric in this King sized bed comforter is perfect for my needs. 

The Orvis quilt we bought just 4 years ago unfortunately ripped out and I quickly found out that my earth-tone palette of green, gold, rust and browns is no longer “in fashion.” And when colors are no longer in style this means you can’t find the fabric you seek no matter how long or how hard you search. I know as I have been looking for months and months; in stores and on-line.

My bedroom walls are painted in a Wythe Blue 143 paint by Benjamin Moore. See more here.https://www.benjaminmoore.com/en-us/colorcolor/color/…/wytheblue

I chose this historical, deep base color because I thought it was a very pretty and because I wanted a fairly dark room since I am a very light sleeper due to my wacky thyroid. Darkening the sleeping room is part of the sleep hygiene tricks those of us with autoimmune conditions follow.

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Our new matching curtain panels on our bedrooms corner window. This is a little sitting area I created using an old sewing rocker and chalk painted sewing table. 

Although my bedroom walls photograph more blue than green but they are actually a kind of deep sage green with gray undertones. I used the Wythe paint as my base coat and then washed a lovely golden/yellow paint over the base color. It really is lovely.

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A close up view of the wall paint color. 

I painted that same soft yellow/gold paint on my louvered closet doors and put down cream-colored carpet on the bed floor. I’ve discovered that it is almost impossible to find coordinating items for this color combination too. Our water-bed, dressers and armoire are each heavy and bulky to move so I am not up to repainting the walls either.

curtai-in-corner-and-spread-nice

This large armoire holds my dressier and work type clothing.

Yesterday at the Estate Sales Warehouse in Holland, MI, I finally hit the jackpot. For just $30.00 I found this King size comforter, three pillow shams and two matching drapery panels in this leafy pattern theme. And they are in my desired mix of woodsy colors. The slighter heavier weight of this older fabric is perfect, a bit heavier than the new ones and easily smooths out to a wrinkle free look. The reverse side is a tiny green on green check pattern that goes well with my wall paint color too. Hooray!

I could use either side of this comforter; the leaf theme patterned side or the tiny check side.

I also found a perfect quilt for just $8.00 for our guest bedroom with a white background, and the leaf green, rust colors of the spread and wall in that room as well. I folded and laid that quilt at the base of the guest bed as an accent piece.

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Our guest bedroom also got a mini reset with this lovely vintage quilt. 

In November after a long search, I had bought a comforter out of sheer desperation at Wal-Mart and was not happy about the colors (it was too icy blue) the make or the cheap fabric that lay in wrinkles on my bed no matter how hard I worked to spread them out. Nothing about that spread met my needs. I hated it and took it back for a refund. They just don’t make things like they used to!

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A closer view of this guest bedroom quilt shows the modernistic split circles of lime, rust and yellow. 

I am definitely a “frugal-ista” I love buying used or vintage goods. In fact, I actually prefer buying vintage. Yes, it is certainly about the savings and about saving the space in the landfill but it is also very much about the quality of the products and the way these older items wear and last.

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My original yellow sheer curtain panels pair well with the vintage leaf panels.

Give me an old cast iron pan over a new stainless steel pan any day. My 40-year-old cast iron skillets are as good as they day they were made and will likely out-live me.

Who cares if my colors are “out of fashion” right now, I do not. They are practical, work weell with the rest of my homes colors and best of all they do not show the dirt or dog hair our lifestyle brings. Give me a vintage bedspread over a new off-shore cheaply made model any day. This option is such an earth friendly alternative too.

It turned out that the two drapery panels were the exact length I needed and look as if they had been hemmed to the perfect length for our corner bedroom window!

Small House Big Sky Homestead, Donna

 

I’m Back On-Line

I have been gone from this blog for sometime, I know. It’s been a whirlwind year between my diagnosis of autoimmune Hashimotos’ Thyroiditis and Gene’s numerous health issues.  I have been focusing on learning everything I can about Hashimoto’s, finding a Functional Medicine physician all while homesteading. As a result this blog was sadly left in the dust as a result. My sincere apologies everyone!

Now that it is December, cold and snowy, our primary outdoor work (with the exception of caring for my chickens) has been put to sleep for the winter. Today I finally figured out what I needed to do about this perplexing and frustrating lack of space on my existing blog. It seems that I quickly filled all the available space and it was only 6 months into the calendar year. My current system was just not working for me and I didn’t have the time or the energy to research why.

However, I was forced to pay attention to this when my annual service agreement came due.

Today I renewed my WordPress Premium Plan for one year and learned about a process called optimizing my photographs. Do you know about this? Remember I am not a professional blogger, I am but a hobby blogger and some how I missed this basic information. You can read more about this optomizing process here. http://en.support.wordpress.com/media/image-optimization/

Thank you for you patience with me and I hope you had a lovely holiday this year!

Spring on the Small House Homestead – Photo Diary

Good morning! Spring is truly busting out all over on the Small House Homestead this month.

HOR quince and bench studio USE

A favorite flowering quince bush bursts into bloom at my studio building. 

Forsythia and studio USE

All of my forsythia shrubs were transplanted or propagated from tiny shrub starts.

Phlox and stones USE

Creeping phlox offers a splash of pale lavender and spreads.

Spring and its intense flowering beauty is what we in Michigan live for!

Burning bush and daffodils barn

Daffodils and a burning bush in front of the pole barn.

Violets and logs in garden USE

Wild spreading violets in the vegetable garden. They will be transplanted when it rains. 

Our homesteads many flowers, shrubs, fruit trees and bushes are really starting to come alive!

Pink pear blossoms

Planted in 2015 , this peach tree replaced a tree that died from our high ground water flooding.

Phlox and chartreause shribe behind porch USE

The low growing flowers and shrubs behind the three-season porch.

Our 5-acre homestead garden is a bloom with the fruits of fifteen years of my labor.

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The newly planted (2015) silver lace vine on the trellis is putting out leaves.

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Masses of wild purple violets bloom in the bird feeding bed under the dogwood tree.

Freckles with persnality and Snowball USE

Freckles and Snowball out and about enjoying the sunshine.

Playhouse with climber

The playhouse in the spring; day lilies are growing again and the climbers are too.

Sidewalk and chalk fun

Chalk drawings on the sidewalk speaks the language of spring.

I hope you enjoy a view of this week on the homestead and that you bloom where you are planted!

Small House homesteader, Donna

Moss on the Roof – Testing Wet and Forget Shingle Cleaner

The truth is that we are at an age now where we have to hire out some of the maintenance projects around the homestead. This is hard to do financially but I do not feel that we can risk Gene falling off of the roof and breaking a bone. Especially not during our busiest “spring rush” time of year! If Gene were to get injured everything from his heavy lifting to lawn mowing would end right now. Just not worth it.

This is one of the on-going challenges of senior homesteading. And to complicate things, Gene is suffering from either a pulled muscle or a hernia so he is not at his peak right now we well. His going up on the roof did seem like a smart decision currently.

Studio back with some leaves showing ladder

The studio building has moss on the roof.

We have discussed that if one of us breaks a bone or is for some reason is seriously incap
icitated or needs surgery; we could be in huge trouble here. We have no family nearby that can pitch in to help and hiring a local handyman or helper for day-to-day work is next to impossible here. Staying able, fit and capable of keeping the homestead up is serious business when you are a senior homesteader.

This week we hired a contractor to help us with two roof related projects. The first project was spraying the roof moss on the studio building. I noticed last fall that this roof was green with moss and I got busy researching and talking to contractors about what to do about it. The word was, “Take care of it now or it will affect the life span of your roof.” So that project was added to our maintenance list.

Our goal is to kill off the roof moss and to stop it from re-growing and ruining our roof.  I looked at several options; one option contained bleach, the second Wet & Forget was the least toxic and caustic and The Stainhandler product is caustic. I can see using this on an old pole barn for example but not on my 10-year-old, well maintained studio building with beautiful landscaping surrounding it.

The contractor who built the studio building said bleach works best but we are 100% totally organic here and I know that bleach is toxic so this option was out for me. The sodium  hydroxide in the Stainhandler Roof and Deck Cleaner product was stated to be caustic and that meant tarping or covering the entire building in plastic sheeting to prevent any potential corrosion issues with vinyl siding, eves and gutters, cement porch floor, etc. That just sounded like a lot of time, work and money to me. htttp://stainhandler.com

So we decided to try Wet & Forget first www.wetandforget.com/product_wet_and_forget_outdoor.html and are crossing our fingers that it works for us.

Wet and Forget is a concentrated product that is designed to attack mold, mildew and remove stains from the roof.  It is non caustic, non acidic and contains no bleach. This does mean you have to repeat using it from time to time, but that is a trade-off I am willing to make.  Wet & Forget  is an easy to use, one-step product that does not require, scrubbing, rinsing or power washing. You dilute it according to the directions, spray it on your roof with a garden sprayer and you are done. I read the reviews and most of them were positive.

VERT Frank spray roof

Frank the contractor spraying the Wet & Forget on the roof.

From the Manufacturer:
Wet and Forget has a unique combination of biodegradable selective surfactants for moss, mold and mildew stain removal on any exterior surface. When diluted with water and applied, it immediately penetrates the unsightly stain. Each time it rains, this safe, cleansing combination reactivates to gently lift the moss, mold and mildew stain without damaging the surface. Wet and Forget is an EPA approved one step process that requires no scrubbing or rinsing. It is non-acidic, non-caustic and contains no bleach. Be patient, Wet and Forget’s gentle cleaning action takes time depending on how heavy the stain is and results are visible over time. Remember good things take time, and Wet and Forget continues to clean for up to a year. No special equipment is required. Just apply Wet and Forget with a pump-up garden sprayer. After the first application simply reapply Wet and Forget at the first sign of moss, mold and mildew stains returning. Wet and Forget can be used on any outdoor surface. Some examples of these surfaces are: asphalt (black top), Astroturf, aluminum siding, awnings, brick pavers, composite decking, concrete, driveways, docks, fiberglass boats, fiberglass shingles, fiberglass hulls/topsides, green houses, gutters, inflatable dinghies, limestone, marble, marinas, natural stone, outdoor furniture, outdoor planters, paint surfaces, patios, patio furniture, plastic houses, recreational vehicles, retaining walls, sails, sandstone, shade sails, sidewalks, stucco, tennis courts, teak decks, textured finishes, tiles, tombstones, umbrellas (outdoor), vinyl siding and wood.

Our contractor said he used 6 gallons of this product for our roof putting three coats of it on the roof. He kept waiting to see a change but it did not so he put on another coat! Now we wait and pray that it does not rain for a few days!

Project 02 was to attempt to seal the leaks in our homes eves and gutter system. We have about a dozen leaks that required buckets under them and constant watching and emptying of the 5-gallon buckets. We put a new roof on our home in the fall of 2016 so this roof is sound and this leaking issue is not dangerous, but more annoying than anything. Every homeowner has an ongoing issue around their homestead and ours has been water…and after trying to get this leaking resolved for over four years, I wanted this fixed and fixed now.

Roof some moss showing USE

Streaks are a tell-tale sign that moss is on the way.

The locals here tell me that eve and gutters is the leading cause of ice damns here in snow county. Roofing experts tell me it is because these houses do not have enough ventilation or insulation (or both) in their attics. We have had serious issues with ice dam here for years, so we have added them both; insulation in the attic, ventilation around the perimeter of the house and when we had the roof replaced in the fall of 2014 we added a long roof vent system. All of these changes have improved the ice dam and huge dripping ice cycles we have long experienced here.

Although it is not common practice to put eves and gutter on houses here in our area we needed to keep the water off of the limestone siding of our home and from around our foundation. When we moved here there was a lot of moss growing right on the stone siding and I could see that water was running right down the siding and splashing up onto the stones and onto the foundation of our home. That was not a good thing.

We stated by scrubbing that moss off of the siding, adding seamless eves and gutters and I designed the landscaping around our home so the water would flow away from the foundation and off and down the lawn. But the water flow problem off of our roof has been a fifteen year issue and specifically ice dam on the roof and leaking eves remained and are now an issue I hope we have conquered at last. The next big rain storm will tell.

Next I am going to investigate stain protector zinc strips to help keep the black streaks and moss growth at bay as well.

Small House homesteader, Donna