A few days ago we and our guest built this bluebird nest box following plans from the North American Bluebird Society. The box is made from an old oak board we found on our property last year, while the roof is a pine board scrap stained with food-safe stain. Now to decide where to hang it!
Projects like this are 1) useful for our goal to be a habitat farm, 2) useful for helping guests feel like a contributor and successful right away, especially if it’s been a while since they’ve felt that, and 3) useful for practicing reading instructions, problem-solving little wood-working hang ups, and managing irritability when things aren’t instantly easy.
"A real house...when I walked in it made me feel like a real person, not just an addict."
Thank you to everyone who gave us furnishings--they helped make the house cozy and non-institutional, the goal for which we were aiming. We have one bathroom left to do and a few little things here and there in the two other bedrooms, like hemming curtains and assembling a bed, but the guest house is very close to done.
Top left: the kitchenette. Most meals will be with us in the main house, but guests can prepare breakfast or snacks here.
Top right: the living room (now with some houseplants)
Lower left: the ADA bathroom
Lower right: one of the guest rooms
Billy was interviewed on the Veteran on the Move podcast and got to talk about our farm vision and his transition from the military to civilian life. Click here to listen to the interview. Thanks to Joe Crane for this opportunity.
We send an annual letter to our financial donors. This is a summary of what we accomplished in 2018:
We’re glad to have you alongside us on this journey, and we look forward to what 2019 will bring.
Because we found the window frames were icky when we gutted the house, Billy has rebuilt them using plain pine. With the new drywall and fresh coats of creamy white paint, the guest house is closer and closer to ready for our first residential guests. Up this week: scraping old linoleum glue and drywall debris off the concrete floor so that we can finish the flooring.
And meet our pigs! Pig One, which we’ve had for about 6 weeks and who is standing in their trough at the back, was bored and also not clearing out this area fast enough. (We’re using pigs instead of the borrowed tractor to clear some pasture for the vegetable garden.) Today we got Oreo Pig and Pale Pig, and they seem to like the pasture. Pig One wagged her curly tail and started playing; Oreo Pig joined in, but Pale Pig is a little skittish. We plan to move their 25’x25’ pen every three weeks so they can clear more. Then the Rooster Brothers will come through and scratch things up, with mulch and alpaca beans. Spring is coming!
We also borrowed a tractor to help put in cedar posts, harvested from our woods, to fence the garden.
The barn is full! We picked up four rescue alpacas last week: Bling, an adult male with a dark rose grey fleece; Mirthful (aka Bella), a rose grey female; Cinderella, a white/beige female; and Prince, a four-month-old male cria, the son of Cinderella and Bling. They are enjoying the spacious barn and the paddock for now while we pull a few poisonous plants out of the pasture and put up some more fencing.
When they were originally rescued, they were quite malnourished. Their rescuer helped them put on weight and address a few health concerns, but they still need some extra attention. Each morning and evening April walks up to the barn and feeds them their supplemental snacks, and spends an hour hanging out with them--reading up on alpaca care, scooping up their valuable fertilizer, checking on their body condition, and watching some barn birds--so that they get used to people. (They'll approach you eat food out of your hand, but they don't enjoy being petted or approached by us quite yet.)
We look forward to helping them become healthy, happy alpacas. They're going to make great therapy animals!
Click here to watch a short video of them on YouTube.
If you're teaching someone how to canoe or kayak, you might explain the J stroke and feathering, and take some time to practice before you go out on a river or lake. You might go over the importance of wearing a life vest. You'll probably discuss how to move in a canoe to reduce the risk of capsizing, and how to re-right it and get back in if it does capsize. But if they do capsize, will you keep instructing them on the J stroke in that moment? No! You help the right the canoe.
I've been thinking about this and emotional/mental health, because sometimes we see people in our daily lives (or in our social media networks) who are sad, grieving, depressed, anxious, or otherwise in a crisis and we do things like telling them about J strokes and life vests when what they need at the moment is help getting out of the water and maybe a nice warm blanket so that they can dry off. Knowing the J stroke may help keep ya from capsizing your canoe, but it does no good once you're flipped and freezing cold.
It's something I (april) been thinking about after a friend was in crisis recently. I’m trying to weigh my words if I *have* to speak, and weighing if maybe it would be better to just be with the person in silence. Maybe we don't have to speak as much as we think we do. Maybe most of us have the knowledge of the truth that we need, and living it is the problem—or maybe, just maybe, there are bumps in the road from which no amount of knowledge can completely protect us.
So, when choosing what to say or do, let's ask ourselves: am I helping them right their canoe?
If you want to know one way to right a capsized canoe, check out this Boys Life Magazine article.
If you want more information on how to provide Mental Health First Aid, look for trainings on their website. Some areas may offer them for free--Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health used to (and may still) offer classes for free to churches, schools, or other groups that had at least 15 participants.
If you want to learn more about the difference between empathy and trying to fix someone, this short animated video narrrated by Brene Brown is good.
April enjoys baking, and we both like having not-too-sweet muffins on hand for quick breakfasts or an afternoon snack. Here is one of the recipes we made recently. If you like this recipe, there's a 1-page printable download at the bottom of this post.
Molasses Spice Cranberry Bran Muffins
From the kitchen of Sanctuary Farm & Rest House
Makes 24 Muffins
15-18 minutes at 400°
Preheat oven to 400° while mixing up the muffin batter.
In a large bowl, combine thoroughly and let stand for 10-15 minutes:
1 2/3 c. wheat bran
1 c. boiling water (make a pot of tea to enjoy with the muffins?)
Set aside so that the bran absorbs the water.
In another large bowl, mix thoroughly:
1 ¾ c. whole wheat flour
½ c. white/all purpose flour
2 ½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
½-3/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
½-3/4 tsp. ground cloves (or substitute both spices for 1-2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice)
Set dry mixture aside. Enjoy a cup of tea & line muffin tins while waiting for the 15 minutes to be up.
Whisk into the bran mixture:
1 c. molasses
A drizzle of honey (optional)
6 Tbsp. grape seed or other healthy oil
¼ c. dark brown sugar (reduce as needed)
Then whisk in:
1 c. dried cranberries
Add dry ingredient mixture to bran-egg-cranberry mixture and stir just enough to moisten flour. Batter will be very thick but also runny. Divide mixture between 24 muffin cups. Bake 15-18 minutes until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool for 2-3 minutes before removing from pans to serve warm, or to cool on a rack. These are very good with butter or plain.
Billy spent about nine weeks at The Rodale Institute in their veteran farmer training program. He learned a lot, came home with a wounded-and-now-healed chicken named Miss Ellie and a hive of bees, and jumped right back in to working on our guest house. Here is a blurb about him during his internship: https://rodaleinstitute.org/veterans-to-farmers/. We're thankful for the opportunity he had to learn from a large farm with years of organic experience, and for visitors who kept April company and helped us make progress on the renovations while he was gone.
Big news! First, we received our IRS determination letter today! We have one more major piece of paperwork--filing for tax exemption with the State of Arkansas--and then it will just be on-going record keeping and reporting going forward. This may be less exciting than alpacas and guests, but it’s important.
Second, as you may know from our newsletters, we had to gut the guest house due to water damage, termites, and critters, as it had sat abandoned for several years. Fixing it up was on hold while we got our own residence cleaned and repaired--one renovation project at a time was enough. Now that our house is pretty well ready, we are ready to tackle the guest house.
First up on the construction list: getting a plumber and a contractor to help us install a second bathroom, and getting heat and air installed. (With these two things we can more easily host visitors who want to help us finish the house and other projects as we prepare for long-term guests.) A local plumber was recommended to us by two people we trust, so we called him. He came out today and we talked through our ideas for making the bathroom accessible. We also asked him if there were general contractors he recommended: he said yes, but they are usually in high demand, so he didn't know if they would be available for some time.
Well, thanks to the stormy weather forecast for next week, a highly recommended contractor came over this afternoon! He was looking for a small job that he could do while he waits for the weather to clear up for his larger jobs. And best of all, he knows one of our board members and was recommended by him, too.
Third, April found out today that she has been accepted to VEToga teacher training in May. This training, for veterans, active-duty personnel, or military family members, is intended to help people with physical injuries or post traumatic stress—when trainers return home, they commit to offering a free yoga class to veterans and military families at least once a month. We will do that and also have it as part of the curriculum for our long-term guests. (If you would like to donate to VEToga toward April’s attendance, that would be great!)
Last but not least, one of our out-of-state board members was here for a visit. Jennifer Mathews helped us build a large raised garden bed out of untreated scrap lumber we found around the property. We are filling it with our second-hand moving boxes, old newspaper, fallen leaves and sticks, and kitchen scraps. We will let these materials compost in place over the next few months and they should be rich soil in time for spring planting—the last frost is around April 13, so that’s about when we will set out seeds and the plants we’ve started inside.
Thank you for your encouragement as we continue to move forward! We hope you are as encouraged by this momentum as we are.