Hoten Holler!



It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

1 December 2018 – Snowing and a high of 35

It is the perfect December day here on the Holler. We are in the middle of a big snowstorm, expecting 3-5 inches before tomorrow, and believe it or not, we are pretty happy about the snow. We have been waiting and waiting to put down the nitrogen fertilizer we bought in October. The fertilizer experts said to put it down right before a big snow, that way it won’t just evaporate and the moisture will maximize its purpose. We got done fertilizing all of our fields and the fields over at the High Lonesome on Thursday and it started snowing Friday night. The timing was perfect, so we’re happy about the snow. More on this later.

Beautiful snow – view from the barn
Cows looking for food

Thanksgiving was really nice. It was about 65 degrees here, but we weren’t around to enjoy it. We took advantage of the warm weather and sun and road-tripped back to Iowa where we got to have Thanksgiving with my parents and my brother. It is difficult for us to get away in the winter because our house is off-grid and solar powered. If it snows while we are away, there is no one here to start the generator (although this is supposed to happen automatically, we are still suspicious of this feature) and no one here to scrape the snow off the solar panels. Also, the cows need feeding and watering, and if it is bitterly cold the ice has to be broken off the water tank. Fortunately, the weather was nice so the cows had plenty to eat and drink and the batteries in the house remained charged thanks to the sunshine. It was really nice to see my folks and we ate and ate and ate. You gotta love Thanksgiving, especially if you love pie.


We had a great time in Iowa, but we were happy to return to the Holler. There is no place like home, and Rancher Dave and I have really transformed into country people. We are pretty uncomfortable in the city with the traffic and the noise, and Sheriff Joe is definitely a ranch dog. He had to be leashed during our trip because he doesn’t have any sense about traffic, cars, and he has no understanding of other people’s yards and fences. He likes wide open spaces, cows, and mule rides. So do I.

Joey’s ears flapping in the wind in the mule

We bought my brother’s pick-up and I drove it back. We had been searching for a little ranch truck that we can also run back and forth to town in and take some of the burden off of Truck Norris (our Toyota and only vehicle since we left Florida). Coincidentally, my brother was having a hard time selling his truck because it has a manual transmission. Apparently, no one can drive a stick shift any more, or they don’t want to because it makes it too hard to text and drive. Ha ha. I guess we are old school now and think it is pretty cool to drive a stick-shift. It turned out to be a good deal for all of us, so thanks, Bill! We love this little truck and have already had it back and forth to town a couple of times. It’s doing great in the snow, and proving to be a valuable ranch-hand.

My new ride.  We named it Tonto (because we name everything).

Now, back to putting down nitrogen. The fertilization process would have went really smoothly if it weren’t for the dang cows. They are so MOOOOODY! Our herd is spoiled rotten, and they have become so accustomed to being fed cake that sometimes we can barely get the mule out of the driveway without being stampeded by those hungry bovines. They have become quite the pests and I have even started threatening them about making them into burgers and often tell them they would be more likeable covered in cheese and stuffed in a sesame seed bun. On a day where they get really pushy, I like to sing Jimmy Buffet’s “Chesseburger in Paradise”. They don’t care.


Rancher Dave wanted to make sure the broadcaster was set to the proper rate so we put down the proper amount of nitrogen. This would require a test run in one of the small fields and also require him to hold a steady speed in Babe, the tractor. Sheriff Joe and I were supposed to follow along in the mule and indicate how far the fertilizer was throwing out of the spreader, but as soon as we started the mule, those crazy cows came running. They were rudely pushing about in front of Babe, preventing Dave from driving a steady speed. They were rushing toward Joey and me, and we couldn’t even walk across the pasture to show Dave where the fertilizer was broadcasting. Finally, we decided to give them some cake in another pasture and get them out of the way.

But NO! Those greedy girls ate all the cake and came running back to the field we were trying to work. We had to give them two bales of hay to occupy their time so they would leave us alone. Eventually, we figured out the proper setting on the broadcaster and went to work. The next day, we tricked the cows and fenced them into a pasture over at the High Lonesome so they would be out of our way.

Babe with the broadcaster attached, spreading nitrogen

Putting down fertilizer is pretty straightforward once you figure out the setting on the equipment and the speed you need to drive the tractor. The problem is that none of our fields are perfectly square so it is easy to lose track of where you have been already. Our good friend, Jeff, provided the remedy to this by introducing Rancher Dave to the MYTRACKS app. Dave put this app on his phone and was able to real-time track where he had been in the field. It also provided the speed as Babe has a tach but no speedometer. Look out Elon Musk, we’re pretty high-tech out here.


I got to do the driving on day 2, and this app made my job super easy. Of course, it looks like I did some drunken bowties in the middle of the field, and my excuse was that somebody texted me while I was working. I had to try to navigate my way back to the MYTRACKS app while driving Babe and this is the poor result.


I guess I shouldn’t make fun of people texting and driving any more.

Today, we got up right before sunrise. It was already snowing so I threw my snowpants on over my pajamas and went up to the barn to check on Maverick, the cat, and give him some food. I dusted snow off the beehives so the bees could go in and out. I scraped some snow and ice off the solar panels while Rancher Dave loaded the mule with hay. We fed the cows and by the time we got back to the house, the solar panels were covered in snow again. Dave went in the house to start the generator because it appears this will be one of those rare days where our batteries won’t get charged by the sun. Just because it was so beautiful outside and I was already wearing my snow gear, I decided to give the panels one more snow scraping.

I was nearly done and I turned around, looking for Sheriff Joe. I spotted him almost immediately as he was only about 50 yards from me. I was instantly shocked to see him in the international “dog play” position, with his front paws down on the ground and rear in the air, and NOSE TO NOSE with a coyote! The coyote was also in the play position. Alarm bells started going off in my head as I recalled story after story about coyotes sending out a scout to play with a dog, only to lure it back to the pack where it will surely be killed. I started yelling bloody murder, “Joey! No! Come! Get over here!” and “Dave, get the gun!” I was kicking myself because I had just leapt out of bed this morning and was unarmed. I didn’t even have my knife, although I’m not sure what I would have done with either weapon.

Dave couldn’t hear me because the generator was running, so instinctively I kept yelling and ran towards Joey and the “playful” coyote. I think Joe could tell I was upset and he came sprinting back to me, but the coyote just sat there and looked at us. I grabbed Joe’s collar and we ran to the porch and I said, “Dave, come kill this coyote!” Dave was on it, and threw on his coat and boots, grabbed his rifle and went out to the back deck. The coyote was long gone. We love animals, and are not keen on killing them, but after the disappearance of our cat, Goose, and the attempted abduction of Joey, we have decided it is open season on wiley coyotes, especially when they are brazen enough to come so close to the house with people outside and the generator making a lot of noise.

I’m sitting here now, looking out at the beautiful, gently falling snow and thanking the Good Lord that my dog didn’t get killed or attacked this morning. Dave is out scraping the panels again and shoveling snow off the deck. The cows are done eating and have headed back to the trees for shelter. I have a pot full of pinto beans and conecuh sausage cooking on the wood stove. It really looks like a Christmas Card outside and since it is the first of December, I think I’ll go dig out the Christmas decorations. We hope everyone out there in the real world is having a good weekend. Happy December!


The Dark Days

5 November 2017 – Cloudy and 23°

November hasn’t been a whole lot of fun on the Holler so far.  For the first time since we have been operating off of solar power (over 14 months) we have had five consistently cloudy days.  While we still have power, we are worried about the drain on the system’s batteries.

Quick Simple Explanation:  The solar panels take in energy from the sun and charge the battery bank.  The batteries provide power for all the needs of the homestead, but once they charge to 100% the sun provides the power directly.  This allows for us to have electricity at night provided by the charged batteries. As advertised, the batteries can last for 48 hours with 100% charge and no sun. The batteries are intended to last 7-10 years and are by far the most expensive part of the solar power system.  The best way to decrease the battery life is to run the charge down to a low percentage.

Additionally, we have a propane powered generator that should charge the batteries in the case of low sun days. Needless to say, we have been running the generator quite a bit the last few days.

Foggy on the Holler….taken around 1PM


I am definitely oversimplifying the system, but the gist of the situation is that while we have been quite literally living in a fog, the batteries have been providing the majority of our power.  Plus, an icy snow left a white sheet of ice on the panels preventing us from sweeping them clear and allowing the little bit of sun available to charge up the batteries. 

Solar panels swept off but some ice still remains


We are kicking ourselves a bit because we have been so cocky about how great the solar power is.  Well, it has been great except for about 5 days!  And we aren’t living without power. We also have heat from the wood stove and use propane for cooking and the water heater.  We are just being ultra-conservative while we wait and wait for the sun to come back out!  So enough complaining, these are minor problems and I think I see the sun trying to peek through the clouds.

Sadly, we also lost another chicken this week.  We were at home, getting dressed and ready to head out the door when Dave looked out the window and saw a golden eagle swoop down onto Ginger, one of our favorite girls and our most prolific egg layer.  Dave ran out and the eagle flew away, but she was already dead.  Fortunately, it happened very quickly and we doubt she even knew what happened.  As a result, we have been debating keeping the remaining four chickens cooped up again, but they are so used to free ranging it seems cruel to keep them in the run. We also think they may try to kill each other if confined since they are used to more space.  The continual question:  Is it better to be free and happy or contained and secure? We are discussing an expanded chicken run, but right now the ground is frozen and will make post driving nearly impossible. Ugh, poor Ginger!

On a positive note, we are really enjoying our winter chores.  Every morning, we get up and let the chickens out of the coop, break the ice off of their waterer and fill up their feed.  We check the beehive and make sure there is some thawed water on hand for them as well.  Then we head out to feed several bales of hay to the cows. The cows can hardly wait for breakfast, especially since there is snow cover on the ground now. Right about the time we are getting ready to feed them, they come out of the woods and head toward the house and start mooing.  “BREAKFAST!!!!!  Get out here people!”

IMG_4688 (2)
Waiting For Breakfast
Guarding the Driveway

Then we start up the Mule and they get crazy because they know it is the hay wagon.  They act like a bunch of little kids when they hear the ice cream truck coming down the street! They chase us up to the water tank where we distribute the hay and some cake as quickly as we can so we don’t get mauled. Lately we have also had to break ice up on the tank so they can get a drink.

Chasing the Mule to the feeding grounds
Breakfast, finally!!

The calves are still separated from the cows, so we head over the High Lonesome Ranch to muck the stall and feed the babies and fill up their water.  They also get crazy when they hear us coming and while Dave fills up the creep feeder he has to be really careful not to get kicked.  The corral they are eating in is a disgusting manure pile, despite our best efforts, so it would literally stink if he got kicked or fell down in that muddy mess! 

Dave giving Creep to the calves
The muddy mess!

While Dave feeds, I muck the stall.  Then we fill up the water and we grab more bales of hay for the evening feeding of the cows. We repeat the whole drill just before sunset, and occasionally have a Keystone at the High Lonesome with Cowboy Dave and Linda.

Despite the power problems and the chicken murders, we are making the most of winter so far.  The key is to dress in LOTS of layers, and to have a great pair of mud boots! 

That Sounds Like a Grand Idea!

7 December 2016  – Pearl Harbor 75th anniversary – God Bless the Vets of the Greatest Generation

-4°F this morning but warming up to 12°F – partly cloudy

The warm autumn is long gone and it seems to have taken all the double-digit temperatures with it.  It has been cold and it is forecast to be colder for the foreseeable future.img_2263

We are burning through some propane, but we have been pretty warm.  We keep the camper thermostat at a balmy 64° and the heater is running nearly continuously day and night.  Fingers crossed that it continues to work!  We haven’t had much snow so far, but it’s coming.  (I’m dreaming of a white Christmas!) 

Our water pump and fresh tank have frozen again, but it is inevitable with the wind-chills in the negative teens. Dave and I were discussing the best way to get a warm shower despite our plumbing issues and we recalled a conversation held long ago on a warm and sunny Florida day, long before embarking on this big adventure. It went something like this:

  • Dave:  “We should find a rental place near the build site so we can see the progress as the house goes up.”
  • Me:  “Or, we could just buy a little camper, live on site and not have to throw away rent money!”
  • Dave:  “That sounds like a grand idea!  But it might get cold in the camper if we’re still building in the winter.”
  • Me: “I’m up for it if you are.  How bad can it be?”
  • Dave: “I’m up for it, we can survive the cold for a few months. Besides, it’s the banana belt! Let’s do it!”

And here we are, 8 months into the big adventure. Image result for shining meme + cold

The good news is there has been some great progress on the house.  Sheet rock, taping and texturing is happening this week through next.  The dumb-waiter is being installed.  The ventilation is being prepared for the gas range.  The mini-splits are in!  We have made decisions on floors, carpet and sink countertops.  The house is coming together and it is looking spectacular.

Another fun activity for us has been monitoring the temperature in the house to make sure it is within the plus/minus limit that the sheetrock needs as it dries.  Fortunately, the house is super insulated and it holds its temperature extremely well.  It is usually around 55 degrees when the construction crew leaves. They have a little propane blast furnace inside they use while they work and there is a lot of passive solar heat from the south facing windows during the day.  As the sun sets (at around 4PM) the temperatures outside plummet but the house is usually still in the mid 50’s at 8PM.  The sheet rock has to be maintained above 55 and below 65 to dry properly.  Before we go to bed we pop into the house and crank the propane heater to get the temp inside to around 60.  Then we monitor it via remote sensor from the camper.  Dave has been getting up between 4 and 4:30 AM to crank the blast furnace again as the temp only then falls to the 55 degrees.  That is some pretty good insulation!  Fortunately, we shouldn’t have to do this much longer once the sheet rock and taping is completely cured. 

Blast furnace in the basement, used to keep house at temp while sheet rock dries.


I hope this post finds all of you out there warm and well.  Don’t worry about us, we are truly having a blast (an arctic blast)! It helps that we have both spent longer stretches of time in worse places, a Coast Guard Cutter in the Bering Sea, a tent in Saudi Arabia…etc. etc.  Life in the Holler, even in a camper, ain’t too bad. We remain happy, healthy, and optimistic and hope the same for all of you reading.



Homestead Update

Monday, 21 August, Hot and highs in the upper 80’s – Tuesday 22 August, highs in the upper 70’s (PLEASANT!!)

We are super excited to see all the work that has been completed on the house.  You can see the solar batteries have been installed and now the builders are working off power provided by the sun.  Thank you GenPro and thank God for the sunshine!

Big Kudos too to Todd and his hard workin’ crew!  Look at all the walls and progress.  Woot woot!!

And one more big thanks to Greg the excavator for his amazing work and persistence in busting through all of this rock.  We have a septic tank and a cistern for water.  Nice job, Greg!!

Solar Panels

The 20 panel portion of our PV system is now installed.  This will be connected to our house electrical panel which will contain the inverters and charge controller.  Once the walls are up, the battery bank and standby generator will complete the system.  Take that, electric company!


The Woodstove

Our woodstove is complete and ready to ship.  Here are a couple of pictures from Woodstock Soapstone before it was crated.

Hoten-stove 1Hoten-stove 2

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