Canning 101

Every summer growing up I would watch my mom put up several batches of fruit and jam from local produce. It was an exhausting process, but I don’t think we ever ate store-bought jam. Instead, we were able to enjoy delicious produce all year long because my mom knew how to can. As I entered my teenage years I started helping her more and developed a love (or obsession, depending who you ask) for canning myself.

Canning is a great skill to have, especially if you have access to produce (from neighbors or your own garden). It is not that hard to do and only requires a few pieces of equipment. I love it because we often get power-outages at our home due to wind, and while I worry about our frozen foods spoiling, I never have to worry about the jars of food I have preserved. I also love knowing exactly what is in my foods and being able to make healthy foods for my family with my home-grown produce.

All the colors of these canned goods will give us a rich and varied diet through the bleak winter months.

Canning comes in basically two flavors. There is regular water-bath canning, arguably the most common form, where jars are submerged in boiling water. There is pressure canning, where jars are placed in a pressurized vessel for a particular amount of pressure and time. (There is also freezer canning, but this does not produce jars that are shelf stable.)

Why choose one method over the other? It is not really a choice, it all depends on what you’re canning!

Fruits, fruit spreads, and pickled goods are suitable for water-bath canning. This method capitalizes on a few features for preserving the produce: acidity (generally in the form of vinegar or lemon juice) and heat. By heating the jars up to boiling temperature and adding an acid, enzymes and other microorganisms are killed. The heat creates a vacuum when the jars are removed from the bath and food is kept preserved for years.

Foods like vegetables in plain water (not pickled) and meats don’t have enough acid to be safely canned in a water-bath canner so they must be pressure canned to get to the appropriate temperature to make the foods safe. I am not as familiar with this method (despite my wonderful brother-in-law getting me a pressure canner as a wedding gift, but it’s something I’m going to look more into in the future. It’s important to have your pressure canner checked yearly to ensure the gauge is working correctly.

In water bath canning, the acidity of the food kills the microorganisms that can cause illness or spoilage, along with heat to remove oxygen and create a vacuum. For foods with low acidity, the temperature needed to kill these microorganisms CANNOT be achieved in a water bath canner, so a pressure canner must be used to make these foods safe. You can use a pressure canner to can both high and low acid foods, but water bath canning is exclusively for high acid foods.

It is critical when you’re canning for food preservation to follow the correct steps of a tested recipe. This is not the time or place to experiment. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a great free guide that goes into more detail here. I myself only follow recipes from cookbooks produced by companies such as Ball. These have been tested for safety and they have a lot of other good information in them including troubleshooting issues.

 

How We Canned Our Tomatoes

This is meant to be a general overview of canning, please follow an approved recipe when canning your own produce.

As you may have read in one of my other posts, we had a delightful bumper crop of tomatoes this year. I planted these with canning in mind (nothing beats homemade chili from homegrown tomatoes in the winter!), so I picked two varieties of Roma tomatoes. These are known for being good sauce tomatoes with their great flavor and lower water content compared to other regular tomatoes.

When enough tomatoes were ripe, I enlisted my husband to help start canning them. We canned halved tomatoes and some tomato sauce.

Before prepping the food, I like to get my water bath started. Check jars for chips, cracks, or scratches on the rim. These will, at best, not seal and your food will spoil, and at worst, break in your canner getting glass everywhere. Toss any jars with these flaws (or at least relegate them to a non-canning task. I had a beautiful bluish jar with a faint scratch on the rim that wouldn’t seal and now it’s storing oats for my rabbits.) With hot water and dish soap, clean enough jars for the amount of produce you’ll be preserving (recipes typically have an estimate for you, I always add one extra just in case). Rinse the soap off of the jars and put them in the canner with ~1 inch of water over their rims. Bring this to a gentle boil for at least 10 minutes before starting to can your produce.

Also set a sauce pot of water on low heat for your lids. You don’t need to include the rings, but I find putting the lids in the rings helps keep them separated. This water shouldn’t boil, but be hot enough to get the rubber seal around the edge of the lids soft. Buy new lids every time, don’t reuse lids. Rings are fine to reuse.

For any recipe, make sure your produce is clean and free of blemishes or rotten pieces. Always wash your produce thoroughly before canning!

I had two recipes for canned tomatoes to try, one with the tomatoes in their own juices and one with water. I found, at least with my Roma tomatoes, that canning them in their own juices doesn’t work that well. They don’t have much juice to begin with, so you have to push pretty hard on them to get any fluid accumulated. Ultimately they were packed too tightly and lost fluid during the canning process.

So for the rest of them we went for tomatoes in water.

Our recipe indicated that 2-3 pounds of tomatoes would fit in a quart jar, so we weighed out 5 lbs of tomatoes at a time hoping to get 2 quarts.  We washed our tomatoes then cored them. We set a small pot of water to simmer on the stove and when it was hot, dropped a number of tomatoes in. After no more than 40 seconds (or as soon as we saw the first skin starting to split) we removed all of the tomatoes from the boiling water and put them in a cool ice bath. This stopped their cooking and sped up how quickly we could handle them. With this process, the skins slip right off.

We did 25 pounds of tomatoes this way. Once skinned, halving the tomatoes, removing their seeds, and putting them in a big sauce pot.

My little helper is always there to catch anything I drop… (this photo is actually of our tomato sauce adventure where the skins are strained out after cooking.)

By the way, save all of these scraps if you have chickens or pigs, they’ll love you for it!

After all 25 pounds of tomatoes were done (limited by the number of quart jars that fit in the canner), I added just enough water to cover the tomatoes. I then heated them up, simmering for 20 minutes.

You can raw pack or hot pack a lot of fruits and vegetables. While hot packing (heating up the produce before putting it in the jars) is annoying and sticky, it does make the finished product look nicer. The fruit won’t float to the top as much as it does when it’s raw packed. Just a preference thing.

When the tomatoes are ready, pull the jars out, draining the water in each jar into the sink. If you leave all of the water in the canner, it will overflow when the full jars are put back in. Set the jars on a clean towel on the counter. Add two tablespoons lemon juice to each quart jar (you can add salt too, I usually forego it since I’ll be adding salt to whatever dish they’re going into). Then add your tomatoes. I try to separate as much fluid as I can initially, getting only tomatoes in the jars, then adding water from the tomato pot back to the jars to get them to the right level. We’re looking for 1/2 inch head space here.

When all the tomatoes are packed, take a moist paper towel and wipe the rims of each jar. Take your time here, because one little speck of tomato will prevent the whole jar from sealing and that sucks. When the rims are all spotless, use your magnet wand to grab a lid, placing this on the jar, then a ring. When tightening the ring, only make it finger tight, don’t try to put muscle into it to seal it. It needs a little room to breathe out air while in the canner.

When all the jars are lidded and ringed, place them back in the water canner. You should have enough water to cover the jars by at least one inch, but if you’re short you can add back the hot water from the sauce pot that was holding your lids. Process as described in your recipe, for us it was 45 minutes of a rolling boil (start counting from when the water boils again, not when the jars are added!). Be aware that processing times change with altitude, so make sure you take that into account!

When the time’s up, turn the heat to the canner off and let the canner sit without its lid for five minutes before removing the jars. Take the jars out, keeping them level, and place them on a towel on the counter with at least 2 inches of space between jars. You should start hearing the “pings” of jars sealing soon. Don’t mess with them! I know it’s so tempting… All jars should seal, the button on top should be sucked in and not move if you push on it with a finger, within two hours. If any hold out, put them in the fridge to eat soon or reprocess as described in your canning book.

After 12-24 hours, you can remove the rings. Grab the jars by the edge of the lid and lift the jar off the counter an inch or so. If the lid stays intact, the jar is sealed well and can be labeled and stored. If the lid comes off the jar was not sealed well and should be put in the fridge to be eaten. Growing up we always left the rings on the jars with no issues, but a good point was made to me recently that if you take the rings off you can spot spoilage quicker. It also prevents the really sticky fruits from seizing the rings to the jars, if you didn’t clean them up after canning… like you should’ve…

First batch of quarts, I have at least twice this on my shelves now with at least 10 more pounds of tomatoes waiting for me to get my act together.

I label my jars pretty simply, with the year they were processed and what is in the jar. I can tell tomatoes from applesauce without a label, but sometimes it’s nice to know which batch something came from or if there’s added salt in one.

I place all of my sealed jars a cool dark pantry where they will keep for over a year. But there’s always more to can next year, so I try to make sure we eat everything through the winter!

Jackson’s First Birthday!

Guess who’s a good boy?

Jackson, the Goldador, on his first birthday!

Jackson just celebrated his first birthday on July 19th, and my what a year it’s been!

I thought I’d do a little update since the last post about him was quite a while ago (especially in dog years!). While he hasn’t completely lost some of those puppy antics, every once in a while now we glimpse the adult he is becoming. Especially when he catches the ball without it bouncing! Wow!

In the time since our last post about him, my husband has been able to start working from home, so Jackson is no longer alone all day. It’s a big relief, as he was quickly outgrowing the bathroom area. It is nice though that he has been well trained and can be crated for a few hours without going bezerk so we can go run errands and whatnot. See our post about raising him here.

Jackson can entertain himself very easily. While some dogs are constantly seeking attention and interaction with people if not otherwise engaged, Jackson generally can entertain himself quite well. He likes playing with toys, working on his puzzle treat devices, and napping when we can’t pay attention to him. We do like the fact that if a ball goes under the couch, he doesn’t go completely bonkers and make us get it for him. He will try for a long time, but if he can’t reach it, he just finds a different toy.

I want to put in here that we DO pay a lot of attention to him! He’s learned “where’s your squeaky ball” and will go locate said ball in the yard so we can play fetch. He is so kind as to bring the ball directly to us and drop it without us having to pry it from him. When he gets too tired he’ll lay down with the ball and we all relax until he’s ready for round two. He is also a complete snuggle bug and we’ll sit curled up on the couch after dinner in the evenings. Sometimes he plays a game my husband calls “Who’s head is harder?” where he snuggles his head into yours and pushes until he flips.

Jackson taking a break from playing with the other dogs at the dog sitter

We also like to take him to our little river behind our house and go swimming. At first he wasn’t too keen on not knowing how deep the bottom was. He would awkwardly extend his legs with each step to make sure the bottom was still there. Getting him to go in the deeper water and actually swim took a little convincing, but once my husband put on his waders and showed Jackson that it was okay, our born water dog showed his true colors. He now happily splashes in the shallows and the pools, trying to retrieve every stick out of the river for our inspection and appreciation.

Jackson learning that swimming is fun!

One of the big milestones in the past year was Jackson was boarded while we went to Wisconsin for a wedding. He stayed for three nights at another family’s home. We got lots of pictures of him having a blast playing with the other dogs and we started getting a little nervous he wouldn’t want to leave! When we walked up to the door to pick him up though we could hear him start whining with excitement and he jumped into our arms like we were gone for a lifetime. He was so happy to see us, and us to see him. We were also relieved that the dog sitter was so pleased with him, she said he minded very well and was a joy to have (when we left him he was a black wrecking ball of excitement running around with their other dogs, so hearing this was great news!).

We’ve also been taking Jackson on more hikes and trips with us, now that he has all of his vaccinations done. We had been hesitant to venture into the soggy wilderness that is the Pacific Northwest until he had his leptospirosis vaccine. Jackson is proving to be a great hiking buddy and we’re even considering getting him his own pack so he can carry some goodies for himself along on the longer hikes.

Jackson loves the beach still, as a true coastal dog must. Despite his overall excellent manners, I never walk him off lead because we haven’t worked on “come” nearly enough for me to be confident to do so. The beach is quite fun, there’s so much to smell! Jackson will play with anyone if they come near, and if they’re displaying polite dog gestures I will let them say hello.

I’ve been in more than a few situations though where the dogs run up snarling or aggressively postured and it’s quite scary. I used to be able to just pick Jackson up and carry him to safety. Now I just tell him “leave it” and we walk away before the dog reaches us, usually with the other owners trying to call their dogs to no avail. Luckily we have not had any serious issues stemming from these encounters, and Jackson seems happy enough to keep sniffing his way down the beach and leave the other dogs behind. I have a couple secret beaches that we go to that the larger crowds do not utilize as much too. Jackson’s favorite things to investigate on the beach are crab shells, driftwood, and all garbage. Thank goodness, he is very good at dropping and leaving things when we ask him too!

Another thing I was sure to work on with Jackson was getting used to being touched all over, including having his nails done. I’ve heard far too many stories of dogs so afraid of having their nails done that it’s nearly impossible and I refused to have this occur with our dog. He’s a total dream for nail clipping and will offer his front paws willingly. Most of this is because when he was little we would touch his paws and give him treats and it was always a positive experience, making sure to touch every part of the paw including between his toes. We introduced the clippers gradually over several weeks working our way up to clipping one nail, then one foot, then all the feet, with lots of treats throughout. The only time he ever pulled away and refused to have his nails done, I found a thorn stuck in one of his toe pads, ouch! Such a brave boy.

I still play with his feet and give him treats without cutting nails too sometimes!

He is also great at having his mouth looked at and ears cleaned. He is enjoying getting his fur brushed more now too, which is a good thing because he sheds like crazy! The one thing I would like to work on more is getting his teeth brushed. He’s tolerant enough, but it is a bit of a struggle to prevent him from eating his doggy toothpaste and chewing on the brush.

Jackson got neutered at about 9 months old. We waited a bit longer than normal since he was a bigger dog and some vets think that having a little testosterone production helps get their bone growth to a good place. While it was more expensive to get it done since he was bigger, we are happy with the results. He recovered very quickly and actually seemed to like wearing his cone. He would drop his toys into it and prance around the house carrying them in his cone. He also would put the rim flat on the ground to smell things out in the yard, which looked hilarious. Keeping him from getting too excited and boisterous was another thing, it seemed like all he wanted to do was jump and run around. Frozen Kongs came in handy again here to keep him occupied and still, and he has surprising little trouble with them despite his cone.

First day after the neuter, poor boy got lots of pets and love.

So all in all, year one has been great. We’ve learned so much about training and it’s been amazing seeing how much he’s grown and progressed in just a year. His head now is the about size he was when we brought him home, which blows my mind. We’re so happy we got him, he’s definitely a part of our family.

So happy birthday Jackson! Here’s to many more years of getting to share our lives with you!

All tuckered out after a long day chasing seagulls on the beach!

Our First Pig

When we moved into our new house, we were blessed with prosperous blueberry bushes. Ripening around the beginning of July and still quite pickable into September, they nearly satisfied my need for a garden. Nearly. With no time to create a garden space for the 2016 growing season, I was content with the bountiful harvest of blueberries, but I vowed to have a roaring vegetable garden in 2017.

I decided for ease of distance to the house and ease of protecting the garden from deer (and more often in our neck of the woods, elk) I would create a blocky U-shaped garden around the preexisting blueberry patch that needed a new fence anyway. However, the area around the blueberries was densely planted with lawn grass, we didn’t have a tiller, and I wasn’t about to hand dig hundreds of square feet. Who could shoulder this heavy burden?

Pigs.

Pigs are natural rototillers, they root up soil in search of tasty morsels hiding just beneath the surface. This includes roots of plants, like dandelions. I could harness the energy of a couple of pigs to tear up my garden for me, fertilizing it as they went. Then not only would I have a clean slate to work with, but I’d also have pork!

And this is how we decided to get pigs.

My next step was to determine how to get the pigs to the area I wanted and how to house them. At first I was completely set on developing a moveable electric fence set up, but as I moved forward I saw that I could have a much bigger number of issues with electrical fencing than with just using hog panels or the like. I don’t have any experience with electric fencing, our ground is quite rocky in some areas (an issue for grounding rods necessary to complete the circuit of an electric fence), and the thought of how to connect our fence to electricity was haunting my dreams.

Hubby and I decided the best bet would be a large moveable pig tractor that we could hook up to a riding mover and tow to a new section of lawn each day or so. The pig tractor would have to be heavy enough to keep them from rooting up panels and escaping, but also within the towing limits of one of our many riding mowers. Because I wanted to encourage the pigs to destroy the lawn, I wanted to make the pen a bit smaller than I would have normally liked. We decided on 10 x 10 feet for the pen, giving each pig about 50 square feet to live in (still totally adequate by most standards).

To build our tractor we had planned to buy hog panels and use them, but my parents offered free used fencing and boards if we wanted them, so we decided to patch together a pen from reclaimed materials from their farm. It was not beautiful, and it had flaws, but it worked.

I did some research on breeds and found a few local listings for piglets that would be weaned when we were ready. I settled on two Large Black x Berkshire piglets. I really enjoy the idea of heritage breeds and wanted to try something that I hadn’t seen before. One thing I was a little nervous about was that Large Black pigs are known for being “grazers” and being more gentle on the land than other breeds. I was hoping their Berkshire ancestry and the smaller pen size would help them want to get their snouts dirty.

They were born in May and weaned a bit later than the normal 8 weeks, which was totally fine by us because we procrastinated getting the pen together until literally the day we brought them home. This meant less feed we’d have to buy and they would be off to a great start gaining weight. I brought them home in August and we forecasted an early December harvest.

I brought the pigs home in a large dog crate, and it took us a long time to get them out. When they finally did leave the crate, they galloped around with little happy squeals, eating grass and attempting to root, then passed out from our long drive.

It took them a little while to properly annihilate the grass where we placed them. About a week for their first patch. Then it became quicker as they got bigger with just a few days needed between patches.

Then one day, one of our pigs mysteriously dropped dead. She had been a totally healthy pig, no signs of illness the day prior. The best we could figure was that with the wild swings of temperatures, she had gotten pneumonia. It looked like she went peacefully, when I found her I thought she was just sleeping. Her sister went totally ballistic when we took her body out of the pen. It was traumatic for all of us.

The next day, the sister pig had still not totally calmed down yet. Right around morning feeding, she spooked and pushed right through the closed pen gate. She took off running across our property with me in close pursuit. She eerily stopped to sniff at the place we had buried the dead pig, then bolted again. To add more stress, this was all about 10 minutes before we had to leave to go to work. She ran onto the highway, then got honked at by a log truck before she did a 180 and ran right back towards me before diverting and running into the blackberry thicket. Our neighbor helped keep an eye on her location while we tried to lure her out with food. My husband, in his work suit, was ready to tackle her when she came out, but she was a speedy little porker and blazed right by all of us and out of sight.

I finally gave up, knowing we had an hour commute to work that we were already late for. The best we could do was leave her food and water in the pen and hope she went back. We worried all day that she would cause a car wreck. When we finally got home, hubby ran inside to change into pig wrangling clothes. I heard a rustle in the blueberry bushes and to my utter disbelief, the pig was in the blueberry patch happily grunting in the shade. I slowly approached and she got excited and squealed for food. We slowly moved the dog crate to the gate for the blueberry patch, threw some food in, and closed the door behind her. And that’s how we caught the pig.

It’s a funny story, now that it’s over. We ratchet strapped the pen shut and never opened that gate again, opting to crawl over the fence instead. Just to be safe…

By losing one of our pigs, we did lose 1/2 of our tilling power and it again took about a week to till one patch. But then the rains came. It’s amazing what a few inches of rain can do. In just a couple of days, our sole pig was up to her chest in mud begging to get moved to higher ground. It was a miserable business, very dirty and slippery, but she was quite delighted to start working on a new patch of grass when it was all over.

We had considered having the pig till up a pasture to sow with good sheep forage for later on, but after a few months of our pig working on the garden site, we decided not to create a pasture after all. Hubs couldn’t stand to look at pig wallows and mud all over our front yard until pasture grass came in. We’ll figure out something different for that project in the spring.

The garden space turned out excellent. The pig was easily able to till down 6+ inches when we had dry weather and over 12 inches when it was wet. She ate all of the plants and other organic things she found on her way down. She also unearthed a few treasures like shards of glass, a baseball, and an antique spoon. It was really nice to see our leftovers actually get eaten too.

I tried to find out how we could get her to a butcher place. The plan was to borrow my parents’ horse trailer, but a lack of time and bad weather made the hour drive to the butcher a no-go. I also looked into a mobile slaughter company, but alas, they did not service our location. So, out of options and with some trepidation, we decided to slaughter and butcher our own pig.

I have experience butchering chickens and rabbits, but no animal as large as a pig. Reading online and reviewing my copy of The Ultimate Guide to Home Butchering helped calm some of our fears. We enlisted the help of my eager-to-learn brother-in-law and embarked on our journey.
  Everything went better than expect and we added a lot of beautiful pork to our freezer. I highly advise getting a good set of really sharp butcher knives, gambrel, and vacuum packer, as these made the job easier. We didn’t realize it at the time, but getting pigs that would be ready for butchering in the winter was a huge plus when we decided to butcher at home. Most sources recommend hanging the carcass for at least overnight in a fridge to let it chill properly. We do not have a fridge that big, but the outside temperatures were exactly fridge-like, so it worked out perfectly.

We really enjoyed having a pig, learning how to take care of it, and feeling the pride of filling our freezer with all of our own efforts. After it all, we decided that we do not want to do another pig project for a while, at least not while we’re both working full-time. We also voted that for our next pigs, we will build a permanent pen that won’t break on us. While the reclaimed materials were nice cost-wise, the pen really took a beating from getting dragged around and from the pig herself.

All in all, I think we succeeded quite well on the mission to till a garden space and the pork was a huge bonus!

 

Raising a Puppy while Working: Our Schedule and Housebreaking

I had a puppy once. When I was 10. I will get into all of the things I did wrong with that one in another post, but suffice it to say I knew when I got my next puppy, things would be different.

13 years and a B.S. in Animal Sciences later, that day finally came.

I am a research junkie and before I make any decisions I typically browse the web to see what other people have done, how it worked out, and what I could do for best success. Having my puppy was no different, especially since I was also working a full-time job which involved me being away from home for about 12 hours a day.

My research uncovered that basically, if you get a puppy with a full-time job, you are Satan and should be shot. People were all super passionate that if you had a full-time job, you should not get a dog, let alone a puppy.

I read all the arguments: potty training nightmares, hiring help, separation anxiety, general destruction and mayhem, the puppy’s well-being, etc. I found almost no success stories without people shelling out huge sums for daycare and drop in walkers or taking weeks off from work. Anyone who asked about getting a puppy with a job on forums was quickly roasted to a little charcoal crisp. I realized that I probably shouldn’t get one at this point in my life.

Nevertheless, when I happened to stumble across a sweet little Golden Retriever/Labrador pup, the logic part of my brain went out the window.

Forget “probably shouldn’t”, we NEED him.

I was determined to prove everyone wrong and even more determined to prove to myself that I could raise a well-mannered wonderful dog. I re-read (for at least the fifth time) Dr. Ian Dunbar’s book Before and After Getting Your Puppy. I got a good sturdy crate (or three, is that excessive?) and a plethora of Kong and stuffable toys. I scheduled four days off from work. Then we brought little Jackson home.

After work on a Thursday, I drove down to pick up Jackson as an 8-week-old pup. I had put a deposit down when he was about 3 weeks old, and we had already met him when he was 5 weeks. He was the cutest damn thing.

But cute or not, we couldn’t cuddle him all day. We knew that in a couple short days he would be left home alone for over 8 hours, and we had to start preparing him for that, stat.

Determined to crate-train, and on a tight timeline, we did not have the luxury of clicker training him to the crate or easing him into it. He had to know this was how it was and that the crate was the best place in the world!

As soon as I got home with him on the first day, he got a potty break, 30 minutes of play, then he went into the crate with a food-stuffed Kong. He did not go in quite willingly, but didn’t put up much of a fight once he saw the food in there. He didn’t cry much, but any noises he did make fell on deaf ears.

After about an hour we went out for potty and lo-and-behold he went! He got lots of praise and treats immediately for eliminating. That was our routine for the rest of the night, 30 minutes supervised (like a hawk supervises) play then in the crate for an hour. By bed time we had one last potty then we brought the crate to our bedroom next to the bed and he went in for the night. He cried for about 15 minutes, then went into a dead sleep.

At about 12:00 I heard some whining and got my slippers on for a potty trip. Without a word, I took him out of his crate, carried him to the door, grabbed some treats and went straight outside. “Jackson, go potty” was met with elimination. He received treats and quiet praise, then was carried back to the crate. He cried again for about 10 minutes, then heavenly silence. Again at about 4:00, at his soft whimpering, we repeated.

The next day, we repeated the schedule of 30 minutes of play, 1 hour of crate time with and without food in the crate. When there wasn’t food, he cried for a while before falling asleep. If he was asleep after an hour went by, I woke him up to take him to potty. He went nearly every time. If there was no potty, it was back to the crate for 10 minutes before another try.

At night, we repeated the same thing as before with roughly the same wake up times. He didn’t cry when we put him in his crate anymore. I think the reason for his quick transition was the fact that he was the last puppy to go home, so when we finally got him he had already been sleeping alone but now he got to sleep in a crate next to us so it was actually better.

The next day, Saturday, we started getting him used to his playpen, or what Dr. Dunbar calls his “long-term confinement area”. He quickly shredded the puppy pad and hated seeing us leave the room, a reaction he never had while in the crate, but he eventually settled down. We made an effort to consciously look away from him when he started making a fuss and would only take him out when he was quiet and sitting. In retrospect we probably should have played with him and fed him more in the pen to make it less scary, but he got it eventually.

A stuffed Kong: the ultimate distraction

He would stay in the play pen when we went out to do yard work or farm chores, but no matter what, we took him outside on the hour to potty. Then he got his treat and well-deserved play session.

So hard to refuse that little face!

We also interspersed a few crated time-outs for food and our own sanity.

That night we gave no more food or water after 8:00. We only got up once to potty.

The next day was more of the same, but the intervals were closer to 1.5 hours in his play pen. He received lots of stuffed toys before we left the room, which he did not mind in the least. When we sat down to eat dinner, he was making a fuss, trying to climb over the wire playpen. Then we heard shrieking that made my husband and I both jump up, he had gotten his paw stuck in the gate of the pen and could not free it.

Our plan had been to keep him in the playpen the whole day we were at work, however if he could injure himself in it or get stuck, it was a plan that had to be rethought.

We decided to keep the playpen for day-use when we were home, and use our bathroom for a puppy room when we were gone at work. We knew in either case, he was not going to be able to hold his bladder until we got home, we knew there would be a mess. We also hated our bathroom and knew a remodel was not so far down the road.

The first day back at work was terrifying for me. I stuffed all of the Kongs we had and picked up everything in the bathroom that he could get into, including the shower curtain! Then we shut him in and left.

While we were gone, I constantly wondered what he was doing and if he was okay. When we finally got home, the house was dead silent. I was certain he was dead.

He wasn’t. Opening the bathroom door I found a happy wiggly puppy thrilled that we were back. There was somewhat of a mess in the bathroom, but he kept it all to one corner. We went out immediately to go potty and then played the night away.

And that was our routine for months. On weekends when we were home, we didn’t play with him non-stop. He had a lot of time in his crate and in his playpen. We had to have him know that we weren’t everything in the world, that he’d be perfectly okay while we were gone, and that we’d always come back.

As far as chewing went, Kongs and nylabones were our go-tos as they were the least destructible. I would measure out his kibble each day and stuff about 3/4 of it into his Kongs for while we were gone. He would get the last bit as training treats or in Kongs when we got home.

As he was able to start mastering a tightly stuffed kibble Kong, we added in wet food, trickier treats, and started freezing them. I don’t know exactly how long it took him to get through all of the Kongs we gave him each day, but he seemed content. He started with a medium puppy Kong, a large puppy Kong, and a Kong activity ball. I would also give him a piece of carrot or apple to chew on and a frozen cube of yogurt, oatmeal, or wet food. After about a month I added in a Kong tire and a dense hollow rubber bone, and then around five months he got two more large adult Kongs. He did chew a little on the trim in the bathroom, but considering how much time he had every day to be destructive, I’m okay with it!

Jackson was officially potty-trained at about 3 months old. He had a total of maybe four accidents in the house (all our fault for not following the crating schedule). The magic happened suddenly when we had friends over one day and one of them said, “hey, your dog’s scratching at the door, does he need to go out?” Jackson must have thought he was king of the world with all of the praise he got for telling us he had to go outside. And to us, he was. It was like a switch was flipped. He never had another accident.

Raising a puppy while working full time is possible!

Now at nearly 6 months old, Jackson seems quite comfortable with his schedule and has excellent house manners. In the morning he knows that the bathroom is a wonderful place full of yummy stuffed toys and he runs straight there after his morning potty break.

I know we still have a long way to go, but I think we’re on the right track and things are going great!

Buying Our Home: Part II

Okay. So when I left you last, we had got our offer accepted on our first house pending some inspections.

After phone calls galore, I was able to find out that the previous owners had done some extensive work on the well to annihilate the e. coli problem. They had installed a UV light to kill all of the bacteria and had some other work done to prevent future colonies. We found the receipts later and the work on the well was nearly $2000.

My father, skilled in woodworking, was able to look at the photos of the dry rotted floor joists and safely conclude that we would be able to fix it, but with the limited crawl space area, we would have to tear up the floors downstairs in their entirety. We did not have a problem with this, as our inspector discovered a couple small patches of sub-floor were drywall… Which is bad. Really bad. And the carpet was from the 70s…

Our inspector was super thorough and most of the issues seemed manageable to us. We would have to clean the gutters, divert the downspouts, fix the leaky roof on the shop, and a few other odds and ends, but we figure that’s what your 20s are for, right?

The inspector did say that there was virtually no water pressure in the sinks/shower and the water was brown. Uh oh.
After more emails and phone calls, we discovered that after extensive well servicing, the water can become very muddy and clog the filters. This is exactly what had happened, and shouldn’t be a problem once a new filter is installed.

So after all of our questions were answered, we removed our contingency on our offer and were ready to proceed with the deal.

The next step was to lock in our mortgage with the bank. This is where the real circus began. I was the official printer/scanner master and was responsible for getting everything signed, by the hubby, and sending back to the appropriate parties. This felt like a full time job. We got very little notice about what needed to happen and had a vast number of documents we had to arrange including explanations of where certain deposits came from, why we wanted to commute an hour to and from the house every day, and I even had to provide proof that one of my deposits was from inheritance from my grandfather who had passed the previous year.

We finally got everything in, and then the waiting game began. We never seemed to hear anything from the bank, which I personally found to be the most frustrating part of the whole process. We didn’t want to seem annoying, but we felt very in the dark about everything that was going on. Our Realtor was very patient and kept reminding us that we were never a bother so we kept in good contact with him to keep us in the loop.

One of my good friends who had bough a house a few weeks before us said, “don’t hold your breath for closing”. We knew the process was rocky at best so we tried to be patient, hoping to hear anything about progress being made.

We got anxious as estimated closing dates came and went, and about two weeks later I called our Realtor again and he said they had decided to start signing the next day!

What?!

So began the mad scramble to get time off from work to go to the title company to sign in the morning. We had to get the funds wired to the title company and get everything in order. To make it even more fun, our Realtor had a vacation scheduled and he needed to be at the airport by 10, so if the 8 am closing didn’t work out, we would be flying solo, which was terrifying.

The title company had everything very well organized and signing took about an hour. It was all downhill from there. After our wire of the down payment and closing costs went through we were able to pick up the keys that day.

It felt so good to have those keys in our hands at the end of it! We’ve both decided we don’t want to buy another house for a long, long time, which is fine because we have plenty of space and things to do at the new house!

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Our new house!

 

Join us on our big adventure of being homeowners, more posts to come!

Buying Our Home: Part I

Congrats! If you’re even thinking about taking this step, welcome to an exciting journey.

Likely, you don’t happen to have hundreds of thousands of dollars just laying around to throw at buying your first home. As I found out, nearly the hard way, it is imperative that you establish good credit before you even consider shopping for a house.

I never needed a credit card, I always just used my debit for everything. Despite a couple (albeit weak) urgings from my mom to get a credit card, I never really saw the point. Basically with a credit card, you are borrowing money from the bank that they expect you to pay back at certain intervals. Why borrow money when I have enough and live within my means?

This is why. If you’re looking to get a mortgage or even a pre-approval for a mortgage, you typically need at least two years of credit activity. When our lender looked up my information, no report was found! *gasp*

Luckily, my husband had nearly two years of history and very good credit scores, so we were able to move forward, but what a nightmare it would have been if neither of us had any credit!

Prior to getting to the point of looking for a mortgage, we did a little house hunting on a few websites such as Zillow, Remax, and Realtor. I really enjoyed Zillow, because they had affordability and mortgage calculators. Also, my husband and I were very flexible with exactly where we wanted to live (within an hour’s commute of work in any direction), and Zillow was a bit easier to navigate with that particular circumstance.

We had our list of must-haves that we couldn’t live without on our new property, and the list changed quite dramatically when we realized certain combinations simply were not going to be within our budget or desired locations. We also realized that despite that we would love to find our “forever” house right away, we would probably end up getting a house that was a bit smaller and living there at least until we decide to have children, then either do an addition or move again.

Ultimately, we came up with the following for our desired property:
$300,000 maximum
Within an hour of our work locations
About 5 acres (the more the better)
Has a liveable, non-mobile/manufactured, house
Has some kind of shop/garage

We knew we wouldn’t be too concerned if the house needed some superficial work (replacing carpet, outdated counters, painting, etc.).

We found a realtor that we liked and began the process of finding the house. My husband and I would check our various websites daily, comparing different houses, their locations, and values. When we found one we liked, we would ask our realtor to show it to us.

The first one we physically went to look at was a 3,000 sq ft, charming, 1950’s farmhouse. Unfortunately, it was right in the middle of a flood zone. The basement had a waterline about halfway up the walls (great if you want to keep crocodiles in your basement!), and there was also serious water damage from a leaky roof. There was mold on the ceilings and it was about an hour and a half from our work. Some of the rooms were a lot smaller than what we saw online too. (A trick I picked up here: to evaluate if the photos online are stretched, look at the oven. If it looks too wide, the rooms will be smaller than pictured!) We knew this was not the one. However, it was a good experience to talk to our realtor about what we liked/didn’t like and hone in on what we were looking for.

We found two foreclosures that we adored, also further than we would’ve liked from work. However, the market for houses is so crazy right now that they both had accepted offers on them within a few days of being listed. We know many people who are looking for houses right now and they seem to sold within a week, for more than the asking price in most cases. We didn’t have a pre-approval for our mortgage yet, so our hands were tied. We spent some more focused time on getting our paperwork in order and got our pre-approval.

Then, all of a sudden, we found a house we loved.

It was almost exactly one hour from work. It had 4.2 acres with a river through it. It had a huge shop. And it was only listed for $230,000.

I went to look at it with our realtor one day after work to see if it was worth getting excited about (the heartbreak of finding houses you love and seeing them sell in a couple of days is terrible and exhausting). Despite the house being a little outdated (the 70s was the age of burnt orange apparently) and only 1,100 sq ft, I could picture us living there.  It had a nice, open floor plan and a master bedroom upstairs. I knew the husband would love the shop, and I could see us spending hours by the river. After work the next day, all three of us went to see the house again.

After we found out it was not in a flood zone, we decided we wanted to make an offer.

Our realtor gathered all of the information he could on the house. We read prior inspections of the home, the septic, and the well. We looked at plot maps, researched what kind of zoning the parcel had, and did more calculations to figure out what we could offer. Because the house was on the lower end of our budget, we were able to scrape together 20% instead of 10% for the down payment.

In mortgages, if you put down less than 20%, they will make you pay an additional monthly payment as ‘private mortgage insurance’ which can be over $100 extra each month. This is to help cover the bank if you default on the loan.

So, with our numbers in order, our realtor drafted an offer. My husband signed everything (because I had no credit, I am invisible on paper) and the offer was sent.

We found out that night that there had been a previous inspection, done about a month prior, that had found a couple concerning issues. The most serious of which were: dry rot on flooring joists and e coli in the well water (yuck!). We immediately started looking for inspectors that could answer questions for us about these issues. Largely, how much will it cost to fix?

Other issues that the old inspection brought up were not a problem for us: smoke detector didn’t work, the gutters were clogged, downspouts needed to be further from the house, the chimney needed a rain cap, some doors were hard to open, etc. We are somewhat handy and can fix a lot with a little help from YouTube.

Our offer, almost $20k less than asking price, was accepted the next day! We were thrilled, although cautious. This house did have a few problems that would need to be dealt with, and it had been on the market for a while. We knew we had to get more inspections done so we knew exactly what we were getting into.

To be continued…