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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Tramp Wives: Teacher Jen Raises Twins & Supports Traveling Husband

I've written about John's travels and life on the road a few times before. He works as a union electrician, and several times a year leaves Eastern Iowa to travel the country to work on nuclear facility outages. The not-so-technical term that these electricians use to describe themselves is a 'tramp'. That makes me a 'tramp wife'. (I know. Totally glamorous.)

While the term 'tramp' to describe an electrician who travels is new to many of you, I've found that John's travels and our lifestyle in general is also new and confusing to a lot of folks.

There is a supportive group of women that I have connected with over the last 2 years, especially during John's more extensive travels to the southern states. I decided to call on their help and expertise to share their own stories with you. My goal? Help you all understand the benefits, challenges, and quirks of being with a 'tramp', and how we make our sometimes-long-distance relationships work.

Without further ado, here's Jen with her story.


We are natives of St. Louis, Missouri, but are currently living in Fairfield, Iowa. I work at a middle school as a level 3 special education teacher. Logan is currently living in Fairfield with the family, trying to catch out close to Fairfield. Besides the two of us we have identical twin 3 year old boys, Elvis and Elwood.

1. How long has your Tramp been traveling? How did he get started? How long have you been together?  

Logan has been traveling for 6 years (2009) and we have been together since 2005. He actually started traveling within a month of getting married, but only like 45 minutes away in Illinois. Logan was laid off in December 2008 when St. Louis (Local 1) work dried up and layoffs were a common thing to Local 1 hands.

2. What's the hardest part about the traveling lifestyle? Why isn't it for everyone? 

The hardest part about traveling for me making the choice between working in a field I love (education) and keeping my family together. I have worked hard to earn a Bachelors in Elementary Education, a Masters in Special Education, a Masters in Early Intervention for Children with Autism with Sensory Impairments, and 3 certifications in Missouri.

For Logan traveling means missing all the big steps in his kids lives, like crawling, walking, rolling over, and their first words. 

When we found out I was pregnant, Logan was working in Albany, Georgia almost 13 hours away. I went to 90% of my prenatal appointments alone, which was difficult because the doctor thought we had twin-to-twin transfusion and the odds were looking in favor of having surgery. But, in the end it turned out ok. 

When I was 4 months pregnant I started bleeding and was all by myself, so I made Logan come closer home to work (Clarksville, Tennessee). It was so hard to do anything when you are as big as house and working with special needs kiddos. A week before the boys were born, Logan came home so at least he was home when I went into labor. He was able to stay home for 6 weeks after the boys were born, but then it was back on the road and this time it was Augusta, Georgia.

That was the hardest time of my life. I was working on my Masters and raising the twins by myself (funny how no one really wanted to help with twin infants). Once a month I drove the twins down to Georgia to see Logan. When the boys were 6 months old we made the decision to move to South Carolina (where Logan was living with another traveler). We me t a ton of awesome people there and loved it, but financially we were strapped. We had a house payment in St. Louis and rent in South Carolina and the only one working was Logan. We eventually moved back to St. Louis after a year and stayed with my parents a bit (were finally able to rent our house out), while Logan traveled. We eventually settled in southeast Iowa where we both had work until October 2015. It was then that Logan left and went to Omaha until February of 2014. He came home to Iowa because my work was too stressful at that time and it was effecting my home life.

With all that being stated, traveling is not for everyone. It's hard to constantly move, constantly second guess if you are making the right choice, question if you are being selfish (as the mom) for wanting to work instead of go with your husband, constantly answering to friends and family who ask "why travel?", "why union?", and "aren't you afraid of what he is doing without you?" (I love that question).

3. What's your favorite part about being with a Tramp? Feel free to share a memorable story or moment. 

The best part about being with a traveler is all the people we have met. I have another family; people my boys know better than their own blood family. We have traveled to a lot of places. When Logan worked out of Augusta, Georgia we were having cookouts with five other families from all other places every weekend. We all got along and helped out whenever and wherever we could. They celebrated my boys first birthday before our family in St. Louis. Some of these men and women are our family and I know when Logan travels he will always have people that are there for him, and that we are always welcomed to be there.

4. What does being a part of the IBEW mean to you and your family? 

Being part of the IBEW is a huge part of my family. Logan is 4th generation IBEW and to be union is important to both Logan and I. Being part of the IBEW means there is "family" throughout the country; a couch to crash on, someone who has been in your shoes that can give some words of wisdom, a group which helps to take care of others in need, a group that believes in family and the importance that it plays. This is what it means to us as a family.

5. Do you and your Tramp have any long-term plans or goals to travel together? Or, any plans to stop traveling and not live (and love) long distance? 

No master plans - we wing it. The beauty about traveling is you never know how long a job will last or where there will be work.

6. If you have children, how does your parenting change? Any surprises in this area?

Parenting has changed big time for us. I have been raising the twins on and off with and without Logan. We do what we can and make the best decisions for our family. We have set certain time restraints for how long Logan can go without seeing the boys and how far he can be from the family -until I decide where I want to settle or move back to St. Louis. With parenting there are always surprises, especially with raising twins.

 7. For anyone in a long-distance relationship, give them some advice on how to make it work. What is essential to making life easier? 

For anyone in long distance relationships, trust is the most important thing. If you can not trust each other it will never work. Always find someone who you can talk to. I met another traveler's wife who is my "southern sister" and she has helped me through more than she will ever know. And always know when it is time to come home. It is not a sign of weakness to say 'I need you', and that was one of the hardest lessons I learned.

One of my husbands favorite parts of traveling is going to places he may never go,  and not just visit the area, but live the area. You never know what gem may be around the corner.

8. What else would you like to add?

I want to say traveling has gotten easier, but that would be a lie. I love the life we live and would never trade who I have met, or where I have been. I have found how strong and how vulnerable we can be as a family. I have also learned there are others that travel that have the same convictions and beliefs as we do and those people have helped us by being there for us.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

All About Compost for Your Urban Garden

There was a lesson in gardening that I learned later in life, friends. That lesson has to do with compost, and the essential role it plays on our urban homestead.

Composting is important for a few reasons. First, the more yard and kitchen waste that goes into compost the less that takes up space in the landfill. Second, compost is black gold for a gardener. That finished compost is a valuable addition to the soil quality. Let's talk about the essentials of composting, and how to get the compost cookin' on your urban farm, in your backyard garden, or for your beautiful flower bed.

There are five basic ingredients in compost: 

  1. a carbon source, like leaves or straw
  2. a nitrogen source, like grass clippings or pulled weeds
  3. water
  4. oxygen
  5. microorganisms, like worms and bugs

Compost cooks. Literally. An ideal compost pile will be between 90 and 140 degrees. It will be warm in the center, even in the wintertime. However, anything above 140 degrees will kill the working microorganisms in your compost. Just turn your compost every 10 days or so to regulate your temperature.

Ready to build or buy your compost bin? Awesome! You can do like us and score a used bin from Craigslist, or you can buy one, or you can build your own. A simple Google search will yield dozens of plans that can incorporate lots of building materials, like pallets, wire fencing, concrete blocks, etc.

An ideal compost set up will be at least 3'x3'x3', but no more than 5'x5'x5'. This provides optimum decomposition that is fast and uniform. Select an area that is convenient to access and where water is readily available (yes, you'll have to water your bin on occasion). Some say to keep your bin out of direct sunlight, but ours is in a very sunny location and does very, very well.

After you have your compost area established, you can begin tossing in just about any organic matter, like:

  • Aquatic weeds
  • Bread
  • Coffee grounds
  • Egg shells
  • Evergreen needles
  • Fruit
  • Fruit peels and rinds
  • Garden wastes
  • Grass clippings
  • Leaves
  • Paper
  • Sawdust
  • Straw
  • Sod
  • Tea leaves
  • Vegetables
  • Wood ash
  • Wood chips
  • Non-shiny newsprint (that is torn into small pieces)

However, do NOT compost the following:

  • Dairy products
  • Bones
  • Cat, dog, or human manure
  • Any meats (chicken, fish, beef, etc.)
  • Lard or oils
  • Mayonaise
  • Peanut butter
  • Salad dressings
  • Diseased plant material
  • Weeds that have gone to seed

How long will it take before you have finished compost? 

If you have a fancy compost bin that you can turn, you might have compost in 2 months or less! The standard compost time frame is 2 to 4 months. If you have a bin like ours, it will take a while, friends. A good while. From the first time to establish your pile to the time you spread it on your garden, it could take at least 6 months to a year.

It's also possible that there will be compost at the bottom of your pile or bin, and uncomposted products at the top. That's ok. Use the stuff at the bottom and keep cookin' the stuff on the top. By the time you've turned your bin 3 times, much of the matter should be unrecognizable from it's original state.

Backyard chickens can contribute to your compost!

Our chickens eat up a lot of the table scraps and garden waste from our urban homestead. This doesn't leave a lot for the compost bin. This is just fine, because while those chickens are taking products away from our compost, they are giving us something in return.

Their poo.

About 2 or 3 times a year we shovel out the coop and their attached run. All of the bedding and waste from the coop and run go into the compost bin for cookin' and are turned into compost a few months later. 

Do you have a compost bin at your place? Share your tips and thoughts with us!

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Mostly Homemade Mondays - Week 121 + URBAN HOMESTEAD MEAL PLAN!

Are you ready for this week's meal plan and blog hop? Remember, in the meal plan some items are bolded, which indicates a homegrown or local item from our urban homestead. We have leftovers for lunch, and we rarely have desserts. Many times on weekends our lunches include eggs from the ladies. We've given red meat up for Lent, too. *le sigh*
  • Monday - Oven roasted, marinated chicken breasts and honey-glazed carrots
  • Tuesday - Beer brats and frozen sweet corn
  • Wednesday - Spaghetti with meatless marinara sauce (I'll throw in a lot of veggies, though)
  • Thursday - Monthly dinner out with my teacher friends. John is on his own tonight, or he might eat at the soup dinner at church before Lent service.
  • Friday - Pepper, onion, black olive, cheese nachos and salsa
  • Saturday - Chili (with pork sausage) in the slow cooker
  • Sunday - Family dinner with the in-laws. We'll hash out a potluck menu via text.
Anyway, on to the party:

Mostly Homemade Mondays is a series for people that are on a journey to better living, via healthier eating and a more natural lifestyle. We realize that there are different paths that we all take to get to that place, and this bloghop celebrates that. Whether you’re a seasoned raw foodist who has banned all things unnatural, or a rookie who is starting out by cutting out junk food, we’d love to hear from you! Link up with your favorite recipes, projects, crafts, or rants and raves.

The Hosts:

Homemade Mondays will open every Monday. You have until Thursday to make your submissions. We will share our favorite posts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and shout it from the rooftops.
  • Link up. Use the submission form below to add your blog posts to our gallery below. You can add as many links as you’d like, as long as they’re on topic. 
  • What’s eligible? Recipes, crafts, DIY projects, gardening, fitness, green ideas or just plain old advice. We’re pretty open.
  • Tell us about yourselves. Leave a comment telling us a little about your site and what you’ve shared. Of course this isn’t mandatory, but it’s a good way to stand out.
  • Link back. Share the love by adding a link back to this party with your readers so they can see all of these great ideas as well.
  • Follow our Pinterest board. Remember to check out our Mostly Homemade Mondays Pinterest board where we're pinning some of our favorite posts from the week.
Here was our favorite post from last week: 

A special thanks to Naptime Warrior for linking up Make Your Own Sweetened Condensed Milk to Mostly Homemade Mondays! Feel free to grab this "I've Been Featured" button and share the great news with your readers, family, and friends: 
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