Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Independence Day Challenge Year 2

I began this blog last year in response to a very smart woman's challenge.   The Independence Day Challenge follows the spirit of Carla Emery's approach to growing and preserving food.  Plant something every day, then preserve something every day. Last year my family was faced with diminishing income.  One choice, at the time, was that I could go back to work full time, we could pay someone else to care for the wee one. The teen could go to school instead of being homeschooled. In the end it didn't seem that we would be any better off.  The wee one would not be better off.  Our hope for what we could accomplish on our little homestead would be diminished.  The other choice was that I could approach the filling  of the larder as a full time job.  This would require growing and preserving most of the produce we eat everyday. We grew another pig for the freezer,  grew chicks for the freezer and eggs. We began food storage of grains, beans, oils and sweeteners.

The result of last years hard work was that for many weeks this past winter all we had to do was buy milk, cheese, butter and eggs ( because the girls weren't laying).  And in the end we realized that we did not need that extra income.   My "pay" from my new job was time with my family, a sense of security that comes from a full pantry, and the increased efficiency that comes with working with food storage.  Menu planning, eating with the seasons and a more local diet were  the fringe benefits.

Fortunately, when the decision to take on this new "job" was in the forefront, Sharon Astyk was beginning her Independence Days Challenge.  At the time oil was climbing over a 100.00 a barrel. The idea of Peak oil was hitting the mainstream media.  Bear Sterns was toast and the economy was beginning its free fall. There were other reasons to participate in the challenge other than what was happening in our own life.   There are forces outside my control but participating in the challenge has changed the way I think about the challenge. At the time it seemed like a good idea because it would provide some insurance for own circumstances. In the end the discovery has been that it is probably a wiser way to live.  It put the actions of living a simple life in focus. 

So this is the second year of the challenge which is good 'cause I need a kick in the pants...

Care to join the challenge?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sheep shorn...




Rama-lama seemed SO big with all is wool on. Now he seems so small.  He is a Southdown/ Dorset cross. My plan is to wash his wool. I am growing dyeing herbs and flowers this year. I plan to dye the wool in different colors and make felt cloth with it. Then sew it into bags perhaps or needle felt some of it into a wall hanging.  

After we sheared the sheep hubby finished putting their first pasture fence in.   Frolic was the word of the day!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Rain Collection..

We've had big rains this week.  They are much needed as it has been very dry for this time of year.  We are catching up on some of our spring chores while hubby has the week off.  One of those chores is to reconnect the rain gutters to the house to collect the water for our  rain water collection system.  We take the gutters down in the fall to save the gutters from ice jams throughout the winter.                                  This container holds 280 gallons of water.

                                            This whisky barrel holds 50 gallons.  

Hubby adapted spouts for each.  Our water comes from a well with an electric pump.  During the summer we use a lot of water for the garden and watering the animals.   We haven't done the math but we know that we are keeping our electric bill down by keeping the well pump from turning on every time we need water outside.  The first summer here, we just had the whiskey barrel. It ran dry for one week at the height of the summer and we used it mainly for watering the animals.  Last summer we hooked up the biggun' and were able to water the garden and the animals from them all summer.  We did have a very wet summer last year.  We felt guilty emptying them of water once the really cold weather set in. 

We live in a fairly wet region of the country so the need for water saving is not as  necessary as other regions of the country.  But we do lose power on a regular basis so this also serves as a backup water source when the power is out in the summer.

The last nurse...

When I became pregnant with the wee one I knew, that with the second child, there were things I wanted to do differently. 

I wanted to have a homebirth.  Even though that could not happen, I still had a great low-tech pregnancy.

I wanted to use cloth diapers longer than I did with my teen.  I used cloth for him but when I went back to work it was hard to keep up with the washing of the diapers.  Some of his caregivers did not want to use them. So I switched to disposables.  I used cloth the whole time the wee one needed them. I think potty learning was easier for the wee one because he could feel the wet.

I wanted to stay home with the wee one and I have been lucky enough to be able to do this. Simple living means I can give my energy to my family and home.

I wanted to wait to introduce solids until the wee one was ready.  With the teen there was pressure from his pediatrician to introduce solids before he was ready.  The wee one started solids once he stared stealing food off my plate.

I wanted big milestones to be child lead and not enforced. Potty learning happened when he was ready and not when the daycare center dictated.

I wanted to nurse as long as he needed to nurse. With the teen, there was pressure to give up nursing and supplement with formula. It was frowned on to nurse past one year.  With the wee one we have taken our time. Slowly letting each nursing session go when he sent signals of not being completely present.

Yesterday morning was the last nurse.  

The wee one will be three in a month.  The changes he has gone through just in the last month or so are startling.  He has crossed a bridge in language and comprehension.  He has made a leap in his imagination and now can be found having conversations with big brown bear. He no longer sits and listens to books being read to him but engages in the storytelling by asking relevant questions. He sings! He is asserting his independence with his new favorite phrase ," I can't". (oohh fun!)

When he needs to get centered, he comes to me to ask for a snuggle. 

We waited to let the last "boob" go until Dad could be home on school vacation to offer moral support. We came up with a plan. We were prepared in case he had a hard time.  The last "boob" was in the early morning.  He usually wakes at 5 am. At that time I invite him to cuddle and then usually at 6 when the alarm clock goes off that was his cue that it was time to nurse.  Then we would get out of bed. We told the wee one that the last "boob" would be in three days and counted each day down as it arrived.  Yesterday when the alarm went off Dad got up with the wee one and took him for a bike ride.  Mom got to sleep in:) When I woke he did not ask for "boob" but rather enjoyed a nice rock with mom.

I am a little sad.  I am not planning to have any more children. So I know that these sweet, sweet times with my little guy will go by quickly. I am reminded of how quickly a childhood passes each time I look into my teen's face. 

 Another case of bookended parenting....

Thursday, April 16, 2009

ok confession time...letting my freak flag fly..sorta

The weather has been glorious! My hands have been gloriously dirty! My play clothes have been gloriously dirty! This is not simple mud but good healthy soil..finally!

We have been here for 2 full growing seasons. We are entering our third growing season. When we first came here we had heavy clay.  Each shovel full was clumpy with clay.  Our property was once part of a sod farm.  The top soil was taken off and given to the foundation of the Millinocket Hospital.

It is so great to see the magic of soil take place.  Some parts of the garden we sheet mulched;essentially, laying down compost, cover with cardboard and hay. This is a no till method of gardening that allows the critters and microbes in the soil to do what they want to do: eat and feed the soil. Other parts of the garden we grew cover crops of winter rye, clover, buckwheat or soybean; then sheet mulched on top of the cover crop when it was full grown. This adds extra nutrition to the soil and some of the cover crops fix nitrogen to the soil.   Oh and we also amended with sheep poo, wood ash, and compost from our bins.

After a couple of years of doing this we have loose, dark, rich soil.  Can I get an Amen!  I planted shelling peas, spinach and beets this week.  A few weeks we will be eating some tender veggies!

So after playing in the dirt mom deserves a long luxurious shower in which she decides that this night is the night to take care of another spring ritual.  The shaving of the legs.  Once the shorts are packed away for the season is there really any reason to shave?  Used to be a time when I dispensed with the razor all year long.  But like packing away the wooly sweaters, shaving my legs in the spring is like shedding layers and lightening up.  And it buys me a few extra quiet moments in the shower.  And the muscles...well they could use a little heat too.

Monday, April 13, 2009

To do list

I need a kick in the pants.  I can't believe I am going to write this but...I was really groovin' on the winter mindset.  After 3 winters in the country, with long stretches at home, I had finally found the quiet of winter to be restorative.  I've fed some creativity this winter.  I've spent some nice quiet time with the kids.  I've found some community/ and woman's camaraderie with my knitting group.  

Now it is spring and the work of the outdoors beckons.  Don't get me wrong,  I have spent some time out in the garden this past week.  It feels great to use those muscles that have been dormant for the last few months.  The wee one spent a long time in his sandbox the other day while I built up hugelkulture; a milestone that will make the work of the coming season easier.  I am thrilled to have more daylight.  I still marvel at the garlic sprouts hidden under mulch...just like a Christmas surprise.  I can spend long minutes wandering the garden with plans and revised plans in my mind.

But today...I just wanna sit by the woodstove and knit.....

So I need to make a to-do list:

Finish starting seeds indoors and hang up a second grow lamp.  The kids will help me with this.

Hang laundry outside. It is pretty windy out there they should dry quickly.

Make bread and plan on lunches for Tuesday.  I have errands to run in Bangor tomorrow and work at the bookstore, so I will pack lunches.  It will save us some money.  If the weather is nice we  can have a picnic.

Finish cleaning up the yard.  There is still a lot of snow in the back yard but I can get the rest of the beds cleaned up, put some snow shovels away ( because it is Spring right?)

That is enough for the day.  But for the week I need to:

Spread compost over a part of the garden I am going to sheet mulch.

Finish transplanting herbs

Clean out the front corner of the sunroom. We are going to replace the front door and big windows in the front of the house. It will be more efficient.  A friend from church is coming by next week to give us an estimate on the job.

We have family coming for a visit in a couple of weeks so a good excuse to get some deep cleaning done.

Help teen get his art work ready for his opening at a local artisan coop.

Well....better get to work...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Fish Head Fish Head ....

This much fun with knitting should be illegal. Or at least my husband probably thinks so because I was so enthralled with the project that not much else got done around here.LOL

Friday, April 10, 2009

Ode to a Spud

This is a story that goes round.
Small little seed, all googly sprouty- eyed and young.
Planted in soil  mid spring.
Green pokes through ground while the magic below 
Battles are fought with beetles and blight.
One pound planted becomes five pounds harvested
Then stored in buckets under my sink.
Thus lowly spud become manna of life for the short sunshine days that follow.

Alas all good things come to and end....the last spud mashed...just weeks before 
small little seed, all googly sprouty-eyed and young is sown.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Book Ended Parenting

I have  2 children. Both boys. The teen is 16 and  the wee one will be 3 in May.  

I had the teen when I was 26. As a single mother, I navigated parenting one developmental step at a time. I read parenting books. I often did not trust my own instincts.  I had come from some pretty fun disfunction as a kid.  I grew up in a way that I had not yet done.  And I learned that I am not a perfect parent. I can be impatient, and short tempered at times. But all in all, I think the teen has turned out to be a grounded, good person.  It is exciting to watch a teenager discover themselves.

And then I met hubby.  We had a baby when I was 39.  This experience also has it challenges.  I am older and ( just a little bit) set in my ways.  I try to remember if I was this tired at the end of the day when I was caring for the teen during his toddler years. I am grateful to have more time to spend with the wee one as a stay at home mom. I am more aware of my weaknesses.  I feel like I am more present.  I am grateful to have two great boys. I also am enjoying watching the teen enjoy his little brother.  Teen is an awesome big brother.

Having two kids with such a disparity of ages provides days where I am bookending parenting.  

Yesterday was one of those days.  

The boys and I drove into "town", about 45 minutes away,  to take the teen to his art class and run a few errands. The teen is getting ready to have some of his art and photography shown at an Artisan Coop.  So we spent most of our drive discussing what he would like to show and what we need to do to get it ready.  Meanwhile, wee one is sleeping in his car seat. On our list of things to do was to find wee one a new pair of shoes.  We stop at a high quality consignment shop where I find a totally cool pair of green sneakers. 

We get everything done and head home.  Wee one is singing the praises of his new sneakers in the backseat of the car.  The teen and I ,somehow, end up having a discussion about the birds and the bees. He is involved in a couple of activities this year where he is spending time with girls.  OUr discussion ended with  how girls like to treated and respected.  Oh yeah, and girls like boys who use deodorant on a regular basis.

We all get home.  The teen goes outside to take care of the animals.  I get busy in the kitchen.  The wee one is bombing around the house when he stops me to ask for a "snuggle".  He still wears his new awesome green sneakers. Hubby gets home, we have dinner.  Wee one gets ready for bed with his Red Fleece PJs and his awesome new sneakers.  Quite the fashion statement! 

These are the best of times...

Thursday, April 2, 2009


I belong to Ravelry.  It is a social networking sight for knitting and crochet.  One topic came up about whether people were changing their yarn buying habits because of the economy. It turn sort heated when the conversation turned to Walmart Vs Local Yarn shops.  Or in other words, is it elitist to shop local vs the more proletarian Walmart.

This was my response.

The reason there is a movement towards localism can be summed up in  two words. Peak oil. Is it cheaper to buy your yarn from Michael's, strawberries from Argentina, spinach from California ( when you live in Maine)? Sure it is. Mass production, 18 wheeler trucks and cheap oil have made it possible for us to have any and all goods whenever we want, where ever we want, at its lowest prices.

Does anyone remember 4.50 gas last summer? The current economic mess has not affected my day to day purchasing power as much as the 55.00 it took to fill my second-hand  subabru legacy last summer.  Food that gets transported on ships and semi trucks was more expensive than the food I was able to buy at my local farmer's market and farmstand. Organic milk was 4.oo a gallon here.  Conventional milk was 4.30 a gallon. We may be experiencing a reprieve in prices now but does anyone really think that was just a temporary blip on the radar?

I buy local and organic not because it is an elitist thang'. I buy local and organic because I can trust the food my local farmer produces. Anyone eaten peanut butter with a hint of fear this year? Our food system is broken on so many levels: from high dependence on fossil fuels to grow and transport the food to lax regulation and oversight.  I don't think it is elitist to be concerned about the food I give my children.  I do think it is elitist that there be a system where a few who profit from this system foist food on us that is loaded with high fructose corn syrup, that is corrupted with diseases on a regular basis, and that is less than nutritional.

I want to support my local yarn store and local fiber producers because if the economy tanks any further, the big box craft store could go the way of Linen and Things and Circuit City.  I shop local because I want to know that local companies will be there long after the big box store decides to close and move to greener pastures ( that will be develped and laid with asphalt)