Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Gathering Community

First, I would like to profess my undying LOVE and ADORATION for Bill McKibben. If you have not read any of his books ..well..get thee to your library. There is a fair amount of doom and gloom in our world these days. Bill Mckibben is focused on LOCAL solutions. Yes, he recognizes the many challenges we face with resource depletion and climate change. But he also recognizes the extreme value in a "small group of thoughtful people" and how they can change the world. (thankyou Margaret Meade)

Second, I would like to direct you to this article.

I was fortunate to live in Portland Maine for 14 years. I moved there in the late 80's during the recession. The downtown area was dying. The mall area was growing. Several large department stores were closing downtown. We lost the 5 and 10. Soon, if you wanted to buy underwear you had to go to the mall.

Portland also had a great philanthropist in Elizabeth Noyes who bought several building downtown, brought an LL Bean outlet store to downtown, encouraged the construction and operation of a public market that featured local farms and local food purveyors. Not all these efforts were successful but they did serve to spur a renaissance in the downtown that is evident today.

Portland has, also, always had a farmer's market downtown on Wednesday mornings and Saturday mornings in a Public Park. Every spring, I would look for the first farmer to appear with apples from the prior season and pussy willows. By the time I had moved in 2003, one could get farm fresh eggs and CSA shares delivered to the market.

There were many other things about Portland that helped to create a sense of community. I had a community garden plot. I belonged to Maine Time Share Network. Portland still had a branch library footsteps from my door. I lived in a neighborhood with a great playground, and small local beach where I met other mothers and made friends with neighbors.

Moving to the country has been a vastly different experience. Not that I expected it to be the same as Portland, it is after all the country. But unlike a Dexter, a town 40 miles from here that has become a transition town, my little hamlet is a dying town. Our local library does not have a story hour for preschoolers. When a proposal to start a farmer's market was presented to the local development committee it was turned down because "we don't want the farmers to have to compete with hobby farms". We had a fire a couple of years ago that burned down the hardware store and several other small businesses. It devastated our downtown. The town was fortunate to win a significant block development grant. There was a special town meeting to decide on whether the town should purchase the land where the fire occurred. At that meeting there were comments made that would just get your head shaking such as,"since the fire, the traffic on main street is so much better why should we develop it?" I'll tell you why we should develop that land. Because, I only live 1.7 miles from down town. I can walk into town easily. but if I want something as simple as a rubber belt for my vacuum cleaner I have to get in my car and drive 20 miles to the nearest hardware store. A new hardware store has opened in town and the local lumber yard is not happy about it because he now has competition, again.

I think what gets missed when, as a community, we resist new ideas is the social fabric that gets woven and strengthened. When the library has a story hour, new mothers network, become friends, swap clothing and return the help to the library that serves them. Our children learn that they are nurtured by their community When we live in a rich agricultural region that grows mostly corn; not having a farmer's market means that local farmers would not even consider growing crops that could be brought to the local market but instead feel compelled to grown only commodity crops. When we have to leave our community for basic needs we do not build up relationships with the leaders of our community, keep much needed dollars in our own community, and insure that we are served by these businesses in the long term.

Matt Simmons believes that we reached peak oil production in 2005. Recent estimates predict that we will experience energy shortages by 2015. Building strong communities is not just a nice sentiment from a fringe movement but actually vital to insuring that our communities can weather the coming challenges that we all face.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Back to work...Independence Days Challenge Update

Spring vacation has passed. It was a much needed vacation. Plenty of time at home, plenty of time together as a family. We shared many meals together. We finished up a few projects. We shared simple fun; cribbage games, music making, bike rides, a really cool insect program at the library, a homebrew in the yard late in the day.

Now we face the home stretch. Mark has 8 more weeks of the school year. We have 3 more months before we move.

We took a day trip to our new home. The current owner has offered us to plant a garden because we will be moving right at the beginning of the harvest. We may not plant annuals there but we will move some of our perennials this spring. The property is a little wilder than where we live now. There is a resident ground hog, deer. So we are thinking of building a couple of raised beds and just putting all the perennials in it, then covering it with bird netting. Once we are there we will start a winter garden. But otherwise we need time to watch the land before we put in many big gardens. We will probably fill the larder for next winter with most of the spring crops we have planted, fall crops we plant at the new home and then bulk purchases from local farms. I firmed up my summer job at a local farm and this will also provide some produce at the farmers market.

Planted: Carrots, much spinach, onion, broccoli, peas

Harvested: parsnips, spinach, chives, scallions,eggs, dandelion greens

Preserved: dehydrated 1 pint dandelion greens

Local foods: local carola potatoes, local apples, moo milk, local beef

Waste not: Turned compost piles, cleaned out closets and dressers and made a big donation to thrift store, re-dug a raised bed, mucked out barns (how I wish we had a tractor for this). Tidied up the garden tool shed. We used this for an overflow of hay this past winter. So we cleaned it up and then used the scattered hay for mulch.

Want not: Our dear friend and minister at church found a great deal of King Arthur Flour. 50lbs for 15.00. She got a bag for us and we are going to barter garden help for it.

Eat the food:Potato salad, we are adding leafs of spinach but soon we will be inundated with spinach..I can't wait!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

We are family-ing

I thought I would have many posts for you this week. But we are enjoying sun, rain, dirt, bikes and time together this week. I will be back next week with updates to several challenges and thoughts on community.

Enjoy the Day;)

Happy Earth Day!

Saturday, April 17, 2010


I just got back from a class, offered by our county cooperative extension, on Fruit tree pruning. Our new home has a dozen assorted fruit trees which are more than a decade old. I wanted to learn about how to take care of them so that we can make the best of what they have to offer. The cooperative offers many low cost or free classes...just perfect for the frugal homestead. About 75 folks attended today's class.

It was held at the commercial orchard that we go to every fall for our apples.. I love this orchard because he has a great variety of apples. They have a big sign hanging outside of their shop that tells the potential picker what sort of apples are ready at what time of the season. The sign also tells the picker what is the best use for each variety of apple. We often make several visits during apple picking season depending on what we are making or putting up. Their dog Rascal follows our car as we drive to our chosen variety for the day and then follows us back to the shop as we weigh our pickings. The man who presented the information was the owner who has owned the orchard for 60 years.

The class covered basic pruning of fruit trees from 1 year old trees to old overgrown trees that one might want to bring back to production. He lightly touch on Integrated Pest Management and how he employs it on his orchard. He discussed the management of deer. Apparently, they will only be deterred from an orchard and whatever aversion the farmers uses;until they are used to it. Then the farmer must try something new. He discussed how the different limbs of the tree should be managed in order to produce the most apple. Fruit bears on new growth. We went to the orchard and pruned various trees at different stages of growth. Most old trees need 5 years of pruning before being fully restored.

Alas, as the class was winding up our presenter shared that this year was the last year for the orchard. As with so many other farms, this farmer wants to retire. After 60 years who can blame him. If someone does not buy the farm then he will close it. Sure there are plenty of small orchards in my region of the state. And if the attendance at todays class is any indicator, many folks are hoping to provide more fruit for themselves. But when we lose one small farm, it means it is one less farm. For me, it feels like a tear in the fabric of my local food system.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Such is life

We have been dealing with a bit of burnout with our living arrangements lately and everyone is counting the minutes till Mark is home on April School Vacation. At this moment his job is still up in the air. The school boeard would like to cut one and half music positions. His position has not been cut but because he has no seniority he may be bumped. It is still a waiting game. The school board will be making its decision soon. Meanwhile, we pursue our Plan B.

We have reached our monetary goals for moving. We have the down payment, and closing costs for the new house we are owner- financing. We are in the process of finding a renter for our current home for the fall, in the event that we are not able to sell it this summer. So, now we are saving money to build up our reserves.

While we are working towards our goals, we have had time to reflect on what has been good about the tough year we have been through. First and foremost, I realized that my marriage is strong. I would say, for me,that the first couple years of our marriage were a little rocky. We had Evan and moved to the country. The first year or so was a little isolating. It took a while to connect with community. It is still something of a challenge when our church, library and open play gym requires a half hour drive. However, I learned to create a rhythm to our days, find adult conversation during the day several times a week, and embraced the work of the life we have chosen. Mark has been very patient with me as I found this balance especially during some very ungraceful moments. As for this year, I have learned to let somethings go. I don't care so much about the underwear on the floor anymore. I am just grateful when he is home. We could use some more time together as a couple. But then, our whole family could use some more time together.

The other very important lesson that we have learned this year is how we manage our money. We have always been pretty frugal but there were some habits, or lack of habits, that meant that we were not really saving any money. Every weekend,now, we sit down and balance the checkbook. We both know how much money is in our accounts. We pay the bills together. We anticipate future expenses so that we can budget better for them without dipping into savings to cover them. I will admit to having some uncomfortable moments with this exercise. After we pay the bills, figure out what we need for gas, food, feed and any other expenses such as car parts or new shoes....well there is not a lot of wiggle room. But then, I realize that we put at least 500 dollars a month into the savings account.

I would say that this is our first big challenge as a family. We still have a way to go before we find ourselves in a place where the only concern we have will be what sort of barn we will be building. But I think our perspective on what is really important has changed. We love the way of living we have chosen but if we had to let it all go, we know that we would still be strong as a family. This is the most important lesson of all.

Monday, April 12, 2010

In just Spring...

Spring is about poo. I muck it. I spread it. I turn it in my compost bin.

Some would say this life is a little stinky.

But I wouldn't have it any other way:P~

Thursday, April 8, 2010


So, I have had this idea rambling around my head for a bit. It came from a place of fatigue and frustration. There have been a few of these lately as our current circumstances begin to wear us all down a bit. April School vacation is just around the corner and we are all needing the time together. The weekends are too short.

Anyhoo...Then I read this great post by Earth Mama yesterday and thought, well, no time like the present.

So, I am going to come up with 50 simple moments or pleasures that I have had lately. Seems like a big number but I thought that there are these moments everyday. They come and present themselves and if I am paying attention then I realize that there are many. These are just small moments of wonder, funny little things our kids say, little moments that affirm that we are doing right by our kids and partners, moments of grace or simple satisfactions.

So that this does not become the longest post in the world I will post 25 today and 25 tomorrow and my one moment post...

1. The other day I was planting spinach among the garlic. All along the row, as I was poking my finger in the soil to plant my seed, many little young earth worms came squirming out of the soil.

2. I love the smell of bread just out of the oven. Yesterday's loaves of oatmeal raison were perfect.

3.I have finished many handwork projects lately and there is a great sense of satisfaction to snip the last strand of fiber that has been woven into the garment.

4. I love that Evan is in Love with books. He does not just like to be read to but many times during the day I catch him in a quiet corner looking at books.

5. I love when Tristan comes home from visits with his dad in Portland. He gets a taste of city life and transitions back into this country life well.

6. I love that my boys, so far apart in age, are good buddies.

7. I love making a really nice dinner for Mark when he comes home on Friday nights. Evan has been reminding us that every meal together is a celebration and so we must light a candle.

8. Last night, just before dark I went to the barn to check on the sheep and caught the boys playing rough and tumble in their side of the barn (note to self, Ram-a-lama is ramming the back of the barn wall off, must get out there and reinforce it)

9. The sun toasted my face the other day, a reminder that it is time for the straw hat. It felt good to get a good dose of vitamin D.

10. There is gray in my hair. A little more than last year. At 43 I am learning to embrace the change I see in the mirror. It can be a little uncomfortable sometimes but I know that I have gained some wisdom and there is still more to learn...it is a journey.

11. There is music. Music Mark plays for Evan just before bed. Music that Tristan listens to that takes me back to my younger days. The music Evan plays on his drums and toy piano. The music Evan and I dance to in the living room every Friday afternoon.

12. There have been a few new recipes tried out. It is satisfying to see that my boys are willing to try something new.

13.As I sit in my home I can see that I am nearing a goal I had a few years ago to have a handmade home. Some pictures hanging on the wall are from friends and Tristan. Some afghans and rugs in my home are from my own hands. Some things were made by my grandmother and evoke childhood memories of handcraft lessons she tried to impart to me.

14. I am grateful to my independent kitties who share their affections and purrs with me.

15. That goofy dog, who tests my patience on the worst of days and on the best reminds me why he really is man's best friends.

16. A warm egg fresh from a chicken is the greatest gift somedays.

17. The greening. With each rain the world outside my door awakens.

18. The spinach in the cold frame has sprouted. As a sprout pokes through the soil, the shell of its seed clings to the new leaf. Soon, fresh spinach...

19.My favorite mug, found at the Goodwill, is a trusty companion throughout the day. First with the one cup of coffee, then with a cup of green tea, and then later some Iron Woman or a fine ginger tea.

20. Rainy days that keep us indoors eating soup and knitting by the fire. It is a nice transition from the hibernation of winter to have a few quiet days amongst all the sun filled outdoor time we have had.

21. Mark and Evan took a little bike ride on the tandem this last weekend. I was so surprised to see my little guy pedaling along with ease. He was having such a good time.

22. I have wondered at Evan's independence. As I work in the garden, he sits and plays in his sandbox or mud puddle somewhere. On occasion he will come and help me to plant a seed. But most often, I am hearing conversations he has with his imaginary friend George. I am reminded of Tristan's imaginary friend Nathan.

23. I can stand in the front room and see the ewes in their pasture. If they catch a sight of me they Baa. Once day this past week, while we were in the garden they were baa-ing and Evan baa-ed back:)

24. This song is playing in my mind a lot these days.

25.When Mark's car pulls into the drive on Friday evening, Evan jumps and squeals with excitement, the dog is just as excited and I am so glad to have him home.

If you would like to join in me in the exercise, please leave a link so I can read your list. I would love to read them:)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Off the needles

Life has us turned to the great outdoors but I find that I still want quiet time to knit. It really is my therapy:)I have a few projects finished that I thought I would share.

This is the vest I finished for the teen. It is the felted vest I started for Christmas. Vast amounts of stockinette stitch. It came out okay. If I make this again I will put stripes in it just to break up the back and forth of the project.

A little vest for myself. I bought this lovely Peace Fleece yarn a few years ago and started a vest to compliment a beautiful glass button that I had bartered at a craft fair I attended. I had completed the back and left front of the vest and then had to put it down to do my Christmas knitting. When I picked it up after the holidays I cast on too many stitches for the right front. I put it aside for awhile. Recently I picked it back up to finish the vest and made the same mistake again. So, I ripped it all out and started with a different pattern. It seamless and worked up in a couple of weeks. I made a few modifications to the original pattern. I love it. Just in time for spring.

I am really groovin' on these rag rugs. They work up really quick. I love the play with color. This one is nearly done and I have plans for one more.

I love this little gnome. The pattern can be found here. I made a bevy of them last spring. There are many new babies coming into my life, so I thought another batch of gnomes was needed. My trusty treadle has a new job coming up.

This is the rough sketch for Evan's birthday present. He loves playing with little trucks and blocks. I will be sewing him a play mat for this play.

Finally, I am going to call this meditation. A basket of scrap yarn and one simple knit stitch. back and forth. It has called to me all morning long. Sitting near my chair in the kitchen asking for just a few more stitches. Beckoning me to slow down and pay attention.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Hints of green

Blue Hollyhock
Rhubarb, a family heirloom from Mark's dad and grandad.
Trusty Cold Frame planted with spinach
French Sorrel
Garlic inter-planted with Spinach

One class was cancelled today. And thank goodness because we were able to spend some time outside in the mud, and garden just watching things grow.

The picture above of the rhubarb is from yesterday. When I went out today it was pretty much the same but by the time we put our tools and trucks away the little leaf was markedly bigger. Crocuses were blooming before my eyes.

We've tossed some native oats into our pasture in hopes of some early greens for our sheep and, if the weather continues on this upward trend, we may move our chicken ladies out in their tractor during the day when we are home. We had a mama fox last year that pretty well cleaned us our of hen and rooster...and duck.

I feel the sting of sun on the back of my neck from looking down all afternoon. At times I could hear conversations that Evan was having with his imaginary friend, George, while wallowing in his little mud hole. The music of his voice provided great harmony to the shush of my rake gathering leaves.

It is easy to forget our troubles on days like today. It is easy and comforting to remember that these simple pleasures are the reason we live this country life.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

This moment..

I will be on the road for the next few days as I play taxi to my aspiring teenage artist. But I wanted to share this moment from this week while I sit and listen to Spring Peepers!