Monday, June 28, 2010

Independence Days Challenge

Well, busy is still the word and work of the day. Today there is a heavy rain, the farm called to tell me I do not need to work today. This gives some time to pack more boxes and maybe take care of some handwork.

Our grocery bill is starting to shrink again as we eat most of our veggies from the garden now. The chickens are really starting to lay. The other day we got an egg for each chicken. 7!! The pole bean are up and climbing. The first garlic flavor of the season has graced our plates in the form of garlic scapes. I love picking them because my hands smell like garlic afterward.

Tomorrow we go to Farmington and begin the heavy work of taking down an old woodshed and taking out the old bathtub for a new one. My father-in-law came up last week to deliver our wedding present...a clawfoot bathtub. We will be married 5 years in August. The new house is the perfect house for such a tub and by the end of the move we will be so grateful for its deep warm waters;)

Plant: I did not get anything planted this week but I do need to get some greens planted in the ground.

Harvest: green onions, garlic scapes, mint, oregano, yarrow, lettuce, swiss chard, strawberries, peas

Preserve: strawberry jam, frozen strawberries, frozen peas, dehydrated garlic scapes,

Local food system: I went strawberry picking at the u-pick day at the farm, workers could pick for a dollar quart. Bought a peck of peas for shelling. Local burger.

Eat the food: I made a cheese strata with swiss chard, green onions and garlic scapes. Local burgers on the grill with a pasta salad with garlic scapes, green onions and green peas. Evan ate more peas than he shelled, he ate more strawberries than he picked:) Evan's new composition is the song,"I stole a pea from Tristan"

Waste not: I freeze the ends of bread and usually use these for bread crumbs or croutons. I used this bread for the bread layer in the cheese strata. We feed the pea shells to the sheep and goat. The chickens got the hulled tops of the strawberries. Still making piles for the thrift store.

Want not: The Kiwanis club in town has an annual auction and yard sale. I found old canning jars that use the rubber rings. I use these to keep herbs and small portions of beans and grains. I also found and old popcorn tin. Because we buy large bulk quantities all the food needs larger containers The new house has a little mouse problem. Once our cats are moved I am sure that the ratio of mouse to person will be balanced. But I want to make sure that all food stuffs are in airtight containers that can not be chewed easily. I also found the cookbook More with Less Cookbook for .50! It is the 1979 edition and has rings on the binding. It is my new favorite cookbook. Simple meals from simple ingredients. I also found a nice 70's vintage tablecloth that I might make a skirt from..when I have the time..oh some time around January:)

Sunday, June 27, 2010


Most mornings this past week my alarm clock bleats at 5:50 am. I knock on Tristan's door, we eat breakfast, pack lunch, fill our water bottles and head to work. We gather in the farm house with our fellow field workers. Some of us pick peas for a dollar a pound. Some of us pick strawberries for the farmstand for an hourly wage. We start at 7 am and our mornings end at 11 am. The farm we work at has 200 acres, a 100 acres are under cultivation. They are not organic but strive to use as few pesticides as necessary.

It is hard work. When there is no picking to be done there is always hand weeding. Most of the time at work is spent bent over at the waist. It is the best position for getting the most speed as you work your row. The mornings are quiet, sometimes foggy, the dew soaks into your pants and shoes. There is a gas cannon in a field over from where I work that goes off periodically to scare the crows away from the corn sprouts. A couple of mornings this past week a tractor cutting hay adds to the soundtrack of the day. Overhead, I hear Canada Geese as one honks to its flock for a new leader for their flying queue. Two male gold finches swoop over the field competing for the affections of a plane jane girl. And the swallows, at times, display in their playful flight what fun we could be having if only our heads were not down to the ground.

By 9 am the the morning begins to get warm and I start drinking from my water bottle. My legs ache and my neck is stiff from looking down most of the morning. But I am picking up speed as each morning I tally the passage of time by the gallons of strawberries I pick. By 9:30 our field has been picked and we move to weeding.

There is a camaraderie among the workers. Most of them are young, in high school or college and work at the farm most summers. Conversations fade in and out as we meet and then move beyond each other in our rows. Being older I feel like I miss some of the social context of their topics but at times we meet on common ground. During those quiet times in the field when I find myself lost in the work my mind wanders. Sometimes I think about what is on my ever growing to-do list. I daydream about our new home. I keep inventory of new aches and pains as my body gets used to this work. I think about the true cost of food.

I am picking strawberries in Maine in June but you can buy strawberries in January from It is the cheap part that I am struggling with right now. Because the only way they stay cheap is because the field worker, probably an immigrant, is not getting paid a fair wage for the important work they do. The farmer, if the farmer is anything like the good people I work for, work LONG days. Food is cheap and does not reflect the true costs of its production. There is a lot of sweat that goes into the food leaving the field. Mostly by hand...

By 11 am we ride the farm vehicles back to the farmhouse. Faces are flushed and everyone looks tired. Our pants and shoes are caked in dried mud. Some of us will leave and others will have lunch before heading back to the fields for weeding in the afternoon. I do this work because we need the extra money it provides, it is flexible for our lives right now, it has an end. Yes it is hard work but I have found an even greater appreciation for the work that brings the food to my table.

I will close with a new song of grace we sing at our table.

Johnny Apple Seed

Oh the earth is good to me
And so I thank the earth
For giving me the things I need
The sun, the rain and the apple seed

The earth is good to me.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Independence Days Challenge

I find myself playing catch-up with the season. Bare soil has been over-ridden with weeds. The clutter that is symptomatic of a hectic life is closing in. The best laid plans of knitters and gardeners....

So...down to business..

Plant: sweet corn, summer squash, cukes, blue coco dry beans, transplanted volunteer sunflowers

Harvest: last of the spinach, scallions, oregano, yarrow, peppermint, swiss chard, lettuce, rhubarb can I count the strawberries I picked at work?

Preserved: dried oregano, tincture of yarrow, dehydrated spinach, dried mint

Local Food systems: we bought some strawberries at the farm I work at for nibbling. I plan to pick my own by the end of the week. I should be able to count all the strawberries I picked here. I have thoughts on large scale farming and its workers I will share them with you later this week.

Eat the food: strawberry fruit leather, a frittata with garlic scapes, swiss chard and scallions, chicken soup with swiss chard, garlic scapes and fridge gleanings.

Waste not: We save all our chicken bones and freeze them for soup later. This last batch of bones had hint of smoky bbq on them. It made for a really nice stock ala Nourishing Traditions. We use vinegar for helping to extract all the good mineral from the bones. I used most of the left over food bits for the soup: garbanzo beans, tomato paste, mash potato and sauteed onions along with garden gleanings. I helped to kick this little cold we have all shared. Side dressed spuds and a few other plants in the garden with barn compost.

Want not: Found a new jersey sheet at the Goodwill for another rag rug. But there is not much time for the hands to find solace in handwork so it will wait for quieter days. We are making lists. I consider the list important to keeping us on track with what we want to do, what we need to do and how we avoid spending money, time and energy on those things that are not helpful. We mowed the yard, mulched garden paths, weeded and finished planting the old home garden.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Business..harrumph, mumble mumble...

Well, I am sorry but I am going to have to moderate comments again...I've been getting some funky comments..I'll moderate for a while and see if I can stop being spammed.

I value all your comments. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Also, Life is getting pretty busy. I have started my farm job, we are starting to move things and get some things set up at the new house. So posting might be light. I am going to continue with the Independence days challenge updates and my "This moment". But my plate is really full right now.

Thanks, Karin

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Strawberry Season

The fruit is ripe and being picked. Yesterday Tristan started his first day and his first job. When asked how he like it. He said," Oh it is hard work. But I will like the money." When asked to elaborate on what was hard, he said it was the picking of the berries because he is bent over the whole time. However, he did like the weeding.BWaahhahhah.....good...I am an evil mom;)

Anyway, I am hoping to freeze a dozen quarts of berries, make some wine, jam and a strawberry rhubarb pie. But I've been seeing some recipes for fruit leathers and thought I would give it a try.

Here is my own local recipe

1 quart of strawberries, remove stems and rinse.
1/4 cup local raw honey
most recipes call for lemon juice but lemons don't grow in Maine so I thought I would just add a small dash of homemade apple cider vinegar. The lemon juice is just for keeping color.

Anyhoo, most recipes call for heating up all the ingredients. I just mashed it all together with a potato masher. I spread some parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Spread evenly on the paper and place in an oven on lowest setting. I made this at night and left in the oven over night.

By morning it was ready.

With all the busy-ness we will have this summer, I was thinking that I could make a bunch of leather and freeze it. So that as we spend time driving back and forth, we can have a simple healthy snack.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Independence Days Challenge..forward HOE:)

Well, phew! Life is getting busy, busy, busy! Mark finishes school this week. We are moving stuff to the new house and working on things there. Tristan and I start our new farming job this week. And I am filling in at the bookstore for a couple of days.

And Tristan is finishing his blacksmithing class. He hopes to take advantage of the open forge day they will have there every week this summer. This is a skill and art he is really excited about. This fall he plans to attend the local tech school to get some welding experience. He wants to work as well so he can save his money for this very COOL school that he is interested in attending. As a homeschooler who is not really thinking of college, it is exciting for him to find an avenue of study that fits his learning style; which will provide him a skill. I will confess to moments of concern this past year when it seemed he was drifting and did not really have any focus on anything. This is not to say that he does not enjoy many hobbies but, in terms of transitioning to adulthood and some of the responsibilities that come with it, he did not seem to be following any path that would lead him in this direction. But I should remember the lesson of homeschooling that I am taught repeatedly during this venture: when he is ready he will learn it. Thank goodness:)

Meanwhile, the Independence Days Challenge is keeping me on track with the work of the season. It would be so easy to get waylaid with everything we have going right now.

Plant: pole beans in the old garden. We are putting in a small raised bed at the new house. My intention at first was to duplicate plant veggies that would be coming into season at both places at the same time so I could have beans, zukes. I went to the farmer's market in Farmington and met our very local organic farmer. She had seedlings; buy 4 get one free, so I found tomatoes, basil, leeks and kale. I was so grateful for the leeks and kale because we did not plant those this year and we really enjoy these. So we will have some at the new house. I did not think we would have basil either. I was planning to buy crates of tomatoes for canning but now we will have some fresh toms for our plate. I planted at these seedlings at the new place and also planted some acorn squash. I planted pole beans at the old place.

Harvest: spinach, scallions, yarrow, irises chive blossoms

Preserved: chive blossom vinegar, tincture of yarrow,frozen spinach. Still have a bit of spinach left to pick.

Support local food systems: Went to the farmer's market. I also found out that our local farmer attends a market in our new town on Saturday mornings. I bought garlic scapes from her as well. She has a CSA where we can buy shares in small increments throughout the season which will work well for us while we are moving. Dropped teen off at work for his first day of work at local farm. I begin on Wednesday.

Eat the food: Meat loaf from local beef. Salads.

Waste not: the usual composting, recycling, dropping stuff off at the thriftstore

Want not: A local thrift store is closing in Farmington. They were having a 25% off sale the other day. I found a couple of yards of cotton fabric and a skirt pattern. Canning jars and an old milk crate. I use the milk crates for storing canning jars. During canning season the jars have a way of multiplying and spreading over every surface of the kitchen. So, at least during the season there is one container that is easy to get to when something is ready to be canned or is easy to put away when not in use.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Kitchen Memories

When I think of how I reached this homesteading life I lead, I can point to an evolution in a life from single mother to married homeowner. I can think about those times when I daydreamed with a MotherEarth News on my lap. I can remember the feeling of satisfaction as I learned new skills that allowed me to be more self-sufficient; gardening a small community garden plot, learning to knit and purl, the first batch of strawberry jam..err syrup. I learned to trade time at work with time spent using my own skill.

But really the journey begins in the kitchens of my childhood.

I have memories of my mother in a frenzy of flour, sugar, molasses and chocolate chips as she baked cookies for Christmas presents one year. My mom was not the best cook. She could cook a good porkchop into shoe leather. She would get in a rut with menus where every week we could rely on tuna noodle on Tuesdays and chili on Fridays. Wednesdays really were Prince spaghetti nights in our house. But cookies, she could bake. My memory of my kitchen at home is always of me standing so high to the kitchen counter, waiting for a little hand of chocolate chips as they tumbled from the bag into the bowl. She was so adept at scooping a consistent amount of dough from the bowl to the baking sheet with two teaspoons. Cookies were a real treat in our home. Dessert was not something that showed up on our table on a regular basis. But when it did appear, it often appeared as cookies.

When my mother worked on weekends my brother and I used to spend the weekends at my grandparents house. This was where the real lessons took place. I would help my grandfather in the small veggie patch he grew in the backyard. My grandmother taught me how to embroider and crochet. Food is so connected to my memories of my grandparents. My grandfather always made us soft boiled eggs for breakfast. Only he could cook it just the right way. My grandmother used to make spam ( yes spam) and egg salad sandwiches with bread and butter pickles. My grandfather was designated potato masher. But there was one smell that IS Saturdays at my grandparents and that is the smell of homemade tomato sauce simmering on the stovetop all day.

And then there were the pickles. Every Christmas my Aunt Lil would give our family a pint of bread and butter pickles. My Aunt always had a big, big veggie garden. During the summer we would be gifted with paper bags full of corn, tomatoes, cukes and the ubiquitous zucchini. For so many years I wondered at the pickles. How did they find themselves in the jar? Finally one year when I was around ten years old I was welcomed into the kitchen to help with the pickle making. I was given chopping duties because the pickles could be thick and my unexperienced hands could manage thick. The cooperative effort of everyone in the kitchen is the greatest memory of pickling, even if after the pickle magic was diminished.

When I think about the abilities I want to instill in my sons, I think the most important skill is knowing how to cook good, healthy, simple food. Tristan can bake bread and is creative in his choice of ingredients for the dinners he prepares for us. But there has not been a bad meal yet. Evan wants to stand so high to the counter and not only sample the chocolate chips but add and stir the ingredients himself. The best lesson and memory I can give him is to allow him to stir to his hearts content....

Monday, June 7, 2010

Independence Days Challenge

The sun shines today. We have had a good solid drenching over the last week. The grass is tall, the weeds are many and the spinach has bolted. The laundry must be hung today.

We are all a little busy. Mark has end of the year concerts to prepare for. Tristan is finishing up his blacksmithing class and peer leadership meetings. Evan is torn between the construction of train sets indoors and trike riding outside. It is a conundrum, let me tell you;) I am busy with special orders for knitting and filling in at the bookstore while I wait to hear about a start date for my summer farm job. In the meanwhile, boxes are getting filled, a garden gets planted kinda sorta, lists are made...

Planted: Pole Beans, zucchini, cukes

Harvested: lettuce, chive blossoms, spinach, green onions,eggs

Preserved: 3 quarts of spinach. Today it will all be pulled up and I will freeze some more and dehydrate the rest. We use the dehydrated spinach in breads. I will use the frozen for homemade ravioli and soups. 2 pints of chive blossom vinegar.

Eat the food: homemade ravioli using spinach and our own eggs. Local chicken, our own salads, and dinner rolls with dehydrated garlic scape and scallions from last years harvest for a nice herb bread. Yum!

Local food systems: We have not really been very strong with this season. The closest farmer's markets are both about an hour away. Our local farmstand, where I will be working, has not opened for the season yet. But we are managing to get by on much of our own garden gleanings and food storage, with an occasional meat purchase from the feed store.

Waste not:composting, recycling..the usual

Want not: The new house has a cold room and a REALLY old refrigerator;perhaps circa 1960's. Mark had the fridge going this week because he is staying there during the week. Well, the fridge is a big ole' energy hog. While we learn to use the cold room, we thought we would use a small dorm refrigerator. We have a chest freezer for putting food by. So we don't really need a big fridge. I was able to find one through freecycle. Also, the bathtub at the new place is really small, leaky and kinda nasty in a moldy caulking way. When Mark and I were wedded my in-laws asked us what we wanted. We wanted a claw foot tub. Well my father-in-law found one for us and will be delivering it by the end of the month. Best of all it was just sitting in an attic and someone gave it to my Father-in-law. He also has a bunk bed that he is handing down to us.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

So easy to despair...

The oil geyser in the Gulf of Mexico is really a tragedy beyond our imaginations. Each day that goes by without success at stemming the flow of oil seems to add layers of complexity to the solutions of this disaster. The long reaching implications of this disaster will be felt for a decades. The photos of the spill are surreal. The sheen on the water menacing. The photos of oil drenched birds just devastating. The live feed is a horror that can only happen in this age instant news gathering. The potential for this disaster to spread beyond the gulf is great. This really is a game changer.

And yet this game changer is the result of a failure of leadership that extends long before a blow out preventer failed. We can point to a failed government response to the spill. A failure of leadership at the head of BP. A failure of government to create an energy policy for this country that weans us off of oil. But really it is a failure of leadership to convey to the public at- large the challenges we will face in our daily lives if we do not powerdown.

Every Monday, I write my Independence Days Challenge update. I participate in this challenge for several reasons. It keeps me on track throughout the growing season. It creates habits in our lifestyle that are seasonal. It easily points the way to incorporate self-sufficiency in my life. But the real reason that I participate in this challenge is because of Peak Oil. Oil and all it by-products touch everything in our lives that we touch. EVERYTHING. The gas for our cars is the most obvious. The food on our table is so dependent on oil, it is scary to ponder what would happen if its means of getting to my table were disrupted for even a couple of days. But everything from the toothbrush we use in the morning, to the band aid we put on our child's skinned knee, to the pillow we lay our head on at night has found its way into our home by the power of oil.

We have no short term memory in this country. It was just two years ago that the price for a barrel of oil reached the unimagined price of 147.00. Gasoline was 4.50 a gallon in my neighborhood. It took nearly 40.00 to fill the tank of our Subaru Legacy station wagon. We managed to stretch that tank of gas by practicing conservation. But what I remember most about that time was the inflation of food prices at the grocery store. It cost more for the food to find its way to the shelves of the store and that increase was passed on to my bottom line. At the time independent truckers were parking their trucks because they could not afford to pay for the diesel for their tanks. The fear that many residents of Maine would be without heat was very real. Many homes in Maine are still dependent on heating oil.

The geyser in the the gulf is tragic. But when taken in the context of peak oil it seems inevitable. The easy oil is no longer as easy to get to. The technology to pump every last drop out of the wells in the oil fields in the US has assured that we are using it all. The countries that have the remaining easy oil are not in friendly neighborhoods or their own supply is in decline. Boondoggles such as biofuels that use FOOD for fuel or shale oil whose energy investment does not equal its energy return are last ditch efforts to keep this train on its rails. We are not the only country that wants to use the remaining easy oil. So we drill in deep water horizons. We argue whether to open ANWR. We go to war to secure our dependence on oil. We talk of alternatives as though the infrastructure to switch our energy economy were as simple as a few solar panels and hybrid cars. When what we really should be doing is re-localizing, producing more of our own food, living in self-sustaining communities.

After hearing this piece on Morning Edition, I think we have a way to go....

Thursday, June 3, 2010

By hand...

Evan and I sat down with needle and thread to embroider. We are finally getting some rain and find ourselves indoors. I had some aida cloth. He chose the colors, I thread the blunt needle, made a knot to keep it together for him. Then he set to work. I would finish the last stitch and fasten it for him. Before beginning another color.
Such a look of concentration. It was a amazing to watch him at work. He would turn his work back and forth making sure to have the needle enter on the right side as the thread so that it did not get wrapped the wrong way.

This was his final product. Jackson Pollack with thread:) I think I will try drawing a little truck for him to try next time. Evan is all about wheels:)

I finished Evan's playmat. It was my first real quilting project. I wanted it to reflect the world he knows. So there are hills, lakes, rivers, dirt roads, trees and farms. It was a lot of fun to make!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Independence Days Challenge ...time for rain dances

Each car that drives down our dirt road is followed by a trail of dust. The ground is parched, the rain barrels are dry, the garden is thirsty for a long drink.

In the garden, I am digging up bits of perennials to transplant to another garden 2 hours away. In this bi-home life we will have for a couple of months, I continue to revisit and revise garden plans. In our current home I think only beans, zucchini and cukes will go in the ground. We are building a raised bed at the new home to grow winter squash, more beans, carrots. In our new home I am collecting seed from parsnip, sorrel and rhubarb. We are transporting garbage cans of sheep poo ...we are a thrifty lot and want to start our new garden with the graces of our lovely ewes instead of buying manure. When we plan our larger garden then we will invest in some good cow compost. I hope to have a winter garden started at the new home in August. I was able to take a pitch fork to the ground and found dark sandy loam; compared to the heavy clay we have here, it is divine.

Mark has two and half weeks left of school. Tristan has a couple of weeks left of his blacksmithing class. Tristan and I begin our summer farm job in a week or so. We are beginning to make lists now. We are still looking for a renter for our house. But few folks want to rent a house that is for sale. It is understandable but frustrating. These are the rules we are supposed to follow because of the mortgage we have but it is a catch -22. But there is time and we are investigating our options.

The work of home continues...

Plant: transplanted mullein, oregano, garlic chives, yarrow. My garden has bits of wild in it. Wild Yarrow and Mullein are abundant on our property. I make tinctures from these and wanted to make sure that I had some in the ground at the new place. My dream for the new place is to plant a medicine wheel garden.

Harvest: spinach, scallions, lettuce, eggs

Preserve: 4 quarts of spinach frozen

Local Foods: We are so fortunate to live in a state where local foods are part of the culture of Maine. I am looking for the source of a blurb I heard on Maine public radio this morning which stated that the number of small direct market farms has been growing in Maine and New Hampshire. However, in Maine the number of people that can be supported by the food grown locally is 40% compared to 6% in New Hampshire. We bought local sausage to cook at our new home yesterday. I also had a great conversation with my very handsome and smart husband this past weekend. We eat a lot of local food, but we live in a region of the state where we have to drive an hour to a farmer's market. There is resistance among some of the more established farms to starting a local farmer's market. Many other farms are hay and corn farms.We grow a lot of our own food but we are still pretty dependent of the grocery store. I have always wanted to look into getting as local as possible. If not a 100 mile diet, a state of Maine diet. Once we move we feel that we will have an easier time of plugging in those holes we have a hard time filling now.

Waste not: We are cleaning out more stuff. I thought I did this last year. Oh well, took several bags of stuff to the thrift store.

Want not: cleaned out freezer, cleaned and organized pantry.