Monday, May 28, 2012

Independence Days Challenge...These are the long days...

Indeed. These are the long days. I wake early in the morning. While the rest of the household is preparing for their day I am outside, in the garden, with my little enameled bowl , collecting the first hints of harvest. This time of year it is herbs and rhubarb. There is still dew on the grass. The dawn chorus has completed but the there is still song in the air. A slight breeze sings through the trees as I follow the call of the robin, stealing straw mulch for its nest. A frog lives in the ditch near the house. I can hear it croak its come hither.

I've been doing this homesteading thang' for a few years now and I have learned a few lessons along the way. The most important is that an investment takes time to mature. We are into our second year on this particular land I have learned more about the investment in the land this past spring than I have in all the years we have been living this life. Each layer of mulch, each application of wood ash or lime or compost is an investment on the soil that will reap its benefits in years to come. Good tilth is an investment in the future. Plants are bigger and greener than they were this time last year. There is still some issue with soil. Uneven growth but I think that we can get that worked out this year.

Plant:  potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, summer cabbage, rutabaga, cleavers, more bunching onions, more beets, more carrots, marigold, painted mountain corn ( for corn meal) black coco dry beans, Kentucky wonder beans, marina di choigga pumpkin, butternut squash, acorn squash, butter cup squash.

Harvest: Bee Balm, rhubarb, black raspberry leaf, chickweed, dandelion root, catnip, mint, spinach, blood root, elecampane.

Preserve: 1 quart frozen spinach, 2 quarts frozen rhubarb, 4 pints rhubarb chutney, 1 quart blackberry leaf, 1 quart bee balm tea, 1 quart cat nip.

Local foods:Eggs, local milk, tomato plants, local chicken

Eat the food: Still eating sorrel. First green salads with a mix of lettuce, spinach, borage, kale and wild greens such as dandelion, chickweed and wild lettuce.

Waste not: Mucking out the last of the sheep pens. The girls ( the new girls have arrived) and boy are eating from pasture now. We are scything up grass from the orchard for them to eat when they are not on pasture. I planted painted mountain corn this year. It is a dry corn that I hope to grow for cornmeal/flour this year. It should be easy to save seed from this corn for next year.

Want not: Mark finished shearing the sheep for a friend which is how we got our new sheep; a ramboulett  (derived from merino) and a corriedale cross. I will have photos of the new girls tomorrow. I returned to the wild herb class this spring with a walk instead of just a lecture. I love this learning. As much as I have so many other interests to pursue; learning about the food and healing herbs underneath our feet is really exciting to me. I love adding new herbs to my garden every year. But some of those herbs are not native to our own state. Rhonda, my teacher, is full of knowledge about what is available right here, growing wild,  every ear. Each year I choose a few herbs and wild crafted greens that will build on the knowledge I already know. If you don't use it you lose it.

Learn something new: herb class.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Crunch Time

This is crunch time for us. It is a busy time of year. Mark is finishing up his school year; this means that he is home late from work because of school concerts. It is also shearing season . He spends good portions of weekends on farms getting to know many different breeds of sheep. (If you ever find my husband on your stead, please don't let your sheep lie in hay. Veggie matter really gums up the works.)

It is also planting season. There is so much seed in the ground and so much bare soil yet to plant. I have one more sheep pen to muck. This will be used on the corn patch, dry bean patch.. Tomatoes, peppers, cukes, zukes and other wonderful winter squash seed still need to find the soil. I am trying to mulch with leaves this year. So there are many days in the woods and along our road raking up leaves. I am trying to make the work of the garden easier by not needing to weed so much. These are beneficial to the soil. Those tree roots dig deep in the soil and bring lots of great nutrients up to their leaves that now can feed my sandy soil. Which will be important to our seasonal bottom line because I think that Mark will be making the leap to becoming a full time, independent musician.

There is so much economic bad news out there. But at some point you just can't let that hold you back. Playing safe does not always assure security. How many school years have we faced the spring budget season and worried whether he will have a job the following fall? Too many. At some point you have to take your life into your own hands and see how it turns out. Fall on your face or lift yourself up; only you can find that out by trying. So we shall see. He is trying to see how all the pieces will fit together. I will try to find a job,something part time; preferably, at a book store.

A few months ago I made a list of all the things I do around the house that save us money. I was thinking about what my work at home was worth. What economic value did it have? Quite a bit, actually. I grow the garden and preserve quite a bit of food.  I collect wild ( FREE) foods. I cook many foods from scratch that we used to buy in a package. We cut our wood. I conserve cooking fuel (propane gas) when I can by using my fire-less cooker, cooking outdoors, and using the oven with many things cooking at the same time. I make our laundry soap. I hang our laundry. We do not use paper towels or paper napkins. We feed our soil with what we can glean from our land. I save some seed. We collect rain water to water our sheep and garden. Mark repairs our cars whenever possible. We have a tiny fridge and use our cold room a lot. We drive a biodiesel car. I knit much of our winter wear and wool socks.I darn socks and mend clothing. We make many of our holiday and birthday gifts. I use my rudimentary sewing skills to make pj's and insulated curtains for our home. We grow meat birds. We make most of our own sweetener in the form of maple syrup.  We have all those apple trees. I make simple herbal remedies: elderberry cough syrup, jewel weed salve for itchy rashes, healing salve for wounds. I make herbal tea blends that help with sleep, colds and my wacky change-o-life hormones.  We make our own beer and wine.  We use the library and buy fewer books. We buy many tools, clothes and household items second hand ,but made with quality. We have found a community of friends who gather together frequently for work parties and music making. I volunteer for a community garden that donates food to low income residents of my town. We are allowed to take some produce home which supplements any crop failures I might have at home. We have perfected bartering so that we can provide our own hay and add to our flock with barter. Mostly, we have learned to make-do.

There are still many things I would love to do. We need to get laying hens again. I would love to learn to make soap. There is still a wealth of herbal knowledge to learn. I would love to challenge my sewing skills so that I can update my wardrobe.  I would like to build a solar food dehydrator and a green house. I would love to find a way to only need one really good, fuel efficient, reliable car.

This life assures that we will find a way to make most of  these things happen because we can see the economic value in them. Nearly all these things mean that we eat a healthier diet, rely on our own ingenuity and need less money.  When I come indoors at the end of a long day working out doors, I can see the results of my labor. I  don't leave a cubicle with a pile of paper waiting for me the next morning. Nice work if you can get it.....

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Turning Tables

So, I've been writing here for about 5 years now. I have watched my followers numbers increase. Each time I see that number increase I get a little thrill.. So this evening I looked at my stats and I saw that I have a real international following.

So I would love to hear from you. Where are you from? What are you growing? How do you spend your time? What are you making? What are you reading?

Please share:)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A writing life?

I've been writing for a long time.  When I was a girl I remember receiving a locked diary for Christmas one year. I felt so mature. Someone thought enough of my 9 year old life to give me a diary to record my thoughts and daily life in. I think that I was able to keep writing in it for a month or so.

When I reached high school. I was a new kid to the school. I had moved to a new town and did not know anybody. So when I arrived in study hall one day to sit at a table with a girl; who my mom introduced me to, a tentative friendship began. Soon there were a gaggle of us getting shushed by the teacher. I was able to break the ice with a story I had written about an egg salad sandwich cum science experiment gone wild. It was written as a series of letters to teachers meant to be excuses for not attending class. It was funny. My classmates laughed a lot. We were shushed some more. Later I would revise this and submit as a class assignment. I received an A for my effort.

Most of high school life was spent writing on the side. Poetry, overly fraught with teen angst was the next genre to take my imagination. A teacher I had senior year taught me the valuable lessons of writing what I know and showing, not telling. These lessons helped grow my poetry.. At that age writing was about the act of writing.   It was about expression for its own sake. Perhaps a chaotic childhood helped me to find an outlet for expressing and organizing the chaos into something I could understand.

I was an English major in college. I loved to read and I loved to write. I got to do both while I was there. I never finished the degree but I consider myself an English Major for life. I am always writing, I am always reading. I did not stay in college but instead chose to live the life of vagabond for a couple of years. I worked for a nuclear arms control lobby. I followed the Grateful Dead for a while. I had some adventures for sure but, at heart, I like be settled. 

Once I decided to settle I began to write more frequently. I started frequenting poetry readings. The writing was still a little immature but I took the bold step to consider getting published. I had a poem published in a local poetry journal called, "Potato Eyes". This was the most validating experience for me as someone who liked to write.

I worked in kitchens and bookstores. I lived in a town, Portland, Me, where the writing community was strong and there were plenty of opportunities to share what I wrote. Writing groups, writing classes, open readings.

Tristan came along and I reached a writing silence. Motherhood will do that . I think motherhood those first few years of a child's life, especially single motherhood, is a difficult balance. If I found myself with extra time I would try to catch up on all the items on the ever present to-do list. But finally the combination of a broken heart and a writing friend, Steve Lutrell of the Cafe Review, convinced me to take up the pen again.

And pen it was. The, now,  ever present computer was not a device commonly available  at the time. I have boxes and boxes of old notebooks filled with ramblings and multiple revisions of poems I wrote at the time. This time around the writing took on the maturity of a woman. The writing was deeper and layered without needing to tease out these qualities with any great effort. I took any free time I had, any time Tristan was with his dad, to write. It was exciting and mysterious. I never knew where the writing would take me. I never knew when inspiration would take me but inevitably it would happen while I was walking. I lived in a city where you could witness a paragraph in someone else's story and fashion it into a stanza for my own creative endeavor. I had another poem published at the," Cafe Review" I was selected to join a juried poetry reading at a local Bookstore. It felt like, with some more effort, I could make the writing more than a creative outlet.

And then...I hit a writer's block. I felt like there was only so much navel gazing someone could do before all they found was lint. I was finding a lot of lint.

I moved north. I met Mark. We married, had a baby boy, moved to the country. I was living a different dream. And day I am standing in a gulley picking wild raspberries. Mosquitos were humming and lines of poetry awere running though my head.We had just hooked up DSL in our home and so on a lark I began this blog. This was not the kind of writing I was accustomed to. Sometimes the entries were informative. Sometimes they were opinionated. Sometimes they were reaching for something more creative. This was writing that was enough. It didn't have to have a life beyond the bits on some hard drive. I could find some immediate satisfaction without the angst of rejection. I didn't ( but sometimes should have) revised the work several times. This was writing that happened when there were kids running around, dinner was on the stove and the dog was barking at a squirrel outside the window. It was writing that I did not take seriously. But it was writing just the same.

This morning I am sitting upstairs in my little local library,  It is a quiet, un-distracted by housework time. This is now my dedicated writing time. I am now writing beyond the blog. It feels really different this time. Perhaps it is my brain returned from Evan's early years. Perhaps it is what I find among some of my other mom friends; the desire to be more than just a mom, to find some other means of expression. Either way here I am again writing and wanting to do more with it.

So yes, I guess I am a writer. I've never really called myself a writer before. Somehow that seems a title that can only be validated by publication.  This is what I hope to do with the writing beyond the blog. Can't wait to share this with you.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Independence Days Update

May flowers are bursting out all over. The pear trees are covered in white flowers. Now the apples are showing signs of pink and white. The weather has been a little tough. After April's unusally dry weather we have reached May where the weather is wet for 4-5 days in a row and then 1-2 days of dry sunny weather.  This means that for those 1-2 days I spend all day outside trying to get as much in the ground as possible and the 4-5 days compiling to-do lists that, hopefully, I will get to soon.  The one postive of this is that the iside of my house is surprisingly tidy for this time of year. It is all a balancing act.

There is so much wild green goodness that wants to be picked. Dandelions are shy during the rain but during the breaks I have been able to collect a few quarts of flowers. Dandelion roots are easily pulled out of some of the mulched beds. Horsetail is up. Purslaine and yellowdock are everywhere. I love this time of year.

Some friends and I are gathering to do some community canning. Some of us are just learning this skill. Others, like myself, enjoy adding this element to what can be a very solitary activity. My friend Sara believes that women need to work in community more. It definitely makes the job more enjoyable. We began our first gathering this week making dandelion jelly and dandelion wine.

Plant: So much has gone into the ground I hope I can remember...carrot, onnion, Good King Henry potherb, chard,broccoli, parsnip,beets, lettuce, rosa rugosa, hazelnut, everbearing raspberry, peony, rhubarb, cranberry, jerusalem artichoke, arnica, borage, blessed thistle, motherwort, hollyhock, yarrow. Started gourd, basil, melon indoors.

Harvested: french sorrel, chives, rhubarb, dandelion root, leave and flower.

Preserved: one gallon dandelion wine, 5 pints and 2 half pints of what should have been dandelion jelly but is more of a syrup ( more on this later). 1 quart dandelion leaf dehyrated. 1 quart dehydrated dandelion root.

Local Foods: Shared some elecampane with an herbalist friend. Fiddle heads, lettuce from farmers market. Some one gave us some turkey eggs to try and some one else gave us some duck eggs to try. Local meat and dairy.

Eat the food: Fiddlehead quiche with local bacon. Local salad. Dandelion salad dressing ( with dandelion syrup). Last years dandelion wine. Sorrel, dandelion green, chive frittata.

Waste not: I am working on  a funky little project using some crocks ( the shoe) and a cedar post I hope to have something posted by the end of the week or so.

Want not: I found some old canning jars, the sort with the glass lids, at a yard sale. Our local hardware store sells the rings for these. I use this to store dehydrated foods in. I ran a 5k this last week. I was the last adult to arrive but I felt great that I finished. I used to run all the time but after Evan was born I sorta slowed down a lot. Exercise is supposed to be good for perimenopausal symptoms so I say bring it on!

Skill up: This is a new catagory for the challenge that I have not been including. But I think an important one. I have a wild herb walk I will be going on at the end of the month. There  is also a wild greens class offered locally that I will participating in this month as well.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

From scratch living

It always amazes me how unexpected people are. As we go about our daily lives we may see familiar but unknown people  going about their own lives. There is a lady at the grocery store who is nearly eighty and runs a small pick-your-own apple orchard in the fall. There was a  kid serving up gelato who just had his art work shown at an important gallery in Portland. These are small details, important details of these folks lives that one would never guess just by the job they do to get by.

Today was another of those wow moments for me. There is a back road that I travel to get into Farmington. It is a beautiful road that is sometimes forested and then opens into beautiful vistas of the mountains not too far away. There are gorgeous dairy cows at the Hardy Farm. I do mean gorgeous; healthy, pretty Ayershires grazing on lush green pasture. I always slow down so I do not miss a healthy dose of cow for my drive.

There is a field I drive by where I have seen a rather large fox frolicking, or hunting mice. Either way he is a sight to see and another reason to slow the car down. I never seem to travel at the speed limit when traveling along the road.

There is a guy I see who is often walking along the roadside collecting bottles for redemption. He seems a bit of the Maine old timah. Scraggy beard, dirt stained dickie pants, like my papa used to wear. He always gives the obligatory country wave as you drive by. He does not have a car. His house is pretty run down. But he must work hard at what he occupies himself with because there is always a good woodpile, cut and split, outside his door yard every winter. In August he sells blackberries he's picked from a patch in back of his house. For all the run down facade of the house, he has a lovely patch of tulips every spring.

Well, this morning Tristan and I went for a drive down this road. There was going to be a seven mile yard  sale. We got there a little late and missed any good finds, we thought. And then we ended up in the door yard of this man where we found at least 100 paintings by the man. Beautiful landscapes, very impressionistic. Some of the work was more abstract.  He had his bio up. He has been painting for over 40 years. He has had his work in several galleries. He also writes poetry and has his poetry published in several chapbooks. He has stopped showing his art in galleries and now sells his paintings from his front yard. He likes to advertise that he is the only artist who sells his work, rent-to-own. He says that he has pretty good luck working this way.

Oh and did I mention, he doesn't have a car.

There are a lot of folks in  the backwoods of Maine that are making their living by piecing together odd jobs and their art. It is a lifestyle we have contemplated. Especially every school budget cycle when Mark's job hangs in the balance. Another situation we find ourselves in this year. More than likely he will be hired full time for next school year. But the anxiety is a seasonal aspect to his job we could do without. This is not to say that self-employment doesn't have its own challenges.  But we know that if we were to pay off all our debt then we could be free to create the way we want and not necessarily the way we need.  Our own version of Possum Living.

Our artist neighbor seemed happy, content and nourished. He lives pretty simply. His art is beautiful! He sells it all summer long and his art is hanging on walls all over the world. "Nice work if you can get it and you can get it if you try...."