Saturday, October 25, 2014

Eating on the Fly: Recipes for Survival!

Harrumph! This is what you think you  hear as you watch me collapse into the chair at the end of a hectic day.  If perchance you were an outside observer of my days.

I am still trying to find healthy wholesome meals to put on the table without too much effort. I remember ( now ashamedly) trying to dispense advice on this blog about wholesome cooking on a budget when I was a stay at home mom. It is dang difficult.

First, one must have a plan. I write my grocery list out with a planned menu for the week.  I combine a few easily prepared meals with a few more involved meals for those time when I have time. I plan meals that I can save for leftovers. But even then there are just some days when I get home that I can't muster the energy to cook the meal; never mind cleaning up after it!

With all this in mind I have learned a few things. The crockpot is the best invention since sliced bread. Oh, wait, scratch that! I bake my own bread and slicing it is not that difficult. The crockpot is the best thing since the internal combustion engine! Oh, wait, that contributes to climate change. The crockpot is the best invention since..since..THE WHEEL!

The crockpot is the wife I never had. She takes a mix of vegetables and protein, a dash of finesse  ( or tamari, curry or  pesto) and voila...I walk through the door and the house smells like someone has been cooking all day!

Many things I used to make from scratch are now purchased. But then I was a little crazy about making everything from scratch at one point. So I no longer make tortilla from scratch. I no longer make mayonnaise. I still make salad dressings ( okay, really, all I do is put the oil and vinegar on the table and tell the boys," have at it!").

Risotto. I have learned that one must learn to make risotto. A little wine, a quart of chicken stock...cheese. Simple. It is the perfect food to prepare when you need to downshift from a busy day as you stir in one cup of stock at a is the perfect quick meal And you can add all sorts of things to it. It is yummy as a whole meal, a side or or a cold lunch a day later. It has an essence of magic and elegance. Below I have a basic risotto recipe using some things found in the garden this time of year

Karin's Hectic Risotto
1 Cup wine ( for the risotto, not you!)
2 leeks chopped
1 table spoon butter
1 quart boiling chicken stock
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup shredded smoked gouda cheese
salt and pepper to taste
optional steamed brussel sprouts quartered, panchetta or chopped turkey

Saute leeks and rice in butter. When leeks soften add wine. When rice has absorbed the wine start adding chicken stock, one cup at a time as stock gets absorbed. After adding last cup of stock add cheese to melt. You can add anything else at this point. Risotto is done when it is creamy but not soupy.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Kale provides life lessons. Before it has sprouted it is just a pretty picture in the Johnny's seed cataglog. So much promise and youthful adventure in such names as Toscano, Russian Red. First romance comes to mind in the Sunrise variety. All those glossy photos show what kale can be; unblemished, blight free.

This year I planted too much kale. This happens in spring we make promises that we can  only mostly keep. There is energy to keep kale under floating row cover. Swattled against flea beetle. Powdered with diatomaceous earth to deter slug and cabbage worm. So much care given to tender micro greens with the hope of growing a robust provider.

However, by summer kale turns bitter with heat while my attentions turns to more fleeting vegetables like sweet peas and cherry tomatoes. It can't be helped.  There is so many diversions. But by autumn time is measured by chores  completed: the wood is stacked, the apples sauced, the socks are darned.

The garden is emptied, brown and rotted. Withered by a few frosts and the neglect that comes with too many green tomatoes and not enough time. There are a few cabbages left to pick and brussel sprouts have yet to have their day. Pumpkins are still be to pied and carved. And when it is all has been canned,  frozen or put by for the shorter days, Kale will still be standing like green sentinels in the garden. Mature in its flavor after a touch of frost when so much else succumbs to the season.

Kale persists. Thank goodness for that.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Handling Abundance

The kettle is on. First thing in the morning, it heats the water for my one cupper coffee filter. The fuel that gets this mama moving. This mama is always moving these days. Work is busy with college students buying books, planning author events, front list (new books) being released in greater numbers as the calendar creeps towards Christmas.

Home is busy. The school schedule has taken full hold of our time now. Homework has started. Cub scouts and Piano have started. Finding time to just let Evan play becomes a religious pilgrimage. It is sacred time I feel uncompomising about. It is also scheduled time but I make sure it happens.

Home is busy for me too. I did plant a garden this year. It is a vital part of our overall welfare. It defrays costs at the grocery store. It eases the loads we have to carry in in the winter. This time of year it feels like a race against frost. Can I get one more batch of pesto? How many green tomatoes are left? Do I have time to get to the farm for pick-your-own tomatoes ( 1.25 a pound!). More importantly, do I have time to put them up?

Ah there's the rub. I confess to spending a few hours, after a long day, hanging over the canner. I have not put by as much as I used to in the past. I just don't need rennet anymore. I'm not making cheese these days. I like making wine but I really shouldn't drink the wine I make.

And there are some things that I really should give more attention to; like the crazy amount of apples in my orchard.

Here's this crazy thing I am just realizing. We are only given what we can handle. Well, yes and no, while we are in what ever craziness life is throwing at us it can feel like more than we can handle. I would not presume to diminish the pain and strife of anyone. What I mean by given more than we can handle comes down to this..

Last year in all the turmoil my dehydator broke. Not a big deal normally. Had I the resources it would have been a tool I would have replaced. But I didn't. There were few jars filled...maybe some jam, a couple of jars of tomatoes, saurkraut and whatever could get into the freezer did. But there was no money for the big bag of corn, there was no money for blueberry picking. Oh and there were no apples in the orchard; early bloom and a frost took care of that.

I don't like waste; especially food waste. I would have made an effort to put by what I could but many would have just fed the deer.

So, I guess you could say that I was not given any more apples than I could handle last year.

This year; however, I am blessed with abundance. Nature seems to be in sync with me as long as I can keep up. There are piles of food still to be processed: tomatoes, zuchinni and lots and lots of apples.

I can handle it.

                                                                    My Midsummer Garden

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I paint my door red

My new door. That something like a new door should carry such weight in my world may seem a silly thing to some folks but it signifies a lot to me. Last winter was brutal. I have objective proof of this all around my home. The roof caved in on the wood shed. Snow fell off the roof and blocked our windows. Tristan was outside three times in one day just trying to keep the snow that slid off the roof  from blocking the windows. ( Such a good kid!) A window broke when a chunk of ice went through it at 6 am one cold February morning. 

I tell folks that you could blame me for last winter's brutality. Last October,I stood in my woodshed and bragged that I had the same amount of wood put up as the year before, only I  had it all under cover and stacked long before my ex ever did. 

And then I ran out of wood.

 This does not even tell the whole story. My kind neighbor plowed us out last year. Normally, I just park the car up on the town maintained part of the road and we trek out in snowshoes. Being plowed out felt like a luxury. 

Alas, this becomes the story of the three trucks. The first truck got stuck in the drive way when my battery died on a bitter cold morning. AAA ( a kind gift from my aunt) came down the drive to give me a jump. However a flat bed tow truck is no match for the like of the narrow driveway. We had to push the car to the tow truck for the jump and then we had to wait for the truck to get out. The second truck was delivering firewood. This truck did have the foresight to back down. But I did warn him that he might get stuck so we would not mind if the wood got dumped at the top of our portion of the road and we would haul it down.. Yep he backed it down and got stuck and we still had to haul the wood in. The third truck was a AAA truck again; only this time he was pulling me out of the mud. But he got stuck in the mud himself, then broke a hydraulic line. 

At this point you are probably asking yourself, " What does this have to do with a door?"


That new door  was installed at the same time the two new windows in my kitchen were replaced. I got some help from the Mission of the Eastward with the labor. The old door was so old that, no matter how much weather stripping we put around the door, we could still see daylight. My broken window is replaced. There is nearly 3 cord of wood in the driveway and I am saving money for snow tires and a portable battery chargers.  I bartered a four wheeler for a snow blower so we can keep the snow away from the front of the house and make some easier trails for walking. I will not park down at the house this winter. No matter what!

Some people buy boats, I buy doors.

I live at the very end of a two mile dirt road. I can afford the mortgage on my house a lot better than the rent for an apartment. However, when we moved here there was another person whose skills offset the ones I did not have. I am figuring out how to do this on my own. One door at a time.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Food for Thought

It is nearing dinner. After piano lessons, we go home; hopefully to be there by 4:45, and then I will have to answer another one of those grand illuminated questions of life, “ What is for dinner?”

When I think about how much mental space is consumed with this question every single day I think, “Gosh imagine the empires conquered, the great art that could have been made, the good works done, if I did not have to think about this Every. Single. Day.”

There was a time, not very long ago, when what was prepared for dinner was an important part of my identity. I was a stay at home mom. I cleaned the house, got the kids where they needed to go and I cooked a healthy, wholesome, from scratch dinner; sometimes all grown on our own land or locally sourced, nearly every night. If I didn't cook the meal, I still had a plan.

There would pots of stew, new recipes to try. I would give myself cooking challenges to see just how local I could go. How many things can one make from a rutabaga? I would can nettle juice for rennet for making cheese. I would drink teas from red clover picked over weeks during the summer and dehydrated. This seems like leisure to me now.

Planning is ultimately important to this new way of living. But compromises have had to be made. There is just not enough time to cook every meal, every night of the week. Some nights I am athe only one home, some nights I am not home at all. I confess to boxed macaroni and cheese ( the healthiest kind I can find, but, well you know , it comes from a box)But, despite this, some nights the guys and I can enjoy a good meal.

These meals take on extra meaning now. They are nearly sacred. I find myself resistant to accepting invitations, add more outside work and more kids' extra curriculars so that we can have these 2 , sometimes 3, meals a week. They are meals where I approach the task of cooking with calm. There is no harried prep of food for the sake of sustenance but an actual event with thought and intention. There is grace and candlelight. There is communion together around the table.

And then there is the multi-tasking I can take care of when I am cooking the meal. Inevitably making these meals gives me a boost of energy to prepare for busier times, warm the home with something baked or, these days, put something in the canner for winter. Maybe I can whip up a batch of granola or get some bread started. If I double the recipe I can have the left overs for a meal after a long day. I am well aware of the strategies to keep the good food coming even when the energy isn't there to cook it.

In the end , as with everything, it comes down to balance. Somedays that balance leans towards expediency and necessisty. Somedays it leans towards nourishment of our bodies and our souls.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Catch a breath

Pacing. Some days; despite my best intentions, there is just chaos. Yesterday I woke at a little later than intended. I wrote for a while, got ready for work, swept the living room floor, prodded Evan to get ready for school. I left the house at 8:20. I thought I would have enough time to pay the after school care person, put Tristan's bike in the car so I could take it to the repair shop after work, get gas, deliver books for the store at Evan's school and still have a good amount of time to sit at the local coffee shop to deal with online stuff. All before 10:00 in the morning; when I have to go to work.

What was I thinking?

If, as I planned, it all went according to design the morning would have been busy. I should know at this point that it never goes according to plan. It started with a hiccup at the day care. We ended up chatting for a few minutes to take care of logistics. Then , the bike would not fit in the car; of course. Finally, I had to stop for gas if I wanted to go anywhere else. Evan did arrive to school on time, I did make it down town but not before feeling swept up in the pin ball machine that had become the morning.

Work was brief and,well ,somedays; as much as I love my job, it can be work. I had a “something” I had to deal with when “something” else got in the way. Which left no time to take care of the first something before I had to meet Evan at the bus.

Somedays, just leaving the house with clothes on can feel like a big accomplishment.

Once home I find I can switch gears. Evan shared his day. We had a snack. We changed into our play clothes. He packed his bag for his weekend with his dad and I went to the garden to see what needs to be picked.

A second crop of broccoli is coming on like gangbusters. The first crop has been sending out a multitude of florets. There are tomatoes, cucumbers and an abundance of famine food we call zuchinni. There is a heft to the harvest basket. Once these are gleaned I move on the berries.

A chance to really slow down. I can feel the gears shifting; third into second. Elderberries are plump and plentiful this year. Another rush of everbearing raspberries has invited the hum of bumble bees. They must prepare for winter as well. The black berries were late this year. When I think of the many quarts of berries I keep in the freezer I marvel at the fact that I have touched every single berry. One at a time they are proof of a collection of sunny days, quiet moments and the joys I had sharing some of this job with Evan. In those moments when I am picking I know for sure that I am day dreaming, catching those cosmic lines that will only fall near you when you have that quiet moment.

Now that the berries are here I feel inspired to make wine and jam of the assorted berries I've gathered. This may be work too but never feels like it.

Pacing. Somedays there is no pacing. It can feel hard to find those quiet moments that allow one simple thing...a breath.

Thank goodness for berries.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Dust to Dust

 For a just a few minutes I stand in the middle of my house and say.” This is good.”

The afternoon sun shines through the living room windows. The house plants are plump and healthy looking from their morning drink of water. I walk across the floor and do not feel grit on my bare feet. In the kitchen everything is in its place. It looks ready for cooking. No smells of dirty socks, used kitty litter, rotted refrigerator science experiments. Laundry catches a breeze on the line; a friendly wave from the house goddess.

It is still mid afternoon and there is a luxury ahead for me. I can actually sit and knit or read to Evan.

And just like that the moment is gone. Toys litter the floor, grass clippings are brought in on shoes. Kitty litter is tracked across the rug in the living room. Dinner is made. It starts all over again.What was once a a quaint domestic scene is now something out of an action thriller.

My mission, if I should choose to accept it, is to maintain a clean house during the week. This seems like it should be an easy task. But no. There are long days when I don't get home till 7:30. The first week of school behind us I feel like I am driving bumper cars; bouncing from one thing to another.

My heart is not the only one that beats in these four walls. I try to enlist the other bipeds help. One boy, the not so tall one, sorts recycling and returns the bin from the curb, he puts the silverware away, he helps to make dinner. He picks up his room sometimes easily; sometimes its like rangling a bucking bronco. The other boy, now man, washes dishes, takes the garbage out, does his laundry, attends to heavier chores like chopping and stacking wood.

My plan this last week was to do one thing everyday, at least, to stay ahead of the devolving state of the house. I cleaned the house on Sunday. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday it felt like I was succeding. Counters cleared, table cleared, floor swept every day, cat poop scooped. All it took was one day. ONE DAY?? One very long day and it sorta went all to pot.

How does a house get messy if no one is home? I put this unanswerable question up there with some of the other great mysteries of life like...what is the meaning of life?

Okay...I do have one idea to all this. It comes to me at the writing of this post. It is 7:27 am. I could be sweeping the floor, washing a few dishes in the sink and instead I am here...clutter on the table has been pushed aside for the lap top, Evan is dozing up stairs. I should rouse him. I began this post at 7:10.
Twenty minutes of writing..hmm

writing or scopping cat poop? Is there really a choice there?

                                                Getting real at Fleecenik Farm.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

What is enough?

I dreamt last night that I had a large sum of cash; so big it would not fit in my hand. I remember feeling anxious that I did not know what to do with it. It sorta flopped all over the place in the way I imagine such a volume might. Bills scattering around my feet. I felt clumsy with so much. I know I had a conversation where I told the nondescript presence that I did not need this much but only needed enough.

I woke this morning wondering what enough is?

This seems to be a life long question for me. When I was a child I knew that we were poor. Not poor in the we don't have enough money to buy food. Poor in the way that it was a struggle to manage unforseen expenses. Poor in the way that all my classmates knew I got free lunch. Poor in the way that my mother could not afford the more expensive shoes or the shirts and socks for our school uniform mid school year. Five turtle necks, five pair of knee socks, let the hem out on the one uniform in September; make them last for 9 months no matter how much the sleeves shorten or the elastic wore out on the socks.

My mother worked full time as a diet techniciam at the local hospital. My dad did not pay child support. My mom supported two children. I have these memories of her sitting at the kitchen table with a coke, a cigarette and this wide ruled pad of paper. She excelled in addition and subtraction. We knew better than to bother her at these times.

I remember her bitterness after a visit to the welfare office when the worker asked her where my brother and I got our new winter jackets. My grandparents had bought them. I remember her honest fretting when our medicaid got cut during the Reagan years.We stopped going to the dentist after that. I remember trips to the surplus food store. It was a real treat to get a whole big box of orange cheese.

I remember her pride at paying off the lay away on our bedroom furniture.

From my childhood recollections I think, well, I knew we were poor but we had enough. My mom had pride but she did not let that get in the way of what she needed to do to take care of her kids. We received some services: foodstamps, medicaid, section 8. My mom had family to help out. My grandparents provided more than I am even aware off. My aunt was the cool aunt who gave us extras. Extended family were always giving us bags of produce from their garden. Their were friends who provided childcare.

Is this enough? Sure we were provided for. My mom went through a lot of stress. She put up with a job that was a constant headache. I seem to remember she also put up with some sexual harrassment. She was lonely and bitter at my father for leaving her for another woman. She was angry to be the only parent too. Though she would never admit it.

Oddly, it was never a driving motivation for me to have more than my mother. Perhaps if it were then I would probably have finished college. I would have followed my grandmothers advice and found “ a good factory job.” Regardless, I really have no regrets. I always had a job, I always paid my rent and I always ate.

And often I struggled.

After I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis I started reading about the simplicity movement. If I couldn't find a job that would pay me a bazillion dollars I could at least need fewer of those dollars to get by. I livd in Portland. I had cheap rent, no car, a garden. I had pretty low overhead. If I couldn't have a bazillion dollars I could at least have some time to do the things that brought meaning to my life. I read Duane Elgin, Joe and Vicki Robinson and the Nearings. I grew a garden, learned to knit, used my library librally

I did not have a lot of money but I did have the other important thing. Time and better health as my MS symptoms receded.

And then I married. Marriage does provide one thing, some economic security. I worked at home growing our food. I provided an economic benefit to our household. And now,well, we eat, I can pay my mortgage. Compared to 2 years ago when I was not working, unhappily married and shell shocked by the impending changes. We get by. But still we struggle. Not enough work, not enough pay. I find ways to need less money but still sometimes the car does not understand this.

Today, there are workers from all over the country who work for fast food restaurants striking for a living wage. If you are going to work real hard shouldn't you be assured that you income covers your basic expenses. Shouldn't a job provided enough?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

First Day of School

I was awakened at 2 am by a cat who thought this was a good time to eat. The simple act of removing his loving, purring ,annoying body from the room so that I may get back to sleep has insured that I will be awake for a while.

The alarm goes off at 6 am. This was going to be the day to start the new writing regimen. Wake at 6 before everyone else. Get at least a cuppa coffee and a half an hour of writing before the day kicks into high gear. Alas alas...I hit the snooze. And then his small foot steps climb the stairs and his body instinctively fits next to mine like a lost puzzle piece finally joined with its brethren. Cuddles.

This is the first day of school. There are routines we need to revive. Breakfast, bathes, backpacks and cold lunches. What marks this day is the tie he wears. A red and blue striped tie. I let my motherly concern for bullying go for this day and let him wear it. I have learned to let him him live his own life in little ways. If there are consequences he knows he can talk to about them to me. And he does.We leave a few minutes early so that we can have breakfast sandwiches at Douin's, the local general store, and we read. A new school year tradition I adhere to regardless of what changes we have or may face. He reads a Jo Nesbo for kids. I read a book for work by Dianna Wynne Jones. And then we go to school.

Small tanned bodies, parents holding coffee cups, new shoes all clutter the hall awaiting the bell to ring. There are hellos from classmates and last year's teachers. The guidance counselor gets an extra special hug. She has helped us through some hard bumps and bruises as Evan got used to school and his parents divorce. We find his classroom on the second floor ( big promotiom). No longer a cubby kid, we find his locker and find his classroom. We introduce ourselves to his teacher, find his desk, quick hug and this moment is gone. In my car I remember I left my coffee on the piano at home.

In the car my mind wanders. It is a familiar route. Routine. I arrive in town early enough to take care of a few errands and then head to work.

It is a busy day at the bookstore. College students are back. Some professors at the Univeristy order their books for their classes from us. Local public schools order from us and it is a busy time of year for new releases for the general retail end of the business. The day flies and soon it is, blessedly, five o'clock. Finish cash out, lock up and head to the small grocer for, unabashedly yes, a box of mac and cheese, milk, dog food and cat food. Rush to the after school care provider who meets my guy at the bus most afternoons.

She has recently lost her husband. He died suddenly. I could provide reams of wisdom but really, she just needs to talk.

In the car I hear all about my little guy's day. He seems excited to start the school year. He feels challenged by some of the math but open to learning it. His school is small enough that he is cherished by his learning community for his individuality. Who could ask for more?

I pull into the drive way at 6pm. Not a lot of time before my guy has to be in bed.

Once home I dump out the cold coffee from the morning. Pick some broccoli in the garden; some for dinner and some for the freezer. It may not be a fancy dinner; partially processed, but it was done in ten minutes. The whole time I was making it my guy was right there with me sharing his day. He finishes his dinner. I spend some time writing this post.

Time for reflection? Sure why not.

Not a bad day. Everyone in the house had a good day. We may not have accomplished everything we set out to do but we got enough done that we are not disappointed in ourselves. We are so grateful to our school district for having late Wednesday mornings because this means much to us. An easier morning tomorrow, a time to take care of some light chores, perhaps we walk the dog, perhaps I get up at 6 am and I write some more...

But there are miles to go...

I read to him from the Wynne-Jones book. We dance to Phil Ochs as he revolves around the record player. My guy climbs the ladder to his bunk bed. Hugs, Kisses and the last bit of sharing from his day,

The day is done.

How to be a single parent

How to be a single parent? Well; by fate, circumstance, death, your own dysfunction, someone else's dysfunction, that special stew of dysfunction you shared with your former partner, you find yourself the only parent in your home responsible for the little people that reside there at least part of the time. Statistically speaking the majority of single parent homes are headed by women. A large percentage of children in poverty live in homes headed by single parents. These are homes and families with challenges that any solid family unit do not have.
How do I know this? Well, I am a single mother.Twice over. My first son was born when I was 26 years old. I left an abusive relationship when I was 6 months pregnant. I gave birth,took 6 week maternity leave at the same time that Dan Quayle was maligning Murphy Brown for being a single parent. I went back to work when my son was 6 weeks old with spotty daycare, a former boyfriend I would have to negotiate with for the next 18 years, a low paying job.
My second son was born when I was 39. This time I was married. It was never a whirlwind romance. But it was comfortable and reliable ( so I thought). We shared the same dreams. But as the years past, I realized I was really unhappy and I wasn't getting what I needed out of the relationship. I supported everything he wanted to do but somehow there was never any room for what I wanted. And him. I can only guess. My theory is he didn't want to be married anymore and he needed somebody to be the bad guy..and that wasn't going to be him.
So there I am 45. I have a 6 year old. I have no job in one of the toughest job markets in decades. I have a forty year old house at the end of a 2 mile dirt road that needs work I can't afford to fix and can't afford to sell. I have a crappy car. A single mother again.
That was two years ago. I know challenges. I know shame. In know pride in my boys. I have had small but very important triumphs as well. And while I may not be on the solid financial footing I was on when I was married; while connecting the dots between incoming and outgoing funds may require a little negotiating with my friends Peter and Paul, every day; like so many other single parents, I get the job done.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

I Dwell in Possibilites

I dwell in possibilites... I love this idea. It is not just an easy play on the simpler notion of hope. It seems concrete. It means that you can accept that anything is possible.

In this vein it has finally arrived...that moment when what I hoped would be a balanced life that allows me to live on my land, work enough to avert financial disaster and provide some security in the form of, if not fully realized at least implemented, savings.

Crunching numbers week after week I have been trying to figure out how to manage on less money than I currently have coming in. Spousal support ends in June and I have needed to find some more work. I will be working one more day a week starting in 2 weeks. I will have caught up on all my bills by the end of June and (goddess willing) I will actually have some money in the bank. Furthermore, I should actually be able to keep banking a at least 15% of my monthly income into two important funds...House and Car.

This is my grand realization. I have this land and it can provide a vast amount of food to us if I have enough time to give it. I just need to have some money set aside for the inevitable rainy days.  From the outside our situation can still seem a little tenuous. But given where I was a year ago with no job, no savings and the panic that comes late at night at the direness of the situation..we are doing SO much better.

The possibilities are endless...

Thursday, April 3, 2014

On food, balance and mushrooms

The following is my homework this week. How cool is it to take a class that asks you to think about goals to establish around food?

I have been thinking a lot about food lately. As a homesteader food is primarily what encompasses most of the work I do on the homestead. I was a stay at home mom. I grew a 600 square foot garden, boiled maple sap down, grew meat birds and layers, chased sheep,canned, pickled and dried, collected wild edibles and herbs, made our own medicinals  such as salves, syrups and teas, baked our own bread, made our own yogurt, made mozzarella cheese, made fruit and flower wines, made granola and every meal was from scratch. It was a full time job. I loved standing in my cold room every fall to see just how much food I had produced and preserved. 
    My  life has been in transition over the last year as my partner and I divorced and I returned to work, school and my youngest was no longer homeschooled. Because of these changes last years growing/ preserving season was not what it needed to be. The energy was just not there as I was trying to adjust to our changed circumstances. As a result the changes in our diet were apparent. Many things that I used to make from scratch were purchased. My son started eating school lunch. The amount of time I needed seemed to be a scarce commodity . The amount of money I spend on food for a family of three is considerably more than I used to spend for a family of four. A lot of this food is not as local as it used to be or wholesome.
     It is now a year later and I feel as though I am nearing the point of finding the balance I need between home, work and school. I will be working 4 days a week. This gives me 2 days during the middle of the week to work in the garden and take care of food stuffs. Sundays are a day of rest. I may also be doing a work share for a local farmer which will supplement the food I grow. This is what I know, the more I do for myself the less money I need. In terms of food this also means better quality and more local. One of my goals this year is to return to a level of food self-sufficiency that  I used to have but with some important changes. 
     First, I hope to grow a number of crops that do not need a lot of effort to process. I used to spend so much time at the canner. I will be growing a fair amount of winter squash this year. I also will be growing a fair about of brassicas. Kale can be extended into December. Cabbage can be made into kraut and brussel sprouts are easy to freeze and can also be harvested well into the fall. I will be growing a fair number of root crops as well.I like these because they can be successively planted, easy to store, and can stay in the ground later in the season. I used to have an electric dehydrator. It pooped out and I have been thinking about alternatives to it for a while. I have a crawl space that gets REALLY hot in the summer. I think I could easily construct some drying racks and stick some stuff in the crawl space. I am starting shitake mushrooms this year. I love that they do not require a lot of work and can easily be processed by dehydration.
     Second, I am planning to grow two small batches of meat birds this year. This spring I purchased a meat/ layer bird package from Murray Mcmurray. They arrive the end of May. The first batch of meat birds will be ready for butchering by the time my little guy gets out of school. The second batch I will start in the fall for the winter freezer. This would be the first time I have done this in the spring. It would provide some needed protein in the summer when my work hours may be cut and my little guy will be home from school.
     Third, I find that I have found my kitchen mojo again. I am baking bread while I am cooking dinner. I am planning batch cooking recipes that I can have for quick meals after a long day at work or to take to work for lunch. I want to continue to do this so that it becomes habit and will easily adapt to any further changes that come into our lives.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I'm gonna Soap Box!

Grr...I just had a job interview. It was actually a job I would love to do.  I probably could have it if I wanted it.  But as is the trend these days it is only part-time and it pays 8.00 an hour. But part-time is 4 days a week and it would be mostly weekends. There is so much about the job that would be great. It is in a greenhouse, the people that run the business seem pleasant. I could be outside.

I would be working more hours for less money than my current part-time job.

There isn't a lot of flexibility to make both schedules work without either working 7 days a week and paying for childcare and having NO time with my little guy.  Really??

I understand businesses needing to make a profit. I understand about not giving a new employee pay equal to other folks that have been there longer. But really? How about enough that I could pay for the childcare and gas needed to get to this job with..oh ..I dont' know some money left over to buy food.

If only this were an isolated incidence. But I know it isn't.  When employers do not pay a fair wage they are receiving a backdoor subsidy by tax payers who end up paying higher taxes for the social services that I receive.

There's my rant for the day!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Isn't this a funny word? In one respect it can mean that something is in equilibrium and in another respect is can can be easily thrown out of whack.  It doesn't feel solid to me; a tipping of scales in essence puts one out of balance. And then there is the holy grail...trying to find balance.

I feel like I am always trying to find balance. In my mind this is a threefold goal of having enough employment to keep, if not grandiose, then sufficient amount of money coming in. Balance means having enough time to spend with my little guy. The third thing is finding the time an energy for my own pursuits.

In terms of employment, I guess I would like to call this occupation. Occupation for me is the time I fill doing things that have an economic value. So this can mean work but it can also mean gardening, putting food by, darning a pair of socks, bartering with a friend. It fills my time. I would like that time if it is going to be filled to have a sense of satisfaction after the work is done. There is no greater feeling for me than standing in my cold room and taking stock of what I put by for the season. For me it means that I can save money at the grocery store, weather a financial storm with a little resilience and if I do not have to get in a car on a cold day in January to make dinner much better!

With my little guy in school for the first time this year I find that the time I spend with him is even more important for me. School sure does eat up a lot of time. But we are finding ways to keep it real. We read at the bus stop. We enjoy mom and little guy dates. Most importantly, we enjoy quiet days at home where he can just play. We make the most of snow days..thank goodness we've had a few those this year.

Finally, time for my own pursuits. I think it may be a challenge for me to always give this part  of the scale the due it deserves. My big problem is, I think, is that I have too many varied interests. I have taken up running again. I enjoy this but for the health benefits and stress relief it provides. I read A LOT, but sometimes this is for work; so my brain wanders into this realm sometimes. I am not hand knitting as much as I used to.  I find that I just don't sit down for the long stretches like when I was knitting more. Still I put a few rows on something when I get the chance. Writing is always an important activity for me and I want to write more but I haven't figured out a way to do this without giving up much needed sleep. Work requires some writing and I feel like even when I am not able to write my stuff I am still flexing that muscle. The writing muscle is not getting flabby; it is just cross-training.

Sometimes I think that when we are in the pursuit of a goal it can be hard to know when we've reached it.  There are only 24 hours in a day but the great thing is there is always another one tomorrow1

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

And in other news!

I have an article published in the Daily Bulldog! Trees are tapped, seeds are planted in little pots, and we are going to get another 17 inches of snow this week! Spring will come..spring will come...spring will come...

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Some of this and some of that

We are getting ready for another storm here.  I feel grateful that I do not have to be to work today. I plan to spend some time baking, maybe some handwork and some reading and some homework for
my class. Tomorrow I will have to find my way to work in the snow. But today is yarn, tea and bread...yum!

Last semester I took a class in Organic Vegetable production. As part of that class I conducted some interviews with some local farmer's.  I am excited to announce that the local daily online paper is going to publish them.  When that happens I will post a link here.  I had such a great time talking with the farmer's about their cultural practices and their approach to marketing. There is so much great stuff happening in in the local foods movement in my area and it would be exciting to get the word out.

This past weekend I went to the 4th Annual Seed Savers Conference at the University of Maine in Farmington. I learned a lot and it was nice to go and be with people and friends that are looking to preserve seed for themselves and for us. With large corporations buying up seed companies at an alarming rate (43% of all seed by some estimates) it becomes even more important that we learn to close this loop. And its kinda fun. It is easy to get started with some seeds like tomatoes. And it saves money too!

Finally, I am not sure if I shared our new friend. This is Shadow. She is 11 years old. She is called Shadow because she follows you around like a shadow. She's a very sweet girl and is well loved!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

By Design part 3

In the By Design Part 2 I shared my observations of my homestead. My goal in this post is to look at ways I can close the loops between coop, compost bins, gardens and house. 
     Why would I want to do this? It seems like it could be a lot of work. One of the promises of permaculture is that the initial investment of sweat equity helps to create self-sustaining systems. This is appealing to me now that I am endeavoring this venture on my own. I don't want to be rid of the work of the homestead ( thoughts I will share in a future post). Instead, my goal is to allow the system I have already invested in  with labor, perennials, soil building to work better. Some of this would include better management of current connections to reduce waste and make more efficient use with what already exists her. In all honesty this past year took more psychic energy from the homestead. Now that the spirit is returning to center I feel a renewed energy.   
     So first I would like to build a better yard for the chickens. This would take some fence post resetting and some chicken wire. The only cash outlay for this will be a couple of rounds of chicken wire which will cost about 30.00 and maybe another box of staples for the staple gun.   My hope is to get some more laying hens this year to round out the ladies I already have. I also want to grow some meat birds this spring as well.  A better yard will allow them to venture out doors during sunny winter days which equates to more sun and day light which, ultimately, means more eggs.
     What goes into the chicken coop is bedding, feed, food scraps and water. I will be getting more mulch hay from my alpaca farmer friends again so bedding is all set. This is free and would otherwise be thrown in the woods to break down. Feed is still an outside input but I can supplement the summer feed with mowed clover from the orchard. I tried growing mangel wurtzle beets ( feed beets) a couple of years ago and may grow a row or two this year to see if they would work to supplement winter feed. Water is hauled from the rain barrel connected to the house but I I have collected a couple of food grade barrels over the last few years. I have some old gutter lying around and it would be an easy fix to put a small rain barrel on the back of their coop for easier watering in the summer. 
     What leaves the coop? Eggs, old bedding and poop. Instead of hauling the old bedding and poop to the compost bin I will use this as part of a plan I have for the garden where I will sheet mulch a back portion of the garden that has been underutilized for the last few years. Even if I am unable to get much planted in this spot due to the warm days slipping away it will still remain easy to tend. I will not have to mow or weed this bit of ground and I can always throw more mulch on top of the sheet mulch to suppress the weeds.
     What goes into the compost bin? Food scraps, leaves and garden waste. No outside inputs: by which I mean inputs from off the homestead. To make a good compost pile however requires a certain amount of attention. It should be turned every  3 weeks, it should be sifted in order to let unbroken down bits continue in that process and it should be watered if we are in a dry spell. There is the slow-motion compost pile. You  know the pile; stuff just gets thrown on it and at the end of the summer you take off the top, unfinished layers off to find some finished stuff to use. Toby Hemenway in his book Gaia's Garden gives a great description of how to build a compost pile and how to achieve finished compost in relatively short order with regular and consistent turnings. However he also suggests that while a " less turned pile won't rot dow as quickly as a more ambitiously forked one …each turing amps up microbial metabolism enormously. This drives the piles contents further down the two forked road of fully digested humus and totally mineralized nutrients. Mineralized nutrients can leach out of soil very quickly." Hemenway observed that a slower decomposition process provided nutrients longer. If it means there is one less chore to do on a hot summer day it means I can get to the lake sooner for a swim:) What leaves the compost pile then is slightly finished compost that I use to side dress perennials with which turns out to be just what I am already doing.   
     The gardens need a little more attention this year. I would like to take some of the early spring energy and devote it to the collection of leaves for mulching this year. In years past when I have done this I have found that the work of weeding and maintaining paths is greatly reduced. I also think that the soil and worms love the leaves as they break down. It is a free resource and feeds the soil with those nice deep minerals the trees tap into to feed themselves. 
     Eliot Coleman believes that by increasing the fertility of the soil the incidence of pest infestations is lowered.  Pests only go after poorly plants. I  learned some interesting facts about some companion plants and their benefits in my last class; organic vegetable production. For example I had heard that borage grown among tomato plants can serve as a tomato horn worm mitigator. Last year I noticed that where I had it planted I had fewer hornworm as opposed to other plants without any borage near it. I had wondered how this worked I had assumed that perhaps the texture of the borage leaves were too prickly for the soft bodies of the worms. Actually the borage attracts a beneficial wasp that thinks the horn worms are a tasty treat. So by exploiting connections that already exist I can lower the labor of pulling those gruesome beasties off my tomatoes. Borage now volunteers in my garden and is easy to transplant it to where I need it.
     My goal this year is to build a tool shed in the back corner of the garden for keeping buckets, and tools. I plan to use wooden pallets with maybe some 2'x6's  for the framing. I'd like a slight tilt to the roof so I can put another rainbarrel in the garden thereby decreasing the amount of labor that goes into watering my garden. Currently I haul water from the rainbarrel connected to the house.
     From the garden to the house I would like to make better use of what gets planted. Part of this requires a realignment in what I grow and how I preserve it. In terms of putting food by I want to concentrate on a majority of crops that will not take too much labor to put up. So lots of pumpkin and winter  squash. Brassicas grow well here and are easy to put in the freezer. I make a gallon of sauerkraut last year and I have found that to be a simple way of getting some really good healthy food into us for very little effort. So this year I would like to get a larger crock for making larger batches. Dilly beans and crock picks will also be on the list this year. I'd like to get better at keeping root crops because with the right combination of cool and moisture they can last a long time in the cold room. My electric dehydrator died last year and while I would love a solar dehydrator some day that may have to be for another year. But maybe another alternative will present itself. 

I'm sure that with a little more observation I will be able to see other connections. This is not a project that gets accomplished in one year but over many years as the homestead evolves into a collective of interconnected systems that nourish each other and us in the process.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

There is observing and then there is OBSERVING

In my last post I shared my observations in terms of understanding how systems work within my homestead and I thought before I continue with an understanding of the interdependence of these systems I would take another stab at observation. The observations of the last post were what I see with my eyes; observations I've gleaned from working with this land over several years now. But this doesn't get to the soul of the issue. And it is in the soul that I connect most viscerally with this lifestyle.

In the chicken coop the ladies sit perched on the piece of birch we have wedged in a back corner for their roost. At one end of the chicken row sits Fluffernutter the Rooster. A small guy, he is still master of these harem. I love to watch the little ladies as they venture out of the coop in the morning. At first their steps are hesitant and then assured as the strut around their yard I imagine hearing that song " Walk Like and Egyptian.' If I am in the yard when one of the girls announces the laying of an egg I will venture into the coop to gather the freshly laid, still warm treasure.

The compost bin is a gathering place of life. Inside the pile there are beetles, microorganisms, worms. On top of the pile a couple of red squirrels will fight over choice bits from the kitchen scraps. Often there is a sweet girl dog chasing the squirrels away. A form of sport for both critters I imagine. I have heard raccoons argue over the compost pile. The turning always brings to mind Yeats great Gyre for me. It is a marking of the passage of time. Bits  and pieces of past gardens, past meals, past seasons all layered with so much intention to be returned to soil. Turning turning…

I trod along the paths in the garden and love the feel of the hay under my bare feet. In the morning the eastern light will kiss the dew. I will pick whatever herbs or produce needs to be harvested that day and bring it inside to be put up or eaten later in the day. It is here that my mind wanders while I plant one small carrot seed after another or pull a weed or envision the garden in full bloom even though it is just spring. More often than not it is the infestation of cucumber beetles, the black flies swarming on those first really warm days of late spring, the dog trotting through a just planted row that will pull me from my reverie. But just for a little while and never with any great headache.It is part of the natural push and pull of this endeavor. Regardless it is that sense of accomplishment, of satisfying work, of a body tired from honest labor, of a reckoning at the end of the day where the tally is always positive that keeps me coming spring after spring to this spot of earth.

At night, in the summer, I lie awake in the dark. The moon cast shadows of the pine across the yard. In the woods around me I hear the coyotes yipping on a hunt and the barn owls share there moonlight serenade.  I will account for all that I got done during the day and all that I hope to finish in the morning. And I will know that It was a good day.

By Design Part 2

Permaculture design is a whole system approach to design. In order to understand the whole system one must observe what occurs within that system. If I were to look at the  homestead only as its individual corners I would miss connections that could be made between each corner. For example, lets look at four key areas to the homestead, the chicken coop, the compost pile, the garden and the house.

Currently the chickens are living in a chicken coop on the sorta southwest corner of the property. They require a fenced in yard for the spring so they don't eat the garden, they need to be mucked out, they require some feed to be purchased on a regular basis, they give eggs, they love to eat slugs, they like to eat food and garden scraps. They have not laid many eggs this winter because they are not getting enough day light with their current arrangement.  Next to the chicken coop is a small shed that was used for the ewes. The old paddock has been well fertilized. It is fenced in with welded wire and would be easily accessible to the chickens.

The compost bins are located at the northwest corner, along the tree line. They are used to collect any food scraps that the chickens do not eat; egg shells, coffee grounds, orange peels. I collect fallen leaves, grass clippings and garden waste to construct the compost piles.  There are two bins constructed from old pallets. I turn the piles but not as regularly as would be required to harvest finished compost regularly; however I do harvest compost sufficient to side dress perennials. 

If the house is at 6 o'clock then the vegetable garden is at 12 o'clock. In between the house and the garden is a perennial herb garden that I created by sheet mulching. This garden has mostly medicinal and culinary herbs and flowers. It is at a point where things are getting crowded and some of the perennials need to be divided. In this garden bee balm, mint and evening primrose have have firmly established in one key hole bed and maintain themselves fairly well. Elecampane, astragalus, feverfew, motherwort, arnica ,horehound, oregano need more room. 

Also in between the house and veggie garden is a fire pit constructed on one side with a large boulder, two other sides are built with large flat stones buried half way up. Around this is a former owner's former garden. In the spot is a variety of mint I have been unable to identify, there are paper whites and irises that come up. I have a big patch of comfrey here and some rosa rugosa. Among all this is black raspberry which does not really produce berries but does over take everything every year.

And then there is the veggie garden itself. The veggie garden has nettles, rhubarb, asparagus, good king henry, bunching onions and walking onions. and hops. It also has corners of the garden that are more acidic than others. At some point in the history of the ground it had a fire pit. This spot has the right balance between alkalinity and acidity. There is a tall field pine tree that shades the far southern corner. I have let some lettuce and chard go to seed for the last couple of years and now they reseed every year. Borage is firmly established as a volunteer every year as well.  Currently there are parsnips in the ground waiting for spring harvest. There are old trellising structures standing sentinel above the snow. There are some tools still out there because the snow fell before I managed to get them put away. There is no source of water close to the garden. The paths are mulched with mulch hay given to us by a local alpaca farm at the end of last winter. Garlic is planted. I planted some garlic from seed purchased last fall and bubils saved from the season before. Most of the beds were covered in composted sheep manure, lime and chopped leaves. Common pests are slugs, cucumber beetles, tomato hornworm, japanese beetles and mice.

To the left of the garden is a black berry patch, a small patch of everbearing raspberries, an elderberry bush that produced berries for the first time last year, a hazelnut bush that needs a mate and the orchard; with one tree with a small guild under it. This is on land that slopes gently down to the bottom of the orchard. The ground of the orchard has lots of red clover, yarrow, johhny jump ups and dandelions. Poison Ivy has taken hold on the north side of the orchard but so has burdock. The orchard consists of a dozen fruit trees 3 pears, 9 apples of mixed varieties. They are semi- dwarf  and over twenty years old.

Finally there is the house. If the flow of the land to all the productive corners of the property were to be considered petals on a flower, the house is the stamin producing the pollen for fertilization. From the house I cook and preserve the food that the garden and chickens produce. From the house the food waste feeds the chickens and the compost bin. From the land comes the food and firewood. The flow between these different areas is ongoing during the most productive times of the year.

In the next post I'll look at that flow as it exists now and ways to improve the flow to improve their integration.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

By Design Part 1

The idea of design is an interesting one for me at this juncture in my life. First it implies creativity. Homesteading is an inately creative pursuit. When the idea of homesteading first sparked my interest it was in my little 5'x 10" community garden plot in Portland, Maine. While my initial interest in gardening sprouted from the ability to grow fresh food for Tristan and myself and save some money; I also learned that what I planted and how I planted it could create a tiny, beautiful little oasis from a hectic life. My mind could wander while my body tilled and weeded. Lines of poetry would form when the osprey that nested on a nearby train trestle, caught thermals off the hill where the garden was located. The play between greenery and flower was an interesting palette to work with.

That garden provided some healthy food  and some important lessons during lean times in those days. The most important lesson was that I could provide for myself even if I did not have a lot of money. A seed gets planted, a small amount of effort goes into the growing, a little more effort and I could save the product to eat later. The next creative pursuit was learning how to preserve and cook the product from the garden.  The way that I ate changed during this time. I could see that if I made my bread instead of buying it I had better quality at a lower price. It added a moment every few days where I could concentrate on the kneading as a meditative process. The smell brought my children into the kitchen. I learned that if I could slow down for those few moments of bread making that the result was better than if I rushed through it. 

From scratch was not just something I could apply to cooking it was also something I could apply to many other things. The idea of from scratch opens up a whole host of possibilities. It means that you can see the possibilities that can be gleaned from an object. A skein of yarn becomes a hat. A bounty of forsaken zucchini becomes fritters, bread and omelets. A pile of scrap wood can become a chicken coop. A group of people with a common need can create a solution from scratch. From scratch requires creativity. From scratch seems like an important element of design.
From scratch requires a tally of what you have and what you need. An artist can't paint if there is no  canvass. Applying principles of permaculture design to the homestead and a life require a similar examination.  In the language of permaculture this is observation. In part 2 of this post I will share my observations.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Many hands...

My family has been through a lot of changes over the last year.  A person who had the knowledge of some of the tools and chores around the homestead no longer lives here…along with some of the tools he used. I have had to find work outside the home whereas I used to be a stay at home mom who knitted all our hats, mittens, socks and other wooly goodness. I used to grow and put up most of the veggies we ate. I homeschooled both my sons but now my youngest is in school. We eat different food because the time to cook from scratch is stretched with schedules. The garden was not maximized to its potential last year. Things did not get done.

     I struggle in my thoughts between what would be easy; a small apartment in town, and what feels right; finding a way to make this work. In that effort I am fortunate to have my friend Rhonda. Rhonda squats on land that has been in her family since the early 1800's She has a little shack she built herself. She hauls water and has a little solar panel she charges off a car battery. She works part time at an alternative health store. She is an herbalist and has a vast knowledge of wild foods.

     During a recent visit we were discussing the challenges with gardening that we faced last year. Ronda lamented her inability to grown winter squash, I lamented the faced paced life that took so much time away from gardening and putting food by. She shared that she knew several other people with the similar challenges. The solution was simple. A group of us will get together and grow a large quantity of one crop and divide it among the group. Contrary to the idea of a communal garden where each person would have to get in their car in order to tend a communal plot. Each person can stay home and tend their own plot and share some of the bounty.  Each of us may have unique strengths growing some crops. I will be planting brussel sprouts, cabbage, rutabaga and broccoli towards this effort. I can get these easily in the ground in the spring. They do well with the soil I have. I can grow micro greens under their canopy and when it is too warm for the greens I can mulch them heavily so I will not have to spend time weeding them.  It is my hope that as part of this effort we can have a monthly pot luck at each other's house and offer to weed and mulch the garden of the host. Our first organizing meeting is Sunday, February 2.

     For me I think the root to making this venture work is to tap into the human capitol. It is not for lack of will or knowledge or even small financial resources that I find lacking. It is the time and hands to get some of the work done that seems to be missing from the equation. I learned a simple lesson last summer that I soon forgot. I had just received some laying hens. I traded them for the sheep and goat. It was a reasonable decision. The sheep and goat were at this point only mouths to feed and more often than not they were eating what I did not want them to eat ( I could tell a sad tale about brussel sprouts).  Laying hens on the other hand are perfect little food factories. I didn't have the right housing for them. So I had a work party. I gathered a bunch of scrap wood and some old windows and turned the sheep shed into a chicken coop. Actually a bunch of friends and I turned it into a chicken coop with a good door, nesting boxes and lots of room for some more layers. 

I think the solution to this will come from my community. By strengthening my community I can build in resilience.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

From this day

This is a problem mind map that I made. It is an exercise from a class I am taking in Permaculture design through the small farming and sustainability certificate at Umass Amherst.  This is an eye opening exercise for me. Permaculture design has always intrigued me. I practice some of its principles on my homestead but felt like there were some elements to its overall implementation that I was missing. Permaculture is a wholistic systems approach to design.

I've been trying to figure out how this space could remain relevant to the homesteading discussion and sharing of information. I am excited to share with you my thoughts on this.

Let's begin with the problem. I have 7 acres, a small house that needs some work. I have the challenge of trying to balance the need for income ( from a job that takes me away from home) with the time requirement that work on a homestead necessitates. How do I find the balance between all of these in order to keep the homestead instead of packing it in and finding a little apartment in town?

I love my home and little plot of land but is it too much for one person to manage?

This really is the questions I ask myself every time I get my car stuck in my driveway, lay out cash for another repair on something and lay awake at night worried about the diminishing pile of wood we have for our heat during this very cold winter.

This is January when seed catalogs beckon, big plans are made. It is also a reflective time of year for me. Life slows down a bit. It is also time for me to think of gratitude. I am blessed to have this spot and this land. I may have lost some knowledge and labor when Mark and I divorced but what remains is my own stalwart energy and desire to live this simple life. The project at hand is to figure how to make this happen and that is where this blog can be useful. This is why after all this time I still find myself coming back to this space.

I've got some plans. Not big plans. But plans I think can reframe this challenge in a way that can bring me a life of balance between home and work. I am excited to share some of these plans with you.