a much needed reminder

Discloser: This post discusses the processing of one of our feeder pigs. The butchering of our meat sources is a part of our everyday life and I have struggled with a way to share it here both accurately yet gently. While it is not the main subject of this post and I write about it in a very general fashion (no photos of the process), and without much detail, I believe I should let you know in advance before you begin to read. If it is a subject you don’t agree with or would just prefer not to be exposed to please skip this post and come back another day.

We processed our first pig this past Sunday. But this post isn’t really about that. It is about finding something, something I really needed, in the most unlikely of places.

DSCN9700

Let me start back at the beginning. You might not have noticed but I have been very quiet in this space for the better part of this month. I want to blame it on being busy, on the downhill slide that inevitably follows the holidays, on the cabin fever that is setting in after being stuck inside for so long, on my obvious lack of Vitamin D or maybe on spending the majority of January swimming in a sea of tax paperwork but I don’t think I can. Truth is, I have been questioning our entire lifestyle. It has felt really hard lately. It has felt like we run from one thing to the next, doing none of it particularly well. When I spend time doing farm stuff I feel bad for not spending time with the kids. When I get caught up with the kids I feel bad for not putting more of an effort into making time for just Kevin and I. When I put time into cleaning the house I feel like it’s a complete waste of effort because I know in an hour it will be a mess again. Don’t even get me started on the lack of time for my much loved hobbies (writing this blog being one of them) or the fact that I haven’t been taking very good care of myself. It’s been a long winter! Personalities, which this big house of ours has in spades, are bumping up into and pushing off of one another. I feel like I get nothing accomplished in my day but by evening I’m in desperate need of a break, and from what? I’m getting nothing done during the day so why should I deserve a break at night? I have nothing to show for a whole day’s worth of busyness except for the fact that I usually manage to get dinner on the table (breakfast and lunch don’t have to be eaten at a table to count, right?) and have kept the kids from mortally wounding themselves before we tuck them into bed at night. One of them is more apt at getting into precarious situations but that is another story for another day.

DSCN9696

It’s been hard. There are days when I have wanted to quit, when I wished I could pretend like I didn’t know all of the things I had spent the last 6 or so years learning. The same things that brought us here in hopes of providing a better quality of life for our family. It has been lonely as well. We are relatively new to the area and are still trying to find people with common interest to interact with. I worry that the kids will be too isolated, that I will be too isolated, by the fact that so much of our new life revolves around taking care of this place, producing as much as we can for ourselves, and putting the majority of our energy and time in to our home and land. “Did we make the right choice” is a question I have been asking myself a lot lately and probably asking Kevin more than he would care to remember. We weren’t born into this farming life. Everything we have learned so far has been gleaned from a book, read on the internet, taught to us by an unsuspecting farmer/homesteader or some convoluted combination of all three. I worry that if I buy a loaf of bread at the store, or feed the kids yet another box of mac and cheese (organic of course) that I have failed at our chosen lifestyle.

DSCN9741

Kevin, the wonderful man that he is, does his best to reassure me, telling me that it is just a side effect of the annual mid-winter slump that we northeasterners refer to as the months of February and March or that it will all get better, and have more of a rhythm, when we are truly settled, when we are no longer doing all of these things for the first time and it all just becomes second nature. Part of me knows he’s probably right, and that my need for him to constantly remind me is purely due to my innate lack of patience. However, there is the other part of me constantly worrying that we just can’t do it, the learning curve is too steep, we aren’t smart enough or knowledgable enough, that we aren’t made of the “right stuff” for living self-sufficiently.

DSCN9747

So about Sunday. Every weekend this month we have planned to processes at least one of the two pigs that has reached market weight and each weekend we have had either below freezing temperatures or an epic snow storm foil those plans. So this past week when we saw that they were calling for highs in the 40s for the coming weekend we wrote it on the calender. Our neighbors were nice enough to introduce us to another neighbor who was not only willing to help us through the process but who also agreed to lend us use of his personal butchering facilities and walk in cooler. We read and watched and read some more, hoping to learn all we needed to know to proceed properly. We talked and planned, running through what we would do and how we would do it. Together he and I, with the help of a new friend set to the hardest farm related job we have done yet, not because we had grown attached to the pigs like one would a pet, but because we wanted to do it properly, doing our best to honor this animal who would feed our family for many months to come. We wanted to treat him with as much care and respect in his death as we had during his life. In the name of full disclosure, I was simply the helper, the encourager, the extra hand and the cleanup crew. Kevin was in the thick of it. He dispatched him quickly, accurately and cleanly. He took his time, he took care to do it right and as humanly possible. He worked carefully and methodically, insuring the best results one could have from butchering a pig, nose to tail, for the first time.

DSCN9764

And at that moment, in the most unlikely of places, standing outside in a snowstorm with the wind howling and the mercury racing toward 20 degrees (oh yes, I forgot to mention that it was indeed 40 on Saturday but not so much on Sunday) and him, literally and figuratively, elbow deep in this homesteading life of ours, I realized that I had chosen just the right person to walk this unusual path with. He’s everything that I am not. For all the research and fact gathering that I have ever done and my ability to put a plan down on paper, he is the one who makes it all happen in real life. For every issue or worry I find, he leads me toward a solution. I’m not sure if he is ever scared or concerned when we walk into yet another new and seemingly unusual situation (goodness knows I am) but none the less, forward he goes, holding my hand and taking me with him. When we first came here it never crossed my mind that, on most days, living this dirty, grity, back to the land life would would turn out to be a love story, our love story.

DSCN9694

I’m not sure that we will succeed at being farmers, homesteaders, self-sufficiant livers but I was reminded that our only chance hinges on us doing it side by side, together. Me and this man of mine.

DSCN9761

baby, it’s too cold outside

20130123-163617.jpg

We have had quite the cold snap around here as of late. A week with temperatures feeling like they are below zero, or colder. Hence, we have only done the absolutely necessary outside (breaking water in the few unheated waters, delivering daily meals and collecting eggs), you would too if, while milking your cow, the milk was freezing to the side of the pail almost instantaneously! Instead we have been attending to indoor chores (ugh, I’m getting tired of looking at tax paperwork) and doing our best to entertain ourselves while being cooped up for what looks to be a relatively short period of time. I have never been so happy to see a HIGH of 20 in the forecast.

20130123-163505.jpg

The sunrise is beautiful but I would rather be curled up inside, in front of the fire, with a hot cup of coffee.

20130123-163526.jpg

That 6 degrees on there, it actually felt like -15.

20130123-163434.jpg

They have spent a lot of time staring out the windows, wondering why we won’t let them go out to play in the snow.

20130123-163543.jpg

When we do venture out we are constantly looking for a quick escape from the frigid temperatures, this day we linger a little longer than usual in the barn wishing that sunlight streaming in actually felt warm.

DSCN9670

Through it all the ladies have kept up their laying and we have been fighting to keep the coop feeling warm for them. We do come out to a few frozen and, consequently, cracked eggs everyday though.

With every challenge there comes opportunity (that’s been my daily mantra as of late after all) and with our extra time inside we have been…

DSCN9682

Making future plans.

20130123-163715.jpg

Grabbing a nap when we can.

20130123-163659.jpg

Taking time to play games, Trivial Pursuit for the adults, Crazy 8s or Go Fish for the younger set and Scrabble for the bunch of us.

20130126-213753.jpg

Cuddling up in front of here whenever possible.

DSCN9674

Taking the time to sit and create when the urge strikes us.

DSCN9672

Being warmed by the sweetness that the kids show us. PJ brought this back to me after a trip out with Nonni. I think he learned that from his daddy. I’m glad he’s been paying attention.

20130125-003432.jpg

Been waking up to this in the slow cooker for breakfast, hoping it will help us to warm up on these very cold mornings. Overnight Oatmeal: Steel Cut oats cooked in milk and water, your choice of fruit (in this case Ida Red apples) cinnamon and maple syrup. Yum!

20130123-163742.jpg

And when nothing else was able to warm us up we indulged in a glass of this (Rhubarb Tea is on the agenda for spring.) It’s delicious and if you haven’t tried it yet you should grab a bottle, your sweetie and cuddle up under a blanket, preferably by a roaring fire.

Here’s to staying warm. Cheers!

December 13th

20121214-000017.jpg

My maternal grandparents, sometime in the forties.

If you look at yesterday’s post and then at the tree in the above picture they look remarkably similar, don’t they?

Everything I know about interior illumination (and christmas tree decorating in general) I learned from my grandfather, via my mother. He was the decorator, not my grandmother, and to this day is the first one, out of us all, to have his place done up for the season. He always went out and picked the tree and, from the stories I heard, spent days decorating it just so. His tinsel hanging process was epic, and required such precision that if anyone was caught “just throwing it about” they were immediately released from any decorating duties for the remainder of the season.

For the first 25 years of my life every single christmas, with the exception of two, was spent with them. All of my holiday memories are filled with the sounds, smells and sights of them and their home. The traditions that my parents and I had and, in turn, that my kids now have contain them both in every facet. Unfortunately, my grandmother passed away just before PJ was born but my Pops has spent every christmas with both of my kids. He is a constant feature in both of their lives and will forever be imprinted in their memory. And many years from now, when they are decorating their own holiday tree, or come across an old family photo from holidays past, they will instantly know why their lights must be situated just so and their tinsel must hang just right.

It runs in the family.

December 5th

20121205-154342.jpg
Picking out our tree, from our own land, for the first time.

We chose and marked it, working hard to embrace its uniqueness. A christmas tree farm spruce it is not! But it is ours, in every sense, and because of that, it is perfect.

Yes, a polka dot tutu and houndstooth rain boots are always a must when hunting for the perfect tree. I knew you were wondering. 🙂

December 3rd

20121203-105332.jpg
The moment right before we all sit down to a dinner of (mostly) homegrown goodness.*

Our sweet potatoes roasted in butter and brown sugar then topped with flaked salt, just before serving. Canned dilly beans from the garden. Homemade baking powder biscuits, canned applesauce and, depending on whose plate, pan-fried venison and onions or grilled pork chops.

Those minutes just as dinner is hitting the table usually feel rushed and stressed, with patience running low and emotions running high. But once we all sit down and gather (whether the blessing gets forgotten or not) we all calm down (obviously low blood sugar issues run rampant in this family) and share these meals, happily, together. I want to remember this moment when I get tired of weeding or fighting off pest in the garden next season.

*She is always the first to show up when I call everyone to the table. She knows where it’s at!