this weekend

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This weekend we accomplished a couple of homesteading tasks. Of course a tool met its demise at the hands of Kevin, who has left an array of broken implements in his wake over the past few years. Today’s casualty was the push broom we were using to clean out the winter chicken coop. I kid you not, he was simply sweeping and it broke in half, just as the hammer snapped while he worked on the deck and my dad’s shovel splintered in two as he dug out the old hydrant while moving the water lines this past summer. His new farmer muscles seem to be twice as strong as his old, gym-built ones.

I plan to be back later this week to tell you what else we did today.

Here’s hoping your weekend was good and all your tools remained intact.

-L

here

I might not have all my ducks in a row but my eggs are another story.

I may not have all my ducks in a row but my eggs are another story.

I’m not sure if there is anyone left around here to read these words but I think I will type them none the less. A 9 month absence must be enough to kill a blog, especially a little one like mine, but I will write because I need to dump all of these words and thoughts out of my head. I need to keep a record of our days and experiences if for no other reason than that I want my kids to have it. So, I suppose, it doesn’t really matter if there is anyone here reading this as long as someday in the future the kids do.

I know I have said this before but this was meant to be a journal of our homesteading experiences and this year has been real short on the homesteading bit. I mean, we are still here, still chopping firewood and moving sheep, still butchering our own animals for food, still pulling a plant or two out of the ground to grace our dinner table but it all seems far and few between and certainly not noteworthy enough to write a post for. Really, what would that look like anyway?

We woke up this morning and walked the 10 sheep 10 feet from pasture 1 to pasture 2 today.

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We harvested carrots for tonight’s dinner from our one and only row planted this year.

Awe inspiring it is not.

So rather than manufacturing posts and scraping together a few pictures, I just avoided it all together. Spring and Summer around here were spent mostly in doctors’ offices, either for my issues or for pre-op, op, and post-op (which in the end lasted months longer than it should have) on Kevin’s right knee. Our two biggest projects consisted of Kevin digging a new waterline out to our overwinter pastures (which took nary a long weekend) and him rebuilding our back deck, a highly boring job but one that had to be done, lest the whole thing went crashing down sometime this winter, buckling under the weight of two feet of snow.

Of course, we still felt busy because while none of those things look all that impressive individually, string 1000 mundane moments together and they still take up a hell of a lot of time. Add in that half of those 1000 things involve an animal with an instinct, an agenda and a mind of its own you might as well multiply it by a million. On top of it all there are two little kids needing time and attention (Exhibt A: while just typing this I had to field a question from PJ as to what is actually happening when we burn wood in the woodstove. This led into a discussion of atoms, molecules, hydrogen, carbon, waste products, atmospheric gases, incinerators and how it all impacts the environment.) Granted, we got our science lesson for the week (month? next year?) out of the way but you can see how this might all make a mom (and dad for that matter) a little too tired to muster a weekly blog post.

So what else is there to say? I have missed writing and all the cathartic side effects that come along with it. I have struggled with what to write about and how to walk that line of feeling like I have to share and sharing because I want to. I want to connect with other like minded people as well as people that can help me expand my mind. I’m not going to make any broad sweeping statements that I am going to show up here every day, or every week for that matter, but I do know that I want to show up. How that’s all going to play out I have no idea but I do know if anyone wants to come along I sure would enjoy the company.

a gift

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He goes by a few different names in this big house of ours, Dad, Grandpa, Pops and most recently Pop-Pop, which evolved from the mind of a little guy who couldn’t get the hang of great-grandpa and was a variation on “double grandpa,” a joke told to him by his Papa. From what I’m told, this man has mellowed with age but to me he’s always been my one and only grandpa. The one who played baseball with me in the backyard, who set up the sprinkler in summer whenever I asked and who made silver dollar pancakes when I stayed overnight on the weekends. Watching him take great joy in my little ones everyday is like reliving my childhood. The memories of walks up the street to the playground, trips to the library with him and grandma, a day spent across the street swimming in their friends pool or maybe just simply lounging in the shade of the huge maple in their backyard, eating raspberries I had plucked from the bush by the house. (My kids do that too, but at our house now, making sure none make it inside.) He was also the Pops who enthusiastically dressed up as Geppetto the year I wanted to go as Pinocchio for Halloween, holding my strings all the way around the neighborhood, going into to almost every house to have our picture taken, calling it a night only when I was ready to head back.

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Those are the mile markers of my youth. The moments that I forget until they come rushing back with a little nudge from a familiar word or glance, no longer meant for me but for my babes.

By the time I showed up on the scene he was retired and more laid back. More relaxed, less stressed and more fun. He was the only one I remember seeing plant a garden each year, lining tomatoes along the kitchen windowsill to ripen just a little bit more. The one who blew my little eight year old mind when he showed me how garlic grew under ground. And while it was a small garden, tucked against the back of their split-level house in the middle of suburbia, looking back now it was still amazing to me that you could grow food like that right in your backyard.

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Now look at us!?!

He has been so many things in his 91 years, a devoted husband who took care of her, night and day, until she quietly and peacefully slipped away with all of us around her. A hardworking dad who often had two jobs and gave up a management position for a factory position because he couldn’t fire the guy down on the line who, like him, had a wife and kids at home. He was a son who took care of his mother for another 20 years after his father past away. A son-in-law who didn’t think twice about having his mother-in-law come to live with them. And a grandfather, who loves each of us and who proudly displayed photos, school papers, and letters we had written him, in the house he owned for over 60 years, until you were unsure if there was even a refrigerator underneath them.

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But before all that, before all of us, he was a kid at a time when the world seemed to be falling apart. He signed up and ended up stationed in England, facing backwards out the end of a B-17, sitting on a milk crate, a gun between his legs watching the enemy fly right at him. He finished his 25 missions, only ever sustaining minor shrapnel wounds, and came home alive, unlike so many others.

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He came home and grew a family.

And while I don’t agree that war is ever the answer, I do respect the hell out of our Pop-Pop because I don’t know many other people who have the fortitude to do what he did 25 times in a row.

When PJ was an infant we had the pleasure of accompanying him to the WWII memorial in DC and be witness to an extraordinary event. After we had finished our walk around and were about to leave, a large class of high schoolers were making their way into the memorial when their teacher spotted my grandfather, and upon realizing he was a veteran, asked if he would speak to the students. They talked for what seemed like over an hour, him telling his stories, the students engaging and asking questions unlike any high schoolers I had ever encountered. They took pictures with him, shook his hand and thanked him, not only for his time that day but for his service decades before. I sat near by in the shade, rocking my firstborn, in awe of the gift I was witnessing. These kids, who were likely, at least three generations removed from that time, experiencing history right before their eyes and a man who had come home after a scary, albeit extraordinary era, who had gone back to living his everyday life (creating three new generations of his own in the process) being honored by them.

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My children have the great honor of spending some part of everyday with this wonderful man. How special it is for them to have a tangible link to a time that now seems like the distant past. How beautiful it is, that through them, he has a window into the future.

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Today we thank you for your service…our Veteran, our Hero, our Pop-Pop.

Happy Veterans Day to the hero(s) in your life.

taking a detour

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It’s funny how we never really know what’s going on in others’ lives. We are only privy to snippets of what being someone else is like. Especially in the world of Facebook, Twitter, blogs and all the other supposed connectedness that the interwebs grant us; we probably know next to nothing about the people we “visit” and “talked” to everyday.

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We can paint a perfect picture to send out into the world or create a soapbox to sound off on, all while safely positioned behind the screen that our dsl cable or our phone plan provides us. All of us have done it, created a pretty little picture of a pretty little life, just edit out the boring parts, take away the nasty bits, eliminate the hard decisions, gloss over the struggles and there- you now have a beautiful portrait to put on display.

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Just like when I take a photo and I actively do my best to crop out the chaos and the things I deem either ugly or unimportant, I have spent the last months presenting you with a portrait that only tells a fraction of our story. I was recently diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease, an autoimmune disease where my body is actively doing its best to kill my thyroid gland (which apparently controls almost every function in your body. Who knew?), mistakenly believing that it is something foreign and will cause my gland to slowly diminish in function, possibly stop all together, over my lifetime. This has caused a year-long bout with hypothyroidism, which I will spare you the, oh so lovely, details of (if you wish, you can read more about it here) and has resulted in my doctor asking me to remove gluten completely from my diet. Apparently, gluten has the same chemical makeup as the cells of your thyroid gland and when you eat that delicious piece of cake or slice of bread your immune systems goes into overdrive, not only attacking the gluten coming in but hitting your thyroid even harder. My diagnosis also means that I must be on some form of thyroid hormone replacement for the rest of my life, something that this chemical free, home-birthing, coconut oil swilling, refusing to clean with anything other than vinegar and my other homemade concoctions woman really struggled with accepting.

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I had originally thought that finding a reason for feeling like I’d aged 50 years over the course of one would have been a huge relief but it has not been quite so black and white and having to remove one of my favorite things from my diet, seemingly over night, has done nothing but add insult to injury. I am Italian after all, so basically I have lost an entire food group here people! My doctor warned that this is not something that can be managed instantaneously and often requires tweaking, especially in the medication department, until continuous control of my hypo symptoms can occur. There could also be times where I will swing into hyperthyroidism and back again, another common occurrence with Hashimoto’s and something that obviously makes calculating the amount of hormones I need to take on a month to month basis even harder. I have had a few symptoms ease over the last month of treatment but honestly my bad days still seem to be more prevalent than the good, so much so, that sometimes I’ll have a fantastic morning then crash and burn by dinner time, other days it can be reversed.

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I have struggled with whether to share our newest obstacles here or to just keep it close. This was never meant to be a personal blog, however, it is written from my point-of-view and about our collective life. I do not want to spend my time, or yours, whining and complaining. What I do hope to accomplish from sharing this is possibly connecting with others who have dealt with similar situations, whether it be some type of thyroiditis (or any chronic illness for that matter), gluten-free living or both. Our first go at gluten-free bread, which called for potato starch, tasted like, well, potatoes…and not in a yummy way! And even though we rarely eat any convenience food, the quick, yet still organic meals that I did use when we were overworked, or just simply ran out of hours in the day, all seem to contain a gluten filled product as their main ingredient. It seems like we are starting from scratch and re-teaching ourselves something that we had just gotten the hang of.

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Truth is, I have times where the food restrictions alone get me down and cause me to wish that I could just go back to bed and sleep through the day. I also struggle with not being able to go, go , go the way I once did. Working in the garden now consists of a few minutes weeding and a few minutes sitting…greatly reducing my productivity. And if I push too hard through a given day, inevitably the following day will be a bad one; a full day out with Kevin and the kids on a Saturday means an entire Sunday lost, trying to recover. All of this causes me to feel like a frail 80-year-old woman, as opposed to, the capable 30-year-old that I should be…which tends to take a toll on my overall morale as well.

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This new path that we are forced to walk now will, unfortunately, be pervasive into every aspect of our homesteading life. Everything from the food we grow and cook, to time management and accomplishment of tasks will have to be reworked. There are some days where I am less than helpful and Kevin has to steer this ship all on his own. Needless to say, he’s been a little extra tired and made a few more trips to the chiropractor than usual, as of late. I am also, yet again, reminded of how much of a saint this man of mine is, the same guy who insisted on eliminating almost all gluten from his diet in order to support me! And while I do not wish to ever be defined by this I do need to learn how to live within the confines it creates, which is something I am bound to struggle with as I have always been a “doer”, often pushing through into the wee hours until a particular goal is reached.

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Even though, I am angry and sad that I have to deal (sometimes fight against) this new reality of mine, I am also grateful, both for the fact that, if controlled, it will likely never be life-threatening and for the lesson that it has already given me. Struggles are quiet little creatures that many carry with them, hidden from us all, tucked away in their pocket or shoved to the bottom of their bag. We have no idea what they could be feeling, what really triggered that seemingly exaggerated emotion to what we view as a benign situation. Someone could have every joint in their body aching and throbbing, regardless of just having got out of bed and after sleeping for 12 hours straight. They are also, probably, not out of shape (they may even exercise on a regular basis) and they are most likely not inherently lazy. They are doing the best they can, with the hand they were dealt on that particular day and are probably harder and more judgmental of themselves than you could ever dream of being.

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Here’s to giving everyone a little leeway, ourselves included.

Do you have an experience to share or any go-to gluten-free recipes that you swear by? 

*To the family members and non-internet friends who are reading: know that if this is the first you are hearing about all of this it is not because I was trying to hide it or didn’t want to share it with you before I broadcasted it over the internet. Recently, our time has been spent assimilating all of this new information and trying to adjust our lifestyle and thought process, well that, and trying to keep the homestead running while most days we end up being one worker short…which you wouldn’t think would be a big deal…but when you are already essentially two able bodies short of an actual farm crew, it really is. I also figured that this post was a way to have the conversation once, rather than 100 times. I welcome any questions or thoughts you all might have.

Love Always, -L

if it’s not working…

Change it!

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The new garden plot.

Well the last couple weeks have been all about reconfiguring. Reconfiguring our plans, our wants, the things that we truly need and, most of all, our (often times unrealistic) expectations.

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Kevin preparing the soon to be potato patch.

Truth is, things had gotten a little out of hand; stuff on the homestead had seemed to take on a mind of its own. We were trying to do so many different things, in the hopes of being guided toward that which fulfilled us and that we honestly enjoyed. On the contrary, we were each being pulled in so many different directions that we were all suffering. Oh, the perks of restructuring you life and mindset all while in your 30s, raising two kiddlets and completely overhauling one’s living arrangements. We also found ourselves drifting away from some of our original intentions which had, of course, led us to this lifestyle in the first place. We were so busy everyday that Kevin and I found ourselves with little time and, unfortunately, sometimes even less energy and patience to really engage with the kids, what with constant farm chores, three meals a day to prepare (often times from scratch), businesses to attend to and any other general tasks all of us have to do in our daily lives. We also found that we all had little time left to pursue our individual creative endeavors, those things that refill each of our respective cups, allowing us to return to the group refreshed and recharged. The environment that we were unintentionally generating was in direct contrast to how we so badly wanted to live.

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Last year’s garden partially turned back into pasture.

Late this winter while discussing this season’s upcoming pasture rotation schedule we came to realize that the front pasture we used for our garden last year would need to be reseeded and transitioned back into grazeable land. I officially started off spring feeling deflated and firmly planted behind the proverbial eight ball. After all the work and soil amending we had done on the space, with tremendous help from the pigs no less, we faced the 2013 gardening season back at square one. We also sat down and discussed which livestock groups were working here, which we would like to possible add, and those that we would rather transition away from. Taking into consideration ease of keep (especially during the winter months), upfront and subsequent feed costs, resale value and whether or not the products that each inevitably provided could be purchased from other farming friends at a reasonable price, we started laying out slightly adjusted plans for the future.

I hope these guys get to stay!

I hope these guys get to stay!

As is usually the case, the further we move forward with these new plans of ours, the more the resulting benefits become apparent. We have scaled back the vegetable garden, finally convincing my father that we would never be able to make a living from market gardening if Kevin and I were the only two working at it. However, we can save quite a bit of money if we focus our efforts on the produce that we eat all year and put our energy into growing those crops well, then preserving them for winter. The garden is now much closer to the house which makes taking the kids out with me to tend to it much easier and tremendously more productive for me (this girl of ours is a runner, a daredevil and a huge majority of my days seem dedicated to keeping her from mortally wounding herself during one of her stunts). It also seems to be much more enjoyable for the kids, thanks to their play set and other toys soon being moved near by and a new picket fence that is being erected, allowing them to play safely within its confines, without me having to chase after the littlest every two minutes (that two minutes is not an exaggeration, by the way). We have already established various fruit trees and bushes, including a large strawberry patch that Kevin and I planted on the slope of a small hill, near the new garden area. As the new layout and design unfolds before us, my creative heart is happy with the aesthetic we are achieving, as well as the resulting increase in efficiency and more realistic goals we have set for ourselves.

It's a work in progress...

It’s a work in progress…

All of this reconfiguring has also allowed Kevin and I to begin focusing on creative endeavors that before had only received a fraction of our attention while we worked mainstream jobs and before we began cohabiting and pooling all of our respective resources. Our move here was supposed to allow for pockets of time, and interpersonal support for each of us, to rekindle these talents. I am so thankful that we were able to step back, re-evaluate where we wanted to end up, accepting where we currently were and having the courage to say “this is no longer working for us, we need to change it.” Sometimes the choices are tough, other times the decisions are a no brainer, what’s important is that we realize when things are heading in the wrong directions and have the strength and confidence to turn the train around. Granted, admitting that I can’t accomplish everything on my list(s) is certainly not my strongest quality but that is why I have Kevin. He, thankfully, plays the part of my brain (which I dreadfully lack) that tells me when I have reached the reasonable limit of things that can be accomplished, figures out which of my “to dos” really do not matter in the grand scheme of things and identifies those that will need to be left until another day.

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Sunset over the apple orchard down the road from us.

I have a feeling that exciting things are on the horizon and I think we will now have the time and energy to enjoy them.

What’s new with you? Has Spring’s arrival inspired exciting changes in your neck of the woods?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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baby, it’s too cold outside

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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…

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Making future plans.

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Grabbing a nap when we can.

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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.

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Cuddling up in front of here whenever possible.

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

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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.

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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!

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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!

we went a wassailing…

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Yes, you read that right, we went wassailing to our lone apple tree (the same apple tree that I wrote about this past summer) in hopes of inspiring more of an offering from her this coming autumn. It was the final celebration of our holiday season. From what I could gather in my research, wassailing usually commences on Twelfth Night (January 6th) or Old Twelfth Night (January 17th) in most counties in England. We settled on the 6th as it felt like more of a completion to the season.

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The kids gathered musical instruments and we made a raucous. PJ, the youngest male in the family, was perched in the tree where he sang a song he had written, off the cuff, about how much he loved apples. We offered our tree stale bread soaked in hard cider, we drank, toasted and sang a more traditional tune to awaken her and entice her into production. Finally we finished by pouring cider about her roots. What may seem like a silly tradition to some felt more important to me as we stood in the cold singing and and drinking. We were sending our thanks for what we have and our intentions for a good growing season filled with joy and prosperity out into the universe, loud and clear. We were finding another way to give back to Mother Nature because after all without her where would we be? This symbiotic life between us, the soil, the plants and the animals is beautiful and fragile, a gift that we deeply appreciate.

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Throughout our holidays we ate things we had grown or hunted, gave handmade gifts which were often made of materials harvested from this land of ours and we celebrated together with family, friends and neighbors from both near and far, most often, right here on the farm. During the first week of the new year we have wrapped up projects from last year and started writing goals and farm plans for 2013 and beyond. I, myself, am greatly looking forward to the coming year mostly because it will consist of much less start up and much more of the everyday life of being a homesteader. The kids will both be a bit older, a little more independent, undoubtably more capable and, in turn, hopefully more involved in the day to day goings on. We adults have garnered, I dare say, more knowledge out of the last year’s experiences than we did in the previous ten and feel better prepared because of it.

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So here’s to the coming year, and all that it might bring. Hopefully it will be abundantly blessed, undoubtably beautiful and spent quietly together…until next January that is, when, if you drive by at just the right moment, you will be able to see a bunch of hippies dancing and sing about their apple tree.

Huzzah!

December 13th

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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 12th

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Trimming the tree with Nonni.

The tree is decorated and we couldn’t be happier with it. The kids bounced in and out of the room, helping once in awhile or, in Shaelyn’s case, mostly grabbing a round ornament and throwing it across the room, while loudly exclaiming “Ball.” Thankfully, I know my daughter and had the presence of mind to separate out all of my grandmother’s 60-70 year old vintage glass ornaments, along with my collection of crystal ones, and put them safely back in the attic before attempting to decorate the tree. Without those beautiful additions, I think it still turned out lovely, even if it is shaped more like a Whoville tree and less like a christmas farm tree.

Creativity was the order of the day when it came to decorating it. Putting lights on a tree with very spaced out branches was trickier than first thought and may or may not have entailed another run (or two) to the store for more lights and hanging the heavier ornaments usually took more than one try to find a branch sturdy enough to hold them (again, thank goodness all breakables were not in use.)  This tree of ours has personality all its own, much like a certain someone I know, and both, will of course, always hold a special place in my heart.

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Happy 12-12-12!

How’s your decorating coming this holiday season?