Thursday, February 5, 2015

Emerging from our Dark Days

 Avery is skipping around the house singing of summer as I sit down to type. She has been at it for at least ten minutes; singing of riding her bike, playing in the mud and in the garden and even itching from bug bites. It is that time of year. The dark days of winter are behind us. Days of sun on sparkling snow and a brighter blue sky are ahead. As I walked up to the chickens today carrying a bucket of scraps and a jug of water, I noticed a chickadee with a different call than I've been hearing. Not their usual short trills and chatter as they go to and fro from the trees to the feeders, but longer and louder calls like he actually had something important to say. As I paused to study him I noticed that for the first time since November, the sun was hitting the tops our Birch trees. I'm not yet dreaming of mud, aching muscles and sunburn, but I am looking forward to sun warming my face as I play outside on warm sunny winter days. I'm dreaming of the deep blue sky of March.

I feel triumphant this time of year. The darkest months are the hardest for me, and those are behind us. Some Januaries I fall deep into books, not to emerge until the month has past, shaking off a fog only to realize that yes I rested, but I have nothing to show for myself, none of the after Holiday crafting that I'd hoped to continue. This winter I've been listening to more audio books and knitting. This past month I knitted myself the Clodach hat pattern in a gray baby Alpaca, the Lace and Twist gloves in a similar shade of gray and I've almost finished a gift for next Christmas. I pulled out all my yarn the other day and am trying to come up with something else I can make without having to buy more yarn, but have yet to form a plan.

My new Clodach hat.

Lace and Twist Gloves

This winter has been so beautiful. Every day I have walked outside and admired the winter beauty all around us. It helps to have reduced my farm chore load significantly. I'm more inclined to take a walk with Avery anytime she asks. We stroll leisurely and toss sticks for the dog. I miss our goat walks, but our walks now are much more peaceful. I don't have to chose between whether the dog or the goats come along. Avery can gather dried leaves and moss as she likes to do without the goats tackling her to nibble on her gatherings. Noah built me a flat bird feeder that Dustin mounted outside my kitchen window. Now I can wash dishes and look at chickadees just a couple feet from me. Red polls and Pine Gross Beaks have also been coming to the feeders and we enjoy watching them immensely. Watching the birds on cold days is comforting, to see that there is still so much life carrying on outdoors, even in the cold.

 Kids playing with the dog near the wood piles.

 Newest chalkboard drawing.

We are having productive school days. Noah and I are just getting in to studying the Haudenosaunee. The chalkboard drawing is the beginning of our morning blessing. I hope it sets the mood for our studies to come. We will be building a small longhouse and maybe even a larger one in the garden this year. Avery has started reading over the past couple weeks. She spent a couple days on the beginning readers and has already moved onto more challenging beginning readers.

 This week and next we are working with the days of the week and the months of the year. Most seasonal poems do not synch with our seasons here, so I wanted to make a poem that described what we are doing here during each month. Dustin was give a Steelers Football calendar and that is all we had so far, and I didn't think I could look at it all year, so the kids and I made some water color paintings yesterday thinking of different months and today we began writing on them. They came up with ideas for their month's verses and I tried to help make it sound ok.

I realized today that I don't want to vacation anymore in the middle of winter. I appreciate the beauty of this land more when I am here all winter to enjoy it. When we leave to a tropical paradise for sun and sand and heat and then come home, how can one not be disappointed at the muted gray tones, dry air and lack of sun. I'd rather just keep a steady pace all winter, moving through each day of wood fires and lanterns, stories and songs, noting the subtle differences in each day, the gradual gaining of light and the days where everything just sparkles even in the winter sun. I like extremes. But flying somewhere hot for a short time and then coming home with months of winter still to go is just a tease, bound to bring on a bout of winter blues. Well, that's how I'm feeling today, yet at the same time I'm already planning next year's winter vacation.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

My Grandma's memories

I spoke with my Grandma today. I have always enjoyed hearing about her life and childhood. Ever since Dustin and I started homesteading I've been even more interested in what she remembers of her own farm life. Some of the questions I've asked my Grandma have been; what kind of geese her mother raise and what kinds of desserts her mother use to make for the Holidays. The answers are, white geese, and huckleberry and mincemeat pie for most occasions. As my Grandma get's older I feel more of a pressing urge to ask her about her family and childhood, and I keep thinking I need to write these tidbits down before I forget them. Today I've resolved to start sharing some of these stories on my blog, because we all know how rare and special these memories are.

I've always heard my Grandma tell stories about living on a farm in Idaho and all the dairy cows her father kept and how a truck would come to pick up the milk. I've known that her mother kept a flock of mean white geese and it was my Grandma's job to feed them. That her mother was known for her handmade goose down pillows that she would gift couples when she got married. I've pictured a quaint existence, my dream farm life in a cute traditional looking farm house. Today I asked if her family had always been farmers, and it turns out they weren't. There were all sorts of professions, something about someone making gravestones and other men working to build the railroad, often with farming on the side, but the farming itself was never enough. My Great Grandpa built railroad cars for a living. The twenty or thirty or more cows he milked before and after going to work was extra income.

My grandma told me today that her mother was well educated and came from a wealthy family. She had been a schoolteacher when she met her soon to be husband, a high-school student in her two room schoolhouse. They married and started a farm in Kansas but a tornado came and destroyed it completely. Her mom tells about how they lifted the lid to the storm cellar and saw chickens and cows flying by. So my great grandpa (one of twelve children) had a couple of brothers who had moved to Idaho, and he decided to take his new family and go join them. My grandma's mom's family gave her all of her inheritance in horses and cattle to take with her to start over again. They transported the horses and cattle in railroad cars from Kansas to Idaho, but it turns out that diseased livestock had been in the railroad cars beforehand and every single horse and cow that she'd been given died from the disease. Grandma thought that maybe it was hoof mouth disease but wasn't sure.

The time line is murky, but apparently my Great Grandpa began working for the railroad but then at some point felt called to be a preacher. He wanted to get training to be a preacher, but at that point had small mouths to feed and as you can imagine, that didn't make a lot of sense at the time so he kept working at the railroad while they slowly started over from scratch a third time.

I asked my Grandma if they had a root cellar. She said that they did and that she hated going down there because daddy long legs would drop on you as you went down the stairs. She also said that it flooded every spring and they had to put boots on to go down and fetch the potatoes and onions off the top shelves. My Great Grandpa didn't build the house. So I'm guessing he must not have bought the house in the spring otherwise the flooding would be apparent. Grandma says that he would try to bail out the water in a frustrated attempt every spring to get rid of it. I guess a flooding root cellar could happen to anyone, maybe it is even common for cellars to flood in some locations? But what a drag, wouldn't that humidity make for shorter storage duration?

My grandma told me today that she use to hate making butter and that it didn't even taste very good. She said they would make it in a tall stoneware churn and that after churning, her mother would work it and work it in a bowl with paddles trying to get all the buttermilk out of it. Grandma thinks that it didn't taste very good because of how hard it was to get all the buttermilk out. Which makes me wonder if butter didn't use to taste as good as old folk reminisce, or if my Great Grandma just didn't like working the butter and lost patience before it was done. I suspect that that's not it, as I really don't think anyone working that hard on a homestead and churning their own butter wouldn't try and do a proper job of it. Maybe it was the storage, keeping it in an ice box that had the ice replaced every three days. I, myself have made butter in my food processor and then worked it in a bowl with paddles, and probably gave up before the liquid ran clear- it was a lot of work. And the butter did pick up fridge taste and spoil before we used it all. And all this concerns me, because I've always thought that by the time I'm an old lady I'll have a really sweet milk cow named Rose, or Daisy, and I'll make all of our own butter and it will be the best butter ever. And now, I wonder if I'll go to all that work only to never have butter taste as good as I want it to. The kids and I just finished reading Farmer Boy for the second time. I love that book, there is so much valuable information in there. We read about how the Butter Buyer came to his farm and tested his mother's butter with a long sampler and when he pulled it out it was all firm and creamy. He said it was the best butter he'd ever seen and paid fifty cents a pound for it. She had stored up five hundred pounds of butter in the root cellar and so she was paid $250.

If you make your own butter regularly and it is wonderful, let me know so I can keep my dream alive :)

I have one more story I want to share today. My Grandma said that they looked forward to when her father would get seasonally laid off by the railroad as they would leave the farm and head up to camp and pick huckleberries in the mountains. She said that they camped in tents, picked huckleberries and swam in the lakes, and that her mother would can all fresh huckleberries over the fire. She hung a big pot over the fire, filled quart jars with fresh huckleberries ( no sugar, she added that when she used them), and then she put the jars of berries in the water and canned them. My grandma said she covered the jars with water. I wonder if that is because she didn't have a lid to water bath can them? I have to say that it has never occurred to me that it would even be possible to can berries while camping. On top of that my grandpa had to drive back to the farm twice a day to milk the cows. I asked my Grandma how far away their camping spot was from the farm and she thought about a hundred miles. And I thought, surely not. I might have to track it on a map, because that just sounds crazy. She did say that sometimes the neighbors would help with the milking, but still!

From some of the things my Grandma told me today I was beginning to think that her family was poorer than I had thought, so I asked, phrasing it as politely as I could how she saw their family financially compared to others in their community. She said that she felt that they were middle class and most other households were in similar situations. She said that it was a poor time, and that everyone was poor and struggling. I wish my kids could see how good they have it. They hear about Laura and Mary from the Little House in the Big Woods, and how the girls were so excited to get an orange in their stocking or a pair of hand knit mittens. And I watch them digest the information and I wish that it would result in my children being more appreciative of their bountiful overflowing stockings and mountains of gifts. The motto of "The less you have the more you have, and the more you have the less you have", seems to really ring true for my children as well as the rest of American Society these days. It's sad. I'm not sure what I can do, but I am going to keep telling my children stories of a time long ago, when children worked hard all day alongside their parents and were thrilled to eat an orange once a year.

Well, that's all for tonight, but hopefully I'll make time to share my Grandmother's memories again. Oh, and in case you are wondering, she was born in 1929, so by my shaky counting that makes her 85....and her name is Erma.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Homemade crafts for Holiday Giving

Well, I feel like I'm posting backwards. But here are some pictures of the kids crafting as well as the crafts I managed to eek out for gift giving this year:
 Needle felting pastries for their cousins.

 Dipping beeswax tapers for our Hannukah Menorah.

 Making beeswax luminaries with balloons with water.

 Laying out the merino silk wool for a cob web wet felted scarf.

 Finished scarves. I made three. These were my first two. The last one I made turned out the best.

 The kids and I dabbled with painting silks for the first time. I don't like how either of mine turned out. The kid's look more like pastel tie dyes and were more suitable for giving.

 Scarf wrapped up and ready to go.

 Avery ironing one of her dyed silks.

 Strawberry moccassins for Avery Jane, made with our own goat hide; naturally tanned by a good friend.

 A leather pouch for Noah. There is a belt loop on the back so he can wear it at his waist.

 Mittens for Avery

 Baby Alpaca hat with ear flaps for Dustin. He is wearing it daily which makes me proud and happy.

 My best cob web felted scarf.

Finished needle felted pastries for my nephews on a handmade wood serving tray made by Dustin.

And that's a wrap! :)

Our Holy Days in pictures

 We started a new tradition this year. My parents gave us a beautiful Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, and are going to let the kids pick out a few animals or other people to add to it each year. Dustin made the barn/shed a few years back and I had intended to needle felt all the people and animals but never got around to it. We decorated with dried leaves, moss, pine cones and Mountain Ash berries.

 I have fond memories of playing with a small sturdy nativity set when I was a kid and have always wanted one for my children to play with. This entire set cost as much one quality wood figurine from the other set, both have their advantages. I was able to afford the playmobile set myself - a big plus. The kids woke up to this scene all set up and arranged one morning early in advent.

 St. Nicholas Day. Avery and Noah are both in red.

 We decorated wreaths with ground lavender, chamomile and sugared rosemary from our garden as well as candied citrus peel, pine nuts, walnuts and dried fruit including our own dried cranberries.


 Almost all of our Christmas day pictures are blurry because we have so little light this time of year and I don't like artificial light nor the effects of the camera flash, so... here they are anyways.

 Avery pointing out the dragon on the wet felted pouch she made for Noah's Dungeon's and Dragon dice.

Avery, cradling her first porcelain doll, which was my first and favorite porcelain doll from childhood.

 Punch with fresh juiced pineapples and grapefruit and a frozen fruit herb ring, in a punch bowl from my Grandma. Champagne on the side.

Noah and his cousins.

 Christmas morning; me and my punch.

 Caribou roast stuffed with fresh parsley, ground anchovies and horseradish with beef fat on top, courtesy of my brother. It was fabulous and perfectly cooked.

Avery in her new dress on New Year's Eve.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A New Years Day

It's been a while since I've sat down to write a post. Since Thanksgiving I've been spending my nights knitting while listening to audio stories, skin sewing, beading and on some nights reading. I have been wanting to share some of the crafts I made, but have misplaced my camera cord to upload pictures so, one of these days I'll have pictures to share. I made Avery a pair of knitted mittens and a pair of moccasins with our own goat hide and beaded with strawberries and strawberry flowers. I made Noah a leather pouch that fits on his belt loop. I knit Dustin a soft hat out of baby Alpaca. It has ear flaps which make me happy knowing his ears are warm. The last hat I made him looked stylish but his ears were exposed. I made wet felted merino wool silk scarves for the ladies in my family and needle felted pastries for my nephews. I was on a Birch bark folding frenzy this winter. I took a couple classes on working with Birch bark and learned how to harvest it and make woven bird ornaments and all sizes of Moravian stars, some tiny enough to be earings and some almost too large to be hung on the tree. Pictures coming!

In December we celebrated Hannukah for the first time. It was the final culmination of Noah's study of ancient Hebrews. On top of Hannnukah was Dustin's birthday, winter solstice and then getting ready for hosting a Christmas eve party, Christmas day brunch and dinner and cramming in last minute crafts etc. Last night we had a couple families over for a low key celebration. It was warm enough out that the kids were able to play outside for over an hour. I was hoping to clean out the pantry and get rid of all the Christmas cookies, rum balls and champagne in readiness for a cleanse, but low and behold there are still cookies, rum balls and champagne. So, D has talked me into holding out until Monday and then he will join me in my attempts to heal and repair my gut with the absence of certain foods and addition of supplements.

Today we took down the tree, packed away ornaments, nativity scenes and Christmas books. We swept out the pine needles and re-organized the furniture. I sat down to begin a hat for myself and now I'm procrastinating with a pattern, a ball of yarn and the right needle beside me. I picked myself out a ball of yarn to make myself the Cladach hat, free on pinterest, as well as the Lace and Twist gloves which may be above my skill level, certainly not a pattern for me to follow while listening to any audio book.

The kids were starting to complain about winter today. I told them it was time for them to get inspired about something, start a new craft, learn a new skill. A lot of Alaskans flee to the south in the months of January and February; to Hawaii, or Florida or anywhere south of Canada. For several years D and I loved to get away ourselves, with the mission of being somewhere long enough to get a good sunburn repeatedly and eat our fill of fresh fish and tropical fruit. This year is our second year not taking a winter vacation. Instead, D and I both have plans to make time for a weekly yoga class followed by a tanning bed session, which as unhealthy as it is in some respects, works wonders for my winter doldrums. I'm thinking about other ways to give the kids things to look forward to. Soccer for Noah, more play dates with friends for Avery.

This past year has been a year of change for us, diet changes, homesteading changes. Our course has altered. Our focus on self sufficiency has become more long term and less immediate, realizing that our immediate needs are getting ahead financially, getting our health in order and meeting our children's needs of a more flexible schedule, less farm chores and more social activities. I think that this year will entail less drastic changes and more of an embrace and settling in. Embracing the time to enjoy and explore our interests and settling in to the the simplicity and flexibility of our days.

Looking forward to hearing what inspires you on this New Year Day.

Here are some topics I've been thinking about expanding on, and comments always help motivate me.
1. This past year's diet changes and resulting teeth re mineralization and fillings
2. Clean cleanse, gut cleanse, more on cleansing and what we hope to accomplish and what we've noticed after our last cleanse
3. Homestead planning, garden planning
4. New recipes, new eating habits
5. Homeschooling review of past year and plans for the spring
6. More on crafts, making salves with infused oils from summer garden

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Entering the dark days

 The days are growing dim. It grew dark yesterday before I'd started dinner. I usually start dinner around 4:30 or so. I must have been late yesterday. We are fighting our third cold in six weeks maybe five. The good news is that none have settled in, but we still lose a few days each time fighting them off. Thankfully we haven't had any concrete symptoms other than low energy and light headedness. I wake up feeling fine but by mid afternoon I'm done for. As a result I've been indulging in more hours spent reading and less hours spent crafting or cooking. I've discovered a new series that I love called A Discovery of Witches. It is a well written romance triology that weaves together witchcraft, vampires and time travel. I think that even if you are turned off by the thought of witches and vampires, you might still enjoy it.The main characters and their relationship seem very real to me despite the supernatural complications.

 Noah has been working with the multiplication chart a lot. I was planning on writing this big one out so it would look nice, but he asked to do it and I'm glad I let him. He discovered more patterns than he'd previously been aware of.

 This years Martinmas lanterns. This is our third year doing water color paper lanterns as I think they are the easiest for small children to do. But I am looking forward to making wool ones, maybe next year. I'd also like to try making one out of Birch bark even though I've never seen it done yet.

We've been hitting the lessons pretty hard, Monday through Wednesday 9:30 to 2ish not much but back to back lessons are going on around here. Thursday's are cut short a bit and Fridays are make up days. We still aren't getting as much crafting done as I'd like to be doing for this time of year, partially due to a warm spell these past couple weeks which I'm not complaining about. We've been making it out to ice skate with friends once to twice weekly. Today the kids painted. We made new lanterns for Martinmas. The kids got out all the lanterns from the past two years and arranged them in order:

Avery took it upon herself to make her numbers and the alphabet one day while Noah and I were working together. She is almost at the next stage where we start putting sounds together and learning word families and some of the simplest sight words. Exciting times! She can't wait until she can read.

I rendered some goat lard in anticipation of making some soap. Now I just have to get my energy back and fit in a batch before the next cold. I was hoping to make the soap in time that it could cure long enough for Holiday giving, but I'm pushing it close. This Saturday we are butchering three Heritage Bourbon Red turkeys and two extra roosters. We will have fresh and never frozen turkey for Thanksgiving!

Last year we ice skated at a playground nearby. This year we are driving a little farther to go to the peat bogs. It is lots of fun being on a real pond among the cattails.

I was starting to feel the winter doldrums this week. Feeling like there was a lot to do but I wasn't motivated to do any of it. I think it is just that I am low energy from fighting off a cold. I remind myself to be thankful for my health and that it could be much worse. But I really don't like feeling out of it and not having my normal enthusiasm for my daily tasks.

I am trying to enjoy all the beauty around me, our lanterns and winter decorations, all the treasures Avery brings in from outside daily; feathers and dried bits of leaves. I'm planning Advent in my head, whether to do a chalkboard drawing for each week or not, how to introduce the new books I've splurged on for the kids and where we are going to set up our new nativity scene. I'm looking forward. Forward to roasting some winter squash and making a pumpkin pie with the kids one of these days when we have more energy. I'm already looking past Thanksgiving to hopefully at least three days of leftovers. I'm looking forward to Thanksgiving too. I haven't decided what our school schedule will look like next week but I think we might just drop everything and spend three mornings readying about the Pilgrims and the Indian tribes etc. Then spend our afternoons baking. I think we'll save some of the turkey tail feathers for cutting into quills and we'll have a messy afternoon with ink.

And on to resting up while I dream, plan and look ahead.