Archive for the ‘Personal Journal’ Category
When I was 8 years old a friend of my moms gave us a used upright piano. It had been owned by a local church for ages and they were replacing it with a new one. Every attempt to sell it had failed, so one day it showed up at our door. It was old, showing signs of age and hard use. The keys were yellow and some were cracked and chipped. The tuning was off and some key pads were so worn down they barely made a sound when the key was struck. But never wanting to pass up a free deal, no matter how battered or unwanted, my mom let the beast into our home.
Our house was full; three active kids under the age of 10, pets running around, toys, activities, and school projects took up almost every inch of available space, but mom was not deterred.
The only place this monster would fit was the rarely used dining room; no matter that every time we walked through the kitchen door it would bang the side of the piano, adding to its ragged state and damaging the door.
After the delivery men left we three just stood looking at this old wooden box with its broken keys and warped sound, wondering what the hell mom was thinking. Little did we know mom had a plan, one that would be revealed to us just before school let out for the summer. Read the rest of the story »
I love my little homestead on the edge of town. It is a stormy weekend here on the Central Coast; grey clouds cover the sky and rain falls light and soft. The Sycamore tree outside my window is the color of New England, red and gold and brown. Leaves fall, swirling around with each puff of wind before landing on the wet ground, insulating bulbs planted this fall.
As I write, there is a blazing fire in front of me, crackling and popping with wood laid in back in September. A stockpot bubbles on the stove, full of vegetables and herbs and chicken raised and killed on our farm this past spring. Soft instrumental music floats through the house, the sounds of winter found on Pandora. It is quiet and peaceful and reflective. It is home, an oasis, a refuge from a chaotic world just outside me.
My friends and acquaintances say I don’t live in the real world, that what I have created is unnatural, a fantasy, a fake world not based on reality. They think I am hiding from life, from drama, from real problems and real situations. But, is it—hiding? Or, is it looking life square in the face and consciously deciding to have something different? A different kind of life; a better life; one based solely on realism.
The daily life of a farm is the most real place you can be. There is living and dying on a farm; crops to be planted so they grow to their most bountiful, animals to be bred so offspring is born during the right season, meat animals to be raised to get a family through the winter. Animals to care for no matter what the weather is, what other pleasures may be sought, what schedules must be kept. Oh, sure you can always run to the store to buy a pre-made meal, but is that the real world? Or, is that the fake and shallow world created by corporations and consumerism?
Is it more real to spend the day walking a mall full of pushing crowds and glaring lights and blaring sounds? Or, is a real life found in the natural flow of a farm? Is reality found in dashing out on a cold winter’s day frantic to get an extra discount on something you already have or don’t really need? Or, is reality found in a home that can care for its family no matter what difficulties may come?
How much more real can you be growing your own food, trading or bartering with others, helping friends in need and being part of a community that understands what real life is, appreciating the hardships and pleasures it can afford, while reveling in the natural beauty of it all.
I suppose we all have a different view on what is real and what reality is. It is shaped by our values, our upbringing, our life experiences. It ebbs and flows as we age and live and grow; deciding what we want for ourselves and from ourselves.
Farming is MY reality. I look out over my little farm and see a decade worth of work and striving and accomplishment. My farm is what solidifies me, quiets my soul, makes me happy, and makes me—REAL.
Do you find the homesteading life an escape from life? Or, a strong walk into reality? I’d love to know.
I had the most wonderful evening last night. My dear friend, Anne, and I went to a moonlight yoga class at the beach. What a wonderful experience. We got to the park, over looking the ocean at about 7:45pm. The weather was cool and the fog was just beginning to roll in off the calm sea. The grass had just been mowed and the smell of sweetness mixed with the salt air made the evening even more relaxing. The class started out slowly with lots of easy stretches and deep breathing; just what I needed after these last few weeks of hectic schedules and preparations for Brianne leaving for college next month.
As the class progressed I could feel the tension in my body drift away. I have to admit I did think about my ability to move the next day, but frankly didn’t care I was having too much fun. The sun began to set and the fog thickened as we moved into longer and more difficult poses. We breathed in the damp air, looked out over the horizon and watched the stars get brighter. The moon began to shine, hanging low over the horizon. It was amazing…cool air, stars, moon, crashing waves. By the time the class finished darkness had fallen completely. We laid on our mats for a few moments longer, not wanting to leave this quiet place.
When I woke this morning I had none of the feared aches and stiffness I expected. I was refreshed and rejuvenated, eager to start a new day and a new way of living. This is my beginning of a life that does not revolve around sheep and shows and a daughter.
And, I am beginning in earnest. My long awaited greenhouse now has a floor and the walls will be finished by the end of the weekend. I will post pictures as we go. I’m excited about all of it. I can now keep my gardening supplies all in one place and the planned for patio on the front will be a nice place to sit and look out over the garden area. There’s so much I want to do there doesn’t seem to be time for it all, but I’m having fun making plans and setting projects in motion.
I’ll raise a glass tonight as I enjoy a country western swing concert followed by our annual fireworks display. Here’s to moving on into a new stage of life!
I, like anyone, likes a good holiday. It means a day off work, more time on the farm, free time to do something new or time to spend with family and friends. But, the older I get the more I look back at how the life I lead today was but a dream for most a few hundred years ago. We in our modern world can’t even imagine the struggles our forefathers had to endure, the drive it took to carve out a living in a new and uncertain world, the strength it took to stand firm to their convictions. We have so much in our fast-paced instance gratification world that we often times lose sight of the enormity of what people went through to make our country free. So, as we party and BBQ and watch the colorful array of fireworks this fine summer day let’s not forget how it all came to be, how much we have to lose and how grateful we should be.
Enjoy my friends. And have a safe and wonderful holiday.
Hi folks. I know it’s been a while since my last post and I apologize for that. There has been so much going on around here that writing, which I love to do, has seemed more like a chore rather than the true pleasure it really is. Have you ever had one of those days when work and school and kids and home and farm and future created the perfect storm of chaos that had your world spinning out of control? Well— we have, but not just a day. This has been going on since April. Some responsibilities can not be push off to another day, like college, scholarship and internship applications; job resumes and interviews; butchering ducks, working when the boss asks for overtime or attending livestock shows. They all have deadlines that must be met, while every other non-essential task like laundry, cleaning, gardening, dishes, grocery shopping…and writing on a blog take a back seat.
Finally, though, the grey angry clouds seem to be dissipating and I can see faint rays of light streaming through. The storm, at long last appears to be lifting, albeit slowly.
It’s been an interesting time, though, if not a busy one. It has served to galvanize my plans and my dreams of what the future will look like. It has shoved in my face, over and over, the chaotic, drone-like, unsatisfying life I DON’T want and pulled me more towards the life I do want for myself and my daughter.
Life will not be totally calm, it never is when a child goes off to college, but it should be more manageable. We will take it one step at a time, one day at a time, always moving forward. And, the first step starts today. A day off work will give me a big chunk of time to rein in a life that has been bounced on the rocky shoals over the last several weeks and come out battered and bruised, but not broken.
I have great plans working in my head, but I’m not ready to share them just yet. I hate to be a tease, but ideas and thoughts need to be worked on and fleshed out before they can be shared. Bear with me folks, life is getting back on track and we are taking back the farm. Literally.
I just finished putting a pot of chicken soup on the stove, made from a simmered down homegrown chicken carcass cooked months ago and frozen waiting for such a day as this. An April storm rages outside; lightening illuminates the house and thunder crashes so loud it shakes the windows, making the cat run for cover. There is a warm fire crackling and popping near where I write; glowing hot with wood collected in the fall. It is still keeping us warm. My new dulcimer stands in the corner waiting for me to pick it up and strum the new cords I am teaching myself. We are happy and content to stay indoors and revel in simple pleasures on this wet spring morn.
What a life we have created for ourselves! A half finished flannel quilt sits patiently on a makeshift sewing table, made from scraps collected over time during shopping trips to thrift and second hand stores. There are lambs outside; the last vestiges of Brianne’s show career. A new batch of meat ducks huddle in a pen of wire, bedded down on a thick layer of shavings, keeping the chill of this stormy day at bay. Sophie, the Sebastopol goose, sits on a small clutch of eggs, ignorant of the fact they will never hatch…they are not fertile. But, she may be a mother yet. When I gently pulled back the warm covering of straw on top of the nest I found three chicken eggs. She must have gathered them from a wayward hen and made them her own. They have a better chance of hatching.
There are eggs in the fridge, laid by the hens who roam the yard. There is lamb and chicken in the freezer as well; all raised here on our suburban farm and butchered by the people who cared for them. Homemade sausage lays frozen in patties and links; taught to us by our friendly butcher Kent. Aside from the meat we have raised we’ve also baked bread from scratch, canned jams and relishes, peaches, made cheese from fresh goat’s milk. The honey we use comes from “the bee man” who pollinates a family farm. There are two trucks and a livestock trailer parked in the drive, waiting for the next farm chore or livestock show excursion.
We’ve held just hatch chicks in our hands, offspring from our little flock this time last year and watched as new born kits wriggle in the warmth of a soft fur bed. We’ve grown a garden full of vegetables and picked pumpkins that would make Cinderella weep with joy. We’ve fished for our supper and learned to shoot with both gun and bow. We’ve laid in bed on a cool summer morning and heard the songs of birds that call our farm home. We’ve stopped dead in our tracks as the cry of a coyote shatters the dark silence of our nightly rounds. We’ve built with lumber, sewn clothes, knitted scarves and quilted blankets to keep us warm in winter. And, we’ve captured it in a blog. We have customers that buy our products and seek our knowledge.
But there is still much left to do. We’d like to feel the biting cold on our face as a sled and dogs pulls us through the blue glow of a winter morning. We’d like to drive a carriage and use horse power instead of machine power to work a farm. And, we’d like to see dogs run the yard once more. We’d like to restart our sheep flock, long ago lost to a pack of feral dogs and feel the thrill of bringing a new crop of lambs into this world. We’d like to start a CSA of wool and meat and vegetables and fruit. And, we’d like to share what we’ve learned with others.
Tonight our plans are quiet. No hot dates or people to impress with shallow small talk of inconsequential matters. No…tonight is dedicated to this small suburban farm, plans for the future and life lived simply; a life that didn’t even exist a few years ago. Tonight I’ll help a new college student follow her dream and work on a few of my own. I’ll learn about raising and processing a pig, making plans for a new pig pen and I’ll read about heritage cattle to determine if this will be a new addition to our farm. This is normal, at least for us. This is everyday life for us.
I’ve been told by family and friends that I’m a fool to be wasting my time and energy on things that can be bought just a few miles from my home, that don’t require trudging out in the rain or sweating in the sun. I must be a fool then, to trade the shallow wasteful easy comforts of modern society to live this way, to do all this and dance at dusk to the sounds of sweet mournful instruments long past forgotten. They can say what they like. I wouldn’t change a thing, not for anyone. This is our life—sometimes messy, sometimes hard, sometimes sad. But, we like it. It suits us.
We may not have the riches of some and we certainly aren’t surrendering ourselves to the simpering, giggling, nauseatingly fake form of womanhood that so many feel necessary. But we are pretty dang happy tonight. We feel like the richest women in the world. Why you may ask, do we feel this way. Two simple reasons:
One: I always wanted this life and knew it could happen, not hoped but knew, and
Two: I wrote it down.
May sound strange, but it’s true. I believe this with every ounce of my being because I’ve seen it happen time-after-time. Years ago I was reading a piece written by a well-known motivational speaker. He had written about a “Dream Book”. A place to keep, write, draw and plan ALL the dreams you have for your life. He went on to state that 98% of people never plan or make goals for their lives, and even fewer take the time to write those dreams or plans down. Of the people to do take the time to put pen to paper 90% actually achieved their written goal. Amazing, right? There’s just something about making a written commitment to yourself. It makes the dream more real, more achievable. I strive to be part of the 90%
When I was going through my divorce I knew I wanted a place where we could have animals and gardens and trees. I wanted a REAL wood burning fireplace, a nice kitchen where I could make dinners from scratch, and most of all zoning that would allow us to do all the things we wanted without the prying eyes of a small minded HOA. So—I took pen to paper and wrote it all down. I drew out a barn to house the animals we would raise. I laid out cutting gardens, vegetable gardens, trellises, arbors, even a green house. I collected magazine clippings of flowers I would grow, recipes I would make and animals I would raise. All in anticipation that “one day” I would find what I was looking for. I carried my “dream book” with me everywhere so I could write down new ideas that came to mind. And I think because it was so much a part of me, so close to me at all time those ideas and dreams pushed me to never give up. But, time and trial can take its toll. I was discouraged, tired, pushed to my breaking point. Divorce is not easy folks. I WAS giving up, but trying not to. I was resigning myself to a life less than I wanted, but still holding out some hope that I would find what I was looking for.
Life is strange. It happens when you least expect it. I was sitting in a small café with my sister. It was Sunday. I had decided to take a break from the search for a home that would give us the life we so dearly wanted when the couple seated next to us got up and left. Lying on the table was the Sunday paper. I stared at it a while and then picked it up. I didn’t look through it for the longest time, just held it looking at the front page. I guess I was deciding whether or not to risk disappointment. But, I did open it. Thumbed through the housing section, reading about all the grandiose homes that were not only over my budget, but would not give me the life I wanted, until the bottom corner of the last page caught my eye. It was a barely noticeable ad for a house just outside of town. The ad said “small farm”. I looked at sis and she instinctively knew without me saying a word. She grabbed the paper and found the ad. We both sat there, silently staring at each other. We knew. We just knew.
We paid our bill and left. I was breathless driving to the address; excited, afraid, unsure. I had never bought a home before, never had a mortgage. I wasn’t even sure I could do it. We walked through the front door and my heart stopped. IT WAS A WREACK!! The house had been a rental for 12 years and it showed. But…it had a big wood burning fireplace, almost 3-feet wide, and land, enough for barns and gardens and greenhouses. The kitchen needed work, but it was roomy with lots of space. This wasn’t the little farm I wrote about in my dream book, but it had bones to build on and room to grow.
I say all this because I want you to know this doesn’t happen by magic. This farm didn’t just fall into my lap. It was thought of, conceived of and dreamed of. It wasn’t given to me either. I worked hard for it, scrimped and saved and did without to make it work. I had to be tough, wheel and deal and put people in their place when they tried to cheat me. But I pulled it off, paycheck to paycheck, a little at a time until it grew into something wonderful. There is a barn we build ourselves, fences, an orchard, berry patch, flower gardens, vegetable beds and grape vines; and—a new kitchen. Many hands have helped to make this farm possible and many hands have enjoyed the fruits of their labor. If a single mom raising a child alone can buy a home and build a farm out of a suburban lot so can you. I promise.
I guess the moral is…if you want your own land, want your own farm then please sit down and put pen to paper and write it all down. All the wants, all the dreams, all the crazy notions. Carry it with you and keep it close to your heart. It may take years before you can dance at dusk on your own land with chickens scratching in the background, but those years are coming anyway—why not have a farm at the end of them.
And keep dancing at dusk, folks. It couldn’t hurt.
Throughout my life, as a sheep breeder, a farmers wife, an Ag business professional, a 4-H leader and a suburban homesteader I often talk with people who want to do the same kinds of things I’m doing—growing my own food and living a more simple life. They claim to want this more than anything else; it permeates to the very core of their being. But, as I talk with them about what I am doing and encouraging them in how they too can walk this path, an interesting thing happens. A litany of reasons why “I can’t” begins to emerge. The reasons usually revolve around the fact that they don’t own a farm, or their family will not move out of the city, or still yet they have to wait until the kids are out of school. You get the picture.
As I listen to the excuses one thought runs through my mind—if you want to farm then farm. Just get started; no matter where you are.
I understand the reluctance and obstacles. Some people have city rules or HOA regulations that prevent them from participating fully in a farm life, but I do not understand doing nothing. No matter where you live you can start growing your own food NOW! If farming is something you want to do then nothing will stand in your way. Not location, not time, not money, not the job, not family reservations. Nothing. If this is your dream, stop dreaming and start doing. If my seemingly lack of understanding makes you mad then get mad. But, remember one thing…all these excuses…all these reasons…all the “I cant’s” for not doing has stopped you before; stopped you from pursuing areas that interested you, projects you wanted to try, places you wanted to go. You know I’m right. No matter where you live or what your immediate situation is you can start now. Start with a potted garden on your condo balcony. Start with a small unused planter near your patio, but do start. Give yourself permission to start.
If you live in an apartment or city high-rise you can still order seeds, set up some grow lights or pot up a bunch of herbs to set in the kitchen window and start growing a little of what you use. You can volunteer at the local farmers market; get acquainted with farmers who can mentor you. You can offer veggie starts or eggs for sale to co-workers, eventually working your way up to a small business. In a few weeks starting with nothing but borrowed equipment and a few packs of bought seeds you can be on your way to becoming a farmer. This may sound crazy, but it’s not. Not unless you are still hanging onto the long list of “I can’t’s”. If you want it to happened, really happen, you will find a way. Nothing will be able to stop you, and once you start you’ll be surprised how things just come your way. A friend may offer an extra table to use as a potting bench; another may ask to partner with you to raise chickens for eggs or meat. When your new life begins, your old life begins to fade away. You become a careful spender, an avid seller of unused belongings, and that brings money into your world, allowing you to do more.
Don’t be influenced by the people who don’t understand, who don’t agree, who perpetuate the “I can’t” excuses that chip away at your resolve and you dream. Stand with people who are excited about your ideas and prospects. Stay clear of those who want you to wait until life gets a little easier, gets a little slower, when you have more time on your hands because those days will never come. Life is always busy. Always crazy. The question is what do you want to be busy with or crazy about. Wouldn’t you prefer to busy yourself gardening or getting crazy planning for a new batch of chicks? I know I would.
This is my advice to you, folks, my wish for you—start today; not just dreaming, but doing. Take a few steps towards that farm in your mind and make it a reality. Surf the net for information. Call the farmers market organizer. Find a local garden club or sustainable farming organization and join. Borrow books. Barter for help. Find people who are trying to do the same and set up a group to encourage each other, support each other. This is not something you will ever regret. Not ever!
If farming is not your thing, but you still want to live a simpler less stressful life there are steps you can take to move that direction too. The moral of my story is “if you want it badly enough, crave it ‘til your stomach aches, even cry at night because it hurts you don’t have it…remember one thing…NOTHING and NO ONE can stop you from pursuing your farming dream if you have taken “I CAN’T” out of the equation.” And every day you put if off is one more day you have killed off life’s enjoyments. Choose life my dear friends…choose life.
and so it begins…
It the middle of February, technically still the dead of winter, but our unseasonably mild winter has every gardener itching to get outside and into the dirt. This weekend marks the official start to our growing season for cool weather crops, but we’ve had lettuces and spinach in the patio pot garden for weeks and they are now ready to harvest. Seems odd to be eating fresh greens this time of year when root crops and squash are the mainstay of any menu.
Seeds of other cool season crops and ones I know I want to grow are planted in pony-packs, peat pellets and flats and are incubating inside the farmhouse. Tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bell peppers and cucumbers are sitting inside on warming mats and in a few days we’ll have the beginnings of a summer full of fresh organic food.
The farm already has a huge garden complete with compost pile, raised beds, fencing for vine crops, berry patch, fruit trees, a chicken coop and a rain collection barrel. Whoever lived here before had no interest in living a sustainable life or even gardening for that matter. It has taken me years to clear out the debris, trim or remove overgrown and useless trees and rejuvenate the soil to the point where it could sustain life. But, we did it. The soil is rich and friable, crawling with earthworms in every spade that is turned. This is a huge accomplishment – soil that is alive!!
In a few weeks the soil will be over 45 degrees; dry enough that I can till and work in the mulch and compost that was laid on top during the winter months; warm enough to plant the first seedlings outdoors. I’m excited. Along with the seedlings, root vegetables like beets, carrots, radishes and turnips will be directly sown. Read the rest of the story »
Our full moon hides behind a bank of storm clouds tonight. It peeks out and then sneaks back in, covered by a mass of gray. There’s something about doing evening chores under the soft glow of a full moon that makes everything seem new and pleasant. She rises slowly over the tree tops, seemingly out of nowhere. She watches as we muck about in boots with buckets and bags, through dirt and mud and poo. She watches the night unfold on our little farm.
She watches as Brianne throws hay and grain into the lamb’s feed trough and bounces light off the water as it cascades from an overturned bucket when the water is changed; sparkling clean and clear like the reflection of a mirror when it is replaced.
The moon peers down on us as we move from chicken coop to rabbit hutch, replacing bedding, filling feeders and turning kitchen scrapes into meat and eggs. She laughs with us as we hunt for egg treasures in the far corners of the barn. The girls have gotten clever at finding new places to hide their eggs – under the hay wagon, behind a feed barrel, inside a bucket, but we always manage to find them before too long. I talk to Sophia and stroke her head as I hand her a small treat, congratulating her on another successful egg.
The new lambs seem to be settling in just fine. Some do so faster than others. After 30-years of bringing lambs onto a farm I have learned that they each have their own time. All we can offer them is feed, water and shelter, medical help when they need it and a small bit of attention. The rest is on sheep’s time – they either settle in or they don’t. We have two wethers right now, one a charcoal grey Hampshire cross, the other the same breed, but white with wool on its face, both weighing about 95 pounds. Brianne will show them all spring before selling them to kids who can show them at the county fair. Sheep come and go on this farm. Some are shown, some are sold and some are butchered to feed a mom and a daughter. It is the heart of this place and its owners.
As I start for the house I turn back and look at the barn, the coop, the sheep, the new vegetable beds ready to be filled and the partially built duck and turkey runs. I hear Sophia rattling around in the barn, the hens cooing in their nests and the roosters settling in high in the rafters. I hear the lambs chew their cuds. The moon watches all this too. I smile.
I think about spring and know it will be here all too soon. But, I also know that chores under a full moon are a gift of winter and I am pleasured by it. I continue to the house thankful for the soft glow of a warming fire and the big pot of soup that awaits.
The storm can rage all it wants now, for the farm and its owners are warm and safe and fed.