Harvesting From the Marsh (or one’s back yard)

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It was the first really warm day yesterday.  Beautiful.  The birds sang and the sun shone truly bright and comforting as I found my way through the foot high brush in the marsh.  Water snaked its way through patches as the large, old willow tree, in all its knowledge of history past hundred years or so, drank steadily and protected the greenery beneath.  Plantain has sprung up.  Used to heal wounds and also as food, it is a welcome sight.  Dandelions grow tall and bush-like, tantalizing me with its toothed leaves and delicious flavors highlighted by the sunny yellow flowers.  Dock rose up in long slender arms and invited me to have some.  It is a powerful blood cleanser, anti-cancer, and healing to the liver, but one wouldn’t know by its mild bite and delicious addition to meals.  Lamb’s Quarters showed shyly between wild grasses.

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Wild strawberry leaves sit between plantain leaves and take me to memories past.  A walk in the woods with my best friend some twenty-four years ago but really a day ago it seems.  We walked and dreamed.  Seventeen years old and filled with hope and certainty that our friendship would stand the tests of time.  We walked without shirts on, unbidden and wild and innocence, in dappled sunlight we walked in carefree youth and joy.  We agreed to meet ten years from the date with our families and walk this way again.  August 11, 2001 came and went as did 2011 and I only wish her great joy and blessings on her path in her own woods.  Strawberries will make a luxurious addition to our salads.

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We walked further, accidentally frightened frogs, and came across the pond.  Looking up into another ancient willow sat four birds.  Large owls sat in statue.  The husband, wife, and two infants, large and downy, flew one by one.  A gift for this fine day of free food and soulful walking.  How great is nature to provide vast amounts of food for us.  Free for the taking, ten times more nutritious than cultivated greens.  Cleansing, and filling, and healing.

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Try wild greens on mixed salad.  Or top pizza before baking.  Roast with potatoes and garlic.  Sauté with bacon and mushrooms.  Make into a smoothie.  Indulge.  Wild greens are actually milder than spinach.  There are many ways to prepare it.  In gratitude is the best way.

Dock has tasty greens.  Harvest the root in fall to make detoxifying extracts.

Dock has tasty greens. Harvest the root in fall to make detoxifying extracts.

Lamb's quarters are found in many back yards proving that weeds can be delicious!

Lamb’s quarters are found in many back yards proving that weeds can be delicious!

Dandelion flowers can be made into jelly or fritters and the greens sautéed, roasted, or eaten fresh.  The roots can be used to make immunity boosting extracts.

Dandelion flowers can be made into jelly or fritters and the greens sautéed, roasted, or eaten fresh. The roots can be used to make immunity boosting extracts.

Cut herbs like plantain with a sharp knife and only take up to one third of what you find.  Be grateful.  It makes the food more nutritious and healing.

Cut herbs like plantain with a sharp knife and only take up to one third of what you find. Be grateful. It makes the food more nutritious and healing.

Owl in tree.

Owl in tree.

Watching owls take flight.

Watching owls take flight.

Rainstorm moving in.

Rainstorm moving in.

Extreme Homesteading (high altitude, freedom, and yoga with frogs)

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Homesteading has become so much more than a lifestyle for us, it has become a part of our very being.  There are apartments with lush carpet and furnaces awaiting, city streets to catch buses on, and jobs that offer weekly paychecks.  Parts of that we miss but not enough to hightail back to it.  When faced with absolute obstacles (such as out of ideas to bring in cash) we just try to pick up a few odd jobs or cut another expense.  We are almost out of expenses to cut.  Which leads us to dreaming about setting up sheds in a mini-village and living there rent free!  We dream of living in warmer places where that would be possible.  High altitude homesteading is not for the meek.  Everything from baking bread, canning, to growing vegetables takes longer and one must know the tricks to succeed at these things.  (A reason I hope my homesteading school will take off!)  So goodness, gracious, why have we actually chosen to live this way?

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What better way to live than to live fully?  We do that every day when we greet the sunrise, when we start the wood stove if needed, when we brew the coffee in the French press and transfer it to a thermos.  When I can sit down and write until the kids shuffle off to work and breakfast is to be made.  Our granddaughter to be dressed.  Doug goes and milks the goat and feeds the animals.  Sometimes Maryjane and I help with chores.  She gathers eggs, helps feed, and pets the sheep.  We check on the ducks and feed the cats.  We strain the milk, pour some of the fresh cream into coffee, and put it in the fridge to cool.

Maryjane had her two large horse toys set up and was milking them last night.  She had me hold one of them so it wouldn’t kick.  Then she pretended to make cheese.  A homesteader at heart, this little girl is picking up so many skills and she is only two!

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I do yoga while looking out across the meadows while an owl looks on from the old willow.  Meditation comes easy with the frogs chirping from the pond.  I place laundry on the line, read books, prepare lunch, straighten the house.  Today we prepare for our first farmer’s market tomorrow.  My book signing is Saturday.  Classes on Sunday.  I play the guitar under the cottonwood.  Maryjane plays in the dirt.

The girls come home from work and we have dinner or sometimes it is just me and Doug.  We play cards, talk, read, write, pray, enjoy the sweetness of home.  We worry, we plan, we pray, we hope.  We make tea.

This year we will try to cut our grocery bill even more by growing, bartering, raising, preserving, and preparing all our own food and drinks.  Our own herbs for cooking and medicine.  We will gather all our own firewood.  I will improve my sewing skills.  We will make our own gifts.  Doug will continue to learn how to build and repair.  We will continue to release what we don’t need, learn to produce what we do.  Maintain our freedom, bask in the pride of a job well done, and live more self-reliantly than ever before.

So why do we work towards extreme homesteading?  Because after the oil lamps are blown out at night and we snuggle into bed, and see the stars through our window, we know there is no other life we want to lead.

Homesteader’s Espresso (off grid ready and fuel for chores)

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We are trying to purchase any desired or needed items to be off-grid ready, non-electric, and well made.  Doug works at a coffee shop in the winter, we enjoy really good coffee, and I do like an occasional espresso in the afternoons.  I researched non-electric espresso makers.  They were pricey and the concept was the same as our non-electric French Press.  Just pour boiling water over coffee grounds!  The containers were smaller and made a more compact, stronger cup, but essentially it was the same.  I poured roughly one cup of water over 4 Tablespoons of good coffee grounds and let it sit for four minutes or so.  Perfect espresso!

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My friend, Nancy (dang, I miss that woman!), taught me to use lemon peel.  She learned it in Italy.  She rubbed the lemon peel on the lip of the cup before taking a sip of the dark, rich drink.  It didn’t sound like it would be a good pairing but it was. A burst of sweet and tart and rich and earthy in one small, timeless sip.  This is best enjoyed on a patio, or under a tree, or with friends.  A little pick-me-up before the second round of farm chores.

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I have been enjoying it on rainy afternoons since the rain just won’t let up, but the past two days it has been sunny during the day and rainy at night, a perfect combination!  Look at how beautiful everything is turning in its electric green and soils filled with life.

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Perhaps summer is coming after all!

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The Little Dairy (a homesteader’s necessity!)

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Every homestead would benefit from a goat.  These dog-sized animals come with mega personality and fun while giving delicious milk for the homestead dairy cupboard along with chocolate milk, cheese, yogurt, cream cheese, and ice cream!  Goats don’t cost much more than a dog does and the investment is paid back in crazy antics (like jumping 360’s off of a pile of tires), snuggles, and food.

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Goats are great with kids and teach them about farming.  There are many cities and counties that allow goats now.  There are many types of goats to choose from ranging from Nigerian Dwarves to Saanens.  Dwarves give one to two quarts a day of rich milk while Saanens and Nubians can give one to two gallons a day!  Not too shabby.

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I love cows but they are hard to sneak into the city and they eat a lot.  Our Isabelle gives more than a gallon a day.  It is illegal to sell raw, nutrient rich, frothy, delicious milk.  However, a share is a good way to help other families receive a bit of milk for themselves. Our shareholders pay a small buy-in fee and a weekly boarding fee which entitles them to a set amount of milk.  So, Isabelle essentially belongs to four families!

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Our household still has plenty for cooking, drinking, and putting into vast amounts of coffee before farm chores.  I also make two pounds of cheese a week.  Today I will make Manchego aged in truffle oil.  I expected to have Elsa in milk too (she is doing great at her new home, by the way) so I was going to use Elsa’s milk for our needs and cheesemaking and Isabelle could supply shares.  But our plans never work out quite like we think!  Isabelle is still giving us all we need and lots of kisses as bonus.

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Goats are one of the only things that pay for themselves on this farm!  They do better in pairs.  Isabelle is a little tired of being followed around by her two month old sheep brothers, adorable as they are.  We traded Isabelle’s doeling for a doeling from Poppy, our friend Jenet’s goat, who is due in a few weeks.  We are hoping for a girl!  Then a little two day old Nubian will join our humble homestead.  If not, then we will be on the lookout for a companion for Isabelle and future milker.

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The other side of having a delightful goat that gives sustenance to a farm is the time involved.  Every day, rain or shine, or blizzard, Isabelle is milked at 8:00 in the morning and 8:00 in the evening.  Every.  Single.  Day.  This halts one’s spur-of-the-moment plans, but it is worth it.

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This year, I have been cutting the rounds of cheese in half so that I have one pound wheels.  One to keep, one to give fine folks that donate to our farm.  I blended white wax with red wax and found it created a lovely pink patina to cover my cheeses with.  I love it.  My favorite color. I think it will be my new thing.

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I simply cannot imagine a homestead without a goat.  A homestead necessity!

Rhubarb Season (canning, old books, and spreadsheets)

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It is time to preserve rhubarb, that delicious late spring necessity, that wonderful tangy addition to pie and toast and sauce.  That perennial that just keeps on giving each and every year.  I need to get a plant.  My new ones didn’t survive the harsh winter but my Great Aunt Donna’s fabulously established ones did!  And she is always so kind to let us harvest and fill our pantry.

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This is a book my grandma gave me.  It is an amazing compilation of how to preserve everything from wine to raccoon.  It is a fun read and filled with mouth watering recipes (not the raccoon).  It covers canning, freezing, dehydrating, wine making, nut storing, and root cellaring.  You can get one of the newer canning books, and that is just fine, but if you see one of these gems in a used book store, grab it!

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Initially when I brought the rhubarb home I made jam and then froze the rest, a whole gallon!  Then I remembered I didn’t want to use up space in the freezer and we are practicing not being reliant on electricity so I pulled it back out and canned it.  I filled four quart jars with the beautiful ruby and green slices, poured over a cup of sugar (it will feel like a ridiculous amount, I assure you, but you won’t need to add any when you put it in a recipe later on) and then boiling water to 1/2 inch from the top.  Water bath can for 15 minutes and 1 minute for every mile above sea level, so mine boiled for 22 minutes.

I will use this to make sauce for ice cream or make it into a pie, crumble, crisp, turnover, or whatever creative recipe I find for it.

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My rhubarb jam set the second time!  As usual, I had to reprocess the whole batch so I wouldn’t have nine jars of syrup.  I added another cup of sugar, another tablespoon of lemon juice and let that boil for a few minutes then added another package of liquid pectin and let it boil for a few more minutes before pouring it into jars and processing it.  I am learning that I need to boil off moisture.  Everything is different here at high altitude and it takes longer to make jam sometimes.  I added ginger, cinnamon, and amaretto and vanilla liquors.  It is a delicious jam!

Now is also the time to get the preserving spreadsheet made for this year before we really get going on preserving.  I know I need a jar of jam every two week (so 26 jars) plus a few to sell and give as gifts.  I made 6 jars of dandelion jelly amd 9 rhubarb so I need a few more batches of something.  I think I will do pumpkin butter this year.  I will also see what is prolific this season.  Next year if the pantry has 15 jars of jam still I will know to cut back next year but without the spreadsheet I will completely forget how much I made!  Reversely, if I run out of jam in February then I know to make more next season.  The spreadsheet really is a very helpful tool!

Happy Canning!

Freezer Camp

“Hi Ho, Hi Ho, off to Freezer Camp we go…!”  The sing song text came over after I told my friend, Jamie, that the roosters lost their jobs.

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The landlords decided that the chickens should stay in their coop and modest enclosure from now on.  The roosters’ jobs were to protect from predators, to sound the alarm should a hawk fly overhead, and to make babies.  Once they all moved into snug quarters they decided their new jobs were to have sex and eat as much of the buffet as they could.  Egg production declined, and food intake went up.  The good looking fellows, I am afraid, had to be laid off.

I used to get so angry when I would read articles in Mother Earth News or other publications about how eating meat was actually better for the environment.  Or studies that eating meat is actually good for you (I still wonder sometimes).  I was a staunch supporter of no killing.  We were vegan, and our children were vegan, and by golly our cats would have been vegan too if we could have found a way!  We published vegan cookbooks and made fun of meat eaters and went to vegan restaurants and were never going to eat a chicken!  Moving to the country changes one’s ideals a bit.

I noticed my country friends had animals they used for meat.  These animals were raised in a happy go lucky place, fed what they were intended to be fed, and killed swiftly, usually without knowledge of the situation.  These animals were not in a factory farm setting.  They did not wallow in filth, in closed-in cages, eating dead animals and genetically modified foods, many never seeing the light of day.  Abuse on the line of murder is common and that side of the meat eating industry is beyond devastating and morally way off base.  But these animals were living a good life and were spared the atrocity of old age.  My old chicken, Laverne, is the saddest to thing to watch.  We could have done her a service by lopping her head off last year and could have put food on the table as a bonus.

I realized that the unending damage of mono-crops, especially soy, was going into a lot of my “healthier” meat alternatives.  That big companies owned these seemingly peaceful veggie companies.  Animals will be killed, just like people, in wars and in natural disasters, by our outlandish cars, by plowing fields for soy beans.  The pastures and rolling plains dotted with cows could not be if we did not support the local rancher.  Food closest to its source has to be far healthier than the unidentifiable ingredients on the packages lining the shelves of the health food store.

My goal is to provide as much food for our table as possible because I will know where it came from, who touched it, no chance of listeria or e-coli here!  So, Christopher Robin and Owl (I really need to stop naming them!) will do their part on this farm.  They snuck by the inspectors at the hatchery, pretended to be girls, came to live at our farm, had a marvelous time, and now will join freezer camp.  Seems fair!

I am thankful that I can live around animals, give them a great life, and provide my own food.  This is the good life.

Farmicure (the newest look in fashion)

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Back when I was a full time model I always had my nails done in a stylish and versatile French manicure.  My face was covered with foundation to even out my skin tone (freckles) and I always had my hair done.  That seems like a different life ago!

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It wasn’t that terribly long ago (okay it was a little while ago), I still look pretty close to the same, am the same size, but now I call myself a Grandma, spend time putzing around the farm instead of a runway, cut my nails short to play the guitar, and have a new manicure.  Dirt under my nails nine months of the year!  The occasional eye makeup put on should my diva side appear but mostly I am au natural.  This is my natural hair color.  Rather boring after all the years of red, but it is what it is.  Freckles, laugh lines, life has been good.  I like this new look.

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