Capturing the Joy of Kids and Summer

We fill our days taking Maryjane here and there.  We always wanted to enjoy summer!  Farmer’s markets, canning, gardening, and farm animals made us so busy we would blink and it would be fall.  We always missed out on that hammock or ice cold drink outside in a lawn chair.  Every day we are out and about enjoying summer since we now have absolutely nothing to do but be grandparents.

We took Maryjane to the park yesterday.  It was a large sweeping park with large playgrounds and rolling grass for soccer games.  Daycare groups and families filled the playgrounds and pavilions.  Maryjane loves children and we watched close as she went from one group of older kids to another.  A low water fountain created a strong stream to fill dog bowls and water bottles.  The children splashed and played and Maryjane stayed near, laughing if the water droplets hit her.

Suddenly a universal scream of glee rose up in a bubble of sound above the park.  A mass exodus ensued as dozens and dozens of children left their posts and began to run downhill.  Maryjane looked around wondering, saw what they saw before we did, and took off running with the mass of children.  The sprinklers were on.

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Can you imagine if adults did that?  What fun!  How do we recapture some of that intense joy of simple things?  Those days in the sun with our sweet granddaughter and walls of screams of laughter and joy help push us on to the next day.  May we all capture that kind of joy!  The next sprinkler I see you will find me in!

Well, off to Rodney’s!  Tomorrow I will write you from Wyoming!

Plans, God’s Laughter, and Ghosts in Utah

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I really need to stop making plans.  For some reason the universe has something magnificent planned for us and apparently none of my plans are fitting into that scheme.  I must follow my gut feeling.  That I have learned.  I must listen to Doug’s too.  There aren’t really any details to share, just that at the end of next week we will officially be vagabonds (aka homeless).  I forgot what plan we were on…plan M or something?  I just know plan A, B, C, D and so on fell treacherously to fate.  Doug always says the old phrase, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”  My school will still be alive and well as it follows me.  But I hate to utter that for fear the universe hears I have a plan!

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We are grateful, for it could be much worse.  Neither of us are ill, no cancers, no injuries.  Our children are great and healthy and alive.  We will be able to keep our cats for the time being.  And we are blessed with many, many great friends.  We are just going to have to take this one day at a time.  There will be many delightful adventures to write about!

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It has been awhile since we have gone on a field trip!  And you readers are going with us!  Our dear, dear friends that you either know or have read about here, Rodney and Pat, offered us a nearly free vacation this weekend.  We are all hitting the road tomorrow for Salt Lake City and you are coming with us!  So pack your bags, we have eating, window shopping, ghost hunting, and sight seeing through northern Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah to do.

We’ll move on to the next great adventure when we get back but this weekend is just for rest, play, and celebration of life and friends!

Unfeathering the Nest

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When I was very young I loved it when I would come home from school and my mother had rearranged my bedroom.  I loved decorations and furnishings even early on.  Fast forward to thirteen years old and you would find me and my best friend, Susan, shopping the antique stores down south Broadway with our babysitting money.  I still have an antique Folgers can in my kitchen from one of our excursions.  I couldn’t wait to decorate my first home.  Off white lace curtains, hand me down furniture, painted walls, my own artwork on the walls.  I have found treasures and trinkets, unique pieces, and have held onto heirlooms from our respective families.  Our home has always been a reflection of our love for cozy quarters and a house full of family and friends.  It is easy to feather a nest.  I have been doing it for thirty years.  How does one unfeather a nest?

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Sometimes we begin to view things as an extension of ourselves.  Something holds a memory.  Something holds a belief.  Something makes us happy to see it.  It is often hard to look at a material item and see it for what it is, wood, nails, paint, metal, glass.  It is not easy to part with things that we have used to decorate our homes, that belonged to our grandmother, that our children gave us, or that we collected over the years on vacations.  So how does one deal with watching each piece leave one by one?  How does one get rid of all of their possessions?  We know some folks have the trauma of natural disaster that does it for them.  I do not know which is harder, having everything gone in one fell swoop, or consciously watching each piece walk out the door.  Here are some tips I have learned to downsize one’s possessions.

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1. Realize that the memory associated or the person it reminds you of does not leave with the piece.  You will still remember great grandma’s smiling face at the door, the cruise on your honeymoon, your child in second grade.  Getting rid of yearbooks and old drawings and awards and journals and clothes and furniture does not take away anything from your life history, memories, or people in your life.  Detach the memory from the piece and you will just see another item that will eventually deteriorate.

2. Imagine the item torn or broken.  I have Doug’s grandmother’s watch.  I bet it is eighty years old.  It is beautiful and intricate and worthless.  It does not work, it cannot be repaired, then when dropped accidentally the face fell off.  It no longer looked intricate or beautiful.  It was just a paper face.  If the leg broke off a table, would it still be valuable to you?  Envision things as broken and see if they still hold a place in your heart.

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3. Imagine moving all that stuff!  We helped our friends move out of another friend’s home.  That latter friend has to fix his home up to sell.  Many, many years of accumulated items clutter the yard and home.  I do not know how he will do it.  The land we are on now holds a collection of discarded items that once held value and now look like a giant dump!  Things break, they rust, they deteriorate, they are just things.  When Doug’s grandmother died no one wanted any of her things.  It became a burden for those involved to empty her apartment.  It is hard for those left behind to sort and try to give away everything that the person in life held dear.  The material items do not hold the same memories to the ones trying to clean up the accumulation of things.

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4. What is the actual value of an item?  I paid $300 the gorgeous New Mexican style armoire that held our television.   It is a heavy, sturdy piece in great condition.  I have it for sale for a hundred dollars and no one wants it.  I thought I would get $10,000 for all of our antique collections, farm implements, animals, collectables, fine china, heirlooms, and stuff.  Closer to $2000 will be the final number.

Material items are really worthless.  Using just what we need and releasing attachments to finite items can help unfeather the nest.  It makes it easy for the next generation to sort our things when we pass away, leaves us with less housework and burdens, and gives us more freedom.  The real treasures are the lives that share ours; our cats, friends, children, neighbors, wildlife, people, they are what is important, not an antique Folgers can.

Building With Cob (a Basic How-To)

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Yesterday I took you with me to tour an enchanting homestead belonging to my friends, Niko and Brandi and their lovely girls.  Niko is a cobb builder by trade.  He owns the Colorado Cob Company.  He can build anything from a chicken coop to a two story house.  I’ll give you all of his information at the end so you can contact him to make you something wonderful for your homestead.

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These aren’t precise directions since I was talking with folks the whole time I was there but I was so intrigued by this form of building.  If you have been following my writings for some time you know that Doug and I have a great love of New Mexico and adobe structures.  Adobe is made by taking this same formulation and drying it in large bricks.  Cob is more freeform.

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Niko started with a 5 gallon bucket of clay that he sourced from a job site in town where someone was digging out a basement.  He added a 5 gallon bucket of sand (purchased and salvaged off of craigslist from the flooding in the area last year).

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The mix was sifted by hand to eliminate any large clumps or foreign objects like glass or nails.

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One person on each side shook the tarp, folded it, stepped on it quickly and then the next person would fold it, give it a stomp until it was combined.

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Then the fun began.  A well was made in the center of the dirt and water from the hose added to the middle.  Then children and adults alike stomped in the mud to create a pudding like consistency.

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More water was added and a person on each side repeated the process of folding and stomping.

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They did this until the form freely fell away from the tarp and looked like a burrito!  Doug and Chris were on the other side of the crowd chatting.  I could just see the ideas over yonder bubbling from them.  It will be great fun building our chicken coop and bread oven and whatever else they dream up.

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Straw was added in fine layers so not to allow clumps and this too was stomped in.  This creates a network of strength throughout the clay and sand medium.

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The children had so much fun blending with their feet.  The mix is done when straw can be seen in any clump that is taken off but no thick masses of straw.  It must be all well combined.

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The cob is added over a heavy foundation of large stones and then can be blended over wood outlines and mesh.  For an example he used a large stone by the garden.  Folks helped to blend balls of clay on top of each other using a slip if necessary to moisten and bits of straw to help blend.  A stick can be employed to help blend two masses together.  They created a fun little cat goddess.  The entire batch only made the cat goddess about a foot and half high.  So for large projects a cement mixer or other large piece of machinery may be used.

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The cob is left to dry a few days then a plaster is added.  A five gallon bucket of slip (a blend of clay and water to make a thin paint-like consistency and left to sit for two weeks stirring daily) is poured through two screens into a container.  A shovel is used to sift it though the strainers.

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Sand is then sifted through a screen and once a five gallon bucket’s worth is sifted it is added to the slip mixture in the container.

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A five gallon bucket of horse manure is added to the mix.  Shovels and a giant mixer is used to blend it into plaster.

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Niko through a ball of the plaster against the house as a demonstration of its solidity.

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This will be added to the cob structure to create a more protected structure.

Cob building is a project that allows the homesteader to make affordable structures that are unique and artistic.  But also allows the participant to play in the mud!

Colorado Cob Company (click name to be taken to website)

Nikolai Woolf

719-510-7566

He also offers classes and hands on workshops for any sized project!

The Enchanting Urban Homestead (a field trip, class, and future)

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Farmgirl school is supposed to be uplifting, inspirational, and full of fun and hope.  It is also about our life so I suppose not everything can be as such but I inadvertently caused a storm of emotions for many people across the continent and beyond in empathy for us.  We want you to know that we just do not have the extra strength or energy it would take to rip out the wood stove, pipes, fittings and fix the ceiling at this point.  We have no emotional attachment to the stove.  Our hundreds of plants will feed the local wildlife and a lot of hungry girl scouts that are coming Monday to take home a transplant since they helped create the garden in the first place!  We are not sad over these things any longer.  With the encroaching wind mills and the negativity here we are more than ready to head out on our next journey.  So let’s get back to the inspiration and hope part of this blog!  Yesterday we visited a lovely urban homestead that was so enchanting and complete that I am ready to get back into the city.  We were there taking a cob building class to make outdoor structures.  Doug and Chris will be creating a chicken coop, bread oven, and who knows what else!  Tomorrow I will take you through our class to learn to make cob.  But today I want to take you through the enchanted homestead of my friend, Niko and his wife, Brandi at Folkways Farm.  

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It wasn’t very long ago that I wrote a blog post about Old Colorado City (which is a bike ride away from where we are going to live) and that is where we headed this fine evening.  I met Niko three years ago when Joel Salatin came to speak at a local farm.  He sat with me and Nancy and we talked all things homesteading, about his family, his work as a cobb builder, and we told him about our adventures in homesteading.  I later ran into him building a yurt with our friend when we went to visit the goat she bought from us, and then at the homesteading store, and then…well, you get the picture.  We were meant to meet.

His beautiful wife held their youngest daughter on her hip and spoke freely with the guests.  His middle daughter came up to me and took me with her on a tour of the “forest” where a silent cat lay secretly in the high weeds below trees.  They are easy people, barefoot, comfortable in their surroundings and self and I was instantly drawn to them.

They have created an oasis in town, a secret place of sustenance and wealth.  Herb gardens, Permaculture gardens of food, honey bees, goats, a shed-barn, and places to get lost and read or dream or be.  The plot of land is about the same size as the one we are moving to and I was so inspired and overwhelmed with ideas and joy.

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The cob structures look to be out of a fairy tale.  A sweet chicken coop stands off the back porch.  Another is a bit more elaborate and whimsical.  It is a chicken coop with a bread oven on the side.  One could start a fire in the cooking area to heat the coop on the coldest nights while making some delicious thin crust pizzas.  A door on the other side lets the chickens out to wander a closed in area that felt roomy and lush.  A towering apple tree above provided shade.

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The greenhouse built in the back yard was a structure of fine art and skill, a transporting place out of the cold.  A place for tea and books in autumn and a place to grow starts in the spring.  All made from reclaimed windows, mesh, wood, straw, clay, sand, water, manure, and painted with beautiful slips.  Niko is an artist above being a builder.

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One can meander from the front herb garden, past the vegetable gardens, visit the bees, duck under the apple tree, wade through weeds and medicinal herbs, follow a path past the goat yard, past bins of delicious compost, a pile of wood, the beautiful green house, wave to the chickens, pass the hemp plants growing tall for fiber, onto the back porch to sit a spell, and visit with the kind family that lives there.

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I spoke with Jillian at the end of the class.  She wanted to make sure that I considered our new venture to be our homestead. I asked what if we jumped forward fifty years and there we still were and her then much older daughter would mention to visitors that her crazy aunt lives in the back.  “That would be fine,” Jillian replied.

And so begins our urban farm adventure.

Winds of Change

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The warm wind blew around me foretelling a light rain to come.  The mosquitos lessened and took cover as I pulled bindweed and thistle.  I don’t know why I would be weeding a garden that I cannot harvest from but I looked down the other day and noticed my nails were clean.  The lines in my hands were free of earth.  I had to get back into the garden.  I pulled weeds and counted what was growing.  Rows and rows of crops are waving proudly in the prairie soil.  Plants growing heartily in the prairie without much amendment and among weeds and voles.  My goodness, I think I can say I have a green thumb now.  How easy it will be in the city.  I begin to cry.  The cows are lowing loudly to capture the attention of the males across the road and the owls sweep grandly from tree to tree and the wind carries on it the sweet smell of first cut hay drying in the sun.  The country holds a place in my heart that cannot be tethered.  But it is not meant to be for us now.

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There are great opportunities in the city as well.  Wonderful folks to meet and wilder animals coming through from the mountains.  Its own beautiful scenery and friends to be found.  And seeds.  I can always plant seeds.  A message from a friend and I now understand.  It is sometimes hard to step off and go with the wind in a new direction but there is always a reason and the Creator knows where we are going in this sliver of time.  We just have to hold on to the tailwind and be on our way.

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Farmgirl School Part 3 (cottages, mountains, and Permaculture)

Doug holding one of the cows we were treating

Farmgirl School began while looking out the French doors onto a barren back yard in a small town.  Two dogs slept behind me as I set up the WordPress site.  What to name it?  It seemed perfect.  I needed a school!  Things that we were not taught growing up in the city were difficult to learn, we often did it the hard way, and the adventures were funny and informative to write about.  Our first garden there was short and compact.  We didn’t water enough.  By the third summer there we were quite a spectacle when folks drove down the main road in front of our house.  There we were among honey bees, watering the expansive pumpkin patches along with all the other vegetables that had taken over the yard.  The corn field in the driveway, the raised beds, the chicken in the front yard that wasn’t supposed to be there, the goats in the back yard.  The ducks playing in their pool.  It was quite a blissful place there in town.

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Last fall we moved to a homestead without heat, without any luxuries, and made our way chopping wood, hauling water, taking care of sheep, goats, and chickens.  We worked and toiled through hail and cold to put in a half an acre garden, and donned our accomplishments with peace and pride.  So the delusional insinuations and the suddenly suburb-same rent was a blessing, it turns out. (As these things always do.)  The most we lost was all of our money and a tiny piece of our sanity.  As I write a looming picture comes to view, a futuresque, Tim Burton style Holland appears all across the horizon, and amazingly close to this property, a windmill farm threatens my beautiful owls and the equilibrium of the occupants in this area.  Well, the lessons we learned here were great.  We realize that nature provides.  A willow tree can provide food at its base, water nearby, medicine in its branches, and shelter from storms.  And it turns out we didn’t need so much stuff!  The owners of this property will be gifted with the lovely wood stove we put in and a half an acre of food.  I hope it blesses them and that they will find happiness.

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And now we are off to Part 3 of Farmgirl school.  I felt suddenly saddened that I may not have anything else to write about, that our farming, homesteading, living sustainably, poetical outlet was finished.  This blog seems to be a bit of a life force for me.  I so look forward to waking with the sun to write about our adventures, to teach, to learn from readers, to ignite friendships around the world.  And I am so pleased to announce our next step of this adventure.

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Remember in January when the house was forty-five degrees and we could see our breath because the wood cook stove in the kitchen didn’t actually heat the house?  We escaped to the Indian Hot Springs that day in the mountains and soaked in the warm pool.  There were two girls there that just seemed like light filled spirits and I had to go tell them how lovely they were.  One of the ladies, Jillian, contacted me a few months later and signed up for the herbalism course.  Each week I see her and when it was apparent we had to leave here she had a brilliant idea that she and her husband, Chris, pitched to me and Doug over drinks on a patio of a historic hotel at the base of Pikes Peak.  A co-homestead.

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They close on a bed and breakfast in Manitou Springs in three weeks.  The beautiful old inn is a smiling Victorian in town with a wee cottage in back.  One room will be available through Air B&B on weekends.  They will inhabit the upstairs and most of the downstairs.  A large area with a classroom is being set up for our respective classes.  We can see a large blackboard with that week’s specials on it that Jillian and I lovingly prepare en masse once a week in the larger kitchen.  She is a baker and a great cook.  You all already know my obsessions with great food and cooking techniques.  Perhaps I will finish that Sommelier Certification.  We have great plans for feeding our families.  A large root cellar and pantry downstairs will hold our hundreds of preserved foods and root cellared items.  We will don our aprons and create sustenance for winter.

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The men are heading to a cobb making workshop Thursday to learn to build an outdoor kitchen, bread oven, and hobbit style chicken coop.  They are planning the infrastructure of the new urban farm.  Chris is planning a party where the local experts on Permaculture and sustainable gardening come and mingle and note where things might work well in the new garden to be.  The large u-shaped driveway will become a meandering, lush oasis of food and teaching.  We can glean knowledge from these folks that have done this before and then take our own ideas and create this garden complete with a greenhouse (and possibly a solar heated hot tub within!).  The three of us have taken Permaculture classes but need to just put it into place with our hands.  They have learned more than I and I am excited to have new teachers all around me.

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The cottage is three hundred square feet.  It is, um, quaint.  And enchanting, and challenging, and cozy.  A Snow White cottage in the middle of town surrounded by trees and lilacs.  It’s pink, and has shutters, and window boxes.  It is the playhouse I always wanted!

Half a block away is the main strip of shops and restaurants in this historic town that nestles at the base of our favorite mountain.  My great, great, great uncle was Zebulon Pike and my adventurous spirit comes from the lines of pioneers before me!

We will be warm this winter.  We will be visiting farmer’s markets, preserving food, getting honey bees, creating a Permaculture garden, ponds, and a greenhouse.  We’ll have an outdoor kitchen, a traditional horno, chickens, ducks, and herb gardens galore.  We will be co-homesteading, proving that it can work, sharing the load, and creating an oasis here that will inspire and sustain.  Their sweet daughter, Ahna, can enjoy the security and serenity of this place, and Maryjane will be with me two or three days a week where she will be doted on and taught by a whole new family of people.

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I changed the name of my herbal school to Sacred Owl School of Original Medicine and will teach classes there.  I’ll tell you more about that later.  We are brimming with ideas and excitement for this new venture.  Even though this place is incredibly breathtakingly beautiful, it seems to always be in a fog, always windy, colder than town, and not really our home after all.

I raise my coffee cup to you, here’s to new adventures on the journey ahead.  Thanks for reading and I can’t wait to see what we will all learn next in Farmgirl School!