Thursday, December 18, 2008

Su Casa magazine article

The article on our place for Su Casa is now online and will be on the newsstands on Monday. You can see it here:

Su Casa Article

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Recent photos and the winter routine

I just uploaded the most recent batch of photos from the camera so I figured it was time for another blog post. I took this one of the pantry a few weeks ago to document the season's canning efforts before I cut into them too much. The shelves hold jars two rows thick so there is actually at least twice as much as you can see here. I have jam, pickles, relish, ketchup, paste, whole tomatoes, salsas rojo and verde, BBQ sauce, chicken stock, and chicken pieces here. It was definitely my biggest canning season yet.

Here is the winter setup for the hoofstock. The carport in the foreground was our summer shelter for chicken processing, but soon we will build a stanchion into it and it will be the milking area when Chloe calves in early March (hopefully). The carports in the background are for hay storage. We keep the animals in this area overnight and for feeding and watering, but let them out during the day into one of the larger paddocks so they can get some space. We currently have 18 sheep and 5 cattle. The area where they are fed, watered, and kept overnight will be gardens next year. No manure spreading for us, thank you very much.

And we are now finally getting the greenhouse built! It is going to be 64x24 feet and we hope to have it ready for early Spring crops.

This was just pretty so I snapped a photo.

We filled the pond in the front yard for the first time and invited the geese and ducks for a swim. They LOVE it!!! Unfortunately they have been digging into the sides and collapsing them so we need to rethink it a bit before we invite them back, but for a while it was great goose and duck TV out the front window.

We have an abundance of lamb meat this winter. Here is a nice souvlaki that I made with some lamb sirloin recently (cooked on the grill, just in the pan for serving).

Other than that we are in a holding pattern at the moment, and grateful for our health, friends, and family.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Blessed Unrest

Thank you to my new friend who I met last night and shared this wisdom with me, and thank you Martha Graham: (and how did I get this far without ever hearing this before?)

"There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique.... You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others."

~ Martha Graham to Agnes DeMille

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Dear President-Elect Obama

I have a confession to make. I did not knock on any doors or make any phone calls on your behalf. When I received phone calls to volunteer for your campaign I politely declined. Instead I spent the last days of this election harvesting the remainder of this summer's crop on our small family farm, planting my winter garden, and caring for the livestock that promise meat, eggs, and milk for my family. You see, over the last eight years I have become so frustrated, disappointed, and angry with the direction of this country that I saw little reason to spend any more time holding signs, writing letters, and making phone calls.

After 9/11 my husband and I, with the support of our families, decided to move onto his father's 10 acre family farm and build a sustainable home. We were terribly concerned about the grossly unbalanced consumption of resources that occurs here in America, the effect that consumption has on our planet, and the future we were creating for our children. We hatched a plan to build our own energy efficient home of straw bales and earthen plaster, using recycled and reclaimed materials whenever possible. We planned to grow the majority of our own food without the use of harmful chemicals and fertilizers. We resolved to raise our own animals for meat, outdoors with plenty of space, and to slaughter them humanely. We installed solar panels instead of connecting to the electrical grid, choosing instead to be mindful of our energy consumption. We planned carefully to conserve water. We planted trees and berries, reclaimed pastures for sheep and cows, and learned how to grow and preserve our own food. This all took an enormous amount of work and sacrifice, and there were many times we wanted to give up. We didn't give up because we felt strongly that what we were doing was the right thing to do and it was our responsibility as citizens of this planet.

Meanwhile, all around us we saw further destruction of our planet and nation, abuse and pillage of our precious resources, more and bigger houses being built, larger and more consumptive cars on the roads, the illegal war that asked us to sacrifice our most precious resource of all, stolen elections, torture, and a government and a people who seemed unable, unwilling, or too distracted to do anything about it. We saw the price of fossil fuels, building materials, and food skyrocket, and we soon realized that what began as the right thing to do was becoming a matter of great financial importance to our family. We doubled our efforts and worked harder than ever to develop our homestead with a renewed sense of urgency. We became much more selfish with our time, choosing to put everything we had into our mission of sustainability. With any time we could spare we shared what we have learned with others. Rather than volunteer for campaigns, we strengthened our bonds with family, friends, and neighbors. In short, we moved away from politics and towards community building. We were no longer primarily motivated by what was the right thing to do. In fact, by the end of October 2008 we were motivated by sheer survival.

Yesterday we contributed to your campaign in the only way we felt we could spare. We voted. And something started to shift. Through all the disillusionment and cynicism I started to feel something strange welling up inside my chest. Was it, could it be.....hope? I hardly dared to believe it, but there it was. I felt hopeful that maybe we as a nation could change after all. I found myself glued to the television, watching the returns come in and reminding myself that I have been disappointed so many times before. I watched the disgust on our local news anchor's face as he announced a Democratic sweep of our state and marveled at how anyone could want things to stay the same. And when it was finally announced that you would be our next president I was overwhelmed with emotion. Seeing that crowd in Grant Park in my hometown of Chicago just blew me away. You have shown us that politics and community building can be one and the same. If nothing else, your election is evidence that we can change.

So I implore you now--please, please don't waste this opportunity. Unlike your predecessor, you seem to have the ability and the desire to understand the great problems that we face. Please don't let your party fall back into politics as usual. Please learn all you can about peak oil and our economy that is utterly dependent on cheap and abundant oil. Help those of us who are taking steps toward a new, local economy rather than helping big business try to obliterate us through unfair legislation that hurts small businesses and farms and gives breaks to the big ones. Unwind all the red tape that your party likes to entangle us in so that small farmers can sell their products directly to consumers in their neighborhoods. Make it easier for people to build their own homes out of alternative materials without fighting the building and zoning office. Restore the rail system in this country. Help us to rebuild our communities, our mom and pop stores, our local infrastructure, and ask us all to grow tomatoes on our balconies, shop at the farmer's market, or keep a few backyard chickens. Make it not only legal to do so but make that the new patriotism. Be a new kind of Democrat and a new kind of leader. Ask us to help. We are willing. I might even start writing letters to my representatives and knocking on doors again.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Catch-up time!

****Scotty has a new (to him) train set but requires supervision and help with it. We are out in the shop with the trains and I'm going to use this time to try to recap the last six weeks here in one post.****

First and foremost on our minds has been the economic situation and we have spent much time thinking about it, discussing it, and figuring out ways to prepare. I hope you all took my advice from my last post and visited and watched his crash course on the economy. He has finished it now so it is worth visiting again if you haven't already.

Needless to say we have been very busy as always. Here is a load of 100 bales of hay that Scott cut and baled out of one of our paddocks at the end of September. Scott and I loaded and unloaded each and every one!

Much of the last part of September involved getting ready for things. On Oct 1 we had a class of around 40 extension agent trainees from all around the West and Midwest come to the farm to learn about sustainable farming and to practice their curriculum which involved advising small farmers on techniques such as managed intensive grazing. Stuff like this always results in a last-minute cleaning frenzy around here, but it was nice to have them here and we got some good advice and input.

Then there was another frenzy to get ready for our fall festival. We had debated whether to do it or not and we fussed over what date to pick, but we finally settled on doing it October 5. October is usually a very safe bet around here with regard to the weather, but Murphy's law won out and as it happened (now that it's the end of the month) the only rain we got this entire month began on the evening of Oct 4 and lasted for 24 hours! So our fall festival was cold and rainy while the rest of the month has been glorious. Oh well, we went ahead anyhow and it turned out to be a great time.

The night before we had Sylvia's family down to help us get ready. One of the biggest projects was to dig a big hole in the ground into which we built a big fire. We lined the hole with rocks and bricks and kept the fire going all night. Early on the morning of the festival we stuck a huge turkey, two chickens, and a leg of lamb (all from the farm) in the hole and buried it all in there to cook all day.

Sylvia's oldest son Will was a big help and he actually slept outside in the rain (under cover) to tend the fire, which we had to shelter with some sheet metal against the drenching rain.

I stayed up late getting all the meat ready. Will and Chris helped me with the turkey, which was probably 40lbs (that's what we get for procrastination). After sticking some herbs and garlic under the skin, we wrapped it in several layers of chard, collards, sunflower leaves, and corn leaves, followed by a tight wrapping of chicken wire. The entire bundle was then lowered into the pit the next morning.

This photo shows the turkey before it got its top layer of leaves. The water jugs are there to keep the chicken wire from rolling up. The turkey was so big we had to work on the kitchen floor!
Later it was just me, my glass of wine, and the rest of the meat. I decided that chicken wire would be overkill for the chicken and lamb, so I just wrapped those in leaves and foil. The lamb had a nice Moroccan spice rub and I did the chicken Greek style, with lemon, butter, olive oil, and oregano.

Despite the rain, which had made everything cold and muddy, we still had a great time and the food was amazing! A couple of people told me that it had been the best chicken and turkey they had ever eaten. That's the way to cook a big turkey all right!

After we dug out the meat we filled in the hole a bit and built another fire to keep us warm. Look at that tall corn in the background! We had planned to do a corn maze for the kids but the whole cornfield was a muddy mess. Oh well, maybe next year.

I didn't get any photos of the finished meat but there were no complaints!

Later in the afternoon the sun peeked through a few times and we had a couple of short downpours. Still, we managed to have a wool spinning demonstration thanks to our friend Megan.

Here are two beautiful skeins of Navajo-Churro wool that Megan has spun. The lighter one is from one of our fleeces!
The fall festival would not be complete without steaming up the tractor! They tried to move it but it got stuck in the mud so it ran as a stationary engine. That doesn't diminish its beauty and appeal, however, and it was one of the highlights of the day. And Scotty of course was in steam engine heaven.

Scott used the steam hoist to give rides to the kids in the ore bucket.

We also ran a steam line to the smaller vertical engine which we used to grind corn with the burr mill. The late afternoon sun and cool temperatures made the steam engine a great place to take photos. Credit goes to my mom for these great shots:

So even though it was wet and cold the festival was a success, and one of the highlights of the month. It was good to get our minds off the economy for a few hours (although there was a late-night fireside discussion about it among the lingerers).

After the festival was over it was time to get back to work on harvesting. We butchered our last batch of chickens with the help of our friend Kim. Here we are in our outdoor processing area, complete with a stainless steel sink that we scored at a salvage yard.

We don't have a scalder, so we heat the scald water with a propane weed burner.
We do have a fancy homemade chicken plucker though, which works beautifully. Scott made it from the Whizbang chicken plucker plans. I highly recommend it--what a dream it is compared to hand plucking!

After letting the carcasses chill for a couple of days I cut them up for freezing. That was a lot of work but between the poultry, beef, and lamb from this year we won't be buying meat at all!

We harvested all the corn and we are piling up the 15 ft long stalks to feed to the animals this winter.
I cut a few ears and peeled them to save the husks for tamales. I've never done it before so it will be interesting! We have to wait until the corn dries so we can grind it for the masa. And we have to figure out how to make masa! All in good time.....
One of the big events of the month was Eliza's haircut. She had been resisting having her hair washed and combed for quite some time but with relatives coming to visit and other public events it was really time to come to a solution on her hair. She suggested we cut it shorter which would prevent more tangles but unfortunately she didn't like the results. I think it's absolutely adorable and it has indeed been much easier to maintain. Because we cut off all the old, sun bleached hair it appears much darker now. And the bangs are a big change, but nice because her hair is no longer hanging in her face.
She does like how it looks in this photo of her flying, but otherwise she says she is going to grow it back out. I'm enjoying it while it lasts!

Meanwhile, fall colors appeared and the harvest continued to come in.

Mid-month we had the wonderful pleasure of a visit from "Pa" aka Roy, who is Chris' grandfather on his dad's side. Pa came with friends of his from 8 hours away and we are so grateful to have had the opportunity to show him around the place.

During Pa's visit there was an open house event for a steam locomotive restoration project here in town. It just so happened that Scott's band Holy Water and Whisky were playing at the event, so we all went down for trains and music.
Someone had brought a restored WWII truck which is just like the one Pa drove when he served in the war. The owner of the truck invited him to sit in it and suddenly it was as though Pa was a celebrity! There were five or six people (myself included) with cameras snapping bunches of pictures of Pa in the truck. Pa made us all laugh when he said "it's much more fun this time."

Eliza continues to dislike her haircut, but the rest of us love it! I couldn't stop taking pictures of her.

Maria does the sound for the band.

My mom gets the band's newsletter and had already planned to attend this event--it was great to see her! And you can see in this photo how much work the restoration team still has to do.

To make the day even better, Scotty's best friend Dan and his family joined us as well! Dan's grandpa works on the restoration project so Dan has been down to the site many times. Scotty and Dan enjoyed looking at all the real and model engines on display.


After Pa left we received a wonderful gift from Chris' mom and Barry--a canoe! Chris quickly took advantage of the last of the nice weather to take the kids on a little canoe trip on the river. I had the job of helping to carry the canoe, take photos, and pick them up downriver. They had an absolute blast! The kids swam a bit, they stopped at a sandbar and ran around, and they saw some cool birds and fish. Thank you so much for the canoe!

One week ago my dad arrived, driving his pickup truck from Wisconsin to spend a few days at the farm helping us out. It was great to have him here for such a long visit and we got a lot done! The first couple of days were spent dismantling the tomato, cuke, and bean trellises in the West garden beds as well as rolling up row cover and T-tape. Dad also helped Chris start to lay out the greenhouse foundation and he helped me dig out some old beds and plant them with winter greens. We had a great time and we can't wait for him to come back (and bring Ann with him next time).

Here he is helping Chris pull t-posts with the tractor. Dad got pretty good at hooking and unhooking the chain quickly. They must have pulled 50 posts!

Dad's fallback job over the 5 days that he was here was to shuck corn. We had a huge crop of dent corn this year that we will be drying and grinding. Dad probably shucked 3 or 4 of those wheelbarrows full of corn!

And then just two days ago my new niece was born! Aris Ann joined us on October 27th. My brother and his wife are first time parents and we could not be happier for them. Aris is a little pixie, just 6lb 10oz and she's got little blonde peach fuzz and a porcelain complexion. She is so different from my big, dark babies that I'm just fascinated by her. Welcome, Aris!

Dad was fortunate enough to be here for this birth. This is grandchild number six for my parents. It is also wonderful for us to be able to welcome this new life, because Dad's mom, my grandmother, passed away just a week before Aris was born.

And of course Mom couldn't wait to sing Baa Baa Black Sheep to her new granddaughter.

Which brings us to today! We will be hosting a permaculture class here this weekend so we once again have to get the place picked up but hopefully we will have a period of relative calm after that so we can really work on regrouping after an incredibly busy last 8 months.

Scotty is just thrilled with the train set, which is a combination of trains and tracks from both Chris and my family. Thanks everyone!