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Going to Seed…

Friday, May 20th, 2011

These emerald green days are hard to resist.  I could, and maybe should be inside doing any number of things; cooking, cleaning, organizing, responding to emails, paying bills, etc.  But the pull of fresh spring air and bright green grass is too tempting.  So, here we are, outside hiking the hills above our little house.  How lucky can I be?

My dad has been here for the past couple weeks, and it has been great.  He helps out with the kiddos, and takes me out to dinner a lot.  It's a real treat.  He loves his grand dudes so much, and I'm very thankful for it.

I am standing by my DIY sentiment I mentioned in this post.  I made bread in the bread maker my dad brought me!  I also made granola bars.  Both turned out fabulously.  I have to say, the bread maker rocks.  It isn't essential if you are an occasional bread maker.  But, if you are looking to cut costs by making your bread instead of ever purchasing it, and you are a busy person like me, the bread maker rules.  It's fast, easy, and can be left to do it's thing without you having to be present.

And the granola bars are really, really good.  I got the recipe here.  The good store bought kind are crazy expensive.  So, I know I'm saving a lot of money by making my own.  I'm hoping to get really technical soon, and actually calculate how much money it costs to make these things, as compared to buying them.  Maybe I'll plan a trip with all the money we save.  Or, buy a  new toilet, which is what we really need.  Uggh.

We have been doing a lot of fishing with Grandpa Eric.  We went to Harper's Lake yesterday, which is a great lake for kids fishing.  Although we did not catch anything, it was still pleasant.  Apparently, they stock the lake with trout quite often, and if you call ahead and figure out the day that they stock it, it pretty much guarantees at least one successful catch.  And, although this might seem like cheating, I'm inclined to do it.  Asa was so hell bent on catching a fish, when we had to leave, he was uproariously upset.  It sucked.  I felt bad for him too.

I've been in serious production mode, because we are going to be in the Missoula Made Fair.  It is going to require a lot time and energy, but I'm psyched to be doing it!

Happy Weekending!

keepin’ it cheap

Monday, May 9th, 2011

I'm challenging myself to try to make as many things that we need as possible.  Especially things that are ridiculously expensive.  Some items I have in mind are crackers, bread, granola, graham crackers, vegetables, date books, blank books for my kids, and rugs.  I've already started on the rugs, actually.

This scrappy mess is an almost complete rug made from ripped up t-shirts.  I started it 10 years ago.  I have lost it in storage for years at a time, working on it here and there.  And, now it is finally almost complete.

The first job I ever had in Missoula was at The Black Dog restaurant, and I wore my Black Dog t-shirt around town while meeting people who have changed my life.  I fell in love with Missoula while wearing that shirt.

There are also some Big Dipper t-shirts mixed in there, another job I had in Missoula with big memories for me.  Some band t-shirts, a Zapatista inspired rebel t-shirt that I got in San Cristobal, Mexico.  Oh, the memories. And now they all reside in this rug that I plan to put somewhere in our house.

I couldn't stand the idea of giving these t- shirts to goodwill, they held too many memories, but I also didn't have the space in my drawers and closets to store them any longer.  So, why not make a rug out of them?  And...

This rug is made from bed sheets that I dyed different colors and then crocheted using a huge hook.  This is a great way to get rid of stained, or worn thin bed sheets.  You could also tear up old clothing made of woven fabric, like mens dress shirts, or skirts, etc.

Next on my list are date books and blank books for the kids, made from old cereal boxes and scrap paper.

Happy Monday!


Some things of beauty…

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

We have been up to our ears in stuff to do lately, and right as this crazy season has come to its peak, the boys and I left town!  We left Andy to tend to the Homestead on his own.  He dehydrated, pickled, canned, steam-juiced, and brewed lots of tasty morsels and beverages.

Before we left we helped him pick a bunch of apples from a neglected tree in town.  He's using these apples in particular for hard cider.  He's made it before, and it is the perfect combo of dry, slightly sweet, apple-y effervescence.  Hopefully this batch turns out just as good.

Axel is so homestead.  He was born here on the floor of our living room.  He has eaten homestead dirt, played in the galvanized steel tub under the water pump, consumed plenty of fruit that has fallen off trees here in the orchard, chased chickens, hiked trails, played in the Moon Cabin, explored the root cellar, dug in the garden.  He has played here almost every day of his life.  This is what he knows, and I think that is so cool.  And, so homestead.

Asa appreciates the Homestead with a wider perspective than his brother's.  He remembers living in a neighborhood, with neighbors close by.  He remembers having his own room, probably, even though he didn't sleep in it.  He understands that most places have modern plumbing, with flushable toilets, and a seemingly endless supply of water to do fun things with, like bathe everyday, or run in the sprinklers.  But he doesn't complain about not having these things.  He has decided to embrace this for the adventure that it is, I think.  Because he is always up for an adventure.  I think the Homestead has definitely become home for him.  He loves it for its complexity, and freedom.  And so do I.

Brothers.

The goats and sheep are heading back to their winter home soon.  We are going to miss them.  The Homestead is going to be a less poopy, furry, noisy place, slightly less demanding, until next spring, when they will all come back to do it all over again.  At least we will still have the chickens, and the cat.

Asa and Axel found another skull.  I think this may be a sheep skull from last year.  They are fascinated with bones, skulls, and creepy stuff in general.  I used to tend to avoid bones and cadavers while walking around.  I didn't feel the need to pick them up and examine them,  probably because I was taught that they were gross. But having boys has opened to me up a whole world of things I didn't used to do.  It's awesome.

Apples are on the trees in late summer, just like they have been every late summer for 120 years.

Another familiar image in late summer here in Montana.  A smoke-covered fuchsia sun.  Beautiful.

A little this, and a little that…

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

It is hard to believe we are nearing the end of summer.  It just doesn't seem possible!  But, alas, the wind is smelling just a tiny bit different.  Apples are on the trees, cherries have been picked, moths are out in droves, and rainy thunderstorms are sweeping through.  I freakin' love it!

I was begging for summer so hard during February and March, just wanting some life after our long frozen winter.  I wanted so badly to be able to run outside without coats, and stay outside ALL DAY LONG.  And, that is just what we have been doing, as much as we can.  But, I'm getting tired.  I'm looking through knitting and sewing books, planning my winter projects.

And, as much as I don't really want to admit it, after all the complaining I do during the winter,  I am just about ready for Fall.  Inch by inch, I feel it coming on.  Fall harvest, leaves dropping, pumpkins, apples, wind, darker earlier in the evening, cider, baking, knitting, sewing.  Oh, and, the young bucks are growing fuzzy antlers, even though they still look way too young to be sporting such grown up attributes. sigh.


Beautiful road to Randolph/Waterworks hill.  I run along this as many mornings as I can, which is far fewer than I would like.

Lovely August evening.  Trying to take it all in before it all turns brown and gray. The August rains have been helping!

My handsome men.  Aren't they a good lookin' bunch?

*side note*

I have been wanting to find a dress pattern that has big pockets, because, being a farm lady, I need pockets.  I came across this on Farmama.  Perfect.  It looks like a vintage pattern, so, I'm not sure of it's accessibility.  But I'm gonna try to find something like it anyway.  Any suggestions out there?

We have been trying like crazy to use up all of the pounds of food our great garden is producing.  I am currently baking zucchini bread.  It's 11:22 pm.  What have you been making?



snakes and water…

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Here are some tidbits of unrelated subjects.  The first being snakes.  We saw a big gopher snake slowly making its way across the gravel road  during the late morning hours.  It was still a bit cold, so the snake was moving slowly, which made it really easy to check it out for a good  long while.

I mainly wanted to post these pictures because  I can't get enough of seeing Axel in the wizard hat, which as an added bonus helps render snakes spellbound and motionless. The little dude is so cute these days.  That fine, wispy hair in the sunlight, all aglow.  Magical.

*Now for some unrelated information about our water situation up here on the 'Stead. *

Water is a big issue around these parts.  We don't have a well, and aren't hooked up to city water.  We have two cisterns (just huge underground plastic tanks, really) that can be filled by two means.  The first is a capture system on our house, whereby our gutters drain into a big rain barrel hooked up to a hose that drains into one of the cisterns.  This system is awesome--when it rains.  But by July it isn't raining much, and we are using more water during these growing season months. In addition to bathing (more frequently in the dusty summer months), we have tomatoes, herbs, native plants and raspberry bushes in the yard to take care of.

So: the other way we get water is by filling our big 1960 Chevy Apache water truck, donated to the Homestead by Parks and Rec.  We take it down to Parks and Rec HQ across town, fill it up, drive it back and fill the cistern(s) with it. The one by the orchard has to be topped off several times a summer because of all the thirsty sheep and goats, and there isn't a roof nearby as suited to efficient water capture as the one on the caretaker cabin.

I guess I should say Andy does all this.  I have never tried to drive that massive beast down our winding  road.  But I am prepared to someday if push comes to shove.  I'll let you know if that happens. I did get to ride in the Apache for the first time recently, when we took an uncharacteristic family spin down the hill in it for the benefit of Sunset magazine photographer Andy Geiger. The kids thought that was about the best thing ever.

Because water comes with a real price in labor for us, we are really aware of our usage.  We don't have a flushable toilet; we use a composting toilet.  We NEVER open up the tap and let it run, even when bathing.  Instead we turn on the water long enough to rinse our bodies, then turn the water off, lather up, and then turn it back on and rinse quickly: "navy showers," as they say. Or rather navy squats: We don't have a stand-up shower, just an old bear claw bathtub that we crouch in.  After bathing, we use the left over bathwater to put on front yard plants.  The same goes for old dish water.

Recently, Andy had the brilliant idea of parking the Apache uphill in the orchard [not really all that brilliant, sweetie: it's only been staring us in the face for three years!--Andy] and hooking up a hose to it, letting gravity do most of the work.  It still takes some time to give everything a good soak, but not nearly as much time or effort as hand pumping requires. Plus it's easier to drink a beer when you're only standing around holding a hose instead of pumping, lugging, pouring into watering cans, sprinkling...pumping, lugging, pouring, sprinkling...

We need to bathe so much more in the summer because we are playing in dirt all day, and, of course, sweating.  Fortunately we live in Montana , where there is cold stuff aplenty to jump in.  We end up visiting a river, creek, or lake nearly every day to cool down and rinse some of the dirt off.  We are lucky in that to be sure.  Sometimes we'll settle for a quick trip to the splash deck at Spaceman Park for a bucket of water or two over the head.  It's chlorinated, which I like to see as a positive thing, as it does a better job of really washing off the grime.  The other kids playing around us look at us a little funny as we furtively scrub and rinse, but oh well. Buncha soft city kids, as Andy likes to say, half-joking.

When I visit other homes that are tapped into city water, I see the unabashed use of water all day long.  Letting the tap stay open for minutes at a time while washing dishes, or watering yards everyday for hours at a time, or flushing toilets after peeing in them one time--these are examples of what I'm talking about.  At the risk of sounding holier-than-thou,  I used to do many of these same things, so I'm not judging.  But living on the homestead has changed how I value water.

I don't take water for granted, because I know it WILL run out.  It has run out for us, many times.  We have run out of water in the dead of winter, when driving the Apache is tricky, to put it lightly.  We've had to pump water into buckets from the orchard and haul it up an icy road in a Radio Flyer wagon to get us by for a few days until the ice melted, and the road was driveable again.

It isn't possible to go without water for more than a day or two.  So the reality of it running out is something we are mindful of every time we turn on the sink.  I have had to embrace a dirtier, less-showered existence.  My house doesn't sparkle, and my fingernails usually have dirt underneath them.  It's not easy for me, because I feel more socially accepted as a clean-fingernailed, sparkling-home kinda mom. But then I remember the price of water in labor and hassle, and it supersedes my need for social acceptance.

I want my kids to value water as well.  I want them to value anything and everything that they use and consume.  I want them to experience having (almost) too little of things so that they know the importance of them.  How else do we expect them to feel grateful for what they have, and want to protect it?  Excess of anything, except maybe love, does not equal happiness.  I've thought about this before, when I have had excess.  Now that I don't, I actually realize it.  I don't have excess water, money, or even food sometimes.  But I usually have as much of most things as I need at the moment, and I am happy for that.

What to do with surplus…

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Andy has a knack for finding funny folk recipes for things that grow in abundance around these parts.  For a bachelorette party, he once made, um, "marital aids" out of fruit leather from apricots gleaned from neighbors, friends, etc.  No, we didn't give them a try, if you are wondering.  And, I guess marital aids aren't folksy, exactly, but fruit leather is. He's always making some sort of mead, wine, or syrup out of chokecherries, dandelions, or, lately, rhubarb.

We have a few rhubarb patches here on the homestead that were carefully planted and tended by William Randolph Sr. and William Randolph Jr.  They have been around for decades.  They come back every year, without us having to do a thing.  Permaculture, no?  So, besides my rhubarb pie, which is definitely delicious, Andy makes Rhubarb-o-nade.  And, although I scoffed at first, it's AWESOME.  It has a really lovely pink-lemonade hue, and tastes tart and sweet in good ratios of both.  Super refreshing on a summer night.  I added a lemon slice to mine, but I imagine some mint, cucumber, or basil might go well with it, too.  How do you like the Pabst Blue Ribbon can in the background of this picture?  Wicked classy.

Rhubarb-o-nade

Pick a pound or two of rhubarb and chop into half-inch pieces.

Place in large pot with water to cover and bring to a boil.

Lower heat and let simmer for twenty minutes.  DO NOT STIR.

Strain rhubarb through colander (made easier by not stirring).

Add sugar to taste. Flavor can be sharpened slightly with a few tablespoons of lemon juice if desired (not quite as homestead, though, unless you've bartered for the lemons with coal or something). Allow to cool a little before drinking over ice.

I decided to try some ferment-y recipes out of my favorite cookbook, Nourishing Traditions.  Pictured here are what will become pickled turnips and gingered carrots.  They are the first (of many, I hope) jars filled with food that we have stored in our newly repaired root cellar. The recipes are super simple.  Vegetable, salt, and water is all you really need.  If you have some whey, you can use that, too.  I'll try them in a few weeks, and report back.

We decided to plant a kitchen garden in the tiny yard in front of our house.  This old bathtub was probably left here by the Randolphs, and we planted it with lettuce and beans that will crawl up the bed spring attached to the wall above the tub.  Love those reusable bathroom appliances.

Like this one as well.  An old toilet becomes a planter for a tomato plant.  Lucky plant.

The goat on the right, formerly named Chloe, kind of came with the homestead when we took over in 2007.  When her close companion (and niece) June was killed by a dog in 2009, Chloe had a mid-life crisis and split the scene, taking up with the 300 or so sheep grazing as part of a weed-control program on Mount Jumbo.  The rancher whose sheep she took off with adopted her with our blessing.

About a month ago, she had a kid up in the hills, and the farmer decided it would be best for both kid and mother for them to take up residence here on the homestead, where they would lead an easier, less risky life for the summer. Unfortunately, right before they were to come back to the stead, the kid went missing, and Chloe came back to us full of milk and kid-less.  I felt really bad for her: she not only lost her baby, but she was also really engorged.  Speaking from experience, that is really uncomfortable.

So I milked her.  I tried to be as tender as possible,  but she's a total bitch to milk.  I have bruises on my forearms from her kicking them against the metal frame of the stanchion many times, and really hard.  I finally gave up.  I'd rather not sacrifice my arms for milk, and besides, we have another nursing goat that is sweet as peaches to milk, so no big deal.  To make a long story short, the kid showed up a few weeks later with an injured leg, but otherwise looking pretty good and much bigger than we would have expected.  Time will tell if the leg will heal.  The farmer thinks it might be infected and told us to wait it out.

The teenaged chickens are faring well in the coop with the big ladies.  Asa really loves to go in the coop to pick them up.  They don't really love it so much, I don't think.  He is fairly loud and rambunctious, and although I consistently remind him to be gentle he can't really help making them a little nervous with his energy.

Here is a snapshot of one of the laying boxes in the hen house.  The bigger gals are so generous.  They lay the best eggs in town.

I have decided that every article of clothing that I wear must have deep pockets.  This is the pocket of a favorite dress of mine.  It's a cute one, but mainly I love it because of the two huge front pockets!  I can fit a camera, eggs, sunscreen, cell phone and water bottle in them, plus a snack or two.  I've decided to make myself numerous skirts with big pockets.  More on that later.  Meanwhile, happy summer everyone!