snakes and water…

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…

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.


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!

Homestead Happenings…

Here are some pictures of just a few things happening on the homestead lately.  So much more to tell about, and I will, in due time.  For now, let me ease back into this blogging thing by giving you a tiny photo essay of what we have been up to.

Alex, our garden guru.
Zimbabwe, one of our "on loan" milking goats. She's dreamy.
Two of the thirty sheep and lambs that we have on loan for the spring and summer.
A double rainbow we saw one early June evening. Axel is now obsessed with rainbows, and believes that I can make them appear when he asks. Shoot. Wish I could.
Asa turned five on June 14th! He had a "Mad Monster Party".
Mad Monsters!!
Root cellar almost done! Just in time for gingered carrots!
Sugar snap peas. Asa says: "They taste like cotton candy".
Perfect little head of cabbage, ready to be made into slaw!