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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Hunting elk in Arizona, and making gallons of apple sauce

Steve was gone for six days, hunting elk in Arizona. He has never been away from home that long since having three kids, but I really encouraged him to go since he has been working so hard. We had a free airplane ticket, so he flew to meet up with his friend Bradley who lives in Flagstaff, AZ. Usually, Steve hunts with traditional wooden longbows and arrows, but Bradley used a gun. They had an amazing experience hunting and processing a huge elk, respectfully, gratefully, not drinking-beer-in-the-woods-shoot-at-everything-that-moves. It's beautiful country over there. Steve came back energized and grateful, full of male-bonding hormones, and ready to be immersed into the sweet chaos of our family yet again.

He missed Luke's birthday (the big ten!), which was okay with Luke, since we will celebrate with all his friends later on. It's fun when you have two or three parties, isn't it? On his actual birthday, we invited their best pal Alden and his Mom over, had plenty of cake and ice cream, and in the evening celebrated some more with our close friends and neighbors, who had made a huge meal, complete with chocolate cake and whipping cream. You can see Luke didn't suffer too much when his Dad was gone.

I held down the Fort by myself, and actually really liked it. I find that I am much more patient when Steve's not around. I am not as whiny either.  Yes, I have to do more and take on the chores Steve often does, like scooping huge spiders out of the sink, or feeding the pigs and locking in the ducks at night, when it's dark. It's quite a walk out to the pasture at night, and it's scary out there, what with all the monsters lurking around corners and stuff, so I took either Kai or Luke out there to do chores in the dark with me. They obliged me patiently, if not a little patronizingly. 
 “Don't worry, Mom. There's nothing out there to get us.” 

I stayed busy with homeschooling the kids, baking bread, and making lots of applesauce. How much applesauce does one family need, you ask? Lots. Lots and lots and lots. I made over four gallons, and I'm not done yet. One of our trees (the one we buried Kai's placenta under when we planted it eleven years ago) cranked out six boxes worth of apples.  My method for applesauce is simple. Wash the apples, cut them in quarters, and don't do nonsense like remove the core or peel them. No, they go in seeds, skin and all, and after putting some water in the bottom of the pot (so they won't scorch), I turn the heat on. I throw some cinnamon and allspice in (since I never seem to have nutmeg on hand) and keep it simmering for a couple of hours. The house starts smelling like Christmas. When the apples are nice and smooshy, I let them cool a little and then spoon them into my amazing applesauce-making-colander-thingy I got at a flea market a long time ago. It filters out the sweet flesh and leaves the seeds and skins inside (which then get fed to the pigs). Then I can it in a hot water bath for ten minutes, and we're done. No sugar, no honey, nothing. It's amazing, and the kids can't get enough of it. We eat it by itself, or mix it with yogurt, or put it on pork chops.

How else are we spending our days, now that the rains have started, and we light fires in the wood stove?
Kai is obsessed with teaching himself computer programming and physics.  
Lukas spends hours on his keyboard and electric guitar.  He got an amp for his birthday. Need I say more?
Eva spends her days changing her clothes one thousands times a day.
Steve is finishing up his planting projects and is gearing up for making more bows.
I try to keep our family fed, cleaned, educated and loved.  And I knit.  Lots.
What are you doing these days?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Where she talks of merry-making and medicine-making

This week has raced past in a blur. We went to the Barter Faire for three days – a gathering and camp-out of thousands of counter-culture type people in Eastern Washington. It's an intense affair for sensitive people like me, who needs a lot of personal space and quiet time to chill out by myself. There was not much opportunity to be alone, what with the all-night drum circles and constant buzzing like in a bee hive. You can buy or trade anything you want, and I mean ANYTHING. I traded a gorgeous coat for one of my wheels of Gouda, and my goat milk soap for beautiful jewelry. The kids were in heaven, running wild with their friends, dirty as pigs. We hung out with many good friends, talked for hours around the camp fire, exchanged many hugs. And by the end, both Steve and I (NOT our dust-streaked, blissful children) were very, very ready to leave. The fact that I only took one picture of the whole event proves how overstimulated I felt!

One of my friends brought Elderberry syrup she had made as a bartering item. This potent medicine was extremely popular at the Barter Faire – and no wonder! Us Europeans have used it for centuries to ward off colds and combat flu. It works!
So on the way back from the East side, we picked blue elderberries so I could make some of my own medicine. Sure enough, the next day I threw the berries into water, added cinnamon and ginger, and let it bubble on the stove. I felt like a witch! After it cooled down a little, I strained it through cheesecloth and added lots of honey. I made three and a half gallons of the stuff! We shall not get sick this winter.

Steve has been making bows for his online Etsy shop. These handmade, wooden long bows are immensely popular and immensely beautiful, so they always sell quite quickly. I keep telling him to raise his prices, but, no, he won't. Yet. You can see his shop here.

What else?  Well - it's fall, have you noticed? It's really here.  It's time for hardy soups, for walks in crunch leaves and thousands of interesting mushrooms sticking their heads through the fragrant soil.  It's time to pick up more complicated knitting, which will turn into a beautiful sweater for yours truly.  It's time for crazy tomato art.  What do you think of it?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Bless your hearts!

Bless ya'll's hearts!  So many of you wrote sweet messages to me after reading my blog post from last week, the one where I poured my heart out about my grief after getting rid of the goats.  It helped to know that so many of you cried with me.  The hole in my heart hasn't gotten any smaller since last week.  In fact, every time I walk by the goat barn, it tears open a little bit more.  
But I won't talk about this right now, no, I won't.  
Instead, I will tell you what happened immediately after getting rid of my goats.  I knew that I couldn't deal with going back home to an empty, quiet, sad homestead, so after unloading the goats from the minivan and shaking out the tarp that had been pooped and peed on, I met up with the rest of my family and some dear friends, and we headed into the mountains for a backpacking adventure at Chain Lakes.
Balm for the soul, I tell you.  What with majestic Mount Baker and Shuksan looming so large... it puts all your problems into perspective.  And the huckleberries!  The huckleberries!  Our tongues and lips looked vampire-like after hiking up these alpine meadows dotted with blue berries.
The kids had a blast.  The boys got to hike with their best buddy, and Eva got to hike with one of her good friends.  Later, after setting up camp by one of the lakes, the kids fished their hearts out.  They actually caught fish in the morning and cooked them up as rain pelted down on them.  Yes, the weather turned on us.

Kai caught a fish!

You can't really tell in this picture, but it was raining hard.

The second day, we hiked out in dense fog, which was a little bit of a bummer because we couldn't see the apparently stunning view.  On the other hand, it was also incredibly mystical and magical, so it all worked out.
That night, we stayed at a campground in Glacier, made memorable by the giant marshmallows the kids got to consume after dinner.  What a brilliant move that was, sugaring them up just before bed time!

Returning home to our homestead was hard for me, because I knew there would be no goats to greet me.
So I threw myself into putting the garden to bed and harvesting a bunch of food.
Of course, there was lots and lots of garlic that needed to be cleaned up and brought into the house after being cured in the wood shed.

Then there were six full boxes of apples that Steve and the boys picked from only one of our trees.  I think there might be apple sauce in our future.

And, of course, fall and winter squash go hand-in-hand, so I borrowed my unpaid workers children for labor.  I thought they would grumble and protest, but they enthusiastically harvested squash and turned it into a race.  Go figure.  

The kiwis went bonkers this year.  Maybe it's because our mason bees live at the kiwi trellis, and they did a fabulous job pollinating.  I love these kiwis!  You pop them in your mouth, skin and all, and get an incredible boost of sweetness and vitamins.  It also makes your mouth kind of pucker after eating lots of them.

I yanked out a bunch of leftover broccoli and cauliflower that had seen better days.  I also took down the bean trellis, which still sported enough beans for a big meal of buttered green beans, with bacon, hopefully.  These beans were hiding high enough on the bean poles, so that the darned deer couldn't reach them.  Here is a box of stuff I salvaged, kind of accidentally.

Since I'm trying to be not all about work, but also play, we spent a lot of hours this week with a new hobby (for the boys, that is): Fishing.  Salmon are making their way upriver, and my kids are very motivated and show an amazing amount of patience dangling their fishing poles into various rivers.  I bring my knitting.  Eva brings her princess dresses.  You HAVE to look glamorous when fishing, you know.

What are you doing these last glorious fall days?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

One of the hardest decisions I have ever made

On Sunday, an era of my life ended. I got rid of my goats.  This was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made, and  I haven't stopped crying since.
If you don't want to read this, at least watch the short movie I just made at the end of this post.
I cried as I walked into the barn to milk them one last time. I wept as I rested my head on their warm shoulders during milking. I bawled as I drove them to their new owners. My sobs and their “maaaas” made a very pathetic chorus, but didn't seem to disturb my eleven year old, who sat next to me in the passenger seat and read a book. It speaks volumes of his emotional security to not be freaked out by this show, don't you think?

The reason I decided to get rid of my goats? I need to take a break (I think) so I can focus on reducing my work load. A few months ago, I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue, which comes from stress and means my body doesn't make much cortisol any more, which creates all kinds of nonsense in my body and mind (at least I think I have a mind left).

I have raised goats for over ten years. Although my friends and neighbors helped with regular milking shifts and cheese making, I shouldered the bulk of the responsibility. That means I milked the goats twice a day, made thousands of pounds of cheese (I'm not kidding), done mountains of dishes associated with milking and cheese making, drove the goats around in my minivan to have dates with billy goats so they could get pregnant, stayed up many sleepless nights on baby goat watch, and helped countless baby goats into the world. I have never missed a single birth (except once when my goat delivered a few weeks prematurely). I have had my hands elbow deep in a goat's uterus numerous times to assist a birth. People call me when they have emergencies with their own goats.
I trimmed hundreds of hooves. I burnt off many horn buds. I castrated dozens of boy goats. I gave many shots. I walked cumulative miles leading goats out to pasture. I taught cheese making classes and goat raising classes for many years. I milked goats while still nursing my own kids. I milked goats with a baby strapped to my back. Playing with baby goats is a favorite past time for my children.

I am proud to be called the goat lady. 

Now what?  Who am I without goats? What is my identity now?

For next year, there might be the possibility of goat sharing.  I have friends who would love to share goats (I just sold my favorite one to them).  So maybe we will have goats for a month, and then they will have them for a month, and then we will have them again, etc.  We'll see.  One step at a time...
Stay tuned.
In the meantime, watch this short video I just made about our homesteading life.  It's the first movie I ever made, and it's simple, but pretty sweet.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Too good to be true

Glorious fall is here. We are bustling around like bears getting ready for hibernation, or squirrels frantically stashing away food for winter. We are harvesting, putting food by, canning like mad. There is the beautiful garlic and onion harvest to be cured. The Sauerkraut is done fermenting and has to be put in jars. Plums and apples need to be picked from the trees. Grapes and kiwis are ripening. Winter squashes are almost ready. The kids stroll in the garden to investigate what food can be snacked on. And I'm making Steve's favorite: Caraway Gouda.  (By the way, I have two more spots left in my Gouda cheese making class this Saturday, Sept 20.)

And then, as every fall, there is the dreaded chicken slaughtering.  I say dreaded because it's not fun.  It's gnarly and sad and messy.  But the reward for eating our own chickens that we raised ourselves are immense.  (I wrote about it here and here.)  This year we set a record in terms of time and efficiency: It took us only three and a half hours to process 45 chickens from start to finish.  The team: Steve, neighbor Rich, friend Greg, our sons Kai and Luke, and me.  Go team!  We rent equipment (a chicken plucker and cooling tank) six months ahead of time, so the day is set in stone.  It's a miracle that every single year at chicken slaughter time, the weather is gorgeous.  
I took lots of great pictures, but they are tiny bit gory and bloody and stuff, so I'll spare you the sight.  Here's one of neighbor Rich refreshing Kai's memory on how to cut open a chicken and deal with the guts.  And below is Rich's dog, who is very excited to help when slaughter time comes around.  Don't worry, she doesn't kill the chickens, but she does like lapping up any blood that happens to drip.

When everything is over, I grab the chicken livers and make liver pate.  It is marvelous, and I am heartbroken that I am the only member of my family to adore it.  How could you not like something that involves sauteed onions, garlic, a whole stick of butter, thyme from the garden, a splash of Brandy, and chicken livers soaked in milk?

Talking of food: our family has gotten obsessed with juicing.  With all that wonderful produce in the garden, what else is there to do?  After milking the goats in the morning, I wander into the garden to pick beets, carrots, kale, swiss chard and collards.  Then I come back inside and juice the heck out of everything.  It makes the most colorfulful, nutritious juice you can imagine.  The kids love to help with juicing and drinking it!

Even with all this activity going on, Steve and I managed to get a way for a day long bike ride this week.  We rode over 30 miles along the Skagit and Sauk rivers, blissing out on each other's company, the sunshine, and the gorgeous views of Mount Baker.  Our friend, who took care of the kids, welcomed us back with home made pizza.  Sometimes I think our lives are too good to be true.

I will leave you with images of two of our kids.  Luke on his way to his first solo-overnight camp out in the woods (which will be a separate blog entry one of these days), and Eva playing with flowers in the vegetable garden.  Have a wonderful week!