Saturday, June 30, 2012

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

Friday, June 22, 2012

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Yesterday was my 30th birthday. Over the last week I’ve done a lot of reflecting about my life and the journey that has taken me here. I was thinking about my mother, and my peculiar aversion to the word ‘homemaker’. When I was a teenager, I remember telling my mother that I wanted more from my life than to be a homemaker. Yet here I am. For the last 7 years, that word has been on my tax return, on the census, on my mortgage application - everywhere I turn. I have tried every way to wiggle out of using that dreaded word I could think of. ‘Stay at home mother’ has been a particular favorite, as though mothering were different whether I stayed at home or worked. As if staying at home wasn’t work. As if it needed and excuse… a label. And that’s the way I said it too, as an excuse, as an apology, as if what I chose to do made me a burden on my husband. As though I didn’t contribute. At the same time, I would rabidly defend stay-at-home-motherhood, trying to convince the world (or really just myself) that there was honor in my choice. As though at least I wasn’t you know… that word… a homemaker.

You see, I bought into the cultural programming around that word, programming, which I would like to add, that had nothing to do with my mother. I watched TV, read books, listened to songs, and read magazines that all characterized homemakers as some throw-back caricature of the 1950’s, before feminism, before women’s rights. I truly believed that if I wanted to do right by womankind that I had to fight against the marginalization that was the only fate that awaited women who accepted that roll. To be a whole and happy person I had to do something else, anything else. I believed that the home was the place for women who just weren’t smart enough or talented enough to cut it in the ‘real world’. Boy howdy, was I wrong.

When my daughter was born, I realized that I didn’t want to miss her childhood. I wanted to be a part of her world, and I wanted to give her the connection to her family that my mother worked so hard to give me. So I stayed home. I stayed home and threw myself into the June Cleaver stereotype with a vengeance. I was smart, I was educated, I was talented, so surely I could do this perfectly. After all, women had been doing this instead of really living their lives for millennia, right? How hard could this possibly be?

I had a nervous breakdown when Susan was 6 months old. Turns out it’s pretty hard. I just couldn’t do it, I just couldn’t keep my baby perfectly happy, and my house perfectly clean. I could not get dinner on the table every night without fail, and greet my husband smiling at the door perfectly groomed and dressed every evening. To my surprise and delight, Shawn greeted this news (shouted at him at the time) with relief. “Good.” he said, “It’s about time.”

“What on earth does he mean by that?” I wondered. To add fire to this internal conflict, I felt empty, without pride or purpose. I spent my life in struggle every day, only to stand still. I yearned for release. In my despair, I did what I should have done in the first place. I reached out to my womenfolk, my mother, my aunt, my grandmothers, my friends, all of the wonderfully wise women who had seen to my survival and upbringing. I asked for advice. I am absolutely sure that in some quarters my coming to my senses about my inability to do everything on my own was met with arms and voices raised in thanks. In short, I had not just been driving myself crazy.

My mother gave me the best advice I have ever received in my whole life. “Operate from a place of love.” Because you see, that which we build from pride only ever falls down, but that which we build from love endures forever. I had approached my home, my marriage, and my mothering from a place of pride. “Surely I can do better than all of those who have come before me, because this cannot possible take more skill than I can acquire in a weekend.” I thought. Like I said, boy howdy was I wrong, and it was the beginning of a very long road for me.

Now 76 days into our farming adventure I am re-learning skills that it took my great-grandmother a lifetime to earn. How to tell when chickens are too cold or too hot, how to herd ducks, how to build a stone fireplace. I am quite literally learning how to chop wood and carry water, and I am loving every minute of it. My life is full and happy. Why, you might ask? Because I am a homemaker. That’s right, I said it. I am a homemaker. Because you see, I’ve made my peace with that word, it’s what I do. I make home. I make this place a home to the creatures that live here (sometimes quite literally), be they humans or animals. And you know what? It’s a vital function. My family simply can’t do without me. I ensure that every being in my care has its basic needs met, be it safety, food, shelter, clothes, water, or love. And for the first time in my life, I feel a great peace in that knowledge. I need not be perfect, I need not have all the answers. We are learning together, all of us. We are learning what it means to live as human beings as surely as the ducklings in our care are learning how to be ducks, and in both cases the process is nothing less than miraculous. In the meantime, I will facilitate that process, because that is what it means to be a homemaker. I facilitate the process of life. That’s a pretty big job, and it’s one that society has been pretty derisive of lately. It is not for the stupid, or the faint of heart. It takes every ounce of my intelligence, experience, endurance, and courage to do my job. Yesterday I put my body between my child and a hungry black bear. My mother was standing right next to me. Today I’m researching and engineering a way to keep the bear out of the compost pile, and thus hopefully, out of the yard. These are things that my great-grandparents knew, and we, in our ignorance, have thrown away. We believed that we knew better. We believed that the only education worth having came out of a school, out of a book. We believed that our grandmothers and great-grandmothers and great-great-grandmothers wasted their lives. Boy howdy, were we wrong.

Monday, June 11, 2012


I’ve had a rather busy weekend, and it has left me thinking about my recovery. It’s funny how little patience I have with myself these days. I want to be all better. Now. Which works out about as well as you would think it might. “But there is so much to DO!” I wail at myself silently. My project list is endless, and I am not encouraged by the sympathetic comments from fellow home owners, “Best get used to it, the list is never done.”

Some things are projects with an end date, like finishing the barn, building the firepit, or painting the bookcases in the library so I can finally get my books unpacked. Some jobs are endless, like weeding, trimming, trail clearing, and livestock and household chores. But all of them must be addressed, and most of them suffer without at least some attention every day. I am left with the age-old conundrum of too few hours. Each day passes by with such speed that I find myself surprised by sunset. To add to that problem is the issue of my physical recovery. Years of illness have left me with little muscle or stamina – two things that are an absolute must for running a farm, even a fledgling one.

But what’s interesting to me is not the slowness of my recovery period (which is maddening) but the broken pace of it. For instance, Friday I mowed the lawn. This is actually a much larger job than it at first sounds, as the yard is large, filled with rocks, and not at all level. Add to that the fact that we have had six straight weeks of rain, and you begin to get the picture. Mowing an eighth of an acre of hilly, knee-high grass is a daunting task indeed. However, in my enthusiasm for self-sufficiency I channeled my inner three year old, and informed my husband that I would do it by myself, thank-you-very-much, and I neither wanted nor needed his help.

Hubris is often funny in retrospect.

Within minutes I was overheated and puffing like a blown horse. “This was SO not a good idea.” I said to myself. Shawn came outside and found me sitting on the porch steps, head in hands… less than a hundred square feet of lawn mowed. Now we’ve been married for more than a decade, and one of the reasons we’ve stayed married this long is that he has the good sense to NEVER tell me I can’t do something. Instead, he handed me a mug of cold water and said in a voice loaded with encouragement, “Don’t worry honey, you can do it in sections.” The truth is that he could see what I forgot in my delusions of instant Wonder-Womanism. The fact is that it’s amazing that I’m mowing the lawn at all. Even six months ago it would have been an unthinkable task for me.

His insight hit me like a rock. Of course I have to do it in sections, and if I don’t get all the sections done today, I’ll get them done tomorrow. “But my list, my goals, my plans!” my inner voice wailed. Nope. Patience is the name of the game. Patience and perseverance has gotten me this far, and it would be folly to abandon them now.

It took me four hours, but I mowed that whole darned lawn. “I am Wonder Woman!” I thought to myself as I collapsed on the couch. “Tomorrow, weather depending, I’m going to get started clearing up those fallen trees with my new chainsaw.” A laudable goal, a reasonable goal, a reachable goal. One tree, surely I can do that.

Saturday dawned, cool and threatening to sprinkle, perfect weather for heavy work outdoors. I ate well, dressed in layers, and put my wellies on against the wet brush and ticks. Chainsaw here I come. The tree went well, and between the saw and my ratcheting loppers the whole thing was neatly cut and stacked in a couple of hours. I do love good tools. “Well,” I thought, “what am I going to do with the rest of my day?” As it turns out, I have quite a few downed trees that need cutting up… and rocks that need to be stacked for the firepit… and the trail down to the barn could really use some work. And here we are, back in Hubristown. After all, I mowed that whole lawn, and that makes me all better right? Wonder Woman.

Somewhere during the third tree (after 50 or so pounds of rocks moved, and 75 feet of the trail mostly cleared), I started to shake. I was annoyed. “Fine,” I thought, “if I can’t safely use the chainsaw, I’ll just have to get what I can done with the loppers.” Half an hour more of that, and I realized I wasn’t sure I could get back up the hill from the barn to the house. Whoops. So much for Wonder Woman. “That’s OK, I’ll just get back down here first thing in the morning and finish this up.” I told myself.

But you see, that’s not how recovery works. The next day dawned, and I was exhausted. Totally depleted. My accomplishments for the whole day? I assembled a garden cart, and made sure the ducklings got out to pasture, and back in to the brooder. That’s it. And I fought with myself about it for the whole day. That night I was so cranky I was fit for neither man nor beast. My list, my plans, my goals! I had accomplished one goal, and one chore. “Some Wonder Woman.” I thought to myself derisively.

But this morning, the world is a clearer place. You see recovery is a process, a road, and if I push myself too hard I cover more ground, it’s true, but at what cost? I end up tired, injured, having unproductive days, and committing the crime of self-abuse. That is just not the way I want to live. So I must, yet again, make peace with the limitations of my body (something you would think I had down by now, for sure), and be gentle with myself - but not too gentle. I must push myself to recover, but I must pay attention, as my limits change every day. Some days it’s like hiking up a forbidding and snowy peak without a map or compass. Some days it’s not. Mostly the difference is in what I allow for my internal dialog. I am not Wonder Woman. Truthfully, I don’t know that I would want to be. But I am getting better, and I am getting stronger every day. And that, I think, is the key. I have a lot of days, a whole lifetime in fact, and plans are just that. Plans. Goals. Lists. None of those things are the reality of my life. That I must let unfold, one moment at a time.

Friday, June 8, 2012

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter

Today I had another opportunity to make a gluten-free sourdough starter, as I had forgotten to feed mine for too long (oops). It really isn't hard to make, and offers the opportunity to make so many wonderful recipes. Some of my favorite include sourdough bread (of course), and sourdough pizza crust... yum. The starter gives loft and cohesion to recipes - two things desperately needed in my usual gluten-free vegan baking fare.
The key to sourdough starter is to add equal amounts of flour and water - by weight. This requires the use of a kitchen scale. The scale need not be expensive, it only needs to be able to measure small amounts, I recommend measuring in grams for the sake of accuracy.

Bread Flour Mix
1 ½ cups Millet Flour
1 ½ cups Sorghum Flour
2 cups Tapioca Starch (aka Tapioca Flour)
1 cup Potato Starch (not Potato Flour)

Sourdough Starter
200 grams of Bread Flour Mix
200 grams of water - just above body temperature
1 tsp bread machine yeast

Use a fork or a whisk to mix all ingredients in a crock with a NON airtight cover. Make sure to get plenty of air in the starter as you stir, and put the cover on. Keep it on the counter in a warm spot for at least 3 days, feeding it (by stirring in an additional 100 grams of bread flour mix and 100 grams of warm water) 2-3 times a day. After 3 days it may be kept on the counter or in the refrigerator depending on how often you are making bread.  If you keep it on the counter, feed it at least twice a day. If it is kept in the fridge, feed it every 2-3 days. Stir before using it, and use before feeding it.

Remember, sourdough starter is a living thing, it is a colony of actively feeding yeast, and all of their byproducts. You must feed it and keep it above freezing for it to survive. Gluten-free starter will naturally separate, but if you are not feeding it often enough it will form a dark liquid on the top called hooch - which is exactly what it is. The byproduct of starving yeast is alcohol, and it will smell like it. Now there is nothing wrong with a little hooch, you can stir it right in if you discover it. that said, enough alcohol is toxic to your little yeast colony, and can cause it to struggle or even die. The other thing to watch for is mold. If the starter is healthy, you shouldn't have any problem with mold - the yeast will crowd it out. That said, if your starter starts turning colors and getting fuzzy there is no hope for it - you must throw it out and sterilize the container with boiling water before starting over.

Good luck, and happy eating!

Monday, June 4, 2012

New Brooders

We have started our livestock contingent with chickens and ducks; eight Khaki Campbell ducks, three Barred Plymouth Rocks (one our future rooster), two Ameraucanas, and the unexpected addition of fifteen roosters believed to be Rhode Island Reds. The birds are two and three weeks old today, and have definitely outgrown their cardboard-box-brooders, but are still too young to be outside permanently. In fact, the poor ducklings were pretty desperate for some more space. Given that we are going to be brooding new chicks often, we decided to build some permanent brooders. We will often likely be brooding geese, chickens, and ducks all at the same time (and in varying numbers) so the idea of a modular system was soundly agreed upon.

We will make four boxes, each box 4 feet wide, three feet deep, and two feet tall. The three foot sides are removable, allowing the boxes to be hooked together to allow for more brooder space. Currently we have made two boxes, and have hooked them together for the ducklings, and plan on making two more for the chickens this week. Even though we will be housing everyone together eventually, we are brooding them separately. Why, you might ask? As it turns out, ducklings are pretty wet and sloppy, and the chicks just don't appreciate it. Also, at three weeks old, the ducklings are almost three times the size of the chicks, and though as cute as buttons, they are comically clumsy. Quite simply, they'll squash the chicks flat, and leave them soaking wet, all the while looking over their shoulder as if to say, "Whoops, sorry!" Adorable, but not terribly healthy.

We had a bit of a nervous to-do this morning. It appears that my daughter Susan (all of 7 years old) got up at dawn and decided to give the chicks and ducks their daily ration of dried mealy worms... and promptly spilled the entire container inside the brooder. When I discovered this fact, much later, I spent a bad few hours wondering about enteritis, but as I continually discover, these animals (when properly nourished and cared for) are quite a bit hardier than my research would originally suggest. Everyone is healthy and happy.