Monday, August 22, 2011

Walking Away!

We just got back from a camping trip last night and my house is so messy it is making me feel confused.  Like I have no idea where I am sort of confused. 

First I decided to paint the trim in my room so I could put curtains back up so my husband can stop making me have lots of conversations about fishbowls.  The breeze coming in the windows was really nice.  I have to pick the kids up in a few minutes from the first day of their last week of camp.  Then I think we'll just stay out for as long as possible.  We'll go into the woods where the mess all around is called "natural beauty."  Maybe it will give me some perspective on mine. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Good Enough

Three or so years ago I was in one of those cute shops that sells handmade gifts, vintage things, soaps and cards.  You know the kind.  There used to be a whole bunch of them.  They seemed to be the first rank of stores to go down when the country's money broke.  Anyway, I saw there an adorable bench made out of a head and foot board of a full-size bed. 

"I am going to make one of those!" I said.

I had a constant lookout for a real wooden bed frame--which is hard to come by--in the trash or on freecycle.  I finally found one while out on a walk with my kids.  I shooed them out of the stroller and precariously strapped the bed pieces into my double stroller and wheeled it home.  Where it sat in my basement for about a year.  Then I cut the foot board in half and even cut the pieces of 2x4 I was using for the frame into the appropriate sizes.  Those too sat in my basement for another year.  I recently did an unholy purge of the basement and nearly threw the bed frame away, but held on. 

Then yesterday, I decided to just make the thing.  I no longer had my nicely cut pieces , as the wood was used for some other project ages ago, but I had enough scrap wood to pull it together. My bed frame is a twin size, so the seat measures 35"x19"

It took me about 30 minutes to build the thing.  30 minutes when it's been hanging over my head, the wood being shuffled around the basement for three years.  I think this happened for two reasons.  One is that when I first got the idea, I didn't quite have the skills I do now.  And even though it seems painfully simple construction to me now, three years ago I didn't have the experience or confidence.  Indeed even my husband's confidence in my skills has improved.  Always encouraging, he nevertheless would sit rather gingerly on what ever I had just finished. Last might when he saw the bench on the porch he just sat right down!  The other reason for my delay is the problem of thinking it will take too long, or that it has to be perfect. I'm learning the simple art of "Good Enough." I'm learning that "good enough" usually looks pretty great!

It never seems to take as long as I imagine, and defiantly shorter than the three year's procrastination!

I put it together, the girls and I sanded it a bit, primed it and put two coats of exterior purple paint (purchased for another undone project).  In between waiting for the paint to dry we gathered scraps of foam and some fabric and made the cushion.  My new trick for making cushions is to not machine sewing the cushion cover, but to wrap the fabric around the cushion like a present and hand sew it together. This saves a lot of time and hassle and saves the fabric too.  If I were to grow tired of that particular pattern (chosen by the girls) I could just undo the stitches and it would still be a big piece of uncut fabric.  The stitching you see above was carefully done by my five-year-old!

So I carried it to the porch where it has become part of my porch mini-remodel.  My porch is something of an eyesore and needs a lot of help that would include major construction, so I'm doing what I can. 

I think I will paint the word "sixteen" (my house number) in teal and black on the back of the bench...when I have the time. 

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Eggplant -or- Why Does Baba ghanoush Have To Be So Ugly?

 If you're like most people, you don't really like eggplant.  That is unless it's breaded, fried, and covered with sauce and cheese.  I hear you.  It's weird.  It has a strange texture, color, and small when it's raw.  I wasn't a super fan of it growing up and didn't pay too much attention to it when I was an adult.  When I started getting buckets of it from my farm share, I figured I would try to find another way to eat it other than eggplant Parmesan.  By the way I use the recipe from the Joy of Cooking and it is wonderful. 

You can bread and fry the eggplant pieces and then freeze them.  Then all winter long you can pull out a slice here and there and put them on pizza, make eggplant parm or eat them with ranch dressing like my friend used to do when she was little...or not. 

However, if you've ever fried eggplant you know that it soaks up oil so effectively that I'm kind of surprised they didn't use it in the Gulf.  I don't really need to have that much breaded and fried stuff in my life so I ran a series of eggplant experiments.  First I made this really delicious dip with eggplant and butternut squash.  You actually make it in the slow cooker. It is really tasty but it doesn't freeze well.  So that was out. 

Then I started making Baba ganoush.  Seriously, this stuff is all gray and weird looking, but it is really yummy, but I expect that doesn't freeze too well either, so it's not really a preserving methods. 
This photo is from One Green Tomato.  I use her recipe, and I know what you're thinking, "that doesn't look ugly."  Well, she's a really skilled photographer, so don't be fooled, people don't want to eat gray food unless they already know it's delicious.
Then I came across a recipe in the book Preserving the Harvest for roasted eggplant and roasted red peepers layered with basil in an oil and vinegar garlic dressing. The first year I made twelve jars and thought, "What the Hell am I going to do with twelve jars of canned eggplant?"  I'll tell you what, eat the ever-living life out of it!! It is so good.  Even though it's made with vinegar it doesn't really taste pickled.  You can use them on sandwiches, pizza, salads, or chop it up or blend it in the food processor, spread it out in a shallow pie pan cover it with feta cheese and warm it up as a spread for pita chips or bread.  This stuff is incredible.  I gave a jar to my husband's grandfather for Christmas and he loved it.  I planned to make cases of it the following year (last year) but we didn't get a lot of eggplant, I'm not sure I got to make any.  This year I'm on it, though. 

Another thing I want to try my hand at is caponata.  Seeing as though this is a Sicilian dish and I am Sicilian by marriage I figured I ought to.  People say it freezes well, and I believe them.  It ca also be canned, and everyone seems to love this book for the recipe.  I'll let you know how it goes. 

Happy Eggplanting!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Can Stilts

When I was little my mother used to make us toys out of junk.  This was before it was the hip thing to do.  I loved coffee can stilts the best.  She would use the big cans of coffee.  These are pretty hard to find these days as large amounts of coffee now come in plastic tubs with a handle.  When we ordered huge cans of coconut milk from our coop I was all psyched to make the stilts for my kids.  It's taken quite a few months to get through enough coconut milk to make a set for both of them but today was the day!!
My super safety-conscious five-and-a-half-year-old asked me, "Are these safe? 
"No," I said, "But when I was a kid fun was really dangerous."

Wild Wednesday


Do you have this plant in your yard? I bet you do. It's a common weed. The leaves are thick and if they are not mowed down they get pretty big. This plant is a super healer. It can be used of all sorts of things . It's great for wounds, bruises, eczema, and rashes of all kinds. It can be used fresh or dried in a poultice, in tincture form, or in oil. I prefer to use it in oil form as the base for salves.
To make the oil simply grab yourself a mason jar (or similar) and fill it two thirds full with cut up plantain. I use the entire aerial portions of the plant...the leaves, stems and flowers. I cut the pieces pretty small (the more cell surface that gets in contact with the oil the better) and cover it with olive oil. If you can afford it, use organic oil, but otherwise just use the best you can.
I have read a lot of conflicting advice about the best way to steep herbs in oil. Some people heat the herbs and oil in an oven at a very low temperature for a few hours. Some people let it sit in the sun. Some put it in a paper bag and let it warm in the sun that way. I don't like the idea of the sun hitting it directly, nor do I like the idea of turning my oven on in July, so I generally will either put it in a paper bag and set it in the windowsill, or I will just set it out of direct sunlight on my kitchen counter and let it sit for one week, and then strain it out. It should be a great color green.
You can now use this oil for rashes, eczema, bruises, or scrapes. Or you can melt it together with some beeswax and make an oil.  I will have a tutorial on this in about two weeks. 
A couple other herbs that make great oils to use on their own or as a base for a salve are Yarrow and St. John'sWort.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Chicken Coops

We built more chicken coops.  We've been through quite a few designs and placements.

The first one we built was a chicken tractor.  A chicken tractor is a great design that lets you carry or drag your coop around your garden or yard, letting your chickens get at eat, de-bug, and fertilize a variety of different areas on your property.  We were starting with 6 chickens and felt this was a good design.  Problem was our design was a little heavy...especially after I shingled it with leftover roofing shingles to make it look adorable.  It took like four people to move, so it didn't work out so well.  I have since taken the shingles off, and we do use it, but primarily in the spring/early summer when we get new chicks.  It is just the right size for the little ones.
The second one we built was a more typical stationary shed-like coop.  It was going in the back yard which tends to get really wet.  So I had the great idea to place it on a platform 4 feet off the ground.  Then we made a metal cage that went around it.  It was like the chicken Thunderdome. The chickens had the coop, a bit of the platform and the entire underside to roam around in.  The platform is 8x8 feet and the coop is 6x4 feet.  We had to walk on a plank to get the eggs, couldn't get into the bottom if there was any need and the chickens didn't have quite as much space as we liked.  So my (wonderful) husband and some (amazing) friends dismantled the coop (it was built in sections, so this wasn't so bad) took it off the platform and lowered the cage to the ground which then served as the run.  This has been working out pretty well, except that the area that they were using as the run, which is 8x8 feet is spent.  There seems to be no amount of hay or wood chips that will keep it from smelling.   I guess we could dig it all out...but I just don't want to go there.  So we built another coop. 
This is the best one yet.  So easy to make, we finished it in an afternoon--or could have if we didn't have kids.  It's built like a mini hoop house.
First we made the frame out of 2x4's it is about 10 feet long by a little less than 4 feet wide.  We left the end pieces long so we could use them to carry or drag it around (which is a breeze!)
Then we bent four pieces of  re-bar to form the hoops. My husband suggested we bend them like this.  I told him I would bond with him some other way.  We ended up bending it by putting the end against the curb.  We also tried just putting it into the frame and bending the other side in.  Both ways worked fine. 

We attached the re-bar with two pieces of metal strapping.
Then we attached the wire fencing.  This is a bit tricky because you need to take metal wire (with spikes on it) and curve it around the frame. It doesn't want to do what you say and you will most likely get your hair caught a few times and if you get a little frustrated you run the risk of looking like you're in a fight with a role of metal fencing.  Which is funny for everyone but you.  But once you have the hang of it, you'll be fine.  Also, once the first piece is up the others sort of get in line and you have something to attach them too. The important thing here is to remember not to space your four pieces of re-bar farther apart than the width of your fencing.  We had four foot wide fencing so we spaced them at just under four feet so there would be some overlap.  This makes attaching the fencing a little less ridiculous. 
We stapled the fencing to the wooden base and "tied" it with 16 gauge wire to the poles. 
We made the ends by bending the fencing over the sides and sort of sewing it with a smaller gauge wire to the re-bar.  I had to make something of a patchwork because I was running out of fencing and I wanted to use all my scraps.
The hardest part was the door.  I have tried two different styles.  One I made with a piece of chicken wire folded in half and then framed at the bottom with two pieces of wood.  The wood weighs it down.  I then screwed two pieces of wood together over the "wall" part of the front and left some screw heads out about a half inch.  I just pull the chicken wire door over the screws to close it.  it works pretty well.  I did the same basic thing for the other door except I used a different kind of wire that is more sturdy but has larger holes.  I recently tired to put in my pullets, but found out they were still too small for it since they could just walk out of the closed door.  Lame.  I will either have to wait until they are a bit bigger or put a smaller wire over the door.  I think this is what I'll probably do so I can also keep small egg-stealing animals out. 
For the perch I just took a small tree I had cut down and screwed it into a small piece of wood.  The fencing is sandwiched in between.   It is a little wobbly and I wasn't sure if the chickens would fuss, but they don't seem to mind. 
As for the nesting box.  I will be basically building a little nesting box book shelf.  It will be attached at the bottom between the two sides of the frame.  Access is granted at the back by little "doggy flaps" in the wire.  I cut it out and then attached a larger piece with metal wire .  This can be lifted up to get the eggs. last!

On a similar note. One of the ladies in the new flock--the only barred rock out of the bunch of reds--was adopted by my oldest daughter.  She has been named "Mackie" and was living in the kitchen for a little while.  I used an old picnic table that I found in the trash and brought home.  It had fallen apart as we were taking it out of the truck.   I used a bunch of scrap wood and some nice purple paint to make this chicken a very fancy chicken chalet.

 My little one is playing in it before I painted it purple.  She's sitting in the nesting box, but hasn't laid any eggs.

Monday, June 20, 2011


I am in a process of reassessment. I originally intended this space to be a place for tips, recipes, craft ideas and advice on what (not to do) when creating your backyard homestead.  But in the spirit of my spirit, I guess, I have added my thoughts and feelings on mothering, life, and all that mushy stuff that comes along with reflection glimpsed in between maddening moments of failed experiments and lovey little kid hugs.  I thought that with the start of the spring and summer, with all the projects already begun, failed, going well, and the yard coming together in a way that has yet to be seen, I would jump back in the this-is-how-we-do-it (and this is what you should probably do for yourself) swing of things.  But, alas, I've been thinking again.  I can't seem to help myself!

Wild Strawberries

And tame ones
I've been reassessing, again.  A few incredible things have happened to me over the past few months.  They have been both sad and miraculous, and I'm still not sure which was which.  Some of these "events" have been quiet eruptions of self and heart, some trips to the past and all that can bring, others have been family events and still others are brought on by the changing of the seasons and all the work and fun that come along.  I recently stayed with my brother through the night waiting to bring him to detox in the morning.  Witnessing the pain, relief and bravery that accompanies making a huge life-altering decision was so powerful.  I felt honored to be able to be the person to share this pivotal moment, and to be able to be support him without negative judgment.  In the morning, we got in the car and drove up to the hospital.
The one blackberry bush that survived the aphids, we'll have to wait until next year for jam and juice.
When we were nearly there, I recognized the route.  It slowly became clear to me that we were on the way to the same hospital I was involuntarily hospitalized in twice when I was a teen.  It was like watching a car accident happen.  I could feel the past sneak up behind me like that scary story about the knife wielding maniac in the back seat of the car.  Luckily, I have (apparently) healed enough to know what my priorities were in that moment, and I just told myself, "Not now, baby, we have more pressing work to do."  I was like a superhero of awesome zen love.
A table we found on the side of the road that promptly fell apart as soon as wee took it off the truck. It is now siting int he driveway as another piece of junk we'll have to dispose of somehow. 
When that was all over, I packed up the car, drove back over the Tapenzee and headed home.  I knew I was driving home to something.  I knew there was a lot waiting on me.  Waiting for me to let out.  I knew there was a reckoning coming.  I had told my heart to wait, and it wouldn't wait forever.   I got home and cried.  I cried for myself, I cried for my brother, I cried for the road ahead for my own children, I cried for my mother and for my father.  I cried so much with love, pain, loss, and hurt for three days that I decided to shut it off. I knew there was more waiting for me.  Deeper stuff, the stuff I piled new stuff on top of, and I wasn't ready.   It was all too close. I used a couple of old coping mechanisms, and some new ones.
Forty or so paste tomato plants.
The new ones were a bit less harmful than the days of old.  I gave myself about a week, maybe two.  I lost myself in audio books, keeping that earbud crammed in my ear for about two weeks, pausing only to have the interactions necessary to be a mother, a wife and a friend.  But when there was any chance of distraction, when there was any chance that I might slip into the present moment or the past, I had Harry potter in my ear.  Man that Lord Voldemort is a real jerk, and thank God Harry has Hermione Granger to keep him out of trouble, and oh, Dumbledore...  it is true what he says in The Prisoner of Azkaban: "If I thought I could help you by putting you into an enchanted sleep and allowing you to postpone the moment when you would have to think about what has happened tonight, I would do it. But I know better. Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it." Man is he ever right, that guy. 
But I guess it's not too bad when your "weeds" are all lemon balm and cilantro.
Even for this attempt to escape I judged myself harshly.  I am now healed and conscious enough to know what I was doing.  But I guess that's the difference, I knew what I was doing.  I made a choice to leave my head, to run, temporarily, from what was coming for me. A coping mechanism is just that--a mechanism for coping with something to big and too scary for you.  There are healthy ones that hasten healing, like yoga, writing, praying, loving, meditating.  And there are unhealthy ones that bury the pain down so that it festers and poisons, like drug use, cutting, throwing up, starving, and compulsively eating.  I have done all of this and more in my past, so all things considered, briefly revising the least of my unhealthy techniques, or making a conscious choice to compulsively listen to Harry Potter on audio book are not the worst choices I could make.  I guess.
One mostly finished new chicken coop (more on the how-too of this later).
The past is breaking over me like waves crashing on the beach.  It is amazing to experience this, not in the hurricane everything-flying-all-over-the-place fashion of my youth, but in the slow steady wash of past on stone.  The wave comes in, covers me and recedes.  With its steady pull back out to sea it takes with it some of what I'd like to let go and maybe some of the calm and safety I'd like to keep with me. But it comes back with the next  wave, mostly. 
A new house for the girls, made form most of the wood I'd like to clear out of our basement. 
How does this relate to my homesteading adventure?  What does this have to do with the chickens, the gardening, the kids, and the food?  Well, nothing and everything.   All these thoughts, of course, are informing the way I look at my kids, the way I see myself as a parent, and a woman.  These experiences of pain and peace I have while I heal old wounds I thought had been healed has made me slow down a bit, and look at my life again with more conscious open eyes.  I am realizing that a lot of the things I am doing I didn't actually agree to.  Make no mistake, I haven't been pressured into doing something I didn't want.  No passing strangers have pulled up to the house, a box of squawking chickens under one arm and a cudgel in the other.  I haven't been given an "offer I couldn't refuse" to grow sugar snap peas and native flowers.  I just haven't thought to ask myself  what I want to be doing.
"Found" garden of motherwort and chickweed.
I suspect I do want to be doing what I am up to.  I like the reasons we live the way we do. I like the outcome from a life lived as close to the ground as we can.  It's comfortable, the rhythm is beautiful and the Spirit of Life is ever present. I am wondering, however, if I had consciously agreed to these tasks I take on how many of them I would still choose.  What if I looked at a new opportunity (or job) with full understanding of  the amount of energy it would take?  What if I weighed it against the other things I might like to do, or am already doing, would I still say yes?  How much more would I love what I'm doing if I had a memory of choosing with open eyes and an open heart?  How much more forgiving of myself would I be when I failed to complete/succeed/start said project if I didn't feel the weight of responsibility, not only for myself but for my husband and kids also?  What is my responsibility anyway?
Snow peas climbing on the old twisted frame that remained after we burned an old box spring.
I suppose I am re-choosing my life.  Seriously, I do like what I do, I'm just not sure I like why I do the things I do.  Or maybe I just feel uncomfortable not knowing if I actually chose them in the first place.  It's not pleasant for me to realize I've let life push me along, even if it's pushed me to a beautiful place. Maybe.  Perhaps the lesson is to be present for the pushing. To watch, enjoy, and live during the journey.  Maybe.

For now I'll just wait here while another wave comes washing over me.