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My laptop is sitting in a bucket in front of our cabin, catching the spring drizzle as it falls. I thought I’d be telling you that I’m more productive than ever, that the computer was pulling me away from everything important, that I’m a better wife and mother without the internet. As it turns out, nothing much has changed.

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The hugelkultur bed next to our cabin was just about ready for thinning and salad-making when the chickens busted through the fence and had a party of their own. We may have lost radishes and peas to a freeze last week and it’s predicted to be 93 next week. Time to plant more seeds, I guess. Is it ever not a good time to plant more seeds?

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A certain little lady had to stay out of the action this past week in order to heal up a bit. It always amazes me how fast they bounce back, and how utterly destroyed they are when life as they know it comes to a screeching halt. We are grateful that all it took was a couple of days of rest and a few extra hugs and snuggles from Daddy and Mommy both.

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We made a couple of gallons of salsa last week. Two quarts went straight away and the rest we left to ferment. You can read about that, my adventures in kombucha sourdough making, and more over at the CFH blog.

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And then there’s this little ray of sunshine getting bigger and brighter by the day. She seems to be quite content to just be along for the ride and give her Daddy big grins when he pops his head in.

Oh, there are so many other things to share – a fun homestead project Stewart has been working on, some construction updates, and a bit of a rearranging I had almost finished before the laptop ended up in a bucket. Apparently none of that was meant to be shared just quite yet.

What have you been up to lately?

 

It is often assumed that because we live on the land, we have easier access than ever to nutrient-dense foods. Before we really lived this life, I assumed that too.

While we are working towards that, we’re still at this awkward in-between stage where we’re barely getting started. These last couple of years I have tried to fit eating well into this agrarian life and we have gone through phases, from wildly unsuccessful to kind of sorta making an effort.

With a major health crisis last year followed by the birth of Ruth which has left me feeling quite depleted, I am evaluating what has changed, what we’re lacking, and what I need to get better at implementing.

In doing so, I came to realize that there were some key foods we used to eat very consistently – a few every day, and sometimes a few at a meal. Back then I had a big refrigerator where I stored the various things we picked up from farmers once a week and it seemed, well, easy. Now things are different, obviously, but “hard” isn’t a good excuse.

These foods are quintessentially agrarian and remain at the top of the list of foods our family needs to get back to eating a few of every day.

Raw Milk & Raw Eggs

I put these two together because there is one source that brought me back to this point. I recently thumbed through Ramiel Nagel’s Curing Tooth Decay while feeding Ruth. I skipped around here and there and was reminded of why these two foods are so critical. For us, raw milk still comes from our neighbors when it is available, but I can tell we all could use more of it. A milk animal is high on the list of to-dos, Lord willing.

Raw eggs are controversial because of concerns over salmonella found in commercial eggs. You couldn’t pay me enough to eat a raw egg from the grocery store, but the homegrown eggs are phenomenal cooked or raw. I have been inspired by my friend Susan, who mixes homegrown eggs and milk for breakfast shakes, to get these into our kefir, glass of milk, or salad dressings more often. You can visit this article to read more about eating raw eggs, including the whites.

Bone Broth

I used to roast a chicken every week, and then make about a gallon of stock out of it. It’s more complicated now, obviously, because storing that broth once it is cooked presents its own challenge, plus we’re only butchering roosters as we need to and we’ve now exhausted our supply.

Expanding the flock in order to kill off one rooster or old hen per week is our long-term goal. For now, I may look into other options or try to add some extra gelatin to our diets in order to replace some of the benefits of the broth.

Greens

The nutrient-density of leafy greens like collards, kale, chard and the like cannot be overlooked. Having our own collard greens has worked out well and, Lord willing, those that Stewart planted may be ready in a month or so. In our climate, this green seems to have the best resilience to the extremes of hot and cold. Swiss chard, sweet potato greens, and root vegetable greens round out our options.

A few people asked for some recipes that include collard greens. This Mexican Chicken Soup, Italian Meatball Soup with Greens, and Southern Style Braised Greens are all winners for us. There are also quite a few recipes using different greens including spring spinach, collards, and others in my Spring Cookbook.

Cultured Foods

This is actually one area that we haven’t skimped on. Somehow we almost always manage to keep something cultured around. Right now kombucha, sourdough, and vegetables are all available and we look forward to milk kefir when it is available.

The last couple of years have been a good reminder to me of how critical the content of our meals is to our health. I hope to reincorporate those things we somehow lost along the way.

 

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For a few weeks every year we hit this sweet spot. The days, and most nights, warm up enough that we don’t have to think about firewood.

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Things are being planted and sprouting up in the garden.

IMGP7979Jackets and sweaters are only needed in the morning or evening and new, exciting projects see more attention than they do the rest of the year.

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We watch every little thing come out of dormancy, like this Siberian Pea Shrub.

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I try not to get too excited, for I know that what comes after this quick in-between can be just brutal.

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But right now we’re soaking it in, trying to make the most of the beautiful weather, and being grateful for a season…

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that makes us all smile.

 

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We had a couple of extra roosters in the flock that needed to go. Rooster butchering is always an exciting and somber event around here and this time Stewart had the boys play a more hands-on role.

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I am happy that they know where that chicken soup came from, that they see the whole process. It seems a much easier transition into the knowing as a child versus the knowing as an adult.

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And that brothy soup was delicious. We butchered two this time and I decided to try oven-frying the second. Despite the fact that I overcooked it a touch, it was delicious.

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We have somewhere around a dozen hens now in the flock. We’ve had chicks grow into layers, lost pullets to hawks, and lost chicks to who-knows-what.  We are definitely interested in expanding the flock, but for now things seem to be working well.

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Recently we have been getting more eggs than ever. We had an all time high of eleven found in the laying box the other day. It’s always exciting to share the egg count for the day!

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The very first rooster we started with 2.5 years ago injured his foot to the point of no return. We nursed him a bit, separated him from the punk teenage bully roosters, but in the end he was suffering too much. It was hard, but letting him go seemed the right thing to do.

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The bed we planted next to the cabin is sprouting up nicely. Lettuce and collards and a few other random things are making their way up.

IMGP7827I had very little expectations of a garden this spring. A new baby means I’ve got other things I have to be doing and I prepared myself for the fact that Stewart’s health might be the other limiting factor. So, for the very first time, that usual spring “hope” I feel in regards to the garden was tempered by a very real knowing that what is meant to be will be.

And I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if Stewart didn’t plant the entire pallet garden in greens and herbs and other delicious things. It’s early still and we could definitely see another frost, but for now I’m just waiting and watching with a baby in my arms.

 

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Her hand wraps effortlessly around my finger and it is like a thousand upon a thousand hugs. Her head smells sweeter than the sweetest flower in the greenest meadow and so I make my way back there a hundred times a day before it fades, for I know it will.

My fate is sealed when she smiles, struggling at first to contort her face, and then erasing every memory of pain or exhaustion or to-dos undone from the last six weeks with that grin made of sheer gold. And then I watch her Daddy and brothers and sister watch her and I am utterly undone.

That she is here, in our care, as one of four, is beyond any notions I could have ever conceived of, planned for, or made happen. Motherhood and new babies makes me want to declare that this never gets old, I can’t believe it actually works – you know, that the kicking babe in my belly is now here in my arms. But mostly, motherhood is beyond my control and it has changed me.

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I used to believe that saying “The days are long but the years are short.” It rang in my head like a bell all day long with our first two babes. Those were long days of them not doing precisely what I thought they should do, and me not getting done what I thought I should be doing.

I had an agenda, you see, and even though it came in the form of meals and dishes and tidying up most of the time, it wasn’t all that it could be perceived as. One might think it looked like I was trying to do those things to serve my family, but my heart was not there. It was not out of charity, as we have been learning, that I was doing my duties.

Instead, my heart was in trying to be that mom on the internet who had the baby, washed all the dishes, did craft projects, and made three course meals. My heart was in having expectations that my life before motherhood could exist after. My heart was in “I need to do these things for my own sanity.”

And in trying to change those things that cannot be changed, to undo things that cannot be undone, I drove myself (and probably those around me) crazy. Ironic, no? I was not doing those things out of love for my family, but primarily out of my own desire for control over something when everything in me and around me seemed to be spinning out of control.

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Motherhood was changing everything and I was not ready to let go of every part of everything.

So now, here we are. That first babe throws his long, skinny arms around my waist and declares that my belly is much smaller now that he has met his sister. That second babe speaks sweetly to his baby sisters when he’s not shoveling mulch or feeding chickens. I remember when it was him who kept me up at night, him who spent his days in the swaddle.

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And these two girls fill the days with diaper changes and feedings and crazy toddler antics. I look at the clock and it’s 8 a.m. and we’re trying to get the baby fed along with everyone else. I blink and it’s 5 p.m., I need to start supper, and I’ve spent the last nine hours doing what?

Keeping up with the funniest of toddlers, feeding the hollow-legged mulch shovelers, rocking and sniffing our sweet little Ruthie. And then we make it through the fussy hours and it’s ni-nights and blankies and before I know it, it’s 8 a.m. and the breakfast bell rings all over again.

I imagine there could come a day, Lord willing, that my arms will be empty, these boys will outgrow me, and these girls will stand beside me. I imagine that I will remember these days then as I do now – fleeting, challenging, precious, and gone all too soon.

 
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