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Do you remember when we planted sweet potatoes back at the beginning of summer? That seems so very long ago, doesn’t it?
When we arrived back from visiting family, the same trip on which Stewart’s adrenal fatigue became severe, we had a community work day. Stewart was still in bed for most of his days and the ladies here were kind enough to come over to our place and help me dig up two of these 35 feet rows. Then they helped me plant a cover crop of sodbuster radishes.
Not only that, but they also cleaned out our chicken coop while I frantically searched for shovels and buckets and
waddled chased after our toddler. I can’t even begin to tell you how much this day, and the many more helping hands extended our way, have blessed our family.
That day we filled a very large cardboard box with sweet potatoes, a harvest that we are estimating at about 50 pounds. They cured for about a month before we started eating them and now it’s all the sweet potatoes you can eat around here. But nobody minds roasted, boiled, mashed, and fried sweet potatoes because these guys are good.
We are looking at a frost this week, so we wanted to get that last row of sweet potatoes in to cure. We rallied the gang of very willing helpers and headed to the chicken field to see what treasures lie beneath. This time Daddy was able to join us.
The boys oohed and awed with every scoop of dirt we pulled back. There were sweet potatoes upon sweet potatoes and besides my wielding of the shovel, most of the treasures were dug by these little folks on hands and knees. Annabelle, meanwhile, continued to yell “Tato! Tato!”
That girl loves her taters. So much so, in fact, that in the harvesting of them she actually began to embrace them closely as one might an old friend. If there were a stick of butter in that field she might have wept with joy, and then taken bites from both.
After much digging and sorting and moving and thanking the Lord for this harvest, we brought two more buckets of sweet potatoes up to the house to cure. Stewart estimates the final harvest to be somewhere in the realm of 75 pounds, after today’s joyful digging.
These plants also provided us with a summer’s worth of greens when lettuce and cooking greens could not handle the heat. If the Lord wills, we’d like to plant more of the best yielding varieties next year, as part of our desire to expand upon the staple crops like beans, squash, and potatoes.
But this harvest could not be described as anything short of bountiful and we have nothing to add except gratitude.
We live in about 300 square feet, these three children, husband, baby belly, and I. Most of you already know that, but there it is, in case you didn’t. It is a makeshift cabin built by my husband which is attached to the small camper we moved into when we first arrived on the land
Oh there were plans for building a “real home” right away, and then it was by the second year, and now we’re into the third year and I wouldn’t even hazard a guess as to if or when that might take place.
I have gotten a lot of questions from readers, family, and friends on just when exactly we’ll be living in a “real home”. You know, the kind where walls exist between actual rooms and the square footage matches up to our expectations of how much space we should have for each little and big person.
I don’t have an answer for that, except I don’t know.
I’ve gone through my own phases in dreaming of a “real home”. This was to be our temporary living quarters while we built that home, but that building just hasn’t been a financial priority for us yet. While waiting I have often caught myself saying “With more space…” and “If I had a better setup…” and “Things might be easier…”.
But contentment is not circumstantial. If my attitude is crap at 300 square feet, could it not be three times as crappy at 900 square feet? Maybe it’s not that formulaic, but what might I find in 900 square feet that I can’t in 300?
Are we not sheltered? Are we not clothed? Are we not fed?
These walls have surrounded us through a couple of the hardest, most meaningful, most eye-opening and heart breaking years we have lived. They kept us dry on the soggy night when Annabelle came into our arms. They witnessed our mistakes, our hard-learned lessons, and our utter joy in this homesteading process. In them we have snuggled under blankets while reading Little House on the Prairie with our children and answered some of the hardest questions a little person can ask. They have provided a place for fellowship with others and each other.
This has made it our home.
I had been taught by many in homemaking circles that we should make a home for our family that is a haven from this world, a respite from a culture that does not seek the things of God. And so it should be warm and inviting and comforting, amongst other things.
I still try to do all of those things, but at some point my thinking shifted. What are we doing here if not trying to live separately? Shouldn’t our daily life, thoughts, involvements, and occupations be that respite? Was I trying to create something within those four walls that should have been in our heart and lived out in our days?
One summer Sabbath day Stewart and I were sitting out in the breeze. We were watching the children play with sticks and dirt, discussing what he was reading, talking of what we might do on the homestead in the future, and of course whether or not we would build a “real home”.
I was behind on dishes, the floor wasn’t swept, and the home was not in order when we woke up to a warm Sabbath day. I felt like I was failing my family and this day was just one of the many summer days that looked similar.
“I’d love to give you and the children a well-kept home,” I said through tears.
“I’d love to give you a home to keep,” he countered.
Then there was a silence filled with words unspoken: “But if we don’t, that’s okay too. Let’s just keep doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”
Besides, we already have all that we need.
It was just two months ago that we were writing off the fall garden. No time, we decided. Not a high enough priority given the circumstances, it seemed.
That was all true. My big fall garden plans were simply not to be. There would be no big beds of carrots and beets, no row upon row of greens and herbs and potatoes.
But now there is this. A bed next to the house with delightfully green collards, onions, turnips, and cabbage. Two long rows of sodbuster radishes, aerating our soil and creating a bit of food at the same time.
A cover crop of Austrian Winter Peas line rows and dot swales. Garlic is sprouting up and continues to make its way into the ground, thanks to big and little helpers. A few lovely cilantro plants that sprung up despite leaving town for weeks and not watering. And a single carrot that sprouted from the hundred or more seeds I worked into the soil.
This is the fall garden as it was always meant to be – planted as allowed, not driven by results.
And this is an apron full of green beans, given by plants I had completely given up on weeks, maybe even months, ago.
So I think I’ll enjoy this fall garden just as it is, just as it was meant to be.
Note: Just a few more days to get my grain-free cookbook, along with four other cookbooks, for 80% off the original prices.
The shift we have made over the past couple of years away from the more citified way of living has been part of a larger decision to live more sustainably. In short, being good stewards meant we had to reevaluate much of the way we did things and start from scratch.
And nowhere have I felt the squeeze of that shift from then to now than when I’m in the kitchen. (Well, there’s the laundry room too, also known as a bucket outside my front door, but that’s another story for another day.)
I’ve always been a reader of cookbooks and food blogs. They give me ideas, inspiration, and information for feeding my family. More recently, though, I’m more likely to want to pick up that book, rip every page from its binding, light the whole pile on fire, let the chickens poop all over it and then use it for compost.
It’s not you, it’s me.
A Typical Day In My Kitchen
Right now, Stewart is in deep need of nourishment. So we are trying to be careful about what we feed him. We’ve always had that overarching philosophy with us and the children, but right now it seems even more acute. Three meals a day from scratch with a host of foods that I cannot use - like most grains, eggs, and pasteurized or processed anything – are the parameters I can work within.
It’s my job and I enjoy feeding my family, but it’s also challenging and time-consuming.
In the morning, a high-protein breakfast is made, and washed up after. By the time that gets taken care of I usually start a pot of bean and vegetable soup with a bit of meat in it for lunch. By the time lunch is over it is nap time for Annabelle, my only quiet daylight hours to work, so I quickly get any food put away and abandon the dishes for the laptop. Two hours later, she’s up and kicking, and I’m starting on dinner – usually meat and veggies – followed by dishes, and before you know it the sun is starting to set. Somewhere in there is laundry, some reading and math, gardens and chickens, and the general chaos that is life with
Annabelle small children.
A Story of Two Different Worlds
And then I sit down to a food blog or a cookbook full of pretty pictures and inspiring stories of how not to spend your whole day in the kitchen while feeding your family in the most nourishing of ways.
Yes, I know I could just take some meat from my freezer, cook it up with some vegetables stashed in my giant refrigerator, add bone broth from stock I made two weeks ago on a once-a-month cooking day, and then put them all together in my crock pot and let it simmer all day (while I blow our solar power system to smithereens), top it with the fermented vegetables from the back of my refrigerator, and then take the leftovers and freeze those for an easy weeknight meal.
But the only freezer space I have, I borrow from a nice neighbor. My refrigerator, if it’s working, might be smaller than a cabinet full of cutesie tea cups. That marathon once-a-month cooking session is what every day looks like around here. And, if we’re having bone broth, someone’s axing, gutting, and boiling a rooster and then we’re soaking our blood-stained aprons in a hardware store bucket at the end of the day.
I’m sorry, but I don’t live in a Williams-Sonoma fantasy world full of pretty pictures and clean counter-tops. My kitchen holds approximately 1.5 people (1, if you’re pregnant), is usually swimming in dirty dishes, has egg shells and real live pieces of dirt on the floor, and my 4 feet of counter-top is full of stinky meat and lard jars that are
weeks days overdue for a good scrubbing… if I can just have some water heating when I get there. Oh, and there is always, always, someone who needs to eat right now so why didn’t you start dinner 30 minutes ago before I started my meltdown, mom?
(Because you didn’t actually eat your lunch on account of some unknown particularity which I will starve out of you, buster. And, I love you.)
Sometimes all of that gets frustrating, if I’m being honest, but mostly that’s just real life on our homestead and I wouldn’t trade it for all the crock pots in the world. Someday we might get that solar cooker up and running, have a more permanent kitchen setup, and I might get better at this off-grid kitchen thing. But I’ve learned to have no expectations of “when it gets easier” because we don’t know when or if that will be.
Oh, and to keep things in perspective, here’s a 1901 journal entry:
“The day & night before school started in 1901, I worked one hundred buttonholes and sewed on one hundred buttons, trying to finish up the children’s school clothes. I was still sewing at dawn. I milked the cows and fixed breakfast. I worked all morning about the house and cooked dinner. Then that afternoon I gave birth to my tenth child.”
Just like that, she gave birth to her tenth child. I may not live in Martha Stewart land, but believe me, I’m no bad mama jama like that lady.
Note: This week only get my winter cookbook, along with four other cookbooks, for 80% off the original prices.
Every night, right as the sun just begins its descent, these boys head out for their nightly milk pick up.
It’s become quite the ritual, me taking jars down from the high shelf, Elijah adding lids and wrapping them up safely. And then these two little men head down the dirt road, around the corner, past the cedars, and to the neighbor’s house they go.
There are often encounters with chickens or cows, and the stories told upon their return are no less valuable to us than the half-gallon of fresh goat milk they come baring. The times that I join them to ward off the cows or take in the evening air are nothing short of hysterical. I like to observe these two quirky men trapped in little boy bodies, you see. The goings on and exchanging of words is the stuff mama dreams are made of.
And then, of course, there is the milk. Chugged straight from the jar by the strapping young men, and poured into my morning tea, this goat milk tastes just as sweet as cow’s and is oh so delicious. Yes, I think we will keep up this nightly ritual so long as those furry girls are giving.
my (grain-free) cookbook
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