September Circle Time

Our first day of school was on the late side this year, partly because of our Labor Day vacation, and partly because I just wanted to enjoy the last days of summer.  I’ve been steadily planning and gathering resources both for our Waldorf-inspired homeschooling cooperative, and also for Kindergarten with Ella (and Preschool with Everett), and we officially began just before the Fall Equinox.

Our first day of Kindergarten was really sweet, although I have to admit, the first 5 minutes were a total disaster. Everett was crying, Ella was pouting, and I tried to “keep calm and carry on.”  After a few songs we got back on track, and by the time I lit the story candle, we were all having a great time. We worked on a craft – a dragon puppet that we used during our simple Michaelmas celebration at school (inspiration from Mamaroots).  We made the body with a simple fingerknit strand, and hand-sewed the head and tail from scraps of wool felt. With some assistance cutting the felt and preparing the needle and thread, Ella was able to work on this project fairly independently, leaving me to work on Everett’s beloved dragon.

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The circle I will share below is the same one that I am leading with our homeschool cooperative.  This year we have a group of 10 children, ages almost-three to six years old.  We meet in the home of one of the families, and they have a beautiful, large, Amish built home and farm that is just perfect for our group’s needs.  We have circle time and story in the living room, flow into the dining area for hand washing and snack, and then go outdoors for games, activities, and free play.

Last year I received feedback from some of the parents that their children (particularly the 5 year old boys) needed a bit more active energy in the circle, so I’m working to bring in a balance of high energy movement, quiet fingerplays, active songs, and centering verses.  My resources are Freya Jaffke’s book Celebrating Festivals with Children, Donna Simmon’s Joyful Movement, and the Enki Kindergarten Curriculum.

September Circle
(themes: spiders, apples, seed pods, Michaelmas)

Opening
Good morning dear Earth, good morning dear Sun
Good morning dear stones, and the plants every one.

Good morning dear animals, and the birds in the trees
Good morning to you, and good morning to me!

Verse
As days grow short, hearts grow bright.
Saint Michael with his sword
Shines out against the night!

Fingerplay
Itsy Bitsy Spider

Song
Way up high in the apple tree
Two little apples smiled at me
I shook that tree as hard as I could
and down came the apples
Mmm, they were good!

Verse with movement
Here stands the apple tree, strong and green
Here are the apples that hang between
A strong wind blows and knocks them to the ground
Here is the basket to take them all to town

Active Song (sung to tune of 10 little Indians)
Hop on one foot and then the other (x3)
That’s how we hop together

Step and hop and step and hop now (x3)
Soon we will be skipping

Skip and skip around around the circle (x3)
That’s how we skip together!

Fingerplay
In a milkweed cradle, all snug and warm
Tiny seeds are hiding, safe from harm
Open up your wings now and hold them high
Come Mr. Wind and help them fly

French Circle
One of the member’s of our group is fluent in French, and leads a 5 minute French immersion with greetings (Bonjour, Ella!), songs, and movement.

Story
Our Michaelmas story was very sweet, and was drawn from this incredible resource -a free downloadable eBook, entitled An Overview of the Waldorf Kindergarten.

Zacusca! A tasty way to preserve eggplants

The first few times we went to a potluck dinner at the community down the road, we were served a savory treat called zacusca. It was brought out from the pantry in pint jars and reverently placed on the table, next to the precious homemade goat cheese. Clearly, this was something special.

We broke bread, spread goat cheese, and then topped it with zacusca.  Wow! I had never tasted anything quite like it. It’s not baba ganoush exactly, not a caponata sauce exactly, but somewhat similar.  Apparently it is Romanian in origin, and is a great way to preserve an abundant harvest of eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and onion.

My friend Beth and I decided to tackle some zacusca this year.  We purchased two large banana boxes full of eggplant, peppers, and onion (which cost less than $13 for over 20 lbs of produce – unbelievable!) from our Amish neighbor, and got some huge paste tomatoes from another neighbor.  We followed this recipe on Food.com, but adjusted it according to the amounts of produce we had and changed around some of the directions. I figured it was hard to mess up such a dish.

Please do check out the recipe on Food.com for full instructions, but the basic gist of zacusca-making is as follows:

  • Blacken eggplant over a grill or fire
  • Dice, then saute peppers and onions
  • (I also made tomato paste, but you could easily purchase it in cans)
  • Food process EVERYTHING and then,
  • Mix thoroughly, adding salt and pepper and lots of olive oil to taste.
  • (We decided to saute the vegetables prior to food processing, so we did not cook it again)
  • Pressure can for 45 minutes in sterilized mason jars

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I have to admit: this was an enormous job. The steps for preparing each vegetable took time and effort and I was very happy to have two adults (sometimes three) on the job. But the flavor is rich, savory, and intense, perfect for use as a dip with pita, a spread for bread, or a topping for polenta or pasta. I imagine cracking open a precious jar in February and tasting the end-of-summer harvest.

Building a Tiny Home :: Little Details

Before we went on vacation at the end of August, Brian had installed the windows, doors, and tar-papered the exterior.  It was a great push, and we felt proud of the results.  Returning home, it took a week or two for us to really wrap our brains around the question, “what’s next?”  Brian began to tackle many little details that don’t really make the house look dramatically different, but that are necessary before we insulate or put up exterior siding.

HouseDetails1

For instance, these little nailers took several days to cut to length and install.

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We realized that we really wanted a larger window on this south wall, not only to allow for natural lighting and solar warming, but also just to be able to see our beautiful land!  So Brian removed the small window that had been previously installed, and ordered this lovely window. So much better!

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One of the fun parts of building a home is dreaming about how you want it to look and feel. Particularly because this house will be so tiny (under 350 square feet), it’s important to use every inch of space efficiently, and a lot of the decisions about wall placement need to be made now, as we build.HouseDetails2

These two walls are the only interior walls, and they will delineate the mudroom entryway from the kitchen and dining nook.  The rest of the house will have an open floor plan in the shape of an “L”. In the back right of the photo, you can also see a square that was framed in to the mudroom wall.  This will be a door into a closet that fits under the bed loft. Man, is our house a mess!HouseDetails4

The kids have caught the building fever.  This morning Ella woke up and asked me to help her pick out clothes in which she could move easily, because she wanted to work on her building.  It makes me smile so much to see the kids imitating the work that we are doing, and to be so creative in how they execute their work/play.

One question that is asked of us more and more often is, “what will you guys do when it’s cold?”  It is a challenging question. We opted not to return to the same house-sitting situation that we had last October – May, mainly because we love being on our land. But the recent cold and rain has been sort of a wake up call.  We realized that, aside from the house, there is really no dry, warm place for the kids to hang out and play (or for me to do homeschooling), and that we need several weeks where we remove EVERYTHING from the house and blow in dense pack cellulose insulation and start on the interior walls.

We decided to house sit for a friend a few miles down the road for a few weeks in October. It is our hope that we can do most of the messiest work during that time period, and then set up a situation where we will be living in a construction zone. It’s not the most ideal, but it’s what we have to work with right now.  We will be caring for a very large, very old draft horse named Solomon, and Ella is so excited to help feed him and brush him.  I am excited to have a few luxuries, like electricity to set up my sewing machine, and a freezer to store ice cream!  It’s the little things, really!

Financial Hurdles of Homesteading

A few days ago, a reader asked me this:

“How did you overcome the financial hurdles of homesteading, both starting and continuing? ….Obviously you are happily “living on less,” but you also have obvious real expenses.”

This is a huge question, one that I certainly cannot fully address in one post, but I thought I’d start plugging away at it.

Yes, homesteading can be expensive. If you are choosing to homestead on acreage, as we are, then there is the cost of land, of infrastructure like a road, or water.  There is the cost of purchasing, renting, or building your home.  There are expenses related to gardening, to preserving, to caring for livestock.  There is a never-ending list of chores and projects, most of which costs money.  Real hard-earned cash.

As many of you know, our decision to move to Missouri was largely a financial one. We loved Oregon, we love our community there, we love the ocean and the mountains and the abundant cultural opportunities.  The West Coast truly feels like home to me, and thought I’d go on living there forever.  And yet…

We had received an unexpected gift of money, partially from a relative passing away, partly a gift from family.  With this gift, we could have made a nice down payment on a small piece of land in Oregon.  For years we dreamed of purchasing the property on which we rented an adorable little cabin.  We talked to our landlord, we brainstormed with neighbors, we crunched numbers.

We slowly (and sadly) realized that we could not afford to live in Oregon (at least in that area), and continue to live the life that we value – one of hard work and hard play, one of community and connection, one of spending time with friends and family.  With two young children, our priorities had shifted dramatically, and having a livelihood that allowed one of us be at home with the kids felt really important. We began to critically evaluate how we could achieve this goal, and AND homestead in community.  And then, a piece of land next door to good friends in Northeast Missouri came up for sale.

The land was cheap. So cheap that we realized that we could purchase acreage outright, and still have some money left over to build a small home and put in some basic infrastructure.  So, we opted to make a huge move to a new state and start over debt-free, rather than stay in Oregon.

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And that is where I am going to end this post, for now.  In future posts I will detail some of the ways that we are able to make homesteading work, from our employment situation, to creative strategies to save money.

 

Shared with From the Farm Blog Hop and Homestead Bloggers Network.

At the Harvest Festival

And just like that, fall is here.

The change was instantaneous. One moment the kids were running around barefoot, the temperatures in the high 90’s, and in desperation for some coldness, we made a special trip to the store to buy ice for lemonade. We swam in the pond at least twice daily to cool off, and slept under a thin sheet.

Then the weather shifted.  The light changed.  Rain came. And suddenly that special crispness of fall was in the air. Sweaters were taken out of the bottom of our Rubbermaid containers.  Extra blankets pulled out of a drawer. And the kids started saying, “I’m cold!”.

We had two glorious days of beautiful fall sun (and will have more to come!), and on one of those days, we walked across an open pasture to our neighbor’s fifth annual Harvest Festival.  Brian was a participant, demonstrating blacksmith techniques at his coal forge.  Our neighbor Julia sat in the fiber circle and hand-carded some wool in preparation for spinning. There was cider pressing, bread and goat cheese tasting, a hayride, a layout of hand tools, basket weaving demonstrations, and much more. I wandered around with Everett asleep on my back while Ella joined a pack of children in the sorghum patch, munching on the sweet goodness of fallen canes. When he awoke, Everett tried his hand at using a draw knife, under the guidance of our patient neighbor, Mike.

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And at the end of a lovely day enjoying this bounty of craft and skill, I wandered back home, feeling grateful that on our little country lane, I am surrounded by people who care about beauty, food grown by hand, education, and connection with community.  I walked briskly, getting just warm enough to jump in the pond for a bath, thinking that perhaps my days of bathing outdoors are numbered.

 

 

Out the Front Door

Snapshots and snippets of the beautiful, crazy world right out our front door.
If you’d like to share some of your own photos or a blog post,
please leave a link in the comments!

Chickens

Chickens free range the property.  One of our year-old White Rocks, Broody, hatched a chick last week – our first farm-raised animal!  A few of the spring chicks are laying, giving us 2-3 eggs per day.  It’s so nice to once again eat our own eggs!

Lemonade-Stand

Ella’s first lemonade stand.  As she is very eager to have a horse, I suggested she start finding ways to earn money to care for said horse. Ella’s stand was “pay what you wish”, and she made over $6 towards her horse fund!  Her lemonade, enjoyed here by our neighbors Julia and Beth, was made with lemons from Grandma and Grandpa in Arizona, honey brought from our homestead in Oregon, and lots of ice (perfect for yesterday’s extreme heat!).  TentTrailerGoodbye

Before we left for California, we packed up the tent trailer and moved into a nice spacious 7 person tent.  The tent trailer was such a wonderful place to live for a few months, and we were so grateful for the loan.  The tent has been very breezy and cozy.

 

My Top 5 Heirloom Melons (of 2013)

This winter, when I received seed catalogs in the mail, I immediately turned to the Melon pages.  After years of struggling to grow melons in conditions that simply were not suitable – partial sun, cool nights – I was determined to grow a few delicious heirloom melons in my tiny garden.

Baker Creed Heirloom Seeds, based in Missouri, has the most incredible selection of melons I have ever seen.  It was incredibly difficult to select only a few, and I ended up with a dozen or so varieties.  Sadly, some of my starts didn’t transplant well, but I was still left with an assortment of eight varieties, of which we are still harvesting several!  Here are my favorites:

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Banana Melon – Looks like a banana, tastes (faintly) like a banana.  A sweet, unique melon that I really enjoyed.  Fun to share with friends because it’s such an interesting shape and color!

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Prescott Fond Blanc – When this melon began taking shape in my garden, I thought I had misplanted a winter squash. Its bumpy, warty appearance and squat shape are very un-melon, but the flavor is rich and sweet.  The photo above does not do this melon justice, as I picked it a bit too early.

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Ananas – A white fleshed melon that is SO sweet and juicy. This melon was Brian’s favorite.

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Piel de Sapo – (In Everett’s arms) We enjoyed this variety in Oregon, purchasing it from the local natural food store.  It is a late ripening melon – today we harvested the first of the four fruits on our vine.

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Charentais – A French melon.  Small, extremely fragrant, and sweet.  We cut one of these open this morning and ate it before breakfast, with no leftovers.

Did you grow melons this year?  I’d love to hear of your favorite varieties. I’m making a wish list for 2014!

Shared with From the Farm Blog Hop and Homestead Bloggers Network.

How I Avoid Homestead Burnout

We are back from vacation, and it was so, so wonderful.  Honestly, some of the most perfect days – a mixture of gorgeous weather, good friends, family, amazing food, beautiful beach days, ocean life (dolphins, seals, a blue whale!!!), our kids trying new things like boogie boarding and snorkeling – all in the magical place where my husband and I met and fell in love.

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As we got ready for our trip, my personal stress level was very high. Packing for vacation is always challenging, but this time I felt particularly harried about getting the homestead ready for us to leave it in the hands of a (very capable) housesitter.  My garden was getting decimated by cabbage worms, rabbits, and drought; our “water catchment” system has not been refilled by rain in weeks, making us resort to filling up barrels at friends’ houses; Brian was hand-toting hundreds of gallons of water from the pond so we could keep plants and trees alive; and to top it off, it was 90+ degrees.  Add in rehearsals, work deadlines, two young children, and you can see how it might feel a little overwhelming.

But, thankfully, as soon as we boarded the train, my worries about our homestead evaporated, as they always do when I go away.  On our 40 hour train ride, we read books (The Man Who Quit Money and New Dawn on Rocky Ridge), listened to Sparkle Stories, watched the scenery, ate, and just recharged.  When we were on Catalina, I left my phone in our room and just played.  (It’s why I have hardly any photos!).  And when we were hanging out with my awesome sister-in-law Lynne, we just basked in her incredible hosting.

Recently, while lurking on a popular homesteading Facebook page, I read a heated discussion about balancing travel and homesteading.  There were MANY of the opinion that when you have a homestead, you should be content to stay home; that travel and homesteading simply do not mix. Of course there were some good arguments – experienced homestead sitters are hard to find and can be expensive to hire, your homestead is likely more lovely than your travel destination – but there was also a hint of judgement in some of the comments as well, suggesting that those that like to travel are just not cut out for the homesteading life.

I completely disagree with this sentiment. As much as I love my homestead with all my heart, the way I avoid homestead burnout is by leaving.  I have to get away to recharge, to be able to come back with fresh eyes and say, “Look at all we have accomplished here.” Having not done any travel all summer, it was hard to gain this perspective, and I was getting a bit mired in self-criticism for not having a bigger, better garden, or canning more, etc.

Coming back home can be a bit rocky. There are many moments where I wish to be beachfront, sipping a cocktail and eating scallops at my favorite seafood restaurant.  But a few days into our homecoming, now that I’m finally unpacked, I can envision a cold frame for fall greens, and think about planting garlic, and plot where our new sheet mulched garden should be.  I am recharged and ready to approach the next few months with renewed vision.

 

 

Super Simple Felt Balls

Today I’m bringing back one of my favorite how-to posts: making felt balls.  For those with young children, this is a perfect craft.  You can do it outdoors, the mess involves only soap and water, and kids are mesmerized by the tactile sensation of rolling fuzzy wool in soapy water. I hope you enjoy it!

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Felt balls are awesome!  They are great for throwing practice (soft – nothing gets broken!) or for open ended play. (They’re round bales of hay! No wait, they’re freshly baked rolls!)  And they are the kind of craft that is great to make outdoors on a warm sunny day.

So here’s how to do it:

1. Get yourself a nice wad of carded, clean wool.

2. Loosely form the wool into a ball.  It will shrink down, so make a bigger ball than you’d like of your finished product.

3.  Fill a bowl with the hottest soapy water that you can stand to put your hand into and roll that wool into a soapy round messy ball!

See that ball forming!  Keep rolling!

4. Now, get another bowl of very cold water.  Squeeze out the hot water and soap and immerse your ball into the cold.  Keep forming it into a ball as you go.  Alternating between the hot and cold will make your wool ball shrink and tighten.

Look!  Easy enough for an 18 month to try!

5.  Keep alternating back and forth between your hot and cold until your ball is tightly bound together.  Let dry in the sun or inside for a few days until it is completely dry.  Sometimes I like to affix loose parts of the ball with a felting needle.

Voila!

Now go throw that ball around!

Peach Peel Jelly

I am happy to welcome Heather, of The Homesteading Hippy.  Heather has such a great selection of blog posts about urban farming, canning, raising livestock, recipes.  She is also the author of two (!!) eBooks – The Urban Chicken, which I reviewed earlier this year, and a new (free) eBook called Cooking From Scratch.

Today, she shares with us her recipe for Peach Peel Jelly. Welcome, Heather!

With the “waste not, want not” mentality that I like to have and with peaches in full season, this recipe for peach peel jelly is one you’ll want to keep nearby!  First, start by getting some ripe, delicious peaches and rinsing them off.

As you are canning your peaches, and removing the skins and other parts you don’t want to can (brown spots or soft spots) save them into a large pot.  When you are done with the peaches, fill the pot with the scraps with water to cover.  Bring to a boil for 30 minutes, and then let sit covered, overnight.

The next day, strain the peachy water through a cheesecloth or jelly bag.  Don’t squeeze!  This could make your jelly cloudy.

This is what will come out…gorgeous color, right???

Take 3 cups of your peachy water and add 1 box of pectin.  Bring to a rolling boil, then add 3 cups of sugar.  Bring back to a boil and set the timer for 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Spoon the foam off the top, and ladle the hot syrup into hot pint jars.  Water bath for 20 minutes, remove and let cool.  Store up to a year.

Enjoy that peachy goodness!!

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Heather of The Homesteading Hippy is living the rural life, in an urban setting.  She and her family live in a small town in Northern Indiana where they garden, keep assorted poultry and rabbits.  Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest,and  Google+.