Sunday, January 24, 2016

exercise juxtaposed with work

That's what I was thinking about today.  I think I'm too tired to write but I didn't want to lose that.  To do "work" means to accomplish something, not rehash the same thing over and over.  That's a stationary bicycle.  True, there is work we must do repeatedly (the dishes, the stalls, the toilet bowl for the Gods' sakes), but dinner gets eaten, poop gets to the garden.

But it is kind of like play vs. canned activity.

It is kind of like prayer in the closet vs. prayer in public, for real vs. for show, the cry of the heart vs. crocodile tears.


(guess which one is which)

Friday, January 22, 2016

skeletons in the icy snow

I have noticed lately how much I do borrow worry.  I think of my grandmother; this is what my mother said of her mother-in-law.  There is some point to some of it: I don't want to be coming up to a blizzard weekend and be needing to get hay in.  Although, frankly, honestly, if that were to happen, I have a backup for it in those square bales squirreled away.  Not that I haven't carried a square bale at a time up a snowy road before.  Ten steps, rest, ten steps, rest.  That is powering through.

But what I was paying attention to today is that how sometimes the very thing that you dread the most about winter is also the thing that is the most fun about it.

We weren't prepared for a stretch of bad weather.  Yeah yeah we'd heard of it, but it has been such a mild winter.  And we had other things planned, other commitments, some work related, some time sensitive.  Then there were the unexpected things that came up.  HeckO, we did not even hook up the "big" wood stove until, well, just a couple weeks ago.  We got a different one this year, newer, more modern, which probably makes it not quite ideal but the old one was getting thin, with holes.  And this one came to us.  We pay attention to those gifts of the Universe.

We've also had it easy this year.  We've had wood easy, not had to grub for it.  Wood other people didn't want, mostly.  Some fun wood with the horse.  But we haven't had to grub for it, and we haven't had to use a lot of it, and we haven't been keeping the ricks full.  One of them, I don't think, had even had any wood in it this winter.

We got a pass.  The ice was supposed to start last night and it didn't.  Not much anyway.  Made the snow crunchy.  Don't know what it did to the roads -- none of us had to go anywhere.  It wasn't very cold, just around freezing.  Howling wind was at least sporadic.  So I started grubbing wood out of the snow, spitting some pieces we had, gathering, sorting, bringing in to dry.  Laundry got started, because we were going to be short on socks and really, you don't want to be short on socks.  Cleaning out the new stove and readjusting some stuff about it got done.  Normal chores.  Dishes.  Breakfast (and a big good breakfast because you cannot work if you do not eat).  Christmas tree even finally came down.  The goats will appreciate that one.

There is now a relatively clean house, some clean socks and other stuff (some waiting to be hung behind the stoves), two full to overflowing ricks of wood inside the house, more piled on the porch relatively protected, supper, two big loaves of bread soaking, all normal chores, and so far two baths taken with at least one more on the agenda.

We also played with the dog, failed at making snow angels (thus snow skeletons), laughed, fussed, appreciated each others' strengths and hard work, and tested the strength of our bodies and minds, connections and trust.

I might dread the cold snaps of winter, I might worry, but I do love the way they require the whole family's intense cooperation.  The whole of family life really is like that but sometimes you might not notice as much.

November chicks

Monday, January 11, 2016


Yeah yeah yeah I could say it a little less in your face.  And if I did, it would be like a cat rubbing against my leg, "yes I agree with that nevermind what my life choices are pet me".   A 2X4 is what is called for.

I remember when we moved out here.  I was pregnant and we lived in a trailer that was like 7' by 37' and built in 1953 when insulation was, well, not.  We got the porch built when I actually couldn't crawl into the trailer anymore from the ground because my belly was too big.  The heat was a kerosene heater.  The hot water heater held 5 gallons.  The fridge had no freezer -- you know one of those with the little box in it.  On and on.

And people, mostly men, would come up and say, "I always wanted to do that."  No you didn't.  No. You. Didn't.  What you do is what you want to do.  You like the idea of living out here but you don't have the guts.  And if you notice, I didn't ever say I wanted to do whatever the hell it is you are doing.  Unless you are a large animal vet and then I'd like to be your assistant for about a year.  I'd also like to learn how to neuter cats in a boot.

Anyways, it was also in that itty bitty trailer that I started having these horrid dreams, mostly involving being chased and mostly ending with explosions, and I finally figured out:  I need to quit my job.  So guess what I did?  I listened to what I knew and quit my freaking job.  Jumped out into the universe.

Jumped into the power of being the stay at home mom.  And as a stay at home mom I learned the power of living without external validation.  I'm telling you, live for awhile outside of that, with the garden and your babies and supper to validate you or not and you learn a thing or two.  And time with your kids is more important than a new gadget or trip or otherwise being able to buy your way into or out of something or the other.

I remember how scared I was when I made myself drive up to the next barn to see about a job.  Because even when you know you need a change, sometimes you'd rather just live in the known misery.  All day.  Anxious.  I'd worked extra diligently to be done at a reasonable hour (thankfully it was not blanket season or I couldn't have done it).  Ten miles or so on the way home, turn left turn left turn left, not knowing the set up, what I'd find, who I'd talk to, nothing.  But I left with "this is what we pay and start on Saturday."  And from that have grown incredible opportunities for me and for others.

Jumped.  Guts.  Because I'd learned at some point to listen to the universe and myself in that universe and it says the more important things out loud and the less important things it lets you bumble through.  It is not unlike learning to listen to your body and knowing if it is hurting in a good, healing way or in a bad, damaging way.

I know what living in that cabin entails.  It isn't a hotel.  You don't get a key.  The wood isn't already chopped.  Or dry.  Right now it is warm in this house we built even as the temperature outside drops to the teens -- because I'm sitting beside the cook stove feeding it; because we went and got a new thimble and some new stove pipe and installed the new to us parlor stove finally; because last month we hauled up wood with the horse; because a fellow householder split a whole bunch and another carried it in; because my grandmother bought this stove; because the walls we built have six inches of insulation, because of things I can't even name, connections, fertilities, fecundities.  Community ties that I can't even name.

The soup supper is at the end of the month.  You won't even know about that until you've been here a good while unless you are brave enough to just follow the signs from the road when you drive by the day it happens

I could be less.  But I'm not.

Friday, January 01, 2016

stranger in a strange land

We have made our own ceremonies, some combination of written in stone and subject to change.  And he stepped into that.  We did invite him to bring cards against humanity and we played that so that was new.  We had lots of crappy bubbly that is always surprisingly good (anyone else remember your parents going on a cold duck kick in the 70s?).  And we just went about our lives the way we do.  Although I did mop.  And Princess cleaned the bathroom.

He and I tied in cards against humanity.  He got to see how six people in a small place step around each other, always dancing.  How first person up starts the coffee and the fire.  How we work together and how we depend on each other.

We went about our party and he stepped into that.  He'd asked a few questions first.  "Where will I sleep?"  He didn't use the bathroom for a long time.  His little germophobe self only hesitated and cringed slightly when told to please let the dog clean off his breakfast plate so it will be easier to wash.  Bless his heart.  Seriously.  We watched as he examined the lifter then experimented with how it works and then he was good with stepping into feeding the fire. 

We look foward to when he is here to help with the hay.  We are all very impressed with ourselves the way we handle that little chore.  It takes the coordinated effort of four people, minimum, but generally any four of us can get it done.  He will be a fifth so that he can ease into it.


We have, of course, ruined our children's lives.

Monday, December 28, 2015

in praise of being the not so immaculate housekeeper

It should feel clean when you do it rather than dirty when you don't.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Saturday, November 21, 2015

making a conserve from the clown car of Republican politics

"The principle psychological trait of Conservatives is threat sensitivity:  fearfulness."  Which is interesting as I am a first rate catastrophizer myself.  I also want to conserve my health, my sanity, my family, the animals, the earth.

My fear is tempered by a sense of "there but for the grace of the Gods go I".  And I always want the truth.  It'll have to resonate with me but I won't hate you if it does.

I have always known homesteading to be an optimistic endeavor.  Like fishing.  I also know how to make a conserve.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Live withoug calling to terror

I need to sweep the last of the dog hair up today.  Of course, it won't be the last of the dog hair, not really;  it will still be hidden but no more will accumulate.

And every time I read of the Belgium slum where the Paris attackers mostly grew up the line from The Good Earth runs through:  When the rich are too rich there are ways, and when the poor are too poor there are ways.  It is still terrible, it is no excuse, but that poverty simply goes unnoticed, or treated with an Abercrombie sweatshirt and  crafts.  The taking of the jewels as it were does not go unnoticed.

But yes, when people would say that people are only poor because they do not work hard enough, they are not smart enough, fuck them.  I choose to not do those immoral things.  Because you are a doctor does not mean that you deserve that expensive treatment while someone like me would not because the "government" would have to pay for it, as though the government is not paying for yours through protecting your "profession" and paying your income.  No one "deserves" to be able to control their heat with a flick of a finger.  No one "deserves" to sleep under a park bench because the thing has an anti-sleeping thing in the middle of it.  Life in the dump may not really be so bad as you imagine, but neither Jesus nor Muhammad will make it any better.

True enough, I am not likely to give you any of my potatoes.  But that field will call no terror to it either.  Someone who lives the life tho?  Someone in need?  Of course.

So maybe the whole point of this blog all these years is that so many people come against a crisis as Paris and say "Don't look at me -- not my fault," and I am saying, have been saying, "Look at us -- this is one way to live differently, live examined, live whole and yes with love."

And the most simple way to explain that is to live smaller.  Much much smaller.  Much.  Honestly, not much else will change the human heart.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Yep, that's Hickory King (or Cane) corn, with a red sport.  Yep, that'll be seed next year to see what happens!  And it is so nice to have real corn bread again too.

Friday, November 06, 2015


fifteen November
chicks yellow fluff hidden
peeping behind hay

FIFTEEN chicks!  In November!  Makes me grin!  How she hid out with those eggs.  How she fluffs out to protect them.  How she pecks at my hands.  How they speak of lots of spring eggs.  And maybe a pot or two of chicken and dumplins.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

relaxed, forward, balanced, connected: living differently

We are not the perfect homesteaders.  I would kinda think that would be obvious, but maybe not.  It is probably true that I try to frame our failures in lessons learned, other possibilities, or as the husband says, make every disadvantage an advantage.  Which also means I don't tend to wallow in failure, or to do the same thing twice and expect different results.  I may mourn but I walk. Forward is the key.

We are not the perfect homesteaders.  We do not live off the grid, and in fact have no desire to do so.  Rather we prefer to reduce our consumption on every level that doesn't have big returns.  We happen to think refrigeration, for example, has huge returns.  But we don't even own a dryer because I consider it to be the most wasteful appliance possible.  But it also means that I take our down coats to somewhere where there IS a dryer, and I USE it, to wash and fluffy dry them.  See?  No perfection.  I'll tend to use solar for the electric fence -- that is, I would if I had a solar charger, which I don't.  I've considered the possibility of solar to power, say, a computer, if I ever have my little hermit's cottage thing -- where there would theoretically be a hand pump for water, a bucket toilet, and an inside and an outside wood cook stove.  And maybe even a heated masonry sleeping bench.

But I ain't having babies and diapers and feeding a whole passel of people like that -- if I don't have to anyway.

We are not the perfect homesteaders.  We do not raise all our own food, much less provide every other material need off of our 20 acres by ourselves with zero inputs.  Now, there are times we've done experiments on things we could grow more of in order to subsist, like wheat.  And there are things we absolutely DO attempt to provide entirely for ourselves every year (hard corn, the bulk of potatoes).  There have been times we provided more, most of which involved me staying at home and doing it.  If you want to put by 100 pints of jam for the year, which is about what it takes for us, and which we have done, somebody has to BE doing it.  If someone is making all the bread a family of six eats, which I have done, somebody pretty much has to BE doing it.  What we are doing right now is that we raise a lot of stuff, we scavenge a lot of stuff, we concentrate on eating fresh, we try to put some by as we can so long as doing it doesn't drive us crazy.

(not being crazy is an important boundary, one that is far too often overlooked methinks) 

We'll also sometimes plan exceedingly long term.  There is fresh pork (and salt pork, and *middlins*) in the plan about three years from now:  one year for the bull to grow up, one year for gestation, one year for milk and the pigs to grow up.  You never know what will happen in the meantime, but hopeful.  That doesn't mean I'll not be eating any pork roast in the meantime.

We are not the perfect homesteaders.  Someone has much more often than not worked off the farm.  For years, the years that the kids were small, that was husband.  Besides, he earned more.  And I have the boobs.  Boobs are exceedingly important to children.  It doesn't take much cash but it does take some.  And we could get by with less but that would basically mean world economic collapse.  I work off the farm now at least as much for love as for money, although I couldn't do it if it didn't produce some money.  And you know things are always developing, growing, possibility-ing.

We are not the perfect homesteaders.  We just put up some barbwire.  I really wouldn't have thought I'd do that.  But it is a perimeter, and it is a discouragement to large livestock roaming.  We have neighbors who had to have spent at least $60K on a fence that encloses, I don't know, not too much acreage.  I bet his pasture enclosed in that fencing doesn't amount to 20 acres.  And that doesn't count the barn and sheds, the chicken coop and FLAGPOLE.  To each his own.  Seriously.  But I always get the feeling that to "do it right", that's what that means -- throw money at it until it is DONE.  Which most often leads to the next thing to throw money at, with no improvement in skills and ingenuity at all.  If we did our road "right", we would buy a LOT of rocks and gravel to go on it.  But we won't let tucks that heavy pass the bridge so even if we could afford it, we'd have to do some alternative.  And there are a few alternatives I'm working on but right now it means taking the family and hauling some rocks (that we've stockpiled at other times) in buckets to the worst parts and fixing those up.  It takes a LOT less rock to do it that way.  We have some trouble keeping up with it, but then again, it's been worse so we must be doing ok.  Knock wood.  And haul some more rock.

And as with every single one of these things, there are dividends.  We get physically stronger.  We get to work together.  We get time and space to talk.  We get to explore whatever catches our fancy that day, be it what we've been reading or bear marks going up a tree, and do it together, which really there is no substitute for and which contrived "together" time is never as good as.

We are not the perfect homesteaders.  There are always "failures".  I don't think we've ever survived an apple tree but that doesn't stop me from thinking of putting an orchard in on some ancestral property.  Because I think I know what happens and I think it might not happen there.  We've had several starts of bees but that's not unusual in these bee times.  Last year we had no hard corn for the first time EVER.  There is always an ebb and flow in the years.  So you really have to have years.  It's a little like horse riding -- if you've never fallen off, you haven't ridden much, but if you fall off all the time, you just suck.

We are not the perfect homesteaders.  Sometimes I worry too much.  Security is a seducer, if a lie.  Sometimes I pay a bill late, and we pretty much don't go to the doctor.  Sometimes I have trouble letting go.  Sometimes we are lazy.

We are not the perfect homesteaders BUT I do love what I'm doing, and who I get to do it with and for, and I love this farm and this house even when it is dirty and even though it may never actually be "finished", and I love the try, the effort, and so in all that it IS so perfect!

As to people, there is this:  even when I don't like them, I love people and that is why I have such a hard time when they insist on hitting their own toes with their own hammers.  Repeatedly.  And then especially when they are shocked and surprised and oppressed when their toe hurts and swells because they are hammering on it.  Repeatedly.

Live differently.  Even if you aren't perfect at it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

if you know how to say "Appalachia", do you know how to say "flower"?*

There were asters today.  I was thinking of them just the other day, said to a fellow rider as we were remarking on the iron weeds and golden rods being pretty, that in the fall there are tons of asters.

Today they start.

There have been leaves on the bridge.  And great bright splotches of yellow in the forest.

And it is time for hay.  Counting up.  Figuring.  Making provisions.

I remember the year we found this land, got this land, and the tons of asters then.  I remember what the creeks looked like.  I remember some of what the road looked like then.  And us.  Hoooo boy.  Us.  Things do not stay the same. But maybe like the asters they cycle around.  No beginnings.  No endings.

So, yeah, the bears ate the sweet corn.  And we had such a great patch, and had one mess out of it and it was so good but just a tad under ripe at that point.  And then it was gone.  Period.  The hard corn needs harvesting now and then we'll see how much there is.  There was a decently good potato crop.  We did not have a great fall garden because too much life got in the way.  We have that luxury.

So much I would like to do.  Not nearly all of it will get done.  We will see exactly where the priorities lie.  Maybe not Tweetsie this year, but probably the new to us wood burner.  But maybe Tweetsie, you just never know depending on who gets the burr under their saddle.  Hopefully the road, and plowing the garden, and more fencing, and a shelter/feeding area for the big guy.  The stove would mean the library gets attention it so desperately deserves.  Well, hopefully it will mean that -- it is entirely possible it won't.  Flues always get attention but the roof needs it too.  Then there are the paid jobs.  The licenses.  The level 3s.  The lessons.  The writing.  The eating.

And, you know, us.

*helpful hint:  it is one syllable, but then so is Maryville.