OWYG Day 6: Score

Trash: way down. Dirty dishes: way up. Compost generation: way, way up.

Our kitchen has changed completely, and I really like it. I just finished a whirlwind kitchen session that included fennel cabbage soup, fennel pesto, herb squash chips, cucumber salad, garlic mayo, and roasted three stewing hens and stripped them.

The compost bowls are overflowing, and I love seeing the mosaic of potatoes laid out on the counter, a braid of garlic, an active cutting board and butcher knife, a pot of something boiling on the oven (right now, chicken broth), and the place looking like someone’s been throwing handfuls of veggie peel confetti. It feels much more like a farm kitchen should, but it definitely comes with a trade off: time.

Back in 2012, we had just finished working with a farmer in Georgia to help erect a new greenhouse – the previous one was lost in a tornado – when I asked him what he usually had for dinner after long market days. “Pizza,” he said, “because I am so damn tired!”  We have found ourselves trending that direction. Days are long this time of year. We’re up early, I work off farm, we are stretched thin, and at the end of the day it’s simply too easy to come up with an easy dinner solution.

This week, M was frustrated with me when I beat the guys back from market and immediately went out to harvest and finish putting dinner together for everyone. He felt like I was ignoring him and preoccupied. I finally paused and explained the situation: we have no quick and easy dinner solution; the only recipe for dinner is to harvest food and prepare it before we’re all falling apart; maybe we could just chat about our days while he finished loading the dishwasher? It seemed to help, and of course the best way to help any feelings of being overlooked is to include them in the preparation which has also been fun. Whether it’s peeling or chopping or loading dehydrator trays or stirring the pot (which they are very good at!) I want them to be a part of this experience and take ownership over nourishing themselves.

There have been multiple times in the last week that the boys have disappeared, and in several cases it’s because they’ve found their way down to the field to get a snack of blueberries or strawberries or a carrot. The dependence is shifting from the cupboard and fridge to the land, and I like that feeling.

Love

OWYG Day 4: Eating Out

Throwing some granola bars and string cheese in our bag as we head off farm with the boys is not an option during OWYG, which really brings to light our historical reliance on convenience foods. When the boys were little, I quickly adopted the habit of always having snacks at the ready. It gave me an important sense of security, knowing I wouldn’t be caught in a situation where we would fall apart because we stayed out longer than planned or at the mercy of what might be available. We just went to the park yesterday, we ate lunch before we left, and then I managed to fit more mason jars in a lunch box than I think the poor thing was intended for. We had T’s homemade pickles, hard-boiled eggs, blueberries gathered that morning, sliced salted cucumber, and some dried plums.

It’s one thing to be on the farm and eliminate outside foodstuffs, but it’s a different kind of challenge to be eating only what you grow when you go off farm for extended periods of time. Last year, E did Only What You Grow for 22 days solo, and during that time we went back country camping near Estacada. He packed hand-harvested and hand-ground oat flour tortillas, hard-boiled eggs, meat balls, carrots, and dried fruit. He said that experience was a challenge because of the need to balance the huge energy output (bush whacking steep ravines) and rationing the finite amount of food he had available. I think watching me and the boys eat couscous that night didn’t help. 

During that time, he also took a two-day blacksmith class in Portland where he stayed overnight. On that outing, he took hand-ground wheat flour and lard to make flat bread, carrots and other veggies, garlic powder, a dozen eggs, and some incarnation of pork. He said it wasn’t too challenging because he was prepared and had access to his family’s kitchen to prepare food.  

The yoosh
Bacon saves the day. again.

I work off farm full time now, and I have felt the need to be very strategic in planning my meals ahead of time. Leftovers are key. Protein is key. I know I will face some pretty random lunches when we have no leftovers, but office pastries and candy bowls will be declined and bypassed – we are on a mission.

So, this first week of Only What You Grow is definitely increased the need for forethought and preparation, and much bigger lunch boxes.

OWYG Day 3: Find it

When we moved to the farm, most of it was swallowed in blackberries. We had no idea what was under them or behind them: buildings? trash piles? an open well! But the best thing that we have discovered enshrined in blackberries is trees. Not just any trees, but trees that produce food.

Our efforts to put the creek into conservation led to a massive effort to use only non-chemical means to remove an incredible amount of blackberries along the creek. During this (ongoing) process we discovered plum trees, a tart pie cherry tree, apple trees, and pear trees. We’ve loaded our dehydrator several times over with the produce of these amazing beasts over the last few years, and we’ve flanked the greenhouse with a variety of fruit trees in hopes that we can continue to propagate the food forest vibe.

Over the last year or so, E has been tackling the blackberries across the creek to be able to add a fence line and move the cows and sheep over there. We’ve been tempted many-a-time to hire out land clearers to help speed the process, but always talk ourselves out of it. It just feels too abrupt to do that to the land and the wildlife we see over there: elk, deer, pheasant, coyote, owls – and those are just the ones we’ve seen. It’s a painstaking process to clear blackberries that are taller than the tractor. He has to do most of it mowing backwards into them with the bush hog and has to stop every so often to wrestle a t-post and wire cage protector off an ensnarled dead tree to prevent from mowing it.

But what he has created access to is cherry trees. CHERRY TREES. Not just tart pie cherry volunteers, but bona fide cherry trees that were planted probably 40 years ago and managed to survive neglect and near ingestion by blackberries. I have been speculating, though, that once the trees were tall enough to rise above the blackberries that the blackberries’ ground cover shade allowed them to survive the long, hot, dry summers for all these years?

This year, because of the long, wet spring and summer (or divine intervention) they are loaded to the gills and we have been spending lots of time over there, gratefully harvesting cherries. They are magical crimson balls of glorious nectar, and I feel a deep reverence for them and their abundance. We’ve dried many, frozen lots, and eaten a ton of them fresh. And even though this particular harvest will never find itself in a pie, they are darn tasty frozen and covered in goat’s milk. They even held a candle nicely for E’s 40th birthday today.

Cherry Bowl

OWYG Day 2: Put away

Sunday was a busy day of boxing up foods that wouldn’t be touched for the foreseeable future and preserving and processing a tote of produce left over from the previous week’s market. I found myself slightly panicked with the urgency of having food prepared for the week, as we all know that finding yourself hungry without good options will almost certainly lead to bad decisions.

I also felt some anxiety about what the transition might feel like to ditch foods that my body has become used to, for better or worse. A few years ago, E and I did a strict purge of gluten and processed foods for 90 days and he felt grand, but I kicked it off with a wicked case of withdrawals: flu-like symptoms, exhaustion, and grumpy to boot. A year later, an allergy test showed a strong response to wheat, leaving me feeling somewhat vindicated that it was not all in my head.

So mid-Sunday afternoon, right on queue, we were all feeling a bit grumpy and out of sorts (this may or may not be the time I typically whip together some homemade gluten-free cookies) so we sat down and dug into a giant pot of cabbage soup I’d made earlier in the day and then found something else to do besides pine about cookies.

 

Day 1: Only What You Grow

Today, we commence Only What You Grow, wherein our family will consume only what we grow/produce for at least the next 30 days. We have a few exceptions: coffee, salt, and we are considering allowing a barter for a half gallon of goat’s milk per week with our friends who are within a bike ride of the farm.

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But first, a breakfast of ice cream and local apricots to remove foods that will be out of bounds. I don’t anticipate many objections.

 

 

ergo,

I came across it as I was cleaning my closet this evening: the sun-bleached bark brown material; the sacrificial cloth that protects the shoulder straps from slobber and baby teeth and boogers; the waist strap still stained with my sweat ring; my very own koala pouch; the Ergo.

I’ve come across it before, and could always lovingly tuck it back into the closet, telling myself comfortingly that at least the little one is still young enough to fit in it in a pinch. That we might just find ourselves on a hike where his legs will poop out, and I’d whip out our trusty Ergo and everyone would cheer because I would save the day by carrying him across the finish line.

But that’s not how our last several hikes have played out. The Ergo sat quietly in the closet while those once baby boys explored lava tubes and waterfalls, hiked/ran across sand dunes for hours, completed a rather humorous but completely disastrous trail run with me, and backpacked into and out of the Grand Canyon. T (now 10) is a force, being both stronger and far more agile than me. M (now 6) does an incredible job keeping up and has only suffered from tired legs a few times, namely coming out of the Canyon. We had a few incidents of boy-splayed-out-in-the-middle-of-trail-wailing-about-how-we-are-so-hard-on-him, followed by a pulling-together-of-one’s-self and an interesting discussion about settling into the idea that when we don’t know when we’ll arrive somewhere all we can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other. There’s no way I could have carried that sweet boy anyway, so a mind over matter solution was serendipitous.

Our life has changed a lot since wandering into that small shop in Littleton as wide-eyed new parents and investing $100 on that Ergo, a purchase that turned out to be both life-saving and life-changing for me. It allowed me to keep them close and safe while getting out of the house, running errands, hiking, biking, and most importantly, farming. They both spent hours in that precious piece of equipment, and there are times when I ache for that closeness again. I sense their gradual outward motion as they grow up. I now work outside the home full-time while E works the farm, and boys both go to school. They are starting to become their own independent people with their own agendas and ideas, and I’m no longer imperative to their survival as I once was.

IMG_0321
M circa 2014, Kentucky

So tonight when I saw my beloved little helper (the healthy kind) in a heap in the back corner of my closet, it aroused an acute melancholy and I missed the way they used to depend on me and the closeness we had when they were babies. The realization also struck me in a way it never had before, that even if their legs are tired and even if I could, me carrying them across a finish line isn’t really what they need anymore anyway. That it’s okay for the form of my support to evolve. I want them to develop independence and self-reliance, fortitude and perseverance. Ergo, I’ve decided that instead maybe what they could use is for me to just do my best to walk beside them when their legs ache, hold their hand if they want it, and listen openly to their thoughts about how hard the tribulation might feel.

It’ll never find itself in the donation box, though. Some day you might just find me wearing it empty while doing the dishes, remembering the feeling of a sleeping red head resting on my back.

 

Ditching the bitty

Not to be confused with ditching the biddy, wherein E’s endless patience runs out. Not sure how much is left, though…

I’ve decided it’s about time to retire the itty-bitty Cannon PowerShot we got back when we decided to leave Denver with a car and a backpack (and almost a crib mattress). Out of the closet will come the SLR that my parents gave me when I graduated college back in…uh, a while ago. It was a Cadillac of a camera, and way beyond me at the time. My old boss and friend gave me camera lessons with it in 2009 as we sat on a bench by the bay in Victoria, BC.  Between the blue sky and the reflective water, the colorful bobbing vessels and passing aeronauts, it was the perfect photography classroom. We talked about shutter speed and aperture, and other inner workings of cameras. Unfortunately, since adopting the PowerShot, about 99% of that knowledge has faded because of that whole “use it or lose it” thing. The deeper knowledge of photography has been lost on me, and I’m excited to revisit the subject.  Looking at all my parents’ old albums was a strong reminder that my dad (and other people, likely) really knew how to use a camera back in the day! The albums are filled with so many amazing compositions, and when I realize that every one of those required a decision and a manual adjustment before clicking, it makes me feel like a most ignorant photographer.

Don’t get me wrong, though, the bitty has been awesome. But its planned obsolescence (damn capitalism!) has run its course and it’s becoming unreliable, so we’re pulling the relief pitcher.  The PowerShot was highly portable, which is why we got it. It survived a second story drop off a hotel balcony, and shared countless lint-filled nights in close contact with the standard detritus that any good pocket on a farm might accumulate over the course of a day. It’s been dragged around by both our boys, taking an untold number of photos of blurry grass and tops of feet, and incredibly unflattering photos of me. WTF Canon? You’d think with all this technology, I could look hot in at least one photo in the last 6 years.

I remember what a big deal it was when my parents got a CD player when I was probably early teens; I was certain we were a decade behind all the other families we knew.  We usually listened to my parents’ old vinyl records on Saturday mornings as we’d clean the house, or KMGN, a rock station out of Flagstaff.  In hindsight, I like the way technology wasn’t a driving force in our family dynamic. We never had the latest and greatest so in a way we bowed out of the frantic pursuit of it and focused on other things. When my parents did get around to making a technology upgrade it was an awesome, memorable luxury. I’ve noticed that E and I  hold back on technology in a similar way, and I’m really glad we do.

We just recently upgraded to two flip phones instead of a single shared one.  And, after several months of deliberation, we now have a smart TV (which will only play DVDs at the moment because our internet service is also behind the times). The decision was not driven by a need to keep up on technology or peer pressure, rather, our method of watching Netflix had become so painful it was driving us mad. The Netflix-method consisted of: (1) delicately transport aging laptop with screen hanging on by a thread to large computer monitor in living room, (2) balance laptop precariously while crawling through the lower shelf of a cabinet to unplug the DVD player and reroute cord to laptop, (3) plug in laptop because it can’t hold a charge for more than four minutes, (5) reroute speakers to laptop and fiddle with the intermittently-working, duct-taped single speaker whose twin died years ago, (6) have E pull me out of the cabinet by my ankles, (7) apologize to kids for all the cussing, (8) watch Netflix. So we went ahead and made the upgrade. And now we have a remote control to adjust volume – something we haven’t had in 8 years. I can’t even believe how much I appreciate remote volume control. I imagine the boys also appreciate it, as their little legs have served as “remote”, and their little fingers have served as “control” to turn the volume control shaft (because the button fell off a few years ago).

So, going back to the SLR feels like going back in time, reconnecting with an era pre-quick-and-easy-pocket-camera. It’s comforting. It does present some logistical questions, like how am I going to tote this giant thing around? Maybe, just maybe, I can get it to fit in this:

fanny
My prize find when we bought the farm: a fluorescent fanny pack. Can’t wait to wear this to my kid’s soccer game. And put tissue in it.

Affliction

I’ve been consumed with anxiety and doubt the last few days. Not exactly sure why it set in the way it has, like being afflicted with a bad cold that I just can’t shake. I’ve been finding Kleenexes slimed with bitchiness in every pocket. Maybe it set in because we’ve had a few markets that were underwhelming. Maybe because I’ve read numerous articles and essays related to the downturn in demand for farm produce; related to folks struggling to make ends meet on farming-only income and those words speak straight to my fears. Maybe it’s because the boys’ fighting has seen an up-spike the last week. Maybe it’s because I’m feeling particularly tired this week, fatigued just enough that when caught simultaneously in the headlights of life, I don’t have the strength to look away so I become frozen in their beams.

While it aches how heavy everything feels this week, I also find it equally annoying. I know that ultimately the conclusion will be to stop my belly-aching and pull it together and get back out there. To find the path forward despite being temporarily debilitated with fear, angst, doubt, etc.

I have to believe these emotions are valid and universal. That all people, no matter the path they’re on, have moments of doubt and feel conflicted about what they’re doing with their lives. But it’s one of those irrational weeks when I forget this truth, and instead see that everyone else is walking around in total confidence and certainty, butterflies flittering around their heads as they prance down their perfect paths. And maybe some are. But it’s one of those times (which actually happens fairly frequently for me), when I wish the truth would just be whispered by a gentle narrator as a person walked by. Maybe something along the lines of, ‘they’re trying their best, to be sure, but at times they also freak out too about whether what they’re putting their energy toward actually matters.’ Am I weird that I would find this so damn comforting? Maybe. Am I weird that I get tired of people omitting the challenging parts of this life? I’m not too keen about the ‘woe is me’ mentality, but I believe there is something to be said for calling it like it is, being real about the grisly parts, and still being able to find the joy and beauty in the catastrophe that is the human experience.

The Last Hair Tie

I am down to my last hair tie. Two weeks ago, I still had one of my simple black no-frills Goody elastics and now it’s gone so I’m down to my last resort – a rubberized one that rips out my hair every time I remove it. I’ve always had long-ish hair (except for a fun night with a bottle of wine and rusty farm shears) so hair ties have always been an integral part of my work costume. E once told me he had one hair tie for his entire long hair career, and one pencil throughout all of college. He’s superhuman if you ask me; I can’t fathom the kind of discipline that he must have to put something back in the same place every time. He famously puts my tools away before I’m done using them and closes cupboard doors while I’m still emptying the dishwasher (or a week after I’m done, whatever). He is the ying to my yang.

 

But for some reason I’m feeling this last hair tie to be symbolic. We’ve spent the last year without income, living on savings to get this farm up and running and producing. We took our last big gasp of spending before we left Kentucky – I probably even had a full pack of ties then – and we’ve been holding our money-breath ever since and frivolities regularly get the ax. Our stores of comfort items and niceties have dwindled. Hair ties for some weird reason, fall into that category for me. After all, couldn’t I just rig up my hair some other way? I could revert to making horrific scrunchies like all of 4th grade by pulling the elastic out of T’s outgrown shorts and sewing it into the ragged dishtowel that I’m about to throw out. But I just don’t have that kind of time these days. I even eyed one abandoned at the park that looked just like mine and almost picked it up, but then got to thinking about lice and thought better of it.

What I’m trying to say, is that it’s the 11th hour around here. First market is still 23 days out, and we still have some big expenses coming around that are imperative to a successful season. It can feel a bit discouraging on days, when progress feels like an uphill battle and we realize that the path to where we’re headed isn’t paved in well-drained silty loam with a pH of 6.5. But we’ll forge on – we’re not starving or destitute – and we’ll make it to that first market, with hair a blowin’ in the wind.

IMG_2615
Hair? What hair?

 

9

E and I spent our ninth wedding anniversary atop the old barn, pulling the 20′ corrugated tin panels to salvage before its demolition the following week. We decided it was best to take down the building on account of all the rotten timbers we discovered as we cleared it out, the cobbled and crumbling multi-level concrete floors, and the piles of trash and manure that would have been nearly impossible to deal with to our satisfaction by hand. Tackling the job ourselves to make it safe and functional before the rains set in could have easily consumed the rest of the summer, and we just don’t have that kind of time. We are realizing that our outbuildings are our highest priority. To have them weatherproofed and operational before fall so we can continue making progress out of the weather feels crucial.

E takes down the north lean-to the week prior
E takes down the north lean-to the week prior

With my anxiety about one of us falling off the barn (since a neighbor recently fell off her roof and was badly injured) I begged E to rig up some ropes so we could tie-in while working up there. I think he enjoyed an excuse to throw some climbing rope, and with my harness just a bit more snug than it was in college I managed to wear it with my legs only going partially numb.

It was sure fun to be up there working together, pulling bucket loads of nails and looking out to a perfect view of the land and the coast range to the west. We were both tied off to one long loop that ran along the ridge, and as E went close to an edge I thought how convenient, even romantic that by literally being his ball and chain today I might actually save him from falling off the edge. As I continued to pull nails in my semi-meditative state, my mind wandered to how appropriate such an arrangement was to celebrate nine years together: being each other’s anchor in this way, keeping the other from going off the deep end when needed, being bound together as one to accomplish what felt like a monumental task. And no sooner had I settled on the magnificence of our union, I looked up to see E standing in the middle of the ridge, having just unclipped his harness because the ropes were tripping him up. He was smiling, handsome in the sun, looking around enjoying the freedom and the view from his perch. It seriously rattled me. But wait!! I thought, We’re each other’s ball and chain! You can’t just unclip!! I had to laugh at my somewhat silly notion that may have extrapolated itself a bit too far. I had not even considered that one of would eventually have to leave our arrangement to pee.

Me and my big butt. I mean buttket. I mean bucket.
Me and my big butt. I mean buttket. I mean bucket.

It was a stark reminder that he was, and always is, clipped in voluntarily. We’re all clipped in voluntarily to what we’re doing, to the relationships we’re in, to the jobs we commit ourselves to. While it might be complicated to unclip in many cases, the fact of the matter is that 99% of our actions are ultimately by choice. What we eat, what we buy, whether we take the stairs or the elevator, whether we choose engineering or farming. Sometimes those choices can trip us up; sometimes they can save our life. Sometimes you have to trust that unclipping from your current situation and enjoying the freedom of exercising that choice is exactly what you need to do.

We did get the roof off except for a few pieces we left because of a bird nest under the ridge. We wanted to give them the extra week to figure out the flying thing. Most of the nails were popped because of the rotten slats holding them up, so pulling them was actually pretty fun. E waged several battles with wasp nests in the ridge, and I managed to get a raging sunburn on my muffin top because of the way my shirt rode up – reminiscent of the plumber’s crack sunburn I got helping my dad put a roof on his garage in Flagstaff about 15 years ago. Some people just never learn, I guess (hand raised). So to anyone out there working on a roof, I highly advise tucking in your shirt. But only if you choose.