Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Putting out into the water...

I know I have been absent. My best-friend drove up from Colorado to bring my oldest home from college. She and her five kids are staying with us. It is loud, it is hot, it is noisy and it is wonderful. There is never a quiet minute and the kids have been running around all day and into the night every single day since last Wednesday. In my girls' room, her daughter is bunked in with my six. In my boys' room, her four sons are in their with four of mine. My college boy is on the sofa for now. All night long there is the sounds of many, many people breathing in the house. Bath time is an all day affair and we are staggering turns in the tub and in the bathroom and to use the clothes washer.

We're keeping busy. Basically we are eating all the time. We are cooking or we are actively eating or we are cleaning up after eating and then we are planning for other things to eat. Oh! And making cheese. We made four pounds of ricotta today as well as two pounds of chevre. But we are not only eating, even if primarily eating. Hanna and I have gone to both Keweenaw yarn shops and stocked up on yarn. We have picked out yarn for a pattern that we are going to cast on as soon as I finish the second sock I am working on for my oldest daughter. The girls have played endless rounds of paper dolls, dress up, hair salon, and hissy fit. While my older boys are keeping themselves busy (Raymond is working on turning electric fence wire into tiny locking washers for homemade chain mail in addition to milking a cow twice a day), the younger boys are building a raft with scrap from around the farmyard.

They are intense about this thing. The water in the lake is frigid, I have not idea what the exact temperature is but it is within the range of "melted ice". I am not sure how they will manage taking it out on the water but I think we will plop the thing in the trailer and take it down there for them. Eli is trying to apply technical elements like cross pieces and I have no idea what else. It should float but I am not sure how many people it will hold but these boys are not so big. Hopefully they can all go for a ride even if not all at the same time.

There is something else, check it out. Flowers. Real ones. The apple trees are in bloom! And other things, too. Like Ben's grandmother's lilac bush. It is just starting so I am not out there cutting off it yet but soon, very soon, I will have lilacs for the kitchen. I have waited so long for those flowers!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Finding a new rhythm in our days...

 We have had the cow and the steer for a couple of weeks and have found a pretty good rhythm, or at least a warm weather one. The Keweenaw being fickle as it is decided it was time to stop pretending that it was actually approaching summer and gave us some real spring. This morning I went out to milk at five o'clock and I had to walk through the snow to do it. I am not even kidding. We only got a couple of inches and it did melt by one in the afternoon but it snowed this morning. For good show, it decided to snow again just before lunch. Don't want to get too cosy, you know. The cow will be here in the winter and I got an inkling of what it will be like. It will be cold, it will be so cold that I will be grateful to touch the cow to keep my hands warm though I will need to remember to warm them first.

Zeus, our Golden Calf. Ok, he is a steer, but he looks good here.
It warmed up to just shy of 40F degrees and then the almost sun came out and it was really a gorgeous day. I did not get the closet photographed but I did get Io the cow and Zeus the steer to pose for my camera. It was not bright enough upstairs to shoot until it was golden hour and then there is no point in shooting inside. I had to head outside and get some good photos then. It was chilly, only 38F, but with the gorgeous golden hour sun and leaves starting to come out on the trees, it looked so much warmer. I really, really want it to warm up because my daughter, Veronica, has a birthday tomorrow and it snowed on the day for the last two years. She cried so much last year! I want her to have a lovely little birthday. It is crazy that so close to Memorial Weekend we can get snow. A friend in Virginia was complaining that it was too hot to sleep at his house light night. This morning I put on wool sweater, hat, and scarf to go milk.

Io has this lovely brown strip on her back and brown ears.
But the best news is that I am cleaning my house like crazy because I need to fit seven more people in here! Yes! My best friend is packing up her five kids and driving my oldest son home from college and they will all be here Thurday. I. Cannot. Wait. I have not seen my son since January and even though I talk to Hanna several times a week, I have not seen her since last July. I cried for an hour after we drove away. Best week, ever.

I am thinking about where everyone will sleep and how we will work meal times and how there will be more hands to wash the cream separator so that we can make lots and lots of cream. Whoot. I cannot wait. Her kids live in the city, like real city, and they have a city sized yard. Those boys are going to have a great time running all over the farm...in pants and long sleeves. Because the pools may be opening in Colorado but here, we are just barely getting spring started.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

How Amazon Prime Pantry works...

Living in the country has challenges but
shopping does not need to be one of them.
I live in a very rural and isolated area and finding things can be difficult because there is not enough of a population center here to support larger businesses with broader product bases. In talking with other people who have moved here from other places, we agree that the great equalizer is Amazon. If you need something that you cannot get here, you can still get it, you just gave to order it over Ye Olde Interwebs. When it is a whopping 223 mile round trip to standard suburban stores like Target and Kohl's it can save time, money, and sanity just to walk over to the keyboard and have it appear like magic via Mike (our awesome UPS guy).

That is not to say that I do not support my local business which often suffer when people turn to online purchasing. The local business owners are my neighbors and my friends and we make a consistent and concentrated effort to buy local because it makes a difference in our local economy and in the lives of our friends . In this small community, we are in this together and they deserve our support. But, that said, because I am a freaky hippy, sometimes there are things that they cannot provide because I might be the only person who needs them. This is exactly the situation that Amazon Prime Pantry serves so well.

How to Use Amazon Prime Subscribe and Save...

Once you have purchased a Prime membership, a huge number of things are available with no shipping charges and expedited shipping. Largely they are frequently ordered items, and Amazon is able to make their money on volume. Amazon has a service known as "Subscribe and Save" within the Prime products which offers you a discount on things you might frequently order. One of the things I have in my subscribe and save cart is Seventh Generation sanitizing wipes. I keep them in the van for long car rides and at the bathroom at home and church for sanitizing the little potty chair. There is a lower price available for things that you subscribe to ordering and if it is something that you will buy regularly and on a consistent schedule, then it is worth it. You will get an email telling you your next shipment of whatever is coming and you can choose to change the frequency if you like or opt out and go back to a regular price. This means if you no longer needs diapers delivered because your child has potty trained or if you change sizes, that you can control what comes and when. By the way, diapers is one of the things that people overwhelmingly order.

How to Use Amazon Pantry...

But what happens if it something that does not get used on a regular basis or isn't so commonly ordered that it is available in the Subscribe and Save program? You can start an Amazon Pantry box. If you go over to the Amazon Pantry site, you can see all the products that are available in the program. These are not bulk sized items, just the standard grocery store size packages, so you might want to check prices and see if a bulk price would be better if you have a large family. Most of what you will find is typical grocery shopping trip things like paper towels, toilet paper, soft drinks, toothpaste and things like that. Because it will likely take you a while to fill your box, make sure that you are not adding things that you need immediately.

The box is big, it holds about four cubic feet and 45 pounds of goods, which is both a lot and not a lot. Once you start filling your box, you might be surprised by how much you put into it. Think of it as your running grocery list. Drop things into the box as you find that you need them and then have it shop when you are ready.You can see what percentage of your box is filled and what the cost of the goods is inside it but no matter how full it is, it ships for the same price: $5.99. When you ship is up to you.

How to Make Amazon Pantry Work for You...

There are couple of ways that Amazon Pantry becomes very useful.

My husband works a commission based job and for most of my marriage, monthly or quarterly checks reflecting bonuses have made a significant proportion of our income. We keep a strict, basic monthly budget but then there are things that are set aside for buying later when he is paid a bonus. Usually it is things like home school curriculum, shoes, seasonal clothes.and the little odds and ends that are not monthly expenses. Amazon Pantry is perfect for situations like this because I can keep adding to the box and ship it when it is not only full, but there is room in the budget for whatever I have ordered. The best time it when it is almost completely full because then I save money on shipping. In the end, it saves me money generally because it sometimes happens that later I decide that I do not always need everything in the box. Just waiting a couple of days keeps me from spending money I do not to spend. That is not such a bad thing.

One car families, or families in urban centers who do not have cars can really work this program. You do not need to have the car that day or try to lug home big packages of toilet paper, baby wipes, or diapers using the train or the bus or a cab. I used to live in the city and Ben took the train daily. While he was downtown (and I was uptown with the kids, at home, drinking tea) I would give him a list of things to grab so that I would not have to take the kids. What I did not consider was that Ben would be one the train during rush hour, wearing his nice office clothes, struggling on the train to hold onto whatever it was I asked him to get. Yeah, not very considerate of me. Again, make sure the box is really full when you ship in order to save money and make sure what you add to the box is not something that you need immediately.

If you do not have a lot of storage, this can be a really good program for you. You do not need to make room for giant packages of things, just ordinary sized products. While they do all come at once, a savvy shopper can make sure that they work on filling the box as they work through their supply of products, so that they have a ready space available for what is coming. Admittedly, this takes some balance, but I have confidence in you. You sharp.

How I use Amazon Prime Pantry...

I have big family, I am a million miles from anywhere, I have limited storage space, my husband's (and my limited) checks are not a consitant amount. This is a perfect program for me. I like to keep at least one spare of anything in my storage closet (which will be a post for tomorrow) and when we get down to a single one, I order a couple. For example, I have three teens and one preteen and two adults in the house. I always have two deodorants in the drawer, one in a girly scent like Tom's of Maine Natural Deodorant in Honeysuckle Rose and then another in plain which is good for the hubs and sons. I always drop two of each when I realize that there is only one left in the drawer. This means that by the time there is none in the drawer, there are another two on the way and maybe even here already. The same goes for the shampoo and conditioner and the all those things that go quickly like toothpaste and floss. As I am cooking dinner and I realize that I am low on something, but not out, I will either have the kids write a note to remind me to add it to the box or I ask the teens to add it. I do not have the younger kids do it because sometimes, they just order it. Sigh.

It is hard to wrap your head around how Pantry works, but it is worth it in the end. What you need to do is think of the pantry as an actual box of all things that you will be buying later but that are not buying right this minute. You add, remove, or switch what is and what is not in the box as you need to before the it actually ships. As long as it is not something you need to today or tomorrow, you are going to be fine.

Do you use Amazon Pantry? How is it working for you?

(Disclosure: Links above are affiliate links which means that I would a small referral fee if you purchase anything though your price does not change. So, if you do not want to flip me some cash, don't click through. FYI.)

Monday, May 11, 2015

Saint Phanourios cake...

Have you ever lost anything and simply could not find it? Happens to us all the time. Ben's bifocals were missing for a couple of weeks and he was really missing them. Oh, the joys of turning forty! We looked and looked and resorted to the system of offering a bounty, which is what we do when we are desperate. No dice. Not even the enticement of ice cream out could force those stupid glasses out of hiding. In desperation, I told everyone that we were going to pray to Saint Phanourios, the Eastern patron of lost things. He is most famous for finding himself which is a pretty cool story so you should click on his name above and find out more. He is also well known, and very much appreciated, for finding things for people who ask his help and who pray for his mother, a public sinner. Anyway, I lit a candle and prayed for her and Ben found the glasses about three minutes later. This means that I would need to get to make the traditional cake that is baked after people find what was lost. Believe me, this cake is as delicious as it is easy to throw together so it is not biggee.

Most of the recipes out there are very similar. Because sometimes people need to make them during the times of the year that they cannot have eggs or dairy, they are vegan. They are often a bit on the dry side but the cook quickly and are really amazingly delicious. But I don't use vegetable oils and I don't like refined sugar so I took the recipes out there and just foodie-fied them which makes them egg-free and dairy-free but not vegan. This is a moist, sweet cake with a natural twist. It is so good that I found myself wishing that we lost things more often to which my oldest daughter replied, "Uh, no, you should wish that we would find things more often." She has a point.

Lenten Spice Cake for Saint Phanourios

Dry Ingredients:
4 C unbleached all purpose flour (or 3 3/4 sprouted whole wheat flour)
1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt (2 tsp if using coarse)
2 tsp aluminum free baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground ginger

Wet ingredients:
The zest and juice of 4 mandarin oranges (I use Halos because they are GMO free)
1 1/4 Cup olive oil (1 1/2 Cup if using sprouted flour)
1/4 C brandy, whisky, rum, spiced rum, whatever you have in the cupboard
1 C honey

Add ins:
8 large medjool dates, pitted, coarsely chopped
1 Cup brined pecans, coarsely chopped

Powdered sugar garnish

Preheat your oven to 325F degrees and liberally grease a Bundt pan with olive oil. Whisk together the drink ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Using the same whisk, combine the wet ingredients in a 4 cup liquid measure. Add the liquid ingredients to the wet and stir with a fork until just combined, then stir in the dates and pecans. Scrape the thick batter out into the Bundt pan and bake for 40-50 minutes until a toothpick inserted halfway between the column in the middle and the edge pulls out with a few crumbs attached but not wet. If you wait until the toothpick is dry, then the cake will be dry and that is not yummy.

Try it and let me know what you think! If you are anything like us, you will be trying to think of things to look for just so you can have the cake!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Upcycled tires as garden planters...

I have to be honest with you, I had no idea what would happen when I posted this photo on Instagram which spilled it over onto my private FB feed. This is me outside the house in the sunny spot at the top of the hill and I am pointing at a small pile of tires. I had a caption about how I was embracing my inner hillbillly because I was planning to use the tires for an herb garden. I am also planning to put tomatoes in them but I did not mention that on IG. I had a lot a of positive response with strangers but much, much less with my friends. I did not think it would become too much of a big deal but my little FB status update ended up with scores and scores of comments and ended up carrying over into other posts and it got a bit messy. No one was mean, just commenting a lot, and it was because they all really care about my family.

Yes, to be honest, not everybody is thrilled with the idea of upcycling tires at all. As a general rule, I think that people have very mixed feelings. They like the idea of doing something with them but they hate the idea of doing something with them almost as much. Mother Earth News had THIS article on how awesome it is to use them as mini hothouses but they also had THIS post on how horribly wrong it is. People want to try to upcycle and put things to good use but they also want to look more like someone from an Anthropologie ad and less like crazy hippies from a commune. They also want to be ecologically conscious which means reusing things but they also want to avoid all the implications from actually reusing things. It is a tough thing, really. Trying to balance all these things is hard, very hard.

For my part, I am still going to use those tires. I had to think about it all over again and discuss it with my husband and make sure I still thought the same things, and we do. The difference is that we have thought about them in a broader way than we did before. One of the most important things we talked about is the fact that this is a family farm from the 19th century. There is a lot of junk piles out in the fields. It just comes with the territory. There are piles and piles of things including tires that are forty years old. Whatever those tires could have done to the soil was already done out in the far fields and there is nothing that I can do about that. People did not have the same awareness or even the same options in the past that they do now and the consequences are very apparent to us. Not just more there, more apparent. You have those same consequences you just don't know it.

We live seven miles from a highway. We do not have city water or city sewer or garbage pick up. The way that we process our trash means that we understand exactly where it goes and what happens to it in way that most people don't. We compost everything that be composted and we burn paper and cardboard. We can recycle some things but it is a drive of over twenty miles to get it there so we have to clean it and store it and transport it ourselves when we are going to town anyway. Plastics and nonrecyclable and noncompostable goods get bagged up and brought into town three or four times a month. Any plastic food packaging and even the little plastic windows on envelopes have to be carried into town. We are painfully, acutely aware of every single piece of trash we produce. Our large family produces only one large bag a week and even then I wish it were less. Because we cannot hide from the trash or hide the consequences on the environment you better believe we make a good effort to reuse things as best as we can and to avoid harmful chemicals in our household. Forty years later, fifty years later, those tires are still here. The question is whether or not to haul them out and pay someone to dispose of them (a word which here means "put them somewhere else) or do we find a use for them.

We have a need for raised beds. The winters here are intense with more than 22 feet of snow a year. Because of the bitter cold temperatures (we can have double digit negative temps as the day time high), it sticks around all winter long. The spring melt is an intense experience. The snow melts from the top down meaning there is seasonal flooding and seasonal rivers that spring up because the ground is not yet thawed. The ground freezes eight feet down here and it needs to thaw before it can absorb the moisture and that takes time. As we wait for the water to settle under the ground, the soil is soft and swollen and it feels like walking on a waterbed. The ground heaves and moves and unheated buildings move with it. Coupled with the very short growing season (we expect snow early next week) we have some difficult gardening conditions. Ease in covering with plastic in order to make a modified cold frame means that we can start things outside earlier. Old windows may work other places but since we will see snow throughout spring and into May (I have seen it snow as late as May 20th), glass is a poor choice. When piled with snow, it shatters. Ask me how I know. Above ground beds thaw and drain earlier and the need for materials that can cope with the very, very wet conditions limits our choices. Wood rots here, there is nothing for it, it just cannot cope with the moisture. We have a forest, there is no lack of wood, it just won't work here.

What is more is that the other options available are not as available to us as they are to other people. I have pulled out cinder blocks from around the farm and started my kitchen garden in those. When it is well over 100 miles to Home Depot (over a 120 miles away) means that things become so much more difficult to come by and far more expensive. There is no quick run to the hardware store, what there is comes down to a choice to the small local place which can ship it in given a few days or an all day trip covering almost 300 miles and usually involving other trips in town since you are there anyway. This place is not so much rural as it is isolated; not so much country as plain rustic. Things are different here. Everything is different here. There is a lot of making do and making things work and neighbors helping each other. While things may not be perfect, they work, and making things work is literally what keeps you around year after year.

Having come from the city where I had a small little kitchen garden and went to farmers markets in the industrial core and picked up my milk in urban backyards, I get it. There is a tendency to want things to be perfect and pretty. I get it, I like Anthropologie and Shabby Chic, too. But this is not about taste or affection or aesthetics, it is about making an honest to goodness organic kitchen garden here in the woods using the resources I have available. I need produce because getting produce here is ridiculously hard and after a winter of frozen vegetables (you can always buy frozen!!), we crave some really fresh veggies. To get something that is both natural and productive means leveraging any resources I have at my disposal. Literally my disposal. My resources come from junk piles in the fields bordering the woods and that is okay. It only takes 30 minutes or so to fire up the tractor and go get them. We still have a home depot, it is just not a capital-H Home Depot, but it works. And so do we.
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