Monday, July 25, 2016

Under Construction - Refocusing!

Lost... disoriented.. wandering.. confused... unfocused.. did I mention lost?

So far this year has been a year of confusion; a sorting out of things. I sit here today attempting to find the focus that normally drives my existence. My life has changed- not in a bad way- just changed.

The children have moved on leaving my husband and I to wander how we managed before they arrived. Homestead dynamics change when there are fewer hands on deck.

My husband and I work different shifts which often means we aren't home at the same time. Basic home duties are trying to rotate around odd hours.

While we still homestead, we are faced with the challenge of scaling down and figuring out what fits the two of us instead of the five or more of us. Gardens, livestock, and land management are in limbo as we try to gage our resources.

Yes, it seems I would have more time, but that's really a misconception. With less hands to help with the work, there is less time. Any amount of free time I find is being used to clean out and declutter as much as possible.. except:

Since crazy runs in my family, I decided to register for my holistic health and nutrition license which means time needed for study before the exam. This takes me away from the declutter focus I was on.

Basically- it's chaos around here, but, here's the jist. The homestead, blog, and person are 'under construction'. There will be brainstorming, creative chaosing, and all out overhauling! While the blog is still something I want to do, it really needs some clean up (along with everything else).

For the next month or two, my focus will be intently on my exam. After that, the homestead gets a face lift, the clutter gets moved out, and the blog gets a redesign!

Let's see how this goes :)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Achievable Goals? Are there any?

To grow my own food- loose weight- get off my medication- raise my own meat- be sustainable; self- sufficient- to be thin- to look like -- to be better!!!!

We have all heard them; many of us have 'set' them- goals. Some we have achieved; many we have been deceived by- most have broken our hearts, and a few have been destroyed by them. When I ask people about setting goals the answers all brought me to a realization... we are probably thinking too big.

Why is it we look so far and so wide for the bigger and better whatever? Can we downsize it a bit to create a reality we can work in? I believe we can. Setting a big goal isn't inherently harmful, as long as we realize that it is the 'big picture'. With in that big picture can be smaller goals leading up to where we want to be.

Example: Say I want to grow my own food. That is a fairly large goal (big picture). The smaller goals leading up to that might be to start a small garden plot with simple veggies (maybe a salad garden); my next goal might be to raise a small flock of hens for eggs. Letting our goals build on each other without adding another until we find comfort in the success of the first lends us to more achievable outcomes... success.

Last week my participants received a paper filled with various shaped hearts. Large hearts were there for the 'big picture' goals; smaller were the steps leading up to the big picture. While the exercise may sound tedious.. the smaller hearts are the ones we focus on.. and many found success already this week.

'I drank more water'...'replaced one soda with water'.. walked on my breaks at work... spent more time with my child.. ate a veggie with each meal..

Confession: I am terrible at small goals! My mind is always focusing on the 'romantic notion of big things'. This week's small goals have been a challenge to keep my eyes on, however, I am seeing good progress in myself.

What about you?

Are you a big goal or small goal person? Do you find success in your approach?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Deafening Silence

Is it just me, or is silence deafening? My mind is constantly boggled lately by not only how silent my house has become, but how deafening it can be. Kinda like my little blog- I know.

Last month found me losing my mind as the schedule I set proved to be a bigger challenge than expected. This month is slightly less chaotic; slightly. Honestly, the chaos brings a bit of balance to the end of day deafening silence.  How does one manage the looming quiet that comes at the end of the day in an empty house?

She decides to expand her education.

I decided deafening silence could be filled with books, quizzes, tests, and certification processing. Doesn't that sounds like a great way to fill the void? This week I registered myself to bypass completing another degree and just get my certifications in fitness for special populations and as a nutritionist; I have been working in and studying about this for years- just as well dive right in and do it!

Please bear with me as I go geek- potentially sharing insights and irritations- as I study my way through the certification reviews and, hopefully, complete the process rather quickly.

Anyone else out there trying to fill the deafening silence with chaos?  

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Dreaming of My Prairie

The Old Picnic Table

   Summer days bring with them memories of long ago. A time of gathering and glowing with the kiss of the Kansas sun. Prairie grasses waved in the sun; children climbed silos; and 'old folks' told tales. Walk with me through the years, back to my growing up days, were I ran free in the summer sun. Walk with me back to the prairie.
   You could tell family was coming to the farm; my grandmother would get antsy in the kitchen. Days and days of baking and preparing would yield a tell tale sign of a family gathering. Our standard fair: hamburgers on the grill with all the fixings.
    In the farm kitchen we stood pressing patties (heaven forbid someone suggest pre-made). Cheese slice wrappers lay between each one to keep them from sticking- she had saved and washed those wrappers just for such a need. Treats were made and placed on the old card table: cookies and pies, sometimes a cake, too. With all the work, there was always the concern- might not be enough.
  As the afternoon sun shifted in the sky and chores were finished the grill was pulled to the side of the house where the garage doors open - the same place we would sit and clean garden vegetables- the place where you could see the barn, shop, some of the fields, and most importantly- company driving up the drive.
   Grandpa and Uncle Randy would haul the old picnic table around there for us. I would run from the house to the picnic table setting out all the necessities: ketchup and mustard, pickles and onions, lettuce and tomatoes- my grandfather's favorite chips- bread for the burgers and drinks for everyone (iced tea, of course).
   The grill fired up as family members backed the trucks up near our picnic table; there were never enough places to sit! Some of the used the tail gates for placing the food items, some sat on them to eat. Bread slices were graced with hot hearty burgers- each dressed their own just as they liked it. My grandpa loved to stuff bar-b-que chips in his, naturally, I had to give it a try...yum! Sitting by him, my feet dangled from the bench swinging left and right (at least till someone noticed- sit still, you're shaking the whole table)
   When the sun fell in the sky, the family lingered there at the old picnic table. The chatter of catching up, of reminiscing, of goings-on filled the air. Food was carried in and desserts tasted as my cousins and I chased lightning bugs; giggling and running in the prairie winds. Even as I headed in to bed, they lingered around the table- visions of the day danced in my dreams.

   The old picnic table now makes it's home with me, way down south. Never do I pass it by that I don't see the gathering of family or hear the chatter of loved ones. When we sit at the old table, I share the tales of long ago, when my family gathered on the farm with simple food, simple lives, simple fun.


Farmhouse Dill Pickles

4 qts. medium cucumbers
8 sprays of dill
4 garlic cloves
1 qt. vinegar (here I used white)
1 c. salt
3 qts. water

The day before, we wash the cucumbers and cover them with water in a bowl. They stand overnight.

The next way, put a spray or two of dill and one clove of garlic in each jar. Pack your cucumbers (prepared as you like) into your jars (size of jar depends on your preference...I use whatever is available). Combine vinegar, salt and water in a pot and bring to a rolling boil. Fill the jars to overflowing with the vinegar mixture. Now seal them in your water bath or pressure canner.

You can dig in anytime you want, but for best flavor, we let them cure for six weeks in a dark pantry before opening.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

When the Garden Goes South

It started innocent enough; longer strings of cool weather yielded a nice extended harvest of greens and spring crops. Then the wild ride began; heavy rain; flooding; sheer and tornado winds. Now repeat all of that in cycles for a few months and you have the current disaster that is my garden. :0

This shall be the summer of the snail. Continued damp conditions alternating with intense heat and humidity have opened the door to a diabolical army of slimy voracious snails. They are on everything: kale, green beans, tomatoes, and even the squash. I tried picking them, squishing them, feeding them to the ducks.. then there was some herbal chemical application; today we must accept it; the majority of the garden has gone south!

When you can't beat them- heat them. Beds that have become overrun to the point of no return are currently being pulled out, fed to the flocks, and covered for the rest of the season. It's time to solarize the soil and hope for the best next time.

Solarizing the beds offers the garden a chance to fight back as naturally as possible. Beds can be emptied then covered with a black or clear covering allowing the heat of summer to 'cook' the impurities out of the soil. This intense heat can kill out pests, their eggs, and weed seeds that have taken up residence in the bed.

In addition to solarizing, we are considering adding new beds to the area. This will increase our ability to rest and rotate more efficiently next season. The greenhouse is due for some attention as well; the outer cover is split and the doors are bowing from weather and wear. Maybe the decrease in garden needs will lend me time for that task.

Today I take a deep breath, straighten up tall, and remember that fall will be here before I know it. Cooler weather will bring a renewed hope for the beauty of growing things.

Maybe I can get some of my closets cleaned out too?

Monday, June 20, 2016

Falling Off the (Canning) Wagon

Hi, my name is Michele and it has been one year since I last canned fresh produce. Hi, Michele.

Once upon a time my shelves were filled with all shapes and sizes of tasty things grown and processed right here on my little farm. That time is not now, for it seems my little garden and my little kitchen are somewhat bare as I transition from growing family to empty nest. No longer does my table feed many, instead it often finds me with a small plate and a big book.

Looking back over the past years' pictures, my heart longed for the snap and pop of lids- the hiss of a pressure vent- and the colorful stain on my hands. I miss harvesting and chatting- snapping, cutting, and peeling. There are no countertops full of resting jars, bowls of beans, or baskets of peppers. My garden is much smaller... much emptier.. as are the shelves.

My jars sit quietly beside my canners- hidden in the darkness of the pantry.

It seems I have fallen off the canning wagon. What shall it take to get me back on track?

Monday, June 13, 2016


Sometimes things just break. No matter how hard you feel you have been trying to do the right thing, it just keeps falling apart.
So when do you know it's time to walk away?
What effect will this have on other aspects of your life?
When do you accept it?
We easily see things from our point of view and struggle to see things from another's eyes.
How do we know when they are right?
What is the response to it?

Today.. it all falls.
Sometimes things just aren't okay,
and the right response just isn't obvious.
you need a revelation.

Friday, June 10, 2016

My Thought on the Instant Pot (Pressure Cooker)

I have always found pressure cookers a bit intimidating- which is funny, since I use a pressure canner. Go figure. Anyway, a recent sale online prompted me to look deeper into the 'Instant Pot' cooker. Many wonderful responses came from all over the web- friends far and near encouraged me to jump on the boat and grab one up... so I did.

Five months of eyeing it warily as it sat in the box in the corner of the kitchen and I just now mustered the courage to use it. The verdict is in- I love it! Simple instructions and a plethora of available recipes on the internet have made this a counter top staple.

What have I used it for?

*whole chicken
*whole roast
*bone broth
*frozen chicken pieces

How amazing is it to pull something together in half an hour?

This particular pressure cooker can be used as a slow cooker or even a rice cooker- one of the reasons I chose this brand. The preprogramed timers do work nice, however, I often manually adjust to cook a bit longer if the cuts of meat are tougher.

Overall, I love mine- no I am not getting paid for this- just sharing my experience using it to get whole food on the table in reasonable time. Did I mention I made chicken soup for a sick relative in 30 minutes using a frozen chicken? Let me just say- for me, it has been well worth the investment!

Share your experiences!!! and Recipes...:)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Bone Broths and Nourishing Soups

 I can't stress enough the blessing of freezing/canning your own stock! There are many natural broths and stocks available for anyone who doesn't have the time or the means to make their own- but I have to say, once you make your own it is impossible to go back.

Feeling a bit drained these past few weeks led me back to the kitchen for some hearty bone broth and nourishing soups. To answer a few questions: yes, my stocks are drawn from bone; yes, they take a few days to make (oh my it's worth it); and, yes, you can use beef, chicken (fish- I don't, but you can).
I cook for stock 24 hours..12 with meat (if applicable)/12 with bones and juices; this way all the nourishing goodness is pulled into the broth. Once drained, I freeze broth for future use (freezing some of the meat for emergency meals). *Note: we process our own meat, however, you can purchase bones from butchers, and farmsteads. Also, I do roast any uncooked bones to bring depth of flavor and decrease the 'scum' that can rise.

As far as vegetables..we use what's on hand..soup is flexible and our tastes can vary (not to mention garden availability). Sometimes it has tons of veggies; sometimes only a few..but in abundance. Herbs...if fresh are available, they are preferred, but since I dry my herbs for winter, I use them when I don't have fresh or I don't want to slosh through the mud to get some.


1 whole bird, skinned and washed (or roasted beef bones)
8 cups water (or enough to cover bird in pot)
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 onion
5 garlic cloves, smashed
2 chilies (fresh or dried)

Place all ingredients in a stock pot (or crock pot) and cover. Simmer 12 hours- low and slow. Remove the bird- take the meat off the bones and refrigerate until needed. Place the bones back in the stock pot and simmer 12 more hours..skimming if needed.
The longer you cook the stock, the richer and more flavorful it is. 
After 24 hours, strain through a fine mesh sieve (or cheese cloth), discarding bones/veggies. 
Either freeze the stock in quart containers or place it in a large pot and make soup.

Broth from above (fresh or thawed)
4 onions, coarsely chopped
8 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 celery stocks, coarsely chopped
2-4 zucchinis, thick sliced
1 small head broccoli, coarsely chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 inch of ginger, grated
2-4 tablespoons sea salt
2-4 teaspoons crushed red pepper
small bunch basil, rosemary, sage and oregano
a large bunch of thyme
chicken meat from earlier cooking
fresh parsley (to top at serving)

In a stock pot, simmer all ingredients (except the meat and parsley) until veggies are fork tender. Stir in meat just to warm..adding parsley at serving time. 
This soup freezes well in serving portions or quarts.

   We have been eating this soup for several years now; when recovering from illness, detoxing after heavy meals (or seasonally), and after a nasty migraine. Today, well- I am simply eating to get back on track!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Find the Moments

I am a real person- flawed and messy. My life is not all together. Over the course of my journey no part of my existence has been perfect- not my parenting, my marriage, my work, or my walk. Never do I want the illusion of perfection. That said, I see families struggling, falling, and hurting all around me.. seeking some sense they are okay. To you I say, we are all struggling- our struggles may be different, but still struggles. No part of family is easy; you have to find the moments.

Some of us hold beautiful memories of our family life: childhood experiences we keep near our hearts. It may be a mealtime around the table, working side by side in the garden, or just sitting on a bench waiting for the next thing. These are memories made in random moments that grounded us in the midst of chaos and busy schedules. While we have these memories, we also need to ensure our children have them.

Sometimes the moments are random: stuck in the car during traffic, cleaning stalls, or sitting down for a breath. As adults, we need to seize these random times and embrace them as precious; wait for the still of things to bring a relaxed time for open, non-confrontational communication. Here is where they tell us their troubles, share their hearts, and maybe even seek our counsel.

There are moments we need to plan for: sipping coffee before the day starts, an afterschool snack time, or a weekly family dinner. These moments are consistent times for our children to know we are there for them; they can share, question, and consider things that really need to be. Knowing these times are available to them will help them feel secure in talking to us.

Our children need this as much as we do, but our aging families do as well. Moments like these give value to our elders and remind them they are still important to us. These moments feed us just as much as it feeds them- for we are still forming bonds and memories, too.

This week I seek the memory of moments- times of bonding, caring and forgiveness. The season of my life is changing as I face aging family members, young adult children, and the time of grandparenting.

The moments may look different to each of us, but let's not neglect having them... one day they may be all we have.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Wet But Not Washed Away

Dear Everyone,

It seems I cannot remember how many days it has been since the flood and rains began- but I do know it has not stopped. Our little homestead has not suffered any significant damage so far; God has been quite merciful! That said, many around can not say the same.

Homes, vehicles, and anything not rooted down are washing away in record breaking flood waters. Trees continue to fall offering their own form of devastating damage. Roads remain or become impassable on an hour by hour basis. Livestock struggle to be relocated. Let's just say- this are dire and they are not going to improve soon.

While we are fine, and our family are accounted for- our hearts and hands go out to those in need, helping in any way we can. Our office takes calls daily assisting our community in finding resources and services they need. At home, we make contact and offer assistance wherever we can. It is time to come together and get through it.

Let's take a moment today and consider the needs of others while it is in our power to do so.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Questions Answered: The Issue of Wet Hay

Many of you are already aware of the severe flooding in southeast Texas where my homestead resides. While my homestead did not suffer damage, we did wash out from heavy flooding. One question that has passed my inbox quite a bit lately is the desperate issue of wet hay.

* First and foremost- wet hay can be a dangerous host for mold spores which can devastate not only the health of our livestock, but our health as well. Practices for hay also apply to feed. Now, on to the questions:

1. How can I keep my hay dry during floods? Storing hay can be challenging, especially in my area because the weather can change in an instant. Ours is in an awning type stall, up off the ground, and away from blowing rains. My advice: in a stall, trailer, or shed off the floor (pallets work well). In an emergency cover it with tarps.

2. What if my hay got wet? Open it! We use square bales which we can break open and 'air the flakes' with fans. It won't keep mold out forever, so use the wettest bales first. If you see mold or if the hay smells musty, don't risk it! I put my wet hay in the compost- if it is moldy, cover it with a tarp to prevent the spores from dispersing.

3. How do I know the hay I am buying didn't get wet? That is tricky. Knowing your supplier is the best advice. In a pinch: touch it- it should feel dry and healthy, smell it- no must or wet barn smell, and if unsure stick you hand in the bale- if it's wet leave it!

4. What's the risk? "Molds commonly found in hay include Alternaria, Aspergillus, Cladosporum, Fusarium, Mucor, Penicillium, and Rhizopus. These molds can produce spores that cause respiratory problems, especially in horses and, under some conditions, will produce mycotoxins." (University of Minnesota Extension) Horses, ruminants, and poultry are equally susceptible to the toxins moldy hay produces. So are we!

 During the terrible storms this past week, my hay storage did remain dry as did my feed; we were fortunate. I hope this helps.. for more information or for specific questions please contact your local extension office and speak with your Agriculture agent. They are there to help!!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

WIP- The Return of the Prairie Dolls

This week brought changes to my small life; changes that were somewhat expected and yet not. Rain and rumblings across my homestead left horrible humidity, sufferable mud, and plenty of painful biting flies and mosquitoes. It also found me facing the reality that my life is mostly alone. My children have moved- the last one is now in Alaska!- and my husband's job changed back to late shift. When the chores are done, the homestead can become a lonely place; I find myself melancholy and tired. To combat this, I have decided to revamp the sewing room and pull from the piles a few new projects- one of which is the prairie dolls.
Faceless dolls have always fascinated me and reminded me of my prairie home. Years ago I made them regularly, selling them at vendor events and online. The busyness of adjustment found the pattern at the bottom of the remnant pile where it has been waiting for some time.

This week I pull the bits and pieces of that life back to the surface and reacquaint myself to the feel of fabric and the hum of the sewing machine.  Calico prints, cotton stuffing, and homespun muslin line the tables; scissors find their fit in my hands; and deep within me the little barefoot prairie girl stirs. Once again, prairie dolls will come to life in the quite nights of my homestead life.
Welcome back, old friends!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Keeping the Greens

   As each garden season comes to an end we find ourselves with a need to preserve. Recent heavy rains have brought parts of our garden to become water-logged driving us to harvest as much as possible before the water and southern heat destroy it.

   After harvesting the greens, I like to give it a nice soak in the sink to clear out bugs, dirt and other not-so-nice's that may be lurking in the little crevices.

   After a nice bath, the greens are placed between two towels; rolled up and given a nice squeeze; they can be run through a salad spinner as well. One thing to be careful of is snails- they tend to hide in the leaves. Snails can carry dangerous parasites, so I like to be extra careful.

   Once the greens are clean and fairly dry they are placed loosely on dehydrator trays; I try to keep from over crowding since any residual moisture will lead to mold and waste. Greens are dehydrated on low temps for 4-6 hours depending on the density and size of the leaf. To speed things up, stems can be removed and leaves torn into smaller pieces. After they are completely dehydrated (crisp) I place them in a colander over a bowl and rub them through the holes until they fall through in a  powdered state. The powdered greens are stored in an airtight container and placed in a dark, dry pantry.
   Dehydrated greens are used to add vitamins and minerals to any dish; stir fries, soups and dips... sprinkled on a salad or tossed in a smoothie. I find they are not overpowering and generally do not effect the flavor of the dish.
   Now when the summer weather kills off the plants we will at least have some of the greens tucked away!!


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Family Table

Family gathered around the table for a meal; it's almost a foreign concept in our modern world. Schedules, activities, entertainment, and disconnect pull us away from each other toward a broken yet together existence. The struggle to bring everyone to one place, at one time, for one purpose is greater than I realized. Can it be reversed?

Many adults today can still remember a family meal, though often is was not with their parents but their grandparents. Fond memories can be seen on their faces as they recall the last time they sat with a loved one and shared the events of a day over home cooked food. The desire for their children to experience this is there, however, the obstacles are great and the habit is already formed.

When my children were small, mealtime at the table was a regular occurrence. This was our time to share the day, events to come, and openly talk about things we didn't quite understand. Food was prepared together with everyone pitching in, and we practiced relating to each other's preferences and differences.

As a parent, we make time for the things we value most- and we set the tone for our homes. I understand the reality of family dynamics that make daily meals together nearly impossible- yet can we aim for one? Many parents are open to the idea of a weekly family meal- something a bit more achievable.

I was recently asked if the importance was the home cooked meal or the time together? That depends on the family. One family in my class shared how they valued a weekend evening of cooking together- all hands in as they prepared a 'home cooked' meal. She found joy in the process and appreciated the openness that came as they cut veggies and cleaned messes. Another family shared the value in sitting together- no matter where the meal came from- she appreciated the relaxed atmosphere of sitting together without a kitchen to clean, just time to focus on her family conversation. So, there is no wrong answer except not finding the time together.

My tips and tips from other families:
*plan it- it is more likely to happen if it is on the calendar
*be consistent yet flexible- is it a weekend thing that can be either Saturday or Sunday?
*ditch the phone- it's tough, but leave the gadgets in the other room for an hour (parents too)
*make it fit you- if cooking with your kids stresses you out, consider focusing on the table time instead of the cooking
*relax- new habits take time to establish, and older kids are more resistant to change
*bring baby along- even if the little one has eaten or is too small, bring them in their swing or sit them in the high chair with a few toys or cereal to nibble- this starts a habit of being at the table

With my children grown, I have to say those times of sitting around the table are precious to me; they may have been messy at times or even frustrating, but they were totally worth it!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Poultry Processing Spring 2016

   Processing time comes and goes here on the little homestead. Unpleasant as it may be, it is a necessary act we have to come to terms with. Spring butchering fills our freezer with healthy food plentiful enough to feed our family. Over the many years we have honed a setup and work through plan that has served us well making large batch processing efficient and timely.

This year brought quite a few challenges to our homestead- many of which have a profound effect on our food production. Heat was the first obstacle partnered with some shipping mishaps which left us with half the birds we normally process in a year's time. This was followed by severe flooding that left us standing in water searching for higher ground.

Challenges are good for us- even in urban farm/homesteading. Times like this force us to think outside the box, evaluate every option we hadn't thought of, and press on. The flock didn't suffer to terribly once we found a dry place for them, and the year's butchering day went off without incident.

I am task oriented, focused and rather intense about set up, process and the generally running  of it.
The week of processing I get freezers cleaned and prepped making sure there is plenty of space and plenty of ice on hand. The night before, stations are set up in order to streamline the process.

One of our young adults did return home to assist this year; it was such a blessing to have an extra set of hands! Since we are an empty nest homestead, changes to our layout were required.

In general , we used three stations: Killing is station one: knives, cones, and lined buckets are ready, waiting, and stay at this station until clean up; Break Down is station two:  cutting boards, knives, bowls of salted ice water, large lined trash cans are on hand for the main processing station; 'Cool Down' is station three: positioned near the sink are sealing bags, markers, and towels to rinse, dry, bag and label. With fewer hands on deck, we opted to combine station two and three which left my husband to man the catch and kill station and myself to process, cool down, and then package the birds. Our extra hands helped with my station until she had to leave.

 To our great surprise the whole thing went off without a hitch- or even an injury! In all, we processed about 48 birds in 4 hours despite the fact there are only 2 (three for a time) of us here to do the work (in the past there were 5-7 people on hand).

 If you have never had the privilege of processing your own poultry or if you are considering it, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and give it a go. Start small, maybe a few birds, and work to a goal that meets your family's needs or consider partnering with an experienced poultry family until you get a feel for it.

Sitting at the table tonight, we shared in good food and the satisfaction of hard work and the provision it brings, the security of a well stocked freezer, and the joy of knowing that he and I can manage this task- just the two of us.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Most Precious Gifts

Every living thing communicates; all communication is not the same. Some souls have their own way of sharing their heart and connecting their soul with us.

Kneeling in a garden with a small group of children, one stood away from the activity. Quietly watching, he seemed vaguely interested yet distant. Others scampered about seeking new discovery.. not this one. I busied myself with the task of pulling weeds with whomever stopped by me to assist.

Alone there at the garden edge, he crept toward me. Hesitation gave way to calm as he came to kneel beside me. Small hands reached out to touch my hair gently pulling the long braid from my shoulder, he softly turned it this way and that.. studying it for a long period of time.

We stayed there at the edge of the broccoli bed, my braided hair in his hand as I worked with others to clear the debris. There was a quiet peace amongst the energy of his classmates. My heart marveled at the contrast of the three students there working with me: one scampered about bolding exclaiming his enthusiasm at every leaf and blossom; one seemed to follow the first but held some shy hesitation as if afraid to discover on his own; the one beside me seemed quietly content to just hold my hair.

Confidence seemed to grow as he stretched his free hand out and pointed to the nearby strawberry bed; he had discovered a half ripened berry hiding beneath the leaves. Without words we nodded to each other as he offered only a faint smile in return for mine. Hesitantly he leaned close to my face, looked me straight in the eye with my braid in his hands he whispered the word 'colors'.

I share this story to remind myself and you, every thing.. every one.. communicate in their own way, in their own time. The most precious gifts are revealed when we wait and allow them the comfort and security to share them with us. These three boys stole my heart- each in their own way. They fed my soul and taught me to watch and wait for the beauty of their being. I thank them for teaching me!

Miss K and 'Charlie' snuggling

Friday, May 20, 2016

In the Coup: My Poultry Keeping Overview

Our family made the decision was made to raise our backyard flock several years ago. Having both grown up with family farms, poultry came to our homestead right after the garden was set in place. Planning our flock, we had to know the purpose for the birds we would be raising and the costs involved. Every year we stop and take into consideration our previous experiences, the success and failure, and the cost and outcome. Understanding the past shapes how we choose the flock we maintain, as well as the plan for their care.

 Concerning Breed

   Egg production is always our primary purpose; meat is secondary. Knowing this, helps narrow down the many breeds available. Predators, output and experience keep our focus on 'heavy breeds' or 'dual purpose' breeds; Orphingtons and Austalorps, are my all time favorite breeds; dual purpose birds mean the hens are a laying flock while surplus roosters can fill the freezer.
   Since our children were members of 4H, the poultry project led us to raising seasonal meat flocks. Now that the children have grown, our freezer will be filled with seasonal flocks of Cornish cross instead.
   Our desire is to raise breeds that are close to natural lines or heritage lines, however, that can be a challenge and a bigger expense. When that is not reasonable due to expense or availability, we strive to stay as close as we can. Currently, we raise Buff Orphingtons, Black Australorps, Maurons, and Auracanas in our layer flock; Cornish cross are the meat flock breed.

Concerning Housing

   Our homestead came with a large shop building that has become our barn and workshop. Simple modifications turned a metal awning into stalls with an enclosed coop on the side. Here, our layer flock resides near the stalls where our herd sleep offering protection from elements and predators, while giving us easy access to feed bins housed between the stalls and the main building wall. Our hens run free during the day leading us to 'cage' our garden beds preventing destruction.
   The meat flock is housed on the opposite side of our shop/barn; kennels under an awning provide their pen and brooder space. Feed is housed near these kennels, as is open pasture. When meat flocks are not housed here, these kennels are kept clean but closed off.
   While our structures are permanent, we do have two large kennel housings that can be easily moved to maintain a quarantine set, new birds, or as transitional pens when babies are added to an existing group. Sometimes these kennels are set in garden areas that need worked by the birds when full access would be a bad idea (such as, the corn was done, but the neighboring green beans were not..pen is set over corn beds for hens to work).

Concerning Feed

   Research and experience; keys to my feed decisions. I read everything I can find on feed products and work my goals from there. My layer flock is fed a pellet/scratch/seed mixture..a supplement to their long days grazing and scratching the earth. Layers receive purchased feeds with seed and greens added in; they are not much on grazing, so grazing is often brought to them.
   All our feeds are purchased at a co-op in a neighboring county; buying in bulk helps with cost and quality. We plan monthly trips for all our homestead feed needs (our garden seeds are purchased in bulk here as well).

Concerning Health

   Herein lies a touchy subject; to medicate or not to medicate. My conviction has always been 'less is best'. Having experienced flock loss due to Merk's disease and coccidosis, I do vaccinate and treat for these two ailments. Other situations are handled as they arise. Our flock and coop are treated with diotenatious earth (DE) for parasites/mites and regular feedings of garlic/cayenne/flax along with leafy greens keeps them in good health; raw apple cider vinegar is rotated into water fountains for health and nutrients. I always try natural treatments before going to the modern pharma medications.

   Poultry flocks require time, effort, and determination and experience helps immensely. Along the way there has been success and failure; life and death; trial and triumph- homestead life is not always as romantic as we like to think. There are failures and losses to contend with. This year's floods have proven quite a challenge during chick and meat brood season!

    No matter the inconvenience or the set backs..I wouldn't trade my little peeps for anything..they are Miss K's favorite farm animal as she has just started her own pen of cucu maurons!


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Fitness on the Homestead

Fitness? Is it important to the modern day homesteader? Why? What does it look like for those of us who spend our days covered in goat slobber and chicken poop? Is there a way to be fit as a homesteader (without adding more to our to-do list!).

First let me say- I do not like things that are impractical or expensive to do, after all, I have livestock to feed. Many fit-minded people seem set on the notion there must be money, memberships and plenty of time exerted to make fitness happen. I disagree. That lifestyle works for many, but it isn't for everyone.

By definition, fitness is the quality or state of being fit. Being fit is to be in a state of health and well-being. Please note: no where does skinny or thin play into the definitions! So what does it mean?

Being a fit homesteader, according to my philosophy and practice, means having the health and well being to fulfill the goals and tasks set about by my lifestyle. Can I handle the feed sacks and hay bales my livestock require? Do I have the energy and range of motion to clean stalls, trim hooves, and aide a sick animal? Is there stamina for the long days my lifestyle demands? These are the questions I ask myself when I consider fitness for my homesteading life. The level of fitness needed may be determined by the level of homesteader a person has chosen to be.

Let's consider my fit-ness day:
* strength- hauling feed, water, shavings, etc. this entails flexibility, range of motion, and strength- some parts of my chore routine are heavier than others
* walking- from gate to gate, pasture and stalls, there is plenty of ground to cover at a moderate or brisk pace
* running- ever herded goats or chickens?
* endurance- the days are long so my energy level needs to be fairly high

As you can see, most of my 'fit routine' come from daily activity required by my lifestyle; not to say some supplementation hurts. I often hike or walk trails, tracks, and wooded areas. Sometimes I use kettle bells to add to my strength routine. Yoga and stretching are regular for me as I desire to relieve soreness, maintain flexibility, and distress after a long day.

In the end, does it matter? I firmly believe being fit, no matter what our work, is vital. Parents and grandparents need a level of fit-ness to meet the demands of their family life (and work life). Singles, office personnel, clerks- we all need a level of fit-ness to maintain health and stamina.

Start where you are and go from there. Determine your fit-ness goals by how you feel and what your lifestyle demands.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Lonely Little Un-Dead Tomato Plant

I was picking up plant donations to deliver to local schools when a sad little plant caught my eye. The poor thing was off by himself looking a bit pitiful. My mind ran through the list of culprits- sun scald, nitrogen deficiency, a virus- the leaves had white discoloration not yellow, so I mentioned that to the ladies helping me carry flats. They got a hearty laugh and I got a lesson.

This is a heirloom variegated tomato plant Opalka, whose leaves are broad and rather flat. Some leaves will retain their green color, while several lose pigment offering the variegated appearance. Purple hues develop at the stem tips and petioles. Fruits are smooth and round with medium flesh of average size.

Needless to say, the lonely un-dead tomato plant was offered to me as a learning experience to share with those I teach. It has been lovingly placed in the garden bed with plenty of compost and a sturdy support. Today there are several blossoms and a few new shoots branching out (which I am pinning down and propagating over for a second plant!).

For more information, please take a peek at:

Monday, May 16, 2016

Garden to Table: Oil of Oregano

My weekend weather forced me to work inside instead of out. Between showers and storms my feet found their way to the gardens for snippets of pungent herbs and healing spices; after all, my body has been waging quite a war with things these past weeks.

Amid the many buzz words floating around the health-o-sphere oregano has risen. This strong, somewhat 'hot' herb caught my attention some time ago leading me to dig deeper and test it for myself.

Oregano oil is derived from the leaves and flowers of oregano (Origanum vulgare), a hardy, bushy perennial herb, and a member of the mint (Lamiaceae) family. It's native to Europe, although it grows in many areas around the world1 The plant grows up to 90 centimeters (35 inches) high, with dark green leaves that are two to three centimeters long.
The ancient Greeks and Romans have a profound appreciation for oregano, using it for various medicinal uses. In fact, its name comes from the Greek words "oros" and "ganos," which are words for mountain and joy,– oregano literally means "joy of the mountain." It was revered as a symbol of happiness, and it was an ancient tradition to crown brides and grooms with a laurel of oregano.

In the general population, oregano is known as the taste Italian and Greek cooking- sauces, vinaigrettes and marinades. Aromatherapy clinicians employ oregano essential oil for it's antiviral antiseptic, and antibacterial properties. Herbalists bring oregano into their practice knowing the broad uses of aroma therapy as well as the importance of ingesting it and topical application for skin conditions, fungal issues, and inflammation.

Personally, I bring oregano into all aspects of my home practices: culinary, aroma therapy, and herbal preparation. One rather multipurpose and very easy preparation is oil of oregano. Let's make a note of understanding: oregano oil often infers the essential oil derived from oregano, while oil of oregano often implies an infusion of oregano into a carrier oil. Both preparation can be topical, diffused, and ingested with caution (oregano is 'hot' and may cause rash, burning and upset stomach).

Oil of oregano can be prepared in two ways: sun steeped or heat steeped.
Sun steeped simply means placing the leaves and or stems of the oregano plant in oil then placing it i the sun to infuse for approximately 6 weeks. I do not use sun steeped due to the increased risk of botulism spores or rancid oil.
Heat steeped is much quicker and safer since the herbs are set in the oil over low heat and warmed just to the simmering point.
Both methods require removal of the plant materials and air tight storage (I freeze or refrigerate mine for extra precaution).
From here the oil is used for cooking, added to boiling water for a steam/aroma therapy, or applied topically for specific ailments.

Today my oil of oregano resides safely in the fridge waiting for me to call it into action! Hopefully it will only be needed for flavor and preventative health- not to combat illness:)

Friday, May 13, 2016

A Walk in the Garden

Walking through the garden last night I tried to calm my mind; to find the peace that is lacking. I'm not good at stillness, but rather find busyness more my nature. Between the rows there were young hens picking at the fresh cut grasses, kittens poised for a chase, and dear Ben at my side wondering at my mood. My hand brushes over the herbs releasing their precious oils- I breathe deep in natural response to the action.

Eventually I found myself picking green beans- something I have been doing since I was old enough to know how; something I have done with my own children since they were old enough to be taught how. My mind wondered over the memories of how we did this together- a somewhat dreaded task. Mosquitoes hiding under the leaves pester us as we rush to find every hidden one before the sun sets. Talk of our day would ebb and flow to help us pass the time.

Stopping to stretch I realize it completely boggles my mind to think one of my children will be so far away in just a short time- in a place he really wasn't hoping to go. The military is like that though. His call challenged me as I respectfully tried to find ways to listen and yet lessen the hesitation he had. It will be and adventure for both of us; he will see a whole new world and I will find my new place in this one.

It is amazing how a walk in the garden allows you to sort through the 'boxes' in your heart- those places where we tuck things away so we don't have to deal with them at the time. Things will be okay. It will all work out. Life will move forward and a new adventure will begin.

Thank God for the garden!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

From the Herd: To Buck or Not to Buck?

This spring's kidding season brought two little bucks to our farm which poses the age old question: do we wether or do we buck? Let's take a look at our general rule of thumb, the methods, and the madness.

Intact male goats (bucks or billies) are generally larger, more aggressive, and apt to buck their owners as well as other goats/animals. Aside from that, sexual maturity also brings about habits quite unpleasing- musky smell, urinating on their faces, and hollering like an insane maniac! My personal policy has always been 'none or one'- there is either one breeding male on property or no intact male at all. Male stalls and grazing areas are never entered without some form of protection (a 2'x4') especially if the male is in rut. Keeping intact males has to be a source of conviction and a test of one's grit; they don't make it easy.

Castrated male goats (wethers) must be castrated before they begin male sexual behaviours (musk and rut) which is generally 4-6 months of age. Wethers are smaller, gentler, quite passive 'pets' or stall buddies. If fixed in time, they will not develop the foul smell nor will they perform the nasty tasks that attract the ladies. I generally do not currently house wethers, however, in the past we did keep them with our does for companionship.

There are many goat farms enlist the services of a vet for castration which can be costly yet effective. This is a surgical procedure requiring shots, anesthetic, an overnight stay, and a cut which may or may not have sutchers. I have only used a vet's services once.

Then we have goat farms who take the issue into their own hands. Castrating on the farm is much cheaper, does need to include a tetanus shot, and generally is 'cut free'. Most farmers utilize one of two methods: burdizzo, or banding.

The burdizzo method utilizes a metal implement which crushes the cords and blood vessels leading to the testicles. I have never used this method, nor do I personally know anyone who has.

The elastrator method utilizes a tool which stretches a band which will be placed at the base of the scrotum in order to restrict blood flow to the testicles causing the tissue to die and the scrotum to fall off. This is the method I use since it is quick, cost effective, and overall very effective.

Both methods should be followed by a tetanus shot and need to be done around 4-6 months of age (when the testicles have descended). Knowing the timing comes with experience, so you may want to employ a seasoned farmer for assistance the first few times.

In the end, the decision to castrate or not- which method to use- are up to the person managing the herd. Breeding farms like mine may keep a buck or they may 'rent a buck' from a partnering farm. Those same farms may employ wethers to barn buddy with does who haven't kidded or who are out of season. Hobby farms or small family farms often stick to wethers and does as pets or pasture management (not really breeding or producing).

This year, our herd is under revision as we phase out of the milk goat business and into the meat goat business. Our decision to change fits our current family dynamic and offers a potential to sponsor youth needing projects. Either way, deciding the fate of a male kid's future is a must. It must be made responsibly and efficiently.

for further reading or to take the goat health study please visit:

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Frustrated Gardener and Their Purple Beans

In the garden this week, beautiful Royal Burgundy Beans dangle boldly against the tender green leaves of the bean plant. Here and there they peek through the tangled mess of vine and blossom. Once plucked from their stems, the beans are striking as they patiently wait amidst the kale and onions.

Last week our office received a call from one rather upset gardener. Her vibrant burgundy beans weren't burgundy any more, but had turned green! Quite determined there was an error in the process, she insisted her beans had to stay burgundy because they were oh so pretty and much healthier than regular old green ones. Goodness, the frenzy we get ourselves in when our plants don't cooperate.

While I share her grief over the reality that burgundy beans turn green when cooked, there is no foul in her work... it's just nature doing what nature does. Any cooked veggie does suffer a bit of nutrient loss, however, the color change really is a cosmetic issue not nutritional. In her frustration she questioned why anyone at all would grow them if they simply won't stay burgundy. My answer is simple- because....

... they are a beautiful greeting when you walk into the garden.
... they are much easier to find on the plant when you are harvesting!
... they are healthy and tasty and wonderful, cooked or fresh.
... and finally, because I can.

Sometimes the items we plant are simply there because we can plant them. Aesthetically pleasing is surely a reason, right? Today I snip the tips from my burgundy beans and smile in sympathy toward the dear gardener so devastated at her reality. Yes, once the heat hits them they will fade.. but for now their beauty brightens one little part of my day.


Monday, May 9, 2016

A Mother Overlooked

For many, this weekend was filled with beautiful luncheons, dainty teas, and pretty pastel flowers. Some reflected sorrowfully over mothers long gone, or their own painful mother experiences. I propose there is another scenario often forgotten by the general consensus: the mother overlooked.

This woman is a busy woman. She is behind the scenes rushing about to get everything in order- everything in place. A program director, teacher, hostess of the day this woman has spent days- maybe even weeks- preparing for others to enjoy the gift and joy of their experience.

I celebrate this woman who drew no attention to herself and most likely received no recognition for her efforts. Today she goes on about her work, knowing full well that another holiday responsibility is just around the corner and if she is going to make it happen she needs to start preparing now.

Bless this dear soul in the shadows. May we look for her there and offer a sweet smile of acknowledgement for her humble and gentle strength.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Freeze, Can or Dehydrate? Oh My!

   Today I stand amazed at what a garden can endure! Five months into this year we have faced record flooding, extended cool snaps, and a few heat fluctuations. Today the sun is out which invites the pests to hatch- strange year.

   Despite nature's mood swings the garden has been a gift! Greens, hot house tomatoes, herbs, peas and snap beans have consistently been harvested. Since the household is so small, that means it's time to preserve. Let's take a peek at the top three preservation methods that I not only use at home, but also teach as well.

1. Freezing

    In the heat and humidity of our southern home freezing is my top method of choice. Produce is picked at its peak, mildly processed (if at all) and frozen quickly. Safe in the freezer, mold and pests don't stand a chance. The down side of freezing is space; with broilers and turkeys also stored in the freezer, space is precious and must be used wisely. My food freezing musts are: cole crops, greens (chard, spinach), okra, corn and squash/gourds.

2. Canning

    Second in line and next on the list is canning; water bath and pressure methods. High acid foods, jams, jellies and relishes and pickles hold well with a gentle water bath set up where as sauces, veggies, and pie fillings require the intensity of a pressure canning. Space is not quite as competitive with canned goods since they store easily in the top of a pantry, under a bed, or in any cool dark place.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and carrots along with berries of all kinds are excellent canning candidates.

3. Dehydrating

    Last, but not least I have fallen in love with dehydrating. Dried goods are space friendly and easy to incorporate into everyday cooking. Some items lend well to a simple open air drying method: hot peppers, garlic, onions and herbs are a few...while some require a bit more intensity. My electric dehydrator is perfect for putting up apples, bananas, bell peppers. We love the tasty tang of kale chips and the chewy zing of a dry pineapple. Dried foods do need airtight conditions to keep well; canning jars or sealed bags work very well and store right alongside other canned goods. 

   I slosh my way through the growing garden, my thoughts look to the pop and sizzle of canning lids, colorful peppers hanging in rows along kitchen walls, and steady hum of the dehydrator working its magic. 
   Local friends be sure to keep your eye out for our canning classes! If you are like me, you can hardly wait until this season of food preservation begins.