Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2014 in Review Family Style

2014 brought many changes to our family and farm.

Chad joined a punk band, got his Permaculture Design Certification, and quit his corporate job to farm full time. (He is NOT unemployed, he is self employed, CEO of our farm. It really bugs me that folks keep saying he is jobless. Haters.)

Lily took pottery, started piano lessons, chopped all her hair off to a hair cut she has wanted since she was 2, and really matured into her own right as an artist.

Holly danced. She danced and danced some more. She danced through chores, through church, and through the pastures. She walks in a dancing hop. Dance is everything to her right now.

Isaac learned to walk last year, but this year he learned to run, to jump, and to spin! He got his own cat. He bottle fed a lamb and a piglet. He explored caves and language.

I took my camera with me everywhere. I wrote. I submitted. I published. I took my own writing seriously.

There were tears of loss and love. There was death on the farm. There was new life. Flooding. Fighting. Forgiving. Because of the things we have fought for our farm continues to grow and change and thrive. We were held up by our friends more than we held others up. We scrabbled. We took time to swing on the porch swing. We took time to hang the porch swing and create a margin in our life that allows for this quiet time that we build our relationships instead of hauling hay bales and digging holes and chasing livestock, though we did plenty of that too. Perhaps too much. Damn fences.

This was our 2014.

2015? We have bigger things planned.  You'll see.

A Look Back, Travel 2014

 Ossabaw Island was my first adventure in 2014. This was way, way out of my comfort zone. I made every excuse I could to talk myself out of it. A wonderful group of friends and a select few family members kept me on the path to go to this.

What was this? This was a writer's retreat, sure, but it was also a returning to poetry, to writing, to taking myself seriously, to finding out who I am now that I have children and years of experience under my belt.

I took a bus. I saw the country through the highways. I also experienced helplessness and poverty in ways that shook me to my core. I arrived on the island and the quiet and the spiritual quality of the wilderness brought me home. It was from this place that took heed. 

I have more to write about this experience, but I blogged it live here: Ossawbaw.

Next up: Rio, Wisconsin. Madison Area Permaculture Convergence. This year Chad took a certification course for Permaculture design and we shifted our farm goals to meet this design theory. I had been pushing towards Permaculture since we bought the farm and my friend Sabbath first used the word in conversation with me, my curiosity and discovery led me to embrace it. Convincing Chad was another challenge all together.  He finished his design certification work, attended a week long work shop at Versaland, and then he really wanted me to attend this weekend in Wisconsin. Only he wanted me to go alone or with friends. Nope. I wanted to go together, as a couple.

He said yes.

This may not seem like a big deal, but the truth is that we do not travel together. We just don't. He's a food miser and hates touristy blah blah. I love it. So honestly, I was not expecting him to say yes and I was not expecting it to go well. How sad is that? Very. Like I said, we didn't travel together before kids, and children and farm livestock certainly make travel complicated even when we leave them home. Chad's parents volunteered for both duties and we were off!

Camping. Vegan food (which was admittedly a huge challenge for me), and lots of hiking. I even had Lego foot (that condition of tissue swelling that happens post stepping on a Lego in the middle of the night). I brought my camera and adventurous spirit.

One of the things I began to see is missing from our farm operation is the second tenant of Permaculture- Care of the people. Oh sure, we care for ourselves and the people on our farm, and others in our community but we are hermits at heart. So this coming year we have ideas that have rooted that will involve helping others begin farming too, teach skills, and build more community.

 Late August our friend Jessica called and said, "Hey lady, wanna go cave exploring? Today. Leave now?"

Normally, this is where I hesitate and make excuses. Nope. Loaded the car in under an hour, the kids in less than 5, and headed north. It was challenging physically, but amazing and totally worth it. This really drove home the idea that we can adventure closer to home too and easily. I have some pretty big travel ideas for the next year, actually, and I know my kids are up to it.

And last but certainly not the least.......I flew to Europe. This is a trip I have dreamt of since I was little, but more recently the last two years.

I have always said we should create our lives to be so good we don't need to take a vacation from it. I stand by that. However, I thrive on the beauty of landscape and art and history. I wanted to visit my friend who has lived abroad for the last decade.

This trip was not easy. Just getting a passport took me 2 years and a government shut down, a new drivers license, and so much paperwork that I thought for sure it was just not meant to be. Passport in hand though, I booked the tickets. Could I afford this? Nope. Responsibly I should have remodelled the downstairs bathroom that I ripped out last summer. But I didn't. I bought tickets on Air France and told Chad to figure out child care (he quit his job instead! Ha!). And then I did it.

I went to Prague. I visited Wencelas Square, The Bone Chapel, the castle, and so many churches. I did karaoke, walked the streets of Prague in the rain, took a paddle boat on the river, and rode a train through the country side.

Did it change my life? No. I am the same me. Unplugged and open to adventure, camera in hand, I saw the sites, hugged my friend when she needed it, and now I have a passport and 3000 amazing pictures.

How will 2015 ever live up? Oh, it will.

Where will the year take you?

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Good King Wenceslas

 Lily has been taking piano lessons since late August. She's doing great. Reading music, memorising songs, and practising every day, well, playing every day at least. She really likes her piano teacher too. This was her first public recital and she was really nervous. We took her for a haircut, lunch, and treated her as special as we could to help her feel at ease.

It went great. Just great. :)

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Prairie Fire Holiday Bread Stuffing

 I forgot the soak the beans for what I usually bring to market for sample and was scrambling this morning to make something. Then I had a brilliant and silly idea to make stuffing. Of course, Thanksgiving is next week, right!?

So why silly? I hate stuffing. I have a complex and broken relationship with stuffing. Hate is a mild statement. I refused as a child to eat anything that was cooked in what I crassly referred to as a turkey's a-hole. Not going to eat it.

Add to that a certain family member's experiment adding "herbs" and then because of my steadfast rule of NEVER eating said stuffing, being the only person at the meal sober? Yes, the memory of my quite high grandmother calling me a lesbian and trying to strangle me over the mashed potatoes has marred my relationship with this classic dish.

But I am over it. Hell is a thing we carry with us, not a place we go- wisdom courtesy of Neil Gaiman. It is time to make the stuffing.

So......I found a couple easy crock pot recipes (not making it in a poultry's arse, on that I am firm). I studied the recipes on my iPhone as I walked the aisles of the grocery store. Goodness I love that we carry all of human knowledge in our back pockets so casually.

4 cups of no/low sodium organic chicken broth
1 stick of unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons of Prairie Fire Seasoning (or your favourite Cajun salt plus some herbs)
12 cups of dry bread crumbs

Boil the broth and melt the butter into it. Add seasoning a teaspoon at a time until it tastes just right to you. For me that is 2 Tablespoons.

Pour seasoned buttery broth over the dry bread crumbs in a crock pot. Fluff a bit with a large spoon but don't over work it. The broth will steam and settle so let it be. Cover and cook on high for one hour (or dutch oven in oven at 200 for an hour).

There you go. That's it. It was so good I ate half of it at our booth between talking to customers. Me. Who hates stuffing. Seriously.

Lily was my helper and made beautiful art while we worked the market day.  Love this girl and her eye for colour and her customer skills. She is one cool kid.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Holiday Madness and Joy

The holidays are strange things, especially in our American culture. We create these coming togethers, a good thing in theory, but then we blow that up. For many people it becomes an explosion of showing everyone what you have, what you do, what you are better at. Birthday parties become circuses with the guests getting gifts, Thanksgiving has so much stress and family drama that people opt to work to get out of it, Christmas is such a mess that people actually get killed fighting over toys on Black Friday.

Goodness. What have we done to ourselves.

Good can come from this though. A few years back the family decided that Christmas would be at the farm. This decision was made in October, plenty of time, right? I had an 11 month old special needs baby and we had finally moved the rest of our crap out of our city house (a house 2x the square footage) to the farm. I was teaching seven sections that term.  Everything was chaos and I was burned out.

That year, I hired a company called Jess Marie Services to help me sort through the chaos that was both in my head and in my house. For three months we cleaned and sorted and hauled out junk once a week. Then she started tackling the small house things like painting and hanging pictures and painting the mural on my kids wall. And talking me through a lot of my anxieties. Christmas at the farm was cancelled that year anyway, but we were ready. And I gave myself the gift of budgeting for Jessica for the whole freaking year. She'd come, reboot the whole house, tackle a project with me, and be gone just after lunch. This helped me regain the footing I needed in my own life. 

Fast forward to this year: My awesome, amazing aunt decided to spend Thanksgiving at the farm.Of course, this is the aunt that I take after.....she forgot to tell me of her plans and I found out a couple days ago from another family member.

My plans had been to sulk around in my pajamas all day eating frozen pizza and watching cheesy Christmas movies. Kids approved of this plan. Well, junk those plans....DEEDLE IS COMING FROM TEXAS! (Deedle is her family nickname from when she saved my baby sister from dying of an accidental drug overdose of grandmas heart of many family legends).

There was no freaking out this time, no rush to clean everything to perfection. Instead? I first called Jessica. Ha. She came and rebooted the house. See?

Then I invited friends and family to come too. The more the merrier.

I used Pinterest to build a menu. I will link to that or make another post in just a bit. I have to finish sorting out the details. Basically, I am making a kick ass main dish that is more traditionally true to historic American cuisine than a turkey would be. Side dishes will be simple and classic and whatever guests bring too.

Oh and the pie! The pie will be a tribute to my first foodie love: pumpkin, apple, peach, and cream cheese pecan. I love pie. The more pies the better. Yay pie! Also, pies are easy as pie. I can whip up these in about 20 minutes of prep and cook them all at once.

We'll pick up the tree Wednesday and decorated it Friday while we have a Cajun catfish fry and rock out to Zydeco Holiday music.

It doesn't matter if my house is magazine ready. I don't have to have a picture perfect spread. All I need is a big table and my family. We'll get out the really good dishes and we'll make some really good memories.

How far I have come, y'all.


* One last thought though. If the holidays suck, that's ok. If pajamas and frozen pizza are what get you through? Do it. If working a double shift is better than drowning in old family grudges and drunken emotional breakdowns/rants/attacks? Do it. Do what you need to do. Pretending to be joyful and making postcard perfect memories does not bring you closer to Jesus, breaking emotionally does not bring others to Christ, and destroying your own mental health for the happiness of others is not your job/obligation/role. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others who might be struggling. Go gently into the holiday. If you have to wade into a dysfunctional mess, know that what they say and think about you reflects more about them and their character than it does you. Hang in there.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Isaac Turns FOUR!

My dear boy. We are so blessed to have you in our lives. You turned four last week and greeted this new year with joy and hilarity. You follow your sisters like a sweet little duckling and watch me in the kitchen to get extra sweetness as I cook. Your favourite drink is eggnog and you LOVE apples. I love that you sign for trains in your sleep and have learned to speak with your verbal words this year, though it is still a slow victory and we struggle to understand you- it is getting better every day.

I love you.

I love what you have brought to our lives! The sheer joy in your morning grins, the way you dance and sing, the love you show all of us every day. And we know. We know how lucky and blessed we are, you are, to be alive and healthy and thriving. Not many 22q kids are so lucky and many have lost their lives this year. Someday you'll understand life and death and this will mean something to  you, but right now? Four is wild and wonderful but also innocent.

Four will be fantastic. We will see the storms, the snow, the holiday lights! Ride trains and horses. Mostly, we will snuggle and talk and make art together. I love you little buddy.

Lily turns 10!

Lily made me a mother ten years ago and this last decade has been a wonderful journey! This last year Lily bridged in Girl Scouts, took up playing the piano in formal lessons, created with clay, rode horses, explored caves, raised a bottle calf, a lamb, and a runt pig, and created so much joy in the world for herself and others.

Cheers to you sweet girl and may ten be just as filled with adventure and joy! You are creative and interesting and brave. I love spending time with you, I love the care and kindness you show to the smaller than you children in our lives. You give up your candy at parades to the littles who can't go fetch it, you tuck in your brother at night, and you are the most passionate girl I know. I hope that passion changes the world someday, but for right now you are the bright light in my day. You have big goals for yourself this year and my hope is to support those goals and help you make them happen. Love you Nixie.

Monday, 3 November 2014


November for me is about cleaning: instead of Spring cleaning, I do a fall purging.

An accounting for.

A turnover.

A clean slate.

Three days in and I have sorted and purged 1/2 the outgrown and damaged shoes. Filled two trash cans full of junk mail piled on my desk. Done eight loads of laundry.

I have sat down and organised what work is about to be submitted. Lined up Spring and possibly fall teaching assignments. Paid tuition for a retreat that I am very excited to attend again.

Meal planned. Chore charted. Scrubbed dishes and wiped down shelves.

Three days in and November is already looking fantastic and hopeful. 2015 is going to be an outrageously fantastic year, full of promise and new growth.

With that, I present to first published essay: In the Bareness of Winter, page 136 in the fall issue of Fifth Wednesday Journal. Not available online, to read it you will have to get the print edition. Cool, eh? This essay was really hard for me to write, to share this event on our farm. I also had a fantastic group of friends proofread and cheer me on during the process. If November is for gratitude, let me tell you all, having friends like these? Friends that fill me up instead of tearing me down, friends that cheer me on when I am scared to do the next big thing, friends that stop me from quitting by driving me to the airport, bus station, poetry reading, picking me up from said places too..... friends that love me through the darkness of my insecurity and self doubt? I am extremely grateful. More than mere words can express.

Look! They even printed the accent mark!

Saturday, 1 November 2014

200 Trees

As many of you know we are hard at work raising funds for an Indiegogo campaign.....

But what isn't obvious from this campaign page is an amazing donation we got this week from Versaland Farm in Iowa City. Grant called us, knowing we'd probably buy a lot of the stock from him anyway, and offered to donate 200 trees to the project. He also gave us some tree guards and sold us stakes at cost.We toured his farm and saw his adorable Kune Kune Ossabaw cross pigs. The hills were lined with trees from his tree mob planting project this summer. Amazing.

These pictures are from his farm. This is what our planting will look like very soon. Our project wasn't going i the ground until 2015, but these sweet trees have to go in right now. This is an amazing gift. We are very grateful and even though it doesn't look like it on our fundraising page, this puts us at 20% of our goal of 1000 trees in the ground. Thank you Grant!

If you have a donation that isn't dollars that you'd like to make, let us know. Much of Permaculture is about giving what you have and creating relationships. 

In honour of Grant's donation we are adding a donation category for 10$ (our previous lowest one was $25). 10$ will buy one tree, just the tree.  Many of us farmers and farm fans are on tight budgets. We are hoping that 10$ isn't too much. The option is at the bottom of the perk page.

That said, if you know a family that has a child in the hospital or a neighbor that is struggling, we encourage you to spend your charity with them. As parents of a special needs, medically fragile child, I know that the holidays are the hardest and medical bills pile up. If you find yourself with a choice, please do not hesitate to put your $$ to use close to home. Part of my hesitation for creating a funding effort for our tree planting was knowing that our close friends are raising money for medical needs. It took a lot for me to get to the point that I could make this campaign, thinking about their needs while we want to plant trees.

So those are my thoughts today. Get out there, do good in the world. That's a seed worth planting!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Go Big AND Go Home!

Those of you who know me, know that I have a tendency to over share and have a hard time hiding my excitement about future projects.

The future is now. Pretty much, I had to go to Europe and not have Internet for close to two weeks to stop from writing about how excited I am about this.

What is this?

Trees. We need to plant thousands of trees. At first the idea was ridiculous, a dream, far out there. But the more we learned, studied, visited other farms that practise Permaculture, this idea took root and wrapped its tendrils around our imagination. We can do this.

Events conspired, as it is said......Chad quit his job. He was mentioned by name on Permaculture Voices Podcast and was soon invited for an interview. A friend of ours ran a very successful Kickstarter campaign and we started to see this kind of fundraiser as a potential funding source for our own project. What was once a crazy unattainable dream? It's possible. We can do this.

The next time someone asks, 'how can we feed the world without these industrial monoculture systems?' I want people to be able to point to our farm and say, "that's how." 

We chose Indiegogo to host our fundraiser because they allow us to keep funds raised even if we don't reach our goal. As farmers, we face incredible risk every day with inclement weather, insects, chemical drift, escape artist animals with attitude, and changing political policies. We chose less risk this time because we could!

The project:

Here is a link to the entire PDC design that Chad completed recently.   It is pretty long and technical, but if you are investing with us, take a look.

The money raised here will go directly to planting trees and installing the infrastructure necessary to support them.  Tree plantings of apples, plums, peaches, hazels, chestnuts, and mulberries will be interspersed with black locust and other trees designed to fix nitrogen and nurse the main tree crops into production at small intervals designed to be thinned as necessary.  These trees will be planted along swales running on contour across what are now our main pasture areas.  Fencing will protect the trees from the livestock that will be grazed down the aisles created by these tree lines.  If we are successful, we'll be able to put 1000 trees into the ground.  Every $20 we receive will be able to plant one tree and install the necessary fencing and other infrastructure necessary to care for it long into the future.

These trees will be a cornerstone for showing a future generation of farmers how we can feed the world without destroying it.  Our future projects include building a test garden and classroom/community space, holding workshops, and hosting retreats. We hope our farm can also be an incubator for others' farm dreams and small businesses. Teaching others about Permaculture is our lifelong calling and we hope to be doing it for a long time.  We've begun this outreach already by holding the first meeting of the Central Iowa Permaculture Guild. 

Help us continue to pioneer new techniques for feeding the world while caring for it.  Our plan includes perennial tree cropping combined with multi-species grazing smack dab in the heartland of industrial agriculture - Iowa. 

Even if you can't donate, tell others about us and about Permaculture farming. It's important work. 

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Day Three in Prague: In which I demonstrate that I can actually take decent architectural photos.......

Day three was so overwhelming and amazing that I can't even remember what I ate. Seriously. Ok, Actually I think I had eggs for breakfast with an amazing Czech bread for toast and then frozen cheese on a stick later.....but I know there was other food somewhere in the day and I cannot remember it at all. Why? Architecture. All of it. And the history. This first picture is the place where thousands of people gathered for the Velvet revolution, Wenceslas_Square, but it was also the site of a great many historical gatherings and protests. The sense of greatness and historical importance was dense in the air.