Monday, 28 December 2015

It all must go on

As is customary at this time of year we've been reflecting on the last 12 months.  High times and low times... we've felt them all in 2015!   We're making plans and crafting changes for the coming year in every possible way with one caveat - it could all change in a moment.   Turns out that an out of province move that we have zero control over when it happens translates into a bizarre, suspended reality.   It's little tough to take at times but lessons for the children must go on, wholesome meals must be made, the laundry must be done and our home must be cared for.  The multitude of daily tasks don't stop just because we are waiting on a move oh no.      

At this time of year, I should be planning my garden and ordering seed to fill gaps in my stash, but with no move date and a long list of soil building and water harvesting activities to do first (at the new house), it's utterly pointless.  All my usual seasonal planning activities aren't happening which has me spinning like a compass on the Bermuda Triangle.   In place of those activities, I'm now planning a second semester of home schooling because we thought we'd have relocated by now and the kids would be settled in school.  

With all the "not knowing" floating around our home, Solstice was a milestone we could count on with certainty.   I in particular, clung to the date as if it were a life ring.   Knowing that our days are now lengthening somehow gives me strength to face the continuing uncertainty.   I'm thankful for this gift...

Speaking of gifts, after much consideration we decided to adopt a kitten.  We've had enough time to heal from losing our youngest feline and we were ready to love another little one.   Meet "Elsa".  She's already proven that she'll be an excellent mouser and our older cat is thriving with a new playmate in the house.  Elsa is a wonderfully happy distraction from all the uncertainty and is a playful tonic for us all.  

In spite of all the uncertainty, we have much to be thankful for.  Each other, our health, an opportunity to grow and change in the coming year and the freedom to do so.  None of those things is small and insignificant - each one is huge and wonderful.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The Christmas Turkey

 Over the last few years we've completely changed how we eat.  We grow a great deal of our own food now and we source the rest locally.   This is a far cry from years ago when everything we ate came from the grocery store without a thought about where it was from, how it was produced or what was in it.   

Our friends farm organic grains a few miles from us and each year they raise a small amount of meat (a few pigs, chickens and turkeys).  We were fortunate enough to be offered a Christmas turkey from their farm and today was butchering day.

I've wanted to learn how to butcher a bird for some time but all the YouTube videos and books in the world just can't take the place of learning from someone who has experience.  I have no living relatives to teach me this skill so I jumped at the chance to learn how to humanely dispatch a bird and prepare it for the table. 

The scalding pot sprung a leak but in the end it was for the best because we ended up dry plucking (which was much easier than anticipated).  I felt just how much easier it is to pluck when you get the angle right.  You just can't learn that from a book, you have to be shown and you have to feel it.   The gutting was quick and I was quite surprised how uncomplicated it all was (and that I could do it with ease).   The entire process was much faster than I expected which really surprised me.  I had it made out in my mind that it would be a much more complex and long winded affair.

In the end, I left the farm with our turkey and a huge sense of accomplishment.  I've been pondering the feeling all afternoon and I think it can be summed up as a sense of satisfied connection.  There's a certain level of detachment when we buy meat butchered and wrapped.  Even though we know the farmers we buy from (and most importantly, know their farming practices), we are not truly involved in the process of "putting meat on the table" when we buy food in this way.  

I'm not saying that everyone needs to butcher all their own meat, but I do think that if we choose to eat meat, we should be a whole lot more involved in the process of how that meat gets to the table.  After today's experience, I feel deeply committed to involving ourselves much more intimately in the process of putting meat on our family table.  There's nothing quite like the act of butchering an animal to put it all so clearly into perspective.  With that in mind, we'll enjoy our traditional Christmas meal with a great appreciation for the life that was taken in order for us to eat it.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Let the festivities begin

We've been busy merrymaking here and are packaging up homemade gifts of all kinds.  Honey from our hives, soap, herb vinegars, Worcestershire sauce and vanilla that's been aging for a few years (and tastes divine!).   This sweet little snowman (with homemade hot chocolate fixings) is my daughter's creation and is a gift for her best friend.  Isn't he sweet?   So simple and very reusable as canning jars can be repurposed for absolutely anything.  A scarf cut from wool felt would eliminate the ribbon quite nicely but I'm out (must order more!).

Reducing waste at Christmas is a huge issue in our home.  We are trying to get away from excess packaging and disposable wrapping, instead focussing on materials easily recycled or repurposed.  Fabric bags, cut yardage, brown paper, canning jars and wicker baskets all work well to festively wrap gifts without creating waste but I'm looking for more ideas, so please share :)

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Eyes on the horizon

You know how one can sometimes feel a bit lost in the turmoil of change?  That's exactly what's happening in our family.  This in-between place is awkward!  Having a wonderful and exciting new beginning ahead of us (but being unable to actually move forward) is frustrating.  We know this will pass and we know that we'll get there eventually (deep breath).  Eyes on the horizon.  Steady on.  

We've been in regular contact with my parents (who are already at the new place) and we've all been making exciting plans for our future together.  Ideas are springing forth and my mind is spinning with the practicalities of how we can turn this new property into a productive and diverse oasis of food.  Many opportunities exist so it's hard not to get too excited...  Eyes on the horizon.  Steady on.

In the meantime, we are deep in the process of divesting.  Our lovely laying hens have gone to their new home which is sad and happy all at the same time.  It's one more step in the process of our relocation but it was a tough one...   Eyes on the horizon.  Steady on.

Before we know it, I'll be sitting in my rocker beside my Mom on that lovely front verandah sipping tea while watching our new chicks learn to peck and scratch.  All will be well.  Eyes on the horizon.  Steady on.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Pushing the Boundaries Part 2

Season extension is valuable in a cold climate.  Making use of naturally warm microclimates is important because it creates passive resiliency (my favourite form of resiliency), but it's just as important to plan for intentional "shoulder season" protection.   Given that our growing season is so short, we often need a little bit of purpose-built extra protection to get some crops through to maturity (tomatoes and melons come to mind...).

Our winters are long with risks of late frost in Spring and early frost in late Summer.  Confused?  I don't blame you!  Know this.  We get frost both early and late in the season and it kills plants.   I learned this the very hardest way possible (on both ends of the growing season) as a new "country gardener".  Temperatures are often several degrees colder than in the city, so we decided to fight back by building permanent season extension.  

I'm showing you the ugly pictures so that you can see how it's possible to build something useful without spending much money.  With the exception of the roofing material (which was bought new), the entire structure was built using free or ultra inexpensive (as in nearly free) used materials.  How we obtained it all is fodder for another post, but know this:  free cycle and networking are powerful tools!

Building a greenhouse has helped us to grow more food largely because we can get those crops needing more "days to maturity" planted early enough to have them reach harvest before a killing frost.  I use sawhorses with plywood and old hollow core doors to create temporary seeding tables which are easily taken down when those plants are hardened off and planted outside.  This then frees up the north growing beds in the greenhouse (under the makeshift tables).   A greenhouse also gives us some degree of late season protection for tender crops which might freeze before ripening if grown outside.

Below, you can see the spindly tomato plants waiting to go in the ground (in the newly finished greenhouse).   Those poor leggy plants were the result of trying to grow seedlings in the house by the windows (which is what we did for shoulder season protection for 2 years before the greenhouse was built).    A greenhouse is a huge improvement over that effort and I'm happy to say that we no longer have to shuffle plant trays off the table and chairs to eat a meal! 

As with any system, diversity is the key to resiliency.  I never plant all of a tender crop in the greenhouse (nor would I plant all of a tender crop in the main garden).  In some years, we get lucky and can harvest heat lovers from the main gardens before a killing frost (making the greenhouse redundant), but often, we get only a portion of them harvested before they freeze solid.  In those "frosty" years, the greenhouse saves us from a long winter without tomato sauce (a fate I'd rather not endure again).

Row covers occasionally come into my season extension plan although I must be honest - I don't like them.  They are a lot of work to put them in place alone and are a huge hassle to remove and reposition (for weeding, succession seeding and harvesting).  I don't generally like any system that I have to fight and row covers certainly can be difficult.   The easiest way to keep them in place (after MUCH experimentation) is to use lengths of rebar (simply laid end to end along each long outer edge).  I can roll them off easily to check underneath and roll them back on to secure it again without pegging and tucking.   If you live in a windy location, I don't recommend using them.  My main garden is very protected from the wind, so it's not usually an issue for me in this location but I wouldn't use them elsewhere on the property.

We also have 3 small cold frames which I (in recent years) have used INSIDE the greenhouse to buy me further season extension.  These are a great way to grow micro greens VERY late in the season (early winter, even) or VERY early in the season.  You can see my cold frames pictured in the photo below on the south (right) side of the greenhouse (the lids are out of sight behind my field of view).

My greenhouse is not pretty like some you might see online.  It's a total workhorse of a space but I love it (warts and all) because it buys me peace of mind and really good food by way of reliable season extension.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Pushing the Boundaries Part 1

We live in a cold climate which means our winters are long, frigid and snow filled.  We typically only have 3 "guaranteed" frost free growing months, but we can and do experience up to 4 months of frost free gardening (in a good year).  

To balance out that harsh reality, we are very fortunate to have LONG summer days filled with many hours of daylight and bright sunshine.  In June, it finally gets dark at 11pm and the sun rises again around 4am!  Those long daylight hours translate to more growing time which compensates beautifully for the low number of frost free days.

In recent years, I've experimented with microclimates on our property.  These little pockets of growing space (where various factors combine to create unique growing conditions) are GOLD MINES of opportunity in our short growing season.    It can take a few years to really know where those places are on your land or on your city lot, so I encourage you to walk your property slowly in every season to find them.   Pay close attention to temperature and wind protection and really NOTICE what's going on in those unique areas.  Look for both sides of the spectrum - the cold, exposed (windy) places, the damp, wet hollows, the warm protected pockets and the searingly dry "dead zones".  Every one of those places offers you an opportunity for a yield.

Growing crops in location appropriate places means more food with a LOT less work.  So often, we plan our gardens based only on crop rotation or convenience (growing all veggies together in a rectangular beds somewhere in the back yard).    By working with the natural microclimates all over our properties, we can grow abundant gardens in those highly specific areas simply by matching up plant needs to those specific microclimates.    

In my case, I have a protected growing area (facing SE) which is a natural place to grow heat and sun loving plants.  Here in this bed (photo below taken in summer), I have grapes, tomatoes, peppers and heat loving herbs such as rosemary, basil and sage (and giant hyssop for the bees and as a companion for the grapes).  All around the edge, I planted strawberries and onions (which grow VERY well together).  This warm, wind protected place is one of the first growing spaces where the snow melts in Spring so those strawberries get a nice early start to the growing season.  

 Speaking to wind protection, our prevailing winds are NW.  The house is angled slightly to face SE, so our home blocks the west wind and the front stairs (combined with the distant trees) helps to keep the cold north wind out.  Below (now in Autumn and looking very bleak indeed), you can see how the reflective heat from the gravel driveway (and the concrete) adds further warmth to the garden (which contributes greatly to this site's microclimate).   The thermal mass of the concrete is excellent for ripening those strawberries early in our growing season!  The concrete captures and stores heat all day then slowly radiates it out overnight to help ripen and protect those precious juicy jewels from late Spring frosts (which is why I planted them right at the edge of the garden).

The "soil" in that area was dreadful when we moved in.  It was crusty, dry, cement-like clay with ZERO organic matter.  Water literally ran off it instead of soaking into it.   By building the soil through winter cover cropping with rye, green spring manures (buckwheat), mulching (wood chips and straw) and adding rich compost made from the hen house bedding, we now have prime, first class soil in this area.  This soil is sweet and loamy, bursting with organic matter, rich in mycelium and teeming with microbial life.  It holds thousands of gallons water and even through our driest summer, we didn't have to water beyond the seedling stage.  The scant rainfall we had twas enough to sustain this garden.  All the work we had to do was a little bit of occasional weeding (the mulch kept most of the weeds away), harvesting and eating!

Thinking outside the traditional "box" of planting only ornamentals at the front of the house has netted us a strong yields of delicious produce for VERY little time and work.  This relatively small patch of earth was among the most productive spaces on our land this year thanks to a little bit of planning and planting to suit the natural conditions here.  Had I planted lettuce, spinach and peas, they would have wilted, bolted and tasted very bitter (they like cool soil and some protection from the searing afternoon sun).  I would have been fighting the conditions all season which is SO much work!  This garden and the tremendously successful yield from it this year is a prime example of working WITH nature not fighting it.  It took me YEARS to figure this out, but our ongoing learning has proven that we can do things in a better way. 

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Late Season Bee Food

We paid particular attention to the bees over the last 2 months as Autumn is a time of dearth when crops are in and gardens have wound down for the season.  With warm sunny days in September and October, the bees are out looking for food but pollen and nectar sources are scarce in these months.  We wanted to provide a steady supply of late season food for the bees this year so I seeded specific plants in Spring in order to provide for them. 

Old fashioned single mixed hollyhocks were a strong favourite which hardily endured many light frosts.     

Calendula also tolerated frost, but wasn't as popular as the other flowers.  Bees visited the flowers, but not as much as I expected...

Giant hyssop was a HUGE hit!  It's the bushy plant with purple spires in the above picture (it looks like lavender).  We sat on our front verandah and happily watched the bees work the blooms for hours.  I highly recommend this plant for it's LONG bloom time and frost resistance.

Sunflowers are another important late season food for bees and of course the birds love them, too.  We sadly had mice eat most of our planted seed but a few plants did make it!  Our neighbour had a huge show of sunflowers, so that certainly helped our bees out.

Lastly, catmint is hands down the bee favourite!  We have 2 large plants in this back garden (right and left in the above picture) and 4 more very large plants by the greenhouse.   These were strategically planted to attract the cats to the greenhouse perimeter to help keep the mice from getting in (it worked!).  These 6 plants were CONSTANTLY covered in bees from sunrise to sunset right through the entire blooming season (which only recently ended late in Autumn). 

We noted that our honey has a slight minty, licorice-y, citrus-y taste to it and I was reminded of the flavour when I was cutting back the plants on Sunday...  it's amazing how honey tastes like our gardens :)

Even if you don't keep bees, I strongly encourage you to plant a few species specifically to help feed bees in Autumn.  A quick google search can identify what plants you can grow for bees - they will thank you for it.    

Friday, 30 October 2015

Clutter and Heartstrings

This post took several days to write because it turns out I still had a little "self work" to do on this topic.  Oh my.  I intended on writing a very practical post about the specifics of decluttering in a large family but in all honesty, there's a plethora of that kind of help on the internet already.  I'm going to talk about the hard part (which isn't hauling things out of the house, by the way).

Family life is full of "stuff".  As a sentimental person, I have always struggled to get rid of things with fond memories attached (which meant that anything was fair game for me to keep!).   This past year, I've learned that keeping too many things makes me feel frustrated and overwhelmed (which in all honesty, can and does overshadow the fond memories).  

Three sheds, an oversize triple garage and a full basement translates into us having plenty of storage space. This is fantastic (and a huge asset) if we can keep things organized.  Sounds easy enough in theory (the logical part of me is speaking, now) but in practice, with busy lives full of diverse interests and constantly changing variables (the very nature of a large family), this is a challenge.   Factor in emotions and this becomes near impossible.

When does as asset become a liability (clutter)?

Something to ponder isn't it?

Some years ago, we had reached the tipping point of "stuff" and some culling had to be done.  Emotions played a massive (unexpected) role in this process.   Keeping things felt safe to me.   It's hard and frightening to let go.  

For many years, I was the mother to 5 children living at home. Like a mother hen with chicks safely nestled under her wing, I took my job of raising them and teaching them quite seriously.  I loved mothering my children and happily identified myself in that role for 2 full decades.  Two decades!  That's a long time.

Letting go of tangible things (because our family was growing up) rather harshly signalled the "end" of my childbearing years.  No more babies?  How can that be?  How could I possibly be so firmly planted in middle age and how can some of my children be adults already?  My decades-long identity as a "young mother to 5" was beginning to crumble - eeek!  What on earth was to come next?    Fear (and plenty of it), I found.

Of course, I'm not defined solely as a Mother, but because that role played a huge part in my life for a very long time, it makes sense now that I would struggle as my role was re-defined (oh, that hindsight and its wisdom!).   I enjoyed mothering as much as I was challenged by it, so saying goodbye to those years was harder than I thought.  Giving things away that had strong memories of that time was harder than I thought.

Since these profound realizations, I've contentedly (happily, as it turns out) come to terms with this massive shift.  So much so, I can honestly say how eager and excited I am for this next stage in life!   I realized that I needed time to process and "de-brief" all that's happened in the whirlwind of the last 20 years.  I needed time to think and reminisce not to mention validate what I (willingly) sacrificed.  I needed time to see my children in the new light of this realization, too  ~ they were becoming (and some had already become) successful adults!   Only then (after this gruelling self work was done) could I think ahead to what might become of me and us (and all that stuff).

No wonder I wasn't ready to give things away until recently.  In all honesty, I barely had time to sit down or complete a thought for 20 years so I've had a lot of catching up to do.  Here is when I gently lead myself (and you, the reader) back to the reality of implementing serious, large scale decluttering.     I have but ONE tip for you:

The work is not clearing the stuff - the REAL work is in your head. 

Funny thing isn't it?  My resistance to letting go of stuff ended up being all about me feeling loss in my life (my children growing up and not needing me like they did when they were little).   I wanted control (when in reality I had none), so I kept all that "stuff" complete with those strong memories attached to it.  I realize now that I placed value on the wrong things which is so ironic given my personal motto:

"people first, things second"    

This all makes perfect sense now although I certainly never did it on purpose.  By keeping things, I felt safe and somehow in control of the massive amount of change that relentlessly came at me for 20 years.  It's time now to get to know my children as adults and "soon to be adults" because I see now how I was stuck in the past ~ afraid to move forward and really know them as people.  That's big stuff, isn't it?  Oh, this mothering is a hard gig....

Fast forward a while and now we sit in a pretty good place... Free of (most) of our clutter and ready to face the next chapter in our lives.   Through unconditional giving we have received more than we could have ever hoped for ~ peace and contentment.

What's holding you back from letting go?

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Decluttering the Homestead

As I've shared before, we are preparing for an interprovincial move and our current country home is for sale.  Our own recent house hunting experience taught us that it's difficult to see past clutter to assess a home's condition so we've been on a mission to seriously purge our home and property of items we won't be taking with us.

We moved into this house 6 years ago with 5 children in tow (from young adult down to kindergarten age).   Clothing, furniture and personal items for 7 people is TRULY a LOT of "stuff" (not to mention shop contents, gardening equipment, homeschool books/supplies, sports equipment and hobby items).   Oh my!  Fast forward just 6 years and two of our adult kids have moved out (with a third soon to follow).  We just don't need most of the stuff we had accumulated so it was time to get to work!

We began with a trailer, a LOT of boxes, a determined attitude and a heart of generosity.   Hubby tackled the garage and I began in the house.   We asked ourselves if every item we picked up was worth paying to move it.  Most often, the answer was no and what resulted was hundreds of items being given away, many items being sold and trailer loads sent to the dump (some things for disposal but a lot was able to be recycled).

Canning jars (all bought used for pennies or given to us via free cycle) and the second water bath canning pot

rebar (useful, but FAR too heavy to move!)

potting benches (again, useful, but too bulky and heavy to move)

We're selling our patio furniture because it's bulky and heavy (the table is stone and the chairs don't stack).  It's almost 10 years old, so it's not worth paying to move it (especially when the table is likely to crack on such a long journey).  

I could go on for pages....  trust me when I say that we got rid of a lot of stuff!   Through the purging process, fear and loss turned into strength and clarity.  Having a rural property often means more space to store things.  This can be a positive asset but also a huge negative if not kept in check!  Stuff starts taking over because it's easier to store something rather than make a decision to get rid of it through donation or a sale.

 Since we are facing extremely high moving costs (inter-provincial is always expensive), we must be very choosy about what we pack in order to keep costs as low as possible.  Most of our furniture is at or very near the end of its useful life span so it makes no sense to pay thousands of dollars to move it.  Key pieces of good quality/sentimental furniture will come, but the 10 year old, now extremely uncomfortable sofas will be sold (good riddance and yes, these are a fine example of getting what you pay for).   The 17 year old threadbare, ripped basement furniture will be taken to the dump (it served us well as our only furniture for many years).  We desperately need a new bed but will wait until after we relocate (why pay to move an old, uncomfortable mattress?).

I did some homework/research and have discovered that we can easily buy (used) what we need once we get to the new house.  It will take some time, but I enjoy the challenge and am happy to slowly poke through second hand shops and online ads to find furniture to replace items we won't be taking.  In a beautifully elegant realization last night (on the phone with my folks), my parents are downsizing in this venture, so they have extra furniture no longer needed.  We are happily "inheriting" some of their pieces, so it's a win/win all around.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about the specifics of purging, decluttering and storing "stuff" in the family home.  We have done a LOT of that over 25 years of raising a larger family....   From clothing, bikes, toys and sporting goods to furniture and equipment ~ we've seen it all and had it all!  Until then....

Monday, 26 October 2015


Autumn is pie season!  Yippee for that :)  Pastry is one of our favourite treats, so I always look forward to pie season.  I typically use home rendered leaf lard (from pastured pigs) but am completely out of it.   We are trying to work our way through stockpiled food in preparation for the move so I'm not going to be rendering any more until after we relocate.  I did some searching online and found a recipe for pastry using butter which turned out well, having great taste and texture.  I used organic butter (from a neighbouring province) which had a lovely yellow colour and great flavour.  Good ingredients make GREAT food!

After a 24 hour soak, these gorgeous dehydrated organic cherries were ready to be tucked into some pastry.  I used sifted organic Park wheat flour  which always turns out perfectly in pastry - we LOVE it.   It gives a nice nutty taste but isn't heavy.  The chickens were treated to the sifted wheat bran and if we still had our worm farm, they would have been given the bran (they loved it).

Our lovely neighbours gave us a bag full of delicious perfume scented crabapples and because we were on a pie streak, I turned them into a pie as well.  What CAN'T be turned into a pie?   There's a few pounds of crabs left over but they are absolutely delicious, so I'm not unhappy about having some for eating out of hand.

If you haven't made pastry with butter, give it a go - goodness me, it was SO good.  So good in fact, I'm searching high and low to see what ELSE from the pantry and freezer can be wrapped in buttery goodness and baked into a pie! 

Friday, 23 October 2015


Before I forget (although a day late), here's the recipe I use for bread.   It's called 14xmommy Bread  and as the name suggests, it's a recipe used by a mother of 14 kids.  I don't know her and I have no idea how I was directed to the recipe all those years ago during my mad experimenting to find a good bread recipe.  I can't find the recipe on her blog but I did somehow come across it online at some point...  

 I buy organic wheat berries from John and Cindy at Gold Forest Grains  and due to different growing conditions and other factors that are inherent in a natural, non GMO product, the wheat is unique each year (in terms of the gluten and protein content).   We LOVE their grains for the quality and for their locality (they are literally neighbours just a few miles down the road).   I encourage you to buy organic, non-GMO wheat/freshly milled flour to make your bread ~ the quality will win you over if you aren't already using it.

I've messed around with a lot of basic bread recipes over the years and haven't found any other recipe that consistently performs better than this one to give me a light, 100% whole wheat sandwich loaf that my family will EAT on a daily basis.  I do make sourdough bread (using my own wild starter) and other "artisan" style breads but everyone still loves this particular recipe for basic sandwiches.      If I could figure out a way to make it without the gluten added, I'd be happier but I haven't been able to do that successfully without making a bunch of "doorstops".

Learning to make "our daily bread" was an important, basic skill for me to learn because when all 5 kids were at home, we went through a LOT of it (easily 2 loaves a day sometimes 3).  It was expensive to buy and as we transitioned to a healthier diet, I realized that I could bake a far superior product right at home (for less money).  It's not perfect, but it's delicious and reliable which is good enough for me!

If you are a baker of 100% entire grain whole wheat bread and you have a reliable recipe that does not use gluten, please share :)

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Work boots

The kids and I joke that my house shoes are like work boots.  In essence, they are!  I'm on my feet for most of the day and since I have flat feet, going without supportive footwear isn't an option (not if I want to be able to walk by evening!).   For the last few years, I've been thrilled with these house shoes/slippers from Haflinger.  They have a moulded cork foot base with great arch support (like a Birkenstock) and 100% wool uppers.  I adore them for their comfort and support and wear them all day long while at home.  My feet never get tired or too hot as wool breathes so nicely...  Without these shoes, I'd probably not be able to accomplish half what I do in a day.

With the huge amount of work we had to do around the house over the last few months (getting ready to list our home for sale and an interprovincial move), I had intentionally let a few kitchen tasks slide due to lack of time (bread making and fermenting for example).   What followed was higher grocery bills and a feeling of flagging health...  

Now that we have finished the last niggling jobs and have seriously decluttered the house, I feel like I can get back into the groove of my kitchen routines again.  The kids are well established in school lessons and I can finally breathe a little easier.   Keeping the house up is easy now that we have so much less "stuff" which translates into having time to return to the kitchen with my apron and "work boots" on.

Sourdough starter

soaking grains and bread dough,

stocking up on sandwich bread

Making good food takes time.  It's much faster and easier to buy these items instead of making them, but the quality is nothing like homemade.  It's so challenging (impossible?) to find ready to purchase food that isn't full of preservatives and processed ingredients.  When I do find a suitable option the cost is through the roof!  

Cooking for a family is NOT a task to be taken lightly. Fuelling the growing bodies of children who are learning and adults who are out working to support the family is an important job.  None of them can do their best on cheap fuel (cheap food).   To keep up with the food preparation (which is nearly a full time job from procurement to table) means lots of time in the kitchen.  This time is not remunerated in a pay cheque per se - the pay is indirect (in better health and less money spent).  This savings must be counted as pay, as it is indeed work!

Yesterday, we spent a good number of hours in the kitchen between lessons and we pumped out a decent array of home baked goodness.   The aromas of an apple pie, whole wheat sandwich bread,  whole wheat applesauce muffins and (healthy) Halloween cookies filled the kitchen all day.  Cooking can be a chore, but when the quality of food is so superior, it feels very good to be capable of making it for my family.  After a few months of only basic meals being made in my kitchen, it feels wonderful to get back to work making all sorts of delicious and healthy foods for my family.  

I'm looking forward to establishing new cooking routines after we move and I can't wait to put local seafood on our plates on a very regular basis.  Hubby is so excited to get back out on the ocean to fish...  After 17 years away from the coast, we are more than eager to be eating the bounty of the sea (in all its long chain, omega-3, fatty acid goodness!).

Monday, 19 October 2015

The order of things...

The garden season has all but wrapped up here and because it was a *small scale* year for us (with the pending move), I'm feeling quite let down!   I'm more than eager to get settled in our "new" place and get the land into production but know that any serious food producing will probably come in the second season there. 

I know first hand how careless, inexperienced mistakes early on can lead to trickle down mistakes and that "type one" errors can never be easily or cheaply fixed.    The only way to avoid this is to take it slow by watching and waiting...   We will need to observe the path of the sun and see how water behaves in the landscape before we do any serious work.  

We'll also have a heavy predator load (bears, deer, raccoons and likely rats), so all of those negative site influences will need to be factored in (not to mention, the negative influences I'm not even aware of yet).  

It's temping to go gangbusters when we arrive (especially with the desire for fresh home-grown food fuelling me), but I know I'll need to temper that and take it slow...  We have a big undertaking at hand - develop a property that will meet our needs for (hopefully) several decades, so we need to plan appropriately and come up with a solid plan first.

The first order of business will be to find local producers (not hard, I'm told as there are quite a few organic farmers in the area) and get connected to the local farmer's market (I'm told it's excellent!).  The second order of business will be to connect with other permies in the area.  There is NO GREATER asset than an experienced local!  I would even consider hiring a reputable local permaculture designer to come and meet with us for a few hours just to get some objective insight.   Personal biases are so difficult to work around and I know that I've already developed some... Being emotionally attached seems to somehow put blinders on and I'd like to see the property from fresh eyes (eyes that aren't "invested" in the place).

There's a lot to do before we even get there and I'm feeling a bit antsy in this half way place (living in one place but having your mind and heart in another).  It's part of the transition and we have to get through it.    I'm choosing to spend the energy on reading and research - there's a LOT of differences (climate and soil for starters) and it will be like starting over in every sense of the word....

  I'm excited, nervous and truthfully, a little bit scared!

Friday, 16 October 2015

Merging to Build Resiliency

Combining resources to live in a mutually supportive arrangement with my parents is all about building resiliency.  Yes, it all sounds very loving to be close to each other (and it is) but when you peel away the emotion, both parties have entered into the arrangement to build resiliency going into old age.  

My parents celebrated their 51st Wedding Anniversary this year (photo from last year's 50th Anniversary).  They are currently independent and capable with minimal limitations (arthritis prevents heavy work and frequent stair use) but we (and they) know this will change over time. 

My husband and I are firmly planted in middle age (hubby is 55 and I am 47).  We are still (thankfully) capable of doing heavier work but know that "our slowing down time" will come, too.  Our goal is to set up the new homestead to be 100% accessible for anyone with mobility issues which will serve to accommodate all of us as we age.   One important lesson I've learned here at Little Home In The Country is that we developed our homestead assuming long term full mobility.  This is a grave mistake but I suppose a common one.   There is no way we could maintain our current homestead into old age (we'd have to change a lot of things) so I've learned a lot from this "Type 1 error". 

Combining resources sets both families up to be resilient in the face of change, adversity and aging.  Emotionally, it makes sense to be closer so we can help each other through life's challenges.  Economically, it makes sense to share land and infrastructure costs.  Practically, it makes sense to share the workload of an accessible vegetable garden, etc.

 While there are clearly emotions involved, let's just safely tuck them aside for a minute so we can talk about the practical aspect of this partnership.  My parents have vastly different skill sets than we do.  This is GOOD and what will help to strengthen our resiliency.   

My Dad is a highly skilled mechanic who loves to tinker and fix all things mechanical.  He is a mechanical savant!   My Mom is a creative soul who has vast horticultural knowledge and strong handwork skills (both weak areas of mine) plus wine making experience (and equipment).   My Mom regularly performs a form of alchemy by taking what I consider to be "not much of anything" to make something beautiful.  It's a serious talent.  My parents also bring assets to the arrangement such as a boat (for fishing) and an RV.   Most importantly, they bring 70 odd years of experience, common sense and wisdom to the table!

My husband is an electrician who knows enough about several other trades to do nearly every home repair that comes up and build anything we need (in terms of construction).  He's a jack of all trades and a master of many.  I have permaculture design training, organic food growing/preserving knowledge, strong kitchen skills and experience keeping chickens and bees.   We bring different assets to the table such as a diesel tractor (with attachments), a shop full of the tools and equipment needed to build and maintain any structure and kitchen equipment to make/preserve food on any scale.

In terms of spelling each other off, I've already mentioned that we'll be looking after my parents' home when they travel but this goes two ways...  Hubby and I are looking forward to the opportunity go away for an occasional weekend (sans kids) or even just having an evening to ourselves to talk and catch up (with the kids at Grandma and Grandpas for the night).  Knowing that we have my parents willing and able to "hold the fort down" brings tremendous peace of mind.   I know that in the later years, I'll be driving my parents for errands and to medical appointments, etc but right now, my Dad loves to help with driving the kids to activities etc.   He loves to be involved and always takes over that chore when they come to visit.   It will all balance out if we make the most of what we have and give what we can to the partnership.

On paper it sounds pretty good but of course, the reality will not always be easy.  We know that.  Maintaining separate living spaces will go along way in preserving good relations and of course respecting those boundaries will be key.  I'm interested in hearing from you if you have lived with a similar arrangement - how did it work out for you? What were the negatives and how did you deal with it?

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Heat and Succession

Each morning we greet the sun as she ushers in the day.   We have yet to put the furnace on in spite of several below freezing nights.  Seems we can manage well enough if we keep the day's heat in in the evening (with drapes and blinds closed).  Come morning, we draw everything open to let the sun warm the house once again (3 cheers for free heat!).

Our "new" home on the coast has a wood stove and believe me, we are very much looking forward to heating our home with wood again!  I just love that steady, constant heat and also, the exercise that heating with wood heat gives us.  I miss it.  Wood is plentiful on the coast (unlike here) and our land has a fairly decent tree cover so we should be able to get most of the wood we need right from our own property.

Let me tell you a bit more about our relocation plans... My parents are in their early 70's and wanted to downsize so they sold their home which was becoming too much for them to maintain (too large of a house and too much garden to look after). They want the freedom and ease of a small, level entry home and they want to be able to travel and know that someone is around to look after their home and little patch of earth.  Enter hubby and I!   

By combining resources, we are able to live on acreage (in separate homes) in an area that is desirable to us all (on the west coast of BC).  As it happens, after an exhaustive search, the property we found (and fell in love with) had only one family home on it so this means we have to build a home for my parents.  We had hoped to find a property with 2 existing homes but were unable to find anything suitable set up in way that would meet our needs.   We are looking at the opportunity to build as a positive, for it will give us the ability to build a passive solar, accessible, open plan home with wide doorways in case a walker or wheelchair is needed in future.  This will mean that my parents can stay in their home as long as possible and not be forced out due to accessibility problems.    It will also mean that the house will be energy efficient with very low utility bills (important for all, but most especially in retirement on a fixed income).

Thinking about succession (in true permaculture style), hubby and I will have options going into our own senior years.  The rental market is very strong where we are moving to so that second little home could be easily rented out which would bring in a bit of income to supplement our own retirement.  Alternatively, my hubby and I will have the option to move into the small home in old age if perhaps one of our adult children wants to buy in and move into the main family home.  With 5 kids, odds are that one may want to do so.    Nobody can predict the future, but providing the most flexibility is our goal for we know for certain that life can and will change.   We have always wanted to move "home" but until this opportunity arose (which benefits both parties), we never thought it possible.  

I shall tell more of our story as it unfolds...  stay tuned!