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!

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Are you still there?

Hello, friends :)  It's been a while, hasn't it?  Life has been so full these past 6 months...  We've got a big, exciting change coming and all our time has been diverted into making arrangements, planning and preparing.   After 17 long years, we're moving "back home" to the coast (which as you can imagine is filling our days and minds with many details and plenty of emotions).

I'll write more about the move as it unfolds, but for now we are in "patiently waiting mode".  Little Home In The Country is for sale.   When she finds her new owners, we'll be setting off for our new homestead on Vancouver Island.  

Meantime, while we wait, we are harvesting honey, putting gardens to bed for the winter, working at lessons for the 2 youngest, decluttering, selling things we no longer need and enjoying our (most likely) last Autumn here on the Alberta prairie.  We are in no rush.  Life has been good here and we've enjoyed it.  We'll move when the time is right - it's completely out of our hands but I promise to keep you updated :)


In other news, our bees did very well this year and I completed my first ever hive split this Spring.  We've pulled 80 pounds of honey off so far and with any luck, there'll be about the same this week before we tuck the hives in for winter.  

The vegetable garden was productive but on an (intentionally) smaller scale as we were away a lot over the growing season (house hunting in BC).  

Our (many) new bee friendly plantings did very well and were a contest buzz of activity (and still are in some areas).

I've done no preserving this year as we can't move it all inter provincially.  Instead, we've been focussing on eating down the stockpile in the pantries and freezers.   We're doing well and should be down to zero before the actual relocation.  

We had a lovely Thanksgiving complete with a locally raised free range turkey.  There's nothing like a traditional roast turkey dinner with all the local/seasonal trimmings.   It was wonderful and oh, so tasty.   I love Autumn - it's my favourite time of year here on the prairie and I will miss it, actually.   With cool nights and sunny, colourful days, I always feel invigorated after the heat of summer.

Hope you are well, friends.  Talk soon XO