Finding Home

109 year old farm house

We’ve started out search for the perfect ten-plus acres for our homestead!  Yay, Pioneers! On the surface, this is fabulously exciting. Yet, in reality, it’s just plain exhausting.

Like any house hunt, there are a plethora of things to take into consideration. What is the shape of the roof?  What is the neighborhood like?  Are the schools any good?  How secure is the septic? On and on and on we go. Now add homesteading to the equation. What’s the soil like? Is the well pumping enough water per minute to give you confidence there is a vast underground supply? Is the land so reasonably priced because it’s smack in the middle of a flood zone? Head. Throbbing.

The elder generation of pioneers, Mosses and Poppy, have been out twice doing  a little reconnaissance. Their first stop took them to a mini-farm with 12-plus acres, 2 homes and more outbuildings than you can shake a stick at. What they found was that the only hope for the original 1910 ranch house was for a match to land on it. Moses and Poppy are not prima donna home buyers. They have bought their fair share of fixer-uppers and aren’t afraid of putting some elbow grease into the manse to make it a home. It helps that they both have a history in real estate. They are not rubes in the realm of relocation.

Round two took them to six different properties in a forty-five mile area. They came home looking like they’d been through a midnight bombing and six months in a prisoner of war camp. Moses walked through the front door and went straight to her bedroom where she slept for fifteen solid hours. Poppy gave us the scoop. The first 5 houses were not to be considered. Clearly the photos and info garnered on the farm website where we researched were a bit doctored. As in, no way did a 5′ x 2.5′ crawl space with no windows count as a bedroom. And while tell of a gorgeous barn, original to the farm, sounded ideal, in reality it was held up entirely by the blackberry bushes and poison oak that snaked its way through the weathered boards. One of the houses was still on oil heating from its origins. Two were so completely isolated from the world you could hear the dueling banjos on the breeze. One was so close to the main road that if you took too large a step leaving your front door, you were in jeopardy of getting run over by a passing manure spreader. The last property, he confessed, was either a maybe or they were just too beaten down by the others to know. We made a plan to take a family field trip to the “maybe.”

The “maybe” was located in a rural farming town that has a pretty good rep. There are fewer than a thousand souls in residence and probably a hundred times as many sheep. The terrain was breathtaking! Rolling hills, farm land, rivers, woods. All I could think of on the ride there was that I was on my way home, I knew it. When we pulled up to the property I experienced a feeling of reserved optimism. We hit the barn first. Loved it. Big enough for necessary storage but not so big as to overwhelm. On to the house. It was attractive from the outside but inside was like the seventies threw up all over the eighties. The space was great though. Over three thousand square feet with a very workable floor plan for our family of six. Wrap around porches on both levels that overlooked the woods expanded our outdoor living space. There was a nice wood stove and fireplace.

On to the outdoors! We knew that the forest acreage outnumbered the farming acreage but were surprised  to see how little 3 acres of cleared space really was. I would guess that in reality it was more like an acre an a half. Clearing the woods for planting would be a huge chore. Then the husband noticed the shake roof surrounded by large trees and shook his head. No way. Our last home in California was nearly consumed by the San Gabriel fires. Pass. The ride home left us shell-shocked.

Our lovely realtor further complicated our choices of towns by declaring one full of pot-heads (and that was just the town council), one was full of ex-cons, another had a meth problem and another still seemed to have a reputation for incest. Are. You. Freaking. Kidding. Me? One of the two towns she recommended had a school system that was below the state average, nixing that possibility. The town we are in has great rural area but not much for sale in the 10 acre arena and we are looking at twice the price for it. No longer living in California means that our income opportunities are not the same, therefore, paying a million dollar price tag to homestead seems a bit absurd.

Anyhoo, that’s the update from the Pioneer homestead hunt. We are taking a break for a couple weeks and trying to rebuild our intestinal fortitude to hit it again. All good vibes, prayers and happy energy you want to send our way is welcome!

The Commandments of New Pioneering

 In the last five years I have grown up (although  I might actually be  1/4″ shorter), out (little heavier) and in (soul growth… the hardest!) Here are just a few of the insights I hope to raise my little girls with.

    1. Don’t judge others. This will always come around and bite you in the butt. Always.
    2. Jealousy is a waste of energy. You never know what someone else’s life is really like.
    3. If I dislike you on sight, chances are we are destined to become great friends.
    4. If your underwear is tight, buy a bigger size or lose weight. Feeling bad about yourself is an unnecessary step.
    5. It is never too late to apologize. 20, 30, 40 years… go for it! Your soul will be lighter for it.
    6. Like a tomato garden, pluck the suckers out.
    7. Everything has value to someone.
    8. You are not what you own. Stuff comes and goes– love and kindness last forever.
    9. All the crap makes for a more fruitful garden.
    10. Hard work always pays off.
    11. If you are going to kill it, eat it. This does not apply to slugs or other irritating garden bugs.
    12. Don’t buy it if you can grow.
    13. Buying it new is a waste of money.
    14.  Everyone has a story you can learn from. Listen.
    15. Weeds that can be turned into wine, coffee and salad greens are not weeds. They are wonders!
    16. If, on a quiet country night, you are inspired to write a book, write it! Check out Mama Pioneers inspiration. She Sins at Midnight.
    17. Every single moment of life is a gift. Treat it accordingly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Finally, Dirt Under My Nails!

dirty manicure

I can finally quit painting the dirt on… it’s go time!

I have been itchy, itchy,  to get out in the yard and start doing something (anything) towards cleaning up for spring planting. Alas, with all the snow and rain we’ve had it was not meant to be; until today! Yes, that’s right, today I weeded until my hamstrings threatened to snap from disuse. I didn’t actually weed the gardens as I would need waders to slop my way to them. But I did do the front yard, effectively bringing a bit more curb appeal to the neighborhood. You’re welcome dear neighbors, I aim to please.

During out last day of no precipitation, we put up our little green house and we are in the beginnings of filling it with starters. I can almost taste the tomatoes. The fruit trees and bushes are budding and if shouting at them could make the fruit appear any faster I’d be out there day and night cheering them on.

Folks, the time is upon us. We now have an extra hour of daylight, the seed packets are arriving and I’m in a dither to start growing the best tasting food, ever! My manicure has been looking way to polished from months of dirt deprivation and I can happily report that my hands are starting to look a shambles (as nature intended) after today.

There are only three months left to Fresh Blueberry Pie! What are you hankering for the most?

Bunny in my freezer

bunnies

No one with a heart beating in their chest could possibly look at this picture and think, “Man, do they look delicious!” I grew up in the era where little children ran around with rabbit’s feet for good luck and did not think my fellow grade-schoolers barbarians. I actually coveted the rabbit fur coat of friend and not once imagined the skinning of these creatures as part of the process. Yet when the thought of eating rabbits hits, I am positively overcome with sadness and revulsion. A quick recap, you can carry their feet out of superstition and wear their lovely fur and I’m fine with it. Eat them and I freak out.

Our friend, Chris, who is Mr. Sustainable, surprised us with a cooler full of wonderful meat from his farm this summer. Grass-fed,hormone-free beef, free-range chicken and you guessed, one little bunny. I was delighted  for the the beef and poultry but the bunny? I tried to give it back. Ignoring my protestations of, “But I won’t eat it. I won’t even cook it. You monster!” He informed me that I was no kind of pioneer if I could not eat a rabbit. He doesn’t call them bunnies, which probably makes it easier for him, heathen.

According to WeEatRoadKill.com (not a real site), bunny tastes a lot like chicken. The question lingers, why not just eat chicken then? We are already used to eating chicken, why branch out? The smarty pants response is, what if chickens weren’t available? What if  the only thing around was rabbit? My answer: what if horses fly and leave gigantic piles of poop on top of my house? Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it, hmm?

Yet I take this whole bunny in my freezer thing as a personal challenge to prove my worth as a woman of the earth, pioneer stock if you will. You could double dog dare me to eat it but I wouldn’t budge but challenge my grit and I’m pissed. How am I going to do it? I think I’d have an easier time eating my neighbor’s guinea pigs, cause let’s face it, they aren’t “bunny” cute. Don’t panic Jen, I won’t eat them, I’m just saying…

What the @&#%?

Annaslide

Sometimes, for the sheer entertainment factor, I try to imagine what real pioneers would have made of our modern conveniences.

One of my favorite imaginings is showing up on the prairie with a Jumparoo, that magical piece of equipment deemed a necessity for the modern baby. The Jumparoo allowed me to exhaust my baby whilst doing important things like loading the dishwasher, running the vacuum or taking a bubble bath ( I brought the Jumparoo into the bathroom with me… genius, I know). A real pioneer mom could have made bread for the week, hauled water, fed the animals and killed a chicken without worrying that her baby would accidentally crawl into a flaming hearth. In fact, had they had the Jumparoo on their wagons as they climbed the Rockies, I venture to guess they would have dumped their grandma’s china beside the road before letting go of what could have been a very important part of pioneer motherhood.

Can you imagine what the pioneers would have made of modern grocery stores, where Cheetos, candy bars and laundry soap abound? The sheer shock and awe that we as a society treat such things as commonplace would certainly overwhelm. Not to mention how much easier their lives would have been with sanitary supplies, toilet paper, Vicks vapor rub, Tylenol and Zoloft.

Last weekend, we took the girls to Super Bounce in Salem for a birthday party. I had not yet experienced the wonders of such a place and was momentarily struck mute by what my eyes beheld. Actually, my first thought was, no effin WAY! My second  was that of envy as I wouldn’t be allowed to climb up and whiz down that super-amazing slide. And finally, my third thought; the real pioneers would have crapped their pants to think that in a matter of a century, their future kin would be jumping around in over-sized blow up contraptions. With their everyday survival, who would ever have the time, money, inclination to build something so outrageous just to entertain children? Children, who  in their time, would be needed to work as soon as they could walk to help keep the family alive.

Ah, the joys of modern  pioneering! While we yearn to get back to the earth, and we are, we are still fully relishing the convenience of raising our children in the modern world. Here’s to being a New Pioneer and not a real one.

The Golden State, Where the Water Runs Yellow

yellow_water

We currently have an old friend visiting us from California. It is food for our souls to be together again, reminiscing of old times and planning future adventures.

Beth, who grew up in California, has been updating us on the drought situation there. We are bemoaning the aspects of drought we already know about; crop failure being the most worrisome. Anyone can live without a beautiful green lawn. We had to our last year in California and were only allowed to water our lawns for twenty minutes once a week. Why bother. But now it’s not just lawns that are affected. Now, it’s our very food source. California supplies nearly fifty percent of fruit and vegetables for the whole country. Being that the Golden State is now the driest it’s been in a hundred years, this is seriously going to affect produce supply and costs.

What we haven’t heard about before was what is happening in towns where the water is already running dry. Beth lives in such a town. On the surface it is a beautiful little artists community in the San Gabriel Mountains; a place anyone would want to live and raise a family. Yet several months ago her town had to change its water source because of the drought. Where is the new water coming from? Don’t know. What we do know is that the water is coming out of the tap yellow.We were shocked to hear this. How can you palm off yellow tap water to a whole town without people freaking out? We asked her what the local paper is saying and what the town officials are saying. Here’s the party line, “The water, while yellow, is perfectly safe. Just don’t give it to your animals.” What?! It’s shades of West Virginia with the small exception that this has been going on for months with no foreseeable end in sight. Don’t give it to your animals! Why? How can you cook, bath and drink water that is unsafe for your animals?

What I know is this.California was not named The Golden State because the tap water was yellow, until now.

Letter to My Daughters

little ladies

It might be PMS or allergy medication but I’m feeling  overwhelmed by things that I want to say to my little girls when they are a little older. So here goes…

Dear Loves of My Life,

First off, I want you to know that being a kid isn’t always easy. I will try my darndest to never tell you that childhood (particularly high school) is the best time of your life. I think those parents are simply saying, “enjoy life before you have to stress about employment, taxes etc.” What they seem to forget is that childhood is full of worry, stresses and insecurity. I remember, I was there.

I was the kid who handed my mom ten fingernails, meticulously chewed off, on my way out the door to kindergarten. I was the kid who started ditching first grade because of some unremembered anxiety that tore away at me. On that note, should you ever require a mental health day that involves staying in your jammies all day and watching crappy tv, I’m planning on being there for you. Just so you know, you only get two of these per school year so book them wisely.

When you read this someday, my darlings, I will be even less cool than currently am. This is an astonishing thought as I am hardly the poster child for coolness now. But yes, I will get even less so as the years wane. Such is the way. I’m writing this now in hopes that we can bond in a past/future kind of way. As you are so going to look at me like I’m full of crap when I throw all the classic ‘mom’ platitudes your way in the coming years.

Life is an amazing adventure! It is jammed packed with dreams, both realized and not. It is full of hope and expectation. It is riddled with mind numbing possibility and earth shattering sadness. There will be joy so great you think you head will blow off and sadness so deep that you will want to die. That’s the truth and through it all I will love you from the deepest part of my being. You are my babies and you are best thing that I could ever give the world.

Things that do not matter; petty people who try to belittle you and make you feel less-than because you don’t subscribe to their ideals. Designer labels and new cars do not matter. The boy of the minute, that you think you will die if he doesn’t like you back. Gossip does not matter.

Things that do matter. How you treat people matters. It will pave your way in life. Be kind and patient. Be thoughtful of your words before you let them out of your mouth.

My love for you is the greatest gift I can give to you. I will always have your back and I will always fight for you, even if I sometimes have to fight against you to succeed.

Be true to yourself, whoever that may be. I don’t care if you’re gay, straight, thin, fat or if all your clothes are tie-dye (although I will probably try to talk you out of that one.) You are mine and you are perfect!

Life Close Up

self portrati

What I’ve learned about Homesteading is that sometimes it’s better to look at things close up. Close up you can enjoy the beauty of detail without constantly noticing all that still needs to be done around you. Close up, you can pretend that there aren’t garden hoses running willy nilly throughout waiting for the irrigation system to finally be tweaked. Close up you can focus on the perfection of creation that surrounds you. In that vein, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.

Here’s just a small taste of what life looks like for The New Pioneers –close up.

apple blossomThe first apple blossom. This one tree alone will keep us in Apple Pie, Apple Butter and Apple Jam until the next harvest.

blueberry

One of about eighteen blueberry bushes. If you look close, you can see the berries have begun to form.

parsley and toms

One of two beds dedicated to tomatoes. The Parsley reminds us of all the tomato sauce that we’ll can for fall/winter.

carrots and onions

The carrots and onions are flourishing.

turnips

Turnips are on fire!

What I haven’t shown you is the lettuce garden, already supplying our greens, the rhubarb, the peas, the plum trees, the pear trees, the other assorted veggies. This my friends is why you haven’t seen a recent post. Our cups runneth over!

And now for some random pretty that we have in bloom.

camillia

callalilly      hollyhock

lavender  iris seeanothis

purplw iris    Scottish Broom window boxes

Wishing you all the joy in the details and enough blurring around the edges that you overlook some of life’s messes!

The Art of Happiness

Happy Face

If you ask people what the one thing that they want above all else is, most of them will tell you that they wish for happiness. Lately, we got to wondering why happiness is such an elusive thing in our country (may we site our government’s Misery Index?) We are wealthy in comparison to most of the planet and yet we are seemingly so miserable. What gives?

The Pioneers are in search of happiness just like everyone else and simplifying our lives seemed the best place to start. Our first step in accomplishing that was to leave Los Angeles and to go back to the earth. Has this made us happier? You betcha! I mean we no longer live with the worst traffic in the country. In fact, a traffic jam for us is ten cars waiting at a red light. Heaven! And while no traffic makes us happy, it isn’t the kind of soul-reaching happiness we’re after.

Gardening makes us happy as well. It is hard work that can leave us more exhausted than we ever thought possible. Yet it is deeply rewarding to be able to grow our own food, healthier and more delicious than anything found in the stores. So this is happiness as well.

Raising our beautiful daughters near extended family is a nice big dose of happiness.

Being healthy is happiness.

Do you by chance see where we’re going here? The seed of happiness cannot grow in a heart of expectation and entitlement. Happiness flourishes in a soul rich in gratitude.

In 1972 in the country of Bhutan, The Fourth Dragon King,  Jigme Singye Wangchuch coined the term “Gross National Happiness”, where he was known to say that Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product.  Maybe that’s where we got it wrong. We, as a nation, are so focused on getting more, achieving more, and accomplishing more that we don’t bother acknowledging and showing gratitude for what we already have. We are focusing on our misery, not our gratitude.

In that vein, here is the source of The Pioneer’s happiness. We are grateful for our families, our children, our friends. We are grateful that Jimmy’s cancer is gone and that his little girls will grow up knowing the man that loves them more than anything else in the world. We are grateful for the land and the abundance thereof. We are grateful for our journey, which has not always been easy but always full of lessons learned. We are grateful for our mistakes for they have brought more knowledge than we have yet utilized. We are grateful that we have not received everything that we have desired, for desire makes us work harder.

When The Pioneers get together for Sunday dinner each week, we hold hands and sing The Johnny Appleseed Song as our grace. “The Lord is good to me and so I thank the Lord, for giving me the things I need, the sun and the rain and the apple seed. The Lord is good to me. Amen.”

Here’s wishing you true happiness and may the sun, the rain and the apple seed be abundant in your life!

Feeding Your Soil

Raised Beds

One of our 10 raised beds. This one is onions and carrots.

We are growing our own food not only to feel like capable, sustainable people but also so that our food will be the most nutritious and healthy as possible. In order to do this, you have to feed your soil, no ifs ands and buts. This means composting, folks! Which translates into saving all vegetable peels, fruit peels, egg shells, coffee grounds, pasta, breads and cereals that would have otherwise hit the garbage. Fun, you say? Always wanted a big bucket of fly catching garbage on your counter? Sadly you cannot keep leaching nutrients from your soil and expect to have healthful crops. So we bite the bullet and compost.

In the summer months we’re out dumping our scraps into the composter twice a day. With the proper balance of green matter (grass clippings etc.), brown matter (brown leaves, dirt and shredded black and white newsprint) and food scraps, you too can rot out the most fabulous, gorgeous muck that will make your garden sing!

Here in Oregon we are avid raised-bed farmers as much of our housing in built on hard clay soil; which grows weeds of Jurassic proportion but is not at all food friendly. This is how we fill our raised beds. 1.) Organic top-soil. 2.) Compost from our own kitchen. 3.) Goat poop 4.) Organic fertilizer. It is the recipe of the Gods!

Now that we’ve got you all jazzed at the prospect of shoveling  compost and poop, how can we leave you hanging on our fertilizer recipe? Here tis’!

Complete Organic Fertilizer (From: Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades by Steve Solomon)

4 parts seed meal (we are using cottonseed but you can also use canola seed depending on what is readily available in your area.)

1/2 part lime (Best is an equal mixture of agricultural lime and dolomite.)

1/2 part phosphate rock or bone meal (we are using bone meal as no one in our area seems to carry phosphate. Either way, it can be steamed or raw.)

1/2 part kelp (any kind of pure seaweed meal from anywhere.)

For early spring plantings, use a bit more than you think might be necessary. Best not to fertilize too heavily after the seeds are up and doing well. Start with 1/4-1/2 cup per plant.

It is so, so tempting to just spray some Miracle Grow on your plants. After all, it’s given you the biggest tomatoes ever, right? Yet the over-application of synthetic fertilizers are a great contributing factor to the growing problem of nutrient pollution.

[Unfortunately, industrial agriculture practices continue to damage and deplete this valuable natural resource. While intensive plowing and monocrop agriculture systems  Ghave caused nutrient depletion and wide-scale soil erosion, over-application of [synthetic] fertilizers and pesticides has contaminated our soils and polluted our waterways.] Info from Sustainable Table.

We are going to post the progress of our gardens for you so that you can follow our success (fingers and toes crossed). Hopefully we will succeed so spectacularly that you will transform your own yard into a fabulous and bountiful harvest for yourself!

Alert! Carrots and beets don’t like the poop so skip that step for them.

Had my mom read this before posted. This is how the conversation went:

Mom: Are you sure you want to use the word “poop”?

Me: What else would I use?

Mom: Manure.

Me: Isn’t that still poop?

Mom: Yes.

Me: Mom, poop by any other name is still poop.

“A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt