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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When Barbie Chickens Come Home to Roost

Chicken poop on the patio

Hanging out on the poopio.

I recently reread my New Year’s resolutions and have come to a profound realization. That being, I will be lucky to accomplish all of my goals for this year by 2020. Apparently owning a Wonder Woman costume (don’t ask) isn’t the same as being Wonder Woman. Crap.

While pondering the list, we decided that the chicken vs. duck dilemma was the first one to take on. For obvious reasons, like we had a friend that offered us chickens. Sealing the deal was the gossip that ducks are filthy, filthy animals.

Our friend and guru Chris, from Celestial Farms in Jefferson, asked what my criteria for chickens was. I told him I wanted pretty birds that laid pretty eggs. After much laughter, he informed me that rugged pioneer women are not interested in pretty, just functional. To which I asked, “Why can’t they be both?”

The girls pondered for days what to name their new pets. Jimmy voted to name them after Scooby and the gang. They weren’t interested. I wanted to name them after my favorite chicken dishes, Picata, Parmasan, Paprikash etc. which worried them that I was planning on eating their pets. Then, one morning it came to them, Barbie Princesses! So we welcomed, Odette (Anna’s particular pet), Anika, Analise, Rapunzel and Erika to our household.

 

Odette

Odette, pecking at the window to see if Anna can come out and play.

We have come to love these darling, dumb birds. They entertain us endlessly with their theatrics. Nary is an egg laid that isn’t followed by the most outrageous noise you can imagine. The bock, bock, bock, bock, bagock!!! to let you know that once again they have produced a key ingredient in our diets. And in appreciation of their efforts we hand feed them table scraps and Cheerios. We let them free range around the backyard before the gardens went in, renaming the patio the poopio, for obvious reasons. Now that they are confined to their pen until we harvest, we have moved their home in order to triple the size of their wandering area.

Are our chickens spoiled, you ask? Of course, they are named after Barbie princesses and must be treated accordingly.

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 Worst Pioneer, EVER!

wonderland

The last few days have gotten me to thinking about what the real pioneers had to deal with in order to survive. We are experiencing some uncommon weather for our neck of the woods and while I grew up in “real” weather, in the Mid-West, I have not had to deal with it in many, many years. Two days ago a foot of snow got dropped on us and while we were all, “Oh how pretty! I hope its good packing snow! and Who wants more hot chocolate?” the reality of the situation hit home today now that we are under a Severe Winter Storm Warning. This includes dire suggestions that you leave the house only in case of real emergency. This just in, the state does not consider running out of milk a real emergency. Luckily, we have plenty. It also includes predictions that we will be without power at some point for at least several hours as the ice starts to snap power lines and tree branches start coming down. Eek!

Pioneer Husband, Jimmy, is outside digging out our walk and driveway before the 15 or so inches of snow turns into solid ice. Good man. I , on the other hand, am running around higgledy-piggledy trying to prepare in all ways that seem important to me. These are the very things the real pioneers would have scoffed at and picked me as the first one for certain death.

1.  I have to vacuum if I won’t be able to do so for some undisclosed amount of time.

2. I feel strongly that we should all wash our hair and blow it dry because apparently dirty hair isn’t the way I want to spend the next day or two.

3. I just got done boiling 2 kinds of noodles and defrosting a big hunk of chili so that we can more easily heat dinner over a can of Sterno.

4. I’m not sure why, but I feel the need to clean the bath tub while I can still see the dirt. I am aware that this makes little to no sense.

5. I’m washing clothes that don’t really need washing. Why? I don’t want to be a dirty pioneer. Oxymoron much? Emphasis on the moron.

6. In addition to charging phones, which is smart, I am also charging the video camera and regular camera in case the perfect photo op presents itself while the power is out.

7. I am making a batch (make that a double batch) of chocolate chip cookies. Pioneer husband wonders why as we have a freezer full of baked goods. To which I answer, “They won’t be fresh, they won’t be warm!” Knowing full well that they won’t stay warm for long anyway, but I HAVE to do it.

8. I check up on the storm via the internet every ten minutes or so while I still have power. Of course the dire warnings stand and nothing changes but I feel the need to read and reread them ad nauseum.

9. I am letting the pioneer children watch WAY more tv than normal or even healthy by absorbing all the Madeleine they can stomach while I prepare for the worst.

10. In addition to all the idiotic things I’m doing, I’m also getting all the batteries and flashlights out, making a list of things Pioneer Husband needs to bring in from the shed (Advil, propane heater, popcorn…) and searching the house for a good book to read by candle light.

And the whole while I’m doing all this stuff, I’m well aware that the real pioneers would look at me like an alien species. That, my friends is why I’m a New Pioneer and not an old one. Wish us luck!

Pioneer Resolutions

happy new year!

There is nothing like the New Year to bring on feelings of failure (for previous unfulfilled resolutions), inadequacy and bionic determination to to change my wicked ways.

My Pioneer resolutions bear no resemblance what-so-ever to my promises of yore.  Not once since our exit from Los Angeles have I vowed to lose twenty pounds (although I could stand to lose more than that since my foray into middle-aged child bearing). Nor have I pledged to keep my eyebrows perfectly arched or my toes beautifully painted. Let’s face it, the important things have changed for me.

My only truly successful year was the year I vowed to drink more champagne. What a lovely year that was!

But I digress. Back to my 2014 Resolutions.Buckle your seat belts cause here they are.

1.   Finally figure out if we’re starting with ducks or chickens in the spring.

                    Chicken Pros                                              Chicken Cons

  • eats slugs and garden bugs                    potential death by neighborhood cats
  • pretty eggs (blue, green, brown)
  • rockin’ manure

           Duck Pro                                                          Duck Cons

  • eats slugs and garden bugs                    Do cats kill ducks?
  • bigger eggs                                                   I’m squeamish about eating duck eggs.
  • more nutritious eggs                                Will all that quacking drive me nuts?

2.   Goat poop, chicken poop, steer poop. Which is the best overall garden manure. Find a good source for it.

3.   Figure out whose right, the expert that tells you to move your tomatoes every year or the one who tells you to plant them in the same place year after year.

4.   Find out why our blueberries aren’t taking off like gangbusters. We’ve mixed special organic fertilizer for them , given then coffee and espresso grounds (fresh from Starbucks!) for the acid, watered them aplenty and praised them falsely. What more do they want, a Beethoven serenade?

5.   Dry our own herbs for year-long use; particularly parsley, basil, lavender and mint as they don’t winter over.

6.   Learn how to smoke bomb our fruit trees if threatened by frost. 2013’s sorry apple supply has made this information a must!

7.   Stop consuming artificial sweetener! I will most probably not succeed 100% here but I have to keep these damaging chemicals out of my children’s bodies. Please let this be motivation enough to 86 them from the house entirely.

8.   Fill the freezer with grass-fed organic beef and free-range chicken. And remember to defrost it in time for dinner.

9.   Learn to fish. This does not include baiting my own hook, taking the fish off the hook or cleaning the fish. This will include eating the fish, however.

10.  Camp. I went to camp for a week when I was in grade school . We slept in covered wagons on bunks but that is as close as I have ever gotten to real camping.

11.  Learn how to use the pressure canner. Follow up by canning ALL of the tomatoes from the garden. No more throwing them whole into the freezer.

12.  Pick more blueberries. 90 lbs. wasn’t enough so double it maybe?

13.  In addition to making our own dish soap, laundry soap, lip balm, body butters, and sugar scrubs (which we already do), learn how to make natural shampoo, conditioner and deodorant.

14.  Learn how to make our own apple cider vinegar–full of the mother!

15.  Utilize all of the dandelions in the yard. Harvest the young greens for salad, make wine, roast and grind the roots for a chicory-style coffee. Anything else, Bueller, Bueller?

16.  Bees–Bees-Bees–We have to start learning because we will have them. Maybe not until the homestead but why wait. Hopefully that will be next year. Think, pollination, honey, candles and lip balm all from one VERY endangered tiny creature. Miraculous!

17.  Grind our own grain. Make our own noodles and bread.

18.  Develop and make our own nutritious and delicious granola.

19.  Get serious with our medicinal garden. We started it in 2013 but didn’t harvest or use anything. Follow through!

20. Get the food dehydrator out of the garage and start dehydrating fruit. Learn how to make a solar dehydrator for greater quantities.

21.  Cook corn bread and stew over an open fire. I dare say this will be too much to do on my first camp out unless we camp in our own   back yard. Amendment to resolution #10: Camp out in the back yard.

22.  Lose thirty pounds.   Drink more champagne!

Happy New Year from The New Pioneers! We are looking forward to sharing our journey with you in 2014! Please don’t be shy if you have any advice for us– we need it.

The Complexity of Gratitude

child-on-a-swing

Life is a stew. It is a delicious combination of ordinary chunks, slices, sauces and spices, that when cooked together properly, make a thing as close to heaven on earth as possible. If life is the stew, then gratitude is the onion. No stew worth it’s gravy was ever made without the onion.

I have always believed that I was a grateful person. Always. Yet gratitude isn’t as simple as you think. It comes in layers. You’ve got to peel and peel before you can get to the heart.

When we first learn the feeling, if not the word itself, we are young; a large whole fruit, fresh from the garden, untarnished by all that is to come. We are grateful for a parent’s hand, a favorite teddy, a swing that will take us to the moon if we let it.

Then the layers start to come off, easily at first and gratitude shifts. We learn about the suffering of far off people in other lands; starvation, pestilence, disaster. With every new understanding, more layers. “I am grateful that I have a house over my head, a family that loves me, pizza…”

Adolescence hits and more of the fruit gets peeled away. Life gets harder, even if you live in the soft, cushy, world of middle-class America. Gratitude, like everything else, is felt with a shocking depth that can only be attributed to raging hormones. Every joy and despair are sharp and penetrating. Every slight, every compliment, every crush… life altering. Just like the onion. After the crispy brown layers fall away, the first juicy layers  are the hardest to remove. In terms of gratitude, it takes years. “I am grateful for my eyesight, my home, my thick hair…”

As the journey of life moves forward, gratitude grows in a way that can only be described as harrowing. Every layer removed causes tears. Tears of joy, tears of loss and despair. But the closer you get to the center the sweeter the fruit become and your stew finally has the flavor it needs to cook properly. “I am grateful for love, loss, cashmere…”

As always, I am grateful for things that are both ridiculous and sublime, but all appreciation adds flavor to life.

  1.  I am grateful for my children. So achingly, painfully grateful that is boggles the mind.
  2. I am grateful that my husband is cancer-free. Everyday that it doesn’t come back and he is here sharing the journey of life with me, I celebrate!
  3. I am grateful that my feet aren’t any bigger than a size 10. Seriously, cute shoes are not made bigger.
  4. I am grateful for parents that loved me enough to prepare me for life; food, clothing, shelter, yes, but also lessons taught, not always painlessly.
  5. I am grateful, beyond measure, for the quality of friendships that have enriched my life. Women and men from all over the planet who have brought their knowledge, understanding and wit to my world.
  6. I am grateful that I am tall. I am a claustrophobic person that would simply die in a crowd if I couldn’t see over it.
  7. I am grateful for a strong intuitive presence that has steered me away from danger and brought  great opportunity.
  8. I am grateful for the bounty we grow in our gardens. Nothing tastes quite like that which you have nurtured and tended yourself.
  9. I am grateful for bitterly cold winter when the world rests and waits the rebirth of life.
  10. I am grateful for the struggles and sorrows as they make the thrill of victory sweeter, even if the victory is no more than a peaceful and uneventful day.

 

Putting the Season to Bed

blog shot_edited-2

Life is full of rewarding journeys. Yet nothing, short of the birth of my daughters, can quite match the feeling of putting seeds into the earth and watching them grow into the most beautiful, nutritious and abundant sustenance. From the tender shoots just poking through the soil to the ripe fruit hanging heavy on the vine, we celebrate every step of the way.

The little girls have scavenged all summer long with one or another of us in tow. Blueberries, blackberries, tomatoes, snow peas, blackberries, apples, plums, lettuce, cucumbers and even green beans were eaten right in the garden. The only things not consumed on the spot were potatoes, rhubarb, zucchini and onions.

The fruits of our labor were eaten with relish and enjoyed by the whole family as well as many of our neighbors. What we didn’t grow, we picked at local farms. For us, this way of life is the true definition of living. Our children are learning right along with us.

All of the gardens have now been cleared. Seeds have been saved and plants have been composted. With Jimmy recovering form his most recent surgery, we’ve enlisted the help of our nephew and young neighbor (led by my seventy-four year old mother) over 260 gallons of goat manure have been shoveled, hauled and dug into our gardens in preparation for next year’s planting. Compost is being dug in this weekend and then the winter rains will do their work helping the soil absorb all of those lovely nutrients.

Life as a New Pioneer has left me feeling rich beyond measure and more blessed than ever.

I Hope You Like Jammin’ Too!

This summer I was overcome by a full on blitz of crazy jam energy. The family hit every farm within 10 miles of us (which is like 15) and we picked and picked and picked fruit until it was coming out of our ears. So ostensibly, if being sustainable means never having to buy jam again (and never saying we’re sorry about it), we’re there!

Here’s a little peek inside our pantry. This makes up just a fraction of what we put up.

Check out the cute little bows and charms. A nice little touch for a gift. To be totally sustainable I should have tied some decorative grass on it but hey, that’ll be another thing I only do when I absolutely have to.

This summer I made Peach Butter, Slovak Prune Butter (what can I say, it’s what my people eat), Apple Butter, Strawberry Rhubarb Jam, Spice Blueberry Jam, Raspberry Rhubarb Jam, Italian Plum Conserve, Blackberry Kiwi Ice Cream Topper, Mixed Berry Syrup, Pear Butter and Caramel Apple Jam. This fall I’ll add Pumpkin Butter and Concord Grape Jam.

One of the biggest hits was the Pear Butter! Check it out.

Pear Butter

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds of Bartlett pears (unpeeled) cored and cut into 1″ chunks
  • 1/2 cup of dry white wine
  • 2 tbl. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 4 orange slices
  • 1 lemon slice
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise
  • 1 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  1. Combine pears, wine and lemon juice in a heavy sauce pan. Cover and simmer until pears are soft, about 20-25 mins.
  2. Push through food mill or coarse sieve to remove skins. Transfer to food processor and puree.
  3. Return to heavy sauce pan and add remaining ingredients.
  4. Stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase to med. heat and boil gently until mixture thickens and mounds on spoon. Stir often, this will take about 50 minutes.
  5. Discard fruit slices, cloves and vanilla bean.
  6. Spoon butter into hot canning jars, filling only to 1/4′ from the top. Wipe rim of the jar and place lid on. Seal tightly.
  7. Arrange jars in boiling water in your canning kettle so that at least 1″ of water covers the jars. Cover and process for 15 minutes.
  8. Remove jars from the pot and cool. If the top seals, they will last for 1 year in a cool dark place. If the lid pops up, refrigerate and use… or barter from some fresh meat that you won’t have to kill yourself!

Now if I can just throw myself into sheep shearing with the same enthusiasm I can learn how to spin yarn so I can knit some warm sweaters. Stay tuned.