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no, that's not snow ice cream the gals are enjoying... it's gmo-free soy mash, aka okara, from a local tofu producer.  Yum!

no, that’s not snow ice cream the gals are enjoying… it’s gmo-free soy mash, aka okara, from a local tofu producer. Yum!

It finally looks like winter, for real out there- we got a couple inches of white stuff this morning to dust off the single digit and teens temps we’ve been “enjoying” this past week. I must say, I’m enjoying the change of scenery! After a fair number of dismal gray days, the bright sparkle was most welcome!

We tucked in early last night, after stopping into Revolution Brewpub for a pair of pints to cheers our friends’ John and Steven formerly of Grid Chicago as they announced and celebrated their blog’s virtual move to Streetsblog Chicago. Had a slice of awesome arugula pizza with shaved parmesean and lemon-infused oil to go with my ESB and Coffee Porter… we almost stopped in at a friend’s for their homemade pizza as well, but missed their street while cutting through the park, which was a minor bummer but for the best. We had planned to come home early (and the Bella Wooski was eagerly awaiting our return, and her bathroom break and dinner), as we fully intended to get to work… but were overcome by a powerful and undeniable sleepiness. Best laid plans… and sometimes the nap wins.

So instead, we got up with the sun and the chickens, the fella at five and I at six, got caffeinated and got to work. We rearranged a bunch of materials on the second floor, and the fella used the newly assembled tablesaw to make a pretty badass rolling cart for the pair of sawhorses organizing most of our framing lumber, which will soon have foam stacked ceiling high on top. I made us a breakfast of Tribble and Eggs- we had a bumper crop of Lion’s Mane mushrooms last week, so I finally got to bring one home to try… and they DO taste like lobster! Only cuter. And less crustacean-y. I caramelized half a minced onion in a goodly pat of butter, chopped and sauteed the mushroom pieces, broke three eggs in the pan, added a sprinkle of cheese, and served it up. Awesome. The fella commented at 7:57 that he had three minutes till he had to leave for work, still furiously loading wood onto the cart… I joked, great. Three minutes till I can get back in bed! Just kidding… and took over the wood-loading duties, then put on my mask and swept and shop-vacced the whole second floor, took out the trash, shoveled and salted the front walk, took down the christmas decorations, fed and watered the hens (see pic), rescued a cat the dog had trapped under the woodshed (really, I just distracted the dog so the cat could make a break for it…), a bolt of fluffy black lightening so fast that dumb-dumb dog didn’t even see it get away, and spent the next two hours wedging herself behind the fence and under the shed as far as she could fit, alternately, trying to find the thing. Oh, Wooski…

Time to feed the fish before I head back to the studio to cut soap- I’m really happy with that new Orange Chai batch. I checked on them this morning in the molds, and they look and smell fantastic! Can’t wait to start cutting them- it’s always a surprise to see how they look inside, especially these marbled batches!

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chicagohorses

I was biking back from the Peggy Notebart Nature Museum, after dropping off my final paperwork from the weatherization program I help out with each year, and decided to take a different route home, just following the grid and the sun-compass roughly in the direction of home, when I stopped dead in my tracks. I was in a pretty dense, high-dollar northside neighborhood, but here in a large well-fenced but empty vacant lot were two enormous horses. They had obviously spent a lot of time here, not just appeared- there were two half-full, half-frozen water troughs, some hay, and a deflated ball to kick around. The ground was frozen, but pockmarked with hoof-prints. Of course, I had to get closer and say hello! The gelding near the fence stuck out his muzzle in greeting, and I gave him a soft pat as he munched his hay. I stood for a moment, breathing in that intoxicating horsey perfume that anyone who’s ever loved and been near horses knows all so well, while I cleared space in my camera phone memory bank to snap a photo. I had to send one to my friend, who’s ridden and worked with horses far more than I could have ever dreamed growing up… we’ve got this probably pipe-dream about a horse or two (I really just want a large pony, or a small horse, trained to ride and drive… not much to ask, right? haha) kept nearby. It works in North Philly… so I’m not utterly in fantasy la-la-land, right?
This American Life: Horses in North Philly

Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club

I technically have a horse, but he’s an ancient sway-backed Arkansas pasture ornament, and after over a dozen or more years away in the city, and possession being nine-tenths of the law, he’s my dad and stepmom’s pet by all rights. Overcome by teenage romanticism, I named him Stormy Moon, though Stormy was all anyone ever called him. He was the result of years and years of reading, dreaming, and talking horses… of saving my allowance and birthday money and babysitting cash… of combing the swap-ads at the local filling station, until finally finding and buying the first horse we saw, the first one I could afford that almost met all my requirements. Of course, I knew the CARDINAL rule of horse buying (“don’t buy the first horse you see”) but it was such an ordeal to coordinate and cajole my parents into the idea that I didn’t want to risk it not happening again… I was in high school, planned to go away for college (somehow) so I was running out of time for this particular dream. He was a grey gelding, part-Arab, and to my eyes, the most beautiful thing in the world. He came with tack, or at least a western saddle and some assorted gear. I already owned an english bridle, and other horsey accoutrements. I learned early that putting the cart before the horse is not necessarily a bad plan… and made inspiring wall decor until it could be useful. The Mennonite family that sold him to us said he was gentle and that their kids rode him, but didn’t ride him enough so he needed a new home. He was gentle, from the ground, and as it turned out, more green-broke than kid-broke… My horse experience up to that point was mostly seat-of-the-pants, thick on book-learning and a bit of bareback trail-riding on a friend’s older sister’s bombproof retired show horse. Misty, also dapple grey, was a Quarter Horse that had won trail and halter classes, and competed in barrel-racing and pole-bending before a pasture accident ended her ring career and left her with one eye- she was dead-calm and kid-proof in spite of the affliction, and she carried my friend Jeanie and I, riding double through blackberry hollows, fields, and roadsides without incident. For Stormy and I, our combined inexperience was a bad combination indeed.

My cowboy cousin-in-law Stacy helped haul him home, saddled him up, and said to hop on. Unlike his rodeo horses, which were used to trailer travel and unfamiliar situations, this guy was rattled and already a little out of his element… but I mounted, and set off downhill into the pasture at a walk, then a brisk trot. My poppy (grandpa) and other cousin were baling hay that day, and Stormy caught an eyeful of a square bale ejecting from the machinery and tumbling out onto the field, and decided that this tractor-demon was very dangerous indeed. He sped to a run, whirled and reared, and I went flying. After a mid-air backflip, I broke my fall with my left arm outstretched over my head, and half-broke a bone in the process. Everyone came running as I sheepishly and painfully dusted myself off. True to form, cowboy cousin says “get back on the horse”, which I did with a leg-up, and rode to the back of the hill, where the house and bags of ice were. Spent six weeks in a cast with what the doc called “a greenstick fracture” as one of the two bones in my forearm had bent and snapped on one side but not the other under the strain of the landing… a lucky break, and it healed well… but I never rode that horse much either. I’d spend time with him, and brush him, but we didn’t have the girl-and-pony mind-meld and endless adventures I’d dreamed about for years. I loved him, and admired his beauty and power, but was also more than a little intimidated by it, and more than a little afraid to climb back up there and try again. I was in over my head, and it’s not the last time I learned that kind of lesson. Riding lessons would have helped both of us… or should have been essential, but there was no budget for such things. Someday I’d like to try again, with some guidance and groundwork first. And a dead-broke schoolmarm of a horse. And a helmet, haha. My bones aren’t as pliant as they were back then… but I’d like to think I’ve learned a lot of lessons about falling. And getting back up.

In other news, our pig is ready, at the locker in Chenoa, IL, waiting for us to drive two hours, pick it up, and start turning it into delicious bacon and sausages. I consider it a good omen that my friend, who works at the Spice House, just brought us a jar of their italian sausage seasoning, and didn’t even know about our pig purchase. The fates are with us! He was one of four raised on pasture by a woman in Lemont, on a diet of organic feed, food scraps, and acorns. If he’s half as delicious as the pig I raised in FFA, we’re in for some great meals. 241 pounds of great meals- we requested pretty much “everything but the squeal”. Who wants to fry up some pork rinds with me? We have to render the lard first…

Have more realistic urban livestock dreams, but not sure how to get started? There’s an Urban Livestock Expo event at the Garfield Park Conservatory on February 16th… come learn about chickens (the gateway drug), bees, rabbits, and goats, and meet other current and aspiring urban farm folk; talks and Q&A to follow! It’s being put on by folks from Advocates for Urban Agriculture, Chicago Chicken Enthusiasts (two great list-servs that I’m on) and Angelic Organics Learning Center, among others I believe? I’m hoping to attend if I can wiggle my work schedule… it’s 10 am-1 pm, which might make it tough. Looks to be a fun event, so put it on your calendars now!

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farm dinners?

So, the fella forwarded me an invite to another of our friend’s quarterly farm supper events… and had one of his always-pragmatic suggestions… that “instead of writing dear diaries to the internet world, maybe you can plan and execute farm dinners. hmm. just a thought.”  Those who know me know that this is a frequent day-dream of mine… I just have a hard time a) with the current state of our venue(s), and b) with the idea of charging my friends to come over for dinner. 

As far as issue a)… either I could get creative and use someone else’s space… (Catington Station? Ahem?)… get a hustle on and get our house put together, or capitalize on the current rough slate we’ve got.  Sure, we’ll just throw a tarp over the double stack of insulation and work-related mess, issue our guests parkas at the door, and charge them double for the grittiness of it.  Free dinner for anyone who manages to shoot the rat. 

Yes, the rat, which has set up camp behind the oven, evaded numerous pellet-gun assassination attempts, tip-toed around the jumbo glue-traps placed on either side of the rear of the oven, and stolen the peanut I used to bait the snap-trap on the counter.  Ew.  Crafty little bastard… and I can’t poison it as I’m afraid it will die IN the oven.  The fella of course countered that the rat could be the first course… “organic indoor raised free range rat”.  I’ve eaten ‘coon.  I’ve eaten squirrel.  I realize the hypocrisy, and I’m sure the difference is purely semantic, but I can’t see myself trying or preparing rat unless actually starving.  Our friend, to whom we related our woes at New Years, said he’d dispatched many a rat when he resided at The Grand Manor, and suggested sardines as foolproof bait.  I’ll be trying that this afternoon… as soon as I figure out how to ensure that I don’t catch a Rott instead.  I guess that’s one way to train her once and for all to stop counter-surfing when we’re not looking… but a little too harsh for my liking as it could actually really hurt her instead of just teaching her a hard lesson.  Hm.

As far as the charging for dinner thing… I guess that’s my own hang-up and inner-cheapness that I need to get over.  I love feeding people… most folks love my food… and cooking for people is what I paid a LOT of money to learn how to do well.  Most people spend a lot of money going out to eat… why shouldn’t they support what we’re doing at the same time?  That said, send me an email, or comment if you want to get added to the email list if and when we put one of these together!

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So, we’ve survived the holidaze, and the fella is taking the week off work to get to work on the many millions of projects that stand between us and a warm, safe, and comfortable home. We spent the first half of new year’s eve (once I got home from work) up and down ladders, me tacking up tiny little spacer blocks of wood to the underside of our roof deck with a brad nailer, and he cutting and fitting foil-faced foam board (individually measuring and cutting each one as of course the rafter spacing in our 130 year old house varies from 19″ and 22″ and change on center. The dog was much distressed, as she believes one of her missions in life is to protect me from pneumatically-driven tools (she views these as very dangerous, and I’m often inclined to share her view, especially as they are plastered with “caution! improper operation could result in severe injury or death!” warnings)… when the fella or his dad is working with them, she will ignore them all day until I get home, then get between me and the tools and bark most ferociously… “Lady! There is danger! Dog is on the case!” The fact that I was now wielding the fearsome object was a little much for dog-brain to process, and she did a lot of pacing, at least until we packed it up, ate a cheap frozen pizza (rehab will make you do terrible things), and went to the studio to change clothes and ride two miles north to our friend’s new year’s eve party. We usually lay low on New Year’s, stay off the roads, order massive amounts of chinese food, hang out with other folks at the studio doing the same, and set off some fireworks in the hallways at midnight. This year we decided to mix it up a bit, especially as we’d just ordered chinese for christmas eve and had plans at the studio for new year’s day… and while it was tempting to skip the whole production and just keep plugging away at the project, it was probably a very good idea to go out and pretend like we had a normal life for once.

The insulation project, much delayed, is progressing… after three months of waiting for the appropriate truck to borrow, the fella actually called the insulation warehouse our friend recommended, only to find they’ve been out of the 3″ sheets for almost a year- the factory that used to supply them closed. Soooo… we re-bought the thin foil-faced sheets that we’d returned to Menard’s back in October, found the craigslist guy who we bought our first load of 1.5″ factory-seconds sheets from again, and now have 150 or so sheets of foam in three stacks in our house, two of which are floor to ceiling on the first floor, right next to the woodstove, making it inoperable until we get some more work knocked out and at least one of those stacks upstairs. We came home a few nights ago to an almost frozen kitchen faucet and icebergs in the sink… and the fella went straight downstairs and LIT THE FURNACE.

Those who know the fella know what a big deal this is. The only time he’s ever willingly heated his living quarters with fossil fuel was when he shared a house with a friend and had to, though they kept the thermostat as low as his roommate’s thin-coated dog could stand. Friends of ours, who are hardy, ride-their-bikes-through-the-winter types, tell stories about leaving winter parties at the fella’s first apartment because everyone was sitting around with their coats on and just got too cold. I know, where’d I find this guy? The first winter I spent at our studio I’d go sit in the fermentation closet with the beer, where there was a tiny space heater on a temp. controller to keep it at a happy 65 degrees, and I’d curl up on a shelf with a book and a blanket and a mug of cocoa to thaw my bones. I’ve grown hardier since, wear a lot more wool, and 52 seems positively toasty compared to the 33-49 degree mark our house has been at. It’s warmer by the fire, of course… so that fact that it’s been in the low 50’s in our house this week is something to celebrate (though I still sleep with my hat on). I won’t be celebrating when I open our gas bill (since if you add up all the openings, gaps, and leaks in our second floor envelope you’d probably have a hole big enough to ride a bike through, if not to drive in with the monster truck). I’m trying not to remind the fella too much that we could have been done with this part at least a month or two ago if we’d just proceeded with the original plan (exactly what we’re now doing) and saved ourselves a month or two of misery. But since he’s currently in bed feeling sick because he cut foam for two days while his respirator hung on the wall by the back stairs, I’m trying not to do too much “if only-ing”, because he already knows. Our biggest challenge now will be getting it warm enough up there for the caulk to cure… hopefully once the whole roof has the first layer of insulation it will be warmer, and we’re supposed to get a 50 degree day next week… so if we time it right, and fire up the woodstove with the furnace going, we should be golden?

Speaking of golden, we thought we had found our first floor bathroom tile, at a steep discount (we have the floor tile for the second floor- white ceramic hexagonal mosaic acquired on craigslist, surplus from the installer who did John Cusack’s bathroom remodel. Yes, we have John Cusack’s leftover tile for our master bath. Booya, ladies!) but I don’t think it’s going to work out as the fella has this thing about practicality. I did some extensive googling while looking for ways to win the not-quite-an-argument with him over marble mosaic tile vs. quarry tile for our bathroom. Yes, quarry tile, which until now I had been ok with (grey not red)… so practical! Affordable! And easy to clean! And the fellow, he is a little rough on surfaces and lax with cleaning, especially the kind of cleaning that needs kid gloves and gentle chemicals and probably a toothbrush… he’s more of a, “lets get stainless laboratory cabinets for the kitchen with acid-resistant counters, put a urinal and a floor drain in the bathroom and we can just hose everything down with bleach or caustic when it needs it” practical kinda guy. So he’s probably right, and he would murder the marble… but he saw the marble first, and liked it, and then showed it to me and it was on sale and we put a hold on it… and I pictured our amazing future bathroom and imagined showering in it and how impressive and gorgeous and serene it would be, and suddenly NOTHING ELSE WOULD DO and the quarry tile would look exactly like a McDonalds, which is how I was feeling when he called from the material store, ready to pick up our pallet of golden-hued spa luxury but for his cold feet, and his friend’s impromptu iphone research, and we weren’t getting the tile after all.

Sigh. Back to the drawing board, and hanging insulation, and trying not to step through the hole(s) in the floor on the way to the coffeepot in the morning… and reminding myself that we WILL be done someday and we’ll appreciate it so much more for having been through this. Last night we were sitting and chatting with a friend at the studio, and he commented how rich he felt, something to the effect of, “we own a house down the street, we get to hang out here, drinking beer from a tap, and I have a gorgeous girlfriend… We have a saltwater aquarium we never even look at and a great dog all of this stuff and we’re warm and everything is so great, and next year maybe we’ll have a house we can live in and everything will be different but still good…”. I admire the power of his positive thinking, though sometimes I have a hard time being as optimistic while we’re slogging through the details. But someday, someday, someday soon… we’ll get there, or closer.

Apologies for the lack of photos lately, and for the promised-but-never-posted pictures of the artful brew day. My camera remains broken, and the fella just lost his or it was stolen from his office… with all the pictures on it. Urgh. I know. Hopefully it will turn up, but I fear the worst… a new camera is on the list, right after a new-old laptop. I’ve been limping along with an old desktop for awhile, but it’s technically the fellas so I haven’t put all my files on it, and am ordering a refurbished older-but-newer-than-the-x31-that-died thinkpad this weekend, installing Ubuntu, and pretending this laptoplessness never happened. Can’t wait.

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Well, while neither the fella or I have gotten too much of a reprieve from work, we have been relaxing and enjoying the season regardless.  Our friend and new neighbor B came over on Sunday for dinner along with her friend L who works for a rigging company in the neighborhood and was helping her build fence panels at their shop.  We didn’t sell many mushrooms at the farmers market that morning (but sold out of greens and herbs… go figure.  Whatever we bring more of is what we sell less of… but isn’t that the way it goes?), so we had oyster mushroom ragout with rich rabbit stock veloute, mashed potatoes with preserved lemon, our salad greens with walnut, pomegranate, and half an avocado and kalamata dressing, and pasta with tomato-vodka cream sauce (from a jar, but doctored up of course), arugula, and bacon.  A feast!  I can’t say how much it does for my psyche to be able to occasionally have a normal impromptu dinner in the middle of our camp-cabin-construction zone… I wiped the mortar dust off the farmhouse table, excavated enough chairs and room for everyone to sit and we had a wonderful time. 

Someday we’ll both be done with our major rehab projects and be able to enjoy such happenings all the time!  For now, she’s just starting to lay out her strategy, secure the property, and is staying with her parents while she waits for the weather to warm and to heal from her upcoming shoulder surgery.  As for us, we’re trying to track down a truck that is roadworthy and rated to pull our big trailer to the insulation warehouse a couple hours away.  Know anyone with an F250, cargo van, or similar beast for hire? Send ’em our way!  Know anyone who wants to buy a classic ’77 Ford highboy with a custom rack and a crane on the back?  We just acquired a sensible small Toyota from a friend, and are putting ole ‘Blue on the block.  She’d be a great restoration project for someone, or a scrapper’s delight, and we’d like to see her go to a good home… and I can’t wait to get the half of the yard back that she takes up, much as I’ve enjoyed the things that she brought us- like the chicken coop and rain “barrels”.  Heh. 

We’ve had a pretty non-traditional but still enjoyable holiday… we stayed home, and his parents are in Florida visiting family, so we got to spend it together with just us and the dog.  We ordered Chinese food on Christmas Eve, which we usually do on New Year’s Eve while hanging out with neighbors, but I think we all have other plans this year and will be hanging out at the studio on New Years Day instead.  I didn’t do much decorating, other than the outside of the house, where our fence is decked with yew boughs (trimmed from the bush in our front yard that otherwise will turn back into a tree), the front door bears a giant red bow with more greenery, the urn of kindling branches on the porch have ornaments hanging, and I fired up our still-hung Halloween lights, which are mostly green with a touch of purple.  Close enough. 

He had only Christmas day off work, and I had Monday and Wednesday, my usual days off (thanks to a volunteer who lived nearby and filled in on fish feeding for my other coworker who was out of town) and only stopped in for an hour or so on Christmas day to feed, weigh out the next feeding, and return the farmers market gear (coolers, tables, banner, bins, etc…).  After sleeping in a bit, and a breakfast of bacon and eggs, the fella and I drove down to the farm in the afternoon with the big Bella bear, and she had a holiday frolic running free in the fenced two-acre lot around the building.  It makes me so happy to let her run off leash somewhere safe but bigger and more interesting than our yard- she positively glows, and floats about two feet above the ground as she trots and races in circles, sniffing everything, checking the perimeter, and hoping for rabbits.  I wish I could take her with me more often, but she’s just too unreliable still, and would fuss and bark and whine the whole time that I wasn’t with her… and dogs aren’t allowed in food-processing buildings.  Oh well, oh dear.  She’s best left at home where she can hold down the fort while we’re gone. 

After work we headed back to the house, where the fella got a roaring fire going while I threw together a simple dinner- more mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy, roasted baby brussels sprouts from Iron Creek farm with bacon and caramelized onion, and a roast chicken with red and white turnips from Radical Root farm, carrots and onion and half a preserved lemon and some good garlic stuffed inside, and finally a green salad.  I chatted with my family on the phone while I cooked- the were mostly being spared in the snowstorm that was sweeping through the south that day.  We sipped eggnog and rum, and Revolution porter, ate in front of the fire, and talked about plans and the new year.  It was the first Christmas I spent not either at home with my family, or at someone else’s home with their family, and was weird but nice.  I would have liked a tree.  Someday we’ll get there.  Maybe next year? 

We traded gifts- one each (we didn’t plan it that way but luckily neither of us really need much, and we’re both hard to shop for!). I got him a tastefully nude farmer calendar, of the ladies of women-run Rosasharn Farm CSA- what could be better than beautiful farm women thoughtfully posed in their fields or with their food, and a recipe per month to boot? If it’s also for a good cause! The calendar is a fundraiser by a group in New York that is putting together a mobile food-processing facility so that nearby farms can sell value-added products… it’s a great idea and a sexy concept! You can learn more about the project and get your own here: Pasture to Plate Calendar. And thank you to the Greenhorns and their blog, The Irresistible Fleet of Bicycles for helping me find a great gift for a guy who doesn’t need much of anything! If anyone is feeling charitable, we’d love a copy of their New Farmer’s Almanac here at Alewyfe Farm, or at The Plant!

He got me an even better gift: a still-sturdy leather-bound copy of “The Household and Farmer’s Cyclopedia: One Hundred Thousand Facts for the People.” from 1878, “A Book for the Farmer, Mechanic, and Working Men of all Trades and Occupations, the Stock Raiser, the Household, and every Family who wants to Save Money, a Book of Solid Worth and Practical Utility, containing a Remedy for every Ill, a Solution for every Difficulty, and a Method for every Emergency”!!! Wow. I didn’t know I needed this, but I don’t know how I managed to get through life without it. And from it so far I’ve learned that a horse can drink a LOT of laudanum syrup when unwell (laudanum is basically opium dissolved in booze- a heroin cocktail. Would cure the most persistent cough or lameness I’m sure), that if a mad dog bites you in the butt you should pay someone to suck the evil out of the wound, and that two parts flour of brimstone and one part potash, heated together in an iron pan and then dissolved in water, will rid your house of ants. I couldn’t make this stuff up. Thanks, hun!

I hope that you’re all enjoying this time, wherever you are and whoever you’re with… here it’s finally white and magical outside, and the yard looks a bit less drear and trashy with a partial coat of fluffy snow.  Our house is cold but it could be worse, and we’re warm and well fed.  And we’re getting a pig! For the freezer, not the farm, but from a woman who raises a few a year on pasture, with organic feed, veggies, fruit, and whole grain bread scraps, and finished on acorns… I found her on craigslist and suggested we take a half… but the fella is going whole hog! We’ll be making sausage, curing bacon and ham, rendering lard, and swimming in pork and cracklins soon! Such riches! I’m looking forward to next year and all the projects, challenges, and opportunities that lie in wait… now let’s go get ’em!

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We’ve finally broken the longest stretch of snowless days here in Chicago in a looong spell (290!!!)… outside is a blustery, gusty, wintery mix of wet streets and fat blowing snow. I gave the chickens extra bedding this morning- straw for the nest boxes (where two hens have been roosting at night… can’t say I blame ’em but I sure wish they wouldn’t… luckily the few eggs we’re getting these days are mostly clean regardless) and a thick layer of coffee chaff from the Bridgeport roastery. Trust me, no chicken coop ever smells nicer than one freshly blanketed with fluffy coffee chaff (it’s a remainder of the roasting process which flakes off the beans while the morning magic is happening). I finally put the submersible aquarium heater into the chicken waterer bucket and plugged it into the thermo-cube that turns it on when it’s below freezing, and traced the snake of extension cord back to the porch and plugged it back in. I filled their feeder, tossed them their bag of bolting arugula from the farm and an extra handful of scratch.

Bella has added Houdini to her looong list of names (not all of them suitable for a family-friendly website)… I usually crate her when I’m doing chicken chores, otherwise she’s unmanageably bad. I was tying up the coop gate and looked up to see her on the other side of the fence, all drooly and foamy-lipped and waggy-nub-tail excited… we clip her wire crate door with two carabiners and the two latches, and have zip-tied all the sides together because she’ll get out otherwise (she’s STRONG)… apparently this time she squeezed between the door and top of the crate and bent it out a bit more than before, leaving her id collar behind in the process (thankfully she’s chipped now, and for just this sort of reason- she’s fond of sticking her head where it doesn’t belong and losing her collar on the way out). Bad dog! Now she gets the carabiners, latches, and two leash ends holding door corners tightly to the crate sides. Oh, anxious beast… I went thrift shopping on my way home from work today and got her a blanket for her solstice present- baby, it’s cold INside! I found a blue gingham shirt, a cute cardigan sweater, and two pairs of pants for myself (since I’m down to one pair without patches and/or holes, and spent two hours mending a pair last week… three dollars for two pairs of perfectly good pants seemed a sound investment) and a beautiful woolen handwoven lap quilt from the Handcrafts College in Berea, Kentucky also for THREE dollars. So what if it needs washing? Woolen blankets are like gold around here, especially ones in multi-hued jewel tones made by hand! What luck! I left early-ish from work to beat the snow, but by the time I’d stopped for butter, bacon, eggnog, and orange juice (just the essentials!) and spent too long at the thrift store, the snow caught up with me. Luckily the pavement was warm and wet, and the city was antsy to send the salt trucks around. The ride wasn’t bad, and I found myself grinning most of the way in spite of the ridiculous bags strapped to my rear bike rack which swayed from side to side and caught the wind gusts, almost blowing me broadside into the curb a few times… blinking away the snow that blew around my glasses, taking it nice and slow (wet rims don’t brake well), and actually enjoyed the ride. Warm mittens, tall boots, and a lot of layers meant I was mostly cozy even though I could have been miserable. All about the preparation, and a little bit about your attitude…

And then, Home! Let the gratefully happy and wiggly dog out, started a load of dog laundry (her crate towels, and the sheet we keep over the armchair she gets to sleep in… man, she is a dirty dirty dog. Which is to say, A dog.). Got a fire going in the woodstove, and thought about drying my socks and changing my boots… but first to work! Did a sinkful of dishes, fried up two slices of bacon, and started caramelizing an onion in the bacon pan… brought up a handful of potatoes from the basement that were getting sprouty and soft, and decided that an Irish fry-up was in order. While that was going, I pulled the pot of vegetable stock I’d made but not strained a few days ago from the fridge and poured it from the pot into a colander over a big bowl, and pulled the other pot of rabbit stock, also needing straining, but jiggly and semi-solid with meaty goodness. Our friend makes amazing dog jerky treats with 100% rabbit and brings us an extra bag of bones once in awhile- Bella gets a bunch of them but I always make a pot of dynamite stock for us as well! If you cook the bones long enough, they’re soft enough to crush between your fingers, so I feed those back to her too… I figure if they’re crumbly, she can handle them… they’re not going to splinter and hurt her if I can smush them with a fingertip.

And now, the good part! I finally thawed my feet by the fire, put on some dry boots and wiggled my toes to get the blood back into them (the tall wellies keep you dry from OUTSIDE puddles but the self-generated ones are another story… haha). The bacon didn’t last long enough to make it into the dish, but I tucked into a hot bowlful of lightly curried fried potatoes and caramelized onion redolent with bacony-goodness, washed it down with a whiskey-spiked vanilla eggnog with a dash of cinnamon on top, and got to catch up on some email, do some reading and writing… bliss! Hey, what can I say. I’m a simple girl.

I’m looking forward to the sunrise- Mayan calendar or not, it’s the birth of a new season and while winter is finally here, the sun is on the way back, and it’s longer light from here on out. The darkest days are on their way, out. Happy beginning of the world, again… and happy solstice to you all!

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If wishes were horses…


I just finished taking an online class with Sharon Astyk called “Adapting in Place”. I’d highly recommend it, or any of her classes! Lots of hard questions from Sharon and informative discussions with the other folks in the class. One of the wrap-up prompts was, “What is your dream? What would you want if there were no constraints?” At about the same time, Jenna from Cold Antler Farm posted again imploring readers to write down their dreams and carry them around with them, and not to be afraid to ask for the moon and take small steps to get there. So here we go…

City mouse, country mouse dreams- city mouse: First, finish our little cabin- with lots of insulation, LED lighting and energy efficient appliances, and reused materials wherever we can find or employ them so we can stay warmer in winter, cooler in summer while using as few resources as possible. The first floor is open and you enter into a broad space with the fellow’s wood barrister bookcases and the rolling library ladders surrounding the wood stove lined with all our favorite books, the big barn wood dining room table in the center and the kitchen in the back all open to each other… a small bathroom added and a big pantry where the old bathroom was so we can feed all our friends. Good music, good food, and a trickling stream of good company fill our days as our friends stop in to say hello. The front bay window is a captain’s bed nook where our friends who’d like to stay longer or who came from afar can crash out…

We somehow buy up a bunch of the vacant homes in our neighborhood (there are a LOT of them), do energy-efficient retrofits and rehabs on them, and rent them inexpensively to other urban homesteaders willing to commit to growing at least some of their own food, reducing their car usage, and interested in learning real life skills and building a resilient and vibrant local community of all colors, ages, and avocations. Actually start teaching the classes that I’ve been dreaming and debating about for years- cooking from scratch, canning, food storage, backyard farming, brewing, soap making, etc. etc… Organize a goat-herd co-op, where member-neighbors take turns tending a small flock of Nigerian Dwarf goats and grazing them on vacant lots with portable fencing. Start a store that sells actual food in our neighborhood- bulk staples and fresh produce, canning jars and tools, not bags of chips and ho-hos, white owls and mad dog. Reach out to the neighbors we already have, who we’re starting to get to know better, and bring them along on the crazy ride.

Country mouse? At least ten acres, mix of wooded and tillable land, preferably with a clean canoeable river either bordering it or within walking distance (or rather, portaging distance), and/or a large lake nearby. The fellow has had his canoe stored in his parents’ garage for years, and I’ve never been out on a small craft, though I grew up a short bike ride from a lake where we spent most of our summer nights. Nothing is more freeing or refreshing on a hot night than floating and splashing, working up a shark-like appetite, and then cooking a simple dinner on an open fire on the bank. Somewhere with more stars than you can count on two hands. Same goats, chickens, bees, gardens, and classes… plus I can have a large pony or a small horse and learn to ride, oh, bliss! We’d have room to grow veggies and staples- potatoes, onions, even a pancake patch (we’ve been joking down at the Plant about planting a pasta tree… but everyone knows that bread comes from grass. I think Whitman told us that… bread is life, and all flesh is grass).

We park a shipping container or two for storage if the property doesn’t come with outbuildings, and put up a yurt while we build a strawbale or earth-sheltered house if there isn’t already an old farmhouse to restore… or if it’s near the Catskills, our cousin can build us an Earthship… if we have an invisible zoning/building inspector forcefield, that is. Hey, we’re dreaming here, we make the rules! For that matter, we could have 100 acres, divide it up, and recreate the family farm where I grew up (now mostly sold except for my dad’s parcel), hopefully somewhere with a better climate and bring everyone I love together. Reaaal hot down in the southern Ozarks now… and I’d get to see my family more than once or twice a year, work with them, and watch my baby nieces and nephew grow up in real life and not just in facebook photos, to really be a part of their lives and not someone they see at holidays.

This land would be within ten miles of a liberally-minded small to medium sized town with a good coffee shop, a cafe or three, and two small grocery stores. A theater would be nice, and a small college with a big library. It snows enough for snowshoes (and sleds! and sleigh rides!) but not all the time. The spinach and kale are sweet and fine in the shelter of the hoophouse, and it gets hot enough in the summer to grow good tomatoes and a tan. There are other farmers nearby using “real” horsepower who will teach us to farm with drafts… my grandpa (“Poppy”) had a mule but it was long before my time. My dad remembers it, but he was barely old enough to walk behind the plow and search for arrowheads, and it was retired for a tractor while he was a small boy- I have a few of these hand-hewn sharp points of flint and lime, and I treasure them- a link to the past even older than the hundred or more years my family farmed that land… a reminder that others once lived off of and loved it too.

Ok, someone pinch me. What’s your dream? Your perfect place? What would you do if there were no one to tell you no, no budget woes, nothing between you and your ideal life? And what can you do to start making it real?

For us, starting small- we’re holding open studios, a space for exchange of goods, ideas, and good will, starting this Sunday, Sept. 2nd from 11-4. The next will be on the 16th. And we’ll continue every first and third Sunday assuming all goes well. Possible BBQ afterward at the farmhouse… let me know if you don’t know where we are and want to stop by!

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