Lightening the Load

This woman's work is beautiful! Man I love art so much.

This woman’s work is beautiful! Man I love art so much.

We had a wonderful little homeschool class today where 2 college seniors came to explain to us their different study-abroad experiences. One had gone to Uganda and the other to Beijing, China.

The student that went to Uganda helped with a project that makes clay water filters to purify drinking water. He kept mentioning how the people have much less than Americans had but he noticed they just seemed happier. He said it multiple times; you could tell it had stuck with him.

It seemed timely to hear this. Just this morning I got home from working out and cleared out both bookcases. I have quite a lot of books to donate and some very tidy shelves at the moment.

The process didn’t take long, it wasn’t difficult, and now not only do I know exactly what I have, I don’t have shelves cluttered with books I’ll probably never read again. But I didn’t get rid of absolutely everything. Some stuff I keep for sentimental value, although I may not read it again. I suppose someday if we ever move into an itty bitty house I will part with them. In the meantime I’ll try to keep getting ebooks and books from the library to not add to the clutter.

I know none of this is earth shattering information. A strive for simplicity is nothing new. Only people with more than they could ever need get the privelege of talking about reducing the amount of stuff they own. This doesn’t mean I don’t think it isn’t something good to do.

Some people say it’s a good idea for kids to have fewer toys. It doesn’t overwhelm them as much. I think this is pretty decent advice for grown-ups too.

I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with possessions. I don’t think they make us bad people. I just think sometimes they feel heavy. Shuffling things to and fro and avoiding dusty bookshelves for months because you have more important things to do than worry about them.

I want to spend my time on other things. Put my energies where they should go instead of into more chores. The last thing I need in my life is more stuff to tidy up.

I’ve still got more spaces in this house to lighten, but I’m a lot further along than I was 3 days ago!

A Fresh Start

Sunrise over Ashtabula, Ohio. January 3, 2014

Sunrise over Ashtabula, Ohio. January 3, 2014I almost always like the beginning of something in terms of getting motivated. Yes, the new year is just a flip of the calendar but in my mind it’s something more. I feel the same about Mondays, new months, etc. Everything seems possible. 

I have some resolutions, but they are mostly just reminders to do what I know I should do anyway. Like, go work out Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. My only hold-up with this is that now it’s so dark and cold at 5am when I get up, it’s hard to feel motivated, but once I’m done I always feel like a rockstar, so I need to remember that when the warmth of my bed is calling to me.

Get back to meal planning and cooking. I love to cook and I’m not bad at it so I just need to be more proactive with this. I’m going back to a food budget and I know I have a lot of food in the house that needs to be used. I plan to be more intentional about using up what I already have, and planning meals around these items. This will save me money and trips to the store, which is good because I hate going to the grocery store.

Reduce the crap in my house. Seriously, I just spent a large chunk of the weekend cleaning and organizing. The crazy thing is I keep a clean house, and generally fairly organized, but when I get into major organizing I realize I end up keeping all sorts of nonsense because I might need it at some point. Lame. I also am so bad about “putting something away later.” Meaning, I will set down the stuff that needs to be filed into a pile in the office, instead of just filing it right away. This cannot continue.

Not being a spazz with homeschooling. Really, I stress out over crazy things. My kid couldn’t figure out how to tell time for a few years and each time it would come up I would panic and then get angry, and then feel frustrated. He just asked for a watch for Christmas and got one in his stocking. Guess what? He can tell time now, he just wasn’t ready before. I need peace with the fact that we will never ever read all the books, do all the projects, see all the things. It will be ok. I think we’d both enjoy reading Tolkien books together instead of dry workbooks any day.

Farm better. I should be a better bee keeper. I will be better this year. I can plan out my garden better and sell smarter. I will also do this this spring/summer. I still have a few months before worrying about either of these so I’m going to let it ride for a bit and just enjoy winter.

Enjoy what and who I have in my life. I’m generally pretty appreciative, at least in my mind. I have a great husband and kid, great friends, a nice community, etc. I just want to revel in this more and make time for making memories. We have hectic lives like everyone else but I want to make sure I make time for fun adventures, for laughing with friends, for relaxing with yoga, etc.

I want to create. I want to read. I want to go camping more. I want to do kind things for no reason. I want to look at art and watch great films. I want to swim and run barefoot on grass and sometimes just curl up on the couch with a beer and my dogs.

There’s more, much more. More than I can put here, but this is a pretty decent overview.

2013 was really great. I have no complaints. I have no regrets. I just like to push myself forward constantly in a positive direction. A new year seems like as good a place as any to start with that.

Make Do

Quiche to eat and to freeze. Kale from the garden. Local beer.

Quiche to eat and to freeze. Kale from the garden. Local beer.

I switch back and forth between scrutinizing our food budget, and then not giving a damn. I’m sure some of you think, “How reckless!” while others would think, “Man, I never even ponder a budget for food!” I think wherever you are on this scale depends on different factors.

If I was receiving food benefits I’d have a very specific number to work with, and if we were filthy rich I’d probably be going out to eat 4 nights a week, not because I don’t love to cook (it’s great!), it’s just that I love going out to eat. But we fall somewhere in between.

We recently returned from a vacation (a huge rarity for us) and we lived it up while we were away. This means we need to be a bit stingy with our budget for awhile while our finances catch back up with us.

Since our bills are basically as low as they can be, our food budget is the only thing with flexibility. Since most of the items I get don’t have coupons available, I’ve stopped bothering with couponing. I also get my veggies from my work, and most other items from the farmers markets.

What’s left are staples and specialty items. At the moment I don’t own a Vitamix so faux milks must be purchased. Also, I get a lot of great deals using Amazon’s Subscribe and Save feature, so each month or so I get wild-caught tuna, canned tomatoes, rice cereal, sunbutter, and coconut oil shipped to me, and I don’t even have to think about it.

For awhile now I’ve actually been buying bread and some other snacky items that I’ve made in the past. But when I narrow the budget I realize I will need to start making this stuff again. Also, I need to dip into our food reserves.

I have things I need to use up, even if I really don’t want to. Putting food by is really great, when you use it in a timely fashion…and I haven’t been. My first step in this process is checking what I really have, and organizing our food. I’m still working through this.

However, each time I do this I think, “Wow, I totally forgot I had that!” or “I don’t remember buying that!” Scary. I realize how fortunate I am to have this problem, and that most people in the world can’t even fathom this.

So now I’m going through and planning out meals that I can make with what’s on hand. It’s actually quite easy, it just takes intention. Last night I used up two heads of broccoli and a big slab of home-cured bacon to make quiche. Three, to be exact. Served up with kale salad from kale I harvested moments before it hit the bowl.

I realized I had a ton of crusts I bought at Aldi one week when they were on special. They had been sitting in the freezer. I also had an abundance of eggs, so it made sense to make extras to freeze for later, when I don’t feel like cooking. Pretty nice to cook and clean once and get three meals!

Today I have to soak some beans and harvest some greens. I plan to keep going on this path until I get caught up on my excess food. I may also make some muffins or quickbreads, and some granola to snack on.

It feels good to be getting back to making more. Around this time of year I start to feel more “nesty” anyway. I think my summers are just too crazy. Now I want to leave the house less and less as the days get cooler, and the more I’m home, the more I want to cook.

Ok, off to soak those beans!

And just like that…it’s Fall!

Chopping peppers for the freezer. That's a bowl of foraged wild grapes there too.

Chopping peppers for the freezer. That’s a bowl of foraged wild grapes there too.

I guess in New York after Labor Day has passed, Mother Nature decides it’s time for fall, no matter what the calendar says. I vividly recall showing up to college over 10 years ago in late August from Phoenix and being mortified that our dorm didn’t have AC. I didn’t realize people could actually live without it. My roommate, being from the area, informed me that in a week or two it would cool down, and sure enough, it did.

Today I dressed in layers. I even put on a knitted hat when we went out to run some errands. I love it, since fall is my absolute favorite. I like it even more now that I live somewhere where leaves change color, you can have beautiful potted mums outside, and pumpkins and squash abound at the farmer’s markets.

For me fall also means rest. Summer is so short here that we are really gung-ho about living to the fullest for three months. Then add in the fact that I had my first table at a farmer’s market for my own farm this year, and that Chris was gone for 7 weeks (leaving me to take care of all the house stuff), and I was a very busy lady.

Now that things are slowing down it’s hard to find the motivation to get back outside to put everything away for the winter. I know it’ll get done, I just wish I could get back some of that, “Yay, it’s spring, let’s get this garden started!” umph back.

Now I want to sip tea, knit, and read on my couch surrounded by my two dogs. I want to roast veggies and make soups. I want to linger a bit longer under the covers in the morning too.

Making grape juice from the wild grapes. We turned it into jelly.

Making grape juice from the wild grapes. We turned it into jelly.

Overall I feel decently prepared for winter. I’ve made a lot of jams and jellies, stocked my chest freezer with veggies and fruits, and I’m already thinking out Christmas gifts. October will bring the last of the outdoor work, and the last push at procuring emergency supplies. They say we’ll have a very cold winter.

My DIY plans for the fall/winter are: making soap, some freshening up of paint inside the house, sewing new curtains for the kitchen, lots of knitting, and making citrus curd when the midwinter citrus is in season and ready to ship.

What are your plans? Are you sad to see summer go?

My NOFA Conference Recap or A Brain Full of Thoughts

Farm postings. There is no shortage of internship or education opportunities, that's for sure!

Farm postings. There is no shortage of internship or education opportunities, that’s for sure!

This past weekend I went to the annual winter conference for NOFA-NY. Last year was my first time at the conference. I was lucky enough to receive a scholarship this year, and as long as I remain in this area, I plan to go each winter.

In two-and-a-half days I learn so much stuff that come Sunday afternoon I am forced to pass out for several hours. Seriously. My brain has been bouncing from cover crops, to pests, to beer making, to botanical drawing, to herbs…and on and on.

I am always amazed most by the people there. I see familiar faces of seasoned farmers who are still trying to learn. This is exciting and reassuring. It means there will always be something new and interesting to learn with farming, and that no matter how long I do it, I’ll never know it all.

It’s great to hear veteran farmers talk about things they screwed up, or new things they just figured out, or issues with land and/or water. It makes me feel less alone and less frustrated.

I also love to see the range of ages. There were some teenagers there, up to people probably in their 80s. In one session I sat next to man about my father’s age who was dressed very well and said he was a gardener who went a little overboard and ended up starting a CSA. That is damn impressive!

There are people who are just barely dipping their toes into the water of farming. Even though I feel really behind the curve, I realize I’m not. I have some land, and some knowledge, and a lot of gusto, and I think that’s what counts the most.

Being there also gives me a lot of hope. It’s so easy to get negative about the current state of food and farming but being surrounded by over 1,000 people who have their lives invested in turning things around makes you realize that all is not lost. We will eventually right this ship.

photo-135

Swing your partner round and round!

I got to try contra dancing for the first time too. I’ve done Zumba before, but contra dancing seriously whooped my butt. I was sweating like crazy and it was a heck of a good time.

I’m planning my seed order now. I’m still going to give it a few weeks though. It’s hard to keep myself in check though and not get overly ambitious. As soon as the weather starts to look a little less bleak I’m going to go out around my property to scope out some new growing spaces.

It looks like I’ll be growing mostly greens and herbs. I will expand my bees as well. If you are interested in following along with any of it you can “like” the farm’s facebook page.

A Little LOTR Wisdom

Jack and I made Lembas or Elvish Waybread and then wrapped it in paper Mallorn leaves.

Jack and I made Lembas or Elvish Waybread and then wrapped it in paper Mallorn leaves.

We got Jack all three Lord of the Rings movies for Christmas. I had only seen them in the theaters and it was so much different to watch them each a day apart. The story is so good. I love, love, love big epic stories of good vs. evil.

I think what I enjoyed the most is how in the movie there are many grey areas between those forces. Sam, the kindest of all the characters (in my opinion) must slay orcs in order to save Frodo. Gandalf, a “good” wizard, must also fight in many battles, and kill many.

The Ring itself pulls the worst from those who possess it.

I really liked that. I fancy myself a kind person in general, but I have my moments of lesser character. Also, the older I get, the more I realize how much grey there is in the world, and how little black and white. There are no simple answers when it comes to “good vs. evil.”

There was one part in each of the films that resonated with me deeply, and I wanted to put them down here so as not to forget them.

Frodo – “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened”
Gandalf – “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

“Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam.
Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.”

Frodo- “How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back. There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep that have taken hold.

I hope to think on these as we enter the new year.

Resolute!

Ok, my 2012 resolution is basically done. I wanted to run five 5ks and the Warrior Dash. I ran in 4 different registered 5ks and I did the Warrior Dash (2nd year I’ve run it, both times completely by myself). The problem is the run that happens here on NYE is sold out! I can’t even believe it, I didn’t even know that could happen.

Yes, I could just show up and run it, but I feel like a jerk doing that. I did run a 5k on my own Thanksgiving morning (because I really didn’t have the time to do the Turkey Trot), and I may try to actually run on NYE in my neighborhood anyway.

I’m glad I did so many. Even without a lot of training or prep I managed to get better with each one. At the last one, two friends even came out to cheer me on, and then we went for brunch.

I didn’t want to make one that had something to do with weight loss or exercise or anything. Truth be told, I can really only exercise when the mood hits me. I also hate doing it outside when it’s cold out. We’ve already drastically reduced our wheat consumption over here though, which is something we are going to keep up in 2013.

For homeschooling: I might try out a new writing curriculum with Jack, not positive yet though. I do want to implement a minimum of 30 minutes private reading/day, and another 30 where I read to him each day. And this leads to the next resolution….

The main thing I want to focus on this year is reading. I’m amazed that even though I majored in English there are a bunch of classic novels I’ve never read. It’s shameful really. (I may even try to read Pride & Prejudice, because I refused in high school, but we’ll see….)

Each month I am going to read a different novel and I’m going to read a different one to Jack. Just yesterday we started reading The Hobbit. Yay, a few days ahead of schedule! I am going to begin with A Hundred Years of Solitude because I’ve owned it for a million years, and still haven’t read it.

I have a loose list in my head of some of the others. I think I’ll finish up all of the ones I’m sure of first, and as others come along I’ll add those to my list.

What’s your resolution?