Thursday, November 21, 2013

long time, no see... and Zinnia!

Hi there folks!  Yes, it's been quite some time since I have written here.  Life is so full, and every moment so precious, with a toddler, two big kids, a small farmstead, homeschooling, and animals - both big and small - concurrently tugging at my every spare moment.  To all those parents out there who seem to magically pull it all off every day and make it look so easy.... I tip my hat to you.  Damn, this sure aint easy.  Ahem.  Onward!

Allow me to introduce to you, Zinnia cow, our latest family member and supplier of all things dairy.

She's a rather petite Jersey cow with a sweet, if not a little pushy, personality and just the right amount of milk for our little family of five.  Zinnia joined us back in June and to be totally honest, I'm still adjusting to life with a dairy animal, especially as the weather has turned cold and wet and the days so very short.

I'm still getting used to the invisible milky tether that keeps me within arm's reach of the farm at all times, the achy muscles in my palms that I didn't even know existed until I began hand milking every day, and loads of rich, creamy milk that occupy nearly all of the real estate in my refrigerator and requires near daily processing to keep up with.  As a lifelong vegetarian and former vegan, it still cracks me up and shocks me to open my fridge door and discover So. Much. Milk.

Despite how much work this beautiful animal has added to my life, it's pretty awesome to watch my family consume and thrive on her raw dairy goodness.  The milk, the butter, the yogurt (oh my god, the yogurt), and the cheese.  My cheese making skills are still in the budding stage, but I have high hopes for full blooming maturity someday.  Ah, yes, someday.

I'll leave you with this rough video taken with the camera clenched between my knees as I attempted to simultaneously milk and record.  Enjoy!

And, I hope to see you again here soon!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


Ummm, yeah.  I am going to write a post about my lunch today.  Because it was that good.

My midday meal consisted of a scramble that was made, pretty much entirely, of things I grew or raised (the exceptions being the oil, salt and pepper I used in the cooking).  I had a veggie scramble made from: eggs collected from my chickens, milk from my cow, and broccoli, spinach and three types of kale all harvested from the garden moments before being tossed into the pan.  I washed it all down with tea brewed from calendula, lemon balm and mint harvested as the water boiled.  And for dessert... freshly made raw milk yogurt from our cow with raspberries still warm from the sun-drenched thicket.

Oh yes.  This was a lunch for the record books!

Monday, July 1, 2013

What a day!

I am so bone tired after the most amazing day. 

I spent the morning and most of the afternoon working alongside and learning a ton from the manager of a local dairy.  We bought one of her beautiful Jersey cows last weekend (more on that later!) and she graciously welcomed me under her wing today to indoctrinate me into the world of cow care.  I know the simple basics from keeping our Dexters for the last year, but thanks to my experience today, my knowledge and confidence have taken a major soaring leap skyward!

My day at the dairy began with this sweet boy... a little bull calf born two days ago.  This poor little guy wandered off from his mama yesterday and got lost in the heat.  It took a couple of hours of people searching high and low for him before he was found hunkered down in a small space between two buildings.  Today he was somewhat worse for the wear and was suffering from a bit of heat exhaustion.  So, I got to learn about signs of weakness in a calf, how to assess the severity of weakness and lethargy, and how to treat such symptoms.  Having him adorably suck on my thumb while waiting for his bottle of electrolytes wasn't so bad either!  He was so soft and floppy and cute, I could hardly tear myself away from him!  And yet, there were shots, IV's, rectal exams, oral drenches and more calling my name.....

Without going into the grizzly and (at times) gross details of my bovine education, suffice it to say that I learned so much.  And I am so very grateful for the bump up the learning curve.  I feel so much more comfortable in my role as cow owner and caretaker.  (I can't wait to share more about our latest family member!)

My day plowed ahead through the unusually hot and humid evening air as I milked out our new cow, grateful for the box fan blowing on both of us and keeping the flies away.  I raced back up the hill after milking and evening chores to do a quick change of clothes and head out to the Hood Canal for a wonderful sunset dinner by the water, overlooking the Olympic Mountains, with both immediate and extended family.  And then, I had the wonderful pleasure of laughing hysterically as our minivan, stuffed to capacity, rocked our backwoods country roads as all six people over the age of 16 months sang nonsensical children's songs at the top of our lungs for the entire car ride home.

And now... to bed, to sleep... in a house full of open windows inviting in the cooler nighttime air... with a head full of newly gained knowledge... and a heart full of gratitude for such an amazing day.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Mountain of Dreams

A week ago I dumped and mixed 45 pounds of seed in my trusty, rusty old wheelbarrow.  A veritable mountain of dreams took shape in the gaping maw of that rickety work horse....

 The dream of a pasture of our own took shape right before my eyes.  Now I look on in hopeful wonder and watch carefully as the tiny green sprouts rooted in passion reach for the light.

Saturday, May 25, 2013


I'm in a funk.  A slump.  A rut.  The proverbial dark cloud.  The embodiment of ugh.

And honestly, I've no right to be....

We have just returned from a wonderful family vacation to Northern California.  My children are all happy and healthy.  The tomatoes are up to my waist and loaded with flowers.  Some even have tiny fruit.  The calendula patch is bursting with flowers.  The first round of harvest is even in the dehydrator as I type this.  The raspberry thicket is abuzz with thousands of bees (of both the honey and bumble persuasion).  The fruit has set on the apple and pear trees.  The chickens are back into their full-blown springtime abundant laying routine.  And the list goes on.

Yet, here I sit.  Grumpy.  Moody.  Gloomy, even.

So... what could possibly be the problem?  I'll tell you.  It's the lack of sun.  I'm so ready for summer and consistently sunny days, I could explode.  The pacific northwest rainforest may be beautiful...  yes, quite beautiful indeed... but, what it is decidedly not is sunny.  I am a tried and true worshiper of said almighty powerful sky being.  Without his golden light, I'm kind of losing my mind. 

After a nice stretch of blue skies in our neck of the woods, followed immediately thereafter by a trip to gloriously sunny Sonoma County California, my psyche is set for sunshine!  NPR just told me to expect consistently cloudy skies with a chance of rain for the foreseeable future as I typed that last sentence - ugh.

Dear Mr. Sun, please come out and play....
Please come and lift my blues away!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Soul food

We got the tractor and tiller here again today, to do second and final till.  Woot!  Steve frantically spread the second round of amendments for me the morning that he left for India!  And, I got a last minute delivery of about 12 yards of manure this morning and dumped them into the new garden area.  Spread it with the tractor while it was here.  Phew!  I wish I could’ve gotten more, but that was about all I could swing for now.

back pasture before second till
The skin on my hands is turning to sandpaper from hauling so many rocks.  My goodness do we ever have some seriously rocky soil.  Holy moley.   

the soil in the new garden before second till - look at all those rocks!
Luckily this second till seems to be dropping the rocks back down below the surface (whereas the first till brought them all up).  That will make for a much, much better seedbed for the pasture seed.  I was looking at the ground last week and feeling a little worried and discouraged.  But, it’s looking much more hospitable and promising now.  Thank goodness… I had visions of patchy pathetic pasture, something reminiscent of a balding chia-pet with fleas.  But, not anymore.  It’s looking much better, indeed.  

same spot after second tilling
the new garden area (the duck pond is just on the other side of that soil mound on the right)
front pasture
Holding down the homestead while Steve is in India is going pretty smoothly so far.  The big kids are being extra helpful and the sunshine makes it all feel so nice and dreamy.  I really think that sunshine is the key to happiness and well-being.  That stuff is magic, for real.  

Moonlight’s not so bad either!  Last night, I finally got around to the cows at about 9:00pm.  At first, before making it out the door, I felt exhausted and mildly frustrated.  But, I think it took all of about 5 seconds basking in the moonlight to turn my spirits right around.  It was glorious out there!  Jade snuggled warmly on my back, the moon huge and glowing bright in the dark night sky, the pasture bathed in silver light… it was like a dream.  It was so beautiful, in fact, that rather than rushing back inside (as I usually would have doing evening chores that late) I lingered about for quite a while, moseying here and there around the homestead.  Good thing, too -  I discovered a raccoon in the compost and chased him away before he decided to terrorize my chickens!  Anyway… moonlight is most definitely also a tonic for the soul (especially for us rainforest dwellers who rarely get clear night skies).  While I left the house for cow duty feeling wiped out and ready for bed, I found myself only moments later buzzing with energy and excitement to be out wandering in the moonlight.  I would have stayed out there much longer if it hadn’t been for the very sleepy, diaperless, jammieless baby tucked onto my back.  Ah, yes, sleep was most definitely calling his name.

Spring is definitely taking hold in my soul.  The longer days feel so good, as do the earlier mornings, the increasing number of clear and sunny days, the soil staining my fingers, the peeps of baby chicks and ducklings, and the unmistakable surge of energy that pushes me to do just a little bit more each day.  Giving thanks.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


Poor little man is in a very mama-centric clingy phase.  Wants all sorts of mama, however he can get it.  It’s making me crazy, but I’m trying to remember that it’s temporary.  It too shall pass… and I should love it up - all the clinging - while I’ve got it.  Someday, after all, he might tell me to talk to the hand.

Yes. This will, in fact, pass.  It just takes time.  Once again, in the very near future, he will evolve through this developmental milestone and feel more secure in the world.  He will not need to wrap his body around my calves, wailing and looking desperately up at me while I attempt to cook… every. single. time.  He will not throw himself to the ground sobbing anytime I leave (even momentarily) the room.  He will not beg to be held constantly, pointing and saying, “Ah!”, at everything he sees forever.  This is temporary.  And, I too can adapt.  I do not need to feel so frustrated, like I can’t even breathe on my own, let alone get something done.  I can take deep breaths in the moments of tightening throat and clenching jaw.  I can use that breath to guide my energy down, to bring my awareness and attention to the small and developing being in my arms, to remind me to slow down and take it all in stride.  

 Look closely at him, mama.  Hug him a little tighter, mama.  

He will not be little forever.  He will not need me like he does now for much longer at all, in fact.  Soon, very soon, his words will come to him.  His, “ah, ah, ah”, will shift, and like magic, carefully chosen words will spill out in their place.  He will tell me with unwavering certainty what, exactly, it is that he wants or needs.  His desire to be held will become less and less as his curiosity to explore the world around him grows more and more.  And, as the ground settles from this developmental earthquake that is rocking his world right now and the pieces fall into place, I will find standing before me a boy… no longer a baby.  A big boy, ready to take on the world.   

Now, mama, the question is… are you ready to let go?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Today was amazing.  One of those days, when all the pieces seem to fall magically into place.  They don't happen often, but when they do, I just have to pause frequently, take notice and smile inwardly, deep in my heart.
Beautiful sunrise....

Followed by a totally smooth and easy morning of animal chores and breakfast (not always so smooth or easy!).  Which then lead into a blissful morning trail ride through forest and meadow as the fog burned off making way for the sunshine. Yes!  Sunshine and a trail ride?! Again, I squeal, "Yes!!!"

The early afternoon involved an unfortunately short nap taken by a little guy who I believe was too excited about the sunshine to bother with sleep.  During this brief interlude, I stole a few minutes to read up on some other blogs.  I read a couple of posts of the ladies penning the "Get Real" series -  seven mama's getting real about the behind the scenes of juggling motherhood, households, homesteads, homeschooling and the like.  Today's topic was balancing work into the equation. I read their stories and reflected on my own juggling act. What followed shortly there after couldn't have been a more perfect manifestation of the mama/worker-bee balancing act in action.

When Jade woke from his nap, I scooped him up and quickly dressed him for an afternoon outside in unpredictable spring weather.  We snagged his older brother and hit the trails behind our property for a quick walk.  Cedar and I caught up on what he had been working on all morning, discussed his feelings about the tragedy in Boston yesterday, and just simply had some "connecting" time.  Upon our return to the house, Jade and I jumped in the van and zoomed to the barn to get Sequoia from her riding lesson and barn work day.  On our way home from the barn, Sequoia and I had some heart-to-heart check-in time while Jade did his own thing in his car seat.

Once home, Jade and I headed back outside and collected, yet again, more rocks, roots and sticks from the new pasture area while I awaited a conference call.

About thirty minutes later, my call came in. I snuggled Jade into the carrier on my back and I hit the woods for another walk.  I spent the next two hours hiking the trails while "attending" a meeting via cell phone with a perfectly content baby on my back.  It was a gloriously sunny and beautiful afternoon in the forest and a highly productive meeting to boot!

About 30 minutes before my meeting ended, Jade decided he had heard quite enough about spreadsheets and deadlines, and conked out.

And, not five short minutes after my meeting ended and I decided to head for home, the clouds rolled in, the sky turned a dark and steely grey and thunder began rumbling in the distance.

Just as I passed the gate that puts me back onto our little gravel road, the sky opened up and caught Jade and I in a crazy downpour of rain and hail.  Luckily for us, we were just a quick minute from the house!

The evening concluded with a quick and easy dinner of burritos and left-over soup, followed by (you guessed it) another family walk in the woods and evening chores.  Jade discovered the moon for the first time as we walked through the twilight pasture to feed the cows.  He spent the rest of the walk home with his arms outstretched above his head reaching for the moon and babbling with excitement.  Once home, he boogied down in the living room to papa's guitar playing while the big kids cleaned up the kitchen and dining room from dinner.

Then... off to bed for little man.  A bit of time spent chatting and catching up for papa and the big kids at the end of the day while mama and baby do their bedtime thing.  Now, all are off in their own corners of the house, doing their own quiet thing. 

Yes, today was a good day, indeed. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Pasture Project

Ok folks, the update that has been needing to happen for quite some time now...

You have been reading my elusive references to the pasture project.  This project and effort have been huge.  So much time, energy and work have gone into this dream that is so close to fruition.  Oh, it feels so good to be so close!

It all started a couple of years ago.  (I first made reference to it here.)  We were in need of the removal of a few hazard trees on our heavily forested landscape, and from there we decided that it was time to plow ahead on our dream of more garden space and pasture. Since then we have surveyed our property, cleared an acre, burned mountains of brush, chipped thousands and thousands of pounds of both hardwood and softwood branches, moved and stacked hundreds of felled tree trunks, bucked and split tens of cords of firewood, put up a robust perimeter fence, hung gates, dug a pond, and completed our first round of mineral and nutrient amendments and tilling.  Phew!  Oh, and, you know, had a baby smack in the middle of it all (plus homeschooling and jobs).

Little helper
laying out the string lines and fence posts
Posts in
 I suppose "cleared" is a relative term here.  An area which, a couple of years ago, was so thickly and densely overgrown that it was literally impenetrable and extremely unhealthy is now open and still thinly treed with strong and healthy Big Leaf Maples, Western Red Cedars, Douglas Firs, and Red Alders.  I'd say there are still at least 40 or 50 trees standing tall and strong within the fenceline.  I was not joking when I said it was overgrown and dense!  It's still crazy to me to look at the space as it is now.  There were parts of it that I had not even really seen or walked on before because I just couldn't get to them.  Now, it is open and accessible and going to be put to very good use.

The back pasture area - notice there is no shortage of trees!
One of three drive gates, plus the fence is stretched!
The space is pretty much exactly an acre and will be split up into two main pasture areas (which will be further split into smaller rotational grazing paddocks) and a new large garden.  We dug a good sized duck pond in the garden zone for our newest adorable farm friends, the ducklings, who we hope will keep the slug population down to a minimum.

Burning brush and stumps for days and weeks.
A dream come true!
It's definitely challenging to be at the size and scale of gardening/homesteading/farming (whatever you want to call it) that does not really require owning equipment like a tractor and all of its helpful implements, but is also exhausting to get done by hand.  That seems to be exactly the spot where we currently reside.  We've been both renting and hiring equipment, and doing A LOT by hand.  Holy moly, have we been doing so much by hand.  Things like spreading 1500 pounds of amendments over an acre by hand with a five-gallon bucket and a yogurt container (!), removing millions of sticks, branches, roots and rocks with our muscles and wheelbarrows, and pulling out roots and stumps.  Luckily for us, the weather has granted us a small miracle in the last few weeks and given us enough dry days to get the final push finished that needed to happen before tilling could take place.

Too bad Jade's little toy tractor can't quite get the job done!
Believe it or not, our area historically has droughts every summer.  We get non-stop rain and drizzle for 9-10 months out of the year, but from about the first week of July through the early part of October we get little to no rain at all.  That being said, it is rather imperative to get the pasture seed down by early May in order for the grasses and herbs to have time to get established before the drought hits.  Our goal was to get it sown mid-March, but that was impossible with the weather and the sheer volume of work that needed to get done first.

Mountain of logs

And bucked logs waiting to be split...
So, at this point, we have one more round of spreading amendments and shallow tilling to go.  I'm not a huge fan of tilling, but we need to get the amendments worked down into the soil so they can work their magic.  We are just doing a very shallow till with the tiller set at a "float" mode that allows it to just sort of float along the surface of the soil and bounce over tree roots.  Our amending had to be spread out over the course of two applications because some of the minerals will bind to each other and become unavailable to the plants if applied at the same time.  Our hope is that we have another dry spell sometime around the end of next week that allows us to spread and till.  Then, finally, a couple of weeks later... down goes the pasture seed!  Woohoo!!!

While I could continue to ramble on and on and on about this project, with all the details and excitement, my eyes are crossing as I try to type this and I desperately need to go to bed.  I hope to add a lot more info as things continue to progress.  If you have any questions or particular areas of interest, please hit me up in the comments!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Nettle Harvest

It's that time of year again!  As anyone who has been following this blog knows, nettle season is one of my favorite times of the year.  I love nettles.  They are just so incredibly delicious and nutritious.  And there is such a brief window of time in which they are at their peak for harvest and fresh eating.  Oh, how I really, really love nettles.... 
And, so it was that earlier this week our family set out into the woods with our rubber gloves, pruning shears and harvest baskets.  Thankfully, I am not alone in my nettle passion.  If I were, it would probably be a challenge to get my loves on board for risking a good sting or two in the pursuit of this delectable wild bounty.  

Steve was quite skilled and was the only one of us who managed to harvest without getting a single sting.  Cedar, Sequoia and I all fell prey to the painful defenses of this amazing plant.

For those of you who may not know about stinging nettles or have not encountered them, the stalks and leaves are lined with tiny little hairs, that when touched and broken act like a little hypodermic needle and inject a mixture of compounds that sting and irritate the skin.  However, once steamed or dried, the nettles no longer sting and can be eaten and enjoyed.

I find nettles to be the most amazing plant.  They are absolutely delicious (as I repeatedly gush), plus they are also useful in other ways.  They are a dynamic accumulator, which means that they use their roots to dig deep in the soil and gather minerals, macro and micronutrients and then transfer those nutrients to their leaves.  Nettles are particularly good at harvesting nitrogen, calcium, sulfur, magnesium, iron and sodium.  That is much of why they are so nutritious to us humans, but also why they are so good for the soil.  Nettles can be added to your compost for enhancement with those deeply mined goodies.  Plus, the stalks an be used as a fiber plant!  Nettles contain a bast fiber much like flax and hemp, so can be rendered and woven.  I had the wonderful opportunity several years ago to learn to soften and spin nettle fiber into cord.  It was awesome.  Aren't these plants incredible?! I'm seriously in love with this particular flora friend.

Our harvest day concluded with homemade pizzas topped with loads of nettles and shallots.  It was delicious to say the least!  Quite the springtime feast in honor of one of my favorite plants.  There is a plan in place to make a large batch of nettle raviolis to put in the freezer to keep the nettle enjoyment going all year.  (We just need to find the time to make them!  It's quite the process...) And loads are going into the dehydrator to have a large stash on hand for tea as well.  My favorite nettle tea blend can be found here.  But, I also drink just plain nettle tea pretty much every day.  It's so good.

Our favorite harvesting spot happens to also be along one of our favorite local trails.  So, in addition to the joy of the seasonal gathering, we get to revel in the beauty of a walk in woods along a gorgeous inlet of south Puget Sound.  And settle into the sounds, smells and wonder of being in the forest together with a simple agenda.

Even the smallest among us seemed to have a blast attempting to throw himself out of the carrier on my back!
I hope that wherever you are, you are enjoying your favorite springtime treats this weekend!   

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Heart on fire

This past weekend, our beloved family dog passed away.  He shared his life, loyalty and love with us for almost fifteen years.  I'm still at a loss for words and trying to figure out how life works without him.  I wait for his barks when someone pulls into the driveway.  I look for him out on the porch.  I swear I keep seeing him out of the corner of my eye, watching over us and the farm.  My heart swells with love and gratitude and burns with grief and loss as my mind attempts to learn new patterns of the day.

Thank you, Baraka.  Thank you for teaching me about unconditional love, for always being there, for protecting and loving us, for your wise and watchful eyes, for your ceaseless playful energy, and above all else for being a part of our lives and a beautiful member of our family.  You will be forever and always in our hearts and part of the pack.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Quiet Evening

About to settle into an evening of The Hobbit movie with my family.  They all saw it together when it was in the theater, but I did not.  The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books have been popular and recurring stories in our household for several years now.  So the kids are very, very excited for me to see the movie... finally.  They are horrified that I did not see it on the big screen.  (However, movies in the theater are absolutely not my cup of tea.  Even if I could have gone to see it, it's highly unlikely I would have chosen to do so.)

This guy lost his nose and an arm during a big earthquake in 2001. He hangs out in the garden now and smiles at me and reminds me to smile even when things are crazy and enjoy the ride.

It will be a nice, quiet way to end the day after a crazy, hectic springtime frenzy kind of day. Let's just say it involved last-minute hay runs, sprinting back and forth through the pasture many times through sideways sheets of rain and snow, wrangling pesky turkeys, visits with out-of-town friends, and toddlers attempting to eat dinner with their feet on the table and their heads on their seats!  All with a very tired baby on my hip or back who was still feeling the effects of a late night with friends last night celebrating the arrival of spring. 

Now, said baby is tucked snugly in bed and I am flanked on either side by big kids anxiously awaiting family Hobbit night.  Ah yes, a quiet night does sound nice indeed.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Happy Spring!

Well, spring is most definitely in the air here in the Olympic rainforest.  It has been for several weeks now. I'm amazed to see folks still socked in with snow in other parts of the country.  (Not that we have regular snowfall here in my neck of the woods... as much as I wish we did!)  Here, we are dripping with springtime, quite literally!

Things are wet, wet, wet here on the homestead.  And the new-life energy is springing forth everywhere.  Bulbs are blooming, the almond tree is flowering, birdsong is always in the air, frogs are croaking in the pond in the evening calling for mates, the chickens are laying lots of eggs again, and my fingers are itching to get into the soil.  Yes, the tell-tale signs of spring are most definitely here.


Happy Spring!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


As I lay wide awake in the middle of the night last night unable to fall back to sleep, I made a list in my head of many, many simple things I am so grateful for in my life right now.  These are just a few....

:: The soft downy hair on the top of my sweet baby's head that I love to kiss until my lips tingle when I can't sleep at night.

:: Two big kids who make me so proud every day of the people they are and are becoming as they grow and mature before my eyes.

:: How lucky I am that my partner is willing to rub my achy feet at the end of a long day.

:: My chickens are finally back into the springtime laying routine and farm fresh omelets really are the best breakfast ever (and lunch, and dinner).

:: I'm so happy that the frogs are croaking in the pond again.

:: The pasture and new garden project is so close to completion... just a few more tasks that need to be done.  I can't wait to sow seed and watch it grow!

:: My first few skeins of balanced and beautiful two ply yarn- soon to be knit into something cozy for a little guy I know and love.

:: Our ever growing list of fruit trees, shrubs and ground covers from Burnt Ridge Nursery.

:: Learning to ride horses again after 25 years out of the saddle.

:: Occasional sunny days, and the crazy schizophrenic springtime weather of sunshine, sideways rain, hail, blustery winds and rainbows all in a matter of an hour.

:: Fourteen and a half wonderful years with the most wonderful, amazing and loyal dog I could have ever asked for.

May your day (and night) be filled with much gratitude and love....