It’s Been Quiet Here Lately

I always appreciate when blogs are real — that is, the author writes about what’s really going on in life, not just what will “post” well. For me, that’s been the hardest thing about starting to write again: sometimes there are just spans of time where nothing seems to happen worth writing about.

Take lately. Nothing of note has happened on the home front . . . we’ve just been in a gentle rhythm of daily life: feed the animals, do some homeschooling activities together, laundry and chores, get out for little adventures as much as possible with only one vehicle, and going to see our horse two or three times a week. Nothing that anybody else would find exciting, but I find it to be so wonderfully good for my soul that I’m not changing it.

Not having a garden this year has been very weird, although it is pushing me to do a better job of harvesting the few perennial herbs I have. We should definitely have enough lemon balm for the whole winter! Of course, I’m really missing the garden at this time of year, but I can tell that taking it out was a good decision. Like I said, sometimes you have to take something out all the way to see what shape it wants to take in your life, not what shape it already has. The new garden spot (when Kenny can get to helping me build the beds) will be pretty awesome, or at least it looks that way in my head.

We haven’t even been doing firewood yet because the chainsaw’s broken and Kenny’s overloaded. I started cleaning up the firewood spot yesterday . . . boy, that was a mess. I’m just going to do what I can for as long as I can and trust that God honors forward movement, no matter how small.

4 Steps We’re Taking for Independence

Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it.

1 Corinthians 7:21

A little exploratory search on the term “wage slavery” is interesting. If you have the time, you should give it a little bit of your time. A man that I admire very much and would love to meet someday, Herrick Kimball, wrote a deep and thought-provoking essay on his escape from wage slavery. I definitely recommend that you read that. This conversation would go deep into economic theory and application, which I would love to do, but for the sake of this particular post I’m going to move on . . .

While it’s difficult to admit, my husband and I are of the Millennial generation (albeit the earlier part of it). Stereotypes and misconceptions aside, this does mean that we’re the first generation in the history of our country that was projected to do worse economically than our parents; looking back over the past plus-fifteen years of adulthood and supporting ourselves and observing our peer-group, I can say this is true.

When I was growing up, my Dad was able to get an unskilled worker factory job with benefits for more than nearly all people our age have been able to find. Not only that, but most of us (not us, thankfully), are saddled with near-crippling student loan debt from following the advice we were all given in high school: a college degree will set you up better for life.

Not true.

Not true, not true, not true.

But why is it not true? Because while real wages have been historically going down since the seventies, inflation and taxes have also been going up. Now we pay more for homes, cars, and all the “extras” that are apparently necessities at this time (cell phones, anyone? Our parents didn’t have them — ie, pay hundreds of dollars a month for a “necessity”) while simultaneously making less — spending our lives “going backwards,” as economist Richard Maybury says.

We’ve experienced it. And yes, while we have made the choice in the past several years for one parent to be home (me), up until the (when???) that was a normal scenario. It wasn’t until the seventies that the economy changed to require two parents to work to “get ahead,” and those that choose family over getting ahead are really just getting farther behind.

Many economists are saying that the only way off this wheel in a government-controlled economy (yes, ours) is entrepreneurship. Coincidentally, that has always been a dream and a goal for both of us, albeit so hard to achieve; however, much time and consideration has allowed me to break down a huge goal into four achievable (by the grace of God) steps. There’s no order to them, for they can be accomplished at any time, but these are the four steps that I believe to be crucial to disembarking from the economic crazy train:

  1. Water and Power Independence

Readers of this blog will probably recognize the importance, as Jefferson did, of a piece of land for a free and independent people. With that being said, there’s not much freedom in having to pay “whatever” price for the power to live on that land — electricity to heat and run the well pump (no power=no water does not equal a sustainable equation). Since our power sources are not part of the free market economy, we’re subject to whatever prices the politics and economics determine.

Not only that, but anybody that’s lived in the country long enough will agree that having the power go out every time it storms is more than an inconvenience. It’s an expense, a liability, a PROBLEM. And for those of us on a budget, a very expensive gas-powered generator is not an option; building our own power generators is a little more our speed.

Several years ago Mr. Buckeye purchases the cd-rom from Power 4 Patriots with the manuals to build your own generators. We’ve not had the time, energy, or money to this point, but we have reordered our finances and priorities enough now that that situation is different. Since having a sustainable homestead that is not subject to the whims of politics or weather is much more a priority to us than it has been able to be so in years past, this is now on the table of projects we are intent on tackling soon.

2) Setting Up Shop

Per the economics of entrepreneurship making more sense than the employee/wage model, running our own business has always been on our burner; however, *life* (can anybody relate?) has made it so hard. The timing right now, though, with everything going on with society and the deterioration of Mr. Buckeye’s mental health, has pushed this step much higher up the list. We literally can’t afford to not invest in our own skillsets, because his job is becoming more and more of a liability than an asset.

For us, “setting up shop” means stewarding our already God-given abilities in order to model our lives in a way that makes more sense. Mr. Buckeye is extremely gifted in craftsmanship and mechanics, and I in writing (the blog is a humble representation, I admit). In the past ten years, we’ve not invested any money in stewarding these gifts, but now we are. For others, it may mean something different: stewarding different gifts, or looking at what the local economy needs and providing that. Our paths are different, and that’s good.

Case in point: we finally bought Mr. Buckeye a new lathe!

3) NO. MORE. DEBT

This has been a struggle many married couples have experienced: different approaches to money. Our marriage is no different. I am *good* with money, budgeting, and saving. He was not, and we procured a lot of debt over the years. It’s taken much time to get on the same page financially, but by God’s grace we’re still moving towards that end.

Mr. Money Mustache calls debt an emergency, and I agree. I hate it. Thankfully, we’ve paid off a lot in the past couple of years and are finally ready to put this step on the back burner for some of the other steps for a while. Of course, before we truly consider ourselves to be “free” this needs to be paid off, but Mr. Buckeye’s current mental health crisis and the state of society compels us to move it back a bit.

And finally, 4) Food Sustainability

We’ve lived on a homestead for over ten years and have always gardened and kept chickens, but never to a true sustainability level. For instance, we’ve never saved seed, we’re actually really terrible at starting plants from seed, we’re stuck paying whatever feed prices the government is charging for our livestock, and only have about a month’s worth of dry food in storage. So despite our “commitment” to homesteading, we’re in just as much trouble as city folks if/when the system goes down.

So there it is! I’ve put much thought into this over the years. The idea of establishing a sustainable homestead is pretty overwhelming, but I think these four steps cover the bases pretty well. Tackle any, then all, of them, and when the time is right and God wills we can all achieve a bit of the freedom that our early settlers intended.

2020 Fair Week

This has been a rough year for us with 4h. With the lockdown going into place at the very beginning of the season and not knowing whether fair would happen or not, we were pretty “off” our usual level of focus . . . and more importantly, unable to get the high-quality strain of Buckeyes that we had reserved for our future breeding flock (due to travel restrictions). We had to settle for a craigslist find of questionable genetic quality.

So, with that being said, unfortunately Barefoot Girl didn’t place in any of her classes this year — a first for her. It was hard. She went in knowing mentally that that would probably be the outcome, but as she said afterwards, “I thought I was prepared, but now I don’t feel like I am.” That’s often the case, isn’t it?

Louis and Liza

We aren’t counting this as a failure though: the way we look at it, failure would have been not completing the year at all. She tried and did her best with what she had and that’s never a failure, which we have communicated to her in her discouragement this week. Plus, we learned some valuable things that we wouldn’t have learned had she taken another pair of “good birds;” such as what specific traits make a bird less desirable. That will turn into valuable knowledge as we begin our breeding program.

The week wasn’t a total loss though — we closed it with her first horse show (non-4h)! After a rough beginning from not knowing what to do, she ended up getting two sixth place ribbons . . . and more importantly, the knowledge that she can work through really difficult situations. Horses and kids have a lot to teach, if we’re paying attention.

Heroes Start Small

So Barefoot Girl rescued a fledgling bird last night from the clutches of a neighborhood cat.

We were all having fun with a before-bed game of frisbee in the front yard when we heard what we hear too often: the terrible sound of a caught baby animal. A neighbor cat was running down the driveway next to ours carrying the crying animal before it jumped into the weeds across the road.

In my cynical adult mentality, I was more than willing to watch the cat run into the weeds with the crying animal and turn away from the pain I could do nothing about. Not Barefoot Girl. She followed the sound and ran to the other side of the woods (barefoot, of course) where the cat emerged with a baby bird still crying in its mouth.

Somehow, she saved this baby bird from the cat. I don’t know how. She says she tricked the cat into dropping it – who does that?? A determined kid, that’s who. She came walking back with a fledgling that looks like a cat or cow bird – somehow unhurt – and put it back where we think it came from.

And the bird was still alive this morning, on the ground again. I’ve been watching and I’ve only seen parents go down to it once, so we’ll see what happens with it.

This girl amazes me. She makes me remember what it’s like to be young, full of hope and the belief that anything is possible if we try. An adult already considers it impossible to save a bird from a disappeared cat – a kid says there’s a chance. This bird might live . . . I’m gonna give it a chance. She reminds me that instead of running from pain, we should run toward it: to fix it, to heal it, or at least to feel it.

We never ignore it.

Kids also make us aware of how involved they are in their actual (not perceived!) life. They’re not consumed with stress and worry over matters that are far away from them and they have no control over. They’re busy making a difference in the here and now in whatever way life presents itself. How can we, as adults, become more place-centered the way they are?

I know that for me, it’s an intentional shift everyday to really attend to what’s around me. I know that other than some thoughtful political involvement, there’s not a lot I can really do to affect the greater world. But what I can do is love the family and friends that I have, to spread healing wherever there is pain, to make a home that feeds the souls of all who come into contact with it. The reality is that for most of us our circle of real influence is small, but if we care well for those small circles, they combine with other circles to eventually produce a positive change in the world.

It all starts with hope. Hope that there is a chance.

Letting Go

I ripped out our garden this week. You know, the one I was so excited about this year. And somehow, it felt good.

Seems like this is the homestead year of two things: the chicken, and letting go.

The dear, dear chickens (of which we have so many) would just not leave the garden alone this year. I built the frames to keep them out and they wriggled through anyway. It’s not like they don’t have an acre and a half of yard to roam, but I guess the garden was better. After the third or fourth time of replanting and trying to save it, I decided I was done.

Letting go of not just the garden, though. There are several situations in my life right now that God has brought in in order to teach me that I have to let go of my hold on control (tenuous though it may be): a dear friendship that for all appearances has failed, a struggling marriage to a spouse with severe anxiety and depression, facing the reality that my life and family are not what I thought they would be. The garden is a small thing.

Control is the antithesis of trust, and trust has always been the biggest issue of my walk with God; it was, I’m sad to say, due to my lack of trust in His plan for my future that I began to walk my own path instead of His as a teenager. He was with me still and I definitely see how He “works all things together for good,” but that doesn’t mean that He will let me stay in that immature state of not trusting Him now.

In order to trust God I have to let go — not just of my control, but my desires, my plans, even my dreams, in order to model my life after the Savior that laid down His own. That doesn’t mean that what God has in store isn’t more brilliant and beautiful than any I could dream up, for I’m learning that joy and peace are precious. Letting go also gives space to an area of my life to see how these things should take shape in it . . . without my controlling the process or the outcome.

Let go and … not leap.

Stay.

And trust Him.

C.S. Lewis is reputed to have said “There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” I think that’s true, but the point I’m learning is that it’s not enough to just think something. We have to act on it. With that being said, Kenny and I both felt a weird little space after I took the garden out of the backyard . . . like releasing a breath of air we didn’t know we’d been holding. You know, it turns out we didn’t like the spot it was in anyway.

Living the “Quarantine” Life

The long silence does not mean there were not things to write. It just means . . . I was busy around the homestead. With several new installations to finish, planting to do, a bout of chicken “what’s this?” that happened, and a new goat (!!!!!), I’ve hardly had time to sit down and write. But, interesting things (to me, anyway) have happened, so I’ll try make a series of posts to catch up on them.

There were things I wanted to say. Trouble is, I have too many unorganized notebooks . . . and I couldn’t keep track of my thoughts. Oh well. Such is the chaos of a person that is always thinking, planning, and doing. And the thing is, even though we’re home a bit more than we were before quarantine, I don’t feel it — I don’t feel the boredom that so many are struggling with, I mean. It feels right. We’re busy living — truly living — for what feels like the first time. We’re engaged and active with the world around us (and by world, I mean our immediate, place-based world: our five acres) and we’re discovering there’s a lot more going on here than we realized.

We’ve been closely monitoring four birdnests of different species that are on our property. We’ve learned the activity of our local fox family and how/when to see them. I’ve been a lot more conscious of tending the garden – not just planting it and hoping for the best like I’ve had to do in years past when I’ve been too busy with work or homeschool activities. We’re coming out of a long dormancy and getting into touch with old friends again. I’ve caught up on some reading because I couldn’t just get more library books and ignore the ones I haven’t read yet. I’m more conscious of our level of activity and corresponding necessary “down days.” In short, I’m a lot more intentional than I was before.

For me though, quarantine has just been the icing on the work of “coming home” that I’ve been doing for four years: decreasing unnecessary activities, learning how to say “no” to community/church pressure for busyness, and realizing that something I’ve long feared – the routine of a whole week at home with no job or busyness – is in fact wonderful and now something that I will guard against giving up.

Which leads me to something that I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about these last couple of months: the family economy. Herrick wrote about it years ago, and a lot of it is ringing so true to me as I’ve learned about the power and importance of home . . . More coming on this at some point, I think.

FINALLY Getting Some Garden Designs Installed

We’ve lived here for four and a half years.

Four and a half years of . . . not designing my outdoor space.

Why? Not sure. I know it’s taken a LONG time (longer than what seems necessary) to figure out our flow on our *very* narrow property. We’ve tried at least five different spot for the chicken coop, have been uninspired to really do more than a small raised bed garden, have done almost nothing with the bare flowerbeds, and are still living with the “temporary” fencing we put up when we moved in.

Well, I’m not sure what clicked this year but I just started moving. One of Permaculture’s principles is “the problem is the solution” . . . something I’ve always struggled with just a bit. I mean, sometimes, a problem is just a problem . . . right? Maybe not. Also, I’m embracing more and more the full-on frugality essential to actually homesteading and not just “living in the country” (a way too expensive endeavor, in my opinion); instead of trading our dollars to meet a “need,” looking to see what’s around first — even if it’s not the prettiest.

Anyway, there were a few “problems” that have been annoying me since we moved in. One, the huge pile of bricks we inherited.

I really like how these turned out. I’ve done them all around the house and even added a spot that wasn’t previously a bed (this one).

Two, the sticky clay non-draining soil, also inherited. Also, a large surplus of unused tires in our neighborhood . . . putting the two together equals:

I have to admit, I actually kinda like the tire beds. It’s recommended to cut out the sidewall when using them for garden beds, but I didn’t . . . mainly because it was WAY too much work. Plus, I like using them for garden benches at the same time.

And three, trying to design our landscape in a way that makes sense, for none of our attempts have worked.

The chicken coop/greenhouse area finally makes sense. And as of today, Emma and I knocked out a pretty kick-ass little chicken yard for when they need to be contained (like tomorrow morning when we’re at the market and our spring fox that’s been hanging around lately comes looking for breakfast).

Emma’s teepee will be her green bean tower, and I’m excited to be finally expanding the garden to a more subsistence level with the addition of the trellises on one of our few flat spots. The potato bins are new too — in the past we’ve used the cattle panel bin method . . . but since those cost money and we have a TON of chicken wire, here we are.

So there we are. The world is freaking out, but we’re just staying busy and building on. Seems a reasonable course of action in the face of current events.

Reflections on Slow Childhood

I’ve been really touched this past week by the gentleness of God and the child-ness Barefoot Girl. At God’s quiet persistence, I’ve relaxed my hold on our daily schedule and over time created gentle rhythms: morning read aloud (that we’ve done since babyhood), followed by a science experiment, then a hands-on activity like making bread or harvesting herbs, finished by lunch and clean up together and sprinkled throughout with what Charlotte Mason would call “spreading the feast” and unschoolers would call “strewing.” Afternoons are given to music practice, her own projects that she has in mind for the day which usually involve an audiobook and creating something, and daily chores.

It’s been good.

This past week, though, has been confirmation. I’ve wasted so much time regretting my distracted state during early motherhood and feeling like I missed cherishing her childhood for so many years, and with the speed of today’s childhood I have operated under the mindset that she’s already transitioning into the “pushback” stage of adolescence; however, having the quietness and the space within my own spirit to listen to God and really see her has shown me otherwise. In following our gentle rhythms this week I was touched by the lingering child-joy that she still radiates when given the chance, such asthe bubble science experiment that led to a bubble blowing session in the spring sunshine and her delight in just playing and experiencing life with me. Another morning she felt led to put on a pretty dress (that ended up being one that my mom sewed for me when I was her age – and she enjoys it!) and dance to the Lord with some praise music, and I realized something.

I was blessed by that. It’s not often that I use that word, but there it is. God used it to remind me to be less of a Martha (Luke 10:38-42) and give time in the day to be free to praise or live as the spirit moves us; not only that, but I realized that in the beautiful God-order of things, families are meant to be reciprocally ministering to each other. I think I place the weight of “blessing” my family on my own shoulders, and forget to look at where they’re blessing me too. I know that I tend to operate in the rigidity of my own to-do list and schedule, and I’m learning flexibility.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

Romans 12:2

My years of homeschooling a highly sensitive child (and living with an HSP husband!) has given me a different perspective on a lot of things, but one of them is definitely education. For the first several years I tried to “do school at home” and was frustrated and discouraged when that didn’t work. It wasn’t until embarrassingly recently that the Lord led me to understand that Romans 12:2 relates to everything in a Christian’s life, including how we educate. The “school at home” method still conforms to a fallible human’s idea of what a properly educated person looks like, but that’s not what I believe to be true.

What is true is that each person, each child, is made uniquely in the image of her Creator, and they’re each different from each other, so why do we try to “educate” them all the same? Some, mine included, are more sensitive to the world around them and feel deeply all the emotions of the people they’re around, are extremely sensitive to others’ approval or criticism, are hyper aware of the discomfort of the wind or the heat or the cold or their clothes, are fully alive to all the joys and sorrows (from the loss of a wild rodent to a family member – it’s all felt deeply), and yes, they actually do have a lower pain tolerance because they physically feel things more.

Some people might tell kids like these that they need to toughen up, but I’m not one of them (anymore), and here’s why:

God made them that way.

If God made them to be feel life that deeply, who are we to tell them they should experience life in a way different that the Creator of their souls intended for them to experience it? Society needs people that have an enhanced sensitivity to everything around them and experience the world in a way that many of us never will, with all senses wide open and a finger on the pulse of the world around them — aware of all the scents, sounds, colors, and feelings that they come in contact with. In truth, perhaps I also wonder what it’s like to be so fully alive to the world around me. I have reached the point that I do feel numbed and cynical to life, and I need my highly sensitive family members to keep me in touch.

This sensitivity means that they also need more “empty space” in their lives to download all of this stimulation, and a lack of this space results in severe anxiety and ultimately depression — just ask Mr. Buckeye.

And so I’ve come to realize that highly sensitive kids really do need a slower childhood. They need time in the day to dance, to blow bubbles, to play . . . and our conventional culture pushes them to be too busy, too stimulated All. The. Time. so that their nervous systems never have a chance to catch up and unwind. In truth, the busyness of schools and constant activities robs them of their childhood and creates a generation of kids with severe anxiety (don’t think so? a simple google search talks about the epically high anxiety rates among today’s youth).

I believe I can say this with Biblical truth backing me: To God, educating a child is educating her soul, NOT keeping up with distant stranger’s arbitrary and ever-changing standards. It’s dancing to His beat in her heart, nurturing her soul by baking bread with Mom or picking flowers together, and honoring the beautiful sensitive spirit He created her with by not overwhelming her with someone else’s standards. We celebrate our own growth – even the adults – and don’t stress to keep up with anyone else; I’ve learned that God’s timing and plans are not my own, and it’s better to go in tune with Him.

My experience has been that we are closest to God when we’re living within the realm and the gifts that He gave us — that we experience Him most when we’re dancing or writing or woodworking — and honoring Him as our Creator. The way we educate is part of that beauty of life.

Violet Spring

I’ve really been loving getting back to our Herb Fairies studies . . . . it’s so grounding to be out harvesting beautiful little plants that take forever to pick while the spring birds and sun are filling your senses. Perhaps the world would be in better mental health if we all practiced this a little bit.

Violets are in full bloom, and today we harvested about 6 cups of “flowers” (actually, the plant doesn’t put out the true flowers until fall). We have a half gallon of infusion going to make jelly tomorrow, violet honey, and violet ice cubes for Barefoot Girl’s delight.

Last night our neighbor girl was over and helped Barefoot Girl harvest some violet flowers for dinner; it was her first experience learning that you can eat a common wildflower, and the look on her face was priceless. It’s the small things that make a difference — she’s a girl that already loves gardening and at eight years old talks to me about it almost every time she’s over, so who knows where she might take that knowledge?

Making Bread Starter from a Potato

I don’t actually have any experience baking bread, other than some darn good biscuits Barefoot Girl and I do once in a while . . . but since we’ve all worked for an artisan bakery and been spoiled by an amazing variety of artisan breads for 8 years, I think it’s about time I start baking bread to prepare for the time when Mr. Buckeye doesn’t bring home the bread anymore (because we’ll never be able to go back to store-bought again!).

I love sourdough and I’ll make it eventually, but I came across this interesting post from Ashley at Practical Self Reliance … and again, homeschool=learning project. Bread from a potato? Science experiment, check. It doesn’t look like much but it’s so interesting to me how the things we actually need (food) are all around us. I consider this to be learning experience for Barefoot Girl, but I’m learning right beside her.

We seem to be fermenting all kinds of different thing lately, from potatoes to chicken feed. We’ve got the bubbles down. We’ll update this project in a couple of days when the starter is ready to use. But, since we couldn’t wait that long for some homemade bread, we gave it a shot with some quick yeast I had in the cupboard for a science experiment. I don’t think it’s too bad for our first try!