Losing My Identity

It all began simple enough.  A ringing came from my stocking on Christmas morning in 2002.  My husband wanted me to have a cell phone so we could reach each other.  Then many years later came the smart phone and all of a sudden I could be instantly connected to my email, to text messaging, to the internet.

It all began innocent enough, you know.  Such a new, fascinating thing, social media.  I could find old friends, see photographs of family, keep track of my kids, share our fun, farm life.  I started my first company- a modeling agency- twenty years ago.  Since then I opened a dance company, two apothecaries, a farm, written ten books, and have been written about in several newspapers from the Denver Post to the Huffington Post.

I am connected.  Bound.  A Facebook page, four business pages, two Instagram accounts, two emails, a cell phone, and an unexplainable addiction to the thing I despise, technology.

My very self has been wrapped up in it all.  My identity.  I fear that if I don’t have a social media presence that I will disappear.  If I only have a home phone, will I become invisible?  How will I make friends?  I might be out of touch.  I might be free.

My friends know where I live.  There is a big sign that says Pumpkin Hollow Farm out front!  They can call me on a home phone hung on the wall in my farm kitchen.  In reality, my daughter can send me photos.  The same eight friends like all my posts on all my pages.  I don’t really like the wide world of Instagram knowing where I live, actually.  I am kind of tired of hosting zillions of events.  Amazon sells my books, as do the local shops and museum.  If I wanted to boost my farm, or my books, or my work, I could go to markets.  I could be local, face to face, authentic.  You know, old fashioned.

I can still write my beloved blog.

Does anyone else feel trapped by the constant pace of the tech world?  How much time do I lose?  I am a simple housewife, apron donned and all, who grew up in a time where the phone cord wouldn’t reach around the corner so I could have privacy.  How did we get here?  With every person we see on the phone, all the time, in every place, in every situation, always connected, as if we will lose our place on this earth if we disappear from it all.

I think I am going to get a home phone.

Our Farmstead Goes Solar

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Our farm began in an old house on two-thirds of an acre backing to the fairgrounds in a small, country town that will remain beloved to us for all time.  There on our rented mini-farm we watched goats, chickens, alpacas, and ducks play in the back yard, grew so many pumpkins in the front yard that people speeding down the street slammed on their brakes to take a better look, and we farmed the rest of the driveway.  We fell in love with oil lamps in that house.  The sweet glow of old fashioned light as we read in the evenings.  The gentle tick-tocking from the cuckoo clock on the wall letting us know the time as the stars came out and the moon rose.

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The landlords were losing the house but we found an amazing farm on ten acres where we would live in a late eighteen-hundred’s homestead on the property near the owner’s own house.  We had a wood cook stove to heat the house and cook on.  For a few months in the warm autumn of that year the world looked enchanted indeed.  We plotted a large garden, and gathered three cords of wood.  The chickens and goats were far from the house and we missed seeing them.  That winter we mastered the art of starting a fire while the house was thirty-seven degrees.  We quickly realized that the small firebox was not going to help and put in a large wood stove with our own money.  Of course, many of you know the ending of that dreadful tale.  We were forced to leave after putting every penny into that farm.

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So from friend’s house to friend’s house we went until we had enough saved to get into a beautiful, decidedly on-grid apartment.  That year was fun using a switch to turn on the fireplace, turning the heat up, basking in a large tub.  But the cement gets to a Farmgirl and it was time to see what was next.  Agricultural land was out of the question with the loan we qualified for.

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We found our homestead on the south side of a big-small town.  It’s big, but everywhere you go you see folks you know and I have never met friendlier people than here in Pueblo.  One third of an acre, an adobe shed with seven foot fencing made a fine chicken yard, wood floors for easy cleanup on what we knew would be our urban farm, and a wood stove held prominent position in the main room.  A root cellar holds hundreds of jars and the climate here allows for prolific gardening.  And dreaming.

The large grandfather clock keeps time, ticking regally and alerting us to each quarter hour and moon cycle.  The wood stove heats the house well, save for the back bedrooms.  We are constantly looking for ways to increase our sustainability.  How can we use less?  How can we spend less?  How can we show the beautiful earth that we are grateful?  And in return for our simplicity we find a peaceful existence of health and quiet joy.

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In the city, it is nearly impossible to be off the grid.  One can easily find one’s home condemned if attempted.  Composting toilets are against code.  City water is a given.  But there are still things we can do.  For us, the next step was solar power.  On that first farm, it would have been impossibly expensive (particularly for a rented home), but here on our very own home and in this time, it is absolutely practical and affordable. In fact, it cost us nothing.

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The solar company comes out and surveys your property, sees about light hitting the roof, and local zoning.  With a credit score of 650+ you get a loan for the amount of the solar panels, which was about $10,000.  $3000 is rebated back to you on your taxes.  We put nothing down.  The loan amount is the very same that we pay for electric every month so there is no change for us.  My neighbor’s electric bill is three times higher than ours, so she would save much, much more.  We pay a slight $8 charge to our utility company to “manage” our electricity.  Once the panels are paid off, we only pay the $8.  Our home value goes up as well.  The solar panels are flat against the roof and hardly noticeable at all.

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I have written many times how all of us really need to use less.  Wind energy is so destructive.  Obviously the power we have been creating with fracking and coal is detrimental.  Solar panels never decompose.  We can’t keep going on about the government and big oil.  We cannot stand around with our “Save the Earth” signs and not do something ourselves.  Solar was a great way for us to use considerably less resources, save thousands of trees, the equivalent of taking thousands of cars off the road, and using Father Sun for our power “needs.”  (I guess refrigeration and internet are fun.)  And it is completely accessible.

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If you are in Colorado, call Peak View Solar.  Everyone was so friendly and easy to work with.  Elisa Harrelson, 719-387-7232.  They have a referral program so mention us when you call!  It will help me get my greenhouse going!

Other things you can do to help save resources:

Eliminate animal products from your diet.

Grow a huge garden, community garden, or support local farmers.

Buy organic.

Drive less- get a bicycle!

Don’t buy crap. You know you don’t need that.  Put it back and save the money for seeds!

A wood stove is carbon neutral.

Preserve your own food.

Go for a walk.  The more you are in nature, the more inclined you will be to not hurt her.

Be grateful for life.  Indeed we are lucky to be alive this day.  Happy farming!

Redecorating the Farmhouse, part 3-vintage item revival

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It has been three years since we lost everything and left our farm.  Sure feels like a lifetime ago!  We had our family and a few things and started over.  I used to love the thrill of the hunt, the search for the usable off grid item.  I had no desire to purchase items for mere decoration, they needed to be usable.  I had every homesteading item you can think of before we left, and truth be told- material items or not- it has taken awhile to fully heal from loss.

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So, for the first time, I was able to walk through our nearby antique stores without lamenting that “I used to have that!”  I simply kept my eye open for a bargain that I could use.  A relic to make my life simpler.  Not simpler in the modern theory of flipping a switch or hitting a button, but in the beautiful space in time that hand grinding coffee beans takes, or being mesmerized by the percolator.  Or curling up beneath an oil lamp with a delicious book.  Or knowing if the power went off, we’d be none the wiser as our clocks ticked, our lights shone, and our wood stove puffed out smoke into the cool air.  The tea kettle on, a dog at my feet, a cat on my lap.  Goodness, I know no better life than one like this.  The homestead revival.

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Here are a few pieces to keep an eye out for that can go to work in your home.  They are pleasingly decorative in their own right, creating a lovely old fashioned coziness to the home, but are also useful and trusty.

Oil lamps are amazing, beautiful, useful, and fairly easy to come by.  You can, of course, buy all these things from a great homesteading catalog, like Lehman’s, but that takes some of the fun out of it!  Make sure the knob on the side works.  You can get wicks at Walmart.  They create the most lovely glow and help the body realize that bedtime is soon, as opposed to LED lights which awaken the body more.

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The coffee grinder is imperative on a homestead!  This way you can purchase five pounds of whole beans at a time at a more affordable price (organic, fair trade please!).

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There a few options for coffee.  I have long loved my French press.  It makes delicious coffee and you can keep it hot by placing it on a tea warmer with tea candle.  This percolator was in perfect condition at the antique store and the price couldn’t be beat.  There is something soothing about the gentle perking of coffee coming through the lid.  It could also go on a wood stove if the gas weren’t available.

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In this picture we have a great tea kettle that goes from stove to wood stove.  A beautiful oil lamp.  A pile of library books and musical instruments.  There are many ways to keep oneself busy without screens!

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I have three amazing clocks that I got from my friends, the Jensens’.  I have the lovely, old grandfather clock that shows up in many of my photos.  I have a fun cuckoo clock in the kitchen.  And I have this melodic, wind up clock.

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Simple baskets and reusable bags (perhaps that you make out of old clothing) are great to take to the market, or to bring in the harvest for supper, or carry books back to the library.  Try with all your heart not to buy or bring home another new thing that is plastic.

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Use less energy by unplugging cell phone chargers, anything that lights up, and shutting down your computer at night.  Turn off the television and go for a walk.

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Being outdoors hits the reset button for our lives.  A nice walk at dusk, or a hike on the weekends, helps bring life back into focus.  Finding things to do that have a lower footprint inadvertently gives you things to do that are great for mental and physical health.  We may have more health care options in this day and age but I bet our fore bearers were actually healthier and happier because they had purpose, family, and kept busy.  They had the magical satisfaction of work well done, of having purpose, and the space of mind to relax during methodical tasks.

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There are many ways that we can lessen our load and the one we have put on the planet.  Spend time with family, eat homegrown or local food, laugh, read, be.  And maybe read by oil lamp.

The Wide Hearth

20180206_073304As you head south from Colorado Springs and enter into the valley of Southern Colorado the weather changes sharply.  Pueblo gets far less snow than our northern brethren and the temperatures don’t hover at below zero like places we have lived.  This morning we woke to snow.  It is still too cold for us though and one day we shall live somewhere without snow.  Our dog did look rather shocked when he went outside this morning!  He, for one, does not mind snow a bit.  (Though he is currently sleeping on a giant pillow in the living room right now.)

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It is this type of weather that makes me dream of one of my favorite architectural elements, the wide, walk-in fireplace.  The hearth that sustained generations over the years has seemingly disappeared in favor of furnaces.  There is just something so comforting about a fire in hearth, a cast iron pot hanging from a hook with supper cooking away ready for any visitor to pour a ladle of something hot and nourishing into a bowl to warm themselves.  There is something lovely and rustic about a family pulled up to the warmth on a snowy winter’s eve with knitting or books or fiddle.

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I love my little house with the cast iron wood stove.  It creates such beauty and warmth to our living space.  If I ever build my own house I shall make the counters four inches higher, remove the ceiling fans, make everything in the bathroom higher (houses weren’t made for tall people!), create an open living plan, and put in a walk-in, large fireplace to warm our home on…ahem…rainy days.  Enjoy the snow!

Farmgirl School; Homesteading 101 (now available on Amazon!)

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I never guessed back in 2012 what this would become.  I set out to chronicle our adventures in homesteading.  To create a template and how-to that we wish we had.  We weren’t able to find information on how to farm high altitude, or how to bottle feed a goat, or how to do any of the hundreds of things we did by trial and error on Pumpkin Hollow Farm.

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Those years on the homestead were some of the best times of our lives.  Re-reading the manuscript was like reading about an old friend.  I laughed and recollected.  I finished the book with a smile.  As if I had read it for the first time.

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This book is priceless, I tell you, it has everything a new homesteader could possibly need to get started on their journey.  Organic gardening, high altitude farming, canning, dehydrating, root cellaring, freezing produce, back yard chickens, bottle feeding goats, taking care of ducks, candle making, soap making, herbal remedies, recipes, homemade gifts….goodness, the list goes on.  The textbook we needed, but in a humorous storytelling method.

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I am so excited to see this book in print!  It is now available on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle.  https://www.amazon.com/dp/152077494X?ref_=pe_870760_150889320

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Wishing you many blessings on your homesteading journey.  See you ’round the farm!

Dealing with a Broken Refrigerator Farmgirl Style

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Fifty-five degrees.  Well, that’s not good.  The refrigerator should probably be colder than that.

We do not presently have the money for a new one.  I slurp my lukewarm milk from my bowl of cereal.  I panic.

I go outside, sit down, face to the sun, feet on the ground and quiet down.  Then I laughed.  Do I not speak for entire weekends about this type of thing?  Am I not nicknamed the Farmgirl?  At the last show we were at, more people recognized me as the Farmgirl then White Wolf.  Have I not read every homesteading and pioneering history book I can get my hands on?  Are my ancestors laughing right now?  If anyone can handle this, it ought to me. Don’t I pride myself on knowing how live simply and without much electricity?  I have been in the city for a year…I’m rusty.

Okay, first things first.  Calm down and get another cup of coffee!  We are alright!

Two.  Defrost the meats in the freezer (before the refrigerator dies completely) and can them.  I found some good blog sites on canning hamburger.

I can preserve most things in the fridge and freezer.  Cheese doesn’t mind 55 degrees, that is the temperature I aged mine at when we had our little dairy.  The milk…not so much.

Invest in a cooler!  I wish there were ice trucks still.  I wish I had added Ice House to my house hunting criteria!  Get ice from the store.  Switch to non-dairy milks that do not go off so quickly.

Now from there, perhaps it is an easy fix and it might be worth it to call a repair man?  In the meantime, stop panicking and bring out my inner pioneer!  We can do this.  But, let’s do it before food poisoning tries to take over, shall we?

 

Farmgirl Time; the beauty of old clocks

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I love old clocks.  I love that there are no obnoxious light up, LED, plugged in clocks messing with my natural rhythms and using up electricity.  Old clocks have a steady pulse to them, a heartbeat, an ongoing dance of time so long as you remember to wind them.

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I have always loved clocks.  I always wanted a cuckoo clock.  We stayed with a couple in Kansas one weekend whose home was filled with old clocks.  I loved the top of the hour when they all sang and then returned to gentle ticking, methodical and calming.

clockKat’s father repaired and collected clocks.  Rod’s home is filled with them.  I am the grateful owner of three of them.  Kat gave me a cuckoo clock for my birthday many years ago and I still adore it.

The grandfather clock came from their son, Rodney’s home, I only needed to get it repaired, which I with great joy.  It has a lunar face set to the new and full moon cycles, effectively telling me when to make my medicines and when they are complete.

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This old wind up alarm clock is quirky, loud, and fun.  It pleases me.  We never have the alarm on!

Even though farm time goes more with the seasons and natural progressions of the day, if I do want to know what time it is, all I have to do is listen and the clocks will tell me.  All in good time.

 

Top Five Books for Winter Reading

During the summer I often only have time to read magazines between farmer’s markets and gardening, and babysitting, and the shop (and soon to be a full blown urban farm), but in the winter I have more time.  The sun goes down earlier, I am called to warm sheets quicker, tea by my side, a book (not an e-book, mind you, I prefer the loveliness of paper) in my hand, and I am whisked away to new places amongst new people for a time.  A way to stop my swimming mind from wandering from subject to worry to plan.  These are my top five books for winter reading.

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1- The Velvet Hours by Alyson Richman

This book takes us to the plush apartment of an elderly, elegant woman, at once a hermit and extraordinary storyteller of her time as a courtesan.  Taking place at the cusp of World War Two, her granddaughter both listens to her grandmother’s stories and becomes a woman in a world where being half Jewish in love with a Jewish rare book seller could prove dangerous.  A lovely tale of love and luxury, of loss and simple pleasures, I enjoyed every word.

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2- If There’s Squash Bugs in Heaven, I Ain’t Staying by Stacia Spragg-Braude

I laughed throughout this book.  The author follows an older farmer around for a year and creates a memoir of the life of a Farm girl in Corrales, New Mexico, easily transporting us to her youth, introducing us to family members throughout time, then back to present at the stove stirring this or that to be preserved.  Incredible farming wisdom and homesteading tips are inevitably sought during this delightful story of a life lived simply and near the earth.

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3- The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis

Mind you, fiction is not my reading of choice.  I challenged myself this year to read more fiction.  This book delivered an enticing story that jumps from past to present as a young reporter tries to find out the truth behind a maid’s mysterious death by interviewing the elder models that still inhabit the once prestigious Barbizon hotel.  Secrets unfold and kept me thoroughly entertained as it took me to sexy jazz clubs in the 1950’s, Puerto Rican singers, smoke, spices, and models trying to make it set the scene for a beautiful tale of love and second chances.

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4- Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

One I have already read but must recommend you read if you haven’t yet.  The beautiful ideas of self renewal, travel, food, love, spirit all entwined in one enticing book with gorgeous prose and colorful scenes thrills and inspires me.  Then watch the movie.  It is spectacular as well.

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5- The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan

I’ll have this one finished in the next day or two.  It makes me stay up past my bedtime to read (which is really saying something as I am fast asleep by 10:01 every night!) just to capture a bit more of the Scottish hillside, hear the brogue, see the kilts, pet the lambs, and travel around with the protagonist who has left her ordinary librarian job to sell books in a large restored van at markets.  I am smitten, and oddly desiring a pint of something.

Bonus- As for magazines I am wondering if some of my fellow farmgirls may have overlooked one.  Oprah magazine is one that I will subscribe to every year.  I have plenty of farming and homemaking magazines but this makes me.  Filled with constant inspiration, encouragement, and great book ideas, I cannot stop pouring over the glossy pages of this beautiful ensemble of ideas and friendship.

What are you reading?  Book recommendations?  Happy reading!

Mad Mother

The day was quiet and calm.  Our first farmer’s market was going really, really well.  Lots of new faces, lots of folks to help, and it was nice being around our old farmers market vendor family.  Then towards the end it happened.  Usually microbursts come later in the season so this one certainly took us all by surprise.  The familiar yelling and the words, “Hold on!” and “It’s coming!” at the market is the equivalent to “All Hands on Deck!”

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If you are new to microbursts, they are invisible, highly volatile, mini tornados on the ground.  They wind up, sometimes with dust and debris, but often without a sign until you see the first tent fly up in the air, weights or no.  You can often hear it, it sounds like a train, but this one was quieter and more stealth than most.  It picked up more tents slightly as folks held them down, vendors jumping to help others with theirs, and then it picked up speed and turned.  Right towards us.  We had two tents.  Doug was on one side and I on the other.  I had one hand on the tent and one on our shelves of medicines.  A customer held onto the shelves as well.  Our buckets were filled with large rocks and securely fastened to the tents.  The back of the tents were attached to our van.  I held on with all of my might but the microburst picked up our tent, and me.  It carried me in the air until I hit the van, the leg of the tent caught under my skirt and cut and bruised my thigh, then released my hem and flew up and over the van, both tents and buckets, and rocks and debris flying away, crashing down into the street, narrowly missing two cars.  The customer that held the shelves with me was shocked and scared as Doug came running over to help her with the large shelf.  The smaller had flown off.  Sample jars, cards, bags, product just gone.  Broken, missing, blown away in parts of the city we may never know.  The power of Mother Earth is astounding.  If the van hadn’t stopped me I would have kept on flying with it.  A ragdoll on this planet.

A few weeks ago I had another dream about her.  The soil was loose and unassuming as it opened and sucked down entire towering trees.  It is not improbable that that could happen.

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We were walking through Castlewood Canyon on a trail that just opened for the season.  As we turned a bend I heard something, saw something, so fast I could not comprehend but I suddenly felt like prey.  My stomach went in knots, nerves, I held my breath.  My eyes grew large, I tried to listen, I froze in place.  But it was gone, or seemingly so, watching us as we finally passed by.  We are not the top of any food chain.

Her name in Cherokee is Etsia Eloheno.   She is known in other cultures as Gaia, Terra Mater, Maka Ina.  I believe, from experience, that she is not viewed as a living being.  In many major religions we are to not have any other “gods” and for some reason the earth gets viewed as such and we forget that she is a real, living being with destructive and life giving power and only focus on the Creator and forget about our mother.  Every single thing on this planet has a spirit.  Each rock, each tree, each animal, each of us.  We are no greater than a rock on the path, than a dog on the street, than a tree growing tall.  We are children lacking respect.

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I have returned to the city and watch bags and bags…and bags of trash being thrown out in my apartment complex alone.  Electricity, oil use, driving two blocks, modern conveniences, privilege, waste.  More and more counties aren’t accepting recycling anymore because there is no money in it.  We expose animals in factory farms, bastardize our crops to make genetically modified organisms, we pretend we are on the top of the food chain, that we are the rulers of the world.  No religion or belief system will save us from the consequences of how we treat the Earth.

Let us walk quieter.  Let us leave less foot print.  Let’s take less.  Let’s talk to trees and plants.  Let’s acknowledge that we are but visitors and children.  Let’s love her.  She gives us medicine and food and places to play and everything we need to survive.

I highly recommend the book “Radical Simplicity” by Jim Merkel and to take more walks.

The Beautiful Oil Lamps

My birthday present from Doug was a piece of our history together, a piece of our future together, a seemingly insignificant part of anyone’s life, but so beautiful I nearly cried.  Oil lamps.  We really miss our old ones!

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It is now romantic and just the amount of bright to read into the night.  Or until 10:00 anyway.  I am still on farm time.