Posted in Crafts and Skills

The Homestead Ukulele

I wish I were a natural, but I am no prodigy. I began playing the piano at eight years old. I started to play the guitar in seventh grade. I have taken violin lessons. Taken music in college. Every time I sit down to the piano, I have to relearn everything. My brother can still play the same songs he learned when we were kids. I can’t pick out Mary Had a Little Lamb.

My son, Andy, on the other hand, is a musician. He can hear the music. I have to read music. He can just play it. When he was twelve years old, he had dreadlocks and pirate earrings, a Bob Marley t-shirt, and a banjo that he walked around the neighborhood with, playing loudly, stopping along the way to entertain. By then, he had taught himself seven instruments.

Doug and I love to sing and our children can too, so we spent a fair amount of time singing karaoke with them at bars. Our house was filled with music and singing. When the children moved out, it got rather quiet. I played the fiddle and Doug played the mandolin, but neither of us were particularly enthralled, or very good, so when we moved, we sold all of our instruments. Noticing my regret, Doug bought me a guitar for my birthday that year.

My fingers do not quite reach to set the pads of my fingertips directly on the string so my songs always sound slightly off. Lessons did me little good, because the much younger teachers gave me songs like, “Oh Susanna” and told me to practice it a million times. Easily bored, I would just stop playing with a shrug. I am no prodigy but I also have the attention span of a Border Collie.

We now have a piano and my guitar that I play here and there. Andy has been playing the ukulele a lot over the past year and a half or so. He is, of course, great at it. He assured me that this is the instrument for me! He bought me one and it arrived in the mail Friday.

He talked me through it over Snapchat video and gives me lessons and things to practice that work for me. It is a larger ukulele but small enough that my fingers reach the strings easily and the sound is so great! I am already picking up the chords and he is having me learn songs so that we can play together. I gained a new instrument and a great teacher.

Music fills our home again. Isn’t that a quintessential requirement for a homestead? Playing mountain music for the corn. Instruments are an important part of the simple life. What would you like to play?

Posted in Animals/Chickens

Cuddlewell Mission

One day when we were quite a young couple, snuggling and giggling, I said to my husband, “You cuddle well!” He said, “That will be our last name!” And so it was. Mama and Daddy Cuddlewell.

Our children were told that their actual, secret last name was Cuddlewell, as we would snuggle them. Andy, Shyanne, and Emily Cuddlewell. Even today, that is our name.

Our animals carried the same family name, Ichabod Cuddlewell, Clara Cuddlewell, and so on. I recently told my granddaughter about her secret last name too. She laughed and wondered if I was serious. Maryjane and Ayla Cuddlewell. And so it goes on. Our secret family name. We cuddle well.

Many years ago, when were trying to come up with a name for our own land, should we ever get it, Doug nonchalantly said, “Cuddlewell Mission, of course.”

In our hearts, everywhere we have lived has been Cuddlewell Mission. We tend to rescue the animals that need us. The cross-eyed cat with the spinal injury, who lived and played and cuddled for thirteen years, Clara. The retired racing hound, Bumble Bear. The tiny, Siamese kitten that we are still bringing back to health, Taos Mouse. The blind chicken, Heihei. This is a sanctuary. We have always had a sanctuary.

We got off track, somewhere along the way, with books and studies and farmer friends. We went from friends aren’t food, to maybe we were wrong and that is how it is supposed to be, then to regret and heartfelt wisdom. Just because it is how has always been, doesn’t mean that it is how it should be moving forward. We also used to keep slaves, beat our children, and ate cockroaches. We humans can move forward and do things better when we see the error of our ways! We can create a new normal. A new this-is-how-it-should-be. We would never allow an assembly line of shelter dogs, swinging from one leg, having their neck sliced, then being cut open before they were dead, cut up and packaged and put in the store….what are we thinking? Cows and pigs and even chickens are sentient beings. Look into the eyes of any creature and see the life there.

I’m not here to convince you one way or another, I just wanted to tell you about Cuddlewell Mission and how we have arrived here. With land and places for animals. A sanctuary for people and animals. A safe place to commune with nature and not fear for one’s life, and if you are human, maybe have a cup of tea. Yes, this is a mission. We are home.

Posted in Our Family

A Wedding in the Woods

On July 27th, a hundred-year-old lodge was decorated with pastel roses and succulents, lights, and pink table runners to celebrate a special union. There were photographs of the bride and groom as children and a few of the parents of the couple in their wedding splendor, in frames glued together to make centerpieces. The place was coming alive that early morning as the groom finished getting ready, the music was being tested, and the photographer came to capture our two big families coming together.

A village put on this wedding. Our long-time friend volunteered to DJ the music and another officiated the wedding. A dear friend donated all the dishware, my other daughter baked and decorated the cake, a friend made the carefully scripted signs for the wedding. Love from all corners of the world came together to bestow wishes of happiness and love to my daughter, Emily and her groom, Reed.

The warm sun was showering through the vanilla-scented Ponderosa pines. Family near and dear gathered along the wooden benches. The couple was quiet and sweet as they muttered their own vows to each other.

The celebration continued with dancing and visiting between families and friends.

The cake was beautiful and the spirit of love was present. A young deer curled up near the lodge to rest. The children danced and ran around the near forest.

On this cold, frosty day, it is lovely to go back to that warm Sunday afternoon. It seems my child was five, then eight, then suddenly twenty-two! Her daughter looks so much like her at this age. We are most grateful in our life for our family, for our children, for our grandchildren, for the partners our children have chosen. Emily and Reed had a lovely day and a beautiful wedding. Wishing them every happiness and so many decades of love and laughter!

Mr. and Mrs. Reed and Emily Thompson

Posted in Holidays

Halloween Through the Years (and tons of easy costume ideas!)

Going through photos can be bittersweet. My babies have grown up! We sure had fun over the years and there is more fun to have.

My son, Andrew, is now 26 years old. Shyanne is turning 24 in December. The baby is Emily, 22 years old, a new bride and the mother of my two beautiful granddaughters, Maryjane, who is six, and Ayla, who is turning one in three weeks. They are all creative, fun, holiday loving kiddos. Add me and my husband, Doug, in, and we have had some fun costumes!

We used to traipse all over town to visit grandparents with the children in costume. Doug’s grandparents, my grandparents, and Doug’s folks all knew to be ready with the candy and the camera.

In front of Grandma’s lake.

At home, the house was set with fun-scary decorations and orange lights. Spooky sounds wafted from the CD player and “Halloween Hamburgers” thrilled the young goblins before trick-or-treating. Around our suburban neighborhood we would go, laughing and begging for candy; the kids all hoping for a big candy bar. The neighbor across the street gave quarters. (Not cool.)

We had a large bin of clothes in the playroom. The kids might get a new costume one year but then it would be replayed year to year as something else. We had a lot of fun with costumes and never spent very much.

Then Maryjane Rose was born and the fun began all over!

And then her sister came last November! They are going to be Joker and Harley Quinn. So cute!

And the fun continues! Happy Halloween!

Posted in inspiration

Everything in its Season

I long to get this show on the road. To get this new farm set up! Get the rototiller! Get the goats! Get the fencing done! Let’s get planting!

But, alas, it is October 2nd. I can plant hopeful bulbs of dancing tulips and sunshine yellow daffodils that will surprise me with delight come spring. That is all.

The wood stove is coming next week and the goat shed is coming too and we are slowly getting fencing done. I can see it all! I can see the corn in rows interspersed with pumpkins zooming along the front yard on green tendrils and vines. I can see the vineyard I have always wanted stretching out to the western sky. I can see the bright red tomatoes, the crisp lettuces dancing in the cool breeze, the baby goats and sheep jumping around the pasture in the sunlight. My polar bear dog with a job, finally.

I can see myself moving the dutch oven to make room for the kettle for a cup of tea and checking the fire. I can hear the vibrant shaking of the pressure canners putting away summer’s gifts. Wiping my hands on my apron and taking my granddaughters outside to play. Watching the sun set behind the wild pasture with rabbits shooting to and fro and turkey vultures swaying gently on the breeze overhead.

This is our fourth farm. Our fourth homestead. The second home of our own since beginning homesteading. This one on land. In the country. Our own. My heart soars with gratitude and excitement to get this farm set up! But alas, it is October 2nd.

The dark smoke billowed densely and ferociously off the mountain sides. The smell of it all filled the air. The wildfire was scarcely contained and my heart broke for the animals and trees and the wildness being consumed. Death and ending before our eyes as we drove to our mini-vacation spot. Next spring, there on the mountain, life will unfold. Everything in its season.

The aspens and oaks danced in brilliant colors of gold and red, creating patchworks across the mountainsides. That specific shade of bold autumn blue sans clouds stretched above everything and the west was in its ultimate splendor.

Our youngest daughter, her husband, and their new baby joined us for a few days at a beautiful place. A private spot where one can hike to various hot spring pools nestled along the mountain. Walking along the path we stopped to eat hawthorn berries and wild plums. Deer wandered past the pools, a fawn catching up with her mother. Birds flitted from thick tree to tree and life buzzed all around. It is a clothing optional resort and the feeling of air on one’s skin while passing thickets of herbs and trees and the feeling of the water from warm waterfalls is grounding and restorative.

A crow cawed and flapped its wings loudly as it flew close by. The warmth of the water followed by the cool breeze was enlivening. Amongst plans of future and to-do’s and day-to-day life, it is good to rest and restore, to ground in a new place, to spend time with loved ones, and to look out over thickets of oaks and pines and into valleys. To pull a blanket closer around, sip coffee, and hear the earth speak, as breezes lightly blow fog up the road. Everything in its season.

Posted in Farming, Homestead, Our Family

The Multi-Generational Legacy of Farming and Homesteading

The garden once Gandalf moves to the goat and sheep yard.

I wish we had started homesteading and farming long ago. It would be nice to have a multi-generational legacy of land and tradition that becomes genetically ingrained in the children and is always a sense of comfort and a place to return. My eldest child grew up near the beginning of our journey so he had little experience with the farm (though he can grow anything), but perhaps he had some connection, because he would like a farm of his own some day. My middle child tends to pots of tomatoes and peppers, herbs and flowers that flourish on her second floor deck as she watches the deer cross her yard in her mountain-like neighborhood. My youngest daughter was around the most and seeing her hold a newborn goat for the first time was to watch a thirteen year old melt. So enthralled with farm life she became, and she and her husband are adamant about getting a farm and homesteading off grid. And of course, my granddaughter, has been a farmgirl since birth. Photo shoots with goats her first year and farmer’s markets in bonnets. Bottle feeding goats her second year, gardening her third, and so forth. She is the most excited about our new farm. Her baby sister will love it here too, I just know it. So, better late than never!

I will tell you a secret though; moving here to this gorgeous piece of land, I considered (gasp) not homesteading or farming (for like a week). Hang up my farmstead aprons and become a “normal” wife. I could get a job and wear smart pant suits and buy cans of food (instead of pulling them from the root cellar) and keep all the land as it is. I sat out on the back porch with my farm dog (who is a little bored without charges as am I) and looked out across the cedars and cactus, across the deep valleys, up the mountain tops, across the larger-than-life western sky, and then started envisioning things. Ah yes, normalcy didn’t last for long, because that (pointing) would be the perfect place for goats and sheep. That area could be kept wild for the bunnies and natural medicine. There is the vineyard, of course. There is the huge pumpkin patch and corn field as you enter the property. Here is the garden. There is where the clothes line will go. And so forth. Doug had the same ideas, so it wasn’t long until in our minds, a fully functioning homestead and farm was painted and planned. Homesteading and farming is hard work, but it is deeply satisfying, soul enriching, life giving work. And comes with wonderful things like homemade cheese and wine.

The goat and sheep yard
The vineyard
I can see this shed with a huge mural of pumpkins on the side! Need to contract my girls!
Welcome to our farm.

My grandparents grew up on farms (and had no desire to ever step foot on one again) and I was fascinated by their stories, always asking questions. The “normal” today is actually just the status quo. Farming and homesteading were not only the norm, but the expected, in every generation from my grandparents back. And I am honored to be a part of it. We will start this generational wisdom over starting here. Because it is important work. Environmentally, emotionally, sustainably, and beautifully important. Watch us grow!

What is your favorite aspect of homesteading/farming?

Posted in Farming, Food/Wine (and preserving)

Apple Harvest Day

We bumped the wagon haphazardly over the irrigation ditches to get to the next row of apple trees. Many were long picked over but there were still a few varietals heavy with fruit. Old to ancient apple trees lined many acres in perfect rows.

We are in the planning stages of our new farm. Where do we want to put the fruit trees? We will set up a separate area for them instead of just throwing them into the yard. In past houses, if they survived, they were in the middle of garden beds and mowing paths.

Ayla tried to take a bite of apple and smiled that huge, jack o’lantern grin. She opted for a stick instead. Maryjane picked out a white, Lumina pumpkin (our family favorite), and helped me harvest apples as Emily snapped photos.

My granddaughters are so beautiful!

Third Street Apples is a real treat. Pick all the apples you wish and then pay per pound less than sale priced grocery store apples shipped in from Venezuela (or wherever). Support local farms and have a ball doing it! Maryjane sat in the grass watching a ladybug crawl around the top of her apple.

I filled my apron with apples, so Maryjane gathered her shirt and did the same. That child is efficient, for when she poured her apples into the basket, it overflowed! I have a lot of apples to process now. I am not very good at making pies, I am afraid. A farmgirl skill I need to perfect, but I can make one, or maybe a tart. I will can apple sauce (see my recipe here), but I am the only one who likes apple sauce so maybe I will juice some as well. Oh! I can make apple wine, or freeze some apples. I will decide what to do soon, but in the meantime, I had a lovely day at a local farm with my granddaughters and my daughter making memories.

And in a few years, the children will be harvesting from our own family orchard. What is your favorite thing to do with apples?

Posted in Farming

Farm Heroes and the New Chicken Yard, Greenhouse, and Shed.

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Emily, Shyanne, and Peep (and Maryjane in that little baby bump)

We started our farm when the girls were young teenagers.  They spent hours in the chicken coop with the new chicks, cooing to and naming them.  Tempers would flare and they would take their own time out among the soft chirping and fresh straw.  My youngest daughter and I (along with dad and Reed) have plans to go in on a farm together in the next few years.  We dream of two houses, one land, a barn, a large community plot of garden, animals, greenhouses, a view.  A Farm Air B&B, hot farm fresh breakfasts, coffee on the porch.  A small restaurant on site to serve high end dinners with a set menu with room for four couples a night.

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Emily and Ayla

But right now, everyone is busy.  The kids have their own lives.  So, it was incredible to see them all show up at the front door in the un-forecasted snow to help us create a functional farm back yard.  We certainly could not have done it by ourselves and our gratitude is overwhelming!

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We live on one third of an acre.  We have fourteen chickens and a very large dog.  Our eighteen month old Great Pyrenees doesn’t require a lot of room for running (he spends most of his days sleeping under the elm trees in the dirt or on the pink futon in the living room (which is covered in dirt).  I have a lot of room for the chickens but wanted to increase their yard to reach the piles of branches so they could play and have more space to roam.

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I also desired a greenhouse which I received last week as an early birthday present from my friend Tina.  This would require a fenced in separate yard to increase my garden space, and keep the puppy out.  This space will end up having a pond and waterfall with a tea ceremony setting.

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Doug purchased a shed to house all of our yard items and tools and try to make sense of our back porch which has become overwhelmed with debris, broken chairs, tables, tools, and market items.

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These things came in a million, zillion pieces.  A roll of field fencing to top it all off.  And two not-so-handy parents.  Enter the children riding in like heroes to our farm story.

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My beautiful granddaughter, Maryjane’s dad came.  Bret is amazing and he will always be one of my kids.  He helped Doug build the shed.

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Reed

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Emily’s long time boyfriend Reed (Ayla’s daddy) and I started on the greenhouse.  It got incredibly complicated and when Jacob (Shyanne’s long time boyfriend) showed up, he took my place.  They got it built and it is perfect!

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Doug and Shyanne and Bret then started on the fencing and quickly got two areas partitioned off.

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My granddog Lupo enjoying the new shed.

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The chickens enjoying their new yard.

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And my new greenhouse and garden.

Six cold hours later we took the kids out for sushi to celebrate Reed’s birthday and to thank them for helping us make the next phase of our farm dreams come true.  This little urban farm sure has lots of space and opportunity.  But it always feels more like home when the kids are here.

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Posted in Field Trips

A Field Trip to the Denver Art Museum

Daniel Libeskind Architect, Studio Libeskind and Davis Partnership

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We have a lovely art museum in Denver.  The architecture is modern meets medieval and the exhibits change regularly.  Floors of ancient and new art serve to inspire and educate.  The museum makes sure that there are things to keep the children busy as well.  Pads of paper and boards with things to look for are set up in stations around the museum to encourage children to be mindful and alert and to express their own innate creativity.

My daughters and I and my two granddaughters were originally headed to the Denver Zoo but due to the mass amount of people (and I shall save you the tirade about what marijuana legalization will do to your state) we had to find other activities.  Maryjane was less than thrilled about trading elephants for fourteenth century art but we made it a game where she was to find every dog and horse in the paintings and sculptures.

It is really something to stand before a painting that was carefully drawn over five hundred years ago.  It is really inspiring to see the spirits of people captured on canvas- ordinary moments in life stopped in time.  The colors, the shadows, the stories…

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Rosina Ferrara, Head of a Capri Girl by John Singer Sargent

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I enjoyed this exhibit the most this time.  Jordan Casteel is a Denver native and I love how she portrays every day moments.

I haven’t painted in a year but I think it is time to gather some canvases.

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My painting- “Native Inside,” acrylic on canvas, 24×36

DenverArtMuseum.org

Posted in Entertaining, Holidays

A Frightfully Fun Halloween Party for Any Age

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My daughter, Shyanne, is the queen of Halloween.  She drives an old, lifted Jeep Cherokee with a life sized skeleton named Victor in the front seat all year.  When Shyanne invited me to her Halloween day with my other daughter and granddaughter, I didn’t hesitate (never turn down opportunities to be with loved ones).  I hopped in the car with my witch hat and headed to the eastern plains.

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Now there is nothing quite like the sound of a five year old’s bent-over, belly laugh.  And that is what I was met with.  “You look like a unicorn!” Maryjane wailed, a twinkle in her eye.  “I am a witch!” I declared.  “Looks like a unicorn to me.”

There were crafts laid out, and snacks galore, spooky music met me when I entered through the door.  I got straight to work, for this Grammie has a role.  I make the best Halloween hamburgers (veggie burgers) this side of the veil.  I sneaked the bits of cheese from cutting out eyes and mouths to my scary granddog.

Witch’s brew was put on, just like when the children were small.  Ah, it does not seem like it was that long ago at all.  A jug of apple juice or cider, a handful of brown sugar, a good sprinkling of pumpkin pie spice and let that begin to simmer then serve.

Shyanne put on a spread of easy treats, crackers and chips and cookies.  We decorated warm sugar cookies with edible watercolors and sprinkles.

We made puppets out of tongue depressors glued to construction paper cutouts that we glued googly eyes to.  Shyanne had carefully pre-cut Frankenstein heads, pumpkins, bats, and ghosts out.  We painted and glued and sprinkled our way into the Halloween spirit.  I did notice that is hard to get into the spirit when no children are present.  This was a welcome party for me.

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“The neighbors are going to wonder what is going on,” Emily said, as Maryjane and I danced to Disney songs and howled loudly like werewolves.

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Emily posing with her pumpkins. She is very ready for the new baby to come! (a few more weeks!)

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Maryjane’s broom. It’s a compact like my Fiat.

Pumpkins were carved, and we danced, and sang.  Halloween parties can be impromptu and easy.  For any age, for us older children regress rather quickly in the sight of sugar cookies and glue sticks.  I hope you find a few ideas to incorporate into your own spooky Halloween day!

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