Seven Years in Farmgirl School

Seven years ago today, I began to design a blog and was giddy with the possibilities. Dozens of journals and manila envelopes filled with typed short stories and magazine articles that I had written filled shelves in closets. I had just read about blogs and was excited to try my hand at one. Farmgirl School came to mind and I laughed out loud as I typed it out.

We were city people, reborn in the country, trying to access knowledge from generations past and from books and experiences. We worked the soil, the gardens, and they grew each year. We longed for goats, and we fell in love, and we cried when one died, and we bottle fed newborns, and we longed for goats again once they were gone. We had sheep who thought they were puppies and followed me around the farm and enjoyed singing shows in the living room wearing diapers. We laughed at ducks in swimming pools and snuggled friendly hens.

We fretted about renting that farm in that small town that we loved. We knew at some point the owners would lose it to the bank. That day came and we ushered over to a different rented farm with dreams and aspirations as big as any. Nine months later we had lost everything- scammed out of every penny- lost each beloved farm animal, and antiques and heirlooms and silverware and part of our spirits, and moved quietly and brokenly into friends’ houses until we could get back on our feet.

We moved into an apartment, worked harder than ever, saved and bought an urban farm. One of our own! We’ll be here forever, we chanted! Ah, but the country called.

And here we are, dreams come true, three months now on our own farm in the country. Our chickens love it here, as does the farm dog. The views can steal your breath away, the air is crisp. Our fourth farm is slowly coming together. Why, by next August, you will not even recognize it, for the gardens and the animals and the life here will expand along with our hearts.

Seven years. A million years ago and a breath ago, it seems. It has been quite a road.

This blog has become a beautiful, exponentially important journal of how-to do just about anything. I, myself, refer back to it constantly for recipes and reminders of how to do things. Thousands of people have followed my Chokecherry Wine recipe- the ongoing number one blog post of mine, with How to Make Your Own Witchhazel on its heels.

164, 850 times people have read my blog. That is really something. The reach we can have with our words. Oh, I occasionally quit the blog when I don’t think I will be farming anymore, or when I think I want to do something else, and two weeks later, here I am posting again, because it has become entwined with my being. Farmgirl School has become as much a part of me as my name.

Here’s to seven more years in Farmgirl School. I oughta really know my stuff by then! Thanks for hanging around.

Beautiful Pueblo

20180108_133406Our city has a bad reputation.  It has for as long as I remember growing up in Denver.  It was ranked one of the most dangerous cities to live in.  Some of the locals scratch their heads and wonder where they get their numbers from.  Some want to move to greener pastures…like California.  Because of the astonishing statistics here in Pueblo, we got a house for the price of a cardboard box in Denver.  There is an exciting revitalization going on here.  And as in most cases of any city, the crime seems to be concentrated in one area.  So, you don’t buy on the east side.  Unless you want a really cute old house for thirty thousand dollars.  Then go for it.  Because this is the city to be if you want to live in Colorado.

20171229_155024

One of my downfalls is that I am a homebody vagabond.  I want a home to create and decorate and garden and be cozy in but I am always looking for the next home.  The next city.  The next farm.  This drives my husband crazy.  But there are not two people on this earth more grateful for their own home than me and Doug.  So for the first time I am settling in.

Message_1485722534105

This town has everything Doug and I wanted.  And we wanted the impossible.  Can we be walking distance to Chinese food and the grocery store, a bike ride from the library and the coffee shop, live near a lake, have a view, be close to the mountains, live in a warmer climate, have an urban farm, be within practical driving distance from the kids and our work, live in a beautiful place, be near theater and fine dining but also be near farms and a quick jaunt to vacation spots?  Can we have it for next to nothing?

20171124_182335

$89,000 later and I need a bicycle because all of those things came to be in this small/big town of ours.  We tried to get our kids down here but the statistics still scare most folks off.  We haven’t heard of or seen anything that wouldn’t be happening in any other city.  We have found friendly folks, beautiful sunrises over lakes and hiking trails, flocks of geese, fine dining on the river, and home.  We have been here a year now.  What a lovely place to call home.

 

20171123_123941

Citygirl School

 

parker

My long, layered skirts, aprons, and prairie style do not even invoke a second glance in Elizabeth.  The country knows me, as well as its occupants.  In the city, here in Parker, Lord, I am provoking full on gawks and stares!  I feel a bit like a fish out of water.

Yet, I sit near the large window looking out across rooftops and mountain ranges, a cup of coffee and a cat on the sill, and write.  I am also in my element here.  How odd how many versions of ourselves coexist.  Maybe not reinventing, but finding a way for all of the various selves to combine.

I am tired of my prairie dresses.  I am not on the prairie.  Nancy and I are no longer farmgirls.  There is no farm.  I sit in a coffee shop using the wifi and sipping tea.  The sun creeps from behind the building and splays across the pavement.  It will be a beautiful day.

I am not homesteading.  I am living the city life.  We booked our trip to see friends in San Diego for my birthday.  We have no charges to find a farm sitter for.  We walk here and there and listen to song birds and stop in for sushi.

Does anyone read this blog anymore?  The term Farmgirl School seems a bit deceiving.  Oh, there are plenty of years of articles to aid the newbie farmer here.  Indeed.  Yet, I seek myself among cars and shops.  Near community gardens and coffee shops.  Across windowsills and in more normal attire.  A clairvoyant healer walks into the city in flowing dresses and a desire for sheep and ends up in a jean jacket sipping tea in a crowded coffee shop.  Unidentifiable?

No, I am still noticeable and I have a great many adventures ahead of me.  A writer still must have an outlet even if the readers stop reading.  Or perhaps new ones will join.  Or perhaps many are still here.  Sit down and have a cup of tea with me.  It is almost spring.

 

 

A Feast for the Senses on an Urban Homestead

view

I put the kettle on. I am oddly consoled flipping the switch to turn on the fireplace. The sound of the dryer after nine years naught reverberates softly. I sip tea and watch the moon drift silently away above the rose hued mountain top in the early morning dawn. What shall I do now in my third floor apartment looking over the city blocks and the glorious mountain range? There are no chickens to tend to. No young lambs following on my skirts. No goats in need of milking. No ducks swimming in their icy pond. What shall we do?

kitchen

I positively glow at the sight of my kitchen. It is a beautiful, large expanse of creative space waiting for dinner parties and garnishes. For finishing touches of truffle salt and a sip of local Cabernet. It calls for melting butter and the smell of homemade bread. It speaks of decades of cookbooks and articles, of sustenance and my internal need to cook. Nay, create. Cooking is meatloaf every Tuesday. I have never made the same thing twice. I can be the entranced chef I long to be and still be in bed by nine.

kitchen 2

There are community gardens close by. My bicycle and basket yet to be purchased await and I can already feel the breeze against my warmed cheek as the summer sun heats the pavement as I whir past the buildings. Fresh produce overflows my carrier. I am planning a traditional Cherokee garden complete with language. Sacred sunflowers, the three sisters….more. Agaliha. Selu. Watsigu.

What shall we do here in our third floor apartment? Let’s cook. Let’s be chefs and farmers, shall we? Let’s preserve. Let’s not just can corn; let’s make relishes and marmalades and chutneys and more. Let’s create.

What’s that old saying? I think I have quoted it a time or two, Grow Where Planted!

A Day in Salt Lake City (temple and ghosts)

IMG_1684

Hi, I’m Katie and I’ll be your guide today as we explore Salt Lake City!  We actually had a fine tour guide in Rodney who was Mormon as a child.  We headed to Temple Square after breakfast.

IMG_1687

The grounds were amazingly serene, filled with the aromas of fresh flowers, towering trees, and sweetly cut grass.  The day was warm and sunny and made for a perfect day of exploring.

IMG_1688

This is Saint John the Baptist blessing the children as they have a huge part in the Mormon church.

IMG_1689

IMG_1691

I love bronze statues.  They are my favorite form of art.

IMG_1692

I love the outfits that these statues are wearing!

IMG_1703

IMG_1704

The Mormons came across the country with very little as they looked for the place they would build the temple.  Many walked across the land with mere carts.

IMG_1717

Construction on the temple was started on April 6, 1853 and was completed forty years later on April 6, 1893.  The stone for the temple was carried by oxen over twenty-three miles.

IMG_1693

The average person, even the average Mormon, is not allowed in the temple.  It is quite an architectural beauty.

IMG_1694

There were plants growing that I have never seen before and the ones I did recognize were larger and more vibrant.  Does anyone know what the next two plants are?

IMG_1698

This is the leaf of a large tree…

IMG_1697

If one is down they should travel with Pat.  She bubbles over with mirth.  I have never met anyone as kind, generous, or so connected with physical sensations and being present.  Her happy spirit is contagious.

IMG_1700

IMG_1705

IMG_1714

IMG_1708

Around the grounds and visitor’s center and as our tour guides of the house and offices that Brigham Young occupied are many young people from around the world eager to answer questions and connect with you later.  All languages are spoken there and no one would be left unable to learn about the religion as there is someone from every country present.  “They are all kids,” Pat whispered to me.

Young's home that he lived in with one wife and seven children.

Young’s home that he lived in with one wife and seven children.

The office that connects to the house plus an addition that Young added on.

The office that connects to the house plus an addition that Young added on.

IMG_1711

The bee is signified everywhere.  Busy as a bee is a common thread.  Here it was intricately carved into the doorways and pocket doors.

IMG_1712

Rodney enjoyed himself as he knew the answers to many of our questions and really felt comfortable in the atmosphere, peaceful even.  We went to the Tabernacle where the infamous choir practices and saw a demonstration on the acoustics of the dome shaped building.  Without a microphone we could clearly hear the speaker and even pins dropping.

IMG_1715

We then walked around the city in search of an eatery open on 4th of July.  We walked through an open mall with water features.

Grammie in the fountain

My husband is an amazing photographer.  I joked that he could be the IPOD photographer available for parties and events as his new career.

IMG_4123

IMG_4135

We finally found a place open and had a delicious lunch.  The food in Salt Lake City is spectacular.  We did not have a bad meal the entire trip.

IMG_1719

Red Rock is a brewery with eclectic food offerings.  Doug and I shared bites, my favorite way to eat!  Brussels sprouts roasted with bacon, Welsh rarebit, and smoked salmon on crostini and house made beer.

IMG_1718

This friendly guy was hanging from light post in reminder that we are all stewards of the earth.

IMG_1721

IMG_1722

After rest, a swim, and some time to read our respective books, we looked for dinner and found Ichiban Sushi.  The food was delicious and the price was incredible.  Four people ate sushi for $26.  If we lived here we would lose Doug and Rodney there regularly.  I am afraid the name though gave us fits of unexplained laughter, a carload of junior high students on a retreat is what we would have been reminiscent of.  Ichiban turned to Itchy buns, then turned to Itchy butt, with us all hooting with laughter.

IMG_1723

We went on a ghost hunting tour.

IMG_1724

IMG_1725

IMG_1726

IMG_1733

There were two devices that were passed around called EMFs that could pick up the electromagnetic field of spirits.  It would go off at the sites that we were taken too.  You can imagine how excited Pat was when she got to hold one first!

IMG_1729

It went off as we passed the old Railroad station.

IMG_1732

The streets were lined with homeless people, blocks and blocks of them in tents, many of them strung out, many tired, and lines and lines outside the Catholic charities soup kitchen.  I found that more haunting than the train station.

IMG_1736

We went to a Holiday Inn where a woman threw her children off a balcony.  It was rather sad.  Then we went to the City and County building where a bride had jumped to her death after being stood up by her groom.

IMG_1739

Nothing, nothing, then the indicator went off.

IMG_1740

IMG_1742

Rodney shot a picture on his phone where the face recognition went off on a place where no one was standing.

IMG_1743

Of course we had to visit a cemetery.  We had an amazing view of the city below and fireworks across the horizon.

IMG_1747

Spirits are everywhere and I don’t think they just pop up on cue for tours but the guide was very entertaining and the history of the city came alive with his stories.

IMG_1754

The city was lit up and glimmering last night.  The sound of celebratory fireworks all around us, the air still warm as we sat in front of the temple looking for ghosts in the photos we took and basking in the joy of vacation and friendship.

IMG_1755

I am stronger today.  I am filled with gratitude. I know that just because our name isn’t on a lease doesn’t make us homeless.  As I sit here typing on the patio of the hotel, about to go in and meet my friends for breakfast before our eight hour journey home, I realize I am here in clean clothes, healthy, with my sweet husband, and a cup of hot coffee.  Life is good and adventures await.

 

The Enchanting Urban Homestead (a field trip, class, and future)

IMG_1388

Farmgirl school is supposed to be uplifting, inspirational, and full of fun and hope.  It is also about our life so I suppose not everything can be as such but I inadvertently caused a storm of emotions for many people across the continent and beyond in empathy for us.  We want you to know that we just do not have the extra strength or energy it would take to rip out the wood stove, pipes, fittings and fix the ceiling at this point.  We have no emotional attachment to the stove.  Our hundreds of plants will feed the local wildlife and a lot of hungry girl scouts that are coming Monday to take home a transplant since they helped create the garden in the first place!  We are not sad over these things any longer.  With the encroaching wind mills and the negativity here we are more than ready to head out on our next journey.  So let’s get back to the inspiration and hope part of this blog!  Yesterday we visited a lovely urban homestead that was so enchanting and complete that I am ready to get back into the city.  We were there taking a cob building class to make outdoor structures.  Doug and Chris will be creating a chicken coop, bread oven, and who knows what else!  Tomorrow I will take you through our class to learn to make cob.  But today I want to take you through the enchanted homestead of my friend, Niko and his wife, Brandi at Folkways Farm.  

IMG_1422

IMG_1498

It wasn’t very long ago that I wrote a blog post about Old Colorado City (which is a bike ride away from where we are going to live) and that is where we headed this fine evening.  I met Niko three years ago when Joel Salatin came to speak at a local farm.  He sat with me and Nancy and we talked all things homesteading, about his family, his work as a cobb builder, and we told him about our adventures in homesteading.  I later ran into him building a yurt with our friend when we went to visit the goat she bought from us, and then at the homesteading store, and then…well, you get the picture.  We were meant to meet.

His beautiful wife held their youngest daughter on her hip and spoke freely with the guests.  His middle daughter came up to me and took me with her on a tour of the “forest” where a silent cat lay secretly in the high weeds below trees.  They are easy people, barefoot, comfortable in their surroundings and self and I was instantly drawn to them.

They have created an oasis in town, a secret place of sustenance and wealth.  Herb gardens, Permaculture gardens of food, honey bees, goats, a shed-barn, and places to get lost and read or dream or be.  The plot of land is about the same size as the one we are moving to and I was so inspired and overwhelmed with ideas and joy.

IMG_1506

The cob structures look to be out of a fairy tale.  A sweet chicken coop stands off the back porch.  Another is a bit more elaborate and whimsical.  It is a chicken coop with a bread oven on the side.  One could start a fire in the cooking area to heat the coop on the coldest nights while making some delicious thin crust pizzas.  A door on the other side lets the chickens out to wander a closed in area that felt roomy and lush.  A towering apple tree above provided shade.

IMG_1504

IMG_1423

IMG_1503

IMG_1505

IMG_1403

IMG_1400

IMG_1398

IMG_1399

IMG_1392

IMG_1390

IMG_1397

IMG_1395

The greenhouse built in the back yard was a structure of fine art and skill, a transporting place out of the cold.  A place for tea and books in autumn and a place to grow starts in the spring.  All made from reclaimed windows, mesh, wood, straw, clay, sand, water, manure, and painted with beautiful slips.  Niko is an artist above being a builder.

IMG_1419

IMG_1406

IMG_1402

IMG_1410

IMG_1420

IMG_1415

IMG_1414

IMG_1412

IMG_1418

IMG_1417

IMG_1416

IMG_1421

One can meander from the front herb garden, past the vegetable gardens, visit the bees, duck under the apple tree, wade through weeds and medicinal herbs, follow a path past the goat yard, past bins of delicious compost, a pile of wood, the beautiful green house, wave to the chickens, pass the hemp plants growing tall for fiber, onto the back porch to sit a spell, and visit with the kind family that lives there.

IMG_1494

IMG_1502

IMG_1442

IMG_1429

IMG_1428

IMG_1439

IMG_1497

IMG_1479

IMG_1437

IMG_1404

IMG_1389

IMG_1411

IMG_1409

I spoke with Jillian at the end of the class.  She wanted to make sure that I considered our new venture to be our homestead. I asked what if we jumped forward fifty years and there we still were and her then much older daughter would mention to visitors that her crazy aunt lives in the back.  “That would be fine,” Jillian replied.

And so begins our urban farm adventure.

Winds of Change

IMG_1383

The warm wind blew around me foretelling a light rain to come.  The mosquitos lessened and took cover as I pulled bindweed and thistle.  I don’t know why I would be weeding a garden that I cannot harvest from but I looked down the other day and noticed my nails were clean.  The lines in my hands were free of earth.  I had to get back into the garden.  I pulled weeds and counted what was growing.  Rows and rows of crops are waving proudly in the prairie soil.  Plants growing heartily in the prairie without much amendment and among weeds and voles.  My goodness, I think I can say I have a green thumb now.  How easy it will be in the city.  I begin to cry.  The cows are lowing loudly to capture the attention of the males across the road and the owls sweep grandly from tree to tree and the wind carries on it the sweet smell of first cut hay drying in the sun.  The country holds a place in my heart that cannot be tethered.  But it is not meant to be for us now.

IMG_1384

There are great opportunities in the city as well.  Wonderful folks to meet and wilder animals coming through from the mountains.  Its own beautiful scenery and friends to be found.  And seeds.  I can always plant seeds.  A message from a friend and I now understand.  It is sometimes hard to step off and go with the wind in a new direction but there is always a reason and the Creator knows where we are going in this sliver of time.  We just have to hold on to the tailwind and be on our way.

IMG_1385

We Sold a Goat and Now We’re Out Drinking (a field trip)

old colorado

The light filters through the vibrant greens of trees in the park across the street through the large windows.  I sit in Jives Coffee Lounge in Old Colorado City admiring its black ceiling, wooden floors, amazing coffee (dark chocolate mocha with cinnamon, ginger, and paprika…died and went to coffee heaven), guitars in the corner, comfy lush chairs, sprites painted across the walls.  Youth reverberates through this neighborhood infusing it with spirit, hope, unlimited potential and dreams.  The rain lets up.  An older artist in painted smock walks down the sidewalk.  I suddenly long for canvas.  The library beckons from the corner and shops line the main corridor.  Festive twinkly lights outline yards and the urban homesteading scene is alive and thriving in this little pocket of Colorado Springs.  Goats are allowed, as are chickens, and clotheslines, and bicycles with baskets.  Bees, backyards, and life fill the West Side.  If I were to move to the city, this is where I’ll go.  But alas, they probably haven’t allowed sheep yet.

We finish our coffees, close our books, and get back in the truck to go get chicken feed.  A stop here and a stop there and we still don’t want to go home.  We head out to Bar Louie for a happy hour drink and a snack.

For a moment we are city people, sitting on bar stools, holding hands, watching the rain on the outdoor patios, imagining sun and summer.  Never have we been so late to plant.  I swirl the red wine in my glass as he tells me about a rule change in the NFL.  The waiter comes over and inquires whether we’ve come out for dinner.

“No,” I say, “We are farmers and this is supposed to be our busiest month.  But we can’t plant in all this rain so we sold a goat and now we’re out drinking.”

Silent pause.

“That sounds like a good story line.” he says.

(Elsa was picked up by five extremely thrilled homeschooled children and their mom to start her life in New Mexico yesterday.  Elsa never really liked it here once we moved.  She was used to being literally in the back yard and she just wasn’t getting all of the attention she had grown accustomed to.  She jumped in their mini-van and was off!)

Here’s to the sun coming out today!

Treasure Hunting and Magical Gardens

denver

The sidewalks stretched out across the landscape, endless walkways about the city.  Bits of glass glinted in the light.  The air smelled of beer and urine with a hint of marijuana outside the warehouses near the tracks.  We dropped our car off for repairs and began to walk towards the bustling south Broadway.  The familiarity of Denver streets and sidewalks made us reminiscent and oddly comfortable as if we had just put on a pair of comfortable old socks once again discovered.  The birds were singing, the trains and Lightrails were in full swing.  Hobos left their things by the road in borrowed grocery carts near restored small Victorians in the historic Baker district.  The houses were bunched together in an effort to fit more friends in and the yards were the size of my quaint kitchen, partially shaded.  We noted gardens and stopped at a large lot that had been converted into a community garden.  Each plot holding the personality of its occupant.  Creative trellises of t-posts and wire, lingering fingers of pumpkin vines slithering into walkways and a small child of perhaps three carrying a grocery bag whilst carefully placing tomatoes into it.  Her treasure held close to her chest.  Her blonde hair glistened in the morning sun as her mother removed weeds from the garden.

IMG_2690

We walked on towards the roar of traffic and the busy coffee shop that we were to meet my friend at.  I hadn’t seen Partha in at least seven years.  We had shared classes together in college and had quite a bit to catching up to do.  After a lovely visit Doug and I went to eat a Czech restaurant we had walked past.  We figured if we were gallivanting around the city we may as well try a new cuisine.  We sat on the patio but could not hear a word each other was saying for the massive decibel of the street.  We forgot how very noisy a city can be.

We continued on to the funky shops and specialty stores perusing books in old storefronts with massive stacks upon stacks and dusty corners.  A treasure hunt of sorts and I came away with several Beatrix Potter books to read to Maryjane.  Prized oil cloth was found at a fabric store.  A housewarming gift for Andrew and Megan at another charming store filled with glistening treasure-like tchotchkes and delights for the senses.  Five hours and several miles of walking went quickly by.  We had enjoyed our trip to Denver but we were ready for the comfort and rest of the country, our loud road in front of the house not so loud in our minds anymore.

IMG_2691

On our way back to the car shop we crisscrossed through the neighborhood and found unexpected minute pieces of farm.  A heavy laden plum in one scant front yard, herbs growing in the greenway by the street.  Yellow squash intermingled with large tufts of ornamental grass.  Pumpkins in corners and across sidewalks.  Wooden framed raised beds in the middle of a gravel parking lot near a warehouse.  Large leaves of chard and cabbage growing beautifully along with trellised green beans.  In front of a decrepit office building, quite near the tracks, surrounded by cement and street, in select sections tall stalks of corn waved proudly as if they were new forms of ornaments and at their base the beautiful pumpkins crowded out the unsightly ground and thrived, right there in the dusty, smelly city of cement.  Bits of farm making their way back to the urban field.  It was pleasing and exciting indeed to see the local gardening and food movement in unlikely places.  Seeds long to be planted.

IMG_2689