Posted in Entertaining

A Christmas Wine Tasting Party

On a cold winter’s eve, a group of friends gathered at my home, escaping the windy night, to celebrate the holiday with dinner, gifts, and to taste my new wines. Thank you to my friend, Annie, for taking photos!

The tree was decorated and all aglow, the twinkly lights and candles were lit and cast a lovely glow. Food was set out all around so that guests would mingle; latkes, cheese balls, olives, pickles, shrimp cocktail, smoked salmon, chips and dip, limocello cheese cake, and ginger bread.

We created a game that we have done at every party. Guests pair up with someone they don’t know and answer the questions. The questions are based on the origin of our animal’s names. There is always laughter during this trivia game! (You can answer the questions at the end of this article!)

The Chardonnay was everything I wanted to be. It was a very small batch. Caramel apples and light pineapple in every taste of this delicious wine. I was so pleased.

My Merlot was a hit. Sumptuous, with aromas of cranberries and flavors of mulberries and cedar; currants and complexity linger on the palate. We toasted to friends and the new year.

Everyone brought a ten dollar gift to exchange. Numbers were drawn and everyone went home with a wonderful present.

I let each guest have a barrel taste of my new Nebbiolo. It is still sweet with juice but the flavors are coming together beautifully and I think it will be a very fine wine indeed.

Keeping in mind what is really important, gather those you love near, introduce new friends, and gather memories dear.

Ice Breaker:

  • What are our cats, Chuck and Linus, named after?
  • What movie is our cat, Mr. Boogedy Boo, named after?
  • What movie/books does our dog, Gandalf’s name come from?
  • What movie/book do our goats’ names come from? Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones?
  • The sheep we are getting in a few weeks will be named Ebenezer and Fezziwig, where does that come from?
  • Our kittens are named Taos and Socorro- what do those have in common?
  • Our ducks are named Serrano, Sandia, and Big Jim- what do those have in common?
  • Tie breakers- A past cat we had was named Zuzu’s Petals and a greyhound we had was named Bumble; what movies are those names from?
Posted in Holidays

Christmas Cards and Gift Tags

If this year has taught us anything, it is that we need to get back to basics! In my mind, this doesn’t just include stocking up on toilet paper and canned goods, but old fashioned ways of communicating and focusing on a stronger familial community. Social media doesn’t cut it for keeping people close. We don’t need 552 friends. Technology is changing our lives. It makes me sad that so many things may go by the wayside. That my granddaughters may not know the fun of a date to a movie theater, the smells of popcorn filling the air when they walk in. The joy of walking down an old main street shopping in small mom-and-pop stores. The sweetness of receiving a Christmas card! It is not too late for us to save many things that make life nicer.

A Christmas card is such a lovely gesture. One reserved for those we are thinking of, those we want to send a hello and a blessing to. Well, you know me, I joke that I came straight from 1882. I am an old fashioned gal and I do love to receive letters and Christmas cards and get and make phone calls. Sometimes I get too busy, and I am going to do differently and be more proactive at telephoning and writing those I care about.

When I was little, we would receive a lot of Christmas cards, my grandparents did too, and they had a clever way of recycling them. The cards were packed up with all the Christmas bobbles and memories and then brought out the next year. I do the same. Tear off the front of the card and use it as a tag on a beautifully wrapped present. The added bonus is re-reading the cards from last year! The cards get a second life and bring joy twice.

Taos Mouse, my Siamese, loves Christmas and finds any excuse to chatter, help wrap presents or jump in the Christmas tree!

Cards received here get fewer and fewer but I love to read them, re-read them, then affix them to gifts for loved ones. I still send out lots of cards and I will continue to do so. Christmas is special in that it allows us to make people feel important. Gifts and cards, phone calls and hugs all let folks know they have been seen and they are loved.

Happy Holidays to you all!

Should you like to drop me a card or a New Year’s missive, I would love to write you back!

Mrs. Katie Sanders

790 9th Street

Penrose, CO 81240

Posted in Holidays

The Reason for the Season

There are four holidays celebrated during the month of December. They are all culturally important, and in the end, they represent the very same concepts, and give rise for celebration and unity.

Kwanzaa begins December 26th and is the newest holiday, created in 1966 to unite African Americans. Having a small amount of Sudan descent, I am intrigued by this holiday. Being fascinated by the world makes me interested in all celebrations. Kwanzaa focuses on seven principals, each being thought of each day as a candle is lit. Unity, Self Determination (self strength), Collective work and responsibility, Cooperative economics (supporting each other’s businesses), Purpose, Creativity, and Faith in each other. Candles, food, family, community, gift giving (generosity), and hope is the basis of Kwanzaa.

Beloved Christmas was created to overshadow the pagan holiday, Yule. Who doesn’t love the twinkly lights, the music, gift giving, family, candles, greenery, and the childlike wonder that comes with the season? It is my favorite time of year. Kindness, hope, and faith fill the moments of the season.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

Hanukkah is a celebration of light and hope. When the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, the eternal light within only had enough oil for one day. People were sent out to retrieve more oil. It took them eight days to get back, but the light had stayed lit. For this miracle, Hanukkah is referred to as the Festival of Lights. It is actually a minor holiday but was given more focus because of Christmas. Gift giving and lighting the menorah are a part of this holiday. Family and togetherness are the focus.

Yule is the original celebration- the Solstice- and is celebrated from December 21st until January 1st. The festival came about because the holly king (who looks a lot like Santa) is defeated by the Oak King, and the sun is born. In times of old, the cold and darkest time of the year was one of concern, and it looked like the sun stayed the same for twelve days. The Yule log was burned for twelve days in hopes of pleasing the sun god so that it would return. The oak king is also known as the green man, the face of crops, greenery, and life.

All of the celebrations this month have some very important aspects to them, and that is what we can focus on this time of year. There is no need to “try to get in the spirit”, the spirit is within you.

  • Family
  • Community
  • Generosity
  • Hope
  • Joy
  • Nature
  • Light
  • The promise of a bright new year.
Posted in Our Family

A Magical December Day

‘Twas all very strange, really. Something out of a sci-fi movie, perhaps. A thin Santa Claus wearing a mask, shielding half of his face, sitting behind a sheet of plexiglass. All the children in line did not think much about it. We took photos in front of the ho ho ho’ing Santa behind glass.

My granddaughters looked adorable. Beautiful in their holiday attire and excitement to see Santa. Intoxicated by a day with their mama, auntie, and Grammie. We then all sat down and took a group shot with our beloved Santa. The spell was broken when my two year old, Ayla, peeked behind the glass, looked at Santa seriously, and stated, “Bike!” Then gave him her bright, elfish smile. May children always teach us to find magic in the strange and mundane.

We five girls then went to find a place to have lunch but found that indoor eating had been banned. Among shuttered restaurants, we finally found a place open for take out and picnicked in the back of my truck. In the middle of a parking lot, our faces to the sun, we sat in the truck bed dining on crisp salads and chattering non-stop in our way. Dancing and laughing and eating and sunning on a beautiful, magical December day together.

This year may have frustrated me, angered me, confused me, but it has also clarified and prioritized. My close family unit of friends and children has only strengthened. We have spent many precious moments together this year. My home is my sanctuary. My husband and I have spent more blessed time together. I have enjoyed new experiences, met new people, and found solace in books by the fire. This year has amplified emotions to their peak and settled them into joy, gratitude, and empathy. It has showed us glimpses of simplifying and true family and the greatness of living.

I will oft think of the sun shining down warm on the faces of the daughters and granddaughters that hold my heart and the simple and powerful memory of a picnic in a truck bed. May we all notice the magic that surrounds us during this season of hope.

Posted in Farming

A Greenhouse Raising

We have been here a year. I can hardly believe how time flies! My granddaughter and I found an earth worm in the potato patch, a sure sign that our sand and shale desert soil farmed in a sustainable, no-till fashion- in just one season- is becoming an oasis. Now this land needs a greenhouse.

Doug removed all the cactus from the area we decided on.

A greenhouse could extend the season a few weeks. I am working on a system to naturally heat it so that we can start spring crops earlier. In all my houses before, there has been a nice sunny south window to start seedlings in, but the overhang is such here that sun rarely cascades in one place for very long. Then late in autumn, the tomatoes will have a few more weeks to ripen. Oh yes, a greenhouse is needed.

Choosing a place for the greenhouse. We needed a place that was easily accessible by the hose, level ground, and a place that wouldn’t block our view of the mountains.

We talked about building one from scratch, and we probably could have despite not being particularly handy or with excess funds…but we didn’t need to. Our neighbor has a friend, who has a partially put together greenhouse, do we want it?

Look on Craigslist or Facebook marketplace for greenhouses. A lot of people get them and then just don’t use them. Look for materials on those same sites. I am sure there are other sites that are good as well. You can put together a greenhouse for cheap. In some cases, free!

Put in a few phone calls and see if you can’t get a crew together to help you. Much like an Amish barn raising, I put out the word, and we got help. Then, of course, we will be available in their time of need down the road. Community is the best part of homesteading.

We walked the property looking for the best place to put it. Somewhere close to water, a place that is level ground, and a place that wouldn’t block my magnificent view of the mountains. (I regretted my placement of the little barn.)

Our neighbors, Carolyn and Rod, hooked up their trailer. My cousins met us there, along with our farm interns, Annie and Rex, and Annie’s boyfriend, Cole. We had a lively crew, happily moving the 10×12 greenhouse.

The young people quickly took the initiative and had the greenhouse finished and put together. The inside of the greenhouse is bolted to railroad ties so that the greenhouse won’t end up in Carolyn’s yard come first wind storm.

I am so grateful to my family and friends for helping this greenhouse manifest here. It is beautiful next to the kitchen gardens. I can just see the raised beds now, maybe a tea table, its warmth creating seedlings and life and food.

Posted in inspiration

Seasons of Vineyards and Life

Memories rise to the surface as I swirl my glass. Cascades of great times trickle forth. I can still hear their voices above the murmur of reality. I can hear Steve’s laughter above clinking glasses and conversation. Above the too-loud opera and our off-key singing in his living room or ours. In restaurants gathered with great food and wine. Skipping arm and arm to the wine bar we loved so. The one we took our sommelier classes together at. Discussions with the owners of the upscale place where we gathered weekly with other wine lovers over dinners with renowned wine makers from around the country. Tears accompanied by tapas and wine at a nearby wine bar where Steve and I whispered our deepest traumas and biggest dreams.

I remember his smile and sweet demeanor as he picked up my three rebelling teenagers and took them to see how coffee was roasted. To the park to run around and talk openly. Off to make pottery. How he tried to show them how important they were. Steve looked every server in the eye. “I appreciate you.” he would say in a low, meaningful tone. Everyone he encountered. He just wanted to speak life to them. To show them their sheer importance just being here.

Then came our sweet Lisa. Pixie blond and petite. A wine lover as well and off to elope and California they flew. They reveled in discovering their spirituality, and learning, adventuring, studying, being, loving each other fiercely. Driving Doug and I up the coast to eat great seafood and visit dozens of vineyards. Nights of discussions and joy.

The cancer caught up to Lisa. How she ran from it. Eight years of joyful and full life after diagnoses. And into the night she went. How Steve wept. He took his own life. A year ago this month. Two years ago she left. Four years since our last visit. Oh, how time flies without us knowing.

I swirl the garnet liquid and think of my friends as I turn up Andrea Bocelli and whisper to them through the veil. Beautiful memories. Beautiful people.

I often wonder why I am so fascinated by wine. I am not a particularly big drinker. I don’t stay out late enough to be an employed sommelier. But there is something about the chatter of leaves in autumn through the grapevines and rows of gold. Something about the fruit hanging voluptuously and sweet from vines. The hope in a sprouting vine in spring and the serenity of winter snows atop skeletal vines. Drinking the labor and gifts of the vineyard. Each decision of the vintner adds to the flavor of the wine. Every element of weather changes the taste. A wildfire will impart its smoke on a chardonnay nearby. The late frost will leave a year without. And some years will be so glorious that feasting and hard work will fill the days and nights.

I took my farm interns (now friends) with me to a local winery for crush. Our late freeze here in the valley left us all without fruit. Just beyond the mountain, near where the wildfires burn, is an oasis of Colorado wine country not known by many. The owners of Legatum purchased half a ton of gorgeous white grapes, La Crescent. We met them at the winery to help.

Five gallon buckets were filled with grapes from the container that filled Cindy and Rich’s truck bed. Into the destemmer they went as two others transferred the thick pulp and sugary sweet juice to the press. Everyone moving in tandem to keep the process moving. 200 liters of honeydew colored juice filled a tank and the process of PH and yeast began to create a luscious moscato-style wine.

I feel such joy and peace standing between rows. I feel life and giddiness. An unexplained spark. Thick red grapes pouring out of the destemmer. The aroma of malolactic fermentation. Wine is not just about preserving a fruit. It is not just about creating a drink. Wine amplifies life and family. Feasting and celebration. A combination of earth and spirit, the hope of spring, the pride of harvest. The seasons of the vineyard following the seasons of our life. Igniting my spirit. I raise my glass to Lisa and Steve. Sip for them. And pursue my dreams because I am alive.

Posted in Homestead

The Amish, Pioneers, and the New Homesteader

Ruth and Joel’s house was cozy and warm. The sun shone through the large windows looking out on the cold mountains just yonder, the wood stove stood guard against the chill, in front of a wood cabin wall. Their children played with simple toys and brought me books to read them. Ruth had sewing waiting for her- a task she dislikes despite her very fancy sewing machine plugged into the outlet that is supplied by propane. She brought us out sweet rolls and a drink. We talked of her husband’s job, canning, her makeshift root cellar under the house, and about the animals. It was really no different- to my surprise- than if you visited my farm some January morn. Except that her husband rode his bike or hitched up the horses to go to work, whereas my husband starts the Fiat, which is much smaller than Joel’s buggy.

Ruth and Joel are Amish. We have a small community not far from here and a good number of Mennonites as well. Tourists snap photos of their buggies and horses and sweet caps and darling children.

I, myself, was rather fascinated by the Amish. The simplicity. The family focus. The back-to-earth lifestyle of gardening, chopping wood, living off grid, and staying away from the chaos and destruction of social media and television. Living on faith and hard work and enjoying the slow, simple life of a happily busy existence is something most people these days are searching for, which just adds to our fascination of people brave enough to live that way.

The Amish didn’t create anything new. The pioneers lived that way out of necessity. The indigenous cultures of each country lived that way at one time. Some still do. The back-to-land dreamers of the 1970’s saw the benefits. There are men and women who quietly live this way today.

People choose to live a homestead life for many reasons: food security, and health, to live closer to the earth (therefore feel closer to the Creator), and to walk softer on the planet. The focus is on simple life requirements such as: growing food, saving water, raising animals, being close to family, having faith, and providing basic necessities for oneself, like heat, medicine, clothes, and other handmade items.

It starts with the buying of a few cute oil lamps at the antique store. Next thing you know, you’re weaving scarves and sewing quilts and making baskets. Soap, body products, cleaning products can easily be made. Then you are cooking on a wood stove and have your crocheting nearby. Instead of fine art, you display five hundred stained glass-looking, sparkling jars of food. Researching rain barrels and organic methods to gardening and increasing the size of the tomato rows is next. Then you are making mead, inviting friends over for farm suppers in front of a bonfire, or getting the instruments out to strum some music for the ducks while watching the sun set neatly behind the mountains, splaying splashes of vibrant summer colors across the clouds that you pray rain will come from.

It is a good life, and every year we strive to become more and more self reliant while still immersing ourselves in our community. The reasons that people do not choose to homestead are things like: no time (didn’t you just post that you binge watched something like eighteen hours of some ridiculous show?), no skills (no time like the present to learn! There are lots of great books in the library or you can order mine here!), too hard (you can reverse ailments and get super healthy farming), and then there is the age old don’t-want-to-give-up-anything. Just remember, that big house, green lawn, fancy electric appliances, gas guzzling multiple cars, credit card bills, manicures, hair dye, and restaurants all have to be worked for. They cost hours of your life. I’m not saying those are bad things, but if we want a life of peace, then we must choose what we want to spend our life working for. If homesteading is on your list, this is a great time to get started.

Posted in Our Family

Time at Home

The governor issued a Stay at Home order until April 11th. I was livid. I was supposed to go see my granddaughters this weekend. We have three birthdays coming up (including mine). We have celebrations and a life to live. And now we can live it in the living room alone. I was mad. In 2009, the swine flu took 10% of its victims. I was preparing medicine for many who had it while they waited in my home- I without fear- because social media was still new and we didn’t have the mass panic and election year, so it didn’t garner all this nonsensical attention. Covid-19 isn’t going anywhere, and the longer it takes for us to face it, the longer it will take for us to gain immunity and the longer it will take people to get back to work. Because, you know, the landlords aren’t closed. (Imagine me storming around the kitchen seething.) Anyways, it wasn’t my prettiest moment of depression, and of course, out of the blue, two of my best friends called me back to back, because we are all connected, quarantine or not.

Deep breath.

“Everyone has a different perspective,” Tina said, “For some, like you, this seems crazy, but to someone else, they might finally be able to breathe.” People are able to step out of society as it is and take a break and restore in the comfort of their homes.

This too shall pass.

I think of my great-grandparents during the depression and compare it to today with empty grocery store shelves and job losses every minute. But hopefully we can recover more quickly. This isn’t the end of the world. I know people are scared. I know the media is having a great time. I know that viruses will always come to steal the breath of our loved ones for as long as we are on this planet. What I need to know is how to cope right now. The laundry stares at me, goat poop laden towels, dishes and dust and dirty floors. I like my little breaks from being a housewife, but here we are, 24-7. I need a new perspective. Perspective changes everything.

My husband is working from home. We joke about traffic in the hall and the two crazy drivers (the kittens) that might cut you off. I don’t have to pack his lunch. We get to have lunch together each day and his commute is thirty seconds.

The gorgeous spring blue sky stretches over the globe of western prairie and crests over the mountains that surround my little farm and I can breathe here. I can hoe some rows, run with goats, look for eggs, play with the dog, water the garden.

I can curl up on the couch and caress the soft fur of a cat while reading one of the many books I snagged from the library right before they closed down. I can listen to records or bake a pie. Or do nothing at all. (Which of course just makes me more antsy.)

I can talk to loved ones on the phone. I can write letters. I can catch up with people that I care about. And those that love me will catch up with me too. There are an awful lot of “friends” on social media, but this quarantine time will show us our true family.

I will have time to pray and write and think and organize or nap and bottle feed goats. I will have time with my husband. I will have time.

Vanessa called right after Tina. She was sitting on the porch with her children listening to the owls hooting in the trees and enjoying the warm spring evening at sunset. The natural world goes on.

And in the end, we will all remember this year and we will all have extra toilet paper on hand. The seed companies will be bustling with orders. And we will appreciate all the more coffee with friends, hugs from children and grandchildren, and freedom.

In the meantime, stay well out there. What are you all doing during this time at home? Please comment!

Posted in Our Family

The Old Jar of Rhubarb

It is magical how something simple can transport us to another time, amongst people we love, to memories…so often bittersweet. Suddenly and without warning, I found myself in Great Aunt Donna’s garden. I could see her jutting along with clippers and bags. I could see her deftly slicing the tops off the rhubarb stalks with a paring knife. Her light hair curled and in place, her squints of joy through her glasses, her smile because we were there.

I took another bite and felt the sunshine of a spring day cusping into summer, the smell of damp soil, as I walked towards her garden.

The jar has sat on my pantry shelf for the past five years. It was time to eat it. The rouge of the stalks had disappeared and the sliced vegetable had turned a blue-green color. The pieces looked nothing like they began and were soggy and sad. Aunt Donna had told me after I canned all those jars of rhubarb how to freeze future harvests. 6 cups of sliced rhubarb, 2 cups of sugar in a freezer bag. They scarcely lasted the year.

Yet, those original jars of rhubarb still moped on the shelf and I decided on a whim to drain a jar and make a rhubarb crisp. I sliced some frozen strawberries and blended it with the soft rhubarb, stickily sweet from all those years in sugar syrup. I needn’t add more. I stirred in a bit of flour. Topped the whole thing with oats, chopped Brazil nuts, freshly crushed cardamom, brown sugar, crumbled together with coconut oil. I baked it. It smelled divine. I poured my coffee and took a bite.

My daughter, Emily, granddaughter, Maryjane, Grandma, me, Aunt Donna

Suddenly and without warning, I am gathering up giant leaves of rhubarb and placing them into the compost bin laughing. I always loved Aunt Donna’s garden. She showed me tricks to composting, to growing, to harvesting. She introduced me to Jerusalem Artichokes and she let me harvest her wild medicines, though she doubted they were medicines at all. She would call me on the phone and say, “The rhubarb (or grapes, or apples, or…) are ready, you better come get them!” She waited for us to drive to Denver to her house on a busy corner and take what we liked before she let others come. I was always mindful and left plenty.

Rhubarb season is still a few months away. Great Aunt Donna’s rhubarb is no longer there. Neither is she. But if I close my eyes and take another bite of this rhubarb crisp, I shall be by her side once more, slicing rhubarb, and enjoying the sunny spring day. And there is one more jar on the shelf.