On the Verge of Spring at Pumpkin Hollow Farm (an enchanted life)

Petunia is still rather plump, even after having babies last autumn.  She is very fluffy and so cute I wish she would come in the house to live, but of course squirrels don’t typically enjoy living in the house.  She sits next to me on the porch as I eat my lunch on warm days.  I just watched her from the picture window jump from limb to limb.  I need to put more bird seed and peanuts out.  The Blue Jays are making such a racket.  They do despise when I am late.

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Hundreds of lovely, chirping sparrows reside here.  As do many doves and starlings.  Crows fly over.  Owls can be heard in the night.  Hawks stop to rest.  Sea gulls and geese fly over towards the lake.  A third of an acre in the city sure can be a wild life haven.  I love it here.

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The chickens from the factory farm that we rescued are plump and quite loud.  They run towards me bow legged and squat, hollering like miniature geese.  They love to eat and are firmly against being on a diet.  “We are not broilers here, Dears,” I remind them, “You do not need to get so fat!”  Dixie is still tiny.  My granddaughter renamed the infant rooster, Bob.

I am fervently manifesting and saving for a greenhouse.  The ducks come April 20th.

My classes are chosen for the autumn session of college.

I am quite sore from teaching dance last night.  I am teaching two herbalist classes.  Just keeping busy until I can be in my gardens full time!

I leave in three weeks for ten days in Arizona and New Mexico for my birthday.  Such wonderful blog posts I will write!

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The seedlings are doing well.  The ground is softening.  I am teaching a gardening class Sunday to plant potatoes that have taken over the cupboard.

My friends are here visiting for the weekend.  I have so many dear friends.  I am so lucky.

Such a slow, lovely, blessed, ordinary, extraordinary life I lead.  And that, my friends, is what is going on at Pumpkin Hollow Farm on the verge of Ostara and the equinox.  Spring is next week!  Here it is quietly arriving.

What is happening on your homestead this week?  I am honestly interested!

Decorating With Notes of Spring

The air has a slightly different feel to it.  A different scent.  The cold is still there.  I bundle up as I go out to do chores.  But there is a tinge of something else upon the morning breath.  Life.  Spring.  By all indications, it is still the dead of winter, but I sense it.  I sense the pulse of the earth strengthening and the awakening of the plant world beneath it all.  Spring is coming.

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Pick up miniature roses from the grocery store.  Water once a week.  They will live until you can transplant them outdoors.  I had miniature roses grow three feet high in the garden before!

My home is still in the dead of winter.  Warm blankets caress chairs and the furnace is on.  The sun shines like a spotlight through the closed windows, still low in the sky.  My spirit falls more easily into stress and I long to be in the garden.  To be outside with a book without wind chill.  What to do?  The only thing I can do is to introduce notes of spring into the house.

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Plants always infuse spring and life into a place.  These are the babies from my very large aloe.  Last week I transplanted them into a new pot.  Its wide berth lets them spill out and catch the sun, giving a warm desert feel to this corner.  The cheap pots at Walmart are usually my go-to.  I love their cheery celadon, rouge, and artist blue colors, but sometimes it is nice to get a special pot that reminds you of something you love.  In this case, the land of the southwest where my heart and inspiration dance.

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It still gets dark out early so candles are still throughout the house.  These Catholic prayer candles sans saints are perfect and long lasting.  I used an old Coca-Cola crate to hold them.

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Found bird nests and unique pieces of wood and stone are set carefully around the house to bring nature in.

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My Farmhouse sign (bought at Cracker Barrel of all places!) doesn’t have a place on the wall right now because I have all my own bright paintings up but it seems cheery on the floor against the wall amongst the geraniums and other plants.

I seem to collect things with bicycles on them.  Bicycles with baskets.  I love the idea of them.  I love the freedom of them.  The perk of being in the city.  The promise of warm breezes and exercise and French bread in the basket picked up from the bakery or fresh flowers.  I have coffee cups with bicycles with baskets that say things like “Do More of What Makes You Happy.”  My daughter, Shyanne, gave me a small bicycle statue.  So Doug gave me a bike for my birthday last year.  With a basket.  I only rode it a few times before the tires were inundated with goat heads.  But a kind friend came over three different times to fix my tires, fill them with fix a flat, put on my basket and other accouterments (a bell included!) and I am ready to take off on the first nice day without Nordic winds.  The bike had a place on the porch but I brought it in.  It adds notes of spring and whimsy to my living room.

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Lastly, I picked up a snazzy pair of bright galoshes.  Oh, spring, I hope to see you soon!

 

The Beloved Family

There is a very large photograph in Aunt Donna’s basement of her as a young woman, dark hair, slim figure, standing primly in a beauty pageant.  Her forties hair swirled perfectly and her lovely face and smile… my Shyanne looks very much like her.

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Aunt Donna is my grandma’s sister.  I say ‘is’ even though she passed away on Halloween.  She is mentioned throughout this blog many times as my gardening guru, my insight to family history and spirituality, and my friend.  At eighty-nine years old, she left behind a family that she had helped keep together over decades.  The matriarch.  I shall miss visiting her.  I shall miss her home.  I shall miss asking things like, “What do I do with Jerusalem artichokes?” after a day of harvesting sumac and Oregon grape root, or apples, or grapes or Jerusalem artichokes.

Family is beloved.

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My own beautiful family. (From left: Reed, Emily, me, Maryjane, Doug, Andrew, Bree, Shyanne, Jacob)

Family looks differently to different folks, indeed, but a family is a family.  Even though the actual definition is of blood and descent, I feel the dictionary ought to update.  I was born into a very large family.  As I grow older in the line, the family line changes and we all take different places.  My grandmother is now the matriarch.  There are many pieces missing in between, either from death or distance or apathy, they move away or fall apart or come closer and evolve.

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Maryjane’s beloved Aunt Pat (my dear friend)

My granddaughter, Maryjane, knew Aunt Donna.  She knows my grandparents on one side.  She also called my friend, Kat, grandma and calls Rod, grandpa.  She calls my great friends, Auntie and Uncle.  The harsh lines of lineage change and soften.  Maryjane’s Pa adopted all my children when they were very small.  There is no question that he is their father and his entire side of the family can be found penned into Ancestry.com as such.  My lovely, dark skinned sister and brother are as much my brother and sister as my blond brother and sister.

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Four of the five of us. (From left: Patrick, Vanessa, Joel, me)

And to Maryjane there is no difference between anyone.  If they are in our lives, they are family.  Community and family and friends intertwine and become stronger.  Find those that bring you joy and choose to spend time with them.  Call once a week, pen a note and send it off.  Be there.  Be present.  Be kind.  Be thankful.  Because family, made up of the kindest and those that love us, is beloved.

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My world.

Putting the Garden to Bed (compost, adding new beds, bulbs, and there’s no place like home)

Gardening need not be expensive nor incredibly difficult.  By necessity I have come up with ways to make widespread, prolific gardens quickly and easy on the homestead pocket.

The first thing that is imperative to a great garden is compost.  Compost is one of those things that still baffles folks a little.  You do not need a fancy, turning contraption to make compost.  Doug screwed together five pallets to make two open spaces and it is tucked into a far corner of the yard.

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The chicken coop certainly adds to it.  In the fall the chicken bedding gets changed and the soiled straw goes into compartment one.  For six months I add leaves, coffee grounds, lint from the dryer, food the chickens don’t like, and it builds up.  Repeat in the spring, only use compartment 2.  Put on the garden beds what you began six months ago and do this in the spring and fall.  I do not turn the compost or water it or do anything to it really.  It just does it’s thing.  If it smells, add dry material like straw or newspaper or leaves.  If it is not decomposing at all, add more wet items like food scraps or grass.  Let the chickens play in it, they scratch it up nicely.

Time to clean out the garden beds.  I let the plants go to seed.  Next year Mother Earth will grow dill, basil, carrots, spinach, arugula, and many other plants for me.  Everything is pretty well frozen and quite deceased so out they go and into the compost.  Perennials and winter greens stay put.

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Add a layer of compost.  Then a layer of warm straw.  Not thick enough to suppress weeds (because the water won’t get in) but enough to keep the soil cozy.

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When we first moved in.

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Now

I have a third of an acre here and I am only gardening a quarter of it.  But, we haven’t even been in this house two years; the changes in this property over that time have been impressive.  As always, I want more garden beds!

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These easy beds create abundant crops and very few weeds!

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This is my own design; a very easy gardening bed that combines many great techniques.  Lay out cardboard where you want your bed.  No need to rototill or disturb the beneficial guys underground.  Ring with wood you have on hand, rocks, bricks, anything really, use your imagination!  Then top with a 2 inches of thick straw.  You can add your compost and soil now or wait until spring.

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I am adding a bed that runs alongside the other one and putting an arbor over them.  Next year I will grow pumpkins over them (and will try to outsmart the squash bugs).  It will create an enchanted walk through that leads to the house or the gardens while freeing up space in the garden.  Pumpkin Hollow Farm is moving up!

Plant tulip and daffodil bulbs and lots of garlic cloves.

Everything looks great!  The garden is put to bed, the new spring beds are ready for next year, and the perennials are snug in straw.  Bulbs are planted, muscles are tired, and the farmer is happy.

All this wondering what to do now that I don’t have my businesses.  Should I go to school?  Should I get a job outside my writing?  Should I…?  And as I spent the day hauling compost, designing beds, standing in the next herb garden, dreaming, being present, working hard, I realized that this is what I want to do.  This is where my heart is happy.  At home.  Creating home.

The Humble Housewife

My mother was a housewife.  It was easier and more affordable for her to stay home with all of us kids.  We started caring for foster babies when I was young so there were no less than five of us at any given time.  The home was her domain and everything was tidy and clean and healthy supper was on the table nearly every night.  In the evenings she and my dad would often escape together to go get a Coke and take a drive with the portable cassette player singing tunes sans children.  I always assumed she would get a job when we all moved out.  But she didn’t.  It took awhile for me to realize, she has a job.  And even though my dad is retired, she still has the job. She is a full-time homemaker.

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Women are brilliant nurturers, mothers, and just asking one’s husband to get something that is clearly right in front of him in the cupboard but he can’t find it is proof that the home is our domain.  Men are our warriors, our providers, our heavy lifters.  There are exceptions, of course, but homesteading on a prairie practically off-grid taught me that our roles are not to “put us in our place” or “keep us in the kitchen,” they were (are) practical ways for survival.  Yes, we can all switch roles, but it took Doug a quarter of the time to chop wood, move hay, or fix something.  And if he goes to clean something, put something away, or heaven forbid, sew something, odds are I am going to have to do it again so we just stuck to our roles!  Men innately take pride in providing for the family.  Women in the past always took care of the children, took care of the home, took pride in their work, and would often make a little extra money for the household by selling hand crafted items.

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We have noticed over the years of raising children, and even as empty nesters, that when I have a job we spend more money.  At that point, I don’t have time to clean the house so we hire a house cleaner.  I don’t have the energy to cook so we go out.  I need a break so we go do something.  We spend a lot of money and eat terribly.

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I always stayed home or had my own business that I could take my kids to when they were growing up, but what about now?  I think about the judgment I passed on my mother in my late teens for staying home and making dad “do all the work.”  Is that how society will view me?  Now that my businesses have closed we have been talking about me being a homemaker.  We are modern homesteaders in the city.  We preserve as much food as possible.  We have chickens.  I crochet and quilt and sew.  We use a wood stove in the evenings.  I write books and this blog and I do get some small royalties.  I teach a few classes in my home and I am an herbalist.  Can I give myself permission to be a homemaker too?

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We purposely chose a city where our mortgage payment can easily be covered by one person.  We don’t have fancy cell phone plans or cable.  We have designed a life where I can be a housewife, which is where I am happiest.  I love nurturing, folding warm clothes, having a hot meal ready when my husband gets home from work, having the errands done so we can relax together on the weekends, hand making Christmas presents, caring for my animals, and being there when my grown children and grandbabies need me.  It is the hardest job I can think of but it suits my busy, independent nature just fine.  Yes, I think I will thrive here.

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If we give ourselves the option to be anything and to do anything, let us also give ourselves the right to be homemakers.  May we all give more respect and honor to the housewives, the homemakers, the stay-at-home Mamas, and the stay-at-home Grammies in our society for they keep the heart of the family and home beating strong.

 

 

Footprints ‘Cross the Floor (the fallacy of the clean farmhouse)

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Now I said it with my mom voice.  You know the mom voice?  Even if the kids grow up and move out the voice still finds its way around.

“No shoes in the house!” I says.  Best mom voice.

No…(pause)…shoes in the…(pause)…house pleease!

Now I am married to an independent man but one that likes (wisely) to keep mama happy.  He comes in from work- tired and hungry- and takes off his shoes first thing.  He stashes them below the sofa so the puppy doesn’t play with them.  He puts on his bedroom slippers.

And then!  Later he walks out the back door in his slippers, through the chicken yard, into the chicken coop, gathers eggs, and comes back in tracking chicken straw, mud, and myriads of stickers, his big, doofy pup following with large paw prints ‘cross the cleanish kitchen floor.

Well, they ain’t shoes, I guess.

Now Folks, the idea of the perfectly clean house is a fallacy designed by gents in suits selling the finest cleaners and somehow it stuck.  Only the very bored and those that have lost a hobby or two have a perfectly clean house, in my mind.

There is clutter, and dishes, and overnight guests, and animals galore, and laughter, and spilt wine, and a dog on the sofa.  The dust falls like fairy dust and the home is cozy and fine as it should be.

So, y’all, I look at them two traipsing across the kitchen floor that was clean for five minutes.  Pa hands over the eggs and the hundred pound puppy drools on the floor, both waiting for mama to smile.

And my heart swells, and I do, because that’s what brooms are for, and puppies, and husbands, and kids, and guests were always more important than footprints ‘cross the floor.

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Geraniums Mean Home. Geraniums Mean Love.

JpegThe memory of walking up the steps to my great-grandmother’s bungalow as a young girl is still vivid to me now.  Every summer the wide, cement porch railing would be filled with geraniums.  The lush greenery topped with clusters of brightly colored flowers waved in the warm air.  Geraniums mean welcome to me.

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I have a dream of going to Italy.  One day.  One day.  In all of the pictures I see of Italy, there they are.  The trailing, fiery red blooms hugging ancient stones and leading the way to the cucina door.  Geraniums.  Geraniums mean home to me.

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I gathered them at the farmer’s market years ago.  These are maybe five years old.  They have grown and become enormous specimens.  They have followed us on our adventures and hog the south window.  They wait for late spring like I do to be set back out on the porch.  Geraniums mean sit a spell and relax to me.

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Today is our wedding anniversary.  I heard him sneak out of the house at 4:00 am.  Past the geraniums that were still asleep, but I was not.  He drove all over town looking for a place that was open so he could bring me flowers before heading to work at five.  He says I have made this house a home.  Our forever home. I have filled it with flowers and unusual plants.  Poinsettias bloom red in the windows.  Towering aloes and tiny bamboo.  I want to make this house a home to him because he has made it home for me.

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As he approaches the door after a day of work and passes the pots of geraniums I hope they speak of home.  When guests arrive and marvel at their display of bright pinks and romantic reds, I hope they feel welcome.  One day we will travel to Italy and see the geraniums and think of ours at home.  We shall sit on the porch and count our blessings, sweet tea in hand, and watch as the geraniums reach for the sun and glimmer in the summer day.  And when I am passed, I hope the sight of geraniums reminds my grandchildren of climbing the steps to a place they were loved.  Geraniums mean love.

 

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!

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.

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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.

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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?

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$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.

 

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Homestead Gardens and Winter Rest

20180103_073048The first seed catalogue arrived in the mail the other day.  My four year old granddaughter, Maryjane, took a sharpie and circled everything we need to order.  Instead of toys, she circles plants in seed catalogues.  She is one of us.

It is impossible, I believe, for a homesteader to not think of the garden at all times of the year.  I am creating a new space, roughly 500 square feet of ground.  A square, fenced in, next to the chicken coop, three feet from the porch turned greenhouse we are planning, and ten feet from the compost.  I dream of the colorful rows of fresh produce, the front yard of fruit trees and medicinal herbs, the patches of volunteer vegetables and wild foods.  But, these gardens, of course, cost money.  Fencing, glass, extra compost, and seeds do not come cheap.  I know it will all come together wonderfully and before I know it, I will be sitting here next year pondering the next season’s garden!

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I do love January, even if it is not my favorite month in the least.  It makes me rest.  We homesteaders aren’t much for rest.  We are a lot less anxious with our hands dirty, faces in the sun, planning, harvesting, moving.  The ground is asleep.  My fingernails are clean.  And I can dream, and January brings that lovely reflective sense of peace and accomplishment.  We dine like kings on everything we stored in the root cellar, freezers, and pantry from this last season.  We remark how beautiful our house is and our yard is coming together and in just short of one year’s time, we have transformed it into a working homestead.  Our hearts are overwhelmed with gratitude.

Hawks swirl and the large lake is out our south windows and the city bus rumbles by out the north panes proving you can homestead anywhere.  I write on my list that I need lamp fluid for the oil lamps and more tea candles.  Wood is chopped and piled by the stove.  The chickens are waiting to be let out.  The farm dog sleeps and I need another cup of coffee and a sharpie so I can start circling items in the seed catalogue and create dreams for spring.

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