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.

 

 

This Year’s Secrets of the Garden

Already I can feel the air shifting, changing.  I had been watching the birds and animals a month before the Farmer’s Almanac predicted a hard winter.  My crops are finishing up weeks early, ready to be placed asleep beneath layers of heady compost and blankets of straw.

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This year’s lessons were plentiful.

#1 I sought to use up all the seeds that I had collected over the many years of gardening and not purchase any this year.  Most were not viable and I had to do mad dashes to the store to get seeds/seedlings in order to have a garden!  I grew tomatoes from seed.  One large vine was struggling to turn ripe so I pulled the whole thing out and hung it in the kitchen.  It is now producing luscious, red tomatoes.

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#2 I did not purchase expensive potato starts.  Instead I filled my apron with potatoes from the kitchen.  Organic and growing eyes, fingerlings, reds, and a few yukons from a friend’s nursery.  They took off better than any potato start I have ever had.  I filled baskets and had three huge harvests of delicious potatoes.

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#3 I discovered a little nemesis to my farm’s name.  The Squash Bug.  Few pumpkins were found last year and this because of that wretched little bug and his army.  I shall be spending this winter’s reading time perusing garden books for organic methods to killing said enemy.

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#4 If it doesn’t grow well over here, then plant some more over there.  I never plant in rows.  I plant everything together.  This year the weather soared above a hundred degrees way too early and I did not have any spring crops.  Almost all of my new herb seedlings were toasted quickly beneath the scorching May sun.  I planted many things on the east side of the house and they thrived.

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#5 Mother Nature grows best.  The squirrel that hid a pumpkin seed in front of the porch is my hero.  The vine is up on the porch and produced the only pie pumpkin because the squash bugs didn’t know where to look.  The ristras hanging from my porch had their seeds scattered in an April wind and I will have New Mexican red chilies soon.  A rogue head of popcorn I didn’t know was there planted itself and grew in the herbs gardens.

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#6 Let things go to seed.  I had prolific basil and arugula.  The radishes and carrots reseeded, as did lettuce and spinach.

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#7 My perma/straw beds that I created this spring were genius (I say so modestly) and I had little work this year to keep them weeded.  I will add three more next month.

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#8 Some things cannot be tricked.  I grew ginseng and gingko until they realized they were in Colorado and promptly died.  Peppers, which have always been impossible to grow up north, grow plentiful and flavorful in Pueblo.  (The eucalyptus and ginger were tricked successfully, I must add.)

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#9 Water and compost are all you need.  The sun does the rest.  Plants want to grow.

#10 I love gardening.

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My porch and many gardens were taken over by morning glories, which effectively shielded many herbs and young trees from the record-high temperatures.  I enjoy feeding the birds and watching the wildlife.  I let the rogue “weed” trees grow and ended up with a lovely privacy fence.  We ate well.  Every year is different.  Even when some things don’t work, something else always does.  A good lesson for life from this Farmgirl’s perspective.

Backyard Chicken Tips and Homesteading School

20180605_085348Gandalf the Great Pyrenees had a new toy.  The story goes (according to him anyway) that Buttercup the chicken got out of the pen and he was simply attempting to corral her back in.  Three quarters of her was stuck in his mouth as I screamed at him.

Forget hawks, eagles, raccoons, skunks, bears, coyotes, or any other predator you may have heard about.  Dogs are the most common predator chickens face.

20180710_161045My friend, Addie- aka Superwoman…if war breaks out, we are heading to her house- brought us three chickens to make up for Buttercup.  Buttercup, was of course, our best layer.  These three have some work to do.  They were in a large coop hanging out in the front yard when we got home.  A lovely surprise!  We quietly put them in the coop in the night so that the chickens would all be fooled and think that they were always there come morning and there would be no blood baths.  It always works.  Except when it doesn’t.

We used the portable coop she loaned us that the chickens had been delivered in to lock up the chickens.  “Should I put the three new girls in the pen?”

“No,” she replied, “you lock up the bullies!”

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This is Hei hei because she acts like the leghorn in the movie Moana.

She further explained (if y’all knew how many homesteading lessons I have had from this gal over the years you would think she should have written a book!) that if you put the new girls in the pen it only tells the old girls that they are indeed below them.  If you lock up the mean girls then they come to understand that they are not the bosses.  It worked like a charm.

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Then the egg eating started.  Oh, those three rascals.  One of them was eating eggs like she was sitting in an IHOP.  Addie suggested we raise their protein intake in their food because they were all molting and they needed more nutrients to get through it.  We also laid golf balls around the coop so the culprit would peck those once and would stop pecking eggs.  That worked but no one is laying eggs right now!

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I have been a subscriber since I was twelve years old to a magazine about country living.  I am afraid its gotten a little high falutin and ridiculous.  Very pretty pictures but really geared for rich people who have no idea what farming is about.  Photographs of chicken coops with pea gravel and curtains with lush, landscaped yards and chickens crossing the kitchen without any poo in sight.  I love it, but it is a little deceiving.

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We have a noxious tree that I love called Tree of Heaven here, or Chinese Sumac.  It’s poisonous so the chickens don’t eat it.  It has popped up all over the chicken yard creating a jungle atmosphere and shade.  When they first moved in they had two foot high grasses to jump through.  They will eat any plant that is edible, y’all.  Do not landscape your chicken yard!

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We looked around this place and saw the chickens, the infant orchard, the vegetables growing tall, and the pumpkins jumping out of their beds, and we have realized that we live on a perfect urban farm.  A lot of people cannot afford to live out in the country and I have decided to reopen my Homesteading School.  I will be teaching canning, preserving, baking, cooking, gardening, and much more as our little-farm-that-could gets more organized and utilized.

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Check out my Facebook page for events here! I will also be putting a link on this blog.  Happy Homesteading!

5 Ways to Homestead Anywhere (and 5 serious signs you might be a homesteader stuck in the city!)

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I have always been an active cheerleader and voice on the matter that anyone can homestead and farm anywhere.  I just didn’t know I would be living that mantra for awhile!  It is good for me to experience though and I would like to share with you 5 ways you can homestead anywhere (even in an apartment).  I would also like to share with you 5 serious signs that you may be a homesteader stuck in the city (true story)!

5 Things you can do to homestead (Homesteading is about freedom and fun.  Save money to spend on what you want, enjoy the sensory of creating, and live more healthfully.)

  1. Preserve and prepare your own food.  Canning, freezing, dehydrating, and home cooking is all possible and easy even in an apartment.  Free facials (from the steam of the canning), delicious food, and shelves in the living room of fresh foods for the year are all included.  You will know what you are eating, save money, always have food on hand, and have an impressive looking display of homesteading life.  You can get boxes of produce from local farmers at the market.  Don your apron.
  2. Community gardens and pots.  There may very well be a community garden near you.  These days they are very popular.  1 in 5 women now garden and many people are looking for an outlet to grow some of their own food.  You may have a friend with an unused part of the yard, or your own yard may be sick of its own grass!  Get planting, friends!  (Watch my series every Friday on this blog for week by week how to farm!)  Line the balcony or porch with pots.  Even corn will grow in pots.  Grow, grow, and watch your spirits grow.
  3. We can’t do it on our own but we can support local farmers.  It amazes me that folks forget that they could go grocery shopping at the farmers market.  It is competitively priced and helps folks that love dirt right here in your community!  From meat, to eggs, to milk, to veggies, fruits and breads, there is a plethora of good eatin’ at the market!  Tip: get to know your farmer.  We farmers love regulars and will always give you a good deal.
  4. Recycle-Reuse-Reduce!  Yea, yea, yea, heard it before.  But homesteaders are special.  We will use canning jars for vases, repair a rip in a beloved pair or jeans, save rubber bands to band produce and twist ties to hold up tomato plants.  We’ll wrap presents in fabric.  We’ll put coffee grounds in plants.  Be creative.  And don’t buy what you do not need!  If you need something, can you get it used?
  5. Non-electric items…can you dig ’em?  The hand cranked coffee grinder, the French press, the oil lamps, the clothes line, the gentle clink of glasses as you hand wash, the hand cranked radio, the shovel…if there is a manual way to do it, do it.

Now, you may be a homesteader stuck in the city if you…

Attempt to rent out the entire community garden.  (But 600 square feet will do, I guess…)

If you cuss out appliances.  Why does the dryer shrink clothes and the dishwasher erase pictures from glasses?  If you find yourself lecturing them on their very nice off grid counterparts, “You know, the ringer washer does a better job than you!”

If you see broken apple branches and plot how to get them to the third floor of your apartment to smoke fish with and use in the fireplace. (and then remember you have a gas fireplace!)

If you start a compost pile in a three gallon bucket on the balcony in the middle of winter for…uh…the houseplants…(but you just can’t see all those food scraps go to waste!)

If you find yourself, after parking your big truck with farm plates into a small parking spot, staring up at a looming building surrounded by cement as you smooth your apron and clasp your jar of raw milk, and wonder for a moment, “Where the heck am I?”

You may be a farmer/homesteader who is caught in the city…

“Urban Homesteading” Loses Its Trademark

 

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I did not hear about it until yesterday.  I was very proud that my own hometown homesteaders rippled the waters and created action.  The Denver Urban Homesteaders (http://denverurbanhomesteaders.org) fought to have the term “Urban Homesteader” trademark cancelled.  The reasoning being the words are generic and should not be able to be trademarked.

Dozens of facebook sites and other organizations were ordered to cease and desist using the term “Urban Homesteader”.  On November 15th in California a judge cancelled the trademark.  A Denver lawyer/homesteader volunteered his time and costs to fight the battle as urban homesteaders everywhere rallied.

The term “Urban Homesteader” belongs to all of us and we can cheer as we write it valiantly on our facebook pages, websites, and blogs!  We are Urban Homesteaders and proud of it!

A Feast for the Senses on an Urban Homestead

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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?

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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.

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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!

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, Off To the City We Go

 

apartmentOver the years I have written about how to homestead and I always include those in apartments.  For urban farming is not only possible, but probably easier.  I can still can and preserve.  I will get a plot at the community garden. (I’ll have some community garden plot, eh?!)  I can turn raw milk from a share into cheese.  I can grow herbs on the balcony.  I can also ride my bicycle around town and walk most places.  How cute will I be on my bike with my basket of produce from my garden plot riding to my home just a few blocks away?

Doug and I had decisions to make.  We could stay with our friend and pay lower rent plus housework and save up.  I am indebted to our friends for their kindnesses and keeping Doug and I off the streets last year.  But, y’all know how much Martha Stewart I like to channel and it may seem strange and maybe some folks won’t understand but I need a place to nest.  To decorate.  I need a home.

We thought about farming on our friend’s property for a  year but decided that we have continually put out all of our available resources to improve other folks’ property and then have to leave and enough is enough.  We will save money for a farm and in a few years perhaps will sit on our own piece of property but in the meantime, it just makes us sad.  No farm and no place to nest?

We are moving to a beautiful apartment on the top floor facing west with a balcony and some perks this farmgirl has not had in a long time.  Dishwasher, dryer, gas fireplace, holy smokes, people!  I’m gonna get spoiled!

It’s just a few blocks from Doug’s work and walking distance to everything.  Twenty-five minutes to my shop.  Close to the kids, friends, and the library!

We feel like we are eighteen years old again.  Moving out with a double bed and a table.  Hoping we can afford it all.  Excited to be together in our own place.

So here’s to our new adventure and urban homesteading (while drinking a glass of wine by the gas fireplace).  The next chapter begins…

 

 

 

Building With Cob (a Basic How-To)

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Yesterday I took you with me to tour an enchanting homestead belonging to my friends, Niko and Brandi and their lovely girls.  Niko is a cobb builder by trade.  He owns the Colorado Cob Company.  He can build anything from a chicken coop to a two story house.  I’ll give you all of his information at the end so you can contact him to make you something wonderful for your homestead.

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These aren’t precise directions since I was talking with folks the whole time I was there but I was so intrigued by this form of building.  If you have been following my writings for some time you know that Doug and I have a great love of New Mexico and adobe structures.  Adobe is made by taking this same formulation and drying it in large bricks.  Cob is more freeform.

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Niko started with a 5 gallon bucket of clay that he sourced from a job site in town where someone was digging out a basement.  He added a 5 gallon bucket of sand (purchased and salvaged off of craigslist from the flooding in the area last year).

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The mix was sifted by hand to eliminate any large clumps or foreign objects like glass or nails.

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One person on each side shook the tarp, folded it, stepped on it quickly and then the next person would fold it, give it a stomp until it was combined.

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Then the fun began.  A well was made in the center of the dirt and water from the hose added to the middle.  Then children and adults alike stomped in the mud to create a pudding like consistency.

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More water was added and a person on each side repeated the process of folding and stomping.

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They did this until the form freely fell away from the tarp and looked like a burrito!  Doug and Chris were on the other side of the crowd chatting.  I could just see the ideas over yonder bubbling from them.  It will be great fun building our chicken coop and bread oven and whatever else they dream up.

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Straw was added in fine layers so not to allow clumps and this too was stomped in.  This creates a network of strength throughout the clay and sand medium.

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The children had so much fun blending with their feet.  The mix is done when straw can be seen in any clump that is taken off but no thick masses of straw.  It must be all well combined.

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The cob is added over a heavy foundation of large stones and then can be blended over wood outlines and mesh.  For an example he used a large stone by the garden.  Folks helped to blend balls of clay on top of each other using a slip if necessary to moisten and bits of straw to help blend.  A stick can be employed to help blend two masses together.  They created a fun little cat goddess.  The entire batch only made the cat goddess about a foot and half high.  So for large projects a cement mixer or other large piece of machinery may be used.

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The cob is left to dry a few days then a plaster is added.  A five gallon bucket of slip (a blend of clay and water to make a thin paint-like consistency and left to sit for two weeks stirring daily) is poured through two screens into a container.  A shovel is used to sift it though the strainers.

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Sand is then sifted through a screen and once a five gallon bucket’s worth is sifted it is added to the slip mixture in the container.

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A five gallon bucket of horse manure is added to the mix.  Shovels and a giant mixer is used to blend it into plaster.

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Niko through a ball of the plaster against the house as a demonstration of its solidity.

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This will be added to the cob structure to create a more protected structure.

Cob building is a project that allows the homesteader to make affordable structures that are unique and artistic.  But also allows the participant to play in the mud!

Colorado Cob Company (click name to be taken to website)

Nikolai Woolf

719-510-7566

He also offers classes and hands on workshops for any sized project!

Being Set Free (a thrilling week long adventure)

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We are strong believers in karma, whatever you put out will come back, usually ten fold, and we watch ourselves pretty closely.  We really try to put out only positive and happy vibes.  So this came as such a shock to us.  We were so friendly, put so much work and money here, why did we lose so much?  It’s laughably ironic that I write about and that we went from so close to self reliance to completely reliant.  Completely.  Reliant.

As each thing leaves the house I am saddened as it feels that the memory is lost with it too.  Our trip to California, that sweet Christmas gift, antique shopping in Evergreen, our friendships, all walking out the door for practically nothing.  Of course those memories and people are still with me, in the literal or spiritual sense and as we unburden our existence with so many material things, we feel lighter.

And I wonder if the karma coming to us is not bad, it’s a gift.  It’s good.  I have written about our day in the life of a homesteader, and our businesses, and our to-do lists.  They exhaust my friends just reading them.  We are being set free from ourselves!

I am daring to imagine an existence where my morning starts the same, with coffee on the porch with my cat, and writing, but then doesn’t turn into a frenzy of trying to keep up.  In this little cottage we do not need 500+ preserved food items to be put up.  We do not need to chop 4 cords of wood.  We do not have to milk twice a day.  We do not have to make enough money to feed all the hungry farm animals.  We do not have to make cheese and soap and lotion and try to find the strength to do yet another farmer’s market.  We are being set free.  So long have Doug and I worked sun up to sun down with businesses, committees, children, and homesteading.  We love it, but the idea of something different does intrigue us.  If I want to do those some of those things, I can.  If I don’t, then we can walk around town and find ourselves listening to live music in the park on Tuesday nights.  We are being set free.

We will be working on building a tiny house.  We will be co-creating beautiful, practically maintenance-free gardens, we will be teaching, but we will be doing it slowly and methodically in the middle of a town where we can find new teachers and friends and find each other in our honeymoon cottage.  What a gift.

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This week on this blog I would like to write about various ways to set ourselves free.  How to find a closer connection to Creator, mental and emotional releases, herbal teas for spiritual use, easy ways to strengthen the body, to bring back health, to bring on inspiration and to make some dreams start coming true, and just setting ourselves free from anything that weighs us down.  I hope you’ll join me!  It’s going to be a freeing week!

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

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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!