Who Wants to be a Farmer? Me


I was tagged in a post the other day on Facebook, and when I went to see what it was, it turned out to be a picture of myself and the other officers of our high school chapter of FFA.  This picture is probably 20 years old, and we were such baby faces!  It got me to thinking though; when I was in high school I would have told you really fast, with absolute certainty that there was no way under the sun I would ever become a farmer.  Mike Rowe says as a country we don’t think of farmers in aspirational terms, and he is so right.  I didn’t think “farmer” was anything to aspire to, I was going to be something.  Something special, something new, something unique, but by golly, something.  I didn’t know what, or how to get there, or even who I was.  I went with the wisdom passed down to me to do what I love, find my passion and follow that path.  To an 18 year old that had held down restaurant and factory jobs during the summers to supplement financial aid during the school year, that meant that I pursued 7 majors and maybe 19 minors/specialties.  I graduated college with enough hours that when I went back to school in my late 20s to pursue a BSN, I only had 3 prerequisites that I had to take.  I was in nursing school for my bachelors for 3 years, and only took nursing classes.  I knocked out those prereqs in two summer sessions.  When I graduated as an RN, I was so excited to get started working; I was helping people and I had finally found my passion, my lightbulb moment.

Let me say before I go any further that I love being a nurse.  It is the most challenging, rewarding and exhausting thing I have ever done.  I love taking care of people, and talking to families and patients.  I like to learn, and to be challenged to become better at my job.  I even like working with some of the doctors (don’t you tell them I said that!).  And I adore my coworkers; I have never worked a job where people have your back the way that nurses do.

But as I was sitting in my garden, weeding my onions and peanut plants, I thought back to who I was in high school, and directly thereafter.  And more precisely who I wasn’t.  I wasn’t someone who had a lot of direction in life, and I didn’t have a dream I was chasing.  I knew what I didn’t want to do, but I couldn’t have told you what I did want to do or be, or what problems I wanted to solve or what challenges I wanted to work on.  I wasn’t aspiring to be a farmer.  But in all honesty, I wasn’t at that time aspiring to be a nurse either.

Then it struck me as pretty funny that 20 years ago if you had asked me if I ever saw my future self weeding onions and peanuts at 7:00 a.m. and trying to plan ways to grow enough tomatoes this season so I could give some away, and that I would be so passionately talking to people at work, either coworkers or patients and families about rotational grazing, heirloom tomato varieties, and no-till, well I would have laughed and thought you were crazy.  But the fact is, if you ask me about (insert any of the many farm related things we do here) you are probably going to get a whole new level of conversation than you were prepared for.

Wyandotte (1)

When I started the gardening/farming/crazy chicken lady path in life, I had no idea we would end up where we are today.  I made jelly and thought I was a bad-ass canner, we grew a couple of tomatoes and I thought we were first-class gardeners.  I kept a couple of small-bodied fancy chickens who laid tiny eggs at my parents house and thought I was a chicken tender.  But here we are today- chickens, turkeys, ducks, and pigs.  So far in the garden, I have two 50 foot rows of tomatoes that are canning tomatoes, and I’m wondering if that will be enough. We have 100s of broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and lettuce plants.  We have 5 rows of peas.  We have a huge patch of potatoes growing like weeds, and rows of onions that are actually happy.  We will be harvesting peaches and pears off of our trees in a couple of weeks.  We will be freezing, canning, drying and fermenting our harvests.  We are planning our cover crops and companion plants.  We are working out a way to put ruminants onto our small acreage in a way that promotes the health and regeneration of the soil.  We are already talking about next years garden and how we want to shift our paradigm to a more perennial, less degenerative-annual model.  And I am pestering my coworkers, patients and their families with all of this.  But they started it!  They asked “how’s the garden?”  So they are getting exactly what they asked for.

Over the last couple of days since I saw that picture of us, full of potential, youth and hope, I have wondered about where everybody ended up and what they are all doing now.  I have reconnected on social media with at least two of them, and I haven’t spoken to others in the 20 years since we graduated.  I wonder what they might think if I told them, well, yeah I did finally become a farmer, but it’s not the traditional role you may be thinking of.  We barely mow our grass, much less clear cut our property to put up rows and rows of soybeans or corn.  The birds free range our property and eat the seed heads on the knee-high grass.  The pigs are rotated every couple of weeks so they are on new ground, and in the process they are giving us amazing fertilizer for the garden and they don’t stink.  Our next door neighbors didn’t even know we had pigs last year.  We even put our meat chickens on grass instead of locked up in the coop.  They don’t free range like the lighter bodied egg layers, but they move around and eat grass and bugs, and live a life better than any factory farmed chicken out there.

Pig nose

Over the 4 years we have been on this property, we have seen the return of so many species of wildlife.  This spring (all two days of it), we sat outside and listened to the myriad kinds of wildbirds squabbling over tree branches for nests and who gets to take that really nice big turkey feather back to their nest for building.  We noticed how many more birds we have than when we moved here.  The wild rabbits have come back.  I was weeding in the garden this morning and a butterfly landed on my knee for a second before heading off to the peas.  The insects are everywhere.  And another thing we noticed this past weekend when a strong thunderstorm rolled through was how our property retained the downpour of rain beating the earth, while the soybean field next door had soil and plants washing away and the rain was sideways in the field.


So I guess, once I found out who I really was, at heart I am a farmer.  And I am an advocate for healthy soil, nutritious food, access for everyone to fresh produce and meats, and I am a talker.  I love the small scale farming we practice here, and I love discussing it with people who have never been exposed to this kind of farming, or this kind of food.  I am a nurse, and will always have a strong urge to care for people when they are having the worst days of their lives.  But,

I am a farmer, and it’s the best thing I could have done with my life.


Wait, what? No Carbs? Crazy


When we decided we were going to cut out sugar from our diets, it was for a month.  30 days of no added sugar to our coffee, no sodas, no donuts, you get the idea.  We are now on day 34 and we have no intention of ever going back.  Before you shake your head and scroll past, let me back up some, and give you a little background.

Over a month ago, a friend of mine was starting a Whole 30, which is basically a cleanse type diet in which you eliminate foods that are known to be allergens or cause sensitivities in people such as sugar, wheat, peanuts, and dairy.  The entire list is a little longer, but I wanted to give you a general idea.  The idea behind this is to remove things from your diet that might be causing you issues but that you don’t know are causing you issues.  At the end of the Whole 30, you slowly add back in the different foods and voila!  You know what is making you tired every day, or bloated, or just downright sick.

We had little interest in doing the entire diet, we really like dairy, but as I was talking to my friend about it, I was also noticing that in my own life, I was eating refined sugars and carbs with no attention.  I would have a rough shift, so I “deserved” a soda.  Or I was trying a new donut recipe, so it made logical sense to try one; half an hour later, I realized that I had eaten 3 or 4.  I can hear you say, “well you obviously need to pay better attention to what you eat!”  When I was examining this pattern though, I realized I couldn’t just pay better attention.  I was mindlessly eating.  I was rationalizing poor eating behaviors.  And I was over eating.  We sat down and did a calculation of the extra calories a day we were consuming in sugar and refined carbs, and on a normal day it was over 1,000.  On a bad day it was closer to 3,000 or 4,000.  That’s not total calories, that’s extra.  That is twice what you need in a day in terms of calories to be healthy made entirely up of useless, non nutritional calories.  Added on to the regular calories we ate.  Something had to change!  We were tired all the time, chunky, and always hungry.


Ok, wait, hold up.  How the hell were you hungry when you were eating 3,000- 6,000 calories a day?  Nonsense I hear you say.  Well, here’s the thing, sugar does not serve any purpose other than to light up the pleasure centers of your brain and make you want more sugar.  Does that sound anything like something else we can think of, I don’t know, maybe like drugs?  Well, funny enough when scientists did MRIs of the brains of people consuming sugar, their brains lit up the same as people doing cocaine.  You get that little sugar rush, you crash hard, you feel worse than you did before that soda, you go get another one.  Rinse, repeat.

And it’s not just that sugar acts in our bodies like drugs, it also contributes significantly to obesity, cancer, and heart disease.  We are starting to find out that back in the 1950s when the government was trying to piece together a food pyramid to help people eat healthy, the studies were there that showed that sugar did these things, but the sugar industry just slipped some money into some pockets and that research went into a filing cabinet in a basement in a small, dark building, never to see the light of day.  Well, until recently.  Unlearn what you have spent your life learning:  fat doesn’t make you fat, sugar does.

One more time for the folks in the back:  Fat Does Not Make You Fat, Sugar Does.  Sugar may also be a leading cause of fatty liver disease, also known as NASH, but we don’t have the literature yet to back that up.


Ok, enough about all this history and science junk, I want to know about your sugar free month.

We went cold turkey.  No weaning, no compromises, cold stinking turkey.  No sugar, no bread, no pasta, no rice.  For 30 days.  That first week was brutal.  I had a headache for 6 days straight and nothing I took helped.  I was moody, my body was not happy and in general I felt a lot like I had been hit by a bus.

Then something wild began to happen:  I felt better.  No, wait, I felt great.  By week 2 I felt better than I have in so long, that I don’t remember feeling so great.  Seriously!  I slept better and I woke up on my own in the morning.  No alarm needed.  The coffee I drank gave me a little pep, and not the crash later.  I didn’t have to drink coffee, I wanted to.  And I was finally tasting the coffee instead of masking the coffee flavor with sugar.  By week 2, people told me they noticed my face looked leaner.  I felt leaner.  My pants that I was having to jump around the house to pull up finally fit.  No struggle to get dressed.  After a while, we quit craving sugar.  We are hungry, genuinely hungry at appropriate times.  We have more natural energy.  We are on day 34 and we don’t intend to go back.  Does that mean we will never eat pizza again?  No, we had pizza the other day.  We felt terrible afterwards, but at the time it was some of the best pizza we have ever had.  Do I still love donuts?  Oh my, yes.  But I have no intention of eating one any time soon.  Maybe down the road, but I don’t want one right now.


For us, sugar and carbs have found a new place in our lives:  as a rare treat that is planned.  When we have a donut, it will be because we really want one, not because they are just sitting there.

So what do we eat, if we have cut out carbs and sugar?  You can’t buy anything at the grocery store without sugar in it, not even salt these days.  We don’t eat anything that comes in a package, which means no crackers, no pasta, no rice.  We don’t eat bread or pizzas.  Our love for tacos has taken a serious hit, since we don’t eat tortillas anymore.  But we aren’t completely carb free.  We haven’t decided to go full keto diet over here.  We eat potatoes, corn, peas, carrots and fruit; you get the idea.  And we eat fat.  We cook with butter, lard and olive oil.  We eat lean meat from the animals we raise and we eat fish.  And we cook.  We cooked before, but now we really have to use our imaginations and stretch our idea of what a complete meal is, or else we end up eating the exact same thing every day.

It’s difficult, some days more than others, but we have never felt better.  And we are enjoying our food more these days.  So I guess the posts of delectable pasta dishes are in the past.  But you should see some of the meals we have cooked up in their place.


A Letter to My Niece

You are just a day or two over 5 weeks old. And we still haven’t officially met, in person and face to face, but I’m working on that. As soon as I can head that way with your Uncle Tyler, we will be there for a visit. And I am so excited to meet you!
I wanted to write you a quick letter because I know all logical thought and ability to express myself verbally will probably leave as soon as I get to hold you for the first time. It’s the hair. So I wanted to tell you a couple of things really quick, and hopefully in a week or two, when the dust settles at your place, we can come say hey.
You need to know that even though we haven’t met yet, I already know we will be best friends. This is mostly because you are already the coolest little girl on the freaking planet. And I know that for a fact because I know your parents and grandparents. It would be really hard not to be the coolest chick out there with that lineage, sister. Being that fabulous will be hard, but I know you have it in you to rock it. That being said, if you ever need to talk and you don’t know if you can say it to your parents, I’m your girl. I can keep a secret and I am a pretty darn good shoulder to cry on if the need arises. Just keep in mind that if A) that secret involves a boy (or girl), and B) additionally said boy (or girl) has broken your heart and that is why you’re crying on my shoulder, it might just go down. When it comes to my family and my friends, I have no chill. I will listen to your secret, I will wipe away your tears, I will fix you a cup of hot chocolate and tuck you in to watch a good movie, then I will hop in the car, pick up your mom and we will wreak havoc on that little stain that thought he (or she) could hurt you.
You need to know that you always have a place to stay. There are a lot of people in this world that care an awful lot about you, and I am just one, but no matter what happens, you can come here any time, day or night, sun, wind, rain, fire, or zombie apocalypse, what have you. And you can call anytime. I will have your back no matter what. Uh, let me amend that: I will have your back and support you in any and all ways that I can, but if you are for some reason fighting with your parents and I think what you just did is a little on the not so bright side, girl let me tell you that my door is open, but I’m calling your dad.
When you are here, there are of course different rules than at home. Want ice cream or cookies for breakfast, sister we do that all the time. Want to stay up past your bedtime watching old movies? For sure, and we can sleep in a little the next day too. Well, you can; Uncle Tyler and I have farm chores we have to do. But the big rules still apply; there is no difference there or here. Be kind, be brave, work hard, have fun, giggle or cry when you need to, take whatever you want to eat, but if you can’t eat it, don’t throw it away, give it to the chickens. Unless it’s cake, then you give it to me.
And no matter what happens, I am your aunt. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to check out the definition in the dictionary of “aunt”, since you’ve had such a busy social calendar the last few days, but the Webster’s definition of aunt is as follows:
Aunt: (noun): 1. A person who is fun, silly, wacky, and full of love.
2. A person who would move mountains, bridge rivers, cross oceans and bring down the heavens to protect you, but who will also back your parents if you’re being a crazy person.
3. A person much like a sister, who is just older and (hopefully) a little wiser. A person who keeps your favorite books on the shelf, games in the den, and movies next to the TV at her house. A person who will obsessively take pictures of you, especially when you’re visiting and playing with the farm animals, because there is nothing cuter than kids and farm animals. Sorry about that last part, but you have been forewarned.

Love you always,

Auntie E



We just had a southern snowstorm in my neck of the woods.  To some that means grocery stores were cleaned out of milk and bread, which they were; and to some that means little to no precipitation actually made landfall.  While folks in Maine, Wisconsin and Alaska probably are laughing at our snowfall here, for this area we got a significant amount.  We live about 2.5 hours north of Memphis, TN and we got 8 inches of snow.  Overnight.  For us that is a true Snowmaggedon.  The state closed roads, snow plows were in the ditch and people were stuck wherever they happened to be.  For my husband and I, thankfully that meant at home.  I had managed to drive home from work Sunday night on terrible roads and it took me an hour and a half longer to get here than usual.  But I made it home.  The next day the snow replaced the freezing rain.  We tried getting my car out so we could stock up on chicken feed, but ended up stuck in the yard, which is where we pushed the car after we got it out of the ditch across the road.  It snowed until the wee hours of the next morning, and we stopping counting at 7″, but according to records, we got 8+.  And with sub-zero temps this week, it hasn’t gone anywhere.  A couple of things have come from all this crazy for us weather.


For one thing, we got to play in the snow, something I have complained about not being able to do at Christmas every year since we move to TN.  I like snow, I like playing in snow, and I miss having snow on Christmas like we did when I was a kid.  My handsome husband and I have gone for walks around the property, thrown snow balls and started a snowman.  We’ve been feeding the wild birds and watching not only their antics, but also the cats sitting at the backdoor wishing they could get to those little birds.


We also went out in our mini blizzard to recover a window in the chicken coop and cover their combs with Vaseline to help prevent frostbite.  We have one hen who already has frostbite setting in, and we are keeping a close eye on her.  Later, when it warms up some, we may have to remove some comb, but if that is the worst that we get with this weather, we are grateful.  We have kept the girls confined to their coop and their run this week, even though they wouldn’t go out in snow for treats.  We pulled the large warmed water trough up to the back of the coop right by their door to the run, which is a fold down hatch, and they sit on the hatch door and drink from the water trough.  No way are those hens setting a single toe in the cold ice and snow if they don’t have to. And we have had to gather eggs frequently through out the day to make sure they’re not all frozen.  I’m personally just happy that even though I miss having the pigs, we aren’t trying to find ways to keep them warm right now.


One thing that has been really good for us is the necessity of cooking.  We both love to cook, and we both love trying new foods, new ingredients and new recipes, but sometimes, like everyone else, we just don’t want to cook.  And unfortunately for our waistlines, health and wallets we live less than 5 miles from town.  Which means it’s not a huge hassle to go into town and grab a bite if we aren’t feeling the cooking thing.  But there was no chance of getting to town this week, so no chance of lazy days and restaurant food.  It has sparked some creativity here, which is always a good thing, because redundancy in meals will quickly make a person cheat on their diet.  Now we don’t follow an incredibly strict diet by any means, but when we are trying to eat healthier, it is so easy to get in a rut and mess up any progress we have made with one trip to the Italian place in town.  So being snowed in has been good for cooking at home.  It has inspired me to dig into our freezers and find something to try out in a different way than what we usually do.


As someone who can do just that, dig into one of our three chest freezers and find something healthy to eat, it kind of boggles my mind when I see people posting on social media that despite the skating rink conditions, they have to try to get out to go to the store.  We have genuinely been snowed in for three days, and people are out of food at home.  And it is so many more people than I would have thought; I understand not many people do what we do, and not many people have interest in it, but to only have three days worth of food?  That is crazy to me!  Of course that triggered the thought, what will these people do when there is a real emergency?  What if there is no way to get to a grocery store for a week?  A month?  Longer?  I have not had very many people tell me that what we do is weird or anything like that; I know that other homesteaders are very alienated in their communities for their lifestyle.  But in times like this, wouldn’t you feel better if you had enough cans of veggies and enough meat in the freezer to not have to worry about how will we get to the store, but instead enjoy a snow day with your family?  Maybe it’s just me.


Enjoy the weather for what it is:  a chance to slow down, relax and read a book, or watch a movie with your significant other, or play board games with your kids.


A Letter to my Vegetarian Friend Who Wants to Homestead


My dear, let us start this off at the beginning- welcome!  Oh man, we are so happy to have new people around who share this passion of ours.  And let me tell you a quick secret- you’re already a homesteader.  Even if you haven’t grown or raised a thing.  See, there are some folks that will tell you that no matter what you do, you will never be a homesteader unless you follow their strict plan.  Ignore those people.  They may have some insight or advice later on about something, but for now, you ignore them.  If you have made the choice to know what is in your food, to advocate for better health and food for you and your family, and you are willing to try new things to get yourself there, honey, you’re a homesteader.  Put a tomato plant on your balcony this spring and make it official.  Oh, and those curmudgeons who say you can’t be a vegetarian and a homesteader?  Ignore them too.  They lack imagination.

Cranapple jelly

Now, the nitty gritty.  There are going to be some things that take you by surprise no matter what.  I’m not here to tell you what to do on your homestead, but I would like to throw out some things that maybe you haven’t thought of yet.  And maybe you have, I’m just trying to wrap up some wisdom in a short blog that you might find useful.

First of all, if you want to keep chickens, be prepared for something somewhere to die.  No, you do not have to eat your chickens.  My egg hens are the most spoiled birds ever to walk this earth and we are not eating them.  We are also not in the business of butchering one if she slows her egg production down.  Nah, she gets to live it up in retirement.  But we have had to kill a rooster or two.  I remember very clearly the first rooster we killed on this property.  We had three at the time, all just reaching sexual maturity.  And they tussled some with each other, but boy did they ever give the hens a hard time.  One day in particular I look out to see our gorgeous Cornish rooster in hot pursuit of a hen.  She won’t want me telling this story, but her name is Kaylee, and she is one of my faves.  I’m on my way out anyway, so I just keep a close eye on them.  Well, this particular chase had nothing to do with sex.  He chased her until he cornered her up against fencing and proceeded to peck, spur, bite and kick her repeatedly.  After you have animals for a little while, you kind of learn their behavior, even subtle stuff.  So I already knew this had nothing to do with being an overzealous boyfriend and everything to do with trying to kill her.  I rushed over and through flapping wings and squawking birds, I picked her up.  I was so flustered at the time, I didn’t know what to do so I came straight in the house.  Her face was bruised and she was visibly freaked the heck out.  We sat in the house on the futon while my husband dispatched the rooster.  When he went out, this rooster was beating the crap out of one of the other hens.  Hell to the no, bird sir, we don’t hurt the girls.  Not on this farm.  Could we have sold him?  He was pure bred, probably so.  But if he killed a fancy show hen of someone else’s, oh boy would I have felt horrible.  We knew he had this behavior problem, so passing it off to someone else would have been irresponsible.  Farm animal sanctuary?  Maybe, but the same problem would inevitably arise.  The rule here with the roosters is if they attack us, whatever, that’s their nature, but don’t you dare hurt the girls.


Same goes for wildlife.  We are very lenient on wildlife chilling at our place.  We have a red-tailed hawk that has his home in a large tree pretty near the chicken coop.  He doesn’t bother us, we don’t bother him.  No sense in trying to run him off, he was here first.  We have also had a fox show up and check out the chicken coop.  We went out and told him, no Foxy-Loxy, this isn’t the KFC drive thru, keep on truckin.  We didn’t have to chase him, shoot at him, whatever else someone else may have done.  Us walking outside and talking was all it took.  But I have my limit on stuff I will put up with.  We went to close up the coop one night and noticed not a single bird was in it.  Except the dead one being gnawed on by a possum.  That possum went to the big farm in the sky.  It took us days of having to put the girls on their roosts at night before they would even go back in there.  I don’t blame them.  And before you feel too sorry for that possum, he had been hanging around for a while not showing any sign he was an asshole.  Then one day he just waltzed right in and killed one of my girls.  She was a golden laced Wyandotte named Webb because her feet were webbed at birth.  She was a good layer and liked hanging out with her humans.  So I kind of took it personally.


I guess the point is, if you have livestock of any kind, there will be times when you may have to go to lengths you’re not currently good with.  I get that.  Hell, we have an adolescent possum that lives near the chicken coop.  We have been discouraging him from hanging around because we don’t want to kill him.  But if he makes the decision to kill my chickens, it is my first responsibility to keep my feather babies safe.  Relocating is a bit dicey; possums carry a disease that is incredibly harmful and often painfully fatal to horses.  It’s all a balancing act.

Another thing to keep in mind is, starting out isn’t cheap.  We are in year three of having a garden and we are finally seeing financial returns on that endeavor.  That hasn’t always been the case.  And I wouldn’t say that the garden broke even this year either.  Maybe.  But we put up some expensive fencing to keep the chickens from eating our tomatoes and the wild rabbits from eating…. well, everything.  Perspective is a good thing to keep in mind here.  We had gallons upon gallons of tomatoes this year.  Organic, fresh tomatoes.  And we made tomato sauce, enchilada sauce, hot sauces.  And ate them straight out of the garden.  The price of those same products at the store would have been pretty significant.  It evens out.  Eventually.  But a lot of expenses are going to be start up costs.  Buildings, equipment, stuff like that is a one time expense usually.  The best advice?  Take it slow.  I know the feeling that you have to put it all in now, and be a level 84 smith/gardener combo straight out of the gate is strong, but resist!  That little voice that says do everything right now is the voice that leads so many homesteaders into trouble and off the farm.  More people try this and quit than try this and make a go of it.  And repeat this to yourself every day- just because I can’t do (insert homestead thing here) today doesn’t mean I have failed.  I have more to learn.  Don’t quit.  This is hard.  This life is hard.  Whoever coined the term the Simple Life doesn’t live it.  But don’t give up on it.  If it is your dream to homestead and raise your family on food you grew, keep at it.  To borrow from Tom Hanks, “the hard is what makes it great.  If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it.”


So I said this was a short blog.  I guess I lied.  It happens.  Whenever I get to talking about this, man can I ramble.  But this is a scratch on the surface of what we do.  So let me say this:  I don’t know everything, far from it.  But at some point I have been where you are, and I am happy to discuss our journey if it helps you.

Grow something and be happy.  Because no matter where or how you homestead, happy is all that matters.

Another Day

Cranapple jelly

We are finally digging out from the week of butchering.  I never thought I would get my kitchen clean again.  Honestly, it’s still not clean, just parts of it.  And because time does not stand still on a homestead, no matter how small, we are also working on preserving more food in the kitchen today.  I have one long counter that has been cleared of tools, dishes and random debris and wiped down.  That’s where I set up to start cutting up and canning apples and cranberries.  I have been doing the Mount Everest of dishes one sink at a time in between cooking down apple-cranberry jelly and cranapple butter; my husband is making adjustments to the homemade smoker we are trying to get up and running so we can smoke the bacon and hams from the two pigs we just butchered, in between cutting up pumpkins and squash so I am able to can them later.  There is cauliflower and broccoli in the garden that needs to be cut and frozen.  A pile of laundry that endangers those that walk past.  Food to prepare.  And like everyone else, we are still expected to get enough sleep and drink plenty of water.


Later today I will be turning 6 lbs of apples into canned apple pie filling.  And we have some blackberries from this years bushes that will make an excellent cobbler.  We found a source for seafood that is fresh, brought up from the coast a couple of times a week, so sometime today I am making seafood chowder in quantities enough to feed an army.  Or two hungry farmers over the course of a couple of cooler fall evenings.

Butcher day

It’s funny, we had a slower day yesterday for the first time in weeks, and I won’t argue it wasn’t well deserved.  But working in the kitchen all day isn’t the worst way to spend an afternoon.  I enjoy what we do here, and making beautiful food that preserves all the hard work we did over the summer just feels like the right way to use up a chilly fall Tuesday.  My whole body is still sore from butchery week, and there are movements in the kitchen that don’t change no matter the task, so some of my muscles are just getting more use.  My feet and legs are tired from standing in the kitchen for a week then running my butt off at work all weekend.  I don’t want to be anywhere else.  I don’t want to be at the spa or the beach.  I want to be in my kitchen, cooking and canning, and especially eating.  I want to be sipping a cup of coffee while I look over a recipe for a jam I have never tried.  And I want to be looking out my kitchen window at the chickens, scratching through the newly turned soil in the pig yard, while I’m washing dishes.

I didn’t pick an easy job or an easy lifestyle, but I picked worthwhile ones.



West Virginia.JPG

7:58 a.m.  We were packed, in the car, coffee in hand, ready to go.  I wanted to make sure we left by 8:00 since we had a 12 hour drive ahead of us.  We could take our time and sight-see a little and still be in bed on time once we got to the hotel.  If only things actually go according to plan, right?  We left on time, and we made good time through Kentucky.  Then everything slowed down.  We were on our way to the Homesteaders of America’s first conference in Warrenton, VA.  I can honestly say there isn’t much that I have been more excited to attend.  I bought us tickets when they were released, maybe as long ago as January.  I booked our hotel months out from the event.  We spent a week fortifying the chicken coop and yard so they could have access to outside 24/7 while we were gone but still be safe.  I looked up restaurants in the area so when we sailed into Warrenton Friday night we could go enjoy a meal and ease into our weekend.

Between work stress, knife work for my hubby stress, and the farm stress, the weeks leading up to this long awaited event were so mind-numbingly exhausting and trying.  We had so many things we needed to do to get the property more secured for the three days we would be gone.  And of course, we had to clean and get ourselves ready for a pretty good hike.  That meant that in between catching up laundry, making sure dishes were clean so the house didn’t stink when we got home, and packing, the pigs escaped.  The ducks couldn’t figure out the new way to get in and out of the coop.  The rabbit enclosure started to collapse.  More than once I sat down in a huff like a toddler and nearly in tears, proclaimed “we just aren’t going”.  My parents came out on a Saturday in the pouring rain and helped my husband fortify the fencing on the hog yard.  I was stuck at work, hearing second hand about how everything was going wrong right before we were going to be 808 miles away.

The night before we left, we spent the entire evening getting food ready for travel snacks, packing and unpacking the suitcase and trying to decide the best route to take.  The drive was easy, just really long.  I wasn’t prepared for the mountains in West Virginia.  My poor little car wasn’t either.  She did her best, but it was a chore to get up those hills.  Even taking into account the time change, we didn’t roll into the hotel until 15 hours later.  Despite the exhaustion from the drive, the excitement for the conference the next day meant I didn’t sleep well or much.

We got to the check-in early the next morning, just a few minutes after they were opening up the grounds for the conference goers.  That meant we were one of the first 100 who got a tote from Fluffy Layers.  That started what was to be an incredible day off right for this chicken obsessed girl.


I have been trying to decide the best way to articulate the Homesteaders of America conference all week.  And honestly, there is so much to say and I am poor enough of a writer that putting into words the whole day is challenging for me.  They estimated somewhere around 1,300-1,500 people attended, with many bringing their children.  There were vendors, demonstrations and seminars spanning the entire available space at the Fauquier County Fairgrounds.  Overwhelmed is an adjective that comes to mind immediately.  But in such a good way.  We met so many people, so many likeminded people.  Later when I was trying to describe it to my husband, I said I felt like we found our people.  What made that sentiment all the more applicable was that only moments later, Joel Salatin would take the main stage to speak to a standing room only crowd.  And he said we found our tribe.  In many things in life, those of us who choose to homestead, who choose to grow and raise our own food, to make do instead of buy new, who choose a life full of simplicity that is in fact hard and not at all simplistic, we are the weirdos.  We are the folks that others frequently ask, “why?”  But man, did we ever find our tribe.  I feel that I behaved quite well, since one of the things my sweet husband asked before we went was, are you going to fangirl when you get to meet Joel?  Or Doug and Stacy?  Nah, I got this.  Omg omg omg omg!!!

We talked to so many people we had just met, and it felt like we were meeting up with old friends.  We talked to folks about pigs, rabbits, sheep, chickens (obviously), tools, blacksmithing, canning, gardening, mushrooms; we exchanged ideas and inspiration.  We learned and planned ways to improve and expand our own homestead in the coming months.  And everyone around us was doing the same.  Children that had never met were playing and making new friends.  Even the police tasked with keeping a rowdy crowd of homesteaders safe commented to the organizers they had never had a group that large behave that well.  I guess that’s what happens when you find other people so like you.


I have to admit that leading up to the conference, I was getting a little bogged down with the stress of everything.  Homesteading is hard, especially when you have two full time jobs, one of which keeps you far from home half the week.  Leaving the conference that evening after a full day of so many cool things, my heart felt so light.  My head was swimming with inspiration and ideas.  And I have a renewed confidence in what we are doing.  The day after we got home from the conference, we had to butcher our two pigs.  They were 100 pounds past where we wanted them, it was time.  I knew I needed to help but I had absolutely not prepared.  At all.  Think walking into a chemistry test without going to class.  Ever.  That’s kind of how I felt.  Today is day 4 of processing our first two hogs we have ever raised.  We haven’t slowed down, working 10-11 hours a day to get this meat packaged and sorted.  The pig butchery tale is one for another day and another blog or two, but when it was time for me to step up and start working on one of the pigs, I had confidence that with some real time instruction from my husband and the demo we attended at the conference about hog butchery, I was able to dive in and do the work.

Lard canning

I commented the other day that I will need a vacation from my vacation, but really, despite being sore in places I didn’t even realize I had muscles, I feel better than I have in a while.  There is something to be said for touching base with your tribe from time to time, and with that in mind, we are already planning on attending the conference next year.  And hopefully I will be able to keep in touch with the people we met and talked to at the conference.  I could sit and talk for days about everything that we got to see, but there’s broth that needs to be canned and salsa to put up.  Check in with me later, there will be more to talk about.


Plugged In, Tuned Out

Daphne (1)

We have been so plugged in this week. On social media, watching YouTube videos, texting, TV on, you get the idea. We tend to strike a decent balance between not remembering where we set down our electronic devices and keeping up with the digital world. And my husband and I both recognize that the weeks that we spend less time in front of a screen, the better we feel. The content and context of the screen time is relevant, but so often, when we are trying to find something specific, like a recipe or a video tutorial, we end up in the bottomless scroll. You know exactly what I’m talking about, because even if you haven’t personally experienced it, a family member has in your presence. We tell ourselves, “I will just check this really quickly, and once I get to the bottom of the page, I will go do something productive.” Except the social media gurus know that’s what you are going to do, and if you leave their page, you can’t see the ads they are getting paid so well to display, so they design their sites to be always updating, and never ending. In a time when our collective attention span rivals that of the goldfish for shortness, the minds that brought you the timeline and live videos also made sure that there is always new content on their pages. Don’t leave! What if you miss something? That’s how you sit down to update your profile with a picture of your super healthy and delicious breakfast, and look up to find out you’ve been scrolling for approximately 2 years, 5 months and a week. Quick, take a selfie and document the moment.

Pig nose

We are all guilty of this. We live in a plugged in world. High school and college classes and projects/assignments are online, businesses conduct meetings with members around the globe onscreen, online searches take minutes to find data to support your Facebook argument, or find a recipe that is on that new diet you’re following. And most importantly, we have access to a constant barrage of advertisements letting us know exactly what is missing from our lives. What I tend to forget frequently is how detrimental being this plugged in is for me. My brain doesn’t like it, and my mood really takes a hit when I spend a lot of time online. I promise I get the irony of talking about being online as a negative as I sit typing a blog on my laptop. The point is more that I have to work to remind myself that going outside or working in my kitchen is going to bring me longer lasting enjoyment than scrolling through my feed. I like seeing people’s pictures, especially of kittens and food, but man does it make my brain turn to mush when I get sucked into reading the news or an article about politics. I like to know what’s going on in the world, but there is a limit to what I can ingest in a day and still maintain a good mood.

Drake molting

My husband dragged me outside earlier this evening and I took my camera. One of my favorite hobbies is taking pictures and I have dropped the ball on walking around with my camera and soaking up outside time. Just being out, walking the property, catching the ducks playing in the pond, scratching the pig’s ears, and walking with the hens, soothes my whole being like nothing else can. Except maybe bread. My farm is my giant red reset button, and every time I go out and just look around, I am reminded that turning off the devices and looking at what’s real and in front of me is important, necessary and what I need every day.
Tomorrow I will do better. Maybe I will turn the devices off all day, who knows. Wouldn’t that be a trip? To take a step back in time, and not know instantly what is going on in the world? I need to try it.

Wyandotte (1)

Pining for Fall

Pumpkin patch

While fall is imminent, I just wish it felt more like it.  Summer is my least favorite of all seasons and I am ready for this one to be over with.  I realized we are trying to artificially make it fall at my house this week.  While my husband is outside heat treating some knives he’s working on for orders, the smell of what could be a campfire wafts into the house proper.  We harvested pumpkins earlier from the garden and I am ready to find a thousand and one recipes to use up my pumpkins.  While he’s outside working on knives, I’m inside working on baking.  I have squash bread in the oven and I’m thinking about the best way to start butter so I can slather our baked goods today with homemade butter.  We have planted the fall garden, so there is broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, cabbage, Napa cabbage, and onions out there now, making use of what was the green bean rows.  I have had my pumpkin pie Scentsy on pretty much non stop for two weeks.

It’s not that I hate summer, it’s just that I really love fall.  Especially after summer, which is hot and humid and there are a lot of bugs.  I like cooler weather and no bugs.  And baking.  And all of the holidays that come with this time of year.  The holidays that are dedicated to eating.  I know the real reason for those holidays isn’t food, but they are the best because of the food traditions.  Diets go out the window, differences are mostly ignored and people gather round tables to share food.  It has been my thought that a lot of things could be worked out if people just shared food more often.  You and Uncle Larry don’t like each other?  Surely you can find some common ground over Aunt May’s chocolate silk pie.  And honestly if neither of them can cook, don’t even worry about fixing the relationship.  But in all seriousness, if people were more willing to explore other people’s food traditions and share a meal, there would be a lot less hate in this world.

But I digress.  So far this week we have harvested four or five pumpkins, all of which look fantastic.  They were an accident really.  My husband threw a bunch of squash seeds on the compost pile, and now a pumpkin and butternut squash patch have taken over our yard.  As long as I get food from it, I’m all for it.  We also have some potato plants in there that are super happy.  We might get the first potatoes we have ever grown later this fall.  And today we dug up sweet potatoes we had tossed in a pot and forgot about.  We got about a pound of potatoes and that to us is amazing since they have lived on serious neglect all summer.  The pumpkins got a lot of neglect as well.  Once they started doing well we watered them if they needed it, but really growing in the compost pile could be the best kind of neglect.  They get fertilized by everything breaking down out there and the soil isn’t super unforgiving.

The smell of baked things with cloves and cinnamon is filling the house and making me a little hungry.  If you have any pumpkin recipes, send them my way.  For now, I will bake squash bread and wait for the pumpkins we have to cure so I can start cooking with them.



Chickens everywhere


We put my desk in the dining room next to the French doors that look out over the backyard.  While I sit here trying to think of clever things to write, I can look out and see what kinds of insanity my birds are getting up to.  Half the time they are on the back porch looking in at me, probably trying to figure out why I would just sit there when they so clearly need treats.  We have one that comes in now to lay her egg.  She is a young hen, she just started laying a week ago.  She watched a different chicken come in the house a couple of times and figured it would be worth trying.  So one day, when the door was open because we were carrying something in or carrying something out, she waltzed on in like she had done it a million times.  Whatever beacon guided her there, I don’t know, but this hen sauntered over to the dog crate we have on the outside wall of the kitchen and hopped on top where we keep a cat bed, typically for the cats.  She kicked and wiggled her butt and threw straw around in that bed for a while, then she went outside.  She repeated this the next day.  And the next.  On that third day, she laid a perfect, teeny tiny, brown fairy egg.  That’s what they’re called when they are small and are usually either laid by a hen that is brand new, or starting to get old.  After she left her present for us, she hopped down and wanted back out.  That was 6 eggs ago.  She comes in every day, rain or shine, to lay an egg in that cat bed.  And then she goes right back out.  So we basically get breakfast delivered to our kitchen.

Chickens are funny.  We don’t really know what possessed her to try that out, to even try coming in the house.  The other chicken does it because she knows that’s where people treats are kept and she gets put right back out.  We have another hen, a small brown girl, the same age as the egg in the house chicken, who waits at the door to the coop every night until you come out to close them up.  She wants to talk and talk the whole time you are in there gathering the eggs and getting the coop ready for nighttime.  Then she gets up in her favorite spot and tucks in for bed.  We have chickens that would follow you all over this property, but the minute you acknowledge they are there, start pecking around like they weren’t just following you.  You’re not fooling us, chicken.  We have a chicken, that when you sit down, she gets in your lap and demands to be held.  Not just to sit with you, she wants to be held.  Put down your phone, human or I will put it down for you.

And they’re smarter than people give them credit for.  They learn and they figure stuff out.  If a chicken really wants something, it will find a way to get it.  Even if that something is just a warm, dry place in a kitchen to lay an egg.