Thursday, July 21, 2016

I've Got Them Summertime Applesauce Blues Again

Nothing says summer like the sound of mason jars popping on the counter while they're cooling from the canning bath. A friend kindly let us come over and pick her early transparent apples, and we ended up with some of our best applesauce yet. These vintage style blue canning jars give it a little pizzazz on the pantry shelves, and I'm looking forward to eating many lattke and applesauce dinners this winter. Definitely the best kind of summertime blues. June and July have been a whirlwind on the homestead, but there are many exciting things to write about when I get a chance. Be prepared for tales of rose petal wine, canning shenanigans and backpacking in Yosemite just to name a few!

Friday, June 17, 2016

A Re-purposed Brick Patio Memorial

There is just something about old clay bricks. I have long admired brick pathways and patios with little ground covers like Irish moss and creeping thyme growing in between the cracks. My Grandpa Jack also recognized the crafted quality and value of old bricks enough to dismantle a brick hearth in their home and clean the mortar off of every single one to re-use for a future project.Years later, he ended up moved the pile of bricks to their new house on Bainbridge Island, and that future project never came along, but at some point I noticed and appreciated the brick pile on their back patio, and that's where this project began. When my Grandpa's health was failing a year ago, I told him I would come and get his pile of bricks and make a patio out of them. He passed away not long after, and in his honor I wrote this eulogy: Old Growth: A Eulogy for my Grandfather, and brought a utility trailer up to Washington to make good on my word and pick up the bricks after the family memorial. 

We hauled over 300 bricks my Grandpa had cleaned and moved to their house on Bainbridge Island all the way back to our homestead on the McKenzie in a little utility trailer. It blew a tire going down the freeway, which was a little more excitement than I was looking for, but it all turned out OK and they made it to our house. Once we started measuring the area and really calculating, we realized we were going to need more bricks. We had some shenanigans with new bricks from the hardware store. I won't go into all the drama, but the big lesson there is new concrete bricks are nothing like old clay bricks and they do not match at all. To be perfectly honest, they are hideous in comparison. I finally found the rest of the bricks we needed on Craigslist from a guy who demolishes historic houses for a hobby on the weekends and saves all the vintage building materials. He had done a fairly decent job cleaning them off, and while we were loading them he told me the story of the 1910 farmhouse they came out of with two fireplaces. I liked knowing these bricks had a history of their own.

There was a little more work to be done removing the mortar from the farmhouse bricks, and Corey said he felt like he was really connecting with my Grandpa when he was working on them. It really gave us a perspective on the quality job he had done cleaning his bricks. They were immaculate, and we know from experience now that that was no easy task.

Since this was meant to be a memorial project, it seemed fitting that we spend Memorial Day weekend working on it, and just in time for my Grandma to come for her first visit to our homestead. We were advised to do things "the right way" by digging, filling with gravel, compacting the gravel, and leveling a layer of sand. These steps took a lot more work than I anticipated, but it did make for a fairly even surface to begin working with. A group of friends came over to help dig the area out, and another came to haul loads of gravel the next morning up the hill of our driveway. Another friend helped us build a wooden frame around the area to hold the bricks in, which I didn't really like the look of, but we figured out creative ways to hide it on  most of the edges. This really ended up being a community effort which made it feel like even more of a fitting tribute to my Grandpa.

Pounding those bricks into place was a lot of hard work. We pounded bricks for a couple of days straight, and it's trickier than you might think to get them all level and even in the sand. Another friend came to our aid, and pounded many bricks into place one evening. 

Seeing all the bricks in place was a really good feeling. I am sure my Grandpa would be pleased to know all his hard work on those bricks went to such good use for his family, and it really makes you think about all the ways that our work can outlive us and benefit future generations.

After the bricks were all set and pounded into place, we dumped wheelbarrow loads of sand on top and swept it into all the holes and spaces around the bricks.

Corey built a wooden frame in the middle and we set our campfire ring into place in the middle. This was the same campfire ring we put together with rocks gathered from a nearby creek with my son a few months after we moved in, so they had their own special significance.

Once we started pouring the concrete around the campfire ring, it started setting up faster than we anticipated. The mosaic had to be made in a hurry, but all in all it still turned out very nicely. Again, we had a little help from a friend who showed up at just the right time.

When my parents brought my Grandma into town for the kids Waldorf graduation, we had an inaugural campfire that she had the honor of lighting.

Then we all got to sit around and enjoy the results of our labor. She told stories of my Grandpa cleaning all the mortar off the bricks and I think he was definitely there with us that evening.

A big part of what really makes a home a home is all the hard work and history behind things. Our family may not have been living on this homestead for generations, but there are pieces of our family history everywhere. Grandpa Jack's brick patio will always have a story, and in this way his hard work and our hard work on it will live on. Plants from my Great Grandmothers are growing in the garden, our books are on a shelf made by my parents, family hand-me-downs and the stories behind them are everywhere you look. We may live in a day and age where staying in place on the family homestead is a thing of the past, but we're doing our best to create one where we're at. I think my Grandpa would appreciate that.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Indian Plum Harvest and Shrub Recipe

The Indian Plum (osoberry, bear berry) has ripened and gone in our woods, but I managed to pick some this year before the birds got them all! Normally, the birds and bears get to them before I realize they're ripe, so I was very pleased with myself. I wrote about the shrub a couple of years ago, Indian Plum: The Herald of Spring, while I was appreciating the flowers, but now I can say from experience that the fruit is equally worthy of appreciation.

A friend was visiting and noticed them near our chicken coop, so I picked a bowl and proceeded to look through all the recipes I had filed away for future use. A lot of the jam and jelly recipes involved a lot of work and de-pitting that I did not have time for with our Waldorf graduation going on, so I decided to try a recipe for Osoberry Shrub from Gather Victoria. As it turns out, shrub is not just something that grows in the woods, it's a traditional fruit and vinegar beverage for flavoring drinks. Some friends of ours brought over a Soda Stream recently with several flavors of shrub, including beet and blackberry and made natural sodas for the kids and cocktails for the adults. It was a big hit. I decided with summer coming up, it would be nice to have something wildcrafted in the fridge for making refreshing drinks with, so I gave it a go. It was very easy, and yielded a very earthy, tangy flavor. It will be just the right thing for a hot day.

Here is a link to the recipe:

Monday, June 13, 2016

A Waldorf Graduation

You may have noticed things have been quite on this blog lately, and that is because we have been busy wrapping up 8 years at our Waldorf school with my kids graduation last week. A Waldorf education was something I just knew as a parent that I needed to make happen for my kids, and seeing it through 8th grade graduation was a big goal. It has taken a lot of hard work and perseverance all around, and it's hard to believe that we actually did it. It's been a bittersweet time the last few weeks of wrapping things up, revisiting a lot of memories, preparing to set off on new adventures, and saying goodbye.

This has been a long road, with somewhat of a bumpy start. My daughter started in first grade, and her twin brother wasn't able to join until third grade. I still remember how happy I was the day both of my kids finally started attending school there. I wrote about it nearly 6 years ago: A Waldorf Education.

We had many fun adventures through the years with our class including farm field trips, apple picking, cider pressing parties and yearly class campouts.

On one field trip, we visited a farm powered by a team of draft horses and learned a lot about traditional farming practices and where our sustenance comes from. I was very inspired from a homesteading standpoint, and wrote about it here: Draft Horse Field Trip

Every fall, the entire school gathered on the lower field to celebrate the festival of Michaelmas and honor the situations we must all face where we confront our dragons in life. It always prompted me to think about what I had been up against each year and what things I had overcome.

The winter festivals always brought a lot of light into the darkest time of year, and the Advent spiral walk was always one of my favorites. All the glowing candles radiated a glow that could warm me up from the inside on even the coldest, darkest day.

Not to mention the crystal cookie cave at the Winter Light Faire. I could seriously just go sit in there for hours if they would let me.

We learned about festivals like Santa Lucia Day, St. Nicholas, Hanukah, and many more.

We rang in the spring with May Faire every year and the 4th grade may pole dance.

My kids seemed so grown up doing the may pole dance their fourth grade year, and this year as I watched the fourth graders dancing, they all seemed so little! Things like this have really marked the milestones along the way.

Every year the class put on an amazing play, traveling back through time, space, and folklore. Their subject matter ranged from Odin of Norse mythology,

to Ancient Greece, 

to the fairytale seaside kingdom of the Little Mermaid.

Through each one, they became a group of very accomplished thespians along the way. We even made a trip down to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival last fall to watch a production of Much Ado About Nothing, to prepare for their 80's Shakespeare production of Twelfth Night. (Yes that was a cool as it sounded!)

Most importantly, the class has been a community and second family for one another. They have grown up together, remained friends through thick and thin, and supported one another as they grew into the young adults they have become. Their teacher, whom they have had for all eight years, has been an amazing figure in their lives, and they have been so lucky to have her. Just as the class has been a community for the students, the school has been a community for the parents. These years we have spent here have been rich and full, sometimes difficult, and always a constant amidst life's transitions. I am extremely proud of my kids and proud of their class. As we move on into the next chapter of life, we have a lot of good things to take away with us, and great adventures ahead.

"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire."
~W.B. Yeats

Friday, May 27, 2016

Green House Got it Going On!

Times are still too busy to write much (Big Memorial Day weekend project in the works, and more to come on that soon), but I wanted to post a greenhouse update. The kale, arugula, lettuce and cilantro are all very happy and we are very happy with our salads. The starts are happy too. Basically, build a greenhouse and create all kinds of happiness. That's how it works.

Happy planting!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Garden is Planted!

The Garden is planted, let the growing begin!

(More soon, it is a busy time on the homestead.)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Homebrewing Nettle Beer

Something I have learned along the way in life is that a sense of adventure makes everything more fun. This is true for many things, including homebrewing and wildcrafting. Combine the two and you can end up brewing some pretty wild things while having fun along the way. I have wanted to brew nettle beer for a long time now, and just hadn't felt like I could pick enough quantity for a decent sized batch. This year, I decided to just go for it, so we found this recipe in the Guardian (Homebrew From the Hederow: Brewing Nettle Beer)  and multiplied it up to about 5 gallons.

Our scaled-up version of the recipe:

8.8 Lbs fresh nettle tops
5.2 gallons water
3.96 Lbs dark brown sugar
8 lemons juiced
.11 Lbs cream of tartar

Champagne Yeast

I must say, picking over 8 Lbs of nettles is quite an endeavor, and quite a lot of nettles. I had to really get into the nettle patch to fill my baskets, and did not come out unscathed, but the nettle stings were well worth it.

You would be surprised how long it takes to get 8 Lbs of nettles up to a boil. It took nearly an hour of heating to achieve 15 minutes of boiling. The backyard smelled delicious though.

Once we removed the strainer pot of nettles, we stirred in the lemon juice, sugar, and cream of tartar.

It ended up being a little much for the 5 gallon carboy and we had to use our 6 gallon, where the beer happily fermented away for about two weeks.

Reviews on the final product have been a little mixed. I really love it, but I also really love nettles.  It's not quite like beer, and is more like a refreshing cooler or tonic than a party beverage. The gravity reading came out at 5%, so it's pretty low-key. I personally love it because it tastes 100% like stinging nettles,  with an added bubbly kick. Just like springtime in a jar.