Thursday, February 27, 2014

"The Earth Is Where We Make Our Stand..."

That's a quote from Carl Sagan. He's not talking about some movie to defeat aliens and save the planet from invasion. He's talking about making the most of life on Earth right now. February is nearly finished and so winter is drawing to a close for another year. The Vernal Equinox, when the sun is half way between the summer and winter solstice, is coming in 3 weeks and we can clearly see the days getting longer here in the northern hemisphere. It's now light when we go to work and school and when we come home. The long dark is over.

With the growing height of the sun in the sky we're starting to feel more warmth from the light even on days that are bitterly cold. So it's time to think about the early plants for the garden. March in Nova Scotia is always a mix of bitter cold winter weather and warm springlike days. So planting things out into regular garden beds is still impossible because the tender young plants would just freeze solid on a bad day. But to get a jump on gardening we're starting our seeds indoors and thinking about setting up a lean-to greenhouse or some other way of having our seedlings get the light and warmth from the sun during the day and still stay warm at night. The reality for us at the moment means we'll be moving trays indoors at night and outside to the lean-to when it's warmed up. That's not for another week at least though as we just had a -14 night. We're not our of winter yet. But we're hopeful. Next year we will have a year round greenhouse located behind our home and that will allow for a lot more out of season growing so stay tuned for more details as the year progresses. Our first plastic greenhouse covers will be here shortly and we'll let you know how they work out.

Meghan's lettuce seeds and radishes she planted in cups have come through and their little green heads have brought her a huge amount of joy. There's something that's always amazing about seeing a dried up little seed put forth it's first root and leaves and it never fails to strike me as glorious! She'll no doubt have pics up soon.

This year I'd like to encourage you to try one thing each week that's good for the environment. Or maybe something that's good for mankind. Maybe you'll switch laundry detergent to something less polluting or grow lettuce for one meal. Maybe you'll participate in Earth Hour and switch off some lights or hang your clothes out on a clothes line to dry instead of using the dryer. Whatever you do, can you imagine how great it would be if a billion people were doing something at the same time? Each person on the planet, one time per week. That's 7 billion things each week.

Sometimes we have to start small with the world around us. Teaching our children, exploring new ideas, being kind to someone else. It was Mother Theresa who said "we can do no great things, just small things with great love" and she was right.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Appreciate Your Local Farmers

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
                                                             -Robert A. Heinlein

How many people do you know that are really good at their job? I mean REALLY good. Often they've studied for years and dedicated both large amounts of money and time in accomplishing their goals of being top in their field. Generally speaking there's nothing wrong with finding out what you're good at and where your talents lie and then magnifying them. It's more efficient to have people do what they're good at for the benefit of society. You have the land and ability to raise animals, I like to raise vegetables, our friend Joe is good at healing people, and we all trade between ourselves and it works out. That's what makes communities, villages and whole societies work.   

The problems come when we have a society of people SO specialized that they have either an un-marketable skill or they are lacking the basic skills for everyday living. People who cannot clean a home, cook or take care of themselves. I don't mean the elderly or infirm, I'm talking about the computer programmer who understands the inner workings of everything digital who can't cook a baked potato in his microwave for 5 minutes. Or the researcher who can split atoms and never remember to by toilet paper for his apartment. If we're a society that thinks these things are important then we support them by paying large wages that allow them to hire people to run their lives for them as assistants and house keepers. They concentrate on the brain work and someone else keeps their home running smoothly. And that's where we're at right now. A small number of highly specialized people and an army of workers.

But wouldn't it be better for us as individuals if, in addition to our chosen profession, we had some other useful skills? What if there was a hurricane and we needed to board up our own windows and turn off the power because nobody was available to help us? What if we could use our gardening skills to help out a neighbour by trimming her trees and lawn? I'm not saying we have to be all things to all people, but developing some useful skills is never a waste of time. Even a brain surgeon can learn to grow herbs on his kitchen window sill.

Farmers are a great example of this. I would say that in the course of a year the average Canadian farmer does the following jobs to one degree or another:

structural engineer
etc etc etc

Farmers can do a lot with bale twine, nails and a hammer, and the ingenuity that's born of necessity. Why? Because some love it, and because farmers are busy and independent people by nature I would say. They will for sure call the vet when it's needed and the electrician if it's a tricky job but otherwise they're pretty good at knowing what they can fix and what is above their level of understanding. They'll often give it a shot and aren't afraid to get underneath something to see if it's an obvious problem they can solve themselves.

People still often think of farmers as 60 year old white haired men sitting on tractors, leaning on fences, wearing coveralls, chewing stalks of hay and acting a little slow mentally but nothing could be further from the truth. They tend to be a practical and well rounded bunch of people who also know who is good at what so they can ask for help if needed. Farmers are almost a community within a community. Sure some are specialized producers of only one crop but many, especially small scale farmers are reasonably good at many different things both on and off the farm. They make good neighbours and are often willing to lend a hand.

Farmers deserve respect. Sure, their tractor driving down the road might make you 2 minutes late getting somewhere, they may believe that a good roll of duct tape is worth it's weight in gold, they may use electrical tape for a band-aid (if they use them at all). But they work hard to feed us and to provide many of the products we use every day. So if you get a chance this coming year, stop at a road side stand or farmers market and tell them how much you appreciate them.  I know that I for one would appreciate it  :)     

Friday, February 21, 2014

Advice for Teenagers and their Parents

This was advice given to youth by a Judge in 1959. Yes, for many of us that's our parents and grandparents generation. But I would say that it still holds true today.

As a parent of teenagers, I can see that there are some things generally lacking in todays youth and they are:

*time spent with family, especially around the dinner table.
*time spent working or volunteering (lots of teens lack any work ethic at all).
*wholesome recreational activities and by that I mean what we used to call 'good clean fun'.

Now don't misunderstand, I'm not calling my kids or all kids lazy or super hard working either. They all have their moments. I'm just making some very broad generalizations about youth in general who have grown up with the internet and being connected for most of the hours of the day. They can text during school, snapchat during dinner, and be playing farmville and minecraft until they fall asleep. All the while avoiding a lot of face to face conversation with people as well as chores and reading/studying. And we adults often cater to this. Is it any wonder that they all go nuts when the power goes out because their devices might actually lose battery power soon? It's actually laughable to see the panic in their eyes. And by pandering to them I think that we've made the transition from student to adult worker harder than it needed to be. They haven't been broken in gently or had time to make mistakes. Most of us have worked a minimum wage job at some time that we hated and we had to learn to find another job, quit or get fired. So many young people today aren't even getting their first job until after college in their 20's and haven't made all the 'learning to get along with co-workers' mistakes that us older folks made when still in our teens. And chores seem to be a thing of the past too. When we lived in Greenwood we lived in a sub-division filled with families. And out of all my children's friends I think our kids were some of the only ones who actually worked for their allowance. There were some 10 year old's who receive $30 per week in allowance and do nothing for it while my kids slaved away for a few dollars per week. I know, I'm such an evil mother. But I'm glad that they've learned the value of a dollar.

Is it any wonder things in society are mixed up? Youth aren't learning the lessons they need to while still young, and yet at the same time children 10 years old are exposed to the internet and cable television unsupervised for 8 or more hours per day, more time than is spent in school and with their family combined in a huge number of cases. Who do you want shaping and teaching your children's minds? Yourself or the entertainment industry? We all say that children are growing up so fast these days but they're not getting a well rounded growing up experience at all unless they learn how to work for things, how to save and budget and how to get along with others.

And that's why I pledge the following:

*I will reduce the amount of time my children spend on the computer and watching tv
*We will eat more meals together at the table
*I will make volunteer work a regular activity and fun at the same time
*I will set an example by working harder myself and not complaining
*I will get to know my teens better
*I will provide more family time and activities
*We will set aside one evening a week to do something together

And I invite you to look at your teens and think about ways you can help them grow into responsible adults too. It's the best way we can help our planet and invest in our future.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Famous Canadian Blogger

I was reading through the comments section of my blog this afternoon and there are a couple of recurring themes besides the whole 'please check out my website' requests. The first one is 'thanks for giving me some new ideas to think about' and the second one is 'this was great, you must be a really famous blogger'.

To which I have these replies:

1. You're welcome! I like to explore and study new things and having a blog just gives me an excuse to write about them and have a place I can look them up again. It's sort of like my good idea filing system.

2. Thanks, and no I'm not famous, lol. This is possibly the least read blog in Nova Scotia or Canada. And actually a good portion of my readers are international which is terrific. I guess people like it because my writing style is what I'd call conversational and is pretty much the way I speak in everyday life. You can just ask my friends. I like it. I don't know if that makes it more or less entertaining to read but it works for me. I'm not likely to ever be a famous blogger as I'm writing about family, farm, and community life and not something exciting like famous people, sex, money or music. But that's ok. If you get even one useful tip from reading my blog then I'm happy to have helped.

So thanks for reading and hanging out with me on the internet. I know I'm just a little blog in an ocean of online media, but I appreciate the more than 200,000 page views and hope that you'll stick with me as we get moved onto the farm full-time and the adventures continue!

Stretching your Food Budget

Everyone at one time or another has had to stretch their food budget. Some people have to do it all the time and others learn to make do when there's an emergency such as a hurricane or blizzard. Learning how to cook on top of your regular woodstove is important but then again, so is having the ingredients in the first place. You can't have 100 spices and exotic herbs sitting in your kitchen wasting space and money and not know how to use them. That's not thrifty. Better to have a dozen that are not stale and really know how to use them well.

Having some of the basic ingredients on hand and knowing how to use them can really make your food go a lot further. Having flour is all well and good but having just a little yeast, sugar and dried fruit suddenly means you've got fruit buns, or even hot cross buns if you add a little spice to them. Eggs, flour, milk and salt give you the choices to make crepes or Yorkshire puddings (I think they're called popovers in the US). And that's what we had for lunch today.

I'm trying to use up and rotate some of our food stores so the girls and I did a bunch of baking today. It was a snow day so no school and it just seemed like the perfect time to teach them another baking lesson on how to knead bread by hand and the proper way to beat eggs. We made banana bread, hot cross style buns and Yorkshire puddings with gravy and vegetables plus some of our thinly sliced lonzino for lunch. Despite the skepticism of one son, they all ate with gusto. I baked the puddings in my tortilla pans to give them an interesting shape and to make them enormous and slightly hollow in the middle, then I made up some gravy with a packet mix and a bouillon cube with flour and water and in it I cooked a half package of frozen veggies. I sliced the meat thin, placed in in the depression in the pudding then filled it with the veggie/gravy mix.

The results? Filling and Delicious! Now it's time to teach a lesson on cleaning up after you bake.

We're making a concerted effort to eat less refined sugar and flour and increase the amounts of vegetables both raw and cooked that we eat each day, but on a snowy day like today it's always good to have some comfort food too.

I've got to get going and stir my beans on the woodstove, I'm making baked beans from scratch and figured that if the woodstove was on I might as well use the heat for something extra useful. Here's my recipe if you're interested in making your own Yorkshire's.

Yorkshire Pudding Recipe

3 Eggs
1-1/4 cups  milk
2 Tbsp Melted butter or oil
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt

Beat the eggs, then add the remaining ingredients and beat smooth for 2 minutes. Leave at room temp for an hour or two before cooking. You'll need to cover it and stir again before baking.  When you're almost ready to begin baking, turn the oven on to 375f (gas 6) and lightly grease your tin or tins. These can be made in muffin tins with great success. Pour in your batter and bake for 30-40 minutes or slightly longer if using a big tin. It'll be puffed up and slightly darker than golden brown. Traditionally served in our house with roast beef, gravy and vegetables.

I always double this recipe but this should make 12 mice muffin sized puffs.

Cost of todays lunch was probably $6 because I made a double batch plus the gravy and veg. It fed 6 adults. Dessert was buns and juice for another $3 so a total of $9 or $1.50 per person.  Take that McDonald's!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Simple Solutions - Often the Best

People often marvel at our family and the way we're able to make things work, make do, build things ourselves, all with little money. Well it's partly because we want to be that way, partly because Stephen is a handyman genius, and partly because we cannot afford to do it any other way. Yes we have a 2 bedroom mobile home. Yes we have 5 teenagers still at home. Yes, we realize that's not enough room for everyone...yet. That's why we're building the additions one at a time as money allows. But we've also got to do the boring stuff like feed and clothe everyone, keep the car running so Steve can work, feed the animals, pay the bills and rent until we get moved. Money is tight as you can imagine. We've got a plan and we're working towards it and getting closer all the time. There's a balance between having good quality tools to make work easier and having only those things that we need. Why own 50 gardening tools if all you really need are the basic 6?

One thing we're really trying to do is raise our family while incurring as little debt as possible. It's tougher than you might imagine. No credit cards. No big house mortgage (just one on our land). A small line of credit for development of our land such as putting in the well. Everything costs money it seems, especially when you're starting from scratch. But we're getting there. Once the kids move out it should be a little easier but for now we just do what we can.  Two down and five more to go :)

Our house, buildings, fences and farm may not be fancy but they're ours and they're functional. 

There's something special about an item that's perfectly designed for it's purpose. 

Simple can be beautiful!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Sometimes it seems Spring will never come.

This time of year sees farmers itching to get back out into our fields. Gardeners feel the same way too. We get teased by spells of warmer drier weather only to be then sent packing by wind and snow that ices everything over again and reminds us that Winter rules for several weeks yet. The animals can't go outside not because it's so cold, but because it's so muddy. Their feet would quickly churn the fields into a muddy mess and there's nothing much for them to nibble anyways. So we're all stuck inside for a little bit longer. We have snow in the forecast again for tomorrow so today's a good day to bring in some more firewood and have some bales of hay ready for the sheep over the next few days. Hard weather is much easier to deal with if you're prepared. Good clothing for working outside and an easily accessed food source for your animals is important.

We're now at that time of year when the day length is increasing faster and the added day length is so wonderful in cheering everyone up. Many people are thinking about starting their seeds now and getting a jump on the season. And others are planning their crops for the coming year. There are always things that need to be done in the winter such as pruning fruits and mending fences so farmers certainly don't sit around all day. Unless you're our son Jordan. He fell on some ice on our neighbours driveway last week and broke his leg and ankle so he's had surgery and is now laid up for several weeks. Poor guy, he's mad about missing the rugby season and is hoping he'll be able to play for the last few weeks if he's lucky.

We're getting the last of the plans made for the community garden and then once the snow is cleared in March and the ground has dried enough we'll be out plowing and rototilling to get it all ready for our gardens in April/May. It's going to be a fantastic year! Let us know if you're interested in a garden plot, we still have a couple of larger ones available and some 10x10's too. Perfect for a small family or a single person, or even to grow and donate the veggies to the community.

6 weeks until Spring!