Admitting incompetence (or it’s hard to be a beginner!)

I read something recently that resonated with me strongly in its truth: Adults can forget how hard it is to be a beginner, and everything worth doing starts with an awkward beginning.

When you are a kid, you are surrounded by people who know more than you about what you’re doing, and you are constantly a beginner. You learn the letters. You learn to read. You learn to work with numbers. You learn to swim and bike. You have nothing familiar to stand on; it’s all completely new.

By the time we get older, those new experiences are harder to jump into. We want to feel like experts or at least like we have a clue what’s going on, and to step into something totally new is scary. We have enough solid, tested ground that we often don’t do it for that reason. We don’t have to. We do what we know and stick to that because it’s easier and feels comfortable.

I have perpetually, as an adult, felt like I should already be an expert at this or that field, like I somehow missed out on my opportunity that I should have learned how to ____. The right answer is that it’s never too late to learn, but that’s easier said than done. I think I should already know how to use this tool or fix this bike or jump into this project and it’s embarrassing to admit you are clueless, especially around someone else who does have more know-how. It’s easy to be a beginner surrounded by other beginners, but to admit to a more competent person that you are not, is super uncomfortable. Instead of having the attitude of learner, I am on the defense, which is not a posture of learning.

Another part of the struggle is that it take mental and emotional energy to do new things. I am poured out much of the time with my kids and to be a beginner is beyond my capacity (or so I think). Adventures tend to fuel me, and creative space fuels me, but when I don’t have either, it’s hard to jump into something new.

My little adventures of late have helped me. I can move from them to something I don’t know all about already and it does not intimidate me nearly as much. But I still struggle to have the posture of a beginner, take off the mask of pretending I know something, and really focus and start to learn.

And really, having an interesting life requires being a beginner often, don’t you think?

What about you? Do you find yourself on the defensive when you don’t know about something or have a ridiculous list of things you think you should already know? What helps you to be a beginner? Or anything you are glad you learned after putting it out there that you didn’t have a clue?

Posted in Learning/Goals | Leave a comment

Pumpkin day, and other fun with food processing

P1110341“Pumpkin day” was never an event I sought to create. It started out of need four years ago, as in, I had lots of pumpkins that needed to be cooked and frozen in baggies and I was not getting it done. I cleared my agenda one day for pumpkins, added pumpkin carving for the kids, roasted pumpkin seeds, and apple cider, and it has become an annual event that the kids beg for.

Pumpkin day for us was yesterday. Although I didn’t finish all my pumpkin processing, I’ve done enough that I have momentum, and if I slacked off and didn’t do any more, it would be okay. We could always feed the rest of the pumpkins to the cows and goats- they love them.

Making food processing activities into events is actually a fun way to go about it when it works. It’s an annual activity and it feels very satisfying and fitting for the season. I should do it more.

On a tangent, we met a woman this summer that had raised her children on a small farm like ours and she told us that for her family, Saturday was “farm day”. Now, her grown children still come home on Saturdays because that is their tradition…it’s still “farm day.”  Maybe a concept we need to consider, instead of trying to squeeze in projects between a bunch of other activities.

As to food processing, I never met a canning jar I didn’t like. About a month ago, I ran out of jars. I went to three stores and all of them were out of jars and not ordering more. At the fourth store, they had three boxes left, so like any normal person, I bought all of them. I will use every one.

Most of my food processing is down to a routine. However, I did try some new things this year:

I made apple cider vinegar! I did it small scale because I didn’t want to waste our yummy apple cider, but it worked beautifully. I just left apple cider out with a cheesecloth over the top and added a little Braggs vinegar to the jar. Within 3 weeks, it was vinegar.

Did you know you can make zucchini candy? I soaked chopped zucchini in grape juice concentrate overnight, then dried it in the dehydrator and it’s just like gummy candy. It is seriously so good.

In the past, I have dried rosehips to add to tea in the winter (vitamin C), but I use it very inconsistently. I ran across the idea of rosehip syrup…now I know we’ll use that. It was so simple to make and everyone loves it as an alternative to maple syrup on pancakes and such.

My kids are obsessed with ground cherries and they asked me if there was a way to preserve them. Google it, right? Hello, ground cherry preserves. They smell wonderful, although we haven’t tried them yet.

I am saving one more experiment until I free up some canning jars in a month or so…canned carrots. We usually just root cellar our carrots so there never seemed to be a point in canning them. Some friends told us that canned carrots are amazingly good, so I want to try a batch just to test it out.

Hooray for food processing almost done for the year. But don’t get me wrong- I love the process of doing it too.

Did you try any new to you food processing this year? Have you made zucchini candy?

Posted in Homesteading skills | 2 Comments

Homeschooling adventures

I’m on a homeschool field trip high right now. Forgive me.

P1110330 P1110332Yesterday, we toured a real dairy farm, drinking chocolate milk while the cows went in to be milked. Pretty cool. BenBen might have found his life calling. After an hour and a half at the dairy, I practically had to drag him out; he kept thinking of “one more thing he had to do.” Now, I’m thinking we need to tour another dairy, since they are all set up differently.

This past weekend, the kids and I had another learning adventure. Right across the border there was a “walk to freedom” following the path of the underground railroad that escaped slaves used as they traveled into Canada. I was surprised to learn last year that this area was in fact part of the underground railroad (northern Maine? really?), but there was a Quaker community here that aided them in hiding, they crossed into Canada where the federal bounty on slaves no longer applied, and when they reached the lake we hiked to, they knew they were free. From there, it’s not far to the St. John River and travel by boat to the Atlantic Ocean.

P1110272To make the whole event more understandable to the kids, we toured a local church which used to belong to the Quakers, where the escaped slaves were hidden in the floorboards of the altar. We got to see where they were hidden and we talked through how they would have traveled and what the danger was like.

From there, we crossed into Canada and hiked more than 3 miles along a marked trail to the lake. Although the trail was marked, it was rough. We crossed a bunch of streams. We scrambled up and down steep streambanks. We squeezed between trees. We got our feet wet in mud and bogs many many times. These “hardships” were by design. We could easily imagine this was how the people truly traveled. They were not walking on the well-worn path. Their feet got wet. They were muddy. They thought they would never get there (and it was long enough that the kids felt this way). The only difference is that we had a marked path…they didn’t even have that luxury.

More than any book we could read or movie we could watch, this event made real to us what these people felt as they traveled to freedom. It was inspiring, and I am certain we need to do this every year we can. It opened up great conversations.

Another awesome event this past week that opened up great conversation was volunteering at a food pantry in our town. In the past, we have not found places that allowed children to work, because let’s admit it. It is a lot more work to have kids there. The volunteers at this food pantry called our kid chaos “energy”. They said we could come back. And our homeschool group packed up 140 bags of groceries for people in need in our town. I am excited to get a regular routine of helping there.

I feel blessed that although we live in a rural place that there are amazing opportunities all the time to expand our world. In the past month, we have watched a real Amish barn raising, walked on the International Appalachian Trail, toured a fire station, and passed through customs several times. That’s pretty good variety.

As I considered all these interesting things to do, I told John I was overwhelmed with the adventures to be had in our area. John looked at me skeptically.

“Or maybe adventure is just a state of mind..?”

“It’s a state of mind,” he quickly affirmed.

Well, call it what you will. Last week, a friend and I trimmed around some wild apple trees so we’ll hopefully get more apples for sauce next year…even that is something interesting and different. I felt thankful for the variety in my life. Being a homemaker is truly the best job in the world…I have so much freedom.

When we do these events, we do them just because we want to, which brings up an interesting thought. I know at some point my kids need that badge or award for what they do to give it a name. A friend of mine told me that Hannah would naturally get a bunch of girl scout badges, just by nature of what we do, nothing contrived. We don’t need to do it for the badge now but I know sometime we might have to. For now, we’ll just do what we do.

There is plenty to keep us learning.

What adventures have you found lately? What’s your favorite field trip you’ve done with kids?

Posted in Rural living | 5 Comments

Look who’s 3!

Although we told Sammy that at 3, he was now a big boy and ready to wear underwear, Sammy was not so convinced. He looked skeptically at the underwear I brought into the house for him and with all seriousness he said, “Mommy, you can put that back in the shed.” I know he’ll do it when he’s ready, and he’s determined not to wear underwear for the time being. Oh well!

P1110186 P1110210

Sammy is rarely serious. This is a boy that loves to have fun, and he makes sure that every day for the rest of us is an adventure. The other kids say that the Sammy math problem is that Sammy = fun. The rest of us think too much and contemplate big things, but Sammy keeps it light. We need it.

When Sammy is sweet, no one is sweeter, but he loves to be a buster too. “I doing a buster,” he sometimes says. He’s right.

For all his silliness though, Sammy is a worker. He loves to help and wants to work at whatever John or I am working at. He does chores with Daddy and helps with watering or gardening. If I am hanging laundry, I can always count on Sammy calling out, “Mommy, you need my help?” Of course I do. He will help grab clothes or clothespins or pick up what I drop. He’s a tireless worker and he won’t quit until I’m done.

Sammy has great endurance in general. There is only one speed for him, and it’s fast, but he can keep it up for a long time. He plays hard, but he also hikes hard. He has hiked as many as 5 miles in a day. Don’t underestimate those little legs!


For play, Sammy is all boy. It’s all tractors and trucks and cars. He got some matchbox cars recently and 5 of them have been his constant companions ever since. Those little hands hold 5 vehicles, plus a plastic pizza cutter he’s obsessed with, to the car, to bed, to any location he is going. Add his doll, BB, and the boy was loaded down with his stuff. I had to give him a birthday gift early because he was struggling to manage his things…a backpack. When I put it on his back, he told me proudly, “Now I’m ready to go hiking.”

The way to my heart.

For Sammy’s birthday, we kept it low-key. We did the local corn maze and got ice cream during the day, and then had a family party that evening. The meal pick was an easy one for him: burgers, oven fries, chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, and strawberry ice cream.


Doing birthday questions with Sammy, as expected, was a hoot…

How old are you? 3

What do you want to be when you grow up? a farmer with a tractor

Where would you like to live when you grow up? in Canada

What is your favorite thing to do? ride on a tractor with a trailer

What is your perfect day? my favorite day…playing with cars and trucks

What would you like to learn about? getting trucks in my pack-pack

What did you do for your birthday? corn maze and ice cream, family party

Who is your best friend? Mommy and Daddy

What is your favorite thing you did this year? doing laundry with Mommy and picking potatoes with Daddy


food chocolate cake

vegetable tomato and cucumber and carrot

drink orange juice

animal elephant and camel

book tractor

song twinkle twinkle little star

color yellow

toy trucks

game playing with car tracks

restaurant pizza (after asking us, “what is a restaurant?” we had to give him ideas.)

holiday thanksgiving

birthday present backpack, matchbox cars, wallet, car tracks

Where would you most like to travel? to a restaurant

What are some of your wishes for this year? “I don’t ‘member. I love riding on elephants and seeing the kitties and giving them milk and food. I love seeing caterpillars and ladybugs and playing with big trucks. I love riding on cows.”

We love you, Sammy! Happy birthday!

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My planting addiction

Hello, my name is Amy and I am addicted to moving plants.

You might laugh and underestimate the force of this obsession, but it is dangerous. I will spend days and days replanting, rearranging, and otherwise moving perfectly healthy plants to a new location. This obsession also extends to a tendency to expand my planting areas. John is quick to note that I’m sometimes moving something that I literally moved yesterday, and I cannot deny the truth of this claim.

There. I’ve said it. And the truth is that I absolutely love it.

P1110229This fall, I have re-arranged my beds yet again, and I’m pretty excited to see what it comes out like next summer. I had some plants that were truly in the wrong places, as in, they need full sun and they were in the shade most of the time.

This summer, I had attempted to root cuttings of some plants and some of them took!  I didn’t use a mister, but even so, I got cuttings of elderberry and sedum to root beautifully. I planted them in the garden…hooray!

I decided to try an all white garden around the blue shed. I moved anything white blooming that I had to this area (hosta, Solomon’s seal, daisy, white phlox) and since have sought out some other white bloomers (white oriental lily, white astilbe, obedient plant, white yarrow). I think it’s going to be awesome!

I am also trying out a new theory with my plant arrangements. Before, I had similar plants scattered around the beds, like coneflower in various places and black eyed susan in various places, etc. Someone explained to me that it makes a more spectacular display to have similar plants in clump, so when it is blooming, it is a Wow! That made sense, so I have moved a lot of plants into clumps (yes, this was a ton of plant moving). I’ll try it out. If I don’t like it, I can always re-arrange again.

I would like to start using the hoophouse to help with my perennial plantings. I think I could overwinter lots of plants there and expand my stock if I learn how to do it. I have also realized that, not only with perennials, but also with our vegetable garden, I should be saving seeds. I am kind of embarrassed that I buy all my seeds. How un-independent!

Two new planting areas that I’d like to get prepared this fall for next spring is an herb spiral and a new bed that will be an old-fashioned farmhouse/dooryard garden. The plants are mostly for medicine or for dye…a fun concept if nothing else.

Eventually, I see myself having a business selling plants, or that is my dream. For now, it’s purely hobby. And I am trying to temper my addiction slightly. I have a friend who does side work cleaning up people’s gardens that have gotten out of hand. I realize that I am opening myself up to that possibility with too much to care for.

In fact, maybe that is just what I need. I should be finding someone else’s garden to care for, so I can direct my energy in a different direction. :)

Have you ever planted a garden all one color? Any other fun garden ideas you have tried?

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News around the farm…mid October

P1110223Well, it’s not around the farm, but it will sure help with our farm boots/jackets…we have cubbies in our entry now! We just need hooks and we are ready to go. Then, we’ll need to get used to using a different door to go in and out.

P1100952P1110226Our big fall project this year was burying a water line from the house to the barn. Previously, John carried water in 5 gallon buckets to the animals all winter when we couldn’t use a hose (5 months of the year). Carrying a full bucket in snow and ice is hardly an easy job. We hired someone to dig the trench, and we are filling it back in ourselves (minus sod and rocks so it doesn’t settle funny). We’re almost done!

P1110227My dad helped John put a cover over our outdoor basement entrance…oh happy day. No more blue tarp. It wasn’t a standard size and installing a bilco door was going to be very tricky, so they built a cover and I think it looks awesome.

We’re just about ready to freshen up our chicken flock. We have four new hens from this year and I am getting 6-7 more from a friend of about the same age. The older birds will become dinner (they are past their laying prime), plus we have some egg eaters and we are anxious to get rid of them. Ten or eleven birds should be a much more manageable number given the space we have.

I am so excited to start drinking Lila milk again. We took a break this summer from milking and milk processing because there was so much to do otherwise. We have one weekend away coming up and then I think we’re in the clear to start milking. Hooray!

We’re not all done with the garden, but we’re getting there. The outside gardens are almost all cleaned up and harvested. The hoophouse is another story, but we’ll get there.

I love our hoophouse. We’ve had an extra month of fresh picked tomatoes and cucumbers and eggplant, not to mention the increased yields for canning.

The goats are still grazing and cleaning up pasture. Sometimes we debate about the purpose of the goats now that the pasture is in better shape, but we’re keeping them for now. All the females are bred and will have babies this winter. Our thought is seeing if we can use caring for the babies as a kid project, and from there make a decision if keeping them makes sense.

Instead of goats, we were contemplating sheep when we were recently offered a starter herd for a low price. Maybe in the future? Animals are always easy to acquire but not always easy to get rid of. And honestly, wool is cheap, much cheaper than keeping an animal.

The animal I’d really like to try next is a pig. I have a few friends that keep pigs and love them. It’s all about good fencing. If we kept pigs, we would have to learn to process them ourselves, smoke the meat, etc, but we know people who can teach us. Fun times on the farm!

Back to animals we actually have, the kitties are doing great and our kids have been doing daily chores. I’m glad we have them!

How was your garden this year? Any outside projects you’ve been working on?

Posted in Farm | 2 Comments

Going to the fair

P1110070One of my very favorite days of the year is attending the Common Ground Fair in Maine. The first time we attended the fair, while apprenticing on a farm, we hated it. We went on Saturday (too crowded) and we somehow found ourselves in the expensive vendor side of the fair. We did not stay long.

Years later, we tried it again…and fell in love. Wiser, we attend on Friday and we totally skip the expensive vendor section (a tiny portion of all that is there).

P1110055 P1110084My parents call it the “hippie fair”, which I think is kind of funny. They look like normal people to me, but maybe that’s the influence of living in Maine. A friend of mine who is also from away tells me that after living in Maine for awhile, you see things with different eyes. She is probably right. Here, all kinds of houses intermix, there is seemingly no zoning, there are lots of small farms, and nature is always right there. I wouldn’t live anywhere else. And really, doesn’t everyone wear their babies, make their own soap, cloth diaper, and use herbal salves? Yes, I thought so.

I would love to actually attend the educational sessions at the fair. With four small kids, that is not what we’ll be doing for many years. Instead, we check out the handmade wares, see the sheep and watch sheepdog herding, do everything hands-on (apple cider, grain milling, threshing, jumping off hay bales, etc), and we contradance. In fact, we plan our day around the contradance.

The contradance gets more fun every year with my kiddos. When we started, I was herding both Hannah and BenBen through the dances, but now Hannah can follow them on her own. Next year, Sammy will likely be joining us too!

Both of my Maine midwives were at the fair- one of them is always there and I know right where to find her (spinning wool) and my midwife with Micah found me while we were contradancing. I love this opportunity to catch up.

My other mission this year was to find the homeopathy booth and pick someone’s brain about home study and homeopathy schools. I found a very helpful woman and in talking to her not only got ideas for online seminars to watch, but also learned which homeopathy school would likely best fit my personality.

I go into the fair ready to gather ideas, and I seem to always walk away with a few new ones or a resolution to try an old one. This year, the things that stuck out to me were seed saving, rugs of braided upcycled rope, rug braiding in general, and using some other herbal remedies that I’ve learned about in the past but never put into practice.

P1110057In addition, I found a station for kids that would be perfect for farm camp: milling grain by hand, then rolling out dough and cooking it on a griddle, then spreading it with butter they have shaken. Simple but perfect for kids.

The best part of all though is just the act of walking around with other like-minded folks and feeling a part of a farm/homemade/natural community.

Have you found any fun ideas at fairs this year? 

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