Instant spring

I am an advocate of traveling and enjoying the place you live. I love going new places and taking in what each season has to offer…within a 20 mile radius of my house.

Yet, I rarely leave that bubble. I go to Canada often, and that might sound exotic, but it’s only 4 miles away. I am never in anything resembling an actual city. I realized that I hadn’t even been to Bangor, with what most people would consider normal shopping and entertainment options- Target, a craft store, a kids museum, Mexican food- since October. It’s three hours away, and that’s far enough that I just don’t go.

I know I can do trips, because I have done them before. But whatever you don’t do often can feel overwhelming. And the thought of leaving feels scary.

My normal plan is to leave Maine when the snow starts to melt and the mud begins. We love winter and we love summer, but when it’s mucky outside, it’s hard to do much outside. Yet, I was dragging my feet about going to grandma and grandpa’s this year. I couldn’t commit.

I shared my fears with a good friend, and she recommended 3 days ahead for planning max. Don’t give yourself a chance to think too much. I went for 4 days ahead, and 3 would have been much wiser. That 4th day, I started doubting my ability to pull it off. Lesson learned.

And that’s how we went from this…

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To this…after 22 hours of driving, a fairly miraculous transformation.

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The drive was fascinating. We watched for the end of snow (New Hampshire), the first green grass (New Jersey), daffodils (Maryland), forsythia and redbuds (Virginia), and finally green leaves beginning (North Carolina).

We had great conversations. I don’t like the radio and don’t have a CD player or ipod or anything, so we entertained ourselves. We discussed how states got their shapes, why more people don’t have babies at home, how our medical system has changed in the last 100 years, Henry Ford making cars on an assembly line, and why people live in apartments in NYC, among other things.

My kids didn’t know what billboards were (they aren’t allowed in Maine), and they were  disgusted by them when I explained they were for advertising. BenBen cracked me up, “These people are ridiculous. Look at that! Buy a hamburger! Buy a coffee! Buy a jacket!” And Hannah decided people would notice more pretty things if the signs weren’t there. Look at me, raising skeptical consumers, just like myself!

I drove through NYC, and being low tech, I guessed on the 27 different roads I had to take. I knew in the end that I was shooting for the upper level of the George Washington Bridge, but I didn’t know all the roads to get me there. I confessed to the kids that I didn’t know the way for sure, but if we guessed wrong, we’d just ask for help…and it all worked out beautifully. No mistakes! I had dreaded that part of the drive, but obviously not enough to plan ahead for it.

It’s good for all of us to be in a new place, and John told me that I timed it perfectly. Mud has begun. Hooray for a little glimpse of spring…it is coming to us too.

Have you found that less planning is better for anything you do?

Posted in Family news | 3 Comments

The little things that make Mommy happy

As I tucked Hannah into bed on Saturday night, she exclaimed (with a big smile) that she already knew what she was going to say at dinner on Sunday for her favorite part of the week. Three weeks ago, we started a new tradition during our Sunday dinner of each of us sharing our favorite part of the last week or something we were thankful for.

The kids have given thoughtful answers (except Sammy, of course), but that Hannah was thinking ahead and excited to share her response made my heart so happy. It’s a good ritual, and it’s meaningful for my children!

Although we always eat together and we’re always talking at the table, they take definite delight in being asked this question and having everyone listen to their answer.

Hannah and I had another good conversation in regards to money and buying things. We had gone into the thrift store and she found a toy for 50 cents that she wanted. I told her I wasn’t buying anything but she could buy it with her money. She didn’t have money with her, so I said we’d be back in town in a couple days and she could buy it then if she still wanted it. I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be sold.

A couple days later when we were in town, she still wanted the toy, so we popped into the store and she quickly found and purchased it. She loves to buy and she was thrilled. Fine.

However, a couple mornings later, she looked a little down and told me that she realized that she didn’t really like the toy. She wished she had the money back.

Aaaah, buyer’s remorse. Haven’t we all been there?

What ensued was a great conversation about buying and thinking ahead about what to buy, but how in the end, we all make mistakes. But, by buying something used like she did, she didn’t waste lots of money like she could have on a new item. I make mistakes at garage sales every year, but those bad purchases might add up to only $5. It’s a bummer, but life goes on.

For Hannah to recognize unwise spending was a huge step for this girl that loves to buy. It made me happy that we could talk about it and that she understood something big. She was happy to give the toy away because she didn’t want it, and she told me that whenever she loses a tooth, she’ll probably get 50 cents again (yes, our tooth fairy is cheap!).

As much as little ones are sweet, what I really love are true conversations with my kids and it’s fun to see those starting to happen.

Have you found any fun rituals that are meaningful to your family, kids included?

Posted in Simplicity | 2 Comments

Update on food purchasing

Buying as close to direct from the farm as possible is always a good practice. This is easy with things that grow around me- we buy root veggies that we don’t grow directly from a farm, and pork, chicken, or turkey that we don’t raise comes directly from farms, and I’ve even sourced wheat from a somewhat local farmer. It’s not as obvious for things that don’t grow in your area (coffee, chocolate).

I wrote a couple weeks ago that I was seeking to purchase a few food items in a better way, and once I got started on that track, I got really excited to learn more about these foods. Here’s your update (this blog is at least half for my own accountability to follow through on what I say I’ll do)!

Most items like this I buy from my food coop, but one morning it occurred to me that the coop company is buying that food from somewhere, and possibly I could buy it from that source too, saving one middle man and a lot of expense for me.

This isn’t possible for everything. Some companies deal with such huge volumes that as a single household, we could never justify the amounts of product. But for coffee and chocolate and cocoa, I absolutely can do this.

For chocolate, I wanted something fair trade and organic, and because I want to make sure that I’m paying more for a reason, I started checking to see if these companies were in fact certified as such or if they were just claiming something. It was totally interesting. Take trader joe’s: they sell fair trade chocolate and they sell organic chocolate, but their fair trade is not organic and their organic is not fair trade. This is true for other companies as well.

I even contacted one company because they claimed to be fair trade and organic, but I couldn’t figure out how they were certifying their fair trade. There are several certifying agencies for fair trade, so my question was legitimate. They didn’t get back to me and I think that answers my question!

As I was checking websites, I realized that many of these companies were also selling directly, and that I, even as a single household, could set up a wholesale account. If I’m buying food online, I don’t want to buy single bags of chocolate chips or cocoa or coffee. I am going to be buying in bulk anyway, and I could easily buy enough to qualify for their discounted bulk prices. None of these items are that perishable!

By buying more directly, good chocolate is not as great of a price difference as I expected. I usually buy dark chocolate chips (I don’t like semi-sweet), and those are more expensive anyway. Now I can buy dark chocolate chips, that are also organic and fair trade, and it’s only a little over a dollar more per bag, which to me is totally acceptable. It’s not like we use a bag of chocolate chips a day!

Cocoa costs more, but again, by buying more directly, it wasn’t as great of a price difference as I expected. Had I known this, I might have made the switch sooner!

As to sugar, I thought I wanted to buy sucanat (dehydrated cane sugar), and I believe the sucanat is a better product. The way it is processed retains more minerals than the evaporated cane juice; yet, I decided on buying evaporated cane juice. It’s less expensive, for one. Also we are getting minerals from foods we eat and Real Salt, and I am personally more concerned with processing and if a product is chemical-free (sugar is highly sprayed). I am super excited to have something organic and less processed. At some point I might justify the expense of sucanat, but I’m not going that far now.

With spices, so far, we have been happy with bulk spices from our food coop. The cinnamon has actual flavor (this is the spice we noticed the most difference on), all of them smell amazing, and the whole spices look much fresher. They come in 1 pound bags, so I’m keeping a small mason jar with what we’re currently using and the rest goes in the freezer.

Do you see a food coop in my future?!

Have you bought more directly on any food items? Tips to share? I’d love to source more foods this way!

Posted in Natural living | 3 Comments

Tapping trees

A little madness in the spring

is fitting even for the king…

I love Emily Dickinson, and I laugh at the thought of these lines each spring. It is so true for us, although John and I have different ways that we show our spring madness. John comes to life, conquering 12 massive projects in a 24-hour period, and I, the plodder, feel the shift more internally. Sometimes spring is an overwhelming feeling to me in the opposite sense, that I am almost uncertain of what to do because there are suddenly so many options.

When we have moved so often and had so many changes, the rhythms of the seasons have sometimes been lost to us. When you are in the midst of lots of upheaval, it’s harder to sense these seasonal shifts. That is one benefit of staying in one place longer, and one I appreciate.

Because I love seasonal rituals, I was so happy to tap some trees this spring to make syrup. We have no illusions of producing all of our syrup for the year (2-3 gallons), because we have a farm locally where we can buy it for a reasonable price, and for this season of our life, doing large scale syrup production doesn’t make sense. But having a few taps absolutely makes sense.

There is nothing better than collecting and boiling sap in the spring! The smell of the sap boiling is unreal…a true pleasure. John and I fell in love with the idea of this on a vacation when we were first married, and when we apprenticed on a farm, pre-kids, maple production was tops on our list of what the farm had to produce.

In New York, we tried boiling in our house, and it did work, but I would not do it again. Think extreme steam…not good for the house, not good for cleaning. People don’t do this and there is a reason why.

Instead, we are planning to boil our sap on a propane burner outside. Boiling down sap takes a long time, but that’s the whole fun of it.

It’s fun this year to have two kids who are very into the idea of checking and collecting sap, as in multiple times a day. We drink lots of sap, because we’re not really concerned with how much we produce; it’s all about the process and the enjoyment of a spring ritual.

P1090461 P1090462 P1090463 P1090464 P1090467We tapped our neighbor’s maple trees on Saturday, and yesterday we had our first sap flow. The weather looks like sap will be flowing all week, so we might be boiling today or tomorrow.

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Are you impressed with this pile of snow…photo taken yesterday in front of our house. Hannah is 4 feet tall to give you a sense of scale!
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Drinking sap- those are happy kids!

Hooray for sweet spring!

Have you tapped trees before? Do you have any fun spring rituals?

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In March…

Goals for March…

  • Cash only month
  • Get rid of something every day
  • Catch up the kids’ scrapbooks
  • Sand and stain the bench we made
  • Paint the office
  • Our monthly family adventure was to a cross country ski lodge
  • Cut out the quilt and start sewing the squares
  • Complete the other sewing projects I have prepped (a simple blanket for BenBen- he picked out the (farm) fabric, un-paper towels, a dress for Hannah, and some diaper covers for baby)
  • do a fun St. Patrick’s Day breakfast, and also one for the first day of spring (I thought green food would go over well for St. Pat’s but this was so not a hit for my kids- they wouldn’t eat any of it…won’t do that again!)
  • Learn to Norwegian purl
  • Go on dates with the kids, and hopefully a date with John (once again John and I didn’t go out for a date, but we did have a few intentional game nights)

Thoughts on the monthly challenges…

Getting rid of something every day has been very fruitful. Sure, I could have just gotten rid of 30 things in one day to start the month and been done, but focusing on something every day is entirely different. My rules (for myself) were that if I saw something that needed to go, I had to do it that day (i.e. no saving something for the next day). So, almost every day yielded at least 3 items and some days it was 10. I also couldn’t count something that someone else got rid of. That way, I had no idea what I was going to get rid of each morning when I woke up. I might have to glance around in a few areas to find something to focus on, and that’s okay. I was much more thorough, and I think you look at everything differently when you’ve already unearthed some layers. It felt much more productive than 30 things (and likely in total it was more like 200 this way).

At around day 20, this got much harder. Even though I never woke up knowing what was going away that day, it was usually pretty easy to find something until that day. Then, I got past a lot of the more obvious stuff. I am always happier and more creative when there is less stuff around, even if the process of getting there isn’t easy.

Don’t get the idea that we are super minimalists now. There is still plenty of stuff in our house (sigh), but most of it is used or loved by someone. I feel better about it all though, and I can tell the difference (although I don’t know if anyone else could).

As to cash only month, the enlightening part, as expected was the total amount of money we spend, not the individual transactions. I am conscious of what I spend money on and I’m not generally prone to splurges. Even though I use a card to pay. I don’t spend or feel compelled to spend differently when I am paying in cash. I’m going to get the same stuff. However, the total amount spent was enlightening. We started the month with $500 in cash, which seems like a lot of money, but then of course at some point we needed more.

We had two big expenses within the first 3 days of March and I was terrified that we’d have to refill our cash before the end of the first week, but in fact that initial outlay lasted us a long time, much longer than I expected (a few days past mid-month). I was nervous for a few days though!

The other thing that the cash system requires is planning. It probably goes without saying, but I don’t want to get to the checkout at the grocery and not have enough money for my bill. As I shopped at the grocery store, I a couple times had to do mental math to make sure I had enough to pay (I did). It was fun in a weird way.

John loved the feeling of being up to date on our expenses, as in not paying for things a month later on the credit card. I understand this, but it doesn’t matter to me as much. Where do we go from here? Probably back to normal, but I’d be open to using cash for certain areas of our spending.

What is working…

Breaking big goals into bite-sized daily chunks. With my sewing projects, I felt overwhelmed, so I set out a daily amount to get done that was totally manageable (most days). Progress felt slow on a daily basis, but over the month, I finished a lot of what I wanted to do. I need to do this on more things.

What is not working…

Getting up on time. I was on such a roll with getting up at a certain time each day, but I have been derailed. Sleep is good when I’m tired, but I need time for me too.

From the bookshelf…

I read:

  • The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin
  • Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
  • How Children Succeed by Paul Tough

Goals for April…

  • finish sewing quilt squares and quilt top
    • sew dress for Hannah
    • do a fun Easter breakfast
    • make and fly a kite with the kids
    • clean out the blue shed
    • update the kids’ scrapbooks
    • walk to the playground with the kids (it’s 1.5 miles and the kids have always wanted to do it)
    • monthly family adventure (not sure where yet)
    • progress on house projects: paint the office fan (once I can do it outside), stain the bench, start building the table for the office and a new kitchen table
    • monthly challenge? We discussed a few ideas- drink 2 klean kanteen’s worth of water each day is the most likely. Not life-changing, but a good habit!

What have you been up to? Any fun goals you’re working on?

Posted in Learning/Goals | Leave a comment

Our March family adventure

Because we still have snow, snow, and more snow, we changed our adventure plans for the month. When I set out ideas for each month, I left it open (in my mind). I didn’t want to lock us into anything, but I wanted to at least have an idea down on paper, and then we could change as needed.

So, change we did. When the weather hands you snow, you play in the snow.

I stole the idea for December, and we went as a family to a cross country ski lodge we hadn’t been to before for a day of cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and a little sledding. It was nice to check out a new space, new trails, and have a focused day together.

It was certainly nothing elaborate, but the simplest adventures are often the best. I brought snacks, so we didn’t have to buy anything. We went on a weekday, so we were the only people in the lodge. We enjoyed the sunshine. The kids found a great hill to practice downhills (their favorite part of cross country skiing). Sammy had a warm lodge to hang out in (mostly with John).

For me, it feels good to be in a new spot where you don’t have it all figured out, you don’t know where the trails lead, and there are lots of new possibilities to explore.

Some months, adventures just happen, but it would not have happened on its own in March. I needed the goal and the accountability from saying I would do it.

Three months. Three adventures.

I love this goal.

Did you have any family adventures this month? Do you ever make goals for doing something together?

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News around the farm…mid March

Although winter is a quiet (and much needed) time on the farm, lack of big projects doesn’t mean that nothing has been going on. On a farm, there are always things to be done, chores to do, and food or feed to deal with.

The winter break is a time to recover and to dream. I love the hopefulness of winter and early spring when anything is possible. I love the chance to rest and not be burdened by as many chores.

Yet, having some chores is good for us. John goes out in all weather to feed and water the animals, to milk Lila, and to check for eggs. This winter, he’s also hauled all the wood, which usually I help with (not with my big belly though!). It’s good to have to go outside and it’s good to have routine. It truly does make us healthier, although it’s not always fun or what anyone wants to do in the moment.

John took a break from milking Lila and let Rosie have all the milk for most of the winter. It was probably a good thing…Rosie is thriving, despite the cold. Poor Lila is thin though. Jersey cows just aren’t made for cold and a drafty barn! In the coldest part of winter, it wasn’t realistic for John to milk given the space we have, but about three weeks ago, he weaned Rosie and we have milk again. It’s lovely, and now we are getting a much more manageable amount…about a gallon a day. A gallon a day for our family is just right. We have enough to drink, enough to make yogurt, and enough to make butter (and buttermilk). Nothing is wasted. There is almost never extra milk in our fridge from the day before.

We also got eggs all winter this year since we had some hens that were just starting to lay as winter began. In the coldest part of winter, we weren’t getting lots, and now we’re starting to get to the point of more than we know what to do with.

We lost three hens this winter: an older hen to an unknown cause, one to the cold, and one had prolapse (from being thin- also a result of cold). The hens have done fine overall, even in ridiculously cold temps. They have no light on them and no heat, but even at -25, they were fine overall. We can forgive them for not laying as many eggs! The biggest problem we have is that on the really cold days, they tend to eat the eggs. At least they aren’t wasting them!

Two boy cows became meat in December, and we kept the Holstein boy, who seemed to have an okay personality…until he realized he was the king. Now, he’s not so pleasant. We will try to take him into summer because he’ll put on lots of weight once there is grass, but some days, John could be ready to part with him. The problem is that we don’t need any meat at the moment. We had wanted to save him for fall/winter this year…we’ll see.

The goats are also in the barn with Lila and Rosie, just the three mamas and five of their girls from last year. Since we have no babies, they’ll just be grazing the pasture and eating brush this year. John is on the lookout for a buck to raise up so we can have babies next year.

The hoophouse is looking lovely. We had a picnic in there last weekend and were excited to find that the freeze/thaw of winter has made the ground inside much easier to till up. It was pretty hardpacked in the fall. It’s very wet in there, so we couldn’t plant anything yet (plus it’s still kind of cold), but hopefully it won’t be long and we can get some hardy greens into the ground. I bought some lettuce for us last week, which I don’t usually do, and the kids inhaled the greens….all of us are ready for fresh food!

We haven’t started any seedlings yet…have you seen the piles of snow outside?! We do need to start them soon, but it’ll be a while before we can plant outside. We’re going to try to make a mini-greenhouse on the porch to start seedlings, just a temporary structure and super basic, but something close to the house and not in the house. Starting seeds in the house with the kids is so tricky.

We also have our supplies to tap the neighbor’s maple tree and plan to get started this weekend. I don’t know that we’ll take it to syrup, just because it makes so much steam and it’s not the best for the house, but we might do a little, and otherwise we’ll drink the sap (delicious and good minerals for us) and enjoy the process. The kids are beside themselves with excitement.

Have you started seedlings for your garden? What are you excited about growing this year?

Posted in Farm | 2 Comments