Beautiful Each Day

“To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly; to listen to the stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart; to bear on cheerfully, do all bravely, awaiting occasions, worry never; in a word, to, like the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common.” ~ William Henry Channing

Monday, March 23, 2009


In the last 48 hours we have had a sunny 75 degree afternoon, a windy, pounding rainstorm, thunder, lightning, hail and now a frosty 28 degree morning. Spring is a capricious sprite.

Mother Nature's creatures are not easy to predict either. We recently expanded and improved the chicken coop after His Majesty Prince Eagle found his way in. (Picture and story on Patrick's blog) Now that their housing seems secure from forced entry, I have lost two chickens to a predator who seems to be reaching through the wire walls and (sorry, yuck) eating the carcasses right through the wire. I imagine it is a bobcat, based on a lack of tracks. The only other animal I think capable of such dexterity is a raccoon, but they generally leave easily-read footprints.
In all my years growing up here, I saw only one bobcat, and that was when I was far from everything, horseback riding by myself. Last month I spotted my second cat, inside the fence of the yard, only 20 feet from my parents' front door. My mouth actually fell open. She had just killed one of the geese in broad daylight. Amazing.
The weather, animal behavior, the success or failure of my vegetable plants- the unpredictable pattern of these things reminds me never to assume I know what Mother Nature has up her sleeve.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Busy Days

We have been working hard on our little farm these past few days. The rain has stopped and the earth is drying. The plants are reaching up and down with green tips and hairy roots. I am now applying myself to the happy task of filling 2oo square feet of gopher and deer-proof garden beds with seeds and home-grown transplants. The boxes are constructed of huge redwood beams and galvanized wire mesh, so I expect to be using them for many years to come. They will hold onions, leeks, root vegetables, lots of greens, and many kinds of herbs. Tucked in here and there will be flowers, too, including some red peonies that I have dreamed of for years. Thank you Ruchama!! Each of the children have a little section all their own. Ellie planted flowers and chamomile for tea. Izzy will be growing peas, carrots and flowers. Aliana, ever practical, figures I will be growing enough vegetables for everyone, so she is going with nothing but showy, delightful blooms.

I also have a large sunny area that Izzy and Papa are discing in the first picture. This will be planted in corn, beans, squash, melons and potatoes. Yum. I just have to get up the nerve to use the gopher traps. Yuck.

Friday, March 20, 2009

I know it's kinda cheating...

but take a look over at Patrick's blog for the breaking goat news. I'll be back soon.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Glamour of Farming

This growing your own food business is a lot a fun.

Most of the time.

Then comes the day when you realize the milk goat has a terrible, messy belly-ache because you, the clever farmer, fed her way too many orange peels. Or, at least, you hope that is what is causing her upset. Not being a vet, you haul out the biggest book on the animal care bookshelf, the Merck's Veterinary Manual. (Thank you Brendan and Kirsten) It confirms you suspicions. You decide that the goat will live, but that the family won't be drinking the milk for a few days, just in case. You send Mr. Farmer to the store to buy organic milk. While he is off in town you discover that even in her distress, sicko goat felt well enough to knock down and mutilate the wire cage protecting a wild honeysuckle vine in the goat pen. Your parents, generous enough to let you stick your dang vine-ravaging goats on their property, would like to this this specimen preserved, hence the cage. You straighten the cage, tromp through the incredible boot-sucking mud and return with a five-pound bag of cayenne pepper. Why do you possess five pounds of cayenne pepper? It was going to be an attempt at organic pest control. The sicko goat is certainly making a pest of herself. You cover the ground around the cage with the spicy stuff and sneeze a couple of times. Okay, time to milk. On your clock, anyway. Goat girl thinks it's time to play tag. You're it. A bucket of grain and some stolen mouthfuls of alfalfa later, you nab her. Then she runs with amazing strength, dragging you to the gate, eager to leap up on the milking stand. Okay, chores done, wipe that sweat off your brow.

Oops. Remember that cayenne? It's in your eye now.

You think this farming thing might not be worth your trouble after all? Mr. Farmer returns with a gallon of organic milk from the blasted grocery store. $8!!!

Okay, okay, I'll go do my chores, just let me get this pepper out of my eye first.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Dull Days of Winter

I hope and pray and finagle for rain, then it all seems to come at once. The trees and wildflowers and I really do appreciate it, but must it all blow in in February? Our already minuscule house is shrinking from all the rain. All the toys have been played with and discarded in boredom. Aliana and I have read aloud until hoarse. We have baked and consumed more brownies and muffins that I care to admit. I have spent way too much time reading about other people lives on blogs. And the mud! Bleh. But I really do thank the heavens for the rain. I really do.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Chicken or the Egg?

I have written before about how amazing and practical Aliana is. Check the archives for March 2008. I have further proof to offer today. She has solved the ancient question: which came first, the chicken or the egg?

She tells me that there was first a chicken, then an egg. She has a logical argument to back it up. I love classical homeschooling.

Her reasoning is based evolutionary theory. She imagines that there were birds pecking around in the jungles of Asia that were very chicken-like, the ancestors of today's domestic poultry. One day one of these extremely chickenish jungle hens mated with an all white-meat rooster. An egg was laid. It hatched. Out came chicken numero uno. This chick had enough of the features of what we call chickens to be so called. Since then we have had chickens. Yum.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Blue Rubber Bands

You know, the really thin ones that hold bunches of green onions together. And then there are the wide purple ones that arrive around bunches of broccoli.

Today, contemplating a handful of rubber bands, it occurred to me how much I value those little blue guys. I use them for all sorts of things. I am also fond of the plastic bags that hold potatoes. I use these instead of buying trash bags. I figure they're going to be thrown away anyway, I may as well use them one more time before they go. The incredibly long strings that come off new bags of animal feed get tucked away in a kitchen drawer for all kinds of wonderful projects. I buy my flour in cloth sacks and make the sacks into hankies. I can only find one brand of jam that doesn't contain high fructose corn syrup, and it happens to come in beautiful jars. We fill those with homemade feta to give away.

Looking at the rubber bands this morning, a funny thought popped into my head. I wonder if I will miss the little useful bits when green onions, broccoli, and such things don't come into the kitchen packaged, but are instead gathered from the garden. If the pounds and pounds of potatoes I plant this spring grow well, I will have to find a different solution for my trash bags. We recently bought a grain mill, so as soon as we run out of store-bought flour I will start grinding my own. I imagine we have plenty of hankies for now, though. This summer I look forward to putting up enough jam to last us all year, so I'll have to buy some jars for the cheese gifts.

I don't think I'll mind. It's just funny how the mind works sometimes.

Friday, February 20, 2009

I don't do Sudodku...

but golly do I play games.

Back when I was a working girl I took over a department in my company that was staffed by three people. After helping to move the facility to a newer and much more efficient space I staffed it by myself for quite awhile. Around this time the president of the company brought in an efficiency expert. Yeah, really. He was a little bossy leprechaun of a man. He made his way to my desk one day and interrupted my work flow by asking me, "What did you do to bring down the payroll numbers in your department so drastically?" I attempted to hide my irritation at the interruption and find words that wouldn't sound too condescending. "I figured out how to do things as efficiently as possible, I made them buy me a telephone headset and I come in really early before everybody else gets here and wants to make small talk." He clearly wanted more from me, but I really didn't know what else to say. I worked as fast as possible for eight hours or so every day. I was well rewarded for my work. Asking for a raise after proving able to work as well as three people was easy.

But really, that was not my motivation. In this life it is necessary to do certain things. Different things for different people, and even different things at different times. These tasks can be performed in a perfunctory manner or with pleasure, even, dare I say, relish. At that time in my life I needed to go off to work every day for dollars. So, I found a way to make it downright fun. It was a terrific game to figure out ways to shave a few minutes off my tasks. When I had a boss it was satisfying to say, "Okay, finished that, can I go home early now?" When I was the boss it was great to have enough time to work on tasks beyond the normal scope of the job. It made my time at work far more interesting to vary my involvement in the company that way. But, really just the game of it was loads of fun. By the end I was probably shaving seconds off my time, but it was still enjoyable. It kept my mind awake.

These days my work keeps me home. I rear children and animals, tend gardens and rising bread. I continue to adore my efficiency game. Just as I was able to cut payroll costs for my company all those years ago, I can now take my pleasure in trimming dollars, and sometimes even cents, off our utility and grocery bills. Years ago I had to go to work. These days I truly must find ways to save money. Life for our family has changed in many ways over the course of the last year, and I am far from my single working girl days, but I am still enjoying my favorite game.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


I like writing, it makes me think. Taking pictures helps me really look at things. But golly, do ya'll care? Is blogging really just a way to get people to pay attention to me?


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Routine but not dull

I like to stay home. It is absolutely my favorite place to be. I view errands in town with a general level of grumpiness and usually turn them over to dear Patrick, oftimes with a list more detailed and controlling than I care to admit. I have turned grocery shopping into one giant expedition once every month or so, when I drag Aliana along and show her some real world application for all that damn math I make her do. When the garden really gets rolling I think I will be able to cut the frequency down to every few months. Long live the chest freezer! All of that means I'm now only obligated to venture out once a week to take the kids to a day of workshops at our homeschool program site. My dear Patrick climbs out of bed every morning and drives away to ensure we have a small cash flow, while I have the liberty to stay at home and find ways to avoid spending those dollars. I am grateful beyond words for his willingness to divide our labor the way that we do.
So, what do I do all day.? Have a bon bon and let me catch you up on Days of Our Lives...
The hours in my days are neatly bookended by animal chores. Every twelve hours I milk Rosie the goat. Every single day, 7AM and 7PM. In summer I'm outside in the sunshine both milkings, in the winter I hide under cover from the rain or dark or cold at least once. I love having a living being depending upon me to be on schedule. It makes me actually do it!
Caring for other animals and the garden takes up time every day. Dishes, laundry, cooking, and homeschooling happen every day. My days are nearly all alike. I do have a loose weekly plan to accomplish things that don't need to be done daily, such as checking food stores on Friday, making cheese and bread on Tuesday, or planning our school week on Sundays.
Living the way we do, like sardines in a can, means that working surfaces must be kept clear when not in use. So tidying things up happens all day, every day. Flat surfaces with elbow room are at a premium in an 800 square foot home. It is enormously difficult for me to begin a cooking project if the counter is full of dirty dishes and condiment containers. Any hope of concentrating on a math lesson rests on beginning with a clear table. After many gentle and a handful of far from gentle reminders we have all settled into the habit of cleaning up one mess before we begin making a second one. Naturally we all need occasional reminders, but generally the house stays pretty tidy these days. I wouldn't want a visitor to peek behind my cupboard doors, and the laundry regularly overflows the capacity of the basket by about 700%, but I find it much easier to keep my head above water than I ever have before.
One thing at which I continue to marvel is the fact that even though we let go of truck loads of material goods when packing and moving last year, we are still finding things to give or throw away. Once a day I give the kids a few minutes warning, and then walk around to find things that aren't put away, threatening to donate anything I find lying around to the thrift store. The first time I found toys on the floor I tried to be lenient and give the kids another chance. to tidy up. Much to my surprise Isidore informed me that they had left them on the floor because they didn't want them any more. The choices they make about what to keep or give away fascinate me. Legos stay, tinker toys go. Wooden dolls and little metal cars stay, the marble maze set goes. Homemade cardboard shield and fabric scrap cape stay, fancy animal costumes go. Less toys mean less clean up for the players.
Living in our teeny abode has made the housework load many time lighter, as well. Sweeping the floor takes a few minutes. That's the whole floor, not one room. Once a week I wash the windows. All three of them. In order to simplify the dish-washing chores we each own one plate, one cup, one bowl, etc. Even 4-year old Elizabeth can rinse her bowl out after breakfast and leave it ready for lunch.
Less is good.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Birthday Mom!

Today is my wonderful mama's birthday. She was lucky enough to be born on a very special day, the winter solstice. Happy birthday, mom! I wish you a beautiful day full of winter's showiest magic. When you wake, the world will be decorated just for you with Mother Nature's gorgeous jewels, growing ever brighter as the sun shines into every little icy work of art. You'll be heralded by flocks of her feathered friends, cheerful and darling little sparrows and great, wise ravens. Your day will close with a very slow wave across the heavens from the league of creatures residing in the imaginations of people from time immemorial, celebrating the day each year when the sun begins to return to us, one day at a time.

I love you.

Saturday, December 20, 2008's a secret

It's amazing how many hiding places we have found in this tiny little house. There are several absolutely darling handmade gifts secreted away on dark cupboard shelves or behind pieces of furniture. Aliana, if you are reading this, don't look in the big white pitcher in the dish cupboard!

It has truly made my holidays bright to watch Isidore nearly burst with excitement until Elizabeth falls asleep for her nap. As soon as her eyes close he jumps into action, cutting and sewing and decorating. Aliana and Elizabeth are just as delighted by crafting things for their loved ones. It is heartwarming.
I can hardly wait until the presents are unwrapped, so I can show you the fabulous things my children have come up with!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Look, Francine, I sewed!

My dear Patrick has always wanted a green santa hat. I actually began sewing one last December, but that was back in the days when December didn't mean holiday cheer for our family. Instead Thanksgiving heralded the beginning of a month of working 16 hour days. Joy. Yeah. Pure joy. So the half-finished hat actually moved with us into the yurt.

This year, we have time to have a festive tree, make a gingerbread yurt, come up with darling homemade gifts for one another, and .... make a green hat for the man of green hats.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Magic Mist

Elizabeth tells me that mist is magic. I have to agree with her. Everything appears different under the cover of mist. The world seems to shrink to include only those things within one's sight. Perhaps part of the magic is that the fog narrows one's view, and even thoughts. On foggy mornings I can't gaze off into the distance and remember riding my horse up and away and off over those hills. Instead my thoughts turn to chores to be done within the shroud of fog. I should trim the goats hooves this week. I really need to stock up on cracked corn for the chickens. There is fencing to be done. I think we'll have pea soup tonight. After I 've finished the chores I should bring in some more wood for tonight's fire.
I had a similar experience last week making a very long drive through the fog. I usually find myself thinking ahead to the end of my journey, anticipating climbing out of the truck and unbuckling the kids. Making my way through the mist was different. I was forced to concentrate on the few feet I could see ahead of me. Peering into the fog took up all my attention, and the time flew by. We almost seemed to be home before we set out.
I think Elizabeth is on to something.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Order of Things

I wrote a few posts back about creating order inside our new home, adjusting to a smaller space and less belongings. After the work of decluttering and tidying is done it feels so wonderful to stretch out and enjoy our home.

A few days ago we butchered a goat. We have created a little farm life here, an extension of what we began at our old home. On a farm there is a never-ending cycle of fecundity and sparsity. In the spring the garden wakes up and begins to grow after the winter pause. The animals bear young; dozen of eggs from the chickens, one or two kids from each female goat. The summer heat and long days full of sun help the garden to produce an astonishing amount of food in just a few months. The tiny chicks and frisky kids also grow with amazing speed. A chicken eats its way to butchering size in just twelve weeks. By the time autumn blows in, the garden has filled the root cellar, freezer and pantry with pounds and bushels and quarts. Also in the autumn the chicken coop feels much too crowded. Roosters loudly compete for attention and require substantially larger amounts of corn and scraps than they did as chicks. Some of the goat kids were male, or simply number too many to feed economically. As the light and warmth wane and the chores of the garden are fewer, butchering time comes.

Just as our home feels roomier and calmer after removing the excess, the chicken coop is quieter and much, much more peaceful after the majority of the young roosters and older hens have been, with enormous gratitude, dispatched to the freezer and pantry. It is much the same with the goats. As the male goats become mature they become aggressive and hard to manage safely. To allow peace to return to the goat pasture, leaving the does to chew their cud and fatten up until they give birth in the spring, we butcher the extra animals after they have done their job of ensuring that another generation will be born. The winter months stretch ahead of all of us, animals and humans, a quiet, less active time. The garden is scrubbed clean by the cold wind and frost while the animals enjoy the warmth of their shelters. In the snug house we plan next year's garden and cook from our stores.

Really, extra is not the right word for the animals we butcher and vegetables we eat during these dark, cold days. Unlike the material excess we gathered for years and then removed from our home, those creatures weren't brought into the world without thought. On the contrary, we put great consideration into just how much food our family requires for each turn of seasons. Each spring we plant what we hope is the just enough seeds and plan to raise just enough meat. We try to raise just enough, not too much, not too little.

I do believe the world could use a lot more just enough right now.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Family Hands, Four Forty-seven pm Wednesday, November Nineteenth, Two Thousand Eight

For the next seven days I'll be posting photographs only. I'm feeling quiet.


We have been sick, each of us taking our turn, some of us two or three at a time. Please pardon the abandoned blog this last week. I'll be back tomorrow to begin a photo series about which I'm quite excited.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Homes within the home

We have a joke about yurt living - "We don't just throw things in the corner!"

Except moving a house, albeit a small one, into a yurt makes for a great big mess. For way too long now, we have had piles, heaps, mountains, stacks, and (Patrick's favorite) inverted pyramids of STUFF all over the place. We needed to find homes within our home for all the things we hauled up here with us. On Sunday we did just that. Books lined up on the right shelves, art supplies alighted at an accessible height, dishes created a lovely rainbow in the cupboard, cardboard boxes collapsed and trooped off to be recycled.

Isidore was delighted to become reacquainted with a wide expanse of floor. He has decided to take on the chore of cleaning it each evening so that he can continue to enjoy after-dinner sock skating.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Extra fun from school

Our homeschool program just moved into a marvelous new facility and expanded its library. This week we borrowed a nifty electronics kit. It has been a nice way for Patrick to get in on the learning fun. It has all the pieces that come in a regular electronics kit, but they all just snap together, making it manageable for Isidore's little hands. Naturally they bypassed the simple stuff at the beginning of the project book and went right for the laser gun, followed by the the space battle.
I hear the school also has telescopes, so we might plan a few heavenly lessons next month.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Chilly Pop

Our morning temperatures are swinging lower and lower now. Using a woodstove to warm up the house means really being in touch with how much energy we use to stay warm. Each log must be purchased, stacked, carried in and then placed in the flames, never to be seen again. The woodpile is lovely and large as autumn descends, but then it we watch as already it begins to shrink.

Over at an environmental blog I like to read, , she has a challenge going called Freeze yer Buns. The idea is that we conserve energy by staying a little cooler in the winter than we might have before. For households with a thermostat, this means setting it a little lower. For us, it means not starting a fire if we're only a little chilly, or letting it go out during the day while we are active and moving around or going outside. Not only does this make eco-friendly sense, it saves us money. So, here we go, the Works Family is joining the challenge. Brrr.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


The kids and I blew in the door from an exciting but very chilly day at our home school program's new site oh so glad to find Patrick had lit a fire in our wood stove. He had water simmering in the kettle and plenty of wood for the rest of the evening. I spent a few perfect minutes rocking by the fire with my book, my tea and my slippers, listening to the rain on the roof.

Thank you, my dear.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Welcome November

Rain followed on the heels of the windy day we saw a few days ago. Elizabeth and Isidore couldn't be stopped from dashing right out into it. Aliana went to find her slippers and hat. I put on soup for dinner.
We all enjoyed the sound of the rain on the yurt roof. It's a special sound. We are very cozy and well-insulated, but there isn't a lot of thickness separating the interior of our home from the weather outside, certainly not as much as in a tradional wooden house. As a result, each raindrop makes its arrival known. When it really pours down we are all forced to pause in our conversations and listen to Mother Nature's voice for a time.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Autumn blows in

Funny, isn't it, how the trees shed their clothing just as we start to bundle up?

Yesterday saw a brief but intense windstorm that whipped many of the remaining golden poplar leaves off the branches above us and sent them soaring far across the pasture.

Fall is an awfully good name.

I love the dentist!

That's what the boy who sobbed and squeezed mommy's hand with a amazing strength exclaimed to his sister when he was finished with his check-up.

It is so darn hard to make my little ones do things they don't want to. I'm reminded by the sequence of events at the dentist's office, though, that I'm supposed to push my baby birds to test those wings now and then.