Chop wood carry water

For the last few years I find myself chopping a lot of wood. I carry a lot of water. I had no idea when I started doing it that it was part of finding the path to enlightenment. Yet, I’m so grateful that I know that now.

“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” … And once you finally achieve “enlightenment” you still must chop wood and carry water. Do your work, do it well, and when you find success, do it again.

When we bought our homestead in 2012, we knew we planned to heat with wood. However, I had not given a single thought of how that wood would get in the stove. I weighed 260 pounds when we moved over from the rental farm to the land we purchased. I could not carry an armload of wood, I certainly didn’t carry the skills to chop some. Neither of us knew how to use a chainsaw. We didn’t own an axe. But, we purchased our now infamous little Jotul wood stove and had it installed right when we got here. I know it will keep me warm as I sleep, even though it is due to be 19 degrees tonight. It’s stuffed full of wood I split right now.

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Chopping wood was a huge part of this farmer’s exercise routine. I couldn’t do it right when I got here, I wasn’t strong enough and didn’t have the confidence to try to do it.  But, I could carry wood. First two or three pieces. Then four or five. Then an armload. The walking back and forth from the wood pile, the carrying of wood–it was part of what helped me start to lose weight. By the time I weighed 220 pounds, I was ready. I picked up that axe and learned how swing it myself.

Today, at 156 pounds–I’ve split I don’t even know how many cords of wood. I’ve taught a good number of other women how good it feels to chop wood too. I do it almost every day this time of year, even if I don’t need to because there is already plenty. Because it is good for me. It gives me bigger biceps, builds my confidence and it certainly helps me find my zen calm and happy place. I may not be able to do it when I get to be a much, much older lady–but I do know this… I’m going to do it as long as I can. Because I love to chop wood.

My forager of a wife does too. She talks pretty often about her great-grandfather and how he had huge guns of arms until he died at ninety years old. That even after alzheimer’s and old age set in–he just kept chopping wood. All day. Right until the very end. It’s always quite obvious to me as she tells this story with a far away smile on her face that she plans to be this way too. I believe her. I can see her ninety year old guns too. It wouldn’t surprise me a single lick if this life she loves and chopping wood gets her past a hundred.

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When we bought our land, I certainly didn’t have any intention to be carrying water. In fact, we spent the first few months we were here (and plenty of pretty pennies) getting the foreclosed house we bought wired and plumbed. We put in a fancy kitchen with things we thought we couldn’t live without like lighting, an electric stove, a dishwasher, a microwave and refrigerator. There was a sink and a faucet. We didn’t have any building, plumbing or electrical skills–so we hired several other folks to do it all. We borrowed a bunch of extra money on our mortgage to do it. We had no idea that sometimes ladies can get taken advantage of by builders, electricians and plumbers who want to part them from their money and might not do the greatest job. It’s taken the last four years to pay that repair work off and start paying off our land.

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We only had that fancy faucet for about six months before I got insanely sick. Then the forager did. By the time the doctor in the emergency room got ahold of me and told me it had to be environmental–I was sicker than I’d ever been in my life. A burst pipe and black mold found us having to rip out that kitchen much quicker than we had put it in. All that money, effort and stress went right down the drain–I washed it all away, right before I ripped out that sink, carried it outside and tossed it in the yard.

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Black mold changed the way that I looked at water being in my home. Total catastrophe showed me how quickly nice things, convenience and comfort can disappear overnight. Destruction of my home from mold, or droughts and wild fires rolling through just this year always shows me how many things are out of our control. That having money or nice things…. doesn’t always end up mattering much when disaster hits.

Being so easily separated from what was in our wallets was not an experience we wanted to repeat. So, we decided to do the repair work ourselves, even if it was slow going. During the last few years it took to teach ourselves how to remodel the house, we began to live and sleep outside for most of the year. That found me getting connected to nature in a way I never had been before and I fell in love so deeply. Since a lot of the walls had to get ripped out, we decided to make our house off grid rather than replace the wiring a second time. Which found me loving a kind of quiet I’d never heard over the hum of the fridge. We only had a water hose attached to the back of the house. That meant I carried a lot of water.

I took baths from a camping bag style shower. I washed my hair in a 4 gallon stock pot. I washed dishes and laundry outside in rubbermaid totes. I did it because I had to, it was the only option I had at the time. I had a large number of water related sobbing meltdowns to my wife. (#homesteadtruth)

Since our house hadn’t had power since fall of 2013, I also read a lot more. By candlelight. About the environmental impacts of grid powered electricity. I came to understand what the implications could be if I kept using power and water like they were an infinite thing that had no impact on the world I lived in. I teared up as I read about the miles a lot of other women in the world have to carry water every day just to drink some. To keep their children from being thirsty. I learned a ton about just how much water Americans use every day compared to people in other countries. I started to feel incredibly guilty for having flushed away so much potable water my whole life. I started to whine about the thirty feet I had to carry mine a lot less. I kept carrying a lot of water. I kept finding ways to use less. I do my best to catch and store every drop that falls from the sky. Permaculture keeps me focused on doing that better and better with each passing season.

I found that for me, carrying water had a side effect I didn’t expect. My biceps got even bigger. I can even do pull ups these days. And, it helps me find my happy, zen place too. Because I use less water today than I ever have in my whole life. I find it so precious and I have a firm understanding of the fact that it is a our most important resource. It’s not infinite, it’s not something I’m entitled to. It’s something I’m blessed to have. So, I do my best to treat it that way.

2016 found me finding a happier balance. Between bigger muscles and my zen… and tears or toting water for bag showers. We had finally learned to build in the women’s basic carpentry workshop we hosted in 2015 by Build Like a Bird. That workshop and some amazing ladies built a kitchen and bath house for this farm.

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I hooked that water hose to an outdoor shower and a sink for dishes. For now, I heat it with propane while I continue to work out plans for wood fired hot water. I love my outdoor kitchen and bathroom so much I can’t stand it. It’s mold free, it has a faucet I feel good about, and it works just great for me. I’ve been so blessed that a couple other folks have let me shower and do laundry at their places over the last couple winters–but I decided a couple weeks ago I just don’t need to anymore. I still have that stock pot and washing my hair or clothes in it in winter doesn’t send me into a special emotional place anymore. It just helps me remember what’s important to me. I can be darn sure that when spring comes, I’ll be filled with gratitude for having my outdoor shower back. And I’ll be making a plan to close it in somehow for next winter!

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I don’t know how I’ll feel about it when I get older, I’m sure it has the potential to be a pain in my butt. Since honestly, it already is sometimes–especially in winter. When hooking up the hot water is a huge hassle or not always possible. When freezing temps might mean we can’t turn our well on for weeks. But, I figure–every day between now and old age that I can handle doing it… I will. Because in my opinion that behavior will save some water for others that need it. It will keep me respectful of this amazing life giving resource and I won’t be able to easily take advantage of it.

Not to mention, I never have been able to just assume that I’m entitled to even get older either. So even though I’m sure other folks find it irresponsible, I don’t usually spend much of the precious time I have have now worrying about preparing for it. Instead, I try my best to just enjoy the right now and I carry water. I lift it with my knees and not my back. I take care of my body and eat good food. I plant a ton of marketable perennials for a retirement plan.

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I know it isn’t for everyone, especially those that are older than me or with little humans in their houses that have a tendency to get dirty often or need to get to school on time. And I totally get and have a ton of respect that. But, that’s a huge part of why I’m doing it too–to save water for you fine folks that are older and wiser than me and that I can learn so much from. Or that are raising the amazing little humans that we all need to shape the future of our world so that it continues to be habitable for humans to live in. I mean, I ain’t raising anything but rabbits! They don’t seem to mind drinking rain water I collect for them and they don’t have anywhere to try to get to on time. That means I have the time to carry my water.

I found that for me–having less easy access to power, chopping wood and carrying water…. it is a HUGE part of what keeps me feeling empowered. I can care take myself under a lot of different circumstances that I could not in my old life. The power could go out, our house could burn down, we could lose our property… and I’d still be carrying something around that would help me live. The skills in my mind that I need to survive. The adaptability to endure any circumstance and thrive. And the body that is capable of doing the work.

So, I chop wood. I carry water. I sure don’t expect anyone else to. I’d never ask anyone else to. Well, unless of course–they immerse or work here on my land. But, it works for me in so many amazing ways. It helps me stay thin. It helps me find my zen. And if it also leads me to enlightenment–that’s even better. But even if it does… I’ll still keep chopping wood and carrying water when I get there.

“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.  After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

-the farmer


So, I usually write what I write on here because I get asked the same questions a lot. Since 2013, a hugely popular one is how in the world are we going to do this when we get old? What’s our retirement plan? I know it gets asked because folks care about us and I love that they do! But, I have strong opinions on it. Mostly because I ate a terrible diet and lived a sedentary life for 31 years. To me, that means it’s a least possible that I don’t even have the possibility of getting old in the first place. But I sure try to focus most of my planning energy on making better choices these days with what I eat and how I spend my time. I pray every day that I do have a long happy life!! But, I also focus on living, right now, and don’t focus all my energy on getting older and what I’ll do then–and at 37 years old, I feel fine about it. And yes, we talk about it some–loose plans for when we are older ladies. We plan to laugh a lot, love hard, spend a lot of time in our gardens and forests…. the forager plans to be taking on bears still.

An amazing 75 year old homesteader visited us in February of 2013 that gave us some great advice… go ahead and make our steps short and put our wood pile close. Now, while we are young. We listened. We’ve been doing just that. Over the years when my friends, family, or former co-workers visit and express concern about our retirement planning… I just take them outside and plant some perennials or plug some mushroom logs. We went to visit Eustace Conway at Turtle Island Preserve this week. He is 55 years old. He asked us if we had any questions or if there was anything he could help us with. I told him I had just one. Did he think I would ever get too old to want to homestead… To keep living close to nature and without so much convenience? Because I want to be a teacher that actually does what she teaches about too. His deep chuckle and homestead seasoned laugh lines made me smile so darn big.

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He told me that yes, he can feel it in his body… the life of homestead work. So, he wants to get better at delegating out all the digging, at picking his battles. But that he’d never give it up or change it, it’s what makes him want to live. He told me an awesome old story about a dream of riding a horse across the country and about getting underestimated that he could do it. That he got laughed at because he didn’t even have a horse. But that it didn’t stop him. and he sure does have them horses now and he uses them for some truly amazing work and education. He showed the Forager how to split wood easier and how to make pegs and joints fit with less work. Then, he gave us a squeeze and scampered back off to his own work with two quite young men running behind him trying to keep up. It meant the world Eustace, thank you. I listened. I’ll do my best… to pick my battles, that’s why I finally added a drop cord to the grid power house our intentional neighborhood shares and a lamp back to our winter system–to save my eyes for when I get older.  I’ll go ahead and try delegating out some of my business-y bits and digging so I don’t run myself ragged. I’ll try to learn to do it now, while I’m younger.

Everyone has to do what’s right for them… and I’m just doing what is right for me. I just LOVE the way I live. If that ever changes, then I will change the way I do things. But, for me, for now… this homestead life just WORKS. And when other folks make me get in my head about it or second guess myself–I just put this song on repeat on my mp3 player and it sure does help!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food challenge 2017 – 2 weeks in!

We proved that we could homestead away depression and 150 pounds for the farmer–and keep it gone for going on three years now and turn her into an inspired permaculture farmer. We proved that we could rewild away incapability and fifty pounds for the forager–keep it gone and turn her into an empowered wild woman. We proved to ourselves that we could learn to impact our environment in a very different way than we used to when we cut our power usage, began to implement wild permaculture, and radically change our diets. We proved that you can skill up, learn about living in the real world, and connect with nature when we stepped out of our cubicles, left the city, and landed in an owl’s nest atop panther mountain…. even if we didn’t have any experience with doing so. We’ve proved two people can sustain it, for over six years now. And, we still love it…are still so passionate about it… every single day. Even on the hard ones.

So, back in the fall of 2016–we realized we had another challenge brewing in both our minds. Realized that even though on some days these two homesteaders feel SO different from one another… we had one thing in common. We realized that, in our opinion, we have no business teaching about organic farming, foraging, primitive living, wild ways, and permaculture if we aren’t providing something pretty important. For ourselves. And doing the work to get it ourselves too.

THE FOOD.

It’s what we two have in common. It’s what we think everyone has in common. And, since this is all about getting real this year, even if it offends some folks…. we think it is what is hurting us all. It sure appears to the two of us like it is making a lot of people overweight, sick, and unhappy.  That is certainly what it used to do to the two of us. The way food is bring grown and raised these days is a big part of what is making our environment a disaster. So, we talked about it for a few months and decided to go for it.

We wanted to answer the question that was burning in both our minds–can two women with not many years of experience farm, forage and trade their way to providing 80+% of their diets? For a full year? On steep, marginal land with poor soil? What will happen to our bodies if we try? How will it impact our world and acreage? And…. Could we share our journey and hope to inspire other folks to try to grow more of their own? To impact their environment in positive ways? So that we will all have a planet left to practice permaculture ON? (We have a new youtube channel we are just starting to build up, so if you haven’t subscribed yet and are interested in hearing more of our stories – please do! We’ll be sharing a lot on it this year!)

Well, we are two weeks into finding out… and guess what – we are still alive!! And have been eating great. I’m not starving to death. In fact, also in the sake of being honest… I’ve actually gained a pound! Hysterical! (insert laughing to tears emoji here, because for once… in the face of this food challenge… I’m thrilled about this!!)

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For the last few days, we’ve actually eaten all our meals from 100% farm, foraged, and traded for food. And we took it to another level too–almost all of it has been fresh, in the dead of winter, and not even pulled from our food stores. I’ve been able to get us fresh salads from the garden, the forager has been finding mushrooms and adding chickweed to our salads, and we’ve both been snacking on many a black walnut.

We are also doing and documenting this thing better too, than we did the first time when we lost all the weight. We went to our doctors and did a check in on where we were at… and we will continue to do that once a month all year. (If getting your weight in check via whole lifestyle changes is something that interests you, head over and check out the amazing support you can get from Drs Marty and Glenn Ingram from Through the Woods Natural Health. Those folks have provided us some great service over the last few years we’ve been seeing them! And they are homesteaders too, so you can ask Dr Glenn to show you his “chickshaw” pictures or ask Dr Marty about how she manages her homestead with an amazing little human in tow!) 

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We’ve been tracking everything we eat on a spreadsheet–so that we have hard facts data on exactly what percentage we pull off.

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We’ve navigated obstacles and picked battles too… like when friends come over for dinner that we are cooking for them–we’ll accept a trade of their delicious spicy pickles and a bottle of wine. Because they made a great point… if we are feeding them our food, they want to give something back to us. And we don’t want to make this challenge suck or make our friends and family not want to visit us. This farmer certainly does not want to stop cooking her homegrown food for folks she loves. This is supposed to be fun and we sure intend to keep it that way. It’s all an experiment after all–one we just want to try and share with you. We’ll all see how it shakes out…. together. We’ll see what we can grow.

Because I’m sure you’ve noticed a common theme on my posts lately… and that is, that I sure feel like it is time for us all to do so. In my opinion, we have to all come together and connect to each other like never before. It’s strange times out there in the world–but we people, we can do such amazing things. We can repair our environment, by just doing what we can do–by just doing our best and taking less from it. We can build soil by learning how to step on it in quite different ways. We can empower and educate each other. We can connect our communities and not come apart. I just KNOW we can, I grew the faith in that right here on this farm too… when I, someone with no experience, turned a fat, sad lady into a permaculture farmer. 

The Forager read the other day in an article that most people give up their New Year resolutions by January the 15th. Today is the 14th. That’s why I’m writing this post now, at 7am. To say we’ve not given up ours yet, and no one else has to either! We’ll continue to do our food challenge and share with you about it. I’ll continue to embrace my word for 2017–GROW. I know I can do it, and I can do it organically. I am fully aware this whole food challenge thing was an interesting choice. Ballsy. Bad ass. Insane. Awesome. Or at least these are just a few words our people have been telling us over the last couple weeks! But, it’s also fun, neat-O as all get out to the two of us, and we are so excited to see how it shakes out. We’ve grown the resolve to at least try and not give up right here too. And right now, that feels so dang good I could just about squeal over it!

-the farmer

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We got our donation from Sow True Seed for 2017 last week and this farmer is over the flipping moon about it! I just know I’ll grow with this awesome seed. If you are doing your seed orders for the growing season now…. geeking out on the farmer porn that is seed catalogs in winter–I sure do hope you will check out the seed from Sow True. I’ve been using it for years now and I swear it stands taller and does better than anything else I’ve tried.

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The Forager helped me forage some snow for snow cream this last week – homegrown ice cream, I’ll take it! And, she keeps foraging this amazing venison steaks from the freezer too. So dang good. 😉

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We also got gifted this sprouting box from HoneyTree Permaculture to do some off grid field testing. It took a couple rounds to get sprouts and a system that would work for us – but we sure are loving having fresh sprouts to add to our meals these days! Thanks HoneyTree! For all that you do!! (Everyone has been asking about this sprouting box when i post pics, I’m going to try to make a video in the next couple weeks. Stay tuned to our youtube channel!)

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Another big thanks to Drs Marty and Glenn from Through the Woods for our monthly check ins. We are so glad we are doing them–because we both found out our blood pressure was high when we went in for our appointment. EEP! Stress management – it’s SO REAL. We were both totally wiped out when we went in, working too much and not sleeping enough. IT SHOWED. So, they hooked us up with this custom tincture for stress management and blood pressure. We took a few days off. We’ve been monitoring our BP for a couple weeks now and are well back within normal range. Thanks again guys, for supporting our health care with plant based medicine, diet suggestions, and giving us stern looks over our stress levels! 😉 You’re tops!! (And, as someone who used to only be able to survive her life with a anti-anxiety Rx — I’m super grateful to have not taken one in six years and have my tinctures instead!)

 

Making a homestead mess

When we first landed on this foreclosure 4 years and some change ago–it was already pretty messy. Then, we piled a new homestead mess on top. Wondering what I mean by a homestead mess? Here’s some visual examples.

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Make more sense now? Homesteaders…. hoarders…. silly semantics! Aren’t we one in the same? ;-p I’ve found we have a tendency to literally save EVERYTHING. God help you if you are riding around town with one of us and we see a curb crammed with stuff someone is tossing. We might literally squeal and grab your steering wheel. We’ll even grab your empty beer bottles, plastic jugs, and cardboard scraps. We’ll steal your paper recycling for the sake of our compost piles. Us two homesteaders, I have noticed we’ll take on just about anything folks are throwing away. We may not have any flipping clue what we are going to do with it… we REALLY might not know when we will have time to use it–but, we’ll take it anyway. Put it in a big ol’ heap of a pile and be all kinds of fired up about it.

So, what we end up with is a homestead mess. It looks insane to other people, I’m sure of it. (I’m sure, because we have been open to the public and I’ve literally gotten told that. A lot!) But, it’s the reality of our life. It’s the homestead truth, we take on just about anything–to keep it from getting tossed.

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Future wood fired bathtub tank!!! Top of my homestead dream project list!

The first two years we were here, I was what was a mess about it. As someone who not only used to live a very clean and suburban sort of life, but also bordered on a little bit OCD about how my home looked–I thought I was going to lose. my. dang. mind. People coming out and looking horrified, or worse yet–saying something about it practically pushed me over the edge. I’d run around for days before and after visitors, frantically trying to straighten it up–because back then, somehow…. I thought I could….like… clean it?

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This area of our homestead is called “Forager Land” – it’s like SO dang useful!

But here’s what I’ve found to be the homestead truth. I can’t! All I could do was clean up my attitude about it. By 2015, I was over trying. I was realizing I was wasting precious homestead life time. Worse yet – I was making everything harder for everyone to find by my straightening or stuffing things in a REALLY big pile in some hidey hole (a.k.a. our storage building or storage room). I was realizing that I literally had to go to town less for this behavior… because just about anytime I needed to drive to the hardware store for something for a project, I could just ask the forager. And she would give me a huge grin, scamper off, practically skipping, and forage just the part I needed from her pile of SUPER USEFUL upcycled bits. It’s been about 2 years now, since I started trying to not keep giving a flip about what other folks thought about the homestead mess. Since I stopped trying so hard to clean it or hide it. img_2764

I always wonder, do people think we drink all this beer? No! we just LOVE natural building!!  We actually don’t drink beer at all–but we need’a your cool shaped and colored bottles for cob and cordwood walls! 🙂 That is, when we have time for that–which unfortunately is rare. Hence the half finished cob wall in our house that we have been working on for two flipping years! ;-P But one day, we’ll have more time for it, I just know it. 

And I tell you what, I’M SOLD. On the not worrying about it so much. It was a hard behavior to let go of at first–like all bad habits. But, it quickly paid off in something I love…. TIME. To actually get more projects done. Finding things to get started on those projects became less frustrating. After about a year, even other folk’s comments about our “trash piles” stung a ton less. For a lot of reasons, mostly because I knew if they were saying something ugly or harsh about it… I could at least take a guess that they must not own land or have a real homestead life yet. Or good lordy… wouldn’t they have all this super useful stuff around too?!?! Anyway, if that guess is the case… Then they will SO get it one day, when they have piles of their very own!

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And of course, it helps that progress is actually getting made. Above are two pictures of what we’ve been calling “the scary room” in our house for the last couple years. The walls need gutted. The floor needs replaced. It needs a new door, windows, and could seriously use some insulation as it is usually just above freezing in there. We likely won’t have time for that anytime soon. We don’t even know what we want to use this room for yet, so it’s not been a priority. That means for now, it is for storage. It WAS “scary storage”, until last week when I finally found myself with the mere 30 minutes it took to get it organized enough to walk inside it! I’m so glad I’d bought myself that time, by not wasting it trying to clean up piles outside!

Plus, I was here in the beginning of this homestead–and good lord do I remember just how much bigger the mess used to be. Every year, it gets beat back a little more as everything finds its use and place. What we are doing is permaculture at its finest… we were producing no waste–even before we knew what the heck permaculture even was.

I know that one day, our spaces will be set up so much better than they are now. It may never look perfect, and I’m so okay with it. But it will be sorted in a way that we can literally find everything without frustration. And until then magical day, I shall embrace the piles…. the ones that will one day go away and the ones that are here to stay alike. It seems good for me, to realize that I do not have control of the piles. They grow, they shrink… and I can’t control them. All I can do is dictate how I feel about them. I can let go of my old expectations that this homestead is ever going to look “clean” or “perfect” like I think my old house in the city probably did to other folks. That old life’s house might have looked clean to other folks, but the person at the center of it looked a mess. Now, I live in a place that some other folks may think looks messy… but the person in the center of it looks a heck of a lot healthier and happier for it. And to me, that is all that truly matters.

-the farmer

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This homestead mess is right outside our house. It’s there, because it is a intentional stacking station with a convenient relative location. It’s where useful bits get piled until there are enough of them to make up a car or truckload. Then they get distributed to where they will go to their respective piles. I can toss stuff outside and into it with just a couple little side steps. So, it may not be pretty – but it sure works for this homestead housewife. 


I’ve been thinking about this post for a long while now, and wanted to finally write it. For a couple reasons. I have a good sized handful of new to homesteading couples in my life that I JUST LOVE to bits. And sometimes, I can see what I think is homestead mess stress on their sweet faces. I know they all read this blog, and I want them to hear what I’ve said here. That I love them so much, and I embrace their homestead messes TOO! It shows me they love permaculture and useful things as much as we do!

And also, because we are going to be sharing and posting a lot more this year. I’m so tired of trying to contort myself into crazy positions to keep the homestead mess out of the background of photographs and videos. Maybe if I do, I’ll save some time and ACTUALLY get to do the yoga I so know I need to be doing but never seem to have time for!!!! There are messy parts of our lives here, and y’all I’m super over being scared to share that part of it. I don’t want anyone that follows us to have an expectation that they won’t also have a homestead mess, especially in the beginning of setting up homestead. So, if messes and poop and uncomfortable things and seeing us do things that you would never do at your place scare you–I swear I won’t be offended if you don’t follow our real homestead life journey! I’ve got nothing but big love for one and all and every way that all sorts of folks move through their lives. Like always, I’m only talking about how I move through mine here!

 

Stitching together a patchwork quilt

I never knew perfection or easy circumstance in my life–unless I worked really hard and did my best to try to create it myself. That was just my experience and I feel so incredibly blessed about that now. I’m quite sure it was what got me so into and kept me loving art. I love finding the beauty in seemingly unusable or not stereotypically pretty things. I adore seeing what I can create, what I can build. I’m married to a forager that is an even more extreme version of this than I.

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Looking back to just four years and four months ago to when we first drove over to this 9.87 acres from our rental farm feels like a hundred years ago and a blink at the same time. I was still so incredibly overweight then, so inexperienced, so disillusioned that this simple life was going to be easy. That the two of us were going to just agree on everything. I’ll never forget the first day the forager and I drove up to this foreclosure. I had no idea until much later that what I saw a farm, and what she saw a lot of forest and living off the land. Yet fortunately, we both saw the homesteader’s life we could stitch together here.

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 (spring 2013 left, summer 2013 right)

After we closed on our property, I saw my family’s and friend’s faces–as they shook their heads and expressed concern over what we had just bought. I don’t think anyone thought we would stick it out… there was no soil to speak of, it was too steep and scrubby to be a farm. There were houses that were falling down or apart, the property was in total disarray. Yet, from the very first moment we saw it–our hearts fell for it, with complete and total abandon.

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(spring 2014 left, spring 2015 right)

Now, it’s four years later–and I love it more with every passing day. I lost so much weight here, grew a ton of skills and confidence here, learned to sew together a simply amazing life here. It’s one of the most stunningly beautiful places in the whole wide world to me, because two women I just love to bits–make it more so every day. And I’m so darn lucky that I get to be one of them. 

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(spring + summer 2016)

What I love more than anything in the world is the journey. The experiences you have along the way. To me, my homestead life feels like a patchwork quilt. And I would so much rather make my own… than be given a perfect one that had been created for me. Even if I have to learn how to do it as I go along. In the end, I always find myself loving the uneven stitches or unexpected patches the very most. They make me smile–because they are where I learned, where I grew. Somehow those spots always mean a little more, keep me a little warmer when I wrap that quilt around me on my self care Sundays.

Even better than that, when other folks see the quilt of my real homestead life–they won’t expect that theirs will be perfect either. Because I can almost promise it won’t be. But yet… they might just be inspired to try quilting one of their own. And I just love that part of it so dang much I could weep over it. It makes my heart so glad it feels like it could bust.

This homestead life, it’s simply stunning to me. I spent the first 31 years of my life in a very different sort of world. It was all computer screens, jobs I disliked, cell phones, convenience and disconnectedness. Money and paychecks and bills and trading my hours for dollars. Six years after making a huge switch, I’m not yet sick of homestead life–I love it so much more every day.

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It is not a cake walk. It’s amazing and crazy and awesome and simple and complex and easy and hard and inspiring and infuriating and crying and laughing and stress and relief. It’s I want to get the hell out of here for a vacation and oh my god I want to do this every minute of every day until I draw my last breath. With your homesteading partner in crime it can be all romantic oil lamp lit nights or big ol free range poultry poop on the porch fights. It’s good things and bad things. I’ve found that in real homestead life, it’s always both–no matter how it looks when homesteaders share their social media posts.

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Real homestead life seems to always be about learning. Times and priorities change constantly. I find the most important thing I grow here on this farm is adaptability. The confidence to be totally cool with change… to find learning SO legit. And most importantly to me, to never stick my nose up in the air and think I’m too cool or too experienced to be an eager student of this homestead. I’ve known from the very beginning that I would be for the rest of my days, and any attitude otherwise sure would find the farmer getting schooled by this land or nature herself.

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These days, I look out into the world and see that there seems to be a lot of unhappy folks getting bogged down by turbulent times. It appears from here that there are very few threads holding their life together. It truly looks like it makes for a weak bolt of cloth. I often wonder why is that? When we are the ones that stitch together our own experience? We are the ones that have the power to gather the scrappy pieces of cloth we like, a needle and thread. We are the ones that have to begin to stitch together whatever we’ve got that makes us happy. We sure are the ones that are going to be cold if the times and conditions out there in the world get even more harsh–and we don’t have a quilt.

-the farmer

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HOMESTEAD TRUTH = These last few pictures are from a photoshoot one of my awesome students did in July of 2016. It was a couple months after I gave up my college teaching job and was trying to be the full time farmer for the first time. Our spring staff had been gone for 7 weeks and we were carrying the workload of high summer. I’d barely slept and was completely and totally exhausted. I was flipping out about our finances, about our farm life and I was quite fussy with the forager about it. About the fact that she had slept great and I hadn’t at all. I had so wanted some pictures of us and I wanted to see my former student as well–but I had gotten up that morning with a crabby attitude and just didn’t want to see anyone. I wanted to go back to bed. I wanted my huge to do list to kiss my butt, burn up and die. But, Shannon came out and took pictures anyway. And I’m so glad she did, because they were the only pictures we had time to get taken of us this summer. I’ve saved this one for last because I hadn’t shared it a ton, like I had the three above it. Because I think I look tired and cranky in it and I know the reason why. If you follow our social media and blog then you’ve likely seen the other three plenty. But, this is the homestead truth. Some days are damn hard. You’re crabby and tired and pissed and want everyone on the farm to kiss your butt and leave you the hell alone. Yet, there are a plenty of other days that are wonderful and amazing and stunning and fun and easy – and those days make the former, SO worth it. And make you SO dang grateful for them too!! And I am at least finding that with each passing year, the good days outweight the bad ones more and more. Thank the homestead gods for that!

 

The Farmer + Forager’s 2017 FOOD CHALLENGE!

The Farmer and the Forager…  we move through the world and like to spend our time in quite different ways. One of us loves being around people, one of us likes more time alone. One of us loves mornings, the other one loves nights.  One prefers to permaculture farm, one prefers wild permaculture. Yet, we have at least one major thing in common. We think all people have at least one thing in common.

We humans…we all have to eat. 

Folks may sometimes think that it is silly, how often we talk about trying to create community over carrots. Making peace with peas. Farming our way to better bodies with broccoli. Skilling up while sowing seeds. Hoeing rows of radishes in the hopes to grow radical humans.  Helping ladies find their inner wolf-woman in the forest over fiddlehead ferns. Cooking up connectedness in the outdoor kitchen over a wood fired stove.

Yet…we don’t think so, because it is one thing we all have in common…. FOOD.

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We may make different choices about what to put on our plates and how it gets there, but we all gotta eat. We may farm it, we may forage it, but we have to eat… to live. To survive and thrive. So when we bought this homestead, we had at least one common goal.

We both wanted to provide as much of our own diet as humanly possible. 

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We wanted to see how much two people could grow, raise, forage, and preserve. We wanted to see how little we could buy in. We wanted to raise or hunt our meat and process it ourselves. Yes, the farmer wanted to lose a 150 pounds, the forager wanted empowerment and independence… but we both wanted to take responsibility for our diets in a huge way. But, we weren’t sure if we could.

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When we started taking permaculture classes in the summer of 2015, it felt like a door cracking open in many ways. This was the biggest one. Farming and foraging the majority of our food, without it killing us with 80 hour work weeks, started to seem possible. Yet, we started getting told by our own customers and followers… that although permaculture sounds great, they have yet to see a permaculture farm or homestead in this area actually  feeding the majority of its humans’ diets. They sure do seem to have been right, we’ve not seen one yet either. (But we sure would LOVE to, so if you are anywhere close to WNC and are growing/raising/foraging 80+% of your family’s diet, omg …. PLEASE EMAIL US. WE SO WANT TO VISIT + SHARE ABOUT YOU!!!!) 

We’d like to tell you what we’ve spent the last few months planning. We’d like to answer our own question, by doing what we do–yet another Eight Owls Experiment.

Can marginal land with poor soil, the two of us and sixteen months of permaculture education–provide at least 80% of our diet? And not just for a little while… but for a FULL YEAR?

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Well, starting today–we are about to find out. And we invite you to follow along during 2017 while we do it!! (You can subscribe to this blog, our youtube channel, follow us on facebook and instagram or sign up for our mailing list.)

Six years ago when we were in a city and spending our days behind computer screens, it sounded crazy to aspire to be a farmer and a forager at all. We certainly had no idea we could homestead off a collective 225 pounds and grow a ton of skills. Yet, here we sit! Much stronger, healthier, empowered, a hell of a lot more skilled, and darn happy about it.

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We are ready to take our next step in the succession of being two homesteaders atop Panther Mountain. We want to take this to the next level and see how it shakes out. We are willing to change our diets again in big ways and phase into being practically paleo. Both of us are ready to see what it will do to our bodies to be eating the most local food we can get. We are going to get super real with sharing our journey, the good, the bad, and the (possibly) hungry–with you!

CAN WE DO IT? Will we survive? Will we thrive? Will the farmer lose this last ten pounds she’s been working on for a couple years? Will the forager hunt and gather her way to total empowerment? Will we prove to ourselves that we could caretake ourselves under just about any possible circumstance? Will it prove that even fledgling permaculture systems can feed a family?  Will our families and friends want to strangle us over yet another difficult diet choice that makes it actually impossible for them to feed us when we visit? We will find out in 2017. And if you choose to follow our journey, you will too! (Don’t worry friends and family, we love you and we’ll bring our own! We swear we are not doing this just to make you nuts!) 

And of course, what if we took this one step further and challenged YOU too? Are you willing to try to farm or forage more of your food in 2017 too? Or become a locavore? Or eat more whole organic foods that you cook with your family instead of the pre-packaged processed stuff? Or shop at farmers markets more and supermarkets less? The two of us sure hope we have shown over the last six years that making simple changes, one step at a time, can have a HUGE impact on changing your whole lifestyle! We also saw this awesome graphic, just this morning and it really hit home. If you decide to accept our challenge and take one step towards making a food challenge of your own–we would LOVE to hear about it!! Please feel free to comment below or on our social media if you decide to do a food challenge of your own in 2017.

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-the farmer + the forager

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So here’s the logistics for those who love’a the details.

We chose 8 things we are allowed to buy in (5 that will stay, and 3 that will hopefully phase out over the year):

1. Spices + Salt

2. Fat (Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Coconut Oil, Coconut milk)

3. Beverages (Coffee, Tea, wine, spirits, cider, apple cider vinegar, and of course, the occasional greenheart juice)

4. Sweeteners (Sugar, Honey)

5. Buckwheat

As the year goes on, we hope we won’t have to buy these things in past a certain point.

6. Mushrooms (ours should start to come in in spring, then wild ones in summer and fall)

7. Eggs (we finally got our feed them for free system in place! So, we will be getting hens again in spring and hopefully, not buying in our eggs will soon follow)

8. Garlic (ours didn’t do well this year, but we planted a ton in fall of 2016, so here’s hoping it will do well and we can stop buying this in in 2017)

We already have some things too, since we had bought bulk food in summer before we planned to do this challenge. There are grains in there–but we do plan to phase them out slowly over the course of the year. We are already gluten and dairy free–but want to be grain free one day as well, since we likely can’t grow much of that here. And that’s really our goal, we would just LOVE to be providing or trading for 100% of our diet one day–if that is even possible. And, of course, we don’t know the answer to that question yet.

What we already have:

45 pounds of brown rice, 75 pounds of corn grits,  5 pounds of various gluten free flours, 40 pounds of coconut oil, 20 pounds of flax, 110 pounds of winter squash and pumpkins, 10 pounds of dried beans and peas, 10 pounds of venison, 15 pounds of venison bones, 4 whole chickens, 3 whole rabbits, 3 gallons of mixed salt water fish, 5 gallons of frozen greens, 3 gallons of frozen green beans, 2 gallons of kraut, and then there are roughly 25 quart jars of miscellaneous dried veggies from the garden this year (peppers, sweet potatoes, greens, herbs, onions, garlic, beans, dried berries, raisins and tomatoes).

(We also have a failsafe. In the form of having close friends that either work at or own the only two health food stores in the area. They both follow this blog. They’d likely give us a lot of hell if we try to sneak something through the check out line that’s not allowed! We also have a pretty darn decent network of homesteading friends we could trade with if we get in a pinch. And hey, trading counts–it’s sure not like the pain of spending real money.) 

 

A huge thanks to two of our sponsors for 2017!! Through the Woods Natural Health and Sow True Seed. (If your business is focused on the health and empowerment of our community and you would like to get promoted heavily by us in 2017–email the farmer!!) 

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Growing the owl’s nest

WooHaaa, it’s been like pulling teeth for this farmer this year, as I’ve tried to keep my big mouth SHUT. About what we have been up to since the beginning of 2016, our next big leap.  Being the one that really just likes to dive in and swim, It was so darn hard to go slow on this one. Lay bricks for the pool, get some education via a lot of teachers, practice a ton, and then walk down to the end of the diving board. Now, that I’m springing up and down getting air–getting ready to take the plunge on January one… it’s time to give you fine folks that already follow us a sneak peek.

goat-workshop-class-2014 Goat workshop fall 2014

When I dove in in 2013 and started teaching out here, I loved it. It felt so good to share hard won information. I love spending time with people and seeing them get inspired by our stories, big smiles, and lack of being scared of telling homesteading truths. Yet, every passing year–it got more complicated. Logistically + legally, it’s kind of a nightmare to host certain kinds of homesteading education. The insurance cost is pretty insane. Our space is small. Our road is steep, scrappy, and really loves you to have 4×4. This place is also our home and we do truly love having our privacy often too. A lot of what the forager wants to share, just ain’t even allowed. Certain various officials have a tendency to get all squirrelly when you start talking about handing small children bows and arrows. Or showing women wild ways. Or taking college students out in our forests foraging. Lord help you and your business if you try putting ladies up on a roof with a hammer in their hand. With good reason, we totally get it. Our homesteader’s life is not for the faint of heart. It can be dangerous. There are a lot of licenses, legalities, and hoops to jump through. Homestead life, it’s hard. There’s a ton to it. And there are literally a million ways to hurt yourself, and that’s just the homestead truth.

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Two ladies from our intentional neighborhood here atop Panther Mountain, roofing the new outdoor kitchen at Eight Owls. Never fear, no homesteaders were harmed in the roofing of this kitchen! 

Over the course of 2015, we looked to see if we could get involved with another school, or another farm. Anywhere we could work, teach, and bring our marketing skills to the table–besides our home. Yet, never found anywhere that was just the right fit for us. It’s because we love working together and we love working right here. So, at the beginning of 2016–we came up with a question. What if we could teach right here on the farm… but in a totally different way? What if… we just put our stories, education, and experiences online instead? E-learning, homestead stylie. We talked about it for about six months. Practiced how we would do it for the last six months. Got two permaculture design courses, more workshops, immersions, and online summits under our belts. We know a few other homesteading couples that we just love, of varying experience levels, homesteading situations, and businesses of their own. We hope to start sharing and promoting the content they are already creating right alongside our own. We came up with the mother of all challenges for ourselves to share (stay tuned on January 1 when this puppy gets released!). And now, it’s almost time–to see if these owls can take flight online by writing stories and making videos to share.

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So, we have an end of year favor to ask–and that is for your continued support in 2017. If we are going to reach those new heights, we are going to need your help family and friends. We would be incredibly grateful to get it. Check out the updated website about what we have going on here next season + sign up for our newsletters. Subscribe to our new youtube channel. Share our content on Facebook and InstagramSign up to get our blog posts straight to your inbox–forward them to your friends. Tell your tribe about who these owls are and what they do. 

We have got two amazing sponsors for 2017, and are looking for more! If your business is focused on organics, education, medicinals, health, art, farming, wild food, medicine, building, home repair or remodeling, or supporting our community and you want to get some serious promotion from a couple of owls online… Email us for sponsorship details.

A HUGE thanks to our farm’s first two supporters for 2017:

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Through the Woods Natural Health in Brevard NC. Through the Woods Natural Health is the practice of naturopathic doctors Glenn and Marty Ingram. They have a passion for helping people follow nature’s wisdom to restore their health and vitality through lifestyle, nutrition, herbal medicine, and homeopathy.

Sow True Seed in Asheville NC. Sow True Seed provides open-pollinated, heirloom and organic vegetable, herb, and flower seeds to enthusiastic home gardeners and small market farmers.

They sure are big ol’ friends of this farm!!

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And of course, we have a couple of our goofy practice videos up already if you want to check them out. The Forager’s first ever shared video and the farmer’s first try to double the function of her daily run by stopping to record a video during one!

We are so incredibly grateful for our journey thus far and ESPECIALLY grateful for all of you that already follow and support us in such amazing ways. With your time, your resources, your tools, books, sharing, comments and amazing questions. We can’t wait to see what grows! Big love from the ladies of eight owls farmstead to you and yours,

-the farmer

 

Locust versus Locust

In October of 2015, I went on a permaculture and primitive living immersion I organized for a group of ladies I just love to spend time with. We visited both an eco-village nearby and a well established homesteading school.

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At the conclusion of the immersion at the homesteading school–the owner turned to me and said it was so awesome that I had put this together for the girls. Then shook her head and said, “Huh… you’re like…. a locust.” I was so starstruck over her back then that I think I said some nonsense like, “Yeah, I just like to connect dots… bring order to chaos and such.”

Of course, in the car on the way home–I started to flip out about it a little to the Forager. Oh. My. God. WAIT. Did she mean the tree? Or the crop leveling insect?!! The Forager, our resident locust (the tree) expert–let me know she definitely meant the tree. She patiently walked me back through it all. Through what being a permaculture student had already taught me about how beneficial this tree is to the plants around it.

Locusts are nitrogen fixing. How by getting coppiced, it feeds all the plants around it the nutrients they need. That if it doesn’t get cut back–it grows taller, stronger, and harder than any other wood around it.

She started talking a bit more to add in some details. About how if you cut it back before it has really grown, its heartwood is not strong enough for fence posts or foundations for houses. That it isn’t as beneficial of a wood as it could have been. Like it would be… if you would just let it grow.

She giggled and told me she’d never thought of it before but that I am totally am a locust. She added something too. Could I please stop cutting myself back so often for other folks? Find a better balance between doing so and growing tall and strong? Lord, the connections that can get made ’round here via farm life! The clever reference points!

Here’s hoping I’ve grown and raised the confidence and capability to do just that right here on this farm too.

In the fourteen months since this locust conversation happened–so much has changed for this organic farmer. I’ve now been a permaculture student for sixteen months. I’ve attended so many classes, workshops, conferences, online summits and courses, and read a ton of books. I’ve spent the last six months conceptualizing, implementing, experimenting, and adapting our farm’s new permaculture design.

We hosted less workshops, immersions, tours, WWOOFers, and guests on our farm in 2016 than we ever have. I gave myself a complete break from social media earlier in spring while we were taking our second permaculture design course and… <gasp> hired someone else to do posting for us for a couple months. I took a huge chunk of the year off from blogging even, in order to make sure I would still write a lot… even if I wasn’t sharing it. To get better at it on my own. To write the stories I don’t want to share, in order to get them our of my head. To refine my words. To finally find an editor I love, wahoo! (Who I’m not using today, hence my rambling and lack of proper sentence structure.)

Looking back now, I’m realizing exactly what I was doing. Even if I didn’t understand it at the time. I was lightening my load. I was establishing my root system. Because I was getting ready to grow.

Back in December of 2014, we started choosing a word for ourselves for the year ahead. A word to hold close to our hearts, something to aspire to or to let go of. A word to work towards. Choosing a word for the year has come to be one of my very favorite self-care practices. It is my teether to what I want to become in the coming year. It’s a talisman I can turn over in my mind as I’m working on getting raised on a farm. For me, it’s such a boon to becoming a better human.

My word for 2015 was balance. 2016 was listen. Like all things, it isn’t some magic trick. I’ll be stacking these words up in my heart and working on getting better at them for the rest of my days. But it was a great place to start that process, setting one for myself each year.

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I’ve already chosen my word for 2017–and I do want to go ahead share it with you. Maybe it will inspire you to choose a word for yourself for next year too.

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I think I’m finally ready–for a word as big as GROW. For choosing one that I know will be hard for me. I’ve kept the weight I lost farming and going gluten free off for over two years. I’m pretty sure I at least know how to not grow bigger around the middle again. I know I’ve designed a homestead life that has given me the ability to shift my whole lifestyle. I continue to stay pretty motivated to work at it. I think I can focus on growing now, and not just shrinking.

My brain about burst open in spring 2015 when one of our staffers loaned me a book and let me read about my north node. It felt like getting slapped over the head as I read. About my tendency towards service. To the extreme. The kind that has you bending over backwards so far, you break. That all I seem to want to do is help the weak, helpless, troubled, sick, or addicted. It let me know I have a hard time saying no to them, even if I don’t have anything left to give. However, if I would just begin to learn to say no sometimes, I’d have a much stronger foundation. And that once I establish that, I would actually be able to help many, many people. Until then, stopping to feel others’ pain would only drag me down with them.

In 2015, I found the balance to begin to see it. By 2016, I learned to talk at least a bit less… and began to truly  listen. To myself, my body, my wife, family and friends.

And so, I think I am ready to grow. Into a big ol’ tall tree that is totally capable of being a fence post one day or strong enough to hold up a building. Or, perhaps even a tree that stays firmly rooted to the ground and never gets cut down. So it can support a huge nest, that holds a whole lot of owlets flying in and out of it.

Can I do it? Can I grow into the stronger better human I want to be? I feel so confident that I can. That I will give it my very best shot. I already feel like a shiny new permaculture farmer that got sprouted on this homestead. I so feel like I got raised on a farm, Eight Owls Farmstead. I’m so ready to grow some dense heartwood, get taller and stronger on it too.

“Don’t go through life, grow through life.” –Eric Butterworth

-the farmer

 

 

Being Pretty

When I weighed 300 pounds six years ago, I felt pretty far from pretty. I wasn’t happy or healthy. I was depressed and anxious. I didn’t feel capable or confident, I felt I lacked some pretty serious skills. Empowered or inspired were certainly not on my radar.

Yet, here I sit this Saturday morning at 5am. I’m happy. The Farmer’s Diet and Detox hopefully has me on the way to being healthy. At least I do know I’m 146 pounds lighter and I don’t carry around so much depression either. I feel more capable and confident every day. I get so inspired by the humans I meet and the experiences I have. Homestead life empowers me every single day. The skills residing in the seven pounds above my shoulders make me feel proud, as I watch them grow every day. Oh yeah, and I’m pretty happy about how I look in my overalls these days too. But, there’s a reason that that statement comes after all the others. It’s because what makes me feel beautiful these days is how I feel inside. For me, being happy, healthy, smart, capable, inspiring, empowered, confident, and skill up…. is what makes me feel “homestead hot”. More often than not!

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I woke up yesterday morning and made a handful of quotes over pictures of ours from this year. Posted them. I’d never seen this quote before, but I really liked it. (Here’s the whole post I got sent later about where this quote came from.)  Went to some awesome friends‘ homestead for a visit and to drop off a rabbit. Came home to find Women Who Farm had shared this graphic I made… and it had got a little attention. This morning it has hit a reach of 85,960 and 923 shares.. and it is still counting. That’s our heaviest hitting post ever. We also got almost 500 new followers yesterday, thank y’all so much!!

Me thinks, I’ve stumbled onto an interesting subject! Do we all have some feelings about feeling pretty? Like I used to? Perhaps!

So, I just wanted to share a little story this morning–about the moment in my homestead life that is depicted in the graphic above. Anyone else want to know what’s going on there? And why it was one that made me feel like a serious homestead hottie?

It was early August of this year. We had barely had any rain all summer and everything on the farm was suffering for it. Yet, on that day–the skies opened up and it dumped what ended up being a few inches of rain in an hour. The Forager and I ran out on the porch, started squealing and dancing around in circles. We were so grateful. For about 30 seconds before we looked over at the rabbit colony–we got horrified and fast.

My rabbit doe Groats had taken advantage of the dry weather and dug herself a full on burrow to have babies in. I hadn’t been too worried about it until this point–because it was so dry and I knew they’d be up and out of there in a week or so. The whole rabbit paddock was filling with a river of water and fast. I panicked. We stood there for a second, talking about how could we dig it out without letting even more water in and drowning the kits. But, we just didn’t have that long to strategize and I realized that pretty quickly. I just put on my muck boots, grabbed a shovel and mattock and ran.

I didn’t even think about my clothes or my hair. I didn’t care about looking pretty. There was a job to be done. Permaculture had taught us so much about how to move water. We put in a water break and rerouted the path of it. We were able to quickly dug into the burrow. I found two gasping, mud covered, cold kits floating in a puddle of a burrow. I handed them to the Forager who ran them up to the porch to wrap in a blanket. I stayed behind and dove my whole body into the burrow to see if there were any more. There weren’t, thank God. I grinned so big I about couldn’t stand it. I was shaking with relief. The rain finally stopped. I turned around to someone laughing and saying, “DANG you look really hot right now, so I got the camera”. Click.

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As I stepped up on the porch, I felt smart, capable and pretty too. I rubbed those baby rabbits in an screen printed onesie gone wrong until they were warm and dry.

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I returned them to their mom, and tucked them back into a nest box in the hutch. She has seemed to learn her lesson and has never tried to bury her babes in a burrow since.

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This was a couple weeks later.  Fat, happy, healthy, and pretty too. I named them Shovel and Mattock. But, just a month later–I realized they were both girls and the names didn’t feel quite right. I’ve noticed girls can be sensitive about what they get called. Everyone can really, and I get that too. I didn’t know what to name them. But I did know, I sure didn’t need two more female rabbits. I held on to these two through several butchery days–because I just couldn’t do it. Their story was too epic, I liked them too much. I did actually want to keep one for breeding for next year. But what about the other one? So, I gave a couple new homesteaders I just LOVE a holler–and asked them if they were ready for a rabbit for their homestead. They were. I drove her there, just yesterday–while so many folks were loving this picture of me.

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They don’t even know this whole story, but they decided to name her Athena–from my blog post last month about The Legend of the Eight Owls. It was just PERFECT. So perfect, I’m wondering if they would mind if I name her sister the same… since they both were born of a pretty epic tale. One of coming from poor circumstance, but surviving, thriving and going on to become great things. And, of course, I think they are both pretty too.

How we all feel about being pretty or handsome, it is so darn complicated. And everyone feels totally differently about it. Everyone reacts differently when they do or don’t get called that often. And here, on this blog–I’m always just sharing my opinion. And that is, that it is all about how we feel inside. If we are happy or not. Confident and capable or not. That’s what radiates out and makes other folks have a reaction. To me, strong and smart are both so sexy on anyone… and being smeared with mud doesn’t really slow that whole thing down.

So, I want to close with a section of an amazing quote that I got from a new Facebook fan of ours–who I’m now a big fan of! It seems just perfect and I love it so much.

“Neither “pretty” nor “handsome” has ever saved a life, invented something desperately needed, fed the hungry, provided healing care to the ill or injured, kept pollutants out of our soil, water, air, or bodies, kept someone from harming themselves or others, built or rebuilt the vast majority of the world’s governments or businesses, created a timeless or classic work of art, housed the homeless, kept an innocent person out of prison or from losing their job, made an original scientific discovery, taught anyone to read or write, raised or mentored a younger generation, saved a species from extinction, advanced our knowledge of the universe and how it works, and so much more!” –J.S.

Thanks girl, for making this farmer’s morning with your wonderfully wise words! I agree, completely. Let’s put the power on building people up for what is within and not just for what’s on the surface of their skin. Let’s make capability cool and smart sexy! I think the best thing in the world that we can all do is make people feel good about doing what they love with their lives–no matter what that is. If it makes you healthy and happy, then that sure makes you look real pretty to me!

-the farmer

 

 

 

 

I wan’na be like YOU!

We hear several things pretty often… “Your story is SO inspiring!!! I want to lose weight too!” or “I’ve always wanted a farm/homestead. I want to be like you!” or “I wanna be off grid, just like you!” or “I’ve wanted your life for all of mine… can I come live at your farm?” or “oh my gosh you are like the cutest couple ever!!” or even better yet…. “ya’ll are badasses”.

When I’ve gotten featured on Women Who Farm this year, that kind of commentary grows by leaps and bounds. I woke up several times this week to inboxes stuffed with these sorts of amazing comments. Now that I’ve been asked to be a writer for Women Who Farm, I’m guessing it might happen even more! So, I just wanted to talk about it a little this morning. I wanted to say thank you so much for all the awesome confidence building complements! But I also wanted to talk about something else. That what I want… is for you to want to be just like YOU! 

As I was talking to the forager yesterday morning about this, she got a smile on her face and just started singing. A song that felt so darn appropriate for this situation that we stopped our conversation and danced around the living room singing along to it.

Change the words to “woman cub” and this song is kind of what it feels like when folks first hear about us. That we have a magic red flower to share that will make all their “dreamsteads” come true. And actually, we do. That red flower we hold is our passion for how we live coupled with hard work and the willingness to share our process, successes, and mistakes with you. In the hopes that very soon, you will hold a red flower of your very own… At your homestead! And that YOU will inspire people with it too!

We both do it, not because we are super confident humans that love public speaking, but because we want to see the world change SO much. We want to see humans realize how amazing, capable, and badass we can ALL be! We share our stories with you in the hopes that it will inspire you. Of course our hope is to inspire you to change the world, to share with others, and to become a human that you LOVE and are so proud to be. We want you to want to be just like YOU!

I’ve tried to talk about this on my blog so often over the last few years. I make it incredibly clear when folks visit the farm by waving my hands around and saying “We ain’t no experts now” right when people land in the nest. And it is not because we are being modest, it is because we aren’t experts!! That would likely take decades, not six years! We are still students of living this way and likely will be for a long while. And we just LOVE that. We are both smart and are both good at a lot of things. That means we can both get bored easily. Learning about living the way we do very obviously has no end that we will find until we are much, much older ladies. So, it’s just perfect for these two educators who love to keep learning and who also DO the things they talk about with students.

The Forager has a lot planned for how she wants to start sharing with you in 2017. However, after the week’s emails–she told me she would love it if we would co-write a post to try to clear up some common misconceptions. Even though I’ve talked about this a lot before, we’d love to go ahead and put them all together into one post… Together!

Losing weight. Yes, we lost weight and that was great!! However, at least for the farmer, I didn’t do it in the way that I would if I was starting again. (The forager is going to talk to you about her weight loss later and separately, we had two totally different journeys in this department)  I’d have taken some pictures and documented where I was when I started.  Now, I majorly regret that. I didn’t make a plan with my primary care doctor, a nutritionist, or find a naturopathic doctor. That would have been incredibly smart. It wasn’t safe to just wing it like I did, and safety should always come first. It wasn’t just farming either, that got the weight and depression off. I only eat organic and gluten free. I gave up having a cell phone six years ago. I use minimal grid power. I don’t have plumbing in my home. We use wood heat. So, I chop a lot of wood and carry a lot of water. I spend a ton of time outside. I even sleep outside some of the year. So, it’s not some magic trick. It was a total lifestyle change. If you want to try the homesteader’s life, on a quest to lose weight, I want you to do better than I did! There is a lot to it, it’s not simple. I sure don’t want anyone to throw their metabolism off or get a gallstone…. LIKE I DID! So, I’d love to introduce you to our awesome naturopathic doctors, Glenn and Marty Ingram from Through the Woods Natural Health. They have been helping us both a ton lately to get our bodies patched up after putting them through a huge detox of losing a collective 225 pounds. We just love that their medical care and support covers our whole lifestyle.  When I stepped on a scale on November the 3rd of 2016 and saw that it read 172, Marty and Glenn helped me approach this thing the right way this time. Post gallbladder surgery and a complete lack of exercise had packed pounds back on me. I also went to my primary care and got new blood work done. I took a picture of myself in my birthday suit so that I could compare it to others later (I won’t be sharing those with y’all!! They’re just for me!).  I weighed in this morning at 157. I feel a lot better about how it went this time, since I’ve had a couple of doctors tracking me as I go. And I’m telling you about it now–because I’m still mid journey with this thing. I still have about ten more pounds to either lose or turn into shredded farm muscle. I’m not a doctor or a weight loss expert. I’m just a woman who has issues with food. I’ve found a way to design a lifestyle that makes it harder to regain the weight I lost. (Unless you have to sit on your butt for six weeks healing from surgery that you only needed for losing it too fast in the first place!!)

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(My new garden gym obstacle course has me up to four rounds each of eight push ups, three pull ups, six push ups, fifteen minutes of running, and gaining some serious balance on a beam. Shredded farm muscle here I come!) 

Skilling up. Yes, we have a TON of skills we didn’t use to. Yet, we have a TON more we want to have! The Forager finds wild plants, makes primitive crafts, is a terracing and swale making geek, and builds a mean friction fire. She aspires to be a lot farther down her foraged skilled up road one day–as she swears it’s what keeps her looking and feeling 17. ;-p My strengths are cooking, food preservation, teaching, being a homestead housewife, making art…. and then gardening. Notice how that comes last? It’s because I wasn’t born with a green thumb. Gardening has not come easy for me–I had to grow “the plant thing”. I’ve tried to be super honest about it over the years. I’ve also never given up on it, because it is something I want to be good at and I’m willing to work hard to get there. I’m not afraid to laugh at myself or share silly stories with folks about how I used to weed away my ground covers or how I planted 40 asparagus starts upside down. But, I think that is why folks like coming out here so much…. we make things seem approachable. Attainable. We just share what experience we do have. We make them laugh a lot while we do it.

Being off grid. We aren’t. It’s that simple. I say semi-off grid because our house doesn’t have power or plumbing. But there is a small building that is hooked to grid power on our farm. Our tiny intentional neighborhood shares it. It runs our well pump, a communal deep freezer, a modem for internet, and has a power strip for charging batteries. In winter, I run an extension cord to our house for one lamp and to charge our computers and batteries somewhere that has heat. (I didn’t do this for two winters, to make sure I could live by candlelight. I can, so now a lamp feels okay to reintegrate a few months a year) But, that’s it for what we’ve got power wise. Last month our two households used $52.41 of power. (Over half of that is the service fee to get it to the tippy top of our mountain.) I have no idea if we will ever get solar panels, but I’m sure a small setup could handle that. We want to be incredibly sure we are NOT dependent on having power, and it seems to help our anxiety issues to not have so much buzzing about. We have a lot of infrastructure in place in the form of rain barrels and research books for if the power does go out. All of us are completely skilled up and mentally prepared enough to not be upset or even disrupted much when it does. That my friends, was our real off grid goal. It feels incredibly good and empowering to use less power. It has a lot of positive impacts for the environment too.

Living at Eight Owls Farm. We get asked pretty often about if there is an option to live on our farm. We do not plan to have other people live here at this time. Our hope is to give you experiences here that inspire you to homestead, permaculture farm, and forage where you already are! We are part of an intentional neighborhood we love, but are not an intentional community and we no longer aspire to be one for a lot of reasons that would need its very own blog post.

Being the cutest couple. Hey now, even we agree with that one! 😉 But, we need you to know that there is plenty we DON’T agree on around here. We are both incredibly different, have polar opposite passions, and move through the world in quite different ways. I ramble when I talk, she listens and chooses her words carefully–they have a lot of impact when they come out. I’m get’er’done, she’s methodical. I farm, she forages. I love early mornings, she loves late nights. Yet, somehow, those difference seems to bring out the best in each other. I have no idea why that is, but I think it has a lot to do with our homestead lifestyle. We do what we love with our time. These days we focus on doing what works and let go of what doesn’t. We do our best to minimize our stress and don’t hang around folks that have a tendency to add that on. We make a lot of time for spending together and we give each other a lot of room to be different. We’ve worked really hard at it for the last 7.5 years too. Neither of us were the greatest at communication–but we love each other so dang much that we try really, really hard.

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Being badass. We saved this for last because it is the most complicated. People started telling us we were badasses three years ago. We didn’t believe it then at all, so it was a bit horrifying to hear. But this past year changed that and we are starting to believe it now. We are pretty badass after all. We think anyone can be. But we want you to know we are human too. We’re not superheroes, wizards or aliens. We are just two women who aspire to be all we can be. We want to inspire folks to try to be all they can be too. And that’s it. We don’t ever want to make anyone else feel stupid, small or like we are better, cooler, or more badass than they are. The two of us have been made to feel that way plenty in our lives and would never wish that on anyone else. Mostly because the kinds of people we usually meet are standing at the beginning of trying to walk down a very different road than the one they are currently on. Which means that they are the baddest of all bad asses. Because being willing to stand at the beginning of a difficult road takes a ton of guts. So, yes–we finally think we are badasses. But, if you have gotten this far reading this long post… it likely means you are trying to find a different road. And that makes YOU a badass to US!

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We get it – everyone needs homesteading heroes! Even US! In fact, just yesterday we went and met one of ours. We’ve been wanting to get up to Turtle Island Preserve to meet Eustace Conway for a good long while now and it was a blast making that dream come true yesterday. It was an amazing place to visit! Desere gave us an unbelievable private tour, we got to hang with the man some and we got inspired to all get out! Those folks make you feel incredibly comfortable–talk about approachable and attainable. Turtle Island staff sure manages to find the balance between being bad ass and not making you feel like they are any better than you! Give those fine folks a holler if you want some serious homestead hero inspiration! 


So, there you go–the common misconceptions all in one tidy, albeit long, blog post. We can tell you a few things we are both incredibly committed to… Telling you the truth, about how we are set up, and that the most important thing we have grown here is adaptability…. because the way we are set up may have to change year to year as the world changes or as we get older. But we will talk to you about that honestly too. We won’t try to make things look pretty or unrealistic–we want you to know what to expect on your own homestead… and we’ve found that pretty or prefect isn’t usually the case for homestead life. And, that we will never forget what it was like to be who we used to be. To be standing at the beginning. No matter how long we do this, or how big the eight owls following might get, we will give it our best efforts to be just how we are now in this regard. We will try to support you as you grow, we will do our best to build you up and not break you down if you visit here. We will see you as the bad ass we just know you are working to be. We’ll accept and love you just how you are. Because, it’s the eight owls way… we just want to show you how we learned to fly and how we built our nest. So you can go do the same, in your own way.

–the farmer and the forager (we came together and wrote this one together… she talked, I typed, she edited!) 

The Farmer + Forager’s Holiday Shopping for Homesteaders Guide!

What in the world do you buy your homesteading friends for a holiday gift? What do farmers and foragers want stuffed in their stockings? We’ve gotten asked this a few times over the years – but haven’t ever done a blog post about it. When we got asked again this year, we figured we would come together and co-write a blog post of a few ideas for the homesteaders you love to receive this holiday season.

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We are both big fans of the hand crafted item, letters/cards, knitted hats, custom clothes, or gifts that show big hand crafted love from our friends and family. A framed photograph or scrapbook goes such a long way with the two of us! Upcylced things, gear from the habitat re-store, old things you don’t want anymore but may be totally useful to the scrappy homesteader (kitchen gear, camping gear, building materials, research books about farm and forage related things, basement/attic clean outs, etc). Seriously tough clothes that can hold up to farm life. Organic food you grew or cooked! See how fired up the farmer got when the forager brought her a surprise gift of a few figs off a tree we just put in this year?!

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Getting something creative and that a lot of cash wasn’t spent on goes a long way with the two of homesteaders that reside here!! Granted, the forager says that her ideal gift would be both a letter or piece of art from someone she loves alongside the duct tape she needs to survive her farm life–but you get the idea.

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The Forager began to turn her bow making skill to basket making in 2015. She loves doing them when she has time. this was her first one, so she gave it to a beloved family member as a holiday last year and I stuffed it with food we grew! 

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So, in the spirit of answering some great gifting questions this week… we also each picked 8 things that we would love to find in our stockings this holiday season. We sure hope it helps you shop for your homesteading friends!

The Forager:

duct tape • tarps • steel toe boots • rain gear • a good knife • tools • A-frame level • a fire starter or metal match

The Farmer:

ball canning jars +/or extra lids/bands • carhartts • wool socks+ long johns • skinning knives • non-gmo seeds • gift certificates for homesteading education • fermenting crocks • sprouting boxes

And then, there are always books. We have a million we love… but these are just a few of our favorite homesteading books (we’ve starred our must haves):

The Foxfire series*, One Straw Revolution* (our new very favorite!), Wild Fermentation, the art of fermentation* , Encyclopedia of Country Living*, Basic Butchery of Livestock and Game, Fruits of the Forest, How to Build Animal Housing, Unlearn, Rewild*, Backyard Homestead*, Gaia’s Garden*, The Market Gardener, The A to Z guide of Healing Herbal Remedies, Off the Grid, Game for all Seasons, Raising Goats Naturally, Natural Goat Care, The Organic Artist*, Edible Forest Gardening (2 volumes)*, Mycelium running, square foot gardening, The Permaculture City, the bowyers bible set of 4, anything by tom brown, field guides to edible or medicinal plants, and the stalking the wild asparagus series.

And, of course–the best of all… is experiences and time together. For these two homesteaders we find that TOPS. We so love being able to just spend some time with the folks we love. So, maybe all your homesteaders want from you is a promise of a visit in the upcoming year. One where you won’t make them feel weird for the way they choose to live! ;-P Or if you REALLY want to make their whole year, tell them you will FARM SIT for them while they take a couple days off! Holy crow, what a gift that is for a new homesteader. Take it from two ladies who didn’t get to sleep off the farm for the first three years they owned it. Because no one else had the know how or desire to wrangle the goats and milk twice a day!

It’s hard to even wrap our minds around the fact that the holidays are here again. What a big year it has been in the world. Now is the time to just get together and enjoy each other–so hopefully the focus will be on that. But, if gift giving is important to you, hopefully this helped just a little bit… to give you some tips on what your homesteading friends may be needing this holiday season! Hope everyone has a great one!! Big love from our homestead to yours–

The Farmer and The Forager

Right before we started to write this post last night–I started out by asking the forager what she thought she would want… here was her response. Sorry for the poor quality and lighting – we only have one lamp in our limited power source house!