The Learning Years

To quote a FaceBook post I saw this morning, “Those who say it can’t be done should get out-of-the-way of those who are doing it.” From our experience, we have had to deal with those Negative Nellies who tell us we can’t. We have had to deal with our own doubts and apprehensions. But after a few ‘learning years’ we are stepping off the treadmill in 2 weeks and embarking on our biggest adventure yet.

Our theory of years goes something like this:
First there are the learning years: These are the ones where the lessons are hard-won, and often cost more than the benefits, if any. But these years are crucial and can’t be avoided. Knowing this and accepting this makes the losses a little more bearable, especially if you commit to retain the lesson learned.
Next are the growing years: Still learning, not quite as painful. A few more rewards in spite of losses, but overall, a sense of hope that the lessons learned are going to pay off.
At last, the harvest years: By now you realize that the learning is never done. However, those things that were such a struggle are second nature, there are fruits of the labor, the blood + sweat + tears expended, and there is time to fine tune one’s actions.

Any given part of your life can be in any one of these stages all at the same time.
Isn’t that exciting?!?

So while I won’t be working 40+ hours a week for a paycheck, I will be working 40+ hours a week for our livelihood. It isn’t that I won’t be employed, I will have a different employer and a different set of tasks to do. Our goal of self-sufficiency doesn’t mean that we are pulling inward, to hide from the world. In truth, it is just the opposite. It is to make our life situation such that we can share ourselves more with each other, our family and our community.

Yes, the harvest we are realizing now is also the re-start of the learning years all over again…but I know that there are more harvest years to come…

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Where were you when the world stopped turning?

“Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day?” sings Alan Jackson.

Today has been one of reflection on those moments that forever leave their mark on your soul. I remember exactly where I was that morning. Just as I remember exactly where I was when I heard that the USA was bombing Baghdad. And when the space shuttle fell out of the sky. Moments of our collective history.

I also remember where I was when my personal world stopped turning. When an airplane crashed into the Sunvalley Mall. When my brother and his family drove away from California, listening to the same Rascal Flatts song that was also playing in my car. The moment my dad died and I thought I would too, right then and there. When Tye and all my animal companions drove up the gravel road, and I held onto the gate and sobbed.

Today has also been one of reflection on the resilience we humans can demonstrate. How pride in our country exploded in showers of red, white and blue. How we rallied together and held each other up both physically and emotionally. How we shared tears, stories, memories and songs. How saying ‘see you later’ felt safer than saying ‘goodbye’. How it all of a sudden became just a little bit easier to tell our friends that we loved them for no other reason than to just make sure they knew.

As I tuck each one of these memorable moments back into the place in my heart where I keep them, I marvel at how they are still tender to the touch but not quite as painful as they once were. My world did stop turning, but then somehow, ever so slowly, it started up again.

glass brickGlass Brick at the Crystal Cathedral, Garden Grove, CA

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In 30 days…

“30 days hath September…
April, June and November…”

I remember sitting with Grandma on the window seat in the farm-house, looking out to the eastern field, as she recited this mnemonic poem over and over to me until I learned it too. Truthfully, I thought she had made it up. It wasn’t until I was in school that I realized it came from somewhere else, much older than she. There is even a version in medieval literature, I’ve discovered.
We would sit like this and she would recite or sing to me little songs that are with me to this day. “Count your blessings” and Psalm 23. A poem about ice cream, because we were making up stories about the pictures we saw in the clouds, and she thought one looked like an ice cream cone. Grandma used words that others didn’t. Chesterfield (a unique northern CA term) instead of couch, bureau instead of dresser, or larder instead of pantry. She encouraged me to learn a new word every day. She firmly believed that a strong and large vocabulary was one of the keys of a successful person. She herself didn’t have opportunities for higher education, but she saw its value and made sure her two children (my father and my aunt) accomplished what she couldn’t. But I digress…

“Thirty days” has another meaning for me today.

In 30 days…my life will make a sudden turn. In 30 days, I will end one very long chapter volume of my life and turn towards the next new and exciting adventure.
In 30 days, in 30 days…a quiet chant in the back of my mind as I hang the laundry out to dry, as I sweep the floor, as I scrub the sink…
In 30 days, I will leave my employer of the last 21+ years and put the final touches on packing and preparing for a cross-country move. Two thousand-two hundred-twenty-five miles and some change, per the online map…from California to Indiana. From having a mortgage the runs my life to having a life without a mortgage. From the relative security of a regular job to being my own task-master. From knowing where the next check will come from to needing to make every penny count and counting it twice before letting it go.

Am I afraid? To quote Grandma, “There is no fear when God is near.”
Am I the least bit sad? Maybe a little – to leave what remains of family here, and friends who felt like family.
Am I excited? Absolutely!
I have been described as responsible and level headed…and this action, this 2,225+ mile trip is about the most opposite thing anyone can think of me doing. And yet it is those traits that I believe will help me the most as this new adventure begins.

In 30 days, in 30 days, in 30 days…

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Wishing for Fall

I am wishing for fall so badly that I got excited over dry leaves…but the day turned out hot and sunny, over 100° and smacking of summer. I should have known by the reflection that it wasn’t quite here yet…

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Tallow Time

I just finished rendering out batch #2 of beef fat to make tallow. Two down, two to go. The first batch was my learning curve. I realize now I could have rendered so much more if I had ground the fat first. But live and learn, right? My goal is to render down all the fat I have stashed in the freezer and ultimately make tallow candles. Why? Well, because I can. I could also make soap with it, too. But that is a larger process as first I would need to make lye, and I’m fresh out of wood ashes…so that will be left for another day…

One of the things we strive to do is to honor and respect everything we raise, be it animal or vegetable. We don’t like to waste anything that has given up its life for us. So vegetables and fruits are eaten, dried, canned, preserved, pickled…and their scraps are composted or fed out to various animals as ‘treats’. The same with the meat we raise. When we process our poultry, we find a use for every part. Our larger animals are processed by a mobile butcher. So I had to request for him to save back the fat for me to use, which he nicely packaged in 5 lb increments. Of the steer we had done, I was able to get 20 lbs of fat. We tend to raise our animals lean, so I was grateful for what I could get. Someday when we do the entire process at home, I want to cure my own leather, too. Wouldn’t that be something?

There is a ton of information and YouTube videos on rendering, if you are interested in seeing the process. What I think is magic is the way the yellow colored fat turns a creamy white when it is cold. Pretty amazing. And yes, when the time comes to make candles, I’ll be re-purposing some old 100% cotton shoelaces and other strips of cotton fabric I’ve set back to make the wicks. You didn’t think I’d actually buy wicks, did you?

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Angel Biscuits

It seems only fitting that after a post of devils in eggs, I should have a post about angels in biscuits.

This morning I needed a lift, and fresh biscuits warm from the oven, bathed with butter and smothered in fresh jam was just the thing to do it. This recipe is from the South, and Southerners know their biscuits!

The dry team roster: flour, salt, sugar, yeast, baking soda and baking powder
The wet team includes both buttermilk and a little warm water
The fat team called for lard or shortening. Being fresh out of lard…lol…
It always amazes me how these ingredients in different combinations produces different things.

The dough is very soft and tends towards stickiness.

Waiting their turn in the oven
The warm tart fragrance of the buttermilk is amazing! It makes my nose tickle just a little and I find myself watching the timer.
This recipe yielded 24 biscuits with a decent beggar’s biscuit too. That one will become a treat for my chickens.
The Beggar’s Biscuit

I baked one batch a little darker, for eating fresh. The other batch is slightly lighter. I will freeze them individually and then be able to pull them out as desired over the next couple of weeks. They will toast beautifully and I will appreciate them over and over.

Off to breakfast!

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The Devil is in the Eggs

Today was a ‘potluck’ at work. Not that it was really luck. With so few of us we tend to assign dishes rather than having our luck be full of dessert and no real food. So while I was assigned to bring fruit salad, I had a case of sleeplessness last night that resulted in deviled eggs. OMG – you would have thought that no one had ever made these before! Which just isn’t the truth…I made some last week and took them to the office and they disappeared faster than a group of baseball playing kids scatters at the sound of breaking glass! Anyway, after many compliments, I decided I should share my ‘secret’ recipe with the world. It isn’t really a secret. I made it up as I went along.

First you must start with eggs. Notice I didn’t say ‘fresh’ eggs. You need them a little older so they peel easier. Hard boil them using your method of choice. Yes, I have a way that I like to do it. But so does everyone’s mother, grandmother, great grandmother…just boil them. Hard boil. You want those yolks done.

Slice them nicely in half. Pop out the yolks into a shallow bowl. Reserve the whites off to the side on a work surface. It’s not time yet to put them on the serving plate!
With a fork, mash the yolks until they are all crumbly. Add a good dollop of mayonnaise; a quarter of that size dollop of mustard. I prefer plain, yellow mustard. If you must know, I used French’s. I am picky about my mayo too: I only like Best Foods. I think those in the Midwest and East call it Hellman’s?
Next: finely mince (and I mean as fine as you can get it!) some red onion and green bell pepper. If you don’t mince it fine, it will clog the pastry bag and frosting tip. (Yes, I’ll explain that in a second!). Mix this into the egg mixture until well blended.

Turning your attention back to the egg whites, sprinkle them ever so slightly with seasoning salt and chili powder. If you want you can use the hot powder, but I use just regular mild chili powder. Now you can move them over to your serving plate or transport container.

Grab a pastry bag and a large holed tip from your cake decorating box. If you don’t have one, well, then improvise. I like to use tip #199. Fill the bag and get to piping. You can make swirls or rising puffs of yolky-goodness.

Lastly, for color and because I like the flavor, garnish with a single (washed!) cilantro leaf. Or Italian parsley if that suits you better.

Then stand back…these little devils fly off the plate!

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Empty Vessels

Patiently waiting to be used to their full potential

“She considers a field and buys it; From her earnings she plants a vineyard.”
Proverbs 31:16

And from her harvest, she puts ahead for the future…

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In the beginning…my history, part 1

I wasn’t born on a farm. I wasn’t raised in the country. Truth be told: I was raised in the ‘burbs. Yup. A bona fide tract house in a middle class neighborhood. As kids, we used to go visit Grandma and Grandpa on the farm in Fresno, but by the time we were grown enough to understand, their participation in it was limited to the full-grown orchard, sky-high pecan trees and a very large garden.   It was in that garden that I learned what fresh asparagus tasted like, warm from the ground, dusted off on Grandpa’s coveralls. One of my favorite years was when the renters planted peanuts and my grandparents had received their portion of the harvest. We sat at their little kitchen table: Grandpa, my older brother and I, shelling peanuts. And Grandpa would pass us a peanut to eat saying, “One for you, one for you and two for me…”  and after a couple of rounds of this, we figured out that he was getting extra peanuts! So much laughter, so much fun, so many good memories in that farmhouse kitchen. But more on that in later posts…

One thing my dad always used to say when we were growing up was: if a branch doesn’t bear fruit then cut it off. I think it was a twist on a Bible verse. But what it meant for us was that he made the most of our suburban yard and garden. We had an orchard of semi dwarf trees: peach, nectarine, two kinds of apple, apricot, pear and even pomegranate. We had berry vines and an orange tree. And of course an annual garden. And a rose garden (fruit for the soul).  This was just the back yard.  The front yard boasted persimmon (the big fat kind from which puddings and cookies can be made), fig, Meyer lemon (saved by my dad when a severe storm almost severed its tap-root) and a lovely olive tree from which we cured our own olives. And of course more soul food: tree roses and huge azaleas made for a splash of color unrivaled by any neighbor.  A wayward loquat seed planted by a mischievous girl (wonder who!) grew unhindered on the side yard and bore fruit as if it had been planted on purpose.

So while I may not have been raised in the country, the country was in my blood. It lingered there, waiting until the day that it was time to germinate and grow. That time is now.

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