Tag Archives: North Carolina

So spoiled

I’ve written a few times about the epic pumpkin patch my mom’s cousin used to own just outside of Redlands, CA. We started going there when my now 8 year old was a month old. Being family we did all the activities for free and basically for the years before we moved here, I had all the fancy (and tasty) heirloom pumpkins I could stand for free. Well change comes to us all and we, um, moved across the country. Last year I just couldn’t bring myself to pay for a pumpkin patch, plus we were super busy so we just picked up jack’o’lantern pumpkins at Walmart and called it meh. This year a friend invited me to go with her and her son to a local Pumpkin Patch (one of about 87 in a 5 mile radius of our house…turns out when you can grow things like corn mazes, people do.) I finally got my spoiled self in gear and made peace with the fact that no it wouldn’t be the same, and yes it was going to cost me both my arm and my leg. Sigh. The munchkins were beyond thrilled with the experience so I’m thinking we may be back in the proverbial holiday tradition saddle once again.

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People either love these things or hate them. I hate that I love them. And the disembodied cow/sheep heads? fuggetaboutit.

I’m not sure if I can adequately express the magnitude of my gratitude, that my kids are both easily entertained and easy to please. Tire and dirt? We’re set for hours, Mom!

Not pictured is the huge silo fort with air cannons. Not sure how I was so negligent in my picture taking that I have no pictures of it’s magnificence.

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But the real star, the real icing on our fall extravaganza cake was this little barn thing filled with corn. We spent a solid hour in here and they probably would have stayed longer. True I had to fish corn out of pants and skivvies, but it was the best sensory exploration activity of the whole season for all the ages. All of the things we did just reminded me and threw into stark relief that 99.9% of the time, simple is the right answer (and not just for kids).

We rounded out the day with a haunted hay ride to a field of perfectly placed (if not exactly grown) pumpkins to find our Jack’o’lanterns. Corra had a huge (fake) spider almost land on her head and ghosts came out of the trees. It was pretty great.

So next on our tradition documenting docket: Halloween itself!

 

 

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Fall means tradition

And tradition means Ren Faire, a Pumpkin Patch, and Halloween. I’ll be breaking these classic Fall posts into three installments so that I can put more pictures into each one! Muahahaha! So without too much more initial babbling I’ll get to it…The Renaissance Faire. Better than last year because the kids were older although not without some good life lessons learned (like winning the best prize ever one year, does not really mean it will happen again, and Miss Layna Dawn hates noise. Oh wait, I totally already knew those. Right.)

Homeschooling wins everything, but we added another triumph to the list. Yes “Student Days” are sheer craziness with a capital CRAY CRAY, but this year we learned. We got there later (missing the opening rush) and stayed to close since we didn’t have to be back before any bell rang. When we meandered out it was all but deserted. It was so awesome.

(I’m really tempted to let my husband buy me a newer iPhone just so I can upgrade my camera. Sorry about the meh pictures.) Little Miss doesn’t do heat or noise. There was much to be had of both, I’m afraid. So we happily watched the jousting with me blowing on the back of her neck while firmly covering her ears. It’s mom-fu at it’s finest.

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I’m so glad I married a man who gets that you can cheer really loud and make a complete idiot of yourself and it’s ok. It means that I’m in good company at all the cheesy events I drag our family too. I love jousting, and this year it was so cool to listen to my big ones talk about the horses (wondering what breeds they were and comparing notes) and commenting on the saddles (our knight had an Australian saddle). Score one for riding lessons! They are now knowledgeable horse people (or something).

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Remember that thing about people not being afraid to really get into the cheesiness of an event? Another reason I love Ren Faire. Normal adults playing pretend for 2 whole months! This guy was great. He even let me video him wishing my sister a happy birthday so I could send it to her in Taiwan. How’s that for best random birthday text ever!?

Traditions are great because they get better with time. We saw so many of the same people from last year, including the Raptor rescue show with the same host. Neil chose a great seat and I took the coolest slow-motion video of an owl flying over our heads. If my tech savvy husband were here to make my computer behave I’d attempt to upload it. But alas he is working. You’ll have to settle for the hawk.

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My girls got to watch a show on historical heroines and then attend hero/heroine training. They took it very seriously.

Back to life lessons…Naomi waited 365 days to play the dragon egg hatching game to win a $80 puppet like Garyn did last year. Brought her own money and everything. She ended up with two kind of cool dragon eye necklaces and a whole lot of disappointment. But she soldiered on and took our advice to focus on experiences rather than things for her parent funded activity/treat/thing. And now she can say that she has ridden a camel.

Role models.

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By the end of the day this one announced that he wanted to spend all his time working with molten metal of any kind. When can kids start welding classes? Of course, molten glass was pretty captivating, too. I got another blown glass ornament for our Christmas tree and I figure by the time the kids all move out, I’ll have a pretty respectable collection to fill in all the gaps left by the ornaments they take with them.

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This one wanted her picture taken with every fancy statue there was (and I’m graciously sparing you the other 13 pictures of exactly that) but this one…I mean, how often do you get to grab a pirate by the dreadlocks? Best. Day. Ever.

 

 

 

 

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SmartSteader

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So that big announcement? We launched our app this past Saturday at a homesteading conference in Virginia! It was an amazing experience and so far so good…we have over 400 people playing with our app! It’s a bit surreal and what’s even more surreal is that since I volunteered to tackle a lot of the business side of things (Neil obviously is the developing genius who is swamped with all the new features we want to add in), I get to re-learn accounting and economics stuff. And yes I do actually love that and am having fun! Our partners (the amazing people behind Reformation Acres ) are heading up social media and marketing (hallelujah) and it’s been so cool to watch it slowly spread. I’m working on refining our investor presentation and business plan so that hopefully in the next few weeks we can start talking with possible investors. When we get funding we can do everything bigger and faster. It’s pretty unique to be able to start a business like this and know that since we funded it ourselves we have no pressure or debt or anything, and we can make this work regardless of if we can get outside funding. It would just be really helpful. The website is www.smartsteader.com if you want to see the promotional video that we put together, featuring the only actors I had at my disposal…the kids and cows and chickens and one handsome farmer man. We are so excited!

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[This is Arty. The face of SmartSteader]

I also promised a farm update. Whew! What a season. Here’s a smattering of my favorite pictures then I’ll give you some numbers at the end. Enjoy!

Still can’t really get over the fact that stuff actually grows here…so naturally I completely over-planted. Again.

Before the numbers though some fun things:

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I grew peanuts and then made peanut butter! Someday when I have lots of time, I won’t eat any other kind, it’s that good. In the mean time, it’s nice to know that it’s possible and waiting for me.

We put in an orchard and our Asian pear tree just put out blossoms…in the middle of October! (pic is up above)

We have at least 1 female turkey and turkey eggs are tasty…just like chicken eggs only bigger.

I started making soap again with Mei’s milk and lard from our pigs. It’s awesome and I forgot how much I missed making soap.

Some garden/farm stats as of right this minute:

We produced:

  • 2,143 lbs of milk (252 gallons) this year
  • 1,608 eggs (134 dozen) this year
  • 440 lbs of pork loveliness
  • 292 lbs cucumbers
  • 282 lbs tomatoes (didn’t get to at least 50 more lbs…those went to chickens)
  • 70.75 lbs Summer Squash
  • 40.5 lbs misc. peppers

We have 11 blueberry bushes, 15 fruit trees, 2 elderberry bushes, 4 turkeys, 3 rabbits, 2 cows, 30-ish chickens, 2 cats, 2 gerbils, and 1 green anole.

Now I just need a partridge to put in my pear tree.

 

 

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Harvesting

Because the garden currently looks like this:

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And my cow had icicles on her fur and ears:

And because I devoured The Intelligent Gardner and Teaming With Microbes in 6 days. And because I can’t stop thinking and scheming about this year’s garden and my massive garden expansion plan. I realized it would be a good idea to take this downtime (between hog butcherings, chick acquisition, indoor seed starting, etc.) to finally get out a recap of our first gardening experience on our new homestead. [As a quick meandering tangent (oxymoronic, no?)…I’ve decided that the moniker “homestead” is indeed the most fitting for what we are building. Farm is too big and we aren’t (currently) selling anything, Garden doesn’t cover what a large part animals play in this thing. Farmstead would be an option but I prefer homestead and all that it implies. We have settled on an actual name too! That will be reveled later, but for now? Glad we got that sorted.]

Rather than drone on and on about the minutiae that doesn’t really interest anyone but me (even my husband is kindly polite when I get going on all things garden), I’m just going to show you some of my favorite pictures from the season. While there was a bit of a learning curve (Fungal disease from too much moisture was not something that happened in the desert. Ever.), growing stuff here is amazing. It gave me a glimpse into a world where I really could produce superior food for my family and make a substantial dent in our food bill. My previous successes were limited to “Hey, something grew! And it almost looks normal!”  No more, friends. We can garden for reals now.

Quick note: Morning Glories are weeds here. We had to work hard to grow some for Naomi in Vegas and even then only got a few. Best. Move. Ever.

The spider’s name is Quatro.

We probably got 20 lbs of pecans from our pecan tree that we didn’t even know we had until a few months ago. And there are still about 5 pounds on the ground because holidays commandeered my pecan harvesting time. I think only homemade bacon from my own pig has rivaled the joy and pride from serving pecan pie made from my own pecans on Thanksgiving Day.

I love canning. Do you love canning? If no, Can I can for you? Because I love it. I have an entire attic space that is now an attic pantry full to bursting with everything from bread and butter pickles to wild black berry jam to chicken pot pie filling. Happiness radiates, nay…exudes, out of there from under the door. Seriously, it looks like puffs of yellow glitter.

Final counts:

  • 44.5 lbs summer squash
  • 22 cantaloupes (averaging 4 lbs each)
  • 58 lbs sweet potatoes
  • 112.5 lbs cucumbers
  • 105 cups wild blackberries from our woods
  • 157 lbs. tomatoes
  • 6 lbs. peppers
  • 25 ears of corn
  • 6 watermelons
  • 5 big pumpkins
  •  9 lbs. green beans
  • a few small cabbages and cauliflowers
  • a ridiculous amount of arugula
  • 2 large acorn squashes
  • handful of small random squashes

 

 

 

 

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the pond

On our trip to the UK we flew over it. When I was a teenager and we took a family trip to Florida, I put my feet in it. But until we ventured forth with our munckins in tow, I had never actually swam in the Atlantic ocean. And I’m sold on the whole idea. We had so much fun on our first trip to a North Carolina beach I’ve already planned out at least 4 more this summer. We have to find a favorite one right?

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Something that can be a bummer about southern California beaches is the complexity of the excursion. I know that’s my total lack of experience (my cousin lived in San Diego for years and she is a beach professional) but choosing a beach then finding parking then lugging your stuff to the spot can be a bit much. This time we drove 2.5 hours through rural farm land, then crossed a bridge and were magically on the shore. We parked (for free) then walked up and down these stairs and set up less than 200 yards from the water.

In about 3.7 seconds after being slathered in sunscreen (not that it is acutally necessary for my bronze babies, but maternal paranoia) They were in their respective happy places. Kids and sand is a beautiful thing. Well not literally…sand in a mouth isn’t pretty at all and it’s worse when they don’t even notice!

Selfie, lest posterity think I missed my childrens’ complete childhoods. Also the little girls took turns going into the big waves with Daddy, and would have happily spent the next 17 hours jumping into waves and getting splashed full on in the face. They are 3/4 fish.

Picnics at the beach are something of a logistical nightmare for a mom. There is the actual menu (tasty and healthy, but easy to make, haul and eat), keeping sand out of the food (I gave up) and bringing enough, but not too much (no one wants to lug sandy, warm food back to the car, am I right?). Recently I’ve been on a crazy canning kick and I found a woman’s blog that I’ve been stalking for about a month now. This post of hers was gold.

Fudgesicle Frosties and Homemade Fudgesicles (Fruit or Agave Sweetened)

[wordpress is not cooperating with me and my wanting to add pretty embedded hyper links, sigh]

The frosties were a solid victory. Also seaweed adorned sand castles. And sandy babies sleeping all the way to get pizza on the way home. Mostly we all love that beach going will now become part of what we do. I can’t wait to be a professional.

 

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Spirit Animals

It’s a thing now to declare a person or an animal or an object even to be your spirit animal if it has qualities your either have or would like to have. I’ve decided that between my cow, my pigs, my garden and the honeybees I’m hoping to get someday I’d have the perfect spirit animal. Can I declare my burgeoning farm to be my spirit animal? Is that even allowed?

Meushi. It means female cow in Japanese. We call her Mei (pronounced “May”) and I love her. I liked goats a lot, they were fun and educational to the max, but my dairy cow is a whole ‘nother thing entirely. And she is mine…I share her with the kids, but she kind of doesn’t like the husband guy. Crazy strong milking hands are in my future I think.

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Cows. We’ve never done that before. The internet never disappoints, however, and we are over two weeks in and she is doing great. We have a routine, banana peels are her drug of choice, and come August or September she will be ready for a date with a great little angus bull. That means this time next year(ish) we will have a baby calf running around and hopefully we will be drowning in milk. That baby will go into the freezer about 18 months later. Dude, farming is a long term proposition.

Like I said, she lets me share her with the kids and on occasion she will tolerate Neil. Mei is so docile and sweet; the girls get all up in her business and she just swishes her tail.

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This lady is “chill” incarnate and I want to be more like that. Not to say that she doesn’t like to (quite literally) kick up her heels and go dashing around her yard (she hates the wheel barrow and demonstrates it by running madly around). But nothing says serene like a big dairy cow picking at stuff here and there and mostly just being.

Next to more immediate freezer fodder…sorry. I know some take issue with that and don’t get how I can simultaneously adore my new piglets and be poring over pork recipes and butchering options. I don’t know how either but it’s happening my friends, in my head, as we speak.

Rewind a few years to the purchase of our brand spanking new van. We promised each other, the husband and me, nay…we vowed that this expensive shiny vehicle would never be used for farm stuff. At all. Ever. Yeah, we were adorable.

Since the truck couldn’t make the move with us, our van has hauled muddy t-posts, ply wood, all kinds of feed, and now livestock. Yeah, we were adorable.

Fun facts about feeder pigs:

  • You buy them between 6-12 weeks old for about $30-60 and 20-60 lbs.
  • over the next 5 months or so depending on breed and living conditions, they will get up to a market weight of 250 lbs.
  • From that 250 lbs about 140-170 will make it back to you in consumable awesomeness.
  • They can eat everything from grass clippings to chickens (they are the ultimate omnivore) but won’t in fact eat themselves to death as some think.
  • They are clean (kind of) and given the chance will not be as disgusting as most people think (although they do love them some water splashing and mud).

We always knew we wanted to try raising pigs. There was the perfect porcine playground built here before we moved. However, we always figured we’d wait until later. But then we went to a local farm stand and a lady was there selling her homegrown pork. It was obscenely expensive and we said, “Forget that noise, we’ll do it ourselves!” and so we did and we are. As per family vote, they are named “Pig1” and “Pig2” (think Thing1 and Thing2 from The Cat in the Hat) I wanted to name the boy “York” and the girl “Shire” because their breed is Yorkshire, but I was voted down. Mostly I call them “Pig”. They are so much fun! I love their grunty pig noises and you need to go write down on your list of things to experience at some point — have pig snout pushed in the palm of my hand. Trust me.

The best thing about pigs is that they are veritable machines for taking what life gives them and efficiently processing it into something far better. Lessons for me all over the place with that.

IMG_0566Did you know tomorrow is Mother’s Day? My husband does! He is rocking it this year. He took the kids to run errands in town this morning and I had 2 whole hours to just work outside! Without screams for my immediate assistance or the dreaded quiet of a toddler thrashing a bedroom! I mucked out Mei’s pasture and started on building the soil in the future blackberry patch with the goodness I procured. I got more bricks for the garden paths from the abandoned building behind our property. And don’t even let me start on what I got done in the garden! It was a beautiful thing, and I’m grateful for him. Rumor has it he’s even taking over meals tomorrow and there is a large something wrapped in Christmas wrapping paper on the counter that I think is for me…Oh and those beauties? wild flowers that he and the kids picked for me. Winning. My husband is winning Mother’s Day.

I’m actually going to do a separate post on the Mom’s I’m grateful for in a few days, because they don’t need to share with pigs and cows. It might be late, but I sure do love those great women.

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Happy Easter Egg!

I think I like my toddler’s way of wishing well on this holiday better than mine. As I type this, I imagine that I can hear the drizzle happening outside. You can’t actually hear drizzle but I like pretending. Rain has been elusive and long hoped for and it finally happened today for real. I couldn’t think of a better atmosphere for our first Easter Sunday in our new life…we woke up in a cloud and it still hasn’t lifted. There is a pond out back that is going to be seriously splashed in the morning.

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Did you have a good Easter? We did. It wasn’t the production that my Easters have usually been since I became both Mother and Easter Bunny, but luckily my kids didn’t notice. Their first and very own package of Peeps (blech!) may have helped smooth things over.

Yesterday was sunny in the morning so the Easter Bunny was able to visit right after breakfast…

He was going to set up shop in the pine trees, but it was chilly and they were shaded, so the cleared area by the tree-house tree was perfect.

Egg hunting is both joyful and serious business. Naomi had a life lesson in “not finding the very last egg that the Easter Bunny is mostly positive s(he) left out but isn’t 100% because s(he) may have accidentally forgotten to count as they hid the eggs.” It is  a right of passage really.

Later I went to a church function and the kids got to head to the local feed store with Daddy for a gardening/seed planting class. They had so much fun, and if it kills me, they will leave my house with solid green thumbs.

Because we just, you know, moved 2600 miles cross country, and my sewing machine is only barely unpacked,  matching Easter dresses were not going to happen. My mom rescued me in high grandma fashion by making these (and a rocking bow tie for the little man…by the way, isn’t he a stud? so handsome.) She even sent white sandals to complete the ensembles. I am so grateful that my kids looked put together and awesome for probably the most meaningful Sunday of the year. I couldn’t pull it off, but my mom sure did. Love that woman.

Tonight my brother, sister-in-law, their kids, and a grandpa came to dinner. They are the reason we even started thinking about North Carolina in the first place. It was a whirlwind of good food, cousins, and bubble goo…short but so nice to connect with family we love.

You have to understand, when you have kids, deep reflection often happens way after the event. Bedtime is a beautiful thing. As I’ve been sitting here typing and deleting and typing some more and reflecting on Easter here is what I’ve got: I’m more grateful than I know how to express that there was a perfect being who loves me and loves my husband and loves my kids enough that he suffered and died for me so that I would have a chance at Joy. A Joy that will be so lasting and complete I can’t even really understand it, but because of Him I get glimpses of it every so often. It makes me cry every time.

Happy Easter, friends!

 

 

 

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