TP roll turkeys by Beanie and Swee

My husband has very basic tastes when it comes to food. His palate has expanded over the years, but generally he sees no need for anything fussy or foreign, a real meat-and-potatoes, bacon-and-eggs kind of guy. I am not. Give me all the sauces, and fancy ingredients, and ancient grains, and special veggies. We order very differently in nice restaurants.

When we first moved in together eleven years ago, our dining preferences took some getting used to. Not that we could afford anything super exciting, but after living alone for several years, I suddenly needed to accommodate vastly different tastes.

One dish we settled on was a sort of shepherd’s pie. I’d brown some ground beef, toss it together in a casserole dish with frozen mixed veggies (square carrots!) and a can of cream of celery soup, and top it with instant mashed potatoes, usually garlic or cheddar flavored. Half an hour in the oven, and dinner was served. Inexpensive and filling, though certainly not very clean.

We still eat a sort of shepherd’s pie around here – we had it tonight, in fact. I’ve graduated to using ground turkey and making a sauce from scratch: chopped onions sauteed in butter and a bit of salt, adding three tablespoons of flour to make a roux and then whisking in a cup of milk. I still use those store-bought frozen veggies, but they’re really not a terrible option when you think about how long the “fresh” produce has traveled in the back of a truck to get to the store. But the potato topping is real now: boiled red skins mashed dirty with butter and spread across the surface. Sprinkled with freshly grated cheese and baked. Salt and pepper. It takes a little longer to prep, but oh, it tastes so much better. And truly, it’s not any more expensive than the packaged stuff from years past.

Pie in the sky? Ground meat raised by here or by friends, or game hunted by J. Carrots and peas and corn and beans and potatoes from our own garden. Local milk and cheese.

So yeah. My shepherd’s pie has a little ways to go yet, but we’ve made some progress.

(Now…if we could just get Swee to eat it…)


give it a rest


We pulled the last of the veggies yesterday. Six short stalks of itty-bitty Brussels sprouts, and five teeny-tiny cabbages. I cut the sprout stalks with clippers, and then had to use the shovel to dig up the roots and stumps because the ground is already starting to freeze and we could see the ice crystals in the dirt. The original goal was to leave them in the garden and harvest on Thanksgiving morning for a true “farm to table” side dish, but we have had multiple hard frosts, and the daytime highs are in the 30s now – I decided not to risk it. Based on some reading, we left the sprouts on the stalks, wrapped them in plastic bags, and tucked them into the crisper drawer on high humidity to ride out their remaining week. The cabbages got the same treatment, and I hope to get them into a crock or jar this weekend to become sauerkraut for New Year’s Day.

There’s some cruel irony that the growing season ends right when I begin to feel energized to do things. We hustle all summer long, making and prepping and growing and chopping to the point of exhaustion, and when the cooler temps arrive to refresh us, it’s time to stop. And yet it’s a very clear reminder that we all need a season to rest, including Mother Nature. There’s no subtlety in her delivery, that’s for sure.


And so we put the gardens to bed – our current plot will soon be mulched and transitioned to a perennial bed (raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb for now), and our new plot has been started. We decided to move the main garden to the other side of the house where it will receive full sun for the majority of the day. It’s situated along the driveway in a flat space below the main orchard. We marked it out a full two-thirds longer than you see in the photo, and then realized we hadn’t stockpiled enough material to get it going and had to reduce our aspirations…at least for now. There’s plenty of room to expand, and goodness, it does look tiny from above, despite being a larger space than I tended this season. We began by putting down a whole mess of fallen, rotting apples, covered them with pine shavings and manure from the chicken coop, and blanketed the whole area with cardboard. We’re hoping to throw a layer of composted horse manure on top to finish, though it’s now a race against the snow, and I’m not sure we’re going to win.

In theory, this lasagna method will kill off the existing grass while nourishing the dirt below, and all the cardboard should be broken down in time to till it under in the spring. Yes, I think we’re going to rent a rototiller this time, and have at it. Turning the soil with the spade took me far too long, and I am just not physically strong enough to manage a large enough space in time to plant. As a friend pointed out, I will lose all that time I spent digging out rocks in the other plot, and have to do it all over again in the spring in this new spot, but our raspberries will reap the benefit of my efforts for years to come, and I’ll have all winter to forget just how hard I worked and get excited to be out in the dirt again.


Though we have over a month to go until the Solstice, it’s truly beginning to feel wintry here. Mittens are always tucked into mama’s bag, and no one leaves the house without a hat. They will still be blaze orange for a few  more weeks as hunting season winds down. Beanie and I took a little walk during Swee’s piano lesson yesterday, partially to get a little bit of fresh air but really to keep her from pestering the teacher’s cat for half an hour. We checked out the dam at Mill Pond, the water rushing through the opening and down over the rocks. There’s a thin layer of translucent ice on the pond’s still surface, and jagged clumps on the stones below. Beanie is already talking about skating, and there are snowflakes on my ten-day forecast. Definitely time to come indoors and give it a rest.

pearls of wisdom


“Self-care is not about self-indulgence; it is about self-preservation.”
                                                                                             -Audre Lorde

Two weekends ago, I spent some time at Kripalu Center in the Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts. It was a rare chance for me to move at my own pace, and with the freedom of total independence; I was bound only by the retreat schedule and my own hunger pangs. You, my fellow parents, know all too well how infrequently you feel like an independent human being, wholly your own. I practiced yoga at sunrise, enjoyed fresh, clean meals in a silent dining room, hiked in the woods and bathed in the quiet smell of fallen leaves, and passed multiple hours without speaking to a soul. Silence. There was zero expectation that I attempt to be social, or make small talk. This beautiful, golden silence was encouraged and celebrated. Just heavenly.

I try very hard to slip self-care into our normal days, but there are times when an hour here and there just is not enough. A total immersion was precisely what I needed. The retreat focused on self-renewal, and it included some difficult, emotional work – I wasn’t quite prepared for that kind of depth – and while I anticipated it being wonderful, I was certainly surprised at just how renewed I felt when I arrived home.

The power went out a few hours later. And it stayed out for a couple of days, long enough to make me fear for the contents of our freezer. Breathe, and relax around the tension. We were lucky. Our lines were reconnected quite quickly in comparison to others we know, and I felt some guilt at even admitting we were back on.

It was inconvenient, yes. Because the storm and subsequent outage was so unexpected, we hadn’t prepared. We had very little drinking water on hand, and certainly hadn’t filled the bathtub. In great good fortune, I’d been too lazy to tip the wheelbarrow up against the shed when I was finished with it the week before, and the storm had left us with plenty of rainwater to flush the toilets. No power means no wifi, and we are in a hollow with no cell service, so we were effectively disconnected from everything. Really though, it was encouraging to see how well we managed. We re-heated leftovers on our gas range (lit with a match) to keep them from going bad, and colored with the girls by candlelight after dinner. We played outside with friends, and soaked in the quiet of our home – so very quiet without the background hum of appliances. We pulled out extra blankets and fired up the woodstove in the evenings.  Can you receive? We checked on friends and neighbors, and felt cared for by the same as they looked in on us. And we were warmed through and through as the entire community came together to celebrate Halloween for the kids, moving the party to the fire station where their generator gave light and heat in the middle of a chilly, dark village.

I made a commitment to myself during that weekend in the mountains. Clearly I can’t pick up and run off to the Berkshires any time I feel overwhelmed by life, and so I have to develop a practice to reconnect with my wise self, my true self. I have to get up and move. I have to drink in the silence and maintain that space for myself. I’ve chosen to gift myself time alone in meditation each morning. A blanket and a candle, a short reading and introspection. Inspiration without practice is not sustainable. It’s not been easy to maintain, particularly with the time change, and I’ve slipped already. But then my accountability partner texted me yesterday to keep me on track, and so I’ll be ducking out to the car to retrieve my mat before bed, for 6 o’clock comes early.



pumpkin time


Pumpkin Week was a total hit. I have to admit, this unit was somewhat easier to plan than others because there are so many ideas out there to be borrowed. A simple Pinterest search led me to something for every subject area – why reinvent the pumpkin? This is such a great, flexible topic because you can use it any time in October or November.

We kicked off the week with our pumpkin themed library selections. You can check them all out via my Instagram feed in the right-hand sidebar. Pumpkin Fiesta led to great multi-cultural conversations, and we enjoyed talking about building community in Too Many Pumpkins.

I wanted to try process art with the girls, so we planned to do some acorn painting. We have oodles of acorns in the yard, and I thought they’d make some great, wobbly lines across the paper. In reality, they were too light to roll, so we ended up switching to marbles partway through. I printed the pumpkin templates here, and taped them into the lid of a banker box, dabbing a blob of paint at various points around the edges. Swee and Beans each took a turn rolling the marble through the paint and over their pumpkin. The blogger whose idea I borrowed suggested we peel the tape while the paint is still wet so it doesn’t set, which was helpful. When they were dry, the girls cut their own pumpkins out (I helped Beans a little) and we hung them up. I think they turned out really neat, though we are now out of orange paint.

I’d also been wanting to do some upper and lower case letter matching, and had seen an idea to use a paper plate and clothespins, but didn’t want to write on the pins I use for laundry. Swee loves stickers, so I ordered these pumpkin stickers and wrote a lowercase letter on each of them to be matched up to their uppercase version in the pumpkin patch. We had a great time with this one, though I didn’t anticipate her insistence on making it look like the arbitrary vines I’d drawn were actually attached to the stems of the stickers. We ended up with what looks like floating pumpkin balloons, which is rather comical.

Daddy usually does science and math on Tuesdays while I’m working, though last week I took the day off to chaperone Beanie’s field trip to the pumpkin patch. We were able to bring home two small pumpkins to use for Pumpkin Science! Daddy walked them through the scientific method as they made observations and a hypothesis on whether the pumpkin would sink or float. The worksheet came from Natural Beach Living, and had some great ideas. Both girls really liked the activity, and I love when something I’ve planned works well for both Sweebee and Beans.

It was a fun week for us, and flowed really nicely – which I know won’t always be the case!

freezing our assets


5C rhubarb; 20C shredded zucchini; 6 pints applesauce; 2gal cider; half a pig, including 12lbs bacon; 1 pint pesto; bags of carrots, kale, peaches, green beans, green peppers, roasted tomatoes, whole tomatoes, wild blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries

We have a chest freezer. It’s in the basement, next to the oil tank and the fuse box, and it’s big. It has a light inside, and two raised baskets for little stuff to float over the big stuff in the bottom. We’d been saving up for the purchase, tucking away birthday money and cash from odd jobs – and waffling back and forth between buying used and potentially losing thousands in food if the thing crapped out, and spending more to buy new while consuming all kinds of resources for the production of a new appliance. Ultimately, the risk of food waste combined with a great sale led us to purchase a brand new ice box with a good name (Also – I know that freezing food as a means of putting by is fraught with risk in terms of disaster preparedness, but believe it’s still a solid step in the right direction).

I spent the summer filling the freezer portion of our side-by-side kitchen refrigerator with all the odds and ends I could get my hands on. As things ripened, I’d use what we could, and then I’d chop and blanch and freeze whatever was left. When we picked 14lbs of strawberries this summer, I stuck several canning jars into the freezer, choosing the ripest ones that wouldn’t get eaten before going bad. The less firm blueberries met the same fate, tucked away for baking this winter. We supported our former neighbors who raised our pig and the local butcher who cut and wrapped each piece, and invested in more meat than I know how to prepare. I didn’t even plant zucchini this year and yet I have 20 cups shredded and frozen, thanks to neighbors, friends, and a mama at story hour who were all blessed with excess. This little bit of food security was a community effort, a tangible symbol of how friends and neighbors take care of one another in a way that is not always visible in every place.

It’s also a symbol of real privilege, of hard work and how far we’ve come over the past three years. As homemakers, we know that you pay less per unit when you buy in bulk – but the caveat is that your wallet still needs to have enough cash in it to cover the larger dollar amount required to choose that bulk package. It doesn’t matter if the roll of TP in the 24-pack is cheaper than the single roll if you can’t pay the higher dollar price of the big pack. That’s the reality for a lot of people, and it certainly was our reality for a long time, so it’s not lost on me that the ability to have a freezer (and with it, the ability to stock up on things when they’re at a good price) has a far deeper value than what you see physically sitting in our basement.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the definitions of success. And if you’ve been visiting me here for any length of time, you’ve probably established the sense that we don’t exactly ascribe to a consumerist philosophy.  While I haven’t laid it all out, we’ve been working hard to craft our own definition of success for ourselves and our family, sharing it here in bits and snatches, and (hopefully) modeling it – and the more confident I become in that definition, the further we go, the more strongly I believe in the importance of multiple definitions of success. The fancy car/corner office/5 bedroom/corporate ladder plan is not the only option for being successful. There is more out there that we can aspire to, with completely different benchmarks.

So in our case, right now, success looks a lot like a freezer, and the community that helped us fill it.



I’ve been asked several times now how I plan our homeschool schedule, and I have to admit, it’s not a very scientific or even a very informed process. I try to plan two to three weeks at a time, choosing a central theme for the week and then building around that topic – library selections, art projects, activities and worksheets, etc. Those themes have mostly been seasonal so far, observing what’s happening in our yard and in nature. However, like so many other school children, we focused on fire safety and prevention earlier this month. I clearly didn’t take very many pictures, but I think the girls learned quite a bit.

We kicked off the week with a visit to a local volunteer fire department. They were having an open firehouse day, so we went to see the ladder truck extend and look at the boots and helmets. I was hoping for more activities and hands-on stuff, so we will have to pick a day to visit another department, but it was still neat to get inside and say hello.


My usual plan of reserving library books backfired when I realized someone else had the same idea for this week so most of the appropriate titles were already checked out, but we were still able to grab a couple. My favorite was Gail Gibbons’ Fire! Fire! (affiliate link) because it talked about fire fighting in different settings: urban, rural and forest. Most other books I paged through focused on big city firehouses with professional firefighters, and that’s just not our reality so it was helpful to see something relatable. We also liked New York’s Bravest as we’d just finished listening to tall tales on CD in the car – Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed, and so on – and so it was nice to tie that aspect into something we’d already talked about. I was able to pick up a couple more books during our regular weekly trip (they’d been returned – hooray!) and the girls enjoyed Stop, Drop and Roll, with Beanie demonstrating the proper technique she had learned from Firefighter Chris at nursery school the week before. Daddy lit a fire in our outdoor fire pit and demonstrated what a fire extinguisher does, and then took us inside to locate and test all of our smoke alarms.

The free printables I found on Pinterest were the real winners for us this week. We used a play phone to learn how to call 911, and reinforced the new skill with coloring pages that are now hanging next to the landline phone, just in case. Both girls liked the number game – rolling the die and coloring the number. I thought it would be over Beanie’s head, but she counted the dots on the die just fine, and only needed a little help identifying the corresponding number.

Since we heat with wood, fire is a very rational concern for us. We are going to extend these lessons and make an evacuation plan as a family, and J is looking into fire ladders for the second and third floors. We practiced all the information the girls would need to give to the dispatcher – street name and house number, mama and daddy’s real names and ages, etc.

Overall, a solid week of learning practical skills. We will certainly need to stay on top of refreshers, but I think they got the basics down. Now to hope they never need to use them.

we have so much to learn


We invited a slew of friends over at the beginning of the month to pick apples, hoping to share the bounty while spending time together. It was such a nice day, connecting with each other over potluck dishes in the early fall weather. Our neighbors brought two vehicles: a pickup with multiple plastic tubs in the bed came first, and then the tractor with an antique cider press in the bucket rolled in, and the party really got started. We put the kids to work filling the tubs with apples to be pressed, and everyone broke out their milk jugs and quart jars to take home fresh, raw apple cider. It might be the best cider I’ve ever tasted.


When I went out the next morning to clean up and collect anything left behind (only a blue soccer ball and a metal soup ladle, surprisingly), I was dismayed to realize the trees looked as if we’d hardly picked anything. We had pressed close to ten gallons of cider, and most families took at least one bag of apples home, and still we were swimming in fruit. It wasn’t until a newer mama friend brought her five kiddos over to pick that we actually made some headway. This crew came prepared with baskets and totes, and they meant business! My girls loved playing with them and helping them fill their bags, and I got to engage in some much-needed adult conversation. The icing on the cake was the selection of home-grown-and-preserved goodies they brought for us, along with a couple of acorn squash.


About a week later, we asked those gracious neighbors of ours if they’d be up for pressing again one afternoon if we picked the apples and carted them down the road. We were quite excited when they said yes, and so we hitched the wagon to the four-wheeler, and trundled down the dirt road with our apples. This time we took our turn at the crank, and helped strain the liquid while the girls ran around the garden. We left five gallons behind for wine making, and took another five or so home. I froze two gallons, canned one quart and a couple pint jars, gave a jug away and enjoyed the rest. It was just the kind of afternoon I had hoped for when we moved to the country – working together with neighbors and friends, each bringing something to the table that the other doesn’t have, and all leaving richer and happier for the joint effort. Really, really nice.

I think we may finally be coming to the end of what apples we can use. The drops need to be cleaned up still, though I’ve dropped two cases off at the sheep farm, and sent oodles home with a friend for her pigs. Making crockpot applesauce is still a near daily task, but we now need a ladder to pick what fruit is still good.

Because a lot of it isn’t good. A lot of it is bad, and for reasons mostly unbeknownst to us.


Last weekend we packed lunches and put ourselves in the truck for a drive back up to MOFGA for their Great Maine Apple Day. We had spent the day prior collecting a sample of all of our apples, one from each tree, and numbering them to match a crude orchard map Swee and I had drawn. We paid our $8 admission, and wandered through the hall, tasting fruits and checking out the different varieties. Tucked into a shoebox were our own apples, and I had a really nice conversation with an expert about what we might have on our hands (five Red Delicious trees among them, in his estimation), and then left our fruit and our email addresses with him. A whole team of people will sit down over the next few weeks and try to identify apples brought in from all over the state, and then let us know what they think. I’m excited to see the results.

What I was less excited by is the confirmation that we have several pests to deal with in the orchard: coddling moth, plum curculio, apple maggot, flyspeck, and potentially even a case of fire blight in the pear tree. Woof. It’s a daunting list, and we will need to sit down this winter and decide on our course of action. We know for sure that the trees all need to be heavily pruned, so that’s next on the list of skills to acquire.

Oh, we have so much to learn.

ps: All of this apple exposure has definitely filtered down into the pretend play around here. Just yesterday morning, the girls built their own cider press out of their workbench, complete with “cloth” for filtering. I love it.