Monday, February 28, 2011

Homegrown Happiness

February has sucked in myriad ways. I really am thankful it is the shortest month and practically over, because I'm not sure how many more blizzards, rescheduled appointments, sick family members and broken things I can stand. Even though we woke up today to a screaming septic alarm, an emergency weather radio going bonkers and at least a six inch deep lake in our backyard (we don't usually have one), I'm actually feeling pretty blissful and relaxed this evening. Really.
Not only had the water receded by the time I got back from work, but I got a package in the mail today from, one of my all-time favorite sites for like minded folks. Inside was a card from Corneila at Farm Aid, some cool project ideas on cards, and this amazing looking book called "Meat: A Benign Extravagance". I guess I won the giveaway! Thanks, Cornelia and my Homegrown friends- your package could not have come at a better time. A parcel post pick-me-up is always welcome 'round here.
Could you use a little late winter postal love too? I want to keep spreading the joy around, so I'm going to give away a copy of Michael Pollan's "Food Rules"! Here's what you've got to do for your chance to win:
1. Tell a friend about my Semi-Farmed blog and encourage them to follow along OR "like" Semi-Farmed on Facebook.
2. Post in the comments which of the two you did and a note telling me what you like about the blog and what you'd like to read more about so I can make it even better!
I'll count up all the replies and ask the hubs or my daughter to pick a number @ random and that will be our winner! Thanks for making winter a little more fun and for all your help!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tastes Like Fun

Had a great time today cooking with hubs! We have small kitchen so we tag-teamed all day long. Here are pics of our hummus, granola bars and tabbouleh salad to make you salivate. Recipes will be posted, along with info on a book giveaway soon! Tell all your friends.

Stock Up Sunday

Today at the SemiFarm, we are going to have a busy day of turning all the various foodstuffs we rounded up at the grocery store last night into more edible things. After all, a bag of whole wheat flour is not in and of itself a fabulous snack. Same goes for steel cut oats and couscous. Pretty gross if you eat them raw. After some inspiring reading a la The Cleaner Plate Club, we went shopping last night so we'd have all day today to get ready for the coming week.

Winter has not been kind to my waistline and the more I read and explore about homesteading and the local food movement, the more I begin to realize we have pretty much been eating garbage. For a long time. Probably because it's all we thought we could afford. I'm making more of an effort this year, as we kick off this farm, to know exactly what is in what I eat and what I feed my family to the extent that I can. If I've taken just one thing from Michael Pollan's Food Rules, it's that it probably is a bad idea to put into your body what you can't pronounce or identify. This should work out great~ I'll get to play at cooking while hubs, the former chef, is here to back me up and help fix my mistakes. I'll also get to research local food sources and discover just how much it takes to eat healthier on a budget. And we get some tasty stuff that's better for us.

We're planning on spending our Sunday dehydrating, baking, broiling and boiling everything from chicken and eggs to granola and homemade fruit roll ups.Here's a short-list version of what we'll be making in preparation for another week around this homestead.

*Hummus. Lots and lots of hummus. Think #10 can of garbanzo beans and you are on the right track. We practically drink the stuff.
*Homemade applesauce fruit roll ups the way my mom used to make them on the very same dehydrator (thanks mom!)
*Tabbouleh salad. (Lord only knows if I spelled that right.)
*Hard-boiled eggs.
*Chicken salad from sandwiches (because I secretly believe lunch meat is pretty awful for you).
*Muffins! Maybe carrot/applesauce? Blueberry oat? Who knows!
*Will probably start simmering and soaking some beans for some black beans and rice later in the week as well.
*Pita bread. Yup, we bake our own (and it is surprisingly easy).
*Cookies! Granola Bars! Till I run out of quick oats!

Check back later for pictures and perhaps even recipes! Should be a great time!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Winter Weather Warm Up Food

When we got home this morning after our 4 am early morning attempt to get to Cleveland, it was cold and super snowy. My least favorite kind of winter weather. Once we were safely back indoors and properly caffinated, all I could think of was having a super yummy breakfast, the kind that warms you back up from the inside. My extra amazing hubby made me eggs, but here's a quick recipe for the hot breakfast I would have made myself if he wasn't so thoughtful.

Super Cheap, Almost Instant Oatmeal

1/2 c quick oats
1 c water or milk
Pinch of salt
1/2 t cinnamon
Diced apples or raisins
2 T brown sugar or honey

Put everything in a pretty big microwave safe bowl (unless you are using raisins or honey because those go in @ the end).  Microwave on high 1 minute and stir.  Microwave 1 more minute and stir. Set the microwave for 1 more minute but watch carefully and stop the microwave when it looks like it is going to overflow or explode. Let it cool and add your raisins or honey if you opted for those. Super tasty and super inexpensive, this is sure to warm you up after digging out from the blizzard.
Enjoy and stay warm and safe!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Here We Go Again & Happy Birthday Mr. Weatherman

Tonight Dick Goddard, our local local news legend, is celebrating his 80th birthday. I've watched him predict the weather on the television nearly all my life, and I'll admit, I've not always liked what he's had to say. Tonight, though, Mr. Goddard, you've got me pretty petrified. I need to make a rather long, rather important road trip around 4:30 AM. I'd much rather stay inside with my animals who are all rescues, the kind you work so hard to protect and help (thank you for that too). Please think happy winter weather thoughts for me and my family, that we'll either make it safely to our destination or cancel the whole endeavor and stay indoors. Cross those fingers as you blow out those candles and wish for snow totals closer to zero than a whole foot. Since you are even from my town, I trust you way more than those guys on the other channels.
Here's to you on your birthday Mr. Goddard. Wishing you many more years of happiness and predicting the weather here in the Cleveland area. And, you're right, we'll all be much happier come early May.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Meet the Kids

Here they are folks. The first plant residents here at the SemiFarm.
Blue Lake bush beans:

A Sunflower mix of white and orange dwarf varieties:

We started them last Wednesday, the 16th. Other than the seeds themselves, we only bought a small bag of organic seed starting mix. This bit of agricultural entertainment cost us less than $10 and we've got plenty of leftovers to experiment again. My, how they've grown in such a short time! I'm a proud plant mama, for sure. It's hard to believe that in just a few short months, these kids will be grown and out on their own in the world, turning soil and sunlight into food for my family.
Even amidst the frozen tundra, there's life here folks. You've just got to look closely.

Monday, February 21, 2011

World Drenched in White

Under a level two snow emergency. I have to be honest- I didn't really enjoy sliding sideways down the street tonight when my drive home from work that normally takes 15 minutes took an entire hour. As I crept past an ODOT snow plow I decided that indoors is the only place to be until this madness is over. Please spring, hurry the heck up already.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

here we grow again

Yesterday we planted a few seeds in leftover egg cartons to sprout them (we did the same thing I described in my article here). We decided to try two dwarf varieties of sunflowers and some Blue Lake bush beans. Se also have watermelon seeds we can try if we get bored, but this seemed like a good place to start!

Wish us luck~ hopefully soon we'll have little bitty plants sticking out!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

there's no problem, only solutions

Over the past year, my family as encountered a ton of change. Mostly it has been positive, and, for that, I am immensely grateful. It's nice for once not to be forced to operate in fight-or-flight mode. Here's the kicker though: having lived my life in a near constant state of emergency over the last several years, I've forgotten a few essential skills, namely patience and relaxation.
I've discovered that change is the only thing in life that's pretty much a guaranteed constant. In the middle of last year in the midst of all the other new goings-on, like moving into a new home and pending visits from family from multiple states, I was given another opportunity for change. I was offered the chance to cut my commute to my "regular" job in half, eliminate paying city income tax all together, and work with a whole new group of folks whom I barely knew but who seemed to treat each other like family. Not that I didn't love my old "office" and the people there, but I could feel the complacency setting in. I was getting too comfortable and that doesn't mix very well with my job description, so I chose to go and start all over with new faces and fresh challenges closer to home. The biggest challenge, however, would be my own. This new location is just different enough to have a much slower pace to nearly everything, so I knew going in I'd have to cultivate patience and settle down. And I pretty much suck at that, but I made the change for my own personal growth.

A great deal of my time at the job that pays my bills is spent sitting still, watching the world go by, and searching for a reason to spring into action. Trust me when I say that the greater the volume of people in the equation, the more interesting and entertaining this is. At the new place there are certainly fewer people and, at times, the sheer stillness of it all, which SHOULD be easier and more peaceful, grates on my nerves as the boredom becomes palpable and it hangs the air with the heaviness of summer humidity. Since I am so out of practice when it comes to relaxation and focus, I often find myself climbing the walls looking for distractions in my little 8x8 room all alone. Cultivating stillness, focus and patience in myself are why I came, but to be completely honest, it is the single most difficult thing I've had to learn at this job and I am struggling.

Growing a small farm and a writing business is a lot like growing as a person in that it takes tremendous amounts of time, much of it when it appears as if absolutely nothing happens. Winter is an excellent example of this. While the rest of the world rushes by in a flurry of holidays and chaos, the earth pulls up a blanket of snow around itself and rests. It waits. It relaxes from the bustle of the harvest and watches the world go by. It is still. Finally, when spring begins to arrive, it wakes up slowly, stretching and yawning with longer days and warmer temperatures. Nature doesn't rush seasons changing. Life unfolds in its own due time, as it should.

In contrast, I am the overexcited dog pacing at the patio door. I'm whining and frantic that I can't get there just yet, wherever "there" is, whether it's outside in the springtime growing things, starting the next writing project, finding the right people to watch or waiting for an answer to an email I've sent. I have no zen-like composure though I wish I did. I get swept along in the tide of this perceived business pace that probably only exists in my own wild imagination. I get carried off to nowhere fast in its strong currents, bored and wishing I could just relax and enjoy the ride.

Swimming upstream and struggling isn't something I enjoy, so why do I insist on doing it and let my ambition drive me? I'd much prefer to be dreaming my life away, and I am much more productive and creative when I do. Planting these seeds of stillness and patience through meditation is painful, but it's a skill that will serve me well. Even though it may look as if nothing is happening, it's just my winter. The seed is in the ground. I just have to let it grow. I just have to let it go.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

perched on the fringes of spring

Today, for the first time in many months, it actually felt like spring. The signs are everywhere! In my father's living room window today, a lone lady bug was crawling along on a mission for food and freedom. The bald eagle whose nest is down the street sat regally on a branch most of the day watching the cars go by and watching for rodents to start moving around in the field nearby. And, if you look closely at the rose of sharon in our front yard, you'll spy blossoms beginning to form. The six inches of ice have finally melted off the driveway too. These are exciting times around the SemiFarm.
This weekend was the last we'll likely have to hibernate and sit lazily inside. So we drank in all those luxuriously slow moments as we anticipate all that lies in wait beneath the soil beneath the snow. This will be a busy year, getting the main garden and other gardens in order. We've decided to use as many spare spaces as we can around our home for growing food rather than landscaping plants. It will be an exercise in creativity that will keep us fed and our grocery bills lower as we gather up what we'll need to store our harvest come fall. The majority of the day I spent sketching out the garden layout with the help of the Mother Earth News vegetable garden planning tool, which was super helpful for getting a look at how to lay out some of our succession plantings. We'll be planting quite a bit of beans, tomatoes, broccoli and peppers, along with the regular onions and such. There will also be some grains and seeds like quinoa and sunflowers, which we've never tried to grow before. Cooking experiments with quinoa begin later this week!
River and I took a leisurely stroll down our street to try and get a picture of the eagle. The walk gave us a chance to savor the sunset and warm temperatures, but by the time we arrived, the eagle had left, his nest stark and empty in the naked trees. Maybe later this week we'll have better luck catching him on film to share with you. River enjoyed himself and I am thankful for the exercise as we all gear up for another week at the office and school.

If the weather's finally turned near you, how do you plan to spend the warmer days this week?
Image from here.

for your days and excitement

Happy Valentine's Day readers! Wishing you lots of love and happiness this coming spring.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

SemiFarmed, My Very Own Project Mayhem

A few months back I posted a clip from Fight Club touting a version of the American Dream many of us don't like to think about, a world in which each day many of us go to jobs we hate with people we can't stand to buy things we don't need. Tyler Durden, who we later discover is the main character's alter ego, rages on about the various ways in which an entire generation is waking up to the cold reality that most of us will never be rock stars or millionaires, a reality that flies in the face of the conventional American spirit of entitlement for a comfortable life in exchange for hard work.
For my generation and those just a bit younger than me, this recession has been an eye opening experience, bringing many of us to the realization that college degrees and 16 hour work days may not lead us to the future of our dreams but to a life rife with frustration, struggle and stress. Some of us have astronomical student loans that have become a barrier in meeting even our most basic needs. Or maybe we have a job where we do work that is demanding or not meaningful in any way but feel lucky to be employed. Perhaps we've struggled and achieved what we thought was success only to discover it was simply pay and prestige and we abhor what we've become. We've all just been trying to grow up and we're beginning to wake up to the notion that this version of success with a spouse, white picket fence and 2.5 kids is one of three things to most of us: unattainable, unfulfilling, or unstainable. And it sucks, to put it plainly.
In Fight Club, Tyler Durden is the founder of a group known as Project Mayhem that participates in acts of violent rebellion and vandalism throughout the city as an act of protest to this paradigm. Over the past few years through my family's unique struggles and in part because of the current recession, I've found myself many times staring out over this same mental precipice, awed at the futility, madness and beautiful chaos that life is and wondering how to proceed. I'm not one who is big on violence or on giving up, but we all need purpose, a reason for waking up each day. Fight Club was that reason for the fictional Tyler Durden, but that's not me. What I am passionate about is solutions, forward movement, and positive change. I've chosen SemiFarmed as my Project Mayhem, my rebellion against the slow death of the American Dream.

The idea for SemiFarmed and its name spun out of the lyrics of a Third Eye Blind song from what seems like ages ago, back when I imagined a world of possibility without limitations. Although I'm not really a fan of that band or their music, the song was hugely popular then and one line in particular has rung through my head all these years I've worked in retail, searching for my place..."I want something else to get me through this life..." SemiFarmed is my Green revolt, my act of taking back my career path, my happiness and redefining my success in the face of the chaos, just with chickens and plants instead of violence and destruction.
I can't control what happens to the stock market any more than I can single-handedly end global warming or end world hunger and I can't manufacture hope for other people, though I'd love it if I were an inspiration to even one person. I will never be President or CEO or have my own band or be rich and famous. The harsh reality is I will probably always struggle and be lacking in one resource or another: money, time, patience...but struggle is part of life, part of what makes us human. It's not truly living without it. What I can control is my response to struggle. Rather than let it consume and destroy you, use struggle to build upon. It's a foundation for hopes, career changes and introspection if you let it be. And a great place to grow carrots and raise livestock as well, I'm hoping.
Something's got to give in these crazy times to move us forward...What's your Project Mayhem? Does it change the world or make it a better place?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

hang on to your hopes, my friend

Finally, the sun has returned to my little corner of the world after what seems like an eternity of dull, lifeless hazy I see promises of spring in the trees even though a frosty chill still wafts through the air. I don't want to be bitter that it's cold anymore, but I am.
I'm lusting after the thought of eating a summer salad on my back porch with the sun warming my back, a tall glass of sweet tea and tomato juice running down my chin. I need to start some seeds soon to make this happen, and I'm planning on using some leftover egg cartons we've been hoarding in preparation for hens. (You can read the method I'll be using in my Examiner article here.)
Springtime will be here soon, but not soon enough for my tastes. White is a pretty color on it's own but the landscape's a bit saturated with it. I think I'll take a cue from my dog, curl up in the small pool of sunlight on my living room floor, and enjoy a winter nap, and dream of temperatures above freezing.

it's the springtime of my life

One of my favorite winter-themed songs. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

adventures in poultry

I love these little girls. Although our ladies, when we get them, will be considerably older, I am struck by both their incredible cuteness and ability to grow into beings that will produce food for my family, right in my own backyard. I'm really looking forward to meeting them feeding them everyday and learning their personalities. It'd be nice to have a few new friends here at the SemiFarm to share our journey with.

A co-worker of mine, a sweet lady who is a total money-counting maverick, said her husband ordered some Leghorn pullets from Meyer Hatchery down in Polk, OH. She said they only really have room for half and asked if I'd like to buy the others from her. While I'd love to have them, we're still working on acquiring a coop. A friend of mine and her husband had also been planning to gift us some hens as a housewarming gift. I'm honored at all these offers of poultry~ and I'd really like to at some point be able to try raising my own chicks after the practice of some older (and hardier) birds. It'd be awesome to have some Wellsummers, Australorps and Ameraucanas in our flock some day, and, to be honest, I'd like Sebrights and Silkies someday too, simply because they are beautiful. I can almost smell the earthy scent of the straw and hear their soft cooing. It'll be brilliant fun and a lot of learning. I couldn't be more excited or ready.

Being able to add our first bit of protein production to the farm this year in addition to a bigger garden is really an exciting step in our self- sufficiency. Each baby step brings us that much closer to the farmers that probably farmed here years ago. It helps us preserve the knowledge of how to feed ourselves, teaches us about ourselves and abilities and lessens our ecological footprint.
The promise for adventure is huge, as is the learning curve, but the benefits will be too. All we need now is warm weather and a home for our new lady friends. We'll just have to take it one feathered step at a time.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Once in awhile, you have to hit Pause

We lucked out here at the SemiFarm during the recent snowpocalypse. The whole experience was a bit surreal, especially yesterday towards the end of the storm. Schools were closed as were the courts and many businesses. It was as if someone pushed the "pause" button on life here in the Midwest and, for once, I'm pretty grateful for that. I was in need of a long forced rest and, other than a few inches of ice on the driveway and a couple rather treacherous trips into town to attend to medical needs, we've fared pretty well. Lots of folks south of us (near Canton) are entirely without power. I can't imagine what that would be like and am forever thankful we skirted by with the results we did. No one was injured, nothing was broken, and today we get to begin again.  The dog is diggin' the permafrost that has formed over his fenced in portion of the backyard. He prances around so proud that he can walk on top of it all for a change instead of sinking in up to his doggie armpits, until he finds a slightly melted spot and crunches through with a surprised look on his face. It's slightly hilarious.

Are you shoveling out okay where you're at?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Where Do We Go From Here? Rob Hopkins Explains the Transition Movement

Worldwide, we're running out of many of our most valuable resources. Since our economy is extremely dependent on the availability of them, particularly on oil, this can easily become a terrifying scenario in our imaginations. In addition to appreciation for our agricultural heritage and how important it is to preserve that, many of us have come to homesteading out of concern about peak oil, as a way to educate ourselves and control what we can as we prepare for a more powered down future.
There are lots of different levels of intensity among those of us concerned about the environment, ranging from mild concern to deeply depressing. Some people, sadly, have even used preparedness as a way to justify hateful actions towards others. From my perspective, I want to learn all I can about reducing my energy dependency, building sustainable sources of food and encouraging growth in my local economy. But I can't be proactive around just doom and gloom as I learn all these age-old skills. Learning organic gardening, canning and preserving, and raising chickens takes perseverance, creativity and a great sense of humor. With such heavy subject matter, it can be hard to maintain an attitude of positivity.
Rob Hopkins and the people involved in the Transition Movement have a different approach to the doom and gloom, one that blends both the realities of climate change and peak oil and a creative, positive, and empowering approach to creating viable alternatives. Check out the below video where Rob explains how people are getting involved to empower and prepare their local communities for a world with a dwindling supply of oil.