Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Long Hot Summer Days

Technically, it's a late spring heat wave, but I'll take what I can get. Maybe I can (finally) put the garden in later this week!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Works In Progress

This weekend was a working one, but a very productive one here at the SemiFarm. The coop is half up, the entire yard mowed, brush cleared for the compost bin area and the area for the herb garden has been thatched and covered up to kill off the sod. A huge thank you is due to my husband, dad, brother and nephew for their help. Small strawberries are forming back in the berry patch too. Things are beginning to come together as we gear up our little food factory. Some photos of the fruits of our labor for you to enjoy.

The beans from the little lakes, transplanted.

half a coop

two windows go in this wall

framed out windows

door will be on this front wall, yet to be built

some day soon I'll be watching hens from my porch!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Brand New Day and a Brand New Coop

A busy day full of chicken coop building with hubs, my dad, my brother and my nephew has led to a night full of writing for a potential client. Too tired to upload coop pictures tonight, but perhaps tomorrow you'll get to see our progress.
For tonight, a song for your Sunday. Enjoy!

Video from here on YouTube.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Memories and Rust

In the middle of the town I work in, right across the street form the Walmart, Kmart and other strip mall fascinations, looms a reminder of our past. At the far north edge of the Sears Hardware parking lot stands a weary old farmhouse, its clapboard walls worn smooth by rain, wind and time.
Although the windows are cracked and the roof is sagging, if you look closely you can still find traces of the whitewash that once graced the siding, now laid bare to the sky. Carefully made calico curtains hang listlessly in the windows where they once gave a family shade. Beyond the house, tall grass and weeds stand in silent sentry in front of a slumped-over coop that once housed proud hens. All around in the yard lie traces of a time long lost to this patch of earth, the seats and engines of a hundred Allis Chalmers and Massey Fergusons choked in vines and rust. It's a graveyard of farming in the center of a suburban town.
I imagine as I drive past each day that years ago the home was a showplace, a respite for travelers down this main country thoroughfare where they might ask to water their horses or stop for a rest. Now it sits, a pile of junk and lost prayers, to some, an eyesore in the center of progress.
But have we really moved forward or just shunned hard work for the instant gratification of a factory-made world? We might do well to remember from this last vestige of our agricultural past, to recall what once was a more close-knit community, the home of A.I. Root and the infancy of the science of keeping bees, where our children knew how to treat animals and till the earth to plant food. We might find lessons, hidden there among the weeds, about what it means to be neighborly, about patience and thrift, about the value in hard work and advance planning. These virtues and the skills to grow, cook, build and create are disappearing in our cities and towns, lost in a world of Google and iPhones. It'd probably do us good to remember the names of those who toiled before us so we could live here in ease and comfort, safe in our kingdoms of convenience.

This Memorial Day weekend, while you are remembering those who gave their lives in military service, don't forget those whose lives of service helped us in other ways: put food in our bellies, a roof over our heads or clothes on our back. Ask a neighbor or relative to share a story, a recipe or a lesson in living and remember that all our world was once made by hand.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Tornado Warning Lessons

As my weather radio frantically beeped and chirped every day the first half of this week, I got to remember a few timeless lessons and do some things around the homestead that are often overlooked in the chaos of everyday life. Here's the wisdom I stumbled on:

I discovered that my batteries are, unlike the rest of my home, ridiculously organized. My flashlights, however, are not and, although they're the large kind, they are difficult to take apart in the dark.

If it looks like it's about to storm and your stove is electric, cook faster.

I learned that I really should charge my phone overnight and maybe even before I leave work for the day.

People who love you call and warn you when they think you might be in danger. They also want you close by and offer you shelter.

A dog is a great companion during times of stress and anxiety, even if the dog is also stressed and anxious. They also won't pick on you when your fears seem silly or irrational.

I learned my electric company has fantastic service and that things really do stay cold in your fridge and freezer for hours if you don't open them.

Have compassion for the suffering of others but don't be paralyzed by a fear of a similar fate. Let your worry drive you outward to action rather than draw you inward.

Moving outdoor containers near the house prevents seedlings from swimming. (Victory! Blue Lake bean plants sans lakes!)

I remembered that people can be entertained and survive without phone service, television, computers and gadgets and all you really need for fun is a tiny flashlight, a book and a soft place to rest.

I realized that at some point I got rid of all those candles I used to collect before I started in on the yarn.

Guided Meditation: Six Essential Practices to Cultivate Love, Awareness, and Wisdom
Guided Meditation

Jack Kornfield mp3 audiobooks on meditation are relaxing during thunderstorms.

Sometimes you end up starting from seeds indoors anyways. If you fail, there's always someone with a greenhouse to buy starts from.

When the sky is black and earth is SILENT, the weather is about to hand you your ass. Take the eerie stillness without the chirping of birds and rustling of leaves seriously. Give your respect to what you cannot control.

Spontaneously developing lakes can be beautiful and the raw power of nature is awe-inspiring.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sowing Hope

Spinach and swiss chard are stretching skyward by my front walk, their tender young shoots enjoying the warm bits of morning sunshine at each new day. Eyes closed and salivating, I imagine the combinations we'll create when the hens finally join us. Our future holds fritattas.
Elsewhere at the SemiFarm, strawberry petals lightly coat the rich dark soil. A cloud opens up and all traces of hoofprints are washed away, leaving little evidence of the wayward foragers. Lilac blossoms give way to dense green foliage and bare branches are shielded from sky.
Spring fades toward summer as humidity peaks and dark clouds of thunder roll in on the wind. The seeds still lie in the darkness and safety of pouches as we bide the slow passage of time and for earth to drink the soil dry.
Under roof and sheets we ride on faith, dreaming prayers for time to plant and the harvest, of full bellies and sore muscles.
Farming is hope sown as seed, planted and tended till it rises as food, a gift from the earth to sustain us.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Monster in My Closet

There comes a time as a homesteader when you reach a plateau, one where all the things you've begun to do on your own become a little overwhelming in quantity. It comes to each of us differently, but, rest assured, it comes nonetheless. You might find youself waking up in a cold sweat at the prospect of getting another twenty laying hens or get cramps in your wrists whenever you even THINK about kneading homemade bread. Sometimes it all just becomes a bit too much and one portion of it, if not all of it, makes you want to run for the hills. For me, my moment of madness took the form of recurring nightmares about being chased by my yarn stash, which had reached mythic proportions.

I really enjoy making things with my own two hands and teaching myself to knit was just a natural extension of this love to create and an overwhelming urge to possess (and cuddle) fiber animals. At first it was a cute little hobby, a way to pass the time, start conversations with strangers, make something useful and have the skills necessary to outfit my family in enough blankets and scarves to survive an ice age.

After a while though, I began to panic at the sight of a pattern, knowing full well that either I would not have the right type of yarn or a sufficient amount of any one color to begin a project. This wave of stress was brought on, not by the doing, but by the sheer thought of needing "more". Whether that meant yarn, needles or stitch markers didn't matter. It was the very idea of knowing I was lacking, that my preparation in hiding fiber throughout my home wasn't somehow enough and now I'd be required to find room for new balls of fluff in my overflowing closets and drawers. The prospect of failure and nightmares (no-seriously- I had them) had, for a while, swore me off that bit of DIY, but then I read a book titled Made From Scratch. I picked it up innocently enough at the library and, no sooner had I finished it than I became sucked into the blog the author, Jenna Woginrich, keeps about her farm, Cold Antler. Imagine my delight (and terror) at learning she had sheep (at that time two, Maude and Sal) and a budding fiber CSA. She was selling a drop spindle and what more could a punk rock, hardcore knitter want than to learn to make yarn too?!? (Hopefully you get where this is going...) Oh shit, I thought. I'm doomed to appear on that show Hoarders and I will have died from inhaling too much fuzz. Now, there's some Maude 2-ply hanging in my closet. And a bag of fleece from and old co-worker/friend. There they've sat, for months, holding out hope for the day I am no longer too busy or preoccupied or uninspired. They languish in the dark, waiting for a chance to share their beauty and softness with the world in some way, crying out for a purpose and form. All that's needed is a pattern and a solid time frame of focus.
Have I forgot to mention that I know at LEAST three ladies now due to have babies in the fall that will be requiring shower gifts? That one is my sister-in-law? That I made a sweater for the last baby born in the family? The prospect of hunting for a suitable pattern is daunting and brings back a panic just short of tears and cold sweats.
If I can't put in the garden, a bit of productivity with what I have surely won't kill me. Maybe I'd just better hunt down some Ambien and get prepared, but gift cards are easier to mail.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Song for Your Sunday

One of my favorite bands from AZ~ Jim Adkins would sometimes come bicycle shopping at the Toys R Us I used to work at.
Sorry, there's no farm-related significance to this video or song. I just like it. :) Enjoy! Hope you are all having a great weekend.

Song ("Always Be") and video by Jimmy Eat World, as shared with the rest of the world via YouTube. All rights are theirs, but I'm grateful we can also enjoy it. Thanks guys!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Here Comes the Sun

Yesterday when I left work, the sun had returned after what seemed like weeks of endless, dreary grey and rain. I'd begun to think I wasn't meant to grow green beans here, because the Blue Lake seeds I'd planted in pots were (very briefly) actually IN little lakes from all the rain we received. They've been rescued and hopefully survive. I really enjoy the crunch of the just-picked beans and keep fantasizing about wandering into the back yard and snacking on them.

By the time I made it home it was beginning to get dark. After a happy-to-see-you dance of what seemed like twenty minutes River, my Chow mix and furry best friend, was prancing by the back door with a pained look on his face, waiting to be let in the yard. I turned on the porch light but I wasn't really prepared when I opened the door for the very loud and large kamikaze insect aimed straight at my face. At the last possible second, the winged pilot shifted directions and swung out into the night as I caught my breathe. The June bugs were back and my garden still isn't in.

The progress of plants around here really has slowed due to the weather. A co-worker of mine described it pretty well when he said we seem to be stuck in an "extended March". If it weren't for the calendar and the sudden reappearance of sunshine, it'd be pretty easy to forget that were are not far at all from the Memorial Day holiday. The Seville Farm Market opens that weekend, but I'm not sure what they will have to offer. No doubt it will be seedlings instead of spinach after this wet spring. We're all holding out hope we can hold off the rain, but mine's because I've been formulating a plan for the small patch by the door and the holiday weekend is the perfect time to put it into action. I've also got a coop that needs building that I don't want to sink in the mud, although I could use the wood for an ark if we need it. Looking at the forecast, it could go either way.

I'm grateful for the pop and buzzing as the June bugs bounce off of our outdoor lights to remind me that summer is afoot and better days aren't far ahead, but really prefer them to stay out of my face. I'd rather have some sunshine there instead.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Turning Mistakes Into Gold

Because it feels like Seattle outside today.

**Video is not mine; it is from here on YouTube. This song was featured on the soundtrack for a 2007 film called Into the Wild.**

Monday, May 16, 2011

Give It Away Now

After a full ten days of blissed out hanging out, it's almost time to head back to the world of deadlines, meetings, and paperwork. Toady has been mostly about putting the homestead back in order so we can function around here for the next four days with all the rush that goes along with work and school days.

Hubs and I headed out to return library books earlier today and pick up some groceries. I've got 3/4 of a #10 can of chickpeas in my fridge and was completely out of tahini to make hummus, so we made a giant loop and jaunted over to Earth Fare to pick some up and check the place out while the registers were open. I've got to tell you, I was a bit skeptical on how much I'd spend in there, since health food stores are like the mall to this granola mom, but I made it out without using my entire $50 gift card and had two bags full of stuff! If you haven't signed up yet for their weekly "free meal" coupons, you really, really should~ we're having a chicken dinner tonight for nothing. I scored the dinner, my hummus, a gallon of milk, 2 boxes of Kashi cereal, a gallon of wildflower honey made right here in Medina, and a slew of other stuff AND bought a reusable tote to carry it out in (I forgot mine in the car, but needed to replace one with a hole in it anyways). All that for UNDER $40, and an extreme couponer I am NOT. :) All of it is healthy and much of it is local, which made my life a LOT less hectic as I prepare for the grueling week ahead of me. Thanks Earth Fare!

Now I can make some yummy hummus for packing in lunches and stave off fast food for one more week. DIY hummus is one of my favorite things to make here at the SemiFarm. It's so easy and inexpensive, if you tried it, you'd save ton of cash  and never buy the prepared stuff again. All you need is a blender or food processor and a few other things. Here's the recipe to give it a try:

Hummus in Under 5 Minutes
Put all this stuff in a blender or food processor:
1 clove minced garlic
1 (19 oz) can of garbanzo beans (chickpeas), along with half of the liquid from the can
4 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons tahini
1 teaspoon salt

Turn it on and that is IT folks! DONE! Serve with a bit of olive oil and pepper on top. Keeps really well in the fridge, travels well in lunchboxes, and makes a great dip for baby carrots, pretzels and other edible things little hands like to hold.

Just in case you need some tahini yourself to try this out and as my way of offering some emotional support you and your family in your upcoming crazy workweeks,  Corley @ Earth Fare hooked me up with a $50 gift card to give out to one lucky reader so they can go and check it out for themselves. Just share with me a quick and easy recipe your family loves in the comments to enter.  Let's say we keep this open until Saturday, May 21, 2011 @ midnight for those of you who might work all week. Next week, we'll pick a post at random and mail off the gift card.

Keep in mind, even though I love the Fairlawn store and the folks in it, Earth Fare had locations across the country, so you don't need to be near me to win. You can find a list of their other location on their website.

Looking forward to sharing some recipes and making new friends, even as I am not looking forward to going back to work. Good luck!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

My Wet Weekend with Wolves

This past weekend was my daughter's birthday and we celebrated by taking her and her best friend to Sandusky to an indoor water park called Great Wolf Lodge. It's a pretty cool place with awesome service, a Northwoods theme and good environmental policies (they compost all their food waste and even the silverware is compostable!). What perfect timing, with the torrential downpours outside prohibiting us from doing any kind of yard work. Our week of near-perfect weather has come to an end, and my part of Ohio is now once again shrouded in mist and pretty cold, with temps hovering in the 40s today. Brr!

Generally speaking, I'm not a really big fan of water. In addition to quickly tiring of rain, I pretty much hate pools, water slides, sprinklers, and anything other than my own tub or shower. Swim suits do not flatter me in the slightest. I barely ever even wear shorts, so parts of me are an obnoxious shade of white, the likes of which reflect sunlight to the extent passers-by might be blinded. It goes without saying then that I did not participate in the water-related festivities this weekend for fear of causing an accident and ruining someone else's fun.

Kiddo seemed to have a lot of fun and so did her friend, bounding in and out of the dribbling streams and racing down the twisted pipes of the slides. I enjoyed the warmth and humidity and some quality time with the book I am reading, Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life. I also got in a good deal of people watching sans CCTV cameras and made a few interesting observations, like the fact that water-based hand lotion works as a decent stand-in for leave-in hair conditioner in a pinch.

My not-so-little girl enjoyed pampering with a semi-private cabin in our room for her and her friend and a couple of calls to room service she got to make herself. Hubs and the kids made more than one trip to the arcade in the resort too, so we could all come home with souvenirs. Arcade tickets, the kind you get for winning the games, are like pay for these kids. Deciding how to spend that hard earned substitute for cash is agonizing! It was interesting to watch: they stand wringing the tickets in sweat-coated palms...and it is so hard for them to choose their prize for fear of making a choice and regretting it later, having wasted all their money on tokens and hours of time to earn the tickets. They really want their decision to be a good one, to really count. Watching them reminded me of how I feel each time I whip out my debit card, apprehensive but hopeful.

It was good to be doing something constructive and out of the rain, but I'm glad to be home with my fur wearing friends, especially my dog. I swear the grass here grew six inches in the 48 hours we were gone. Dandelion stalks now reach nearly to my knees in the front yard. The spinach and chard are pleasantly coming up along the front walk and beans are poking out of their soggy containers on the porch. I may not have gotten the garden in this week or even begun building the coop, but my daughter is crashed out on the couch, happy and exhausted, and food's beginning to grow around here after all these weeks of waiting. I'd say that makes for a pretty good week of vacation.

For what this trip cost us, I probably should have taken advantage of the fact that everyone else at the water park had love handles too, tossed aside my insecurities and jumped into the fun with wild abandon. I'm grateful my kid had a memorable tenth birthday, but I think I'll stick with playing in the dirt though and see how that goes. Sometimes you gotta throw out the list and just let life happen.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

In Silence Between Storms

Thought I'd sneak in a little bike ride today down my street and the one at the corner and share with you some of what I've been enjoying on my stay at home vacation.

Chippewa Lake

Krabill Shelter

The Valley I Live In

I love it here.

Horses Down the Road

We have a local bird house artisan here too.

A safe place.

There's mystery and intrigue in here.

Eagle's Nest

A shady glen.

weathered and worn

Got my first cow kiss from this one!


We grow poplars and mushrooms.

A little bit of heaven, right outside my window.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Working on Purpose: Success Is Helping Others

I think I truly needed this. A week's worth of respite: soul searching, time spent with family, and a chance to do some honest-to-goodness physical labor with my hands in the dirt. It's been like a balm for my heart, which had seriously been struggling with the concept of employment these last few weeks.

Those of you who aren't local friends and family might not be familiar with my day job. By day I watch CCTV for a major retailer (that shall remain nameless lest I break the Electronic Communications policy), searching for signs of thievery hidden amongst the upright citizens that visit my store. This is but one of many roles I've had in my long and not-so-illustrious career in retail, which have included mostly management, training and marketing roles. At this point, my self-imposed sentence has spanned 15 years and 5 companies, but the whole cops-and-robbers gig has been a relatively recent development in the grand scheme of things. It's not a BAD job, by any means, and I am quite thankful to be gainfully employed in such a shaky economy. The core of this role though, has changed in the recent past and the part I most enjoyed has been drastically down-scaled, if not outright eliminated. If not for a couple minor things, it could potentially be loads of fun for the right person. For me, however, it's dreadfully, painfully dull, and I feel like quite a few of my natural talents are going to waste.

I'm a pretty frugal girl, so wasting things, to use the lingo of a dear friend of mine, "agitates my soul".For a while now, but especially this week, I've been preparing my heart, mind and resume to pursue work that really challenges me, something that lights me up, and lets me interact with people in a positive way more regularly. Something with meaning, where my actions can be a catalyst for facilitating change and I'm not just staring at and seeking out the worst in people.

I've spent my whole life up to this point trying to determine exactly what it is that I could do, or should do, for work. Though I'm not sure why exactly, I grew up believing that work was in large part where people draw their identities from. When you meet new people or watch television shows and they meet people or you try to decide what to study in college, the looming question is "What do you do?", as if where you derive your income from is much more important than what you love or what steers your moral compass. It's as if we are trained right from elementary school to see each other in terms of dollar signs, as solely interchangeable units that contribute to the larger economy. We place value on one another based on this role and the money such a role confers, often to the exclusion of everything else. But I digress...

It's no surprise then that the early part of my working life was spent chasing the ever elusive "status" roles of my industry. Since I could never determine what to study in college and was terrified at the idea of incurring a lifetime of debt for what I couldn't define, I took certain classes primarily because I found them interesting and after seven years of grants and paying my own way, discovered I had finally, albeit haphazardly, completed my Associates in Arts. All the while I worked full time doing what I knew how to do, which at that time was assisting people in trading their money for material things. Directionless, my goal was simply "up", because, to me at that time, money and prestige equaled power and influence, which was how I though success was defined.

I'm no stranger to hard work (nor am I afraid of it), so I simply smiled and networked and took special projects. I invented some programs, facilitated countless others and have learned nearly every aspect of retailing to some degree. I've been hourly and salaried and everything from a minimum wage cashier to managing my own store. But you know what? Along my journey, though I've learned something valuable from every position I've ever held and every individual I've ever worked with, it's been hollow and meaningless. No spot has ever felt right, and, oftentimes, parts of my job totally conflicted with my belief system. I've never felt like what I was doing for a living was a way I was proud to represent myself and, in the bigger picture, I've never felt like it mattered. I was selling my soul for a few measly dollars not doing anything with purpose, and, after years of going this route, I woke up one day and realized I'm not really motivated by money. What I want is to make a difference.

Living is expensive stuff, and I still have to work full time to make it all happen, especially with a family and all these animals depending on me for sustenance. As much as I wish they did, my articles and blog posts aren't putting food on my table, so I'm learning to put it there myself, with the help and advice of those around me who put their values into their jobs too. In the meantime, I'm looking to take my talents over to the non-profit sector, where maybe I can help put my passion for training and writing to positive use, helping others to learn to feed the best in each other and care for this brilliantly beautiful floating piece of rock we call home.

I want all my efforts to be of some use, to facilitate positive change, to make people happier, their jobs easier, their lives better and the world a happier place to be. I don't want to beat my head against a wall or stare mindlessly at flickering cameras for eight hours. I want to follow Gandhi's lead. He said we should "be the change we want to see" in the world. I want to work on purpose and, when my life here is through, leave this world just a tiny bit better than I found it.

I started doing these things I loved because I love them, considering money just a welcome by-product of the work I do. I make things, I create, and I share through my words the things I experience. Hopefully I convey to those who read my writing the beauty I see in a child's smile, in a strawberry blossom or find in the anticipation of welcoming poultry into my home. Maybe I can pass on a tip or two of what I've learned from folks in my community about living and being kind to this Earth someday in a book. Maybe someday you'll see me working at the ones I'd like most to help locally, Crown Point Ecology Center and Countryside Conservancy, or know of another where I could put my talents to good use. Most of all, I'd really like to encourage any of you who can relate to my workplace woes that you aren't alone in looking for work that lights up your heart, even if it doesn't do the same for your wallet. I'm right there with you folks, and probably will be for at least a little while.

If you've read this far into my rambling saga, you deserve a medal for your patience. If you need support in your employment journey, you deserve an ally and a resource. In my research about the environment, I stumbled across a great group called Echoing Green, who recently came out with a powerful but short read called Work on Purpose. I'd like to pass my copy on to someone else, so they can be inspired to imagine (and pursue) meaningful work too. Just give me a little something in the comments about yourself and what you long to do with your life to enter. If you are still too shy to share, toss me an idea for book you'd like to see me write or a story about someone you know who works on purpose instead. To give lots of folks a chance, at the end of May, we'll randomly select a number and mail it out to the lucky person. My hope is that special someone will learn to do what they love and share it so others can benefit too.

Welcome Home Earth Fare!

See what's in store for you when you visit! Looking tasty!

Check out this link for more!
(Now for the legal goodies: All photos by Dorothy Carlow and are the property of Earth Fare. Used with permission.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

This week's been as much about exploring as it is about experiencing and getting things done around my homestead. I've vowed to step a little outside my comfort zone this vacation, trying things I've never done, seeing places I've never been and meeting people I'd normally be too shy to talk to. And that, my friends, is how I found myself out in Fairlawn this morning, amongst the all-too-familiar hustle and bustle of a new retail store opening but with a whole new set of faces.

Last week I was enticed to take a short trip today to get an invitation-only sneak preview of what's sure to be one of the COOLEST places in town, a natural foods grocery store called Earth Fare that's new to our neighborhood. Earth Fare is an Asheville, NC based company where food comes with philosophy. That's right. Everything inside their stores is special for what it DOESN'T have, namely artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, synthetic growth hormones and a host of other yucky things you really shouldn't put in your mouth. They also have what they call their "100 Mile Commitment", which means everything labeled LOCAL in the store is from within 100 miles of that particular location, not just "any location" like some other health food grocer. I've been pretty intrigued by their values since I heard they were headed to the Akron area and have been very excited for them to open. When I got an email from them inviting me out to get a private guided tour and a gift card to give them a try, I totally couldn't resist!

Walking in the door today, with all the madness that goes into preparing for store openings, I was completely surprised at the friendliness of everyone I encountered. Though hard at work, even the folks filling the produce cases were all smiles. It was obvious there was a lot left to do, but Kristi, Brandi and Maria took a break and showed me around, pointing out the incredible selection and showing me how to tell what's local (the signs are a different color!), what it means to be a "Family Producer" (somewhere small, family-owned or artisan-operated that are -or were- local to one of their stores), and the multitudes of gluten-free products that are even on separate shelves to make them easy to find. Visually, folks, this place is stunning, and I can't wait to go back when the registers are open.

Other than the cool food philosophy, which meshes nicely with my own, I learned a few other neat things about the store. Brandi and Kristi told me they don't want local or healthy to mean elitist either. Kristi described that some health food stores can make you "feel like you're at a party where you don't know anyone". At Earth Fare, they want you to feel welcome and be happy with what you pick to eat, so they totally encourage you to ask for samples of things to make sure you get what you want. They have an eat-in cafe with meals for kids that go way beyond happy (they are actually healthy!). The food philosophy even extends to their store brand stuff and they seem to have pretty great coupons, which means you can get the goods without going broke. Their wellness section is huge and I saw more than a few things to get my friends that are expecting. I even got to witness a training class going on so those folks will be super knowledgeable come Grand Opening time, which is ::gasp:: tomorrow! Check out this link to all the coolness going on over there. My mouth was watering by the time I left. It was too muddy today to plow our plot and then it started to rain (AGAIN!), but, if this cruddy weather keeps me from growing my own for a bit, I'm excited that at least I can head over there and pick up a few things without having to read labels so much.

If you are anywhere near Akron, you should swing on by the store and enjoy the festivities. Try some bison cheese while you are there (there really is such a thing and they HAVE it!). Stay tuned folks, because we'll be posting some pics and giving away a gift card in a few short days, so you can go in and make some new friends with my new friends!

Also, I highly recommend stepping outside your comfort zone every now and again. Great things start to happen sometimes when you just let them come.

Signs of Progress

My Empire of Dirt
Insert Herb Garden Here

Micro-greens a.k.a. Future Lettuce

Coop Walls and Floor

Really Big Chicken Door? Egg Access Door? No Idea...

Coop Pieces-Parts

Berries! :)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Little Hard Work Never Killed Anyone (But It Sure Made 'Em Sore)

I woke up today to screaming thighs. It's astonishing how out of shape you can get over a long winter while working a desk job. Fortunately, I've got several free days left to get back in the swing of things, so long as the weather cooperates.

Friday I managed to knock out all the run-of-the-mill chores like laundry and returning things to the library, so I can get down to the business of growing and building things around this place. My father brought over what will soon be my compost bin and as soon as I get the brush cleared from where it is going to go, setting it up will only take a few minutes.

This weekend was a busy one, with Saturday as our lazy day and Sunday for working. I spent my Mother's Day exactly how I wanted: part of it with my mom and dad, and the rest with my family at the homestead, doing what we do around here when the weather is nice. Working.

Our basketball hoop, grill and gardening tools have been released from their winter's imprisonment in the barn and taken up their rightful places in the yard. I've been hard at work builiding my empire of dirt on the back porch since the garden is still to muddy to plow. At least there will be green and food close to home and I can say I got my garden in while on vacation, even if it is the one in planters and not all the interesting things going into the larger plot eventually.

There are two types of lettuce in my porch, one yet to sprout and one as micro-greens. We've also got garlic chives in the old planter from our apartment days, some lemon balm in its own little pot, and the remainder of the Blue Lake bush beans from my February experiment giving it another go, this time out doors. I've also laid out a rough outline for a kitchen herb garden with pavers I found throughout the yard, complete with a space at the rear of it for my cold frame. Food's gonna be everywhere at this place.

I still have four large planters on the porch to fill, which were home to our tomatoes last year. I'm considering some dwarf blueberries, but have no idea how they'd overwinter in containers. (Any ideas?)

Mom and dad came last night with the partions that we'll be building into our chicken coop here. I'm very excited to get that project underway! My neighbor laughed a little as we unloaded the pieces from the pickup truck, saying now he'll be surrounded by eggs, since the farm's on the other side of him. I reminded him that at least he'd never have to worry about going hungry, which he seemed pretty excited about. I think he's owed a loaf of bread and some eggs for his patience when we get this all done.

Today my mom and I are off on a road trip to the Wayne County Habitat for Humanity Restore, looking for some windows and a door for the coop. Our hope is to find what we need at a reasonable price and help others with our purchase. The big box stores are a last resort.

It's gonna be an action-packed week here at the Semi-Farm. I've got big plans! Stay tuned for pictures and updates on all my adventures during my brief sabbatical from paid employment. :)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

And Now For Something Completely Different

I was talking with a co-worker of mine a few days ago about local foods and sustainability while we were working. He mentioned the homemade laundry soap I had told him I was trying a few months ago to see if it would work. I thought I'd post it here in case he can't find it. One of our local news stations, Fox 8, had posted something on their Facebook account about how much money could be saved with the DIY soap, and after I looked into it some more, it seemed to be a great alternative to dumping tons of plastic into the landfills a month. Much to my delight it actually works in my high-efficiency machine too, because it doesn't suds a lot (which my septic tank seems thankful for too).

Here's the "recipe" for the soap, if you are interested in giving it a whirl. It makes TEN GALLONS, and the only thing you buy again for the next batch is a bar of soap, so it's super cheap!

4 1/2 cups of hot water
1 bar of Fels Naptha Soap (sometimes it's in the laundry aisle, other times by bath stuff)
1 cup washing soda (Buehler's had an Arm & Hammer version by the laundry soap)
1/2 c Borax (laundry aisle, once again)
2 five gallon buckets

Grate the soap bar into a saucepan , add the water, and heat it up, stirring it along the way until the soap is dissolved. Fill one of the 5 gallon buckets half full of hot water and add the Borax and washing soda. Stir in the hot melted soap mixture and mix it all up until it is all dissolved. Now's the time to toss in a few (30 or so) drops of whatever essential oil you want to smell like, if you are into fragrances and whatever. Or just smell like clean. It's your choice.
Top the bucket off with some hot water, cover it and let it sit overnight. It will get all gelatinous and fun. The next day, stir it up, dump half of it into another 5 gallon bucket, and top both buckets off with hot water. Done!

When you need to wash clothes, stir it up a bit, and use about 5/8 cup per regular-sized load. Use a little more directly on stains and such if you need to.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I'm Never Gonna Stop the Rain By Complainin'

I wish I could be writing about plants, about all the wonderful foodstuffs springing forth into life inside the borders of my yard. I wish I could describe to you the vibrancy of the five color silverbeet swiss chard I finally planted by the front walk on Friday or the depth of the green brought out in the spinach seedlings as they slowly pushed their way from under the dirt toward the sun. I wish I could be describing the animated behavior and the distinct personalities of the hens foraging in my backyard, feasting on the multitudes of worms writhing in my lawn, enjoying all this moisture in bacchanalian revelry. Sadly, I can't, because I haven't yet got to do many of these things, aside from planting the chard and spinach and some lettuce that is currently clinging to the saturated soil in a pot on my back porch. You see, I live in northeast Ohio, where the meteorologists update their forecasts by the half day. It's raining. Still (or, Again). It's not really a bad thing though, because it gives me reason to pause and time to reflect.

I have this wild theory that Ohio is a section of the world that Mother Nature feels can readily roll with the punches, not unlike a real parent sometimes views their older kids, thinking they can take care of themselves. After all, parents' lives are busy, juggling a number of tasks, jobs outside the home, and the needs of others as well as their own. Some of the kids of these harried folks are granted a bit more freedom in exchange for their talents in self-sufficiency and resourcefulness. The only downside is that sometimes, in the pandemonium that life becomes, these kids often get overlooked as other things demand greater attention until their parents return at the last minute to (hopefully) save them from disaster or remember to feed them. I'm pretty sure Mother Nature occasionally turns on a weather dial for us here and gets pulled away to other, more pressing situations, only to return once we are buried under mounds of snow or beginning to tire from treading water. What's supporting my hypothesis, you ask? It's. Still. Raining.

Nature's confidence in us here is not unwarranted, by any means. Ohioans are a hardy, eclectic, industrious and resilient bunch of folks. My section of Ohio makes up the outer fringes of the vast agricultural hinterlands that encompass most points south of here. I adore this small bit of planet earth, where I can drive and in under an hour be surrounded by my choice of fabulous museums, a national park, an incredible view of an enormous lake, or (if such things interested me in the slightest) vast numbers of places I can part with my hard earned cash, including several Pottery Barns and bookstores. Cleveland and Akron are rich in a combination of both industrial and cultural history.

South of here is where all the magic really happens, and I'm only beginning to explore this territory. It is this section of our state that produces so very much in terms of agriculture. In Wayne, Holmes, Ashland and Stark counties, you'll also find the Amish and Mennonite communities, where hundreds of years of knowledge about a life made by hand still exist, where food comes from the field and folks still know their neighbors. Logsdon would probably argue that this food magic happens north of here too, which it certainly does, as well as east and west. In fact, if you pick any of Ohio's larger cities, rent a car, and drive 2 hours away from it in nearly any direction, you'll find a farm. In my corner of the state, most of these farms, the vast stretches of land along the sides of county roads, grow corn or soybeans usually (sometimes both in rotation). Like the same-ness that makes up our suburbs, a lot of the large farms are swimming in monoculture.

This blog's not really about politics, and I don't profess to know everything about the economics of farming for a living. I can't fathom the financial risk involved for families that have to depend upon weather to make money to pay for the land they make money from. As I sit in my home today and watch the rain fall, and my small-scale plans are delayed, I can't help but think what it must be like for people who depend on farming for either their livelihood or just their family's sustenance. It makes me appreciative of where my food really comes from and all that goes into growing it and getting it to where I am. It helps me understand in part WHY food prices go up when fuel costs go up and not to be so bitter about it. It helps me remember that the people who find this magical balance of science and art here in my climate, that can make things grow to eat, deserve my respect, support and business, particularly those who grow a variety of crops with sustainability in mind. These folks and how they farm involves a lot of patience and love, things that I really wish all of us could bring more of to our work. The world would surely be a better place for it.

Though you could probably guess with more accuracy than the meteorologists here get to enjoy, I won't go into details about my feelings regarding Monsanto, monoculture, and the unintended side effects some of our progress in agriculture has brought us, but I will encourage you to visit your local farmers markets when they open this spring. Think about what you eat and where it comes from. If you get to know the folks that grow what you eat, their human struggles, and, if they'll teach you, share in their knowledge, not only will your body be fed, but your soul will too. If you are interested in learning more about why this is so important or how you can help, I'd be happy to recommend reading or resources, even some in your area if I can thanks to the wonders of the internet.

Enjoy the rain today if it's falling where you live and say a small prayer of thanks to the farmers that brought you your lunch, wherever they may be. Then, when the sun comes out, go out and meet them.

Sunday, May 1, 2011