Tuesday, May 31, 2011

One Man, One Woman

When I started this blog I wanted a quirky title, something cryptic, contradictory and comprehensive. I do believe I’ve found it. But I keep butting up against the connotations that come along with the title. It just dawned on me that a ‘feminist’ might actually mean that you don’t like men, you figure they stifle women or don’t do their share.

I’m going to tell you something about my guy.

He’s a hard worker. I could say workaholic but that’s a label and I think we agreed that labels are dumb. He works steadily, unlike I who works in fits and spurts. And for a long time without complaining (I like to express my feelings more than he does). He helps me out a great deal with my ventures. We are without a doubt equal partners when it comes to the kids – each of us taking on roles that suit us best. He manages to get by on 5 hours of sleep. He doesn’t seem to let stressful situations get to him. He is hopeful. And incredibly patient. All of these ways compliment me greatly.

When I left my job in the city, I tried not to focus on what I was leaving behind. It helped to look at what we are doing. What we are moving towards. What we are building together. What we make time for, prioritize, find important. To want to write about how my husband was somehow falling short in his role as a father, husband, housekeeper, worker seems preposterous to me. He steps up every time.

But did I? Here is what I wanted to explore in every detail, from every angle. What does a day look like when you remove as big a stick from the pile as a 40-hour a week job? What holds the pile up? The reason why being a ‘feminist’ fit so well for me is that it ignites the fire of possibilities now. It tells me I can do anything I want. That I have options. That I am capable. That I have the respect of my man and get to focus on life at home.

The only question I had left to answer was whether I could be a full partner on the farm while still tending house and children.

The answer is a resounding ‘yes’!

But the major trick was to remember two simple facts. I could not be all things at the same time. I am still only one woman. And I could not be more than one place at one time. One woman. Many things. Do what I can. Do what one person can do. And don’t beat myself up if the balance falters sometimes.

But we are not just one person. We are one man, and one woman. And together we dance and swing between the tasks at hand, ebbing and flowing, pushing and pulling, and helping each other in ways that make it easier on the other. You tell me what that would have to do with the shortcomings of my fella’? It doesn’t even have a whole lot to do with my own strengths and abilities. It is about the chance we give each other to grow into things, to fall away where needed, to go places we otherwise wouldn’t.

I watched my brother unload a huge recycled barn beam from his trailer tonight with his partner on the other end. She sat on the end of the beam acting as a cantilever while my brother lifted a weight far greater than he could have alone. Then he held down his end for her while she swung hers around.

A cantilever is a beam with support on only one end (that would hold a balcony for example, allowing the weight to reach out far from the building it is attached to without breaking). I love the analogy. Partners can be each others cantilevers.

Today my hubby and I managed to fill some cement tubes for a foundation, till and make raised beds in a two acre field for transplanting tomorrow, drop off and pick up the kids, fetch ice cream cones from the store, drop off a car needing new brakes, drop off plants to a neighbour, drive a new tractor back from town, do a load of laundry, have a spaghetti dinner as a family (and a warm breakfast too actually), do the dishes, tidy the house (only a little), feed the pigs, collect the eggs, fill the water troughs, fix a tractor that wouldn’t start, not fix a truck that wouldn’t start, write this blog post, send some work related emails, water the greenhouse, put away the winter clothes, tidy the kids and take some pictures of them as the sun went down, fill in a hole at the back of the house…and shower at some point in the day.

It’s a long and boring list I know. But all you need to know is that not one of these things happened without the other making it possible. Some we did together. Some alone (I insisted on tilling up the beds as I had a new CD I wanted to listen to).

I suspect there is a lot of trust in being one another’s cantilever. If you’re going to extend far beyond yourself, it’s a real good thing if you believe the thing you’re swinging from is solid. I would break without my husband’s support. There is not a whole lot that I do right now that doesn’t depend on him.

How’s that for a feminist? I did mighty fine before I had this relationship. Now I can do things greater than I ever thought possible.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Pig Song

We decided to raise pigs again this year. Two years ago we put a half of a pig in our freezer for the winter (the other half, and other pigs went to other people’s freezers) and we enjoyed a long stretch of not having to buy pork. My daughter would eat unlimited amounts of it – there never seemed to be an end to what she could eat. She always leaned a little on the carnivore side but it almost got ridiculous when my husband and I would look at each other at the end of the meal and admit that neither of us had gotten any pork for ourselves. The strawberry jalapeno jelly from our own berries and peppers to go along with it was probably a likely culprit in the adoration.

Here was the thing though. I had a hard time eating these pigs for attachment reasons that I could never quite name. It wasn’t guilt, it wasn’t because I’d acquired them as cute little piglets, it wasn’t the taste, flavour or texure. It was something more profound than that and I’ve never been able to put my finger on it.

As the pigs grew older and began to stink more and grew little pokey beards and third chins, it was certainly easier to see them as future meat items than it was when they were snorting, wiggly piglets. Early on we had been able to join them as a family and run and play with them in the yard. But there came a day when I could no longer go in the pen and had to deliver their food over a gate as they were sure to push me over or chew unrelentingly on my pant leg.

Pigs have been known to consume whole chickens that enter into their pens. Our experience with pigs and chickens together was different though. We once hatched out a group of eggs that only amounted to one lone male chick. His ‘mother’ (the one who sat on the eggs, but hadn’t laid them) raised him to a point, teaching him to forage and roost, but after a certain size he decided to move in with the pigs. This bird would forage right inside the troughs as the pigs pushed their way aggressively through their slop and never even got a nick on him. The pigs would draw blood from one another at feeding time but seemed to respect this little feathery guy and leave him be. My husband called them bacon and eggs.

Chicken Little Sleeping on the Pigs

But back to my emotional issues. I recall the fear I felt when I considered starting to perform my songs in front of people. It was paralyzing. I was fraught with nerves and could barely even strum a chord or sing a note in this state. Most nights after I tried to sing at open stage nights, I would be too nauseous to eat, couldn’t keep food down anyway and barely slept. But there was something so pure about this fear that it seemed to call me to move through it instead of around it. In time, I walked over those coals and came out on the other side slightly frazzled when performing but mostly comfortable with it entirely. It was a fear that I am very proud to have conquered – a distance I thought to be not traverseable is now behind me.

As a teenager I was disgusted by anything on my plate that looked as it did when it had been walking or swimming around. To resolve the tension I made the choice to no longer consume meat. This went on for two whole, very strict years. I believe I did it in the name of liking animals too much. But really, looking back, it was a very similar fear to the singing one – it was pure, deep and real - and it was going to take some work to get over it. I could not, would not get my head around the fact that what I was eating had been a real live walking thing. I could not let down that bridge. So instead I took away the side of the equation I could control – the one that kept me from being a hypocrite. I do not suggest that choosing not to eat meat is something that people should ‘get over’ but for me, it was a fear that had me far too curious to ignore.

Fast forward to me driving down the highway with two snorting little curly-tails in the back of my van inside a dog cage. When they first left their mother they had been squealing and anxious. But as we drove, I turned on some Sarah Mclachlan tunes and they perked up their ears and rested their little heads against each other. They seemed blissed out.

Home we came and into their new home in the barn they went, immediately rummaging their noses deep into their straw beds. Below was some half worked down bedding from the cows in the winter. I expected that the pigs would finish off the job quite nicely by rooting around and slowing turning over the piles until they were soil. The previous pigs had made a glorious pile of organic, black matter for us in those same conditions.

The soil the pigs helped make 2 years ago will be spread on our fields.

My previous experience with pigs had also ended bitterly when a large portion of the meat had been brined and smoked too long in a way that made it too salty and overcooked. I was very sad that the meat that I had so carefully fed over the summer had been wasted in this way. This time I have a different butcher and I can make better choices about how to process them.

So somewhere on this journey, I have been able to create a road between the animal that I care deeply for and the meat in my freezer. I will lovingly bring them apples from every tree on our farm. I will bring them compost from the Red Apron local, organic, take-out restaurant in the city. They will get whey from my cheesemaking efforts. I will be hosing them down on hot days and building them a little cooling pool out of an old cast iron tub. I will be putting out barrels with the two ends cut out for toys and building them a shade hutch in their open yard.

These little stinkies are going to get the best life I can possibly give them. And then they will get the best death and be adored on our plates with strawberry jalapeno jelly.

That’s just a song that I’ve learned how to sing, finally without any fear.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dried Tomatoes – Oh, How I Love Thee

My husband taught me to make sundried tomato basil pesto. It sounds good, right? But it is even better than it sounds, I promise you. And if you’ve ever bought anything like it in the store, I assure you the store bought one doesn’t taste as good as what you can make yourself.

Let’s start with the most important ingredient: the dried tomatoes. I’d like to say that I dry them in the sun, laid out on a screen for days but I don’t. My reasons for not trying it this way is that I haven’t got around yet to making a solar powered drying thingie. It’s a priority but so are 6784 other things I’m afraid. Next, I fear that if they don’t dry fast enough they will spoil. We’re humid here in the east – loads of thunderstorms in the summers and even the hottest and sunniest of days can end in a rich humidity relieving itself in crashing rains if only for a brief time. I worry the tomatoes would not dry consistently enough. But I’m willing to give it a try one day, I promise. If anyone knows of a plan for a solar dryer – I’m all ears!

I use a variety of tomatoes called Principe Borghese which is like a mini Roma tomato. Like saucing tomatoes, it is pasty and has more flesh than seeds. They are shaped like a grape tomato and slice in half into firm little ovals. I lay these out in a large, electric dehydrator and run it for about 24 hours or so at around 120C. It can take up to 48 hours in humid weather or only 12 hours in the right conditions. The tomatoes are ready when they are firm but have a slight give when you bend them. They can be chewy, slightly crunchy when you pop one in your mouth (and I do!) If they go too long, they will go hard and might turn slightly black but it is hard to actually burn them at this low temperature – they still probably taste fine.

When I have a medium Ziploc bag full (about 8 Quarts of fresh tomatoes - one round in my Excalibur dehydrator) I send the dried tomatoes around in my ‘coffee’ grinder (the one used for everything but coffee) until it is mostly powder with the odd small flake the size of a pepper seed at most.

Out comes the food processor and in it I chop a few cloves of garlic. Then I add the tomato powder, a few full bunches of basil goes in with an extended drizzle of olive oil, a small splash of lemon juice, a half cup of raw sunflower seeds and some salt and pepper until the mixture is ground into a finely chopped paste. Finally I add some more olive oil until it is a very wet paste. Don’t underestimate the flavour of the dried tomato powder – it is powerful. I am not sure how dried tomatoes you find in the buik section of some stores are done but as many foods go, they are just not the same as these little gems. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Try it yourself and compare.

There is also no question that garlic grown in nutrient rich soils is completely different from the garlic you usually find in a large grocery store. But I don’t need to tell you that, do I? The varieties of garlic also seem to be as different as night and day. We commonly grow about 2000 bulbs of a variety called Music – a very popular one around here. Potent. Rich in flavour. When I dry our garlic to make powder, I swear it could be used in biological warfare. At least as far as bacterial, viral or fungal infections go. You can also use garlic scapes (the flower of the garlic that comes up in early spring that needs to be nipped off in order for the bulb to grow properly) but they won’t be as strong so use more of them.

Now you can use dried basil as well and I do in pinch. This pesto does not lean heavily on the basil flavour. It is the garlic and the tomatoes that make it sing. But fresh basil is much nicer and please try and get a hold of some if you can.

The final colour of the pesto should be a very deep red with a tinge of dark green in it.

I’m sorry I’m not giving amounts. As usual I always go by colour, taste and texture which isn’t all that helpful to you, is it? You basically want equal parts garlic and fresh basil by weight added to tomato powder ensuring that the final predominant colour is red and not green. You are best to add basil to the tomato mixture because I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t ever make a strongly basil paste red. Especially given the time investment on the tomatoes.

This stuff is to die for. You can add it to tomato sauce for pasta or just mix it directly in with noodles. The dried tomatoes actually thicken up a thin tomato sauce too. I also thin the pesto down slightly with tomato sauce to make my pizza sauce (that you can freeze in ice cube trays and have at the ready for home made pizza night). It can be mixed with cream cheese and rolled in tortillas or used as a cracker dip. I’ve added a spoonful to squash soup. Today I mixed it with some cubes of feta and it was ridiculously good on our salad greens. Add cilantro to that feta mixture and your head might actually pop off with delight. I know mine feels like it will.

Oh dried tomatoes, even though I don’t harness the sun to make you, you bring sunshine into my life every time you are near.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ain’t Life Funny?

A while back I posted about whether I thought we could manage farm tours in the near future. Writing this helped me make peace with our limits as I realized that we just wouldn’t be able to swing it. Guess what happened next? We were asked to tour a group of school kids around the farm to educate them how a working organic farm functions. We accepted. Shortly after that we were asked to participate in another annual organic summer farm tour. In addition, a few friends put forward requests to bring along their kids one day. We agreed with conditions under how these visits could work for us.

Funny thing about writing. If you’re not careful it becomes a sort of prayer. If you get it all down, the parts you feel good about and the fears you have, you find yourself navigating that very road that you laid out on the page. Articulate it and it takes on form in reality. What I was grateful for is that writing about my concerns about doing farm tours gave me the words to be gracious and honest when the requests were made.

So now, we will find ourselves in one of our busiest weeks of the year I’m certain (because that is when there is the most to see, right?) trekking kids of all ages around our farm and you want to know how I feel about this? Ecstatic! Excited! Proud! Ready! And with this opportunity we have been given support from a local coffee shop that does its darnedest to give back to their the community and educate people on fair trade and organic production. Bridgehead Coffee has got it all going on in my opinion. Not to mention the pretty photograph of our veggies that they now have on one of their coffee labels intended to raise money for educating kids and helping us out. Wowweee.

Here is what I think about my role in educating people about the ways of organic farming: it is so difficult to be passionate about describing a way of life to whoever is willing to listen and not come off preachy. These choices may not be better and they are certainly not for everyone.

Passion in my opinion is when you realize you are certain of something, if only for yourself, and ain’t nothing going to get in your way or change your mind before you've figured a way to realize that thing. We all have the choice to live the best way we know how – but that best way is different for everyone – and the choices are not always evident.

What I have learned is that there is only one way to change the world and that is to lead by example. To accomplish your own impossible and if somebody gets something out of watching that, then great. And then if you are very fortunate, you will get an opportunity to do your crazy thing in front of people who care to learn something. How could it get any better than that? This is the true stuff of leadership – doing your 'thang to the best of your ability - not bossing people around.

I am reading a fantastic book right now by Elizabeth Gilbert (yup, my Eat, Pray, Love obsession reincarnate) called The Last American Man. The book has sat unread on my shelf for years (from even before E,P,L was written) and as life goes, it is an incredibly timely book to be reading right now. The book is a biography about Eustace Conway, a man who taught himself to sew his own clothes, find his own food, live in a teepee off of the land, build fires without matches, and far more extreme things than that. But the cool part for me is that he goes into schools and educates people about his way of life.

Once again I am in awe of the way Elizabeth Gilbert manages to put words together in an informative, witty, inspiring, thought-provoking and hilarious way. She describes the times in American history that groups of people have attempted to start a utopia and outlines the relatively low rate of success for these ventures (most of which occurred between 1800 and 1900 – when I thought it all began with back-to-the-landers in the 1960s!)

What has become so glaringly obvious to me now is that it isn’t just about your utopia and my utopia (because I’ve long ago accepted that these are different things) – but that utopia itself is actually unattainable. It is so easy to pile up the things you like and say you want much more of that and pile up the things that frustrate you and try to delete them out of your life (taxes?). But the truth is that the most effective missions are those that integrate the dream stuff in and around the crappy stuff that just can’t be avoided. You accept that life ain’t necessarily what you’d hoped it would be and plant flowers (or organic vegetables) around that.

Eustace Conway says that everyone should live closer to nature. But does not recommend quitting your job, leaving your mortgage to live in a teepee. He suggests a tent in the backyard with a campfire and if that doesn’t work out, order a pizza and try again another time. He seems to acknowledge how far we all are from our perfect existence. Meanwhile we have an opportunity to wake up every day and try to do better.

And now Songberry Organic Farm (that’s us) has been handed a chance to show children how this little world of ours works. I won’t be getting hung up on the details. I’ve come to believe that all we gotta do is what we do. There might be something here worth emulating – or perhaps our particular utopia will disappear into the deep with all of the attempts that came before this one.

We’re doing our best to act on the stuff we believe in. And as you can see, I will write about it all too. It’s all so very chicken and egg, isn’t it?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Information Overload?

My daughter just lost her first tooth and before going to bed and sticking it under her pillow she announced that she wanted to keep the tooth instead. So she wrote a letter to the tooth fairy explaining that she was unable to give her the tooth as she wanted to be able to remember what her baby teeth looked like. My husband laughed as he helped her write this note. Apparently she is like her mother.

I have always been an archivist. I’m the family-tree making type. I’m an annoying picture taker at gatherings. I write in diaries, journals and on calendars and spreadsheets to mark events. I have a 10-year journal where I note everything that happened of significance (it could be a bike ride!) on each date for 10 years repeating. I keep baby teeth, and first haircuts and all of that. I suppose I find many things to be sentimental.

I have recently thought about Twitter and Facebook very likely leading us into information overload. I mean, how is it humanly possible to find the time to keep up with those things anyway? And further, I heard an observation that we apparently invest in fewer, better quality relationships as we age. Yet many people I know have many hundred Facebook ‘friends’. Some are in the thousands. Does this mean that they have many poor quality friends? And does tracking Twitter and Blackberry or Text messages or Facebook updates decrease the quality of information that you are receiving?

We definitely do have access to more information and more people than ever before. But I would argue that as adults we also have the choice to manage the time we spend on these gadgets, and the way in which we view the information. I would hope that one would not pass up an intimate tea with a dear friend because they are far too busy reading news reels on Facebook. I must admit that I have caught myself scrolling my online gadgets while my children ask me repeatedly to play with them. It does take a moment to realize how stupid I am being. And then at least a moment to decide and make a conscious decision whether I am going to keep scrolling or crawl down on the floor and do a puzzle. Some would say the choice is a no-brainer. I would note that at least I have a choice!

Is it better to live in a world where messages from our direct relations come by horseback from over the mountain, taking three weeks? Would you long for a time when you didn’t find out until long after it happened that your neighbour passed away, or your friend had her baby, or your sister’s child has been admitted to the hospital? How do you tell where the line is and that you are entering the TMI (too much information) zone?

I love having Facebook in my life. I hate when I spend too much time on it but I am the only one to blame for that. I love the blogs I read, the people I ‘meet’ online, the ideas we share and the things I can scout out. With the right filter, I can choose what I have access to and what I can skim over. People have done this with newspapers for over a hundred years. Perhaps we could even say that cave drawings were a form of ‘news reel’ for the day. We have to use much more discretion as we're not always getting peer-reviewed data or words that have been verified by fact-checkers and editors. But the information is all there if we need it.

Archiving our lives is not new. Having access to unlimited information, people and stuff with very little wait is indeed novel. But we always have the choice about how much it will consume our lives. Isn’t that what we’ve been fighting for when we choose our leaders, when we seek fair and equal treatment between humans, when we push for sustainable food production, environmentally-friendly alternatives? We want all people, everywhere to have access to information and choices.

So if you find yourself like I do sometimes, a little overwhelmed with the onslaught of information and online expectations, try writing a little note on a piece of paper and stick it under your pillow. I would remember what Jerry Seinfeld said: your time is yours to design.

Dear Life Fairy, Thank you for your offering of unlimited updates and information on everything under the sun in exchange for my time but I have decided I would like to keep my time so that I’ll know what it looks like when I look back on it. You see, when I get busy doing too many mindless tasks in a day, I can’t seem to remember what I did. And I don’t find there is much to show for anything. I am blessed to have abundance available to me at the touch of my fingers. I like that there are options if I need something or someone or I am needed.

But sometimes, just sometimes, I might take a moment of quiet, nothing time just to take it all in.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Family Transplanting Hour

Feathered Toes

Some new hens arrived yesterday. I am pleased to announce four new Auracana (green-egg layer) chicks and one English Game/Mille Fleur cross. English Game chickens are these small birds with a whole bunch of personality (once used in chicken fights and apparently excellent egg-sitters). Mille Fleur chickens have feathers growing out between their claws. It is a Lady Gaga fashion statement to say the least. This little female is lovely (the only full grown one of the lot) – she is friendly, curious, calm and vibrant.

Introducing the hens to our current brood that consists of one Chantecler rooster, an Ameraucana rooster, one Barred Rock hen and a whole bunch of Rhode Island Reds, was of slight concern to me. As someone who came new to a community, I know what it is like to be the import.

We all know that it is impossible not to be curious about newcomers. When we moved to our house we noted the traffic drove extremely slow by our place. Now that the cars have sped up a fair bit, we realize that this was just the period where the neighbours were circling to check out the new residents. Now when a place sells near us, we are sure to do the very same when the new people move in.

But I have to admit that it can be exhausting to be the one without the roots – especially in an area with relatively few transient folks. Getting to know new people involves investment, emotional and physical energy and time. Lots and lots of time. We tell each other our histories a puzzle piece at a time and if we find ourselves sharing tea many years later those histories finally begin to add up to a whole picture. In this community, the histories are intricate patterns made over many generations. It is nothing for someone to be surrounded by 100 or more of their close relatives and have four generations of their family within a small radius of their home.

There is not one place in the world where I could find my own history like this. I have scattered people across the planet or rather I have found my people in many far away places and then left. Yet now I feel a very strong urge to herd them into one small space.

So when it became time to plant roots, it did not matter where I began. People often ask us what brought us here. Was it cheap land? Why were we not fearful as Anglophones in a French province? How could we come to a place where we didn’t know anybody? I recall the day we drove into the driveway of this farm for the first time. A friendly black dog wagged her tail from her chained post, the leaves were boasting their colours of bright red and gold and a full rainbow arced over the mountain beyond the fields. We immediately knew we were home.

Now, this is the place where our babies were born, where we are investing in the soils, in buildings, and most of all, in the people that surround us. In this place we care about the local businesses and know the owners by name. There is such a rich history here and we do our best to respect it. We find people with similarities and we accept the differences of others. I try to keep the linkages straight so that I know who is related to whom. It isn’t easy. There are a few last names that tend to repeat themselves which can be both confusing and helpful. I have three friends with exactly the same first and last name. There is no short way to explain which one I mean.

It can be lonely starting over in a place where your attachments are recent. I feel separate from the undercurrent of the town most of the time. Perhaps even those who have lived here forever feel this as well though. Yet I will never bump into aunts and uncles, cousins, my siblings and their kids, my parents, my grandparents or my childhood friends throughout the course of any day here. The people who know me best still live many, many miles – if not thousands - away.

If I am honest, I would admit that I am someone who spends the majority of her time alone so relationships are slow in coming no matter where I am. I’m also aware that I’m a little strange. I don’t seem to do what most people do. But that’s been true everywhere I went. It isn’t different here. I’m an odd bird. Perhaps we all have some oddities to us, and we just learn different ways to cover them up and fit in. Or flaunt them and worry less about the fitting in part. I’m afraid I’ve never been very good at hiding the feathers between my toes. So I've learned to survive the consequences whatever they may be.

Now I watch that little bird – the Mille Fleur in my barn. I am so very fond of her already. There she is, minding her own business as she figures out how to make her way in her new space. The current residents are all looking in on her – she will be in her own coop with the other new ones for a couple of weeks so that they can get their bearings. The cat has skulked by, the dog has sniffed around, the cows have poked in, the other hens have ripped off the chicken wire to get at their usual nesting boxes (even though they had previously preferred laying in the cow mangers), and the roosters are making their usual cock-a-how-do-you-dos.

Mostly I think its okay to have feathers between ones toes. What choice have we got anyway? One short life to live. One small being to be. Be it, I say. And try to bloom where you are planted.

I’m going to take a page from my new little hen. She seems to not be worrying too much about what the others are thinking.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Third Child

When my father passed away suddenly I wished so badly for just ten minutes to talk to him. I wanted to ask him questions I had left unasked, say all the things we’d left unsaid. What I find curious now is that I did not wish for him to be alive again. It is as though somehow we know these kinds of things are not in our control. So we wish for something we believe could have been possible – ten more minutes.

As a function of more things than I can count, my husband and I have decided that we will not be having any more children. Two parents, two hands, two kids. I am now in my 41st year. We have been blessed with two wonderful beings and are more grateful than can be put into words. Our family feels complete and that nothing is missing. Yet, I feel as though there is still a third out there for us. I also know that I could not survive another child. I have clung too hard to a need for control, for peace, for sleep, for alone time through the early child-rearing years. A third child would most certainly squash the last ember of sanity in me. So I have accepted that I could mourn the absence of this child for the rest of my life. Then again, one never knows how things will turn out.

These days I cuddle with my children much more rarely than I did when they were infants. Now they are right next to me for only a brief period each day. Soon, I realize, it will take a lot of work just to get a hug from my children. Then I will long for a visit, perhaps even a phone call or an email. As they move progressively farther away I long for that closeness again.

Inside this longing is where it crosses my mind that I want another baby. I suppose this is where grandchildren are handy. There will be no more pregnancies for me. Of this I am certain. But what has become clear to me is that I long to hold my two babies close to me again, if only for a short time once more. It is not another person I wish to create. It is only the memory of the ones I have that I wish to relive again.

If I could just have ten minutes again of my little baby girl in my arms looking up at me with her liquid blue eyes. If I could feel the little body of my newborn boy sleeping against me, I would have my fill.

There are so many things in life that we can’t choose. Going back in time is impossible. Bringing back the dead seems preposterous. Yet I recently read a great book by Rob Bell, a hip, young (well, 40) preacher man from Michigan, called Love Wins. It is a very controversial book that describes what he believes to be heaven and hell. In it he discusses the idea of resurrection, using Jesus as an example of course. He made a compelling argument that gives examples where life naturally often follows death. As a farmer who spreads compost to replenish her fields, this I know firsthand. As someone who eats meat from the animals that walked her pastures, I build my body on the death of another.

I don’t know that I understood Rob Bell’s message correctly – most scripture interpretations still fly clear on over my head – but the idea of resurrection being a metaphor instead of a literal event was somehow freeing for me. From death, there will be life – everywhere you look.

What is in our control is the ability to remember those that are no longer walking on this earth. We keep them alive in our hearts and minds. We can appreciate what has been given to us. Our babies warm by our sides. Life does not begin and end with these events. It is eternally ongoing, and it is our right and our duty to catch this train and ride it for all it is worth every single day no matter what our past, present or future holds.

So I have decided that my third child will be about that. I will swaddle and feed and nurture the ability to find life everywhere I can. And hold that close for all its worth - if only for ten minutes each day.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Childhood Friends

I have recently reconnected with a couple of my childhood friends. Something about turning 40 has had me traipsing through old decades to see if I could uncover something old that I could make new again. One especially fond memory was of sleeping over at a friend’s house 30 years ago and waking up in the wee hours of the morning to watch a Princess marry her Prince. When our power went out the night before the recent royal wedding, I complained about this on Facebook and that same old friend invited me to watch it at her house. Time passes but our histories stay woven in the fabric of our being.

Although the initial meeting with friends that you haven’t seen for over ten years can be awkward, I have been amazed how quickly a real friendship will resume as though not a single day has passed. If I want to feel nine years old again, I can hang out with my best friend at age nine. I wonder if they are counting the lines under my eyes or the grey hairs on my head or the extra chins that I have acquired. Not in judgment. Only as a way, it seems, of marking the time that has passed. Yet something greater is at work here – the knowledge that we have extended ourselves over the bridges of the years to this place, here and now, still together.

What surprises me most is not only how easily we fall into old comfortable ways with each other but how much of that girl from a few decades ago is still alive and kicking in me. On the outside it seems that I have changed so much, moved so far, evolved into something entirely different but on the inside I’m still that same kid. And that’s a great thing!

Today I went to my favourite take-out restaurant in Ottawa, the Red Apron to pick up their compost and a snack. They specialize in local and organic ingredients (including some of our veggies) and prepare some of the nicest dishes the city has to offer in my opinion. The best part of all, when the timing is right, is that you get to heat it and eat it in your very own home (where hair-washing and fancy dress is optional). Their brownies are simply to die for. The soups are divine. Roasted vegetable burritos, bison and sweet potato pies, and caper and cream cheese coulis that is out of this world.

Anyway, all of their cuttings get bagged and frozen and once a week we load up our van with frozen compost to bring it home to cows, pigs or chickens. Believe it or not, the chickens were the quickest to make the association between the unloading of bags from the trunk and the fact that it is goodie time. To see them running from all around towards the colourful mountain of vegetable matter is a hilarious site to see. They will knock over anything and anyone standing between them and that pile!

When I pulled up to the back door of the restaurant, a new fellow came out from the freezer with his trolley full of bags. He looked confused when he saw me so I told him that I was there to pick up the compost. “You are the one?’ he asked, looking over at my wee economic and environmentally friendly vehicle. ‘You wouldn’t believe how much you can get in this trunk!’ I exclaimed as I pushed aside some barn boot covers, a shovel, and the canning supplies that I had bought that day in town.

The fellow then told me about a girl who wrote a book about raising pigs on foods from dumpsters in the city. I knew he was speaking of Novella Carpenter, the author of the book Farm City that I had read and thoroughly enjoyed. But I did find myself wondering if he thought I was taking my Toyota Yaris to some backyard team of livestock a few streets over (ironically, this was exactly where my bachelor apartment was downtown 8 years ago when I moved to the farm). Nothing wrong with the urban farming scene - it stands to teach us larger-tract-of-land owners a few things about efficient use. I just wonder why I didn't have that 'country' air about me. I took this as a compliment. Always good to keep people guessing.

A few weeks back I encountered my first ‘blonde’ comment in what I would swear to be a decade. I had done something silly to deserve it – that is if you believe all blondes to be lacking in intelligence. Further back still I attended a lecture where the speaker outlined his disdain for the youth of today. He called them lazy and without direction among other things. When I asked a question after his talk and he repeated what I had said as something to do with someone from ‘that age group’, I found myself wondering if he thought me belonging to the youth category. Again, a great compliment embedded sneakily in an insult.

What I find so delicious about these experiences is that even though I sometimes feel so deeply tired, and jaded, and dirty, dirty, dirty under the fingernails, people still see that girl from ten, twenty, or even thirty years ago. She was blonde, naïve, with less dirt worked into the wrinkles on her hands. But someone, somewhere still sees her. So she must still be there.

Our childhood friends have the ability to lure out the young souls we once were. Yet I have been blessed with the realization that the girl I was is only ever an arms length away. I can find her in the trunk of my car with decomposing vegetables. I can find her in a dumb blonde joke. Or when someone overlooks the potential in the young minds of today as they complain about the damage they are bound to do with our future. Flip the coin and you see a different side.

Who knew that any little slight or error in judgment could bring me back to that place, cozy and warm under a blanket, watching a Princess marry a Prince as the sun comes up on the horizon? I can’t say I wanted to be that Princess, but I surely didn’t know then I’d end up here. But this is my dream. I wasn’t meant to live in a palace. Instead I live in a kingdom of funny, bobbing chickens and eager cows, giggling children, a patient, loving husband and naughty dogs.

I’ve taken that little girl along with me and she is still only ever an arm’s length away. Have you visited your childhood friends lately?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Amityville Freezer

The other day I found myself bent at the waist with my entire top half inside my deep freezer. My arms were reaching for something that I could see only a corner of through a maze of jars, bags, boxes and salmon-coloured meat wrap. The feeling I had was one of anticipation, fear, a sense of traveling into the unknown, through the dark, not really knowing what I might come upon. It was the same feeling I get in the middle of a good horror movie.

When it comes time to get something out of one of our freezers, I always warn my husband what I’m about to do. It seems only fair that he knows the cause of the distant cursing or the disheveled look that can result from the searching. If I neglect to give the warning, he will often call from inside the house looking to make sure that the boogeyman has not nabbed me. There are some days that I tell him that I can’t possibly face what’s in there and beg him to go see what he can find to take out for dinner.

Spring brings cleansing of all sorts not the least of which are the cleaning of my two chest freezers. Finally I can come out of my state of massive denial and venture forth into that unknown land with some confidence. Heading to market was impetus for this as I had squirreled away some treats from the fall abundance to round out the lean spring display. There are only a few chickens left before the next batch arrives. All the beef is tidily squared away in one corner. The milk I froze for yogurt and cheese is now finally dwindling. Jars of freezer jams are getting fewer. The rest of what I find in there is anybody’s guess.

Throwing things in the freezer for me can be very intentional. It can be all about making sure I can make the food from our land stretch far into the months ahead. It can also be a grand way to deal with those things I don’t quite know what to do with. What’s that about the ostrich with its head in the sand? He really thinks nobody can see him? What does that say about the back end of me jutting straight up towards the sky in front of my freezer?

Here is my thought process before the great sand dive: the green curry was good but I made way too much of it. While I’ve got the oven on I might as well make three meat loaves and freeze whatever we don’t eat. If I’m rolling out pastry anyway, why not make another type of thing? Two extra lasagnas, three chicken soups, four lovely quiches, 16 roasted squash and a partridge in a pear tree.

What have you got in your freezer? Does yours scare you as much as mine scares me? Does it feel like something hairy with big teeth is going to jump out at you when you’re rifling through there?

Welcome to my nightmare. Or is it not an amazing dream to have this much abundance of excellent food in my life?

Monday, May 9, 2011

In Conclusion, Let Us Begin

So I tried a life that went like this: juggle a job in the city that includes a one hour commute each way (add some travel, international at times), two children aged 3 and 1, run a farm that sells vegetables and feeds its family with meat, eggs and dairy too, finish a 1000 square foot addition you’re building yourselves, do this next to a husband who also travels a fair bit for his off-farm job so that you may have to do the whole kit yourself at times, while figuring all else that life brings and stay sane. Nope, that didn’t work. So I tried something new. Not because it was my lifelong dream and it came to me in a clear vision. But because I had tried the other ways and failed. I stayed home.

I left my job, shortened my children's days in care, caught the spillover on house repairs, car repairs, family emergencies and worked alongside my husband in his expanding organic vegetable business. I continued caring for our pigs, chickens, dairy cows, but now it was during the day. I didn’t know what I was doing. I just knew what I wasn’t doing anymore and something about that was working.

I read an article in the Globe and Mail a few days ago that brought a strange sort of perspective on things for me. The thing that rang a bell the hardest for me (aside from laughing my butt off at the notion of ‘airing out our kids’), was that women today that work in a full time job outside of the home still spend the same amount of one-on-one time with their children as a typical mother in the 1970s who stayed at home with her kids.

Basically somewhere along the way my generation became these hyper-vigilant parents that did indeed take full responsibility for the social and psychological well being of our children. By all accounts this would sound like a noble undertaking, right? Children deserve our attention and our praise, they deserve second chances and options and choices and explanations and opportunities - all with you by their side. Don’t they? Yet all that I managed to facilitate with my patience project called ‘Being a Hands-on Mom’ was a whole lot of yelling and not one ounce of centered sanity.

In the past year at home I have found myself more and more able to be patient with my children. But instead of spending more time on the floor with them teaching them how to make a truck go boom, I wait for them to do things for themselves. I spend more energy teaching them how to be independent. Like my therapist once said, it seems I’m in the business of putting myself out of a job. If we do our jobs right, a parent should essentially teach their child how to get by without them.

What was true for me is that being drill sergeant Mommy who rushed my kids out the door and spent more time doing up car seat straps than holding them in a quiet cuddle on my lap at home, I did not have the head space or the time to actively ignore my children when I was home with them. I had to stay on them, get their teeth brushed and shoes on and it was faster to do it myself. I was not able to think about what was best for them. I betcha many women can cope quite well doing such a juggling act. I was not one of those women.

Daily I would experience these chest pains under my rib cage. It was a searing cramp so sharp that it would at times drop me to the ground. I was unable to breathe through these cramps, as any movement of my ribs would make the pain more unbearable. Each incident would last anywhere from 10 seconds to a minute or so. It was terrifying. My father had died at the age of 54 of a heart attack so quickly that nobody had a chance to say goodbye. One thing I knew to be true: my children were not going to lose their mother to stress-related issues as I had lost my father if there was anything I could do about it.

I pulled away from the world that was crashing down on me. I left work for a month and immediately began to experience life without the pains. With that, I had all the information that I needed. I returned to work rejuvenated and certain that a long-term solution was required. I was going to work for five more months until the end of a big meeting that was going down in Qatar and then I would begin my leave (this time by choice and not for medical reasons).

The one thing that confused me the most was why I had left this piece of the puzzle that I had worked so hard to attain. I had attended university to do this very job, something that many people I knew had not managed to do (work in the area they were schooled in). I was still very interested in my work, highly dependent on my salary and highly dependent on being independent. I liked going out the door in the mornings to do something to call my own.

Though I had always stuck my fingers in deep on the farm and spent oodles of time focused on my children (the quality of which varied of course!), I knew that I needed to own a little part of my week for myself. So I began to write. I wrote every day, two pages, about anything and everything that came to mind. Writing things down was like building a life on paper that I could then fold up and throw into the wind so that it would take true flight.

It has been only 5 months that I have been publishing some of these writings but years since I started them. I have had excellent feedback from old friends and new. I have learned that friends feel guilty when they don’t read your blog (I hate this part). I have learned that my mother doesn’t have the attention span to read it. My husband reads it religiously. I don’t really know who else does. But it gives me a little piece of the pie out there in the world every week. Just enough to keep my sane.

Last week I wondered if I might stop all this writing and just get on with living. We learn in the world of academia (especially in the sciences) that life should be watched, counted, studied, manipulated. We learn that we can control our environment and make something of ourselves for a decent wage, no less. But reading that Globe and Mail article helped me realize something. We can’t apply this model to our lives at home. Children are not projects. They are not to be molded towards an endpoint. They are to be respected and guided, surely, but I’ve truly come to believe that my part in their lives isn’t as great as I once thought it was.

I plan to give them everything they need. I will even try to give them what they want. But I am so done with trying to figure out how to be the perfect parent. Because it isn’t just about me anymore. It is about another living being. And this person will have ideas of her own. And I may or may not have influenced all of his decisions and that will be okay. I will have been the one standing there within constant reach.

I want my children to know they are loved unconditionally. I want them to be treated fairly. But I have spent this past year undoing my perspective that I was the centre of their universe. I now have the time and energy to walk beside them. Instead of circling them like a freaky, blind hawk. I can lead by example.

After all this writing, I don’t know anything more about money, or education. But I’ve learned a lot about time and love. These two things are the new currencies of my life.

And with some of my time and with only love, I will keep writing. I hope you will keep reading.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

To Market, To Market

It was our first day at the farmer’s market in the city yesterday. The week leading up to it was full of washing table cloths, finding tables, getting change from the bank, canning last years harvest out of the freezer (squash and tomatoes mostly), doing up pesto from dried tomatoes and basil and the last of the garlic, wrestling labels out of the printer, coaxing sunflower shoots and spinach out of their zygote stages in the greenhouse, gathering signs, photo albums, distractions and necessities for the kids and remembering how to put a smile on for the public.

Setting up the kids under the tent!

We pulled in to our usual spot beside the ‘cookie guy’ who my daughter insists that I call by his name, Brad. (Selling vegetables all day beside a guy who keeps shouting ‘fresh baked cookies!’ as he hauls them out of the oven wafting their enticing smells is both cruel and delicious). My children clearly remembered from 6 months ago that they were headed towards cookies. Somehow I hauled them out of bed and got them out of their pajamas, into some porridge and into the van by 7:15am without arguments. I think it was the cookies.

Rob standing at our booth beside the B. Goods Bakery.

Being in the not-so-South part of Canada in early May and going to a market where you are only allowed to sell things entirely grown on your own land can be interesting. I did not venture to find fiddleheads (one customer did ask) though I’m thinking I’ll go back to the forest later this week. We’ve relied heavily on early greens and anything dried or frozen from the fall harvest.

Gabriel getting his face painted in front of our stand

What I did not anticipate was the very warm welcome from our regular customers from last year. It was so incredibly rewarding to see their smiling faces and armful of bags ready to be filled. There was the couple who take one of everything without asking questions, the single woman who seems genuinely interested in how each and every thing is grown, the fellow who shows up 5 minutes after we’ve packed everything away at closing time telling us to haul out a selection of items of our choice from anything that is left, our good friends who bring hugs from their children and give us an opportunity to see them every week. We’ve learned a dance with each of these people. We give them as much information as they need, and they are free to make their choices. No pushy marketing, nothing to hide, only real people exchanging real things.

It was also really nice to see the other returning vendors again. There is Graham with his fabulous spelt breads, flour and jam squares. There is Joseph with that ridiculously tasty sheep milk cheese, Brad and his cookies of course, John with his enviable produce display across from our stand, Isabelle with her dips. It is very satisfying to be part of such a family of people attempting to make their way from the things they make with their land and/or their own two hands.

What I thought would be a stressful day of trying to find our bearings and reintroduce our children to the rhythms of the day turned out to be a wonderful sense of coming home. It was pure joy to stand there chatting about nothing and everything with new friends and old.

We managed to sell more than we thought we would but it was certainly not going to be our best market day of the year. As in all things farming, you can’t really focus on the hours you log or the units you produce. Your hands move one over the other, repeatedly, day after day until there is something to show for it. If you are lucky, someone will want to compensate you for your work.

And we are lucky.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

In the Belly of the Soup

I’ve talked a bit about making stocks. Mostly from beef bones and chicken or turkey carcasses so far. But here is my latest thing: vegetable stock. I keep a Ziploc bag of ‘cuttings’ in my freezer where I keep vegetable bits that aren’t being used (broccoli stems, wilted cabbage leaves, fennel stalks, cauliflower stems…some use carrot or potato peels but I worry that would add an unwanted bitterness to it).

When I can fill a 20L kettle around halfway with frozen vegetable matter, I’ll fill the rest with water and boil it down over a great number of hours (half a day?) This will end up being a concentrated stock that can be frozen in ice cube trays. I’m still on the look out for those old metal ice cube trays with the metal lever for this purpose. Then I remove the frozen stock cubes and store them once again in a Ziploc bag to be added to any little thing.

It is great in soups and stirfries, casseroles and shepherd’s pie. My new, favourite use, however, is to boil rice in it. Now I know why I like rice so much better in restaurants. It is always tasty and rich with flavour, unlike my water boiled version which is as bland as a cracker at best. I think they boil up their rice in stock! At least that’s my guess because now my rice tastes just as yummy at home.

Homemade soup stock can also be frozen in mason jars and grabbed in a jiff whenever needed. In the past I used to use the little handy, dried cubes out of a box and wondered why my soups had that tinny, shallow, salty flavour. Worse yet, I would find out later that I had added MSG to my organic vegetable soup pot.

Here is the thing about stock made from scratch that like so many things can’t quite be described with words. It is rich, full, round, deep, complimentary, whole, expansive, full of colour, taste, harmony, symphony and much more. A simple vegetable soup with beef stock earns an undercurrent of flavour unmatched by any other addition. Leek and potato soup with chicken stock becomes heavenly, as though kissed by angels. Fish soups with vegetable stock straight from the heart of the divine.

Deep in the belly of any good dish, I now believe, is a basic, simple, easily home made stock.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Spring Cleaning

Like so many, I am now doing my usual spring-cleaning exercises. I’m switching winter clothes to summer and sorting out closets and sheds and sending away bags and bags of stuff. To add to it, I have decided to clean out my computer hard drive as well.

With these tasks I have become ruthless in nature. I have told my children that all clothes and toys found on the floor instead of in a hamper, a drawer or on a shelf will be given away. All photos that are out of focus, too dark, too much like another or not of anything I will ever care to see a photo of again are getting deleted. Music in my iTunes that I don’t think I’ll listen to is getting culled. Everything in my path is now at risk of being removed.

In the bigger picture I have quit my job, stopped my distinct exercise routine (too busy and tired from being physical around the farm now), decided to stop performing music and now, yes, I’m afraid this dear blog is in the ‘consideration’ pile as well. If I simply look at the things, files, people, clothes, activities through one simple lens, it has become very easy to decide what needs to go and what I should keep. The lens is this: does it give back to me, to my family or my community? Or does it just take up space, time, energy and emotions with no return?

I learned about the music performance issue last night where I played a few songs at a local talent show I was asked to participate in. Literally a few hours before I played, I picked up my guitar for the first time in weeks, ran through a few songs guessing at a possible set list and packed up my guitar and lyric sheets before going out for a walk. When it came time to play my set, I was the usual nervous but I found myself unable to focus. I just couldn’t seem to find it in myself to care what happened next. I forgot my lyrics, forgot the chords, stopped in the middle of the songs and the worst part of it all is that it didn’t bother me.

The lack of commitment and preparation made it clear to me that I wasn’t meant to be doing this anymore. I deserved to be spending my energy doing something that inspired me to try my best. It wasn’t fair to the audience to have to watch my apathetic performance. My spot was better given to someone (similar to most of the other acts) that was keen to be there and wanted to grow in this manner. It is time to hang up the guitar for this purpose. I have other ideas of how to keep music in my life but that is for another post.

What has stayed, you ask? In no particular order: my children, husband, chickens and cows. The clothes we wear on a regular basis. My dear friends who do not dump, drain or manipulate us in a negative way (I’ve cut nobody, by the way). Photos that represent the journey our family has taken since each of us were born. Time for our extended families. I do laundry, buy groceries, clean the house, wash dishes and cook because, well, it gives back in ways we can’t possible measure, right? The games we play, the toys we use, the movies we watch, the books we will read, are reading or have read and have touched our lives so greatly that they remain on our shelves as beacons of the past. You get the idea.

Clutter remains of course. But the air is becoming clearer every day.

What does that mean for this blog? Well, I’ve been drafting an ‘in conclusion’ post for a week now as a way to wrap up my original quest. The blog was intended to help me figure out my new place in the home without ‘external’ employment. The purpose was served. But now that the decision has been made, and I am entirely satisfied with how it has all come together, I need a new goal.

In addition, the vegetable growing season has now begun. Everything around us is changing, turning greener and coming to life again. Our farmer's market starts in six days. I started ‘blogging’ in November just after a whirlwind farming season. Though I have always written things down daily, and always will, I may not be able to take the extra time to make it pretty and share it. I will just have to see.

What I will do is try to separate the writings a little more. Put the self-absorbed crap in one pile, the quasi-religious views in another, 'how-to' stuff on farming and cooking/preserving in another, bits about parenting and spout-offs about women’s rights and choices, opinions about nutrition and food choices and inspirational/creativity/artist stuff all into different piles. With this exercise I hope to be able to see which parts should remain and which are just self-indulgent drivel. I know I can’t change food policy or parenting styles with anything I have to say but I’ve always believed that the personal is political. If I can’t leave something productive behind with my shared, written thoughts, I oughtn’t be doin’ it anymore.

Though I must say, so much stuff is leaving that I wonder if I have taken away too much. But I recall learning about how to put a photo portfolio together. The rule of thumb is ‘less is more’. It was better to have three exceptional photos than 20 mediocre ones. Now I see that the less junk there is in my life, the more I can see the greatness of what surrounds me.

Yet, just like I explored in a previous post about feeling like I need an anchor, I find myself now looking for a label, a box, a place to keep my hat. I am no longer a biologist, a policy-advisor, a singer/performer, a mountain climber. Right now I am only ‘everything-else-girl’. All things related to being a mother/wife/farmer. I get the oil changes done. I pick up building supplies. I transplant onions. Whatever is needed of me each day is what I do.

A friend of mine and I have been reading fairy books to our daughters over the past few months. This friend reminds me that just like Rachel and Kirsty found out, sometimes we have to let the magic come to us. You can’t go out and find the fairies, they have to find you.

But I’m certain that if I chuck out a few more rounds of crap, the fairies will have an easier time of getting here.