A chronicle of Mike and Julia's adventures creating a home on the Missouri range...

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Summer's arrival

    Summer is here in Missouri, and seemingly all-too-soon its unsavory features are here as well—the humid heat, the ticks and chiggers, the onset of drought, the voracious growth of invasive understory weeds, and more. This part of the year often feels like a battle to stay on top and in control of our immediate surroundings. And that battle feels even harder to wage with a baby in tow.

      A little while ago I was pacing with a stroller back and forth on the path leading up to our house, attempting to lull our sweet baby to sleep. To both sides of me were unfinished projects, a rather discouraging reminder of our limited capacity these days. I was feeling rather glum about it as well as our relative lack of progress this spring, when it occurred to me that three months ago I was pacing this same path in the midst of labor, stopping to grab my back during painful contractions. The land around me then was a tapestry of gray and brown under a haze of drizzle. Now, a season later, the same land is transformed: bright greens dappled with flowers under a blazing sun, with two of us instead of one. And in that interim, though I can’t exactly point to when, I realize we have made some small progress creating our homestead.

     What exactly have we done? For one, we managed (barely) to keep up with the demands of the spring gardening season by getting starts and seeds in the ground, adding mulch and compost and even digging a few new beds. The spring garden push can be incredibly time consuming, so much so that our neighbor Teri (a veteran gardener who grows much of her family’s food) planned both of her children’s birth dates for late fall, after the garden work was wrapped up. She was a little anxious on our behalf, with our baby’s March birthday, and I understand why now. Let’s just say this isn’t going to be a bumper crop year for our little garden. But we got the basics in: tomatoes, cukes, potatoes and sweet potatoes, peppers, eggplant, kale, beans, swiss chard and basil. Surmising our unmoved pile of compost at the top of our driveway (which we envisioned whisking down the hill to the garden in short order), I plunked into it our squash seedlings, which are now happily growing there.

    Another big spring event was the arrival of our STUFF. My parents recently decided to sell their Philadelphia house, and so all of our worldly possessions stored there made the trek across country to our new Missouri house via a moving van. And not too long after, Mike’s mother brought a van full of our stuff we had stored at her house. Wow, it doesn’t take long to fill a house! And a deluge of stuff is a force to be reckoned with. Books, dishes, tools, craft supplies, mementos, furniture, etc. have come piling back into our lives from some former time. No amount of Marie Kondo-style organizing and down-sizing really makes it any easier to deal with, especially when all you have are assorted short nap-times throughout the day to make sense of it all. Suffice to say, unpacking has taken a chunk of our spring time and energy! (And, I might add, I am extremely glad for our foresight in designing plenty of storage spaces…)

    Another focus this spring has been Mike’s fledgling coopering business, which he has been working at quite a bit lately, along with our good friend Cynthia (who learned coopering at the traditional craft school, Tiller’s). They plunged into the endeavor of making five-gallon white oak barrels two winters ago, in partnership with another friend’s craft distillery business (which demands such barrels for aging certain types of liquor). It turns out Missouri is an excellent home for a coopering business, as many of the nation’s barrels are made here or sourced from oak from here (of which there is no shortage). And it turns out that coopering is a good business to get into because of rising demand for barrels from both the wine and spirits industries. At the same time, coopering is a complex precision craft—steam bending beveled staves, charring the insides of the barrel, and fitting a lid on both sides, and then checking for water-tightness. The amount of trouble-shooting is monumental, and they have been streamlining their process somewhat by outsourcing a few steps to one of our Amish neighbors who has a woodworking business and a full workshop to boot. It is hard for Mike and I not to dream of building our own workshop on our land, but at the same time, pragmatism hangs heavy over our lives these days! So instead, Mike has converted our former tent platform into his open-air workshop.

     I, on the other hand, am plunging into my own creative endeavors, one of which is painting a mural for a new café opening nearby. Though I haven’t painted much since we broke ground on our house, my interest in painting was reawakened recently when I was unpacking boxes of art materials and older work into my studio space (aka the second upstairs room in our house!) When a friend soon after asked me to show some of my paintings at an outdoor art walk event outside her new café, I decided to go for it. This led to a flurry of connections and ideas, one of which is the mural. The café is an unusual one, sourcing all ingredients from local organic sources and offering the finished product for a sliding scale amount. The mural has to touch on those themes, plus additionally needing a kid-interactive element and tying into the unusual space and what exists there. So during nap times, I have been tinkering at a design for the mural which I will start on later this summer. You know, in my spare time…

     So when all of this endeavoring is not happening, having the addition of a wonderful baby in our lives has actually made for additional time spent socializing with our friends and neighbors. If you can’t be reasonably productive in a given time because of your children, you might as well be unproductive along with your friends and their children! It is in this department that I find myself immensely grateful to live in a close knit community. The few days I have spent single-parenting alone in our house have been, well, difficult in their isolation. For the most part however, there are few days that pass without social gatherings of some sort—potlucks, pond parties, work parties, kid performances, birthdays, craft gatherings, music gatherings, house tours, discussion groups, friends dropping by, etc. While I used to find it tiresome to keep up with everything going on while trying to make headway building, I now realize this social schedule is ideal when you have kids. These gatherings often involve lots of extra hands to hold babies and lots of extra eyes to track kids, hence a little break for us tired parents. We aren’t the only ones struggling to find time to tackle bigger projects… and that is where work parties came into existence!

     A few months ago, a group of us neighbors met to discuss a couple of possibilities—one was the idea of hosting a revolving work party so that once a month one homestead would get an injection of help on a big project. We were June’s host site and in one morning we were assisted with finishing cistern burying and building a retaining wall for a clay bank. Everyday we have passed by these two projects-waiting-to-happen and wondered when we would ever be able to get to them, so hallelujah for the push forward! Mike’s mom and friend Barbara were visiting and taking on baby and cooking duties, so Mike and I were both able to join in the work. Pond jump and potluck followed, and for a brief time we basked in the headway made. Little by little we are getting somewhere: our baby is growing, our plants and trees are growing, our homestead is inching toward something like completion.