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

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Yes we can!

      Or perhaps it should be, yes, we ‘can’…. mostly vegetables. August, as any avid gardener or home preserver knows, is the month of putting up the bounty of the season. And for us, that has meant weeks of canning sauces, pickles, and veggies of all sorts. In years past, we have always made a meager stab at canning while focusing mostly on the hard work of building our house. But this year, we are focusing a bit more on food preservation, and our garden seems to be cooperating. Once Mike tamed the wild and unruly weeds that had taken our garden hostage last month, we started doing daily harvests, bringing in basket after basket of produce. One day I looked around at the amassing cornucopias in our kitchen and realized it was time to hop to! Out came the canning pot and the bins of empty jars we had been saving up and we began to chop and boil. Many hours and seemingly every clean dish in the house later, and.... preserves!

     Pickled beets, dill and bread and butter pickles, tomato sauce, tomato salsa, pesto and pepper relish—we now have plenty of all of these. But the true bumper crop of the year for us has been beans. This is a total reversal of last year’s garden when marauding rabbits mowed down every last bean plant that I sowed… and resowed… and resowed! This year though we seem to have escaped the rabbits’ notice and the beans have been prolific. We planted several kinds, but one in particular has astounded us—an Asian long bean variety called Chinese Red Noodle beans have grown into a veritable bean tree. They are great for pickling because their 18” long beans can be lined up and chopped into perfect jar sized lengths for pickled dilly beans. And they keep coming! All of our friends are also busy keeping up with their gardens and our get togethers of late involve comparisons of tomato blight and squash beetle woes, and recipe and ingredient swaps. It is both an overwhelming and rewarding time, watching the stores build up for winter… potatoes, onions, garlic, apples and hard squash are also rolling in. Not to mention firewood!

Mike in action with the "Leveraxe" (thanks Zach!)

     Besides trying to keep on top of our garden, we are also trying to keep our heads above water on all other fronts of the homestead—firewood gathering, water hauling, laundry and diaper washing, baby bouncing, dishes and cleaning, and various other house projects that lurch forward and stop in submission to our baby’s nap schedule. Just when one sector seems to be going well, another drops behind, creating a perpetual sense of never quite being on top of it all. Throw in to the mix a mural to be painted, a full community social calendar, and seemingly unending car trouble and you have our life this last month in a nutshell! For the most part I would not want to give up any of it (actually, definitely the car trouble part), but our days feel very full in a different way than they used to, pre-baby, when we could work with total focus on building into the dusk of evening and then wash up in the dark and light the rocket stove to begin cooking a simple candlelit dinner before falling into bed.


      With baby Caris now in our lives (almost 6 months old), we are first and foremost beholden to her always-changing schedule of eating, playing and sleeping. This makes for an erratic day-by-day: some days we will have 2.5 hours of solid nap to be buzzing away with power tools and then the next she will refuse to nap for longer than 15 minute segments. She is both a good-natured baby (“the smilingest baby ever” is a compliment she often gets) and extremely active. She skipped right over “sitting” and is determinedly on the verge of crawling and standing. She also gets very bored with the same old toys, which means I am always tearing through the house in search of something to give her to explore that won’t spear her in the back of the throat or choke her. While we used to be able to plunk her in her seat for little stretches to cook or eat a meal, she has figured how to twist and squirm her way to the ground in short order, meaning most of the time our needs have to be squeezed into little 5 minute windows where she is happily occupied with something. We also tag out with each other, rendering us each into one half of an able-bodied person. I have to wonder at our Amish neighbor up the road, Magdalena, who is home alone most days with 6 children under the age of 8 (plus pregnant). Every morning she drives her older kids to school in a buggy past our house, just as we are all lumbering out of bed and trying to conjure some kind of breakfast into existence. I look at her huge garden, clean laundry flapping in the breeze, contended flock of small children, and paddocks with every animal you can think of and wonder…. how the???

     Though motherhood and homesteading have been way more fulfilling than I could have imagined, I occasionally feel the call of the unencumbered life, beckoning me in the form of young single friends who report on their adventures. Today a friend called from Tillers International, a traditional skills school in Michigan, waxing poetic about all the tools he was hand making and the team of oxen that he has learned to work with, tilling the fields and hauling logs from the forest with. “Oxen!” I think, “if only I could go off and learn how to drive a team of oxen!” But no… I am pretty sure babies and oxen are mutually exclusive. Another few friends came back to report on time spent in assisting the Lakota Sioux in their resistance of the North Dakota oil pipeline at the Sacred Stones camp up in, you guessed it, North Dakota. And several more friends have decided to go up and join the resistance efforts. And part of me yearns to hop in the car with them to help in whatever way I can. But then I look at my tired baby, and the weeds, and the piling up dishes and think… reality check! I have to remember, for years of my adult life I too was that unencumbered adventurer, but throughout it, in my heart I craved roots, which I now have in abundance. Roots, and one happy little shoot who will have a mouth to feed this winter! So for now, back to the garden for another round of harvesting and canning. Yes we can!