Browsed by
Month: September 2012

Walking Circle

Walking Circle

Tuesday dawned bright and crisp, inviting us out to play in the way only an Autumn day can.  Usually we begin our homeschool with a circle, song and a bit of yoga movement.  Instead I decided that we would take our circle outside and make the most of the cold, refreshing air.

 

 

We held hands in the sunshine and sang our morning song, then we took some deep Prana breaths and swung our arms and legs around, our feet becoming soaked with the dew clinging to the grass in shining droplets.  We warmed ourselves with our movements and energized our lungs with the frosty air.  Any pretence at structure was quickly abandoned as we made off into the morning, investigating the changes that Autumn have brought with her.

 

 

 

 

We chatted with our neighbour cows and their guard donkey investigated us, making sure that we were friendly.  Those curious creatures, so much larger than us, with grass hanging from their steadily chewing mouths, held our attention for quite some time.  Then we headed back to the house, our heads clear, our bodies refreshed.

Every day does not start as well as this, with so much to do and errands to run around town these moments of quite wandering feel like a real luxury.  But on those mornings when the stars align and we make it outside, all cosy and ready for the freshness of the day, we all return renewed and happier.  This season really is a blessing.

Mabon

Mabon

This weekend was a Mabon like no other.   The equinox brought with it our pig harvest, as well as much goodness from the garden.  As we tried to get to grips with how to cure bacon, render fat and store two pigs worth of meat in our freezer, friends came and went sharing the goodness with us.

 

I used this really easy recipe to make pulled pork, it came out beautifully, falling apart and melting in the mouth.  I used one of our fresh butt roast joints with a nice layer of vitamin D infused fat, which gave the pork succulence and flavour.  I also found this recipe for natural bbq sauce on Youtube, it used ingredients I had and was very easy to make, though I cooked it for about 45 mins on simmer just to get it nice and thick.  If the comments from my friends and family were anything to go by it was a winning combination and a good way to use a beautiful joint of meat.

For information on curing our bacon and on using the different cuts we are turning to The River Cottage Meat Book, it has information on raising, slaughtering and butchering all animals.  There are many recipes, though some are a little bit more complex than average, and I am using the recipe and method for curing bacon that he recommends.  When curing meats lots of people like to use Prague or Pink Salt (a nitrate) to prevent botulism, it is listed as an optional ingredient in the recipe we are using and other British recipe sources I checked.  As we will be thoroughly cooking our bacon (botulism is killed when heated above 160) we decided to keep our cure all natural.  If we do uncooked deli meats such as salami I think I might use it, just to be on the safe side.

 

When I think of a harvest festival I am taken back to my childhood, parading up to the front of the local church in my brownie uniform and placing our tinned donation with the others from the community.  It was a sedate affair, orderly and controlled.  Our harvest, a real harvest, is anything but.  It is rushed and busy, noisy and fun, stressful and overwhelming, rewarding and joyful.

As I worked alongside friends this weekend, all learning new skills and delighting in the process, our kids played happily for hours free from the overly watchful gazes of their parents.  In their own worlds they explored many crazy fantasies that we listened in on periodically.  Their freedom contrasted with our labour and reminded us to lift our heads occasionally and take a break, breathe and watch the sky for a little while.

This week work of the harvest continues as we rush to beat the weather and bring in the goodness of our garden, capturing it in our larder to feed us for the year.  In the meantime there is school, other work outside our home, clubs, play dates, camping trips and all the usual goodness of family life.  As I wake each day knowing I have more to do than I can achieve, knowing I will never actually meet my own goals no matter how hard I try, I am still so grateful and filled with happiness at the abundance of our harvest.

 

 

 

Autumn Days

Autumn Days

I know I’m not alone when I say that Autumn is my favourite season, it’s that way for many of us, but I think it might be my children’s favourite too.  The scorching heat of summer has passed and they are outside much more, enjoying the fresher breezes and blue skies.  The house is flooded with light as the sun drops lower on the horizon, making me feel more energised and alive; the tumbling winds have blown away some of the cobwebs that the last stagnancy of summer seemed to leave with all of us.

 

As well as our regular lessons we’ve  been exploring Autumn in our homeschool too.  For our circle and preschool type activities I have the Seasons of Joy Autumn curriculum, packed with rhymes, songs and crafts to keep us going until the snows come.   We’ve also been reading the stories about Mabon (the Autumnal Equinox) in Circle Round this week, and it’s all tied in nicely to our art and music lessons using our Harmony Arts curriculum.  This morning we listened to Vivaldi’s Autumn on the ipad and Huwyl drew a picture based on how the music made him feel.  We talked about the different moods and he described what it conjured up for him.  We also chose the colours we thought he’d need for an Autumn picture which he drew as he listened.

 

While Huwyl was drawing, Neirin worked on his own art, chalk and water painting on the blackboard; I was amazed how long this kept him happy.  Huwyl  included all sorts of details in his picture, the tumbling leaves, rain and snow coming in, as well as groundhogs hibernating underground; I love seeing how his imagination is really coming to life in his drawings.

 

 

Of course Huwyl really likes to insert realism into his art (and stop Mummy from getting far too giddy)  so he made sure that the horse (who is out hunting in the forest) leaves a big poo on the forest floor.  There are extra lines in case you aren’t sure where it came from as well as the rising steam to show it’s a cold day.  That’s my boy.  

 

Fond Farewells

Fond Farewells

Yesterday was a sad day for us on the farm, we said goodbye to our lovely Large Black pigs.  They’ve been with us since the spring and, to us, represented a move into ‘real’ farming.  Their presence has been a joy from the beginning (ok the first day was a bit rough around the edges) and their absence is notable.  While I am overjoyed at the thought of the food they will provide for our family, certainly enough to keep us through the winter, a silence seems to have descended over the farm in their absence.

Truth is, even if we wanted to, we could no longer afford to feed our big girls.  They’ve grown so much over the last months and could probably have gone to slaughter a few weeks ago; I’m glad they didn’t.  Sharing our land with them, watching them chomp on the pasture and treats we gave them, giving them regular showers and scratches, has been the high point for all of us.  I’m not ashamed to say I shed quite a few tears at their departure, I still feel pretty gloomy.

So in an attempt to cheer ourselves up we headed of to a local apple orchard for an afternoon of picking.  The boys loved the play area (equipped with a little red tractor!) and thoroughly enjoyed a good dose of apple picking.  We chose a mix of Lobo and McIntosh which will be processed into apple sauce and (hopefully) the beginnings of an apple vinegar stash.

This morning the farm chores seemed extremely light, a noticeable quiet in the ‘livestock’ field; then the clouds rolled in and the rain began to fall.  Gone was the blue sky of our apple picking adventure, the weather has pushed us inside to cosy up by the first fire of the season, enjoying an excuse for rest.

The weekend will bring a freezer full of meat and the distributing of meat to the friends who’ve bought from us, the labour of the year is now on our plates and we will rejoice in the delicious flavour, the wonderful nutrition, the feeling of self sufficiency that we are begin to accomplish.  As we cosy up to our fire and our full plates we will plan next year and look forward, with delight, to the return of the pigs.

Friends for Dinner

Friends for Dinner

One of the lovely things about this past week (and the week to come) is that we’ve been able to share the work we’ve been doing on the farm with some of our friends.  A few people requested chickens from us and others are buying pork from our lovely Large Black heritage pigs.  Some are sensibly buying both!  Last  night we had two sets of friends over, one family we’ve known for a long time and the other we’ve just met but are looking forward to more times together.

I was excited to be cooking a home grown roast dinner for all of our friends and two of our most delicious chickens went into the oven, along with potatoes, carrots, beans and squash.  All of the produce went straight from the garden to the oven, a fact that was eminently obvious in the abundance of flavour that oozed from each bite.  I wish I could take credit but it was the sheer vibrancy of the produce that did all the work for me.

 

 

 

 

I can’t take credit for the beautiful loaf of bread above, which was snaffled in short order with a good coating of jam as a late supper after the stars were fully in evidence.  Nor can I take credit for the fun that was had by all, chatting, cooking, agreeing, learning, laughing, playing, running…it was all going on, lots of it at the same time.  Of course some people were a little more excited than others….

 

 

 

 

 

 

The table was full of goodness, the house was full of happy voices, it was all that I could hope for and all the better for sharing it with good friends.  As we move further along on this journey I can’t help reflecting on how far we’ve come and how much abundance this place has offered us.  Not just the delicious food on our plates, but the people who come and here and delight in this place as much as we do, the ones who really ‘get it’.  To share not just produce and meat, but a vision of a better way with others who believe in what we are doing, that seems like a pretty wonderful prize in itself.

All Yellow

All Yellow

Phew it’s been busy around these here parts.  Busy.  Busy as bees.  Busy as bees with an overloaded schedule and waaaay to much coffee.  That kind of busy.  What with harvesting 4 billion tomatoes (official count to date), other garden produce, taking meat birds to slaughter and homeschooling, working, cooking, cleaning etc (ok not that much cleaning) our botties have barely stopped moving.

Luckily I still found time in my jam packed schedule to drive out to a thrift store, pick up a $7 crock pot and render our beautiful beeswax left over from the cappings we took during Honeyfest 2012.  See, I know how to prioritise.   I used the method outlined in this video and guess what?  It worked perfectly!  Many thanks to the lady who made that great video, perfect for a home wax processor with just a bit to do.

 

 

Basically the method is to melt your cappings in a crock pot, strain it through a pair of tights into a container (the only tights I was able to sacrifice were fucsia) which sifts out the yucky stuff and allows the pure wax and honey to filter through.  I was frankly shocked by how much residue there was at the end, our cappings were muckier than I thought!  The honey sinks to the bottom of the container and the wax rises, once it cools you wash it off and voila!

It was so wonderful to see that pale yellow skin form, slowly building and then setting into a thick block.  When I lifted out the first one and scraped the honey off I could barely believe how beautiful it was.  Like hardened sunshine.

 

The jar the honey is in is one I rescued from an old shed on our land the first spring it belonged to us.  I wanted to take something of this place back to our rental house as we tried to dream this life into existence.  Looking at it reminds me how far we’ve come, how much has changed and how much there is to look forward to.

This Christmas I’ll make beeswax ornaments with the boys with our own wax.  We’ll hang them on the tree to release their smoky sunshine scent into our home, reminding us of this extraordinary summer.

Ten For That, You Must Be Mad!

Ten For That, You Must Be Mad!

It’s a deal, it’s a steal…it’s the Sale of the fucking Century! A whole side of pork for how much? That’s bloody amazing, I’d like to buy ten. No, shit, make it a round twenty and I’ll throw a party in your name.

That’s pretty much the reaction I want when offering our pork, chicken, eggs and honey for sale. And if you’re lucky enough to be invited to buy some, then I expect you to be forever grateful to be included in such a privileged and happy few. So quit your whinging and pay up.

At least that’s what I feel like saying when I’m thrust into the role of salesman. You see I’m not a natural salesman. In fact, you could go so far as to say I’m an anti-geezer. I don’t so much wheel and deal, as shuffle uncomfortably and undersell myself rather than risk the embarrassment of asking you for money. That manifests itself in ways that make it damn hard to corner the market in organic farm produce. You see, when I know that my product is so far superior to anything else it’s practically Aryan, I can’t help but form the unreasonable opinion that I shouldn’t have to sell it at all. Customers should be beating a path to my door, thrusting handfuls of cash and images of their grubby children under my nose while begging me to sell them pork to feed to their malnourished little Jasper who would otherwise have to subsist on Pop Tarts and Cheez Whizz.

Of course it’s all subconscious avoidance of having to sell. It’s kind of ironic since in my day job I’m in charge of global sales and marketing for a software company. Our software products are bloody amazing too and should sell themselves as well, but at least at work I’ve overcome my reluctance to sell, sell, sell and have got to grips with it. So why can’t I get into the swing of hawking our wares for our delicious, wholesome farm produce?

The hard truth is I have the overpowering, deeply ingrained image of a salesman as some kind of sleazy Swiss Charlie, happy to take your last dollar and underpants with a smile and no remorse for leaving you stood butt naked and penniless with nothing to cover your tonker except a poorly manufactured set of decorative plates and a Certificate of Authenticity that, on closer examination, appears to have been printed earlier that day on a dot-matrix printer circa 1982.

Needless to say, I’m not enthusiastic about either becoming that sleaze, or having other people perceive me like that. So, as I’m sure all you psychologists can see, my avoidance stems from a deep seated need to be socially accepted and held in esteem. Shit, blog writing really is therapeutic. Unfortunately, that little revelation probably cost me a lie down on a cool leather sofa and the opportunity to drop into conversation that “I’ll have to talk to my therapist about that”, but on the plus side it might have saved me a hefty stack of cash and a punch in the face.

So, what I’ve decided to do to overcome this particular barrier is to channel the power of Monty Python. Like Harry the beard seller in The Life Of Brian, I’m going to introduce some humour into my selling. No, no, no. Ten? You’re supposed to argue. “Ten for that, you must be mad!”

I’ll be bigging up our pork, waxing lyrical about our honey (bad pun, sorry), giving it large for our monster chickens. And if you’re not sure or try to haggle without a sense of humour, then be prepared for an unexpected gourd and a fake beard made of goat hair. Whatever happens, you’ll be left with something better than a hand-painted plate.

Early Days

Early Days

September 4th saw children across the nation heading out of bed earlier than they had for months and boarding the school bus for the big first day.  Around here things were a little less formal.  I’m filtering our subjects in over the next two weeks, adding something extra each day and building up to what will be our regular schedule for the coming months.  There will be ‘days off’ for a myriad of reasons I’m sure, perhaps a trip out, a family day or sickness will throw us off track, but other than that we will be doing school each morning, four days a week.

This is the first time I’ve properly tried to integrate both boys into our learning.  Neirin isn’t going back to preschool this year so I’m balancing his needs with Huwyl’s 2nd grade curriculum.  They are both at really different points in their learning so I’m trying to take that into account as I plan activities and resources.

We began our first day in a bit of a muddle, the clean up from the honey was still evident, as were bowls of the amber liquid all over the kitchen counters.  The ‘school’ table was covered in art projects and I hadn’t uploaded some of our resources onto the i-pad as I’d planned.  But the joy of homeschooling is that you can simply say ‘ok this is going to take a bit longer, go play and I’ll call you when we’re ready’, I find the boys will usually comply with this instruction pretty happily.

It didn’t take too long to get it all sorted (with a bit of phone coaching from my much more tech savvy friend) and I was able to call us all to order.  We started, as I hope we will every day, with some movement.  Today it was yoga using our Yoga Pretzels cards; Huwyl chose two postures and we working on them for a little bit with Neirin joining in as and when he could.  Over time I know he’ll gain the patience to participate more fully, but for now I’m grateful that he shows any interest at all.  I’ll need to vary our activities over time, I’m intending to include Brain Gym movements too, supporting connections in the brain necessary for learning.  But for today we started small.

Then we moved to the table.  If I’m honest I’ve been dreading this part for a while.  The moment where we shift from our free floating summer to a ‘sit down and write’ activity that I really think we need right now.  But luckily I had a plan that I borrowed from a Ms Charlotte Mason and it worked very well.  Rather than focusing on the amount of work I just allotted 15 minutes for each activity before moving on to the next; short and sweet as they say.  This strategy works really well for Huwyl, it gives him a clear time frame that he knows is relatively short without having a ‘goal’ that creates anxiety and stress for him.  If I had said ‘do four pages’ I would have had push back and complaining, but instead the instruction is ‘do what you can’ in the time.  In fact he did about 5 pages!

Explode the Code 3 was our first table work of the day, I’m planning to work through this and the 4th book this year.  Huwyl honestly doesn’t really enjoy the work but it really has supported his reading and writing so I try and get it out of the way quickly.  Next we moved onto Writing With Ease which will be our writing programme for grade 2.  I really like the Peace Hill Press resources and the mix of copy work taken from literature and narration activities really mesh well with our Charlotte Mason influenced approach.  Huwyl raced through the lesson much more quickly than I thought but I resisted the temptation to push onto the next lesson and we stuck to our time limit.  I think you can see that the timer isn’t just for the student but the teacher too!

After that we went to Art History using the Harmony Arts Grade 2 programme.  I have it on the ipad so I am able to click directly on the links and go to the art works referred to in the plan.  Huwyl really enjoyed being able to zoom in on the pictures and look in a little more detail.  We talked about the pictures and what we noticed about them, he made some great observations and we looked at various pictures by Cimabue, a painter from the Byzantine era.  The paintings were religious in nature and Huwyl was really distressed to hear the sad story of the betrayal of Jesus by Judas and the resulting crucifixion.  He’s not been desensitized to the crucifixion images so we spent a bit of time talking about that and getting over the shock of such a horrible punishment being inflicted on another person.

This gave me a bit of a jolt because we’ve been reading historical stories about battles for quite some time.  I think it was the personal nature of the art, a face to the name, that made the experience more immediate.  I discussed the Christian stories a bit and why Jesus is seen as important to so many people, hopefully I’ve given him a good overall impression.  Perhaps we need to do a little religious studies module in the near future!

In the meantime Neirin pretty happily played with his playdough, making long snakes and cakes to cook in his play oven.  I’m planning on creating a little Neirincentric table that he can work at more easily and where I can place appropriate activities.  I was really pleased with his ability to play contentedly while we worked.  I’m sure this won’t always be the case and I do have activities planned for Neirin as he develops a little more, but for now his work is his own play and imagination.

 

When we finished I threw the boys outside for an hour before lunch after which they happily settled down to their own projects.  Huwyl went off to collect eggs and then had some Brainpop time, feeding his ever growing appetite for scientific and historical facts.  Neirin played for the best part of an hour with his bricks, a full tummy allowing his mind to focus happily.  He joined me for a bit of outside time and then returned to his own games, chowing down on home made smoothie lollies the whole while.

In the background classical music was playing, right now a mixed selection, but over time it will reflect the composers we’ll be reading about in our Harmony Arts programme. For a moment I paused and looked upon the scene every home school mother dreams of, the children happily occupied in educational recreation, classical music playing, dogs asleep on the floor.  Sigh.  Not all days will be like this, not all will go relatively smoothly or happily, but when they do it makes me very grateful that our version of back to school means that we don’t have to go very far.