Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The typhoon didn't stop us! A homesteading and wilderness retreat to remember.

After months of planning and preparing for our homesteading and wilderness retreat at our farm, a minor little detail threatened it:

A typhoon.

Remnants of it were forecast to rip their way through a part of our state, causing widespread storm damage and power outages.

Not a very promising start for our event, especially since we lost power 17 hours before the retreat was scheduled to start.

Given the fact that meteorologists love the drama of weather and thus love to blow it out of proportion (pun intended), and considering that there was a 1 in 3 chance of the storm hitting us, we decided to persist and not cancel our retreat.

We would, after all, be teaching homesteading and wilderness skills, and what better context to do this than teaching cheesemaking by candle light and primitive fire and shelter building in a windy downpour?

The ten participants that had signed up were game, too, bless their hearts.  So they arrived at 10 am on Saturday, in the middle of torrential rain, without electricity but plenty of oil lamps and a warm fire in the wood stove to welcome them.

In our opening circle in the living room we soon realized that this was a very special diverse group of people, joining us from all walks of life.  

Two more people joined us for the cheese making course portion, and so ten of us started making cheese in the cozy kitchen, while Steve took three more participants outside to show them the basics of wilderness survival.

We merrily made cheese and stuffed ourselves with three different kinds of my Chevre, Gouda, Cabra al Vino, and Cheddar cheeses.  

Three hours later, a new wheel of Gouda safely tucked into the cheese press, the electricity came on just as I started teaching how to make goat milk soap.

I have to be honest: I was very, very relieved.  People had been good sports about using the outhouse, or having to flush the indoor toilet with buckets of water scooped from the creek (our water pump doesn't work in a power outage), but I was worrying about doing dishes later on.  Yes, we have a wood stove for warming the dish water, but it would have complicated things.

So onward we moved, infusing the house with the scent of essential oils of rosemary, peppermint, orange and cinnamon, playing with calendula pedals, stirring goat milk, oils and lye.

While we stirred up magic in the warm, steamy kitchen, Steve taught more wilderness skills outside.  

In anticipation of the storm and the workload, I had pre-cooked lots of food, and right after soap making, while our participants relaxed in the living room, I enlisted my sons to help with preparing dinner.

Here's what we dished up:

Homemade lasagne with chevre goat cheese, a huge organic salad with olives and artichoke hearts, fresh salmon (my guys had caught 150 pounds of salmon in Alaska a month ago), homemade sauerkraut with chicken sausages and potatoes, gluten free sweet potato cake with whipping cream, white and red wine, hard apple cider and freshly pressed sweet apple juice.

Not bad, if I do say so myself.

In fact, one of the ladies told me it was the best lasagne she had ever eaten in her whole life.

14 of us had a wonderful time chatting in the living room and around the kitchen table, connecting with like-minded people, laughing and telling stories.  Originally we had planned to do this outside at a roaring campfire, but when a typhoon shows up, you gladly stay indoors.

We also had planned on people sleeping outside, in the tipi, the fort, or camping, but considering the nasty weather, we decided to open up our house.  People dispersed into various spare bedrooms, and our amazing, amazing neighbor volunteered two bedrooms in his beautiful house, which was beyond helpful, since we had a pregnant lady who wouldn't have minded camping, but was happy about sleeping in a comfy bed.

The next day, we started out at the kitchen table yet again, drinking coffee, and soon marching to the pig pasture, where our 12-year old son demonstrated how to properly play games of tag with six large pigs.

Then off into the goat barn to teach people how to milk.  I wish I could keep these folks to help me with milking every day.  They could live in the hay loft, drink all the milk and eat all the cheese they would want.  No?  Okay, then.

Yes, apparently you need two hands to milk a goat.
After milking, we all headed into the warm kitchen to gorge on breakfast (homemade spinach-mushroom quiche with farm-fresh eggs and my caraway gouda cheese, goat milk with granola, fruit salad, toast and strawberry jam).

Then we split up again: some people went to Steve's shop to learn how to make a traditional wooden bow, and some people headed to the barn to learn how to raise goats naturally.

Apart from the fact that the pesky goats kept jumping on the participants, made a show of butting heads and tried to eat my notes, it was great fun.

People even got to try their hands at trimming hooves.

It's a good thing I made movies about how to disbud goat horns, and also filmed when my goat gave birth in the spring, so that people really got all the information they needed to raise goats.  I bet they didn't expect to stare at a goat's rear end while she pushes out three babies. It's a graphic thing, that, but really good to know what to expect when you have to be a goat midwife.

While my group learned about interesting things like goat sex, castration and goats munching on their placenta, the other folks were busy making bows.

While they worked with wood and later shot their bows in an archery lesson, I taught the homesteaders how to make sauerkraut, and then how to can the sauerkraut I had made two weeks ago.

They got a workout pounding sauerkraut in the steamy kitchen!

After these two action-packed days of learning, we felt like we had known each other for a while.  Our students went home with their own bows, jars of sauerkraut, and I will send the soap they made when it's ready and cured in a month.

We definitely needed a group picture - first only the bow makers showing off their works of art, and then all of us.  Too bad we didn't get our two sons in the picture, since they helped a lot, either by fetching things, doing dishes, co-teaching, or simply by staying out of the way.  I'm proud of these guys.

We will definitely host and teach this retreat again next year.  There won't be typhoons threatening then, but it will be summer.  We'll be outside more, and it won't be wet and cold.

But despite all that, it was awesome, it really was.  

Steve and I love teaching, inspiring and empowering people.  We make a good team.  We love meeting people who want to learn, improve their lives, people who are eager to be more self-sufficient.

Yes, it was a lot of work.  Yes, we started our days at 6 am and fell into bed after the final dishes were done, and yes, we had to be ON and firing on all cylinders all this time, but it was worth it.

People learned a lot, made new friends, left smiling widely.

This is the life.

PS: If you want to sign up for next year's waiting list, please do so here!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

On turning 12, a 9 pound salmon, and 15 gallons worth of apple cider

This guy turned 12.  Luke, my middle child, fishing-obsessed, drumming-and-electric-guitar playing son who almost died when he was five.  I wrote about his terrifying bout with Kawasaki disease here, in case you want to know what happened.

Despite (or maybe because?) of his near-death experience, he is one of the most athletic kids I know, running through the woods with complicated parkour moves, backflips, twists and turns, doing pull-ups and push-ups daily (he keeps a tally sheet), sprinting after the football when he plays with his pals.

For his birthday, I made a complicated sour cream coffee cake - the same cake that every single one of my children requests at their birthday.  Eva "helped" to make it.

For his birthday, the whole family went fishing.  The Silvers are in the river now.  Two days before that, the kids and I went fishing as well, and I didn't expect to catch a fish myself but was happy to just throw in the line while taking some nice deep breaths, admiring the scenery around me and enjoying the company of the kids.

So when my line tugged taut and I realized that I was not snagged but actually had a fish on the line, I panicked and yelled for Luke, who expertly coached me on how to reel this thing in.

He scooped the fish out in a net for me, and as soon as we had it on shore, Luke started screaming because it was so big.  Turns out I caught a 9.1 pound Silver Salmon.  My first one ever - and I have bragging rights, don't you think?

Sure, it's a little on the red side, but the meat was firm and bright pink and delicious.  I made salmon stew with it, and everyone raved about it.

Luke cleaned up and filleted the fish for me, since I don't know how to do it.

What with all the fishing and birthday celebration, you might wonder if we get anything done.

Oh yes.

Our homesteading and wilderness weekend retreat is officially FULL, and there is a waiting list for next year.  We are busy planning and cleaning and shopping and preparing for the weekend and are really, really excited about our house, homestead and shop bustling with people.

There's still lots of homestead-y stuff to do around here. 

Making sauerkraut, harvesting veggies from the garden...

At a cider-pressing party with the neighbors, we pressed 15 gallons worth of apple cider.

In celebration of Luke, I'll leave you with images of a run in the neighborhood he and Steve went on a couple of weeks ago.  Yes, this is our neighborhood.

Happy birthday, Luke.  I'm so glad you are alive and well.

And how are you celebrating fall, dear reader?

Sunday, October 2, 2016

September highlights at Marblemount Homestead - a short movie clip compilation

September was a marvelous month, filled with harvesting food from our homestead and adventuring in the beautiful outdoors.  I have some pretty awesome footage in my short highlights-of-the-month movie, where I feature a few minutes of some of the most special moments.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

I'm not judging you

The kids in the water, in the middle of a week-day when they should be at school?

These are my boys and their best friend. What you have to know about this picture is that the water is very, very cold, and that one of the kids is holding a Go-Pro camera, shivering, edging his way to the middle of the river, where giants shadows rest on the river bottom.

The shadows are Silver Salmon.

The reason the kids are braving the glacial water at the end of September with an underwater camera in their cold hand is because they want to film these salmon.

Problem is, the salmon dart away as soon as they sense splashing water from approaching humans, thus the kids didn't get any salmon footage.

So they moved on to building a mud slide, sledding on their bellies head-first down the slick, dark river mud.

They could have been sitting in school all day, but they're homeschooled, so they get to chase salmon and play in mud instead.

Please let me get one thing straight:

I'm not judging you if you don't homeschool.  It breaks my heart to think some people might feel judged by the pictures I share on social media.  This DID happen a couple of weeks ago when I posted the picture below, and someone asked, "You are not judging me, are you?"

Of course I'm not!

I'm sharing our journey, and homeschooling happens to be a big part of it.  But is homeschooling for everyone?  

God, no!

Every family is different, and many parents are not willing or able to homeschool.  Many kids want to BE in school.  Mine don't, and I'm glad.

Homeschooling is a huge deal, and although I'm showing you highlights of the best things in our life, it's really NOT a big, huge party and filled with adventures all the time.  Yes, there's lots of joy, and yes, there are many adventures, but there is also plenty of stress, pissed-off-ness, pull-our-teeth-out, boredom, drudgery, and never-ending chores.

Got it?  I'm not judging you.  Period.

Moving right along.

Things are busy.  There's so much to do, and the laundry is stacking up while I prepare our homesteading/wilderness retreat weekend.  There are still spots available, but we have ads coming out October 1st, so things may fill up fast.  If you want in on the action, do it NOW!

I have to make a conscious choice to relax and give myself breaks.  When the work is never done, and when you homeschool, you don't get much chill time.  That's why knitting is my mental health medicine.  Here I am working on a wool sweater for winter, and farther down is the cardigan I made during the summer.  Hurray for knitting (and chocolate) to help me stay sane!

Talking of busy: I've been making lots of goat milk soap, because, oh my!  These goats produce a lot of milk!  I absolutely love these soaps and have fallen in love with some of the molds out there to produce extra-special bars.
(I teach soap making at our weekend retreat, by the way).

Ever since I started using my own goat milk soaps, I don't have to use lotion on my skin any more.  My soap is super moisturizing, creamy and luscious, if I say so myself.  

I sell my soaps in my online Etsy store if you want some.

This post is already getting long, but I have to tell you about two more things:

Cider pressing!  Our neighbors' family made a really cool cider press and brought it up to try it out, knowing there were plenty of apples in our 'hood.  We picked some off our trees and headed over there, kids and dog in tow.  This homemade press cranked out some pretty awesome apple juice!

The other thing: a mother-and-son (and dog) hiking trip that will go down in history.  It's a trail called Cow Heaven that's only a five-minute drive from our house, but we've never done it.


Because it's grueling.  Ten miles and 4,000 feet elevation gain, through some pretty magical forest, but without any views, until you finally, finally emerge into the open into meadows of blueberry fields with gorgeous views.

On the way up, already tired and sick of hiking, we managed to stir up a wasp or hornet nest on the ground.  I got stung in the knee and calf, and Raka the dog got stung on her snout, which we realized only until we were on the top.

It hurt.  A lot.  Both my legs kept swelling, but I didn't have any medicine or plants (like plantain) on hand.  At the top, I remembered that ferns can draw poison out, so I crushed up some and put them on the stings.  That's when we saw swollen Raka's lip.  One of my friend's dogs had to visit the vet ER after being stung by wasps, so I got scared.  

Remembering a wilderness emergency course I took years ago, I recalled the magic of urine.  Yes, I'm talking about pee.  So we all got down to business.  We had consumed a lot of liquids on the way up, so business was booming, if you know what I mean.  I medicated my own stings with the magic potion, and it helped.

The boys peed in a bottle (which elicited an enormous amount of hilarity) and when that was done we poured it over the dog's snout, which elicited more hilarity.  I will spare you the details, but know this: her swelling went down.


I look tired and sad. My wasp stings hurt. Hurt. Hurt. Hurt.