Friday, January 31, 2014


Have you seen the movie "Lord of the Rings, or "The Hobbit"?  If you have, you know about Gollum, the creepy creature obsessed with a gold ring - "My precious!".  Our nine-year old son Lukas loves imitating him, and we think he nails it!  He has a gift with voices and should probably be encouraged to participate in theater plays - if only we had a children's theater within a reasonable driving distance.  Since this is not an option in our far away wilderness life, we have fun with his acting talent at home.  Here is a little impromptu video of Lukas' Gollum impersonation.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Bathing suits in January?

To all my readers on the snowy East Coast, or in the freezing Midwest, or anyplace with frigid temperatures: Please don't hate me.  We have enjoyed many, many days of sunshine, and what's even better, warmth.  For some of us (namely stubborn, hot headed pre-schoolers), it was hot enough to run around our south-facing backyard in a bathing suit.  Yes, I know it is January.

Here is my friend Sharon with her dog Shanti, and Eva in her bathing suit.
It is very strange to have such a mild January.  Visions of sowing seeds and getting the green house ready float in my head, but I know it's too early for almost everything vegetable related.  Winter WILL come again, I'm sure.  In two weeks, I will start my onions in four inch pots, germinate them in my house, and then transport them into the greenhouse by the end of February.
In the meantime, we are getting a lot of work done in the yard.  The pesky Alder trees have grown so tall that they are shading parts of my garden, so I convinced Steve to cut them down.  It's a family affair, this tree cutting business.  Steve does the dangerous and noisy work of actually felling the tree, and the kids and I clean up branches and gather fire wood.  The boys are working - not just "working".  We are finally getting some real work out of these guys - and they will get stronger every year.  My brain is cranking with "projects" for them.

These sunny, warmth filled days were not just all about work.  Plenty of play happened as well: walks to the river, kicking the soccer ball around the yard, stump shooting with bows and arrows.  Trying to get all our home schooling done feels like pulling teeth when the boys would rather be outside, and I don't blame them.  So we do math, go outside, work, play, and when we get cold go inside for some comfort food, do language arts, and a social science or science segment.  Or not.  Who cares?  The kids are learning science by spending time outside, yes?

A picnic by the creek.

Talking of comfort food:  I have gotten addicted to baking bread.  Not just any bread, but real European, old style bread you would pay a lot of money for at a bakery.  It's a special no-kneading technique, where you mix the flour, water and a little bit of yeast and let it sit for 18 hours.  Then it's baked in a dutch oven (or in my case a chicken brick from Sauk Mountain Pottery).  This bread tastes incredible and looks super fancy.  My family could eat a loaf a day.  I have to buy more chicken bricks to have an assembly line of bread going.

This is the book describing the technique.  It's a great read with lots of recipes.
Bread is rising, with the chicken brick in the background.
The chicken brick doesn't look particularly fancy, rather prehistoric in fact, but it bakes superior bread.
Fancy, yes?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


I was surrounded by a lot of it this week.
In the midst of homeschooling clutter on our kitchen table, I noticed beauty on my kitchen table. These mugs are from Sauk Mountain Pottery, acquired at their kiln opening last Saturday (read more on that below).

Then there was beauty on my bike ride towards Newhalem.  There is nothing like the enchanting color of the Skagit River.

And double beauty with the two pretty fairies helping me collect grass for the goats, my little daughter and her best friend.

Talking about beauty, how could I not mention my handsome husband and the gorgeous hand made wooden bows and arrows he makes himself?  And maybe the sweater I knit him ten years ago, worn so often that the edges are fraying.

Okay, now that you got in the mood for beauty, let me tell you about Sauk Mountain Pottery.  It's a little pottery shop in Rockport, 20 minutes West of us, owned and operated by our friends Steven and Nicola Murray.  We've been friends for many years, and Steven has made pottery for decades, but not until recently did I start getting obsessed with their beautiful clay wares.  Nicola wrote a book about their story ("How to Make a Pot in 14 Easy Lessons" - available here), when they first started falling in love.  She writes about the process of making pottery with a wood fired kiln, and the way she describes it makes it sound so very intriguing.  So we happily accepted their invitation to attend their kiln opening, which is the moment the kiln is first opened after a firing.  It's very exciting for both spectator and the potter, since it's always somewhat of a surprise how the glazes, colors and textures interact with each other.

Nicola looks happy with the results.  No wonder.  I drooled over every single piece.
Steven looks happy, too!
I was determined to purchase something for our household.  Every single piece Steven Murray took out of the kiln accelerated my heart rate, and my husband looked worried.  Knowing that we couldn't buy everything, we settled on two mugs - one for me, one for him.  Steven gave Kai and Lukas each their own mug as a present, since they "helped" him put things away as he took them out of the kiln.  Thank you, Steven and Nicola!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

So much love to go around

This week has overflowed with love, big time.  One thing happened, and I thought nothing else could top it, and then another thing happened, and my heart burst even more with love.
My sweet friend Emily asked me months ago to attend the birth of her third child.  Since I'm a natural birth junkie, and since I have adored Emily for years, I happily agreed.  On Monday morning, she went into labor.  What a well behaved baby, arriving on the due date, and conveniently starting labor in the morning!  When Emily called me to tell me that she was heading to the birth center in Mount Vernon, I jumped into the car and raced down there, breaking a few speed limits along the way.
What a dreamy day!  Her husband and daughter were there as well, and together, we wove a beautiful, sacred space for her to bring this child into the world.  It felt like such an honor to witness the birth and attend to my friend and her family.  It felt like a beautiful dance of being totally connected with her, while at the same time keeping her daughter comfortable and entertained, and her husband grounded.  They all did so well, giving each other love and support.  Oh, the joy of it!
I have given birth to all of my three children at home, feeling in my heart that a natural birth would be the gentlest way to transition from life in the womb to life outside of it.  So I knew exactly what Emily went through as she breathed through her contractions, and later, as she maneuvered through the intense transition stage just before pushing the baby out.  I held her hand and breathed with her, and it felt like we had become one.  What an amazing experience!!!
Ten or so years ago, I was privileged to attend another friend's natural birth as well, so I'm averaging a birth every two years!  Maybe I should become a doula?

My beautiful friends with their new baby.
The other amazing event this week was the Eagle Festival in my little tiny home town of Marblemount.  In January, many bald eagles congregate at our wild and scenic Skagit River.  We locals don't even look twice when we spot one of these huge birds of prey, but people from all over the world do.  People travel from far away to watch these majestic predators.  On the weekends, our little Highway 20 is crowded with vehicles and people with binoculars.  Eagle rafting trips take shivering people out on the river to give them a better view of eagles in their natural habitat.  The towns of Concrete, Rockport and Marblemount take turns hosting events on the weekends.  There are presentations, slide shows, flute players, Native American drummers, educational events, and so much more...

I sold my felted hats, handspun yarn and goat milk soaps in Concrete two weeks ago, and in Marblemount last weekend.  The stint in Concrete was disappointing because of the lack of people buying stuff, but it was still worth the effort, since I got to watch Sarvey Wildlife Center's birds of prey presentation.  They rehabilitate wild life, including raptors, and they do a lot of educational outreach to teach people about these birds.  My kids loved sitting in the first row and almost getting pooped on by a big bald eagle!

Saturday and Sunday at the Marblemount Community Hall was filled with visiting with friends, selling my wares, listening to my friend Andrea's beautiful poetry, accompanied by Peter Ali, an extraordinary flute player, watching a hilarious puppet show about environmental issues, dancing to live music, chasing my four year old daughter high on sugary brownies around the hall, shedding some tears over a Native American woman's ceremony, and so much more...
The energy in the building felt very powerful and sacred - everyone was giving stuff away, hugging, connecting, sharing deeply, being grateful.  I love my community.  I should never talk about moving ever again (when I'm in the throes of misery about the rotten weather and the lack of educational opportunities for my kids).  I love living close to these wild rivers dotted with bald eagles.  I love the fact that we never have to worry about not having any water to drink, since it is coming down from the sky in buckets.  I love the people we call friends, and even the larger community with its misfits and vietnam vets.  It's a rich, full life, this.

Eva in front of my booth, sitting on a sheep skin rug we bought from a vendor.
Andrea and Peter Ali.
My friend Christie orchestrating the puppet show.
Christie is not flipping off my kids there, but rather is teaching them a trick about remembering the names of salmon by naming the fingers.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Sausage making - meat rich into the New Year

Our dear pigs (bless their hearts) gave us 700 pounds of hanging weight meat.  After dividing it up between us neighbors, we now have a freezer full of pork.  We had no experience with sausage making, but from the minute we welcomed our three little piggies, we knew that we wanted to make sausage this year.
And when Steve got a deer this season (with his own hand made bow and arrow), the abundance of meat put some pressure on the sausage making adventure.  So we borrowed a meat grinder and sausage stuffer from a friend, read up on the subject and gathered our courage, and our ingredients:  venison, pork, and spices.
I have to admit, I was very nervous about using venison to mix with our precious pork.  Venison can acquire a gamey, rancid taste.  It can also be tough if it's prepared wrong.  Plus, I knew Steve was proud of having hunted this deer (I am proud of him, too), but I was reminded of years past, when Steve insisted on cooking up things he shot.  I won't tell you about the dead squirrel in the fridge, lifting his hands and feet up to me frozen in rigor mortis.  It did get eaten (not by me).  Then there was the grouse he had hunted with his bow and arrow, and not knowing how to properly cook the meat, it was tough as leather.  Steve bravely chewed and chewed, instructing me to take tiny bites in order to manage the swallowing part that goes along with eating.
So you can imagine my hesitancy regarding the deer.  But Steve has learned a lot in the past years, so he spent three hours the morning of our sausage making saga and cut off fat, sinew and silver skin, while the pork defrosted by the wood stove.

Yes, it's gross.  No, I didn't help with this part.  I found more urgent things to do, like home schooling the kids at the kitchen table.
Yes, I should have cleaned the dust bunnies under my wood stove before taking these photos.  But I had more urgent things to do, like avoiding helping Steve to cut up the venison.
After preparing and cutting the venison into one inch cubes, we slightly froze them so they would be easier to grind.  As we were waiting for them to chill in the freezer, we got the meat grinder and all the other stuff set up and actually read the instruction manual.  We bought ready made spices, since this was our first time making sausage, and we wanted things to be as simple as possible.  We chose four flavors: Sweet Italian, Maple Breakfast, Kielbasa, Polish.  We also got a separate mix to make Jerky.
We ground 15 pounds of venison, to be mixed with 15 pound of already ground pork.  First, it went through a course grind, then through a finer one.  This was a family affair.  I made everyone wash their hands first, of course, what with all the nose picking going on in our house.

The courser grind is in the back bowl, the finer in the front.

I mixed in the spices, all the while fretting, "What if the venison gives it a bad flavor?  We shouldn't have mixed it half and half, we should have just made straight pork sausages."  But that's just my anxiety talking.  Steve stayed cool and suggested to fry up a little pattie before we stuffed it into sausages, just to make sure we like it.  We fried up a little, while I fretted.  Steve took the first bite.  I watched as his eyes widened.  I watched the boys as their eyes widened.  Then I took a bite, and afterwards let out a scream.  It was GOOD.  It was better than good.  I don't think I have ever eaten any better tasting sausage.  I mean it.

So now that we got the go-ahead on the flavor and texture test, the time came to stuff sausage.
Let me tell you something.  Steve and I sniggered through the whole thing.  The sausage casings you stuff the meat into look like... certain contraceptive devices.  And the sausage stuffer attachment looks like the... body part you put the... certain contraceptive device on.  For some reason, we had a hard time getting the casings onto the stuffer (not because we laughed so hard, but because I think the casings were too small).  So it was quite an ordeal, and after the first merry novelty wore off, it was plain tedious, annoying, and time consuming.
Feeding the meat through the condoms sausage casings is quite tricky at first.  If you go too fast, the sausages will be wimpy and limp.  If you go too slow, the sausages get too fat and will break when you twist the sausages into links.  It's a learning curve, but I can see how this could be fun if the casings don't fight you like they did us.
We poured our first beer half way through this process.  After all, what is a good sausage without a good beer?

The spaghetti looking things are casings that have to soak in warm water.  They look harmless in that form.  Until you shove them onto the penis sausage stuffer.

When we got tired of stuffing sausage, we just mixed our meat with the spices and froze them as patties.  Our freezer is now stocked with vacuum packed sausages and patties.
Steve made venison jerky that's out of this world.  He seasoned the ground venison (no pork) with barbeque flavorings (no MSG, or course) and the recommended curing salt.  He rolled it out 1/8 inch thick on a cookie sheet with parchment paper and dried it in the oven at 200 degrees with the door cracked open.  It took about two hours to dry.  Then he cut it in strips.  It's not gonna last long.  The kids love it.
Can you guess what I made for dinner that night?

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