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!


  1. In spite of the weather, you made the most of it! It looks like you all had such a good time. :^)

  2. Ughhh Just the thought of a bunch of strangers invading my home.... Kudos to you for doing it!
    And I envied your location and climate, but it's nice to know we don't need to deal with typhoons. But they are predicting the coldest winter in years with much snow. Heard that before, too.

    1. Actually, you know what's weird? We NEVER have typhoons! And it turned out way, way tamer than the weather man made it sound.

    2. Thank God for that!!
      So now I envy you with a clear conscience!

    3. Ha! (And maybe we'll find a way to ship you over here from Europe one of these days).

    4. Now wouldn't that be something.
      But I really doubt that being possible, given the current conditions.

  3. I knew it would turn out awesomely! Nice work. I would love to have participated but living out of state made it difficult....BUT, next summer I will be out that way sometime around labor day. Just thought I would throw my two cents at you in case you hadn't set any dates in stone! Do you consider the retreat family friendly? Jennifer

    1. Jennifer, we haven't set dates yet.
      We have been asked about doing a family retreat, where parents and kids come together, and we'll plan on offering that next year as well.
      In the retreat last weekend, we had a 12-year old girl who was very mature and awesome.
      If you sign up for the waiting list, we'll let you know the dates!

  4. You guys are troopers beyond recognition. All credit to the plucky homesteaders for doing this and to the participants who said damn the foul weather full speed ahead!

    1. Right? I'm so impressed by these people! Steve and I were convinced they would want to cancel, but they all showed up! Wow!

    2. That's great! Ya, what else ya gonna do in a storm? ;)

    3. Exactly! People were probably safer here than they were down valley and in Seattle!

  5. You must have done a great job, judging by all those smiling faces. I would love to have been there, but can enjoy vicariously through your blog. Glad the storm didn't spoil the proceedings.


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