Monday, January 31, 2011


My 5-year-olds are now 19, 13, 12 and 10, so it is wonderful to spend time with my niece, Ellie, who is the only true-blue 5-year-old in the family right now.

Every family should have a 5-year-old. They are fantastically imaginative and tell you like it is. In my humble opinion, Ellie is a remarkable thinker. And perhaps more imaginative than your run-of-the-mill 5-er.

Case in point:

Macy had a very loose tooth the other day. We were awaiting the inevitable loss of the tooth and throughout the day, Macy and Ellie were periodically wriggling the tooth to hasten its demise.

Well, late in the day, the anticipated event finally happened. The tooth was out. Macy was taking it around to each of us to make sure we fully appreciated that "this is the whitest, cleanest tooth I've ever lost!" (Macy is 12, her dental hygiene has improved dramatically over the past year or so.)

After we'd all properly admired the tooth (our family has its weird moments), we all went back to our respective activities. While in the kitchen, I heard Macy and Ellie discussing something in urgent undertones. Ellie's tone seemed particularly intent as she spoke quickly and fervently to Macy, gesticulating elaborately to make her point. I was intrigued but couldn't hear what they were discussing.

Moments later, I walked into the living room and found Ellie face down on the couch, wailing and sobbing in a manner that would make all 5-year-olds everywhere proud. Macy sat next to her on the couch and was lovingly rubbing Ellie's dramatically heaving back as she gently explained, "But, Ellie, the Tooth Fairy will know it isn't your tooth, and she can't give you money for someone else's tooth."

See, because Macy's 12, she doesn't get Tooth Fairy visits anymore, and she'd mentioned this to Ellie. Ellie figured since Macy wouldn't be using it....

Oh, it's rough being the littlest cousin, with older cousins losing teeth right and left, finding all kinds of loot under their pillows, and knowing that a perfectly good pearly white is going to go to waste when your own baby teeth are too little to be leaving your firm little gums anytime soon.

Sorry, Ellie, I suppose the best we can hope for is a tumble in the yard or an inadvertant door knob in the face to hasten along your first visit from the Tooth Fairy.

In the mean time, you just keep on being your fabulously creative, always-thinking-a-few-steps-ahead self.

Love from the farm,
Aunt Teri

Friday, January 21, 2011

Guess What I'm Up To....

I discovered this amazing place called "the public library" today and brought home all these goodies.

Wonder what I'm going to do this weekend? Oh, OK, I'll tell you.

I'm planning our garden: seed inventory, calendar for seed starts, layout, etc. In fact, I ran into a friend at Safeway today and let her know I am going to hit her dad up for some of his fantastic, black, rotting poo to spread over my garden. She said, "Well, git on it!" in her darling ranch-girl drawl. And I only realize now that it's a testament to us all being steeped in country life that she didn't for even a millisecond look startled that I was going to ask her dad to give me some of his, well, you know...she immediately knew I was talking about the black gold steer manure that sits in a huge pile behind his corral, and which I've visited before.

So, I'm planning my garden. And I'm also working on a menu that holds to the ideal of eating foods in season. I'm going to tell you more about this new adventure my sister, friend and I are undertaking soon related to healthier, clean eating and other lifestyle improvements.

It is soul-soothing for me to immerse myself in these kinds of projects, focused on the good and abundance. After a week of more hospital time for two of my kiddos and adding a heart condition to my kidney kid's kidney troubles, and trying to get to the bottom of a sweet girl's ongoing tummy issues, I'm not sure I could be more focused on clean, healthy, pure living.

I know we'll only be improving on a life we already love, and that's already pretty darn good, so only great things can come from this time of focus and planning.

By the way, I think I'll be spending MUCH more time in that lovely library - how have I gotten to this age without truly grasping how cool libraries are? I sense I'll be wearing the edges off my library card in no time.

Now, will it be rows again or raised beds this year? Or both.... How to improve my wildly inefficient watering system? Which heirloom varieties will I try this year? What color should my gardening boots be?!? Off I go!

Love from the farm,

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I Want, I Need...

I've been pretty good the past few years about separating the "I want's" from the "I need's." But, oh, blessed be, how I love it when an "I want" becomes an "I need"!

Let me explain:

Example #1: I want a new hair dryer, because my old one just isn't blowing as much as it used to. It still works though, therefore, I don't need one.

Example #2: I want new towels, but the old ones still dry us, so I don't need them. (Actually, I do. Our towels are tattered and torn and we don't have any 2 that are alike. It's embarrassing.)
OK, bad example.

But, to the exciting part: I want AND I need a pair of boots for working in the garden. I can't keep ruining cross trainers in the mud, and my heels don't recover from my flip-flop gardening till about mid-December. I definitely, unequivocally need gardening boots. Yippee!!

Now, I just have to choose....
I've been all about the owl thing that started last year, so these trendy little fellas are a possibility...

But then these pink wellies are darling....

Or, should I act my age and get these more classic red wellies? Which are also darling.

What do think?
Love from the farm,

Gertie Is A Manipulative Shrew

Just today as I was lugging a pressure canner of chicken to the camp stove outside I thought, "Hmmm, Gertie hasn't been up to the house in a few days. It's unusual not to see her out the front window more often."

So, it was with a touch, a touch, of delight that I saw her rotund little goat belly jostling its way past the door a few minutes later. She banged against the door a few times. "Ahh, that Gertie...," I chuckled, "There's my girl."

Now it's evening and I just went out to pull the last canner of the night off the outdoor stove and Gertie saw her opening. Taking advantage of my cumbersome burden, she sneaked in behind me and darted out of sight, and I was almost to the counter with the canner before I heard her telltale clip-clopping letting me know she'd made it in.

There she stood in the kitchen looking from me to the cereal cupboard expectantly. Expectantly! She knows the crunchy treats are kept in that cupboard and she had no intention of leaving until she'd scored some. Grumbling that I couldn't believe the indignity of bowing to a goat's demands just to get said goat out of my house, I grabbed a handful of Corn Chex and began the game: give her a Corn Chex (or Triscuit, or Melba Round, or potato chip...) and take 2 backwards steps toward the door, give her a treat, take two more steps, and continue till you lure her right out the door.

Well, we made it across the kitchen and the dining room and I had just butted the door open and stepped outside when I noticed her shift her weight, plant her feet and crane her outstretched lips just as far as she could towards the Corn Chex, not daring to lose her step and stumble forward. Sensing I was on to her, her eyes suddenly widened, her fur flew straight up down her back, and she turned and bolted for the kitchen.

I couldn't believe her gall.

Nor could I believe that I was reduced to walking back into the kitchen, scooping out another handful of Corn Chex, and starting the charade all over again. With no intention of being outsmarted again, I lunged for Gertie's collar and just managed to snag it although she'd already tried to duck away. I was (jerked about a few times) now fully in charge and drug Gertie skidding and grunting out the front door.

Seriously, what did I do to deserve that darn goat? And why do I love the silly little turd?

Gertie aside, I mentioned the pressure canner. Turns out, you can eke out 62 pints from 80 pounds of chicken, and that's mighty gratifying to see all lined up on the table. And the counters.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must say Lynda was not squeamish, rather she got right to trimming fat and stuffing the cold meat in the jars. And, to give her credit, if she hadn't convinced me to borrow a couple of additional canners and the aforementioned camp stove from a friend, we would have surely been at it all night. The prep part is fast - it's the processing for 75 minutes per batch that does make the project drag on.

So, the jar lids are plinking, the goat is outside and the fire is burning. All is right in our world.

Hope it is in yours, too.

Love from the farm,

Friday, January 14, 2011

Chicken In a Jar

If you're looking for me today, you'll find me canning 80 pounds of chicken breasts at our big farm table.

An Aside: When we lived in the suburbs of the Phoenix metropolitan area, calling it a "farm table" made all the sense in the world. Now that we live on a little farm, it kind of seems like calling it "Chinese food" in China - don't you think there they probably just call it "food"? Still, it's really long, it's made of wood and there's a bench. It really is a farm table, and for descriptive purposes I've opted to call it that. Just to be clear.

OK, back to the chicken. My sister and I will be canning the chicken today that we got through a bulk order with other community folks yesterday. I don't believe Lynda has canned chicken before; I'm rather looking forward to what I anticipate will be her squeamish reaction. Since she eschews so much of farm life, this should be fun. Of course, if I really wanted to trigger her gag reflex, I'd have her around to butcher our own chickens and prepare them for canning, which I promise you would be a much messier proposition than the clean, trimmed breasts we'll be handling today. Truth be told, I haven't yet had an un-squeamish reaction to butchering day, and we haven't technically had one here on the farm, so I guess my mockery of my sister may be a little hypocritical. Not that I'm going to let that stop me, mind you.

"Hello, Kettle, my name's Pot, and you're black."

In addition to the chicken canning, Adam will be shredding a 40-pound block of cheddar cheese that we'll put in gallon bags for freezing. We were able to get the cheese for about $2 a pound, and the chicken for somewhere around $1.50 per pound or less, so we couldn't pass up the chance to shore up our food supplies.

I was nervous about canned chicken, I'll admit, when my sister-in-law Kammy first mentioned it to me several years ago. Then I tried it and realized it's just like the canned chicken you buy in a store to use in salads and enchiladas and the like. I use ours for those purposes, plus for tostadas, chicken and dumplings, and really anything else I would put shredded chicken in. I can tell you it's a lot more flavorful and a lot less expensive than the store version, and it is the easiest thing that I've canned, so far.

Now excuse me, I need to go get the pressure canner and a bunch of pint jars out of the summer kitchen, then go in search of rings and lids for the jars. I already have my apron on, so really, I'm half-way ready already.

(Remember my promise to have more pictures? Well, ok, if you're going to get technical about it - any pictures? They're coming, soon, I promise. Again.)

Love from the farm,

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Seasonal Shame

If seasonal shame isn't a real term, it should be, because I have it.

I'm not sure I talked about my not so secret shame here last year, but I did mention it on Facebook a time or two. Or six.

It had to do with a certain tree from a certain holiday that didn't come down before the New Year, as it should have. Instead, it stood in the corner behind the front door until....June. Yes, June. It was June before our Christmas tree came down last year. I use the passive "came down" because I can't remember who it was that finally took it down. I just remember that it was June before the dusty, cobwebby thing was finally gone.

Truth be told, I kept forgetting the darn thing was still up. Ours is a small house and the tree corner was right next to the entryway to my bedroom, but I swear I would go days on end without actually seeing it. Then, I'd be sitting in a chair in the living room and look up and startle and think, "Oh my gosh, is that still up?" I don't know how it could be, but I managed to be genuinely surprised every time I saw that darn thing.

I had all kinds of advice from friends: decorate it for Easter, hang herbs on it to dry, hang family pictures on it, leave it up until next year. As I said, I don't remember who took it down, but down it did come in June.

This year, I almost didn't put a tree up because, frankly, I didn't miss the idea of a Christmas tree yet. It hadn't been that long since we'd had one, after all. Finally, about the second week of December, the kids badgered enough and we put up a tree. And, bless Adam's heart, he took it down the first week of January, saving me from months of dread and shame. Dread that someone would ask me and I would have to admit the tree was still up, dread that I would have to dust the ornaments again. And shame that what is a happy family tradition in millions of households around the world has become nothing short of an annual pathological upheaval for me. Seriously, who fixates on things such as this?

Luckily, as I said, Adam took down the tree so I dodged that whole looming scenario this year.

But here's the rub. I may have disentangled myself from Christmas decor drama, but I fear I'm stumbling headlong down the path towards an Easter debacle. And it all stems from this darling Easter garland I bought yesterday with the remnants of a birthday gift card. The garland is so precious, and I already tried out an arrangement on the dining room table and am fighting the urge to get my pretty little egg cups out of the cupboard and artfully dye some eggs to add to a centerpiece.

But, I won't do it. I won't. I'm going to sit on my hands until March and I WON'T put out Easter decorations yet, because that would be just...well, weird.

It would be really, really pretty though. And isn't pretty more important than appropriate? I mean it would be REALLY pretty. And it would get us even more in the mood for spring and gardening and new chicks and flowers, and all of that is good, right? Right?

I'm not sure I'll be able to wait until March.

It may be that my children will always be mildly confused about when holidays are supposed to be celebrated. Kind of like my friend who never learned how to tell time, so even as an accomplished, beautiful, intelligent PR dynamo, she still has to pause when she looks at her watch to figure out what time it is. I hope no one will snicker at my kids the way I snickered at my friend the first time she admitted her secret shame. I'm not certain, though, that my hope for a well-adjusted upbringing for my children will outweigh my desire to see that garland on my table.

Oh well, my kids'll have years to figure out the seasons. Tomorrow, I'm getting down the egg cups and ironing my Kelly-green table cloth. I'm going to do it.

Then, I'm not going to let anyone into my house for the next 2 months. And I will swear my children to secrecy. And it will all be fine.

The end.

Love from the farm,

Monday, January 10, 2011

I'm Thinking...

...about a few changes around here. Not only here at the little farm, but also HERE, on this little corner of the e-mosphere.

It was when I was pulling on a quilted denim jacket to take the kids to school this morning in our big red truck that I had another one of those moments when I realized how dramatically our life has changed over the past few years. And that I'm as comfortable in this new life as I am in this quilted jacket.

In our old life, I was dressed in "career clothes" most days - or I was making a mad dash to Macy's just before a meeting to buy new career clothes to frantically change into before a meeting. Because my life was so chaotic, I didn't think of these as "new" clothes so much as "clean" clothes, because I never seemed to get around to taking any of my other perfectly suitable clothes to the drycleaners. This is a very expensive form of wardrobe management that I do not recommend to others.

Most days, I was off to meetings and off-site offices, and could go days without seeing my four sweet kiddos. I'd leave before they awoke and get home long after they'd gone to bed - if I came home at all. I'm embarrassed to admit, I'd pull all-nighters sometimes because I was so unable to figure out a balance between a busy PR/marketing career and a young, growing, ever-changing family. I entrusted the care and raising of my children to my sweet husband and a fantastic nanny, and I squeezed in cherished moments where I could.

I also made myself good and sick, missed out on moments I'll never retrieve, likely left gaps in my children's experiences that only a mother could adequately fill, and was jealous of every moment I could eke out with my family. We were making a good living, but our life was out of control and we felt almost frantic to change it.

If life was a movie, then the rare moments when I was in my kitchen on a Sunday morning before church, donning my apron and pulling out the wheat grinder to make steaming loaves of homemade bread would have been a prime example of foreshadowing. You know, those little scenes in a book or movie that tip you off to a major plot line still to come?There was something magical about putting on that apron, and seeing my little ones' excitement as they'd peer into the noisy grinder, watching the wheat kernels rumble their way down the chute. I felt more like a mother at those moments than at any other. I felt grounded and like I was doing something right, though I didn't know why.

I've since discovered why.

It's because I was meant to live a simpler life. Don't get me wrong - I enjoyed the city and the good people who I dearly loved and worked with. I enjoyed my work, I was good at it. But, truth be told, I became less and less able to get it done well or dependably as the years went on. My life in the city and in a demanding but sometimes glamorous or intensely important career, slowly ground to a halt. I had known for years that I wasn't living the real life for me and my family, and eventually, I couldn't force the two opposing identites to keep going any longer.

Now, I wasn't thinking all of these things at the time - these are realizations I made as time has passed. At the time, I only knew things weren't whole or complete and that I was getting more ill, and we weren't reaping the rewards of all of our hard work. And if we didn't make a change soon, our family would suffer in sad, small, half-life ways.

So, things fell into place in odd little inspired ways and we took off to a rural setting. We live just outside the city limits on a back county road. We have nearly 3 acres of what used to be a larger homestead. We live in a hodge-podge home originally built in 1927, and it needs a LOT of work. The property has a weathered old barn that I find beautiful, beat up outbuildings and bays, and appliances dotting the landscape that span the decades that have passed since the house was built.

Since we've been here, our fortunes have changed. Our youngest boy fell dramatically ill with a kidney disease that knocked me out of the 9-to-5 world at about the same time the U.S. economy REALLY crashed in 2008, taking most of my clients with it. My husband left a great job that made use of his incredible skills for one that would offer the substantial health benefits we'd need to cover our son's medical requirements. We had already ripped up all of the old carpet in the house and were looking forward to digging in and turning this place into a beautiful little farmstead in the country when we found ourselves suddenly trying to get by on 1/5 of our previous income.

So, two years later, we still have a concrete slab (complete with a crack) in our front room, and plywood flooring in the living room, and few noticeable improvements to the property. (Although, we have made a very handsome chicken yard, if I do say so myself.) I chuckle when I think about the budget I drew up when we first bought this place. I included a monthly home improvement line item of $3,000, which we figured we'd easily accommodate at the time. Well, that was then, and this is now.

I love now.

I love that I've learned to be thrifty and frugal in ways I never imagined I could. I love that I am drawing on the example of cheerful hard work that my Grandma Potts modeled when I was a young girl working by her side. I love that I am making a home instead of visiting one in the wee hours. I love that I'm with my kids throughout the days and running a flute to the school when it was forgotten, and smoothing a brow when it needs smoothed, rather than calling a much-loved nanny to make sure she does it for me. I love that I can't wait for school to get out for summer, so I can soak up even more time with my kids.

We didn't anticipate our stars would change so dramatically when we made this move, but we are in exactly the right place to make the best of this new alignment and I'm grateful for our new circumstances.

After more than 2 years of adjusting, learning, paring down, doing without, humbling ourselves and being humbled, I think we're ready to begin building up again. Not moving up, but enhancing this place that we love, even in all its dilapidated glory.

Here is where we'll share what we're doing and the progress we're making. We're going to be working on many fronts: becoming expert gardeners, turning this house into a home, doing what we can to improve the health of family members, getting a better handle on the animal part of farming (the local coyote population will miss their fast-food offerings from our little farm), and making our property beautiful and abundant. I'll continue this thrifty and frugal lifestyle, continue to emphasize homemade, from-scratch cooking, expand my preserving and "putting by", and do what I can to promote buying local.

I'll tell tales of Pottsville and Gertie the Goat as we go along, I'm sure, because all of those experiences color the life we have here.

All this means I'll have to get busy with the camera, so you can expect more than just reams of words (do I hear a great big hallelujah?!?).

I love our life. I love that after more than 2 years of intense learning and concern and some sorrow over the sorry lot our sweet boy has been handed, I feel a weight lifted that signals we've learned how to embrace this new dynamic in our family and find joy not only in spite of it, but also because of it - for the wisdom and blessings and increased appreciation for small moments that has been part of this unexpected and cumbersome package.

I love the promise of spring and new birth and growth that refreshes the world and our senses, if we'll let it. I'm ready to let it and I know this place, and our family, is going continue to be renewed.

Now, I'm going to go figure out how to use our camera then we'll get going.

Love from the farm,

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Good Day, Bad Day

Good Day: Hubby comes home with $75 in Fry's grocery store gift cards. Weird little Christmas gift from the truck drivers that come through the propane storage facility where he works, but still a fun little freebie. (+75 pts)

Bad Day: Notice that someone scraped the bejingles out of the bottom of my Pampered Chef pot. Ruined. Senselessly, brutally ruined. (-150 pts)

Bad Day: Ok, Bad 6 Weeks of relapsed kidney disease. Worried about my little guy (don't tell him I called him that because he's 13 and cool. And don't you forget it.) And his ailing kidneys. And his weird colored skin and swelling parts. And sky high blood pressure. Bad, bad days. (-75,000 pts)

Good Day: Learn doctor is going to do biopsy to get some answers. (+25,000 pts)

Bad Day: Learn brave kid will most likely have to endure a 6-month course of chemotherapy (-50,000 pts)

Bad Day: Biopsy is cancelled (-10,000 pts).....

Good Day:....because boy has gone into REMISSION!! (+250,000 pts)

Good Day: Chemo is cancelled, too! (+100,000 pts)

Good Day: Hubby tells me to spend the Fry's $$ on long-desired Lodge Dutch Oven! (+150 pts)

Good Day: Close eyes and fantasize about nudging chopped onions and minced garlic and butter around in that beautiful red dutch oven. (+25 pts)

Bad Day: Realize you're driving the car in winter conditions with your eyes closed, fantasizing about a cooking pot. (-50 pts)

Good Day: Snap eyes open before husband and son catch you risking their lives. (+100 pts)

Good Day: Get son home, away from IV's, ports and infusions. (+500,000 pts)

Good Day: Prepare to make first batch of savory soup in Lodge Dutch Oven. (+250 pts)

Good Day: Hear all 4 kids in other rooms, bickering, laughing, snorting...blessed normalcy. (+100,000)

I'm not going to do the higher math, but I'm thinking the Good Days are the clear winner. Now, excuse me while I go press some garlic into a pot and get out my sturdy wooden spoon. I have soup to make and a family to feed.

Love from the farm,

(p.s. "pts" means "points", not "pints". Little embarrassed that you were confused, aren't you? Gotta stay sharp.)