Sanctuary

I didn’t see the house or The Farm again for three years.  I got married and moved to Seattle where my husband and I had both been accepted to graduate school.   During weekly phone conversations, Mom told me about the plans they had for The Farm.  Dad bought a small tractor and they put in a garden.  They built an outhouse and started going to auctions and farm sales where they found a wood cook stove.  She sent me pictures:  an apple pie that was a mouth-watering brown on one side and totally charred on the other; a table set for two with a plate of unburned biscuits (her wood stove skills were improving) and a bowl of wild strawberries picked from the field behind the house; the house buried in snow drifts; the upstairs bedroom with the chamber pot beside the bed.  My parents bought books about raising livestock and talked about living there full time.

Mom and Dad had always dreamed of living off the land.  They bought the complete set of the Foxfire books and subscribed to Mother Earth News, the instruction manuals for the 60s and 70s back to the land movement.  They installed a woodstove in the basement of our house in Franklin and grew a garden in the back yard.  My mother canned tomatoes and pickles every summer, and we made apple sauce and cider from the apples that fell from the trees in our yard.  One spring we tapped the maple trees along the driveway and made syrup over an open fire.  That adventure wasn’t so successful–the syrup tasted like smoke.  My parents were thrilled to have acreage at last.

All of this made me achingly homesick.  I loved living in Seattle with the bookstores and movie theaters and coffee shops, but I couldn’t shake the images of The Farm.   My marriage didn’t last and seeking solace, I decided to fly home to Pennsylvania for a few weeks in the summer of 1983.  Seeing friends and family was great, but I needed to go somewhere comforting where I could be alone.  I borrowed my parents’ white boat of a station wagon and stopped and bought coffee and a few staples on the way to the Farm.  I pulled into the driveway, got out of the car with my backpack and groceries, and unlocked the padlock on the door.  Someone had written on the peeling, white paint above, “No rabbits—Mike.”

I carried the bags in and set them on the kitchen table.  The room was painted white with brown trim.  There were no counters or cupboards, but there was a porcelain sink with a pitcher pump and a wooden hutch on the opposite wall just to the left of the door.  The only light fixture in the room turned on and off with a pull chain and was located above a 1940s Hotpoint electric range complete with a soup well.

The tiny, two-bedroom house was cozy and welcoming, and I felt that I belonged there even though I’d never been inside before. I left my bags in the kitchen and opened the wooden door that lead into the living room.  This was a dark and gloomy space with two windows in the south wall that opened onto what was once a porch but was now enclosed to form another room.  The west wall of the living room was covered in dark-stained barn board; the wall opposite was covered with cedar shakes and the remaining walls had a rust-colored wall paper with a small design of trees and what looked like a Japanese temple in white.  The woodwork was painted the color of spicy brown mustard.  The living room had an overstuffed couch of a color not seen in nature—a kind of tannish mauve– and a couple of squishy armchairs.  The room that used to be a porch was painted white and all that was in it was the large, cabinet stereo I remembered from my parents’ house when I was a child.  So the décor was basically early American garage sale.

I continued up the stairs.  The two bedrooms were painted yellow with institutional green trim.  Uncle Cecil had worked for the railroad and he brought home odd and ends to use at The Farm:  the last bit of paint in a can, some old light switches, an assortment of used nails and screws.  Plaster was peeling off the walls in places.  There was no hallway and no bedroom doors, but each room had a window and the space was light and cheerful.  The room at the top of the stairs had two single beds and in the back room stood a metal bed painted brown, as well as a small table with a lamp and a black and white TV.  My mother said that when she and my dad were shown around the place by a neighbor, there had been a lovely, old wooden chest of drawers in the back bedroom.  On their first trip to The Farm after they bought it, the dresser was gone.

The only space left to explore was the basement.  There was no door at the top of the cement stairs, which descended from the enclosed side porch, but there was a door at the bottom.  A small, metal sign above the doorway said “Dressing Room No. 7.”  Another railroad left over?  Uncle Cecil’s sense of humor?  No one knows anymore.  The basement had three rooms.  According to family legend, when it was first built, the house had no basement.  At some point, the house was jacked up and a basement was dug out, forms put in, and concrete walls and floor poured.  The house also had no plumbing, so no bathroom,  but there was a toilet immediately to the right of the stairs in the main room of the basement. There were no walls around it; no attempts at privacy.  It was flushed by pouring a bucket of water into it.

Pittsburgh Potty

For many years, I assumed the exposed basement toilet was an aberration exclusive to my family, they are apparently common in older homes in Pittsburgh, and even known as “Pittsburgh Potties.”  The city model is hooked up to running water, however; and I think it makes the appearance of a basement potty in a house without plumbing even more bizarre.  Why wouldn’t you simply build an outhouse? (Photo is not of the actual basement toilet, but pretty close. Image from @theinclinepgh on Twitter.)

By the time I was finished poking around the basement, I was tired and it was getting dark, so I decided to go to bed.  I couldn’t get anything to come in on the television, no matter how much I messed with the rabbit ears, so I read until I fell asleep.  This took longer than usual.  After living in towns and cities for so long, I expected nights in the country to be dark and silent, and although they were dark, they were anything but silent.  The crickets chirped all night and when the crickets started to wind down around five a.m., the birds were just getting warmed up.

I don’t remember what I actually did for the rest of that weekend, reading and going for walks, would be my guess, but I do know that just being there made me feel safe and strong and my depression retreated.  I was able to fly back to Seattle feeling renewed.  I decided to return to The Farm as soon as I was finished with graduate school, but then I met Henrik Nordstrom.  Henrik was Finnish and very exotic to someone who grew up on the outskirts of a small town.  He was smart and funny and despite growing up in Helsinki, his dream was to get land in the country and become “self-sufficient.”  We read everything we could find about gardening and raising animals, and after we got married and bought a small house in the Ballard neighborhood, we dug up the front and back yards to plant vegetables much to the horror of our neighbors who all had closely cropped grass and camellia bushes.

We spent weekends driving around the countryside looking for land.  In the 1980s, undeveloped property within two hours of Seattle was running about $10,000 an acre, while I knew that an acre in northwestern Pennsylvania was $500 to $1,000.  We fell in love with two acres on Vashon Island, but the soil test came back positive for copper, lead, and cadmium, most likely from the smelter south of the island in Tacoma.

It was at about that time when my parents announced they were selling The Farm. Their dream of living off the land had degenerated during six years of ownership into mowing the grass every few weeks and it had become too much for them.  I couldn’t let them sell it to someone else.  Henrik was reluctant, but I convinced him to move east.  And then I found out I was pregnant.

 

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Hearth and Home

I’m never sure what to call this place where I live. A farm, a farmette, a hobby venture? I’ve been here almost 30 years and I’ve never come up with a description or name that was an exact fit. My family called it The Farm. My friends often refer to it as Maggie’s Farm, although that one’s clearly been taken. Mr. Badger dubbed it Snow Water Farm from the local name Conneaut, which is reported to mean very cold water. Whatever you call it, what I do know is that on an August afternoon in 1982, this land claimed me and I will belong to it until I die.

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The farm house when my parents purchased the property in 1982.

We were on our way to the mall that day when my mother decided to stop and show me some property my parents had just purchased from Dad’s Uncle Cecil’s estate.  My parents bought The Farm,  located in Crawford County, Pennsylvania on  May 10, 1982.  It wasn’t really a farm; it was thirty-three acres, twenty open and thirteen wooded, with a small, sway-backed house, several outbuildings that were home to litters of groundhog pups, and assorted apple, pear, peach, and cherry trees.  My dad remembered picnics and family reunions there with his parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  It belonged to my father’s uncle and aunt, Marcella and Cecil Schumacher, or as I knew them, Aunt Sallie and Uncle Cecil.

As we pulled in the driveway that afternoon, my mother promised we wouldn’t stay long.  She just wanted me to see the place.  Feeling put upon, I opened the car door and went to get out, and as my foot made contact with the grass in the driveway, I felt what I thought was an electric current shoot up my leg.  I pulled my foot back into the car.  I thought for a moment that I had actually been shocked somehow.  Mom didn’t notice.  She was already out of the car and standing in the back yard talking about apple and pear trees and where they were going to put the garden.   “It looks really nice,” I said through the open car window, “but we need to get going.”

I didn’t know that what I had felt was energy; I wouldn’t learn about grounding or energy flow for another ten years, but I felt it just the same.   This land and I forged a bond that day, and though I’ve tried to break it off a couple of times, it’s been my longest-running personal relationship. It has seen me through the heart break of miscarriages and the joy of births, two and four-legged.  It has thrown up road blocks and then steered me in the right direction.  It has sustained me and healed the depression that dominated my young adult life.  Living here has been endlessly fascinating, frustrating, and humbling.  This land has saved my life.

Seeing Red

16650273_10203018475378520_631000387_nI was working the phones in the eastern Crawford County Democratic Headquarters on Election Day 2008 making last minute, get-out-the-vote calls and arranging rides to the polls. Around mid-day, I walked down the street to the Quality Market to get some food. I was wandering around the produce section when I overheard two elderly women talking. The first one greeted the other and asked how she was. “Oh, I’m so frightened,” the second woman said. The first one looked concerned and asked her why she was afraid. “I’m afraid of the dark one,” she said. “What will become of us if the dark one wins?” The first woman patted her friend’s arm and reassured her that everything would be fine. I purchased my lunch and walked back to the headquarters, but I was in shock. I couldn’t get my head around someone being afraid of Barack Obama.

Fast forward eight years to Election Day 2016. The people in this area vote in the local township building, a metal structure that is mostly a large garage with a small office attached. In all the previous elections I’ve voted in since moving here in 1989, the experience has consisted of going into the office, signing your name in the book and going to one of three or four voting booths. There is rarely a line at 10 a.m. because most people are at work at this time. This year was different. The line went into the garage and snaked all along the walls before entering the office. There were hundreds of people in line by the time I got there. As you would expect, most of them looked to be, like myself, over fifty. There were probably twenty to thirty people ahead of me who hadn’t even reached the door yet. I pulled out my phone and started reading a book.

Then my attention was caught by a woman two or three people in front of me. She turned to the person next to her and said in a voice quivering with fear, “She’s a Mooslim, you know.” Her companion looked startled.

“What?”

“She’s a Mooslim.”

“I’m pretty sure she’s a Methodist,” the companion said.

“She was raised Methodist, but then she became a witch, and now she’s a Mooslim. Her girlfriend is one, too.”

I looked around to see how the crowd was taking this. A few people snickered quietly and some others looked at her wide-eyed, but there were some who were nodding their heads. This woman looked to be in her mid to late seventies, like my mother, and she was clearly terrified of what this modern-day Medusa would do if she got into office. I went back to my book, again unable to comprehend how our world views could be so completely different.

You know what happened next. Thousands of my fellow Pennsylvanians helped give Donald Trump the electoral votes he needed to win the White House, and we are still dissecting the results. Did these people feel that the government had ignored them for long enough and they decided to get to the polls to voice their displeasure? I’m sure some of them did. Were many of them life-long Republicans who had decided to hold their collective noses and vote for Trump even if they found him personally repugnant? I know many of those. But many of them voted for Trump out of fear.

They were actually afraid of and threatened by Hillary Clinton, and keeping this monster out of the White House became a passion with them. This was not simply a case of a difference of political opinion. In their eyes, Clinton truly was a monster. They had been conditioned to believe outrageous and horrible things about a woman who had made a career out of standing up for the rights of children and people who couldn’t afford medical care, who had worked for equality for women and to improve life for families. They swallowed whole the fake news reports that Clinton had ordered people to be killed, that she was running a child sex ring out of a pizza restaurant in D.C., and that she and some Jewish bankers were using a private e-mail server to plot world domination.

I don’t know what we can do about this societal brainwashing, but I see it happening again. For the last thirty-six hours, my Facebook newsfeed has been full of photos, memes and cartoons with the hashtag #Nevertheless, she persisted. The GOP is demonizing Senator Elizabeth Warren just like they did Barack Obama, but especially Hillary Clinton. They can see that Warren is an intelligent, talented, powerful woman who is not afraid to speak out or to challenge the Republicans and their CEO who thinks he is king. We need to keep our eyes open and remember their actions, so that we may spread the truth and oppose them when we hear their lies. In four years, I hope there will be a crowd of little old ladies in pink pussyhats standing in line to kick out Trump (or possibly Pence, by that time) and finally shatter that glass ceiling.

 

Country Cottage Journal ~Truth and Lies

Storing Seeds

The summer garden is in. Days and weeks of digging beds and barrowing compost are over, and daily tasks shift to weeding and watering. It is time to store seeds.

I often have seeds left over after I plant what I want. If stored properly, most seeds will be viable for three to ten years, depending upon the variety. Sweet corn, beets, carrots and onions are infamous for their refusal to germinate after the first year, but tomatoes, peppers, beans, squash, cucumbers, and brassicas are more cooperative if stored in the right conditions.

After I have planted the garden, I tuck the packets with the unused seeds into small, plastic, ziplock bags, and write the name of the seed on the bag. It’s a good idea to add the date, too. I put the bags into a plastic shoe box with a tightly-fitting lid and stash it in a corner of the freezer. Yes, the freezer!

Store seeds in the freezer for future use.

Store seeds in the freezer for future use.

Seeds germinate when they encounter moisture and warmth, and the freezer is dry and cold. When you are ready to plant again in the spring, take the seeds out of the plastic bags and let them come up to room temperature. Condensation is not a good thing!

If you go to all the trouble to grow heirloom, open-pollinated varieties so that you can save your own seeds, make sure to store them properly so that you can enjoy a good harvest for many years.
 

Time to Make the Sausage

When the weather forecasts started to predict snow and below freezing temperatures for last week, I knew I would be spending some quality time with the grinder. We raise a couple of hogs for the freezer every year and butcher them when the weather turns cold. The first day is taken up with killing, dragging, gutting and hanging, and the second with cutting and wrapping the chops, roasts and ribs. Then I get to play with spices and make sausage.

I love my electric grinder!

I love my electric grinder!

I start with chunks of pork, making sure to include some fat for flavor, and send it through the grinder for the first go.

Chunks of pork ready to grind

Chunks of pork ready to grind

After I’ve ground everything once, I add the spices to the mixture and send it through again. This year I made three batches: breakfast, sweet Italian and smoked. For the breakfast sausage, I added sage, onion powder, garlic powder, mace (which is the outer covering of nutmeg), salt and black pepper. For the sweet Italian, I used oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, a bit of crushed red pepper flakes, garlic and onion powder, fennel seeds and salt. For the sausages I plan to smoke, I used half pork and half venison with onion and garlic powder, salt and black pepper. Yum!

Ground pork with seasonings added

Ground pork with seasonings added

After the mixture goes through a second time, it is ready to stuff into casings. I prefer natural hog casings, which are pig intestines that have been washed and salted. I buy them from the butcher at my local grocery store, H & H Super Duper in Saegertown, Pennsylvania. I am so thankful to have a local grocery store that still cuts their own meat and sells locally-grown produce. They are right next door to an actual hardware store, too. Makes my shopping trips very convenient!

Back to sausage! The casings come on a strip of plastic and are easy to load onto the stuffing attachment to the grinder.

Sleeve of sausage casings

Sleeve of sausage casings

This amount of casing is supposed to make 25 lbs. of sausage. I think that’s about right, although I didn’t weight the finished sausages. I just know there were a lot.

Sausage casing on the stuffing attachment

Sausage casing on the stuffing attachment

This part gets a little tricky, but once you’ve done it a few times, it gets smoother. Being somewhat uncoordinated, my first few tubes of sausage are a bit wonky, but by the end they look much better. You have to feed the spiced, ground meat into the machine with one hand and slip the casings off the tube with the other.

Sausage awaiting twisting

Sausage awaiting twisting

One thing NOT to do: do not tie a knot in the end of the casing, or it will blow up like a balloon and you don’t want that! Leave about three inches at the end and the casing will fill nicely with no trapped air. Also leave a couple of inches at the other end. Now it is time to twist the sausages.

Twist each sausage in the opposite direction

Twist each sausage in the opposite direction

Unless you want a long coil of sausage, you will probably want to make it into smaller potions. You can do this by twisting the tube. I like my breakfast sausages about four inches long and my Italian and smoked sausages six. To maintain the twist, alternate directions with each sausage. So if you start with a clock-wise twist, do the next one counter-clockwise. You only need a couple of twists to separate the sausages.

Twisted sausages ready for the freezer

Twisted sausages ready for the freezer

I froze the Italian and breakfast sausages, after sampling, of course, but I plan to smoke the others, so they went into the refrigerator to set up over night. Actually, some of them ended up on the back porch out of reach of the dogs and cats. In this weather they will stay plenty cold. I love my natural fridge!

In the next post, I will show you how to smoke the sausages. Here are the recipes that I used. I pretty much cook by sight and smell, but I have attempted to figure out amounts.

BREAKFAST SAUSAGE

To 10 lbs. of ground pork, add half a cup of dried, crushed sage leaves, one tablespoon of onion powder, one teaspoon of garlic powder, one teaspoon of ground mace, two tablespoons of salt and a teaspoon of cracked, black pepper.

SWEET ITALIAN SAUSAGE

To 10 lbs. of ground pork, add two tablespoons of oregano, one tablespoon of basil, half a tablespoon each of rosemary and thyme. I used dried herbs, but you could use fresh and adjust the amounts. You could also add a couple tablespoons of parsley, but I didn’t have any. Add one tablespoon each of onion and garlic powder, salt and fennel seeds. I added half a tablespoon of crushed red pepper flakes, but you could add more to make it hotter.

SMOKED SAUSAGE

To 5 lbs. ground pork and 5 pounds ground venison, add a tablespoon each of onion powder, garlic powder, salt and cracked black pepper.

 

 

 

Chick Update

Chick Update

When Emily came home from school on Tuesday, we went out to the barn to collect the remaining chicks. It had started to rain, and chickens HATE to get wet, so they were hanging out inside and pretty easy to catch. We found three of them, and then we found what was left of Mom. I now have six little fluff balls under a heat lamp in my studio.

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Another Greenhouse

Another Greenhouse

I have started another greenhouse. I think this is my fifth or sixth one. Some have been more successful than others, but I have learned something from every project. Most of them have been made out of found or recycled materials, too.

My first greenhouse was made out of something called Starplate connectors. You can use them with boards to make a dome-style shelter. This worked pretty well for a while, although the long, slim green houses seem to have more usable space. We bought them from the Stromberg’s Chicks and Game Birds Unlimited and they still sell them.

The next version of a greenhouse was a frame made from aspen saplings and straw bales covered with plastic. This was also pretty successful and I used it for three years before we took off the plastic and let it compost itself. The patch of blackberries that grew up where that greenhouse was produces berries that are an inch long or bigger.

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Then I began to experiment with hoop houses with varying amounts of success. None of them seemed to stand up to snow load very well. I thought I had it licked a couple of years ago when I used cattle panels with plastic over them, but two feet of wet snow one night flattened it to the ground.

Cattle panel hoop house

Cattle panel hoop house

After that I began making small hoop houses to protect plantings of greens, carrots and beets for the winter. These worked very well for that purpose, but I didn’t have anywhere to store my plants when it was too cold to put them in the garden yet. I hope I have finally solved the problem.

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Today I began to put together a hoop house using PVC pipe that began life as color guard flag poles from the high school marching band. I have to wait until my next pay day to buy the connectors I will need, but I think this one will be strong enough, or at least I hope it will! It will have interior bracing along the hoops on both sides, so that should do the trick.

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