Saturday, December 17, 2011

Blog Change

Today I am changing this blog from a strictly homesteading blog to a more general blog so that I will write more often.

Welcome to the Lil Gypsy Mama blog where I will discuss urban homesteading, parenting, knitting, art, baking, politics, and more crazy madness that happens in my not so boring domestic life.

I hope I can keep you entertained and engaged with this change.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks

It has been a very long time since I could get into the tradition beliefs of this national holiday. I am no longer naive enough to believe that it is about Pilgrims and Indians having a communal feast in peace and harmony. That idea died for me about half my life ago. I know what bloodshed and horrors were wrought upon the natives of this continent and I won't pretend to celebrate a peaceful coexistence that still has yet to be achieved. But what I can get behind is giving thanks and gratitude.

I am an incredibly lucky person. I have two healthy, intelligent and compassionate children who are entirely their own intense and brilliant selves. I have an amazing, loving, and hard working partner who does the vast majority of putting a roof over our heads, can fix nearly everything, and is very understanding when my physical disabilities get in the way of the simplest tasks. I have a beautiful little house with an enormous backyard in a decent neighborhood in a diverse and lively city. I have sweet neighbors who embody the true meaning of community. My chickens usually lay enough eggs for my family of four and I know how to grow my own vegetables. I know how to cook, bake, sew, knit, mend, draw, preserve foods and employ many other skills that allow me to save money, do for myself and make a little bit of money here and there. All of this I am so very grateful for. I love my life.

Beyond my own world, I am incredibly grateful for the people who are working hard to make good changes in the world. The people of the Occupy movement come to mind first because this is so big right now. The organizers, the occupiers, the speakers, the writers, the artists, the librarians, the bloggers, the tweeters, the donors, the brave parents who take their children to actions, the union members, the teachers, the volunteers, the meditators, the mediators, and the rest of the 99% who is doing SOMETHING to be a part of the solution, even if the something is just retweeting or talking to one co-worker about the positive aspects of Occupy or the business that displays support in it's window. What Occupy is working for is so big, so vast, so needed. This country is supposed to be "We the people" and I think it's damn time we took it back. Yet this time, the People includes men AND women, all colors of skin, all ethnicities and even the natives who were here before Columbus, the Pilgrims and the US Constitution. When that is accomplished, we should most certainly have a great feast and celebration.

Eat well tomorrow, give thanks and love your family both near and far.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Urban Homesteader-ish

I've had possession of this house in Oakland for almost two months now. We aren't quite moved out of Stone City and we don't feel entirely moved in here either. Our living room finally has a couch, a futon that we cannot return to its couch shape now that we've made it into a bed for our recurring guest to sleep on. We kind of like it as a bed, though. It's a comfy place to hang out and read a book. As for chairs, however, we are using fold up camp chairs and milk crates around our large coffee table. We do everything at this table: eat meals, schoolwork, art projects, computer time. We've got no bookshelves but I already started unpacking our large collection of books. I've made makeshift shelves from banker boxes and milk crates. The rest are just stacked in tall stacks along with DVDs and board games along the wall. I am not terribly worried about the seating arrangements, but I would like to get some real bookshelves. I feel the urban part of Urban Homesteader every day. I drive the girl to school and I face morning commute traffic. I can stop by the store for ONE carton of soymilk or a coffee shop to get a cup of already made coffee, if I so feel the need. My neighborhood is highly populated by people walking, biking, driving, pushing strollers or shopping carts, weaving in and out of traffic like lunatics, fighting loudly, playing ball, waiting for the bus, smoking a cigarette and watching the world go by, crossing the street with little regard for traffic, walking one dog or maybe 10 of them, or otherwise going about their daily lives doing the things they do. Packs of excited children walk to and from school, football players jog up and down the street, store owners stand outside their doors at a lull point in business to check out the area, my neighbor's dog is in my front yard again and I have to jump up from my sewing machine to chase it away. Life happens all around me and slowly the familiar usual activities become apparent and I know when something that happens is unusual. My neighbors speak various languages and I hear them laugh, fight, party, sing and make tea. Many of my closer neighbors make a lot of noise with home improvement projects, which is always fun to see. I don't really feel the homesteader part so much yet. I mean, my chickens are here, but the poor things are still living in the dog crate with a small temporary fence around it. We have all the materials here to build their new coop, but we haven't had the time to do it yet. Some potted vegetable plants survived the move, yet I haven't really started the garden. In fact, the temporary chicken yard is where I think I'm going to put the vegetable garden ultimately. I have bags of soil and the "bed" here, it just needs to be set up. The yard itself is kind of a project and I have been trying to tame the climbing roses and ivy that are trying to take over the world out there. It's quite a job, but I think this yard has some amazing potential. I am really looking forward to watching it all come together. I haven't been blogging in a while but I think this is a good start for getting back into it. I am kind of cutting it off here because the more I think about the yard, the more I want to get out there and work in it. ;)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

¡Jalapeño Mama!

About a week ago I made jalapeño jelly. Here I present the process with some photos (& tips)...

1. Turn to page 129 of the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. "Easy Jalapeño Jelly"

2. Prepare jars and lids. (I didn't actually do this part in the right order, but that was my mistake. Right?)

3. De-seed, de-stem, de-vein and chop up jalapeños.
Wear gloves.
(The recipe calls for 12 oz. I think I had a little more than that.)

(I ended up with twice this much)

4. Put the jalapeños through a grinder. (Since I don't have the electricity to justify owning a food processor or blender.)
(photo by Terran:)

5. Mix jalapeño puree with 2 cups cider vinegar & 6 cups of sugar in a large stainless steel saucepan. Boil over high heat, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes.

If you weren't reacting to the jalapeños yet, you will now. Maybe a face mask too?

Stir in 6 oz pectin. Boil hard, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Remove from heat. (The recipe suggests green food coloring now. I added what I had left of neon green but it wasn't much.)

It said to skim off foam. I saw no foam to skim. This may be a problem later.

6. Quickly pour hot jelly into hot jars and NOT all over your stove, your kitchen counter and yourself. Leave 1/4 inch headspace, wipe jar rim, put the lid on. Repeat until you run out of jars or jelly. I used 4 oz jars and ended up with 10 jars.

I did have to do two batches since I'm not sure I could double stack the jars and my canner only fits 7 at a time. The second batch jellied up a bit while it was waiting for jars, so I'm not sure how well those ones turned out.

7. Process for 10 minutes, or 15 if you live at the same elevation as me (roughly 2200-2400 ft?).

8. Once the cans have set for a day or so, add cute labels.

9. Give away to friends & family and/or enjoy with cream cheese and crackers.

I'll get back to you after we've taste-tested...

Monday, June 20, 2011

Name Change

I think this will work no matter where we land.

We're looking at more houses and I will update when we know for sure that we've gotten one.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Garden Stuck in Transition

My clever garden bed, only half full of soil, yet bursting with volunteer squash randomly, sits neglected in the yard. Nearby, two large bags of soil sit, intended to fill in the gaps. But then there was immobility, and all the seedlings cried out for my love. The weather was fierce and unforgiving as they waited for my return. Some did not make it through those dark times. I tried to give them attention when I could, hobbling around the yard with cane in one hand and hose in the other. Kneeling to replant them into the bed seemed such a daunting task. And now, now that I am feeling more up to the task, my attention is drawn to the task of moving to town. And so my bed calls out for me whenever I am nearby. I hear it's desperate pleading, a quiet voice saying "I'm still here." and "You know you need me as much as I need you." I think to myself "Or maybe I need you more..."

I can only hang my head in shame. I do not know what to say to them, my precious plants. We are moving and I don't know what sort of attention to give you. I want so much to kneel down, feel the earth between my fingers and transplant the choking seedlings where they can really stretch their roots and thrive. It pains me to see them twisted and suffocating in their plastic nurseries. This house hunting and moving must move quickly. So many little lives call out to me for love. My heart yearns to touch the earth and help things grow, harvest the food that will feed my family. If I can't feed hearts and tummies, why do I torture these little greens?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Listen When The Universe Talks

You could say it's God or the Gods or the Goddess or a gut feeling or merely coincidence. I do believe that one or all of the above was speaking when I was replying to an email of concern about our moving plans when the manager called to dispute our negotiations. She clearly had not heard me all 3 times I explained what I was offering & when she agreed to it. She wasn't there when I corrected the lease to reflect what I was willing to give. So I had to ask myself, is it worth it? Is this house worth putting up with a manager who only hears what they want to hear no matter what I say? Nope. No, you see, I am not desperate. I have the time and luxury to find the right home for my family. So we got the deposit back and I started looking again.

The right 3 bedroom house is out there in the East Bay somewhere. I already have a list of new leads. I am actually amazed at how much better these other places are. Where were they a month ago??

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

History Class/ Class History

I love houses with history. Even better, I love neighborhoods with history. My family is about to move into the Prescott subdivision of West Oakland into a house that was built in 1891. We will be the first family to live in this home since the current company took possession and refurbished it. Before that it seems to have sat empty for a few years after a foreclosure. If you look at Google maps, you see a much worse neighborhood than what currently stands. The city of Oakland has been putting more and more into the area since the Loma Prieta quake and the improvements are spreading outward in a somewhat staggered way.

I learned a bit about the neighborhood here: West Oakland on Wikipedia.

"In the 1880s and 1890s, a large number of shops and small and medium-sized houses were built to accommodate the large number of European Americans, African Americans, Portuguese, Irish, Mexicans, Japanese, and Chinese immigrants who settled in West Oakland. Many African Americans were employed as porters for the Pullman Palace Car Company, and the headquarters of their union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, was at 5th and Wood Streets. The writer Jack London lived in West Oakland in the late 19th century, and his novel Valley of the Moon is set in West Oakland. Many of the houses built in that period are still standing today and make up the quaint character of the neighborhood."

The area has always been working class and easily fell into decline. In the 60s it was home to the Black Panther Movement and the neighborhood earned a bad reputation. Today there is a lot going on to improve the area, bring in artists & businesses, and improve the lives of the people already there. There is still work to do, which is readily apparent when you drive from one neighborhood to the next, but the wheels in motion are visible. I am looking forward to learning more about what's going on and writing about it, but so far I see a growing local foods co-operative, urban farming complete with an entire lot of chickens(!), and a group started by a couple single mothers trying to teach poor women to grow their own organic food and cook healthy foods for their kids. Across the street from our new place there is a lot that has 16 large raised beds in it that appear to need attention. My curiosity set in motion a lot of late night research into what is going on there. (When I have an answer, you'll hear about it here.)

Yesterday we took a walk through the neighborhood, first passing the office of the Service Worker's Union, offering help to the underpaid worker. As we passed various houses, I took inventory of the herbs growing in people's yards and couldn't help but run my hand along the rosemary sticking itself bravely through a fence over the sidewalk. It smelled delicious. There were also lavender and mints and various others (and later in the walk we found morning glories!). Jamie and I were really struck by how polite everyone was. Nearly every person we walked past greeted us, and there were a lot of people out walking, socializing or just sitting on the porch enjoying the warm weather. Most of the people in the neighborhood are African-American or Hispanic, so when we passed some shrubbery and came into view of a white man about our age with about as many tattoos as us as well, we saw him jump noticeably with surprise. He was on the phone, yet he still took a moment to say hello to us with a huge smile. We are certainly not in San Jose.

When you stand on the sidewalk and look at our new place, to the left is a brightly painted Victorian that shows the character of the family living there. They have two dogs, one a beagle with quite a voice. To the left of them is an 1890s multi-family building that is not neglected but could use a little attention. To the right is the house that intrigues me the most. Built in 1901, the place seems to be empty. The windows are mostly covered in paper from the inside and the paint and woodwork could use some love. It isn't trashed, just untended. The grass is cut and shows that someone cares at least a little bit. Ariel views on Google maps show this to be the largest lot in the area and I can see the backyard from ours, so I know this is likely true. I asked our property manager and found out that there is an old woman living there who refuses to leave. She raised her kids in that house and she won't give it up. It is her kids who come by to care for the yard and try to do what they can. Online research shows that she has had possession of that house since the year I was born and it hasn't been renovated at all since 1905 according to public records. The assessed property value is $12,000. (Can you imagine what will happen when she dies? Wow...) We were warned that we would eventually meet her and may never forget having done so. She's got some attitude.

I am, I admit, an eternal optimist and lover of adventure, but I think we will be ok here. I get a good feeling from this neighborhood and I'm ready to put my love into the mix. Around the corner lives a friend of Jamie's dad who I am sure we will connect with soon and I have plenty of family and friends nearby. Our property managers are great people who just feel at ease and happy. They've done great things with our new place and we're all looking forward to moving in and setting up our homestead there.

I will keep researching the history and when I get a chance to I am going to go by that lot of chickens on Mandela Parkway and get some pictures. I think it was at 10th street.

A few local links:
Mandela Foods Cooperative
GreenSoul Movement
The Crucible
Engineered Artworks
City Slicker Farms

Friday, June 10, 2011

Moving my Gypsy Homestead

Armed with a diagnosis and a plan, my lil' family is moving. We came to the conclusion that it isn't safe for me to live so far into the mountains right now. The children and I need to be closer to doctors, teachers, friends & public transportation. So, we begin our new adventure in urban homesteading!! We are moving to Oakland.

I searched and searched and made inquiries and phone calls. I interviewed locals about neighborhoods and carefully scrutinized online crime maps. I found a neighborhood with rich history that is fast being cleaned up by the city. Still on the fringe, having chickens is not much of an issue and the idea that I might beautify that sparse backyard is enthusiastically welcomed. Looking at Google map photos and comparing them to the block's current state, I see that several houses have since exchanged zombie-like front yards for sweet flower gardens. One formerly empty lot now sports a dozen raised beds. The spirit of the land is being called up to give back the soul light of this far too long downtrodden neighborhood. I am forever an optimist, the artist seeing potential, but I did my homework on this one. (I also have an amazing partner who scouted out areas daily and gave some flat out "no"s to a few places I dug up on Craigslist.)

So here we go, the great task of extracting ourselves from Stone City and molding our lifestyle to the city landscape. Once we've settled in Oakland, I will change the blog name... Lil' Gypsy Home in the City? Maybe something different, so I don't sound like I am copying the Dervaes family... (Gasp! Not that!) Time to make a smaller and easily transportable city chicken coop with dog proof enclosed yard. Should be easier to make a coop suited for the 3 remaining hens than it was to make housing for a proposed 6. I actually already have plans drawn up. Thankfully my clever garden bed is easily dismantled for transport and the soil we just bought never made it out of the bags. Hmmm... anyone want a funky little cabover camper with black interior walls and door signage that promises that trespassers will have their heads shaved and their name changed to "Chicken-Butt"? It's free for the taking if you come pick it up yourself. ;)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Temporarily Less Abled

I'm in week three of a flare up of what may or may not be MS. I'm beginning to actually think it started further back as there were milder symptoms happening that I didn't take much note of as I was very busy getting ready for our Beltaine celebration. It wasn't until the guests were going home after a glorious weekend that my symptoms got bad enough to give me a wake up call. I went to the emergency room on the first Monday in May because I could not move my toes and foot, though my senses seemed fully intact. The doctors ordered an MRI and gave me a referral to neurology as well as an Rx for Gabapentin and then sent me home. A week later I was worse and collapsing every time I tried standing for very long. I couldn't walk very well or drive at all. The fatigue was getting severe. I went back to the ER and was admitted to the hospital for a couple days. They did an MRI of my entire spine. The preliminary report seems to have shown nothing significant on the MRI but my experience with these things tells me it takes longer to read an MRI entirely. I am sure I will get more details at my neuro appt on the 26th. Until then, I can't drive, can't walk very far and am able to only get a little bit done each day. To top it off, it is now raining here.

So how do I get my work done? Well, Jamie, my devoted partner, has taken on the responsibility of getting most of my in town errands done for me. So now along with working full time, he checks the mail, gets groceries and does the laundry. He also picks up my prescription and anything else I need from town. I can't walk the dog very far so the kids and Jamie have taken over that responsibility entirely. This is rough since the puppy doesn't really mind Terran at all. The gardening is barely getting done and there is so much that needs doing! I am trying to focus on the sewing jobs I have waiting that were neglected while I was in the hospital. If I take it easy and break the jobs down into parts, I can get them done without feeling overwhelmed. I just need to give myself time to nap and understand that the hour or two before I take my next pill are going to hurt a bit more than other times of the day.

I really wish I knew when this flare up was going to end. I am starting to feel better but I have also had my Gabapentin dose doubled and have added magnesium and potassium supplements to my daily vitamins. I feel wobbly and shaky when I walk around and I still feel I need my wheelchair for events like the upcoming Maker Faire that we are planning to go to. Suddenly, just getting to the bathroom is a huge ordeal for me. I am scared and concerned that I will need to make decisions about changing the way that my family is living so that I can do more to take care of them even when I am temporarily less abled than usual. It's sort of like a tornado has hit my life. A tornado that comes around occasionally, unexpectedly, without calling ahead or letting me know when it plans to move on. I never know what sort of damage it will leave behind it, either. My last major flare up left me with much more need of a cane for assistance on a regular basis. What's next?

If this is MS or if it isn't, I hope we soon know. I am incredibly grateful for my partner who supports me, stands by me through all of this, defends me, takes on my work when I can't do it and trusts me that I will not purposely overburden him. It is with this sort of love, both from my partner as well as from my amazingly resilient children, that I will get through this. <3

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Oops, I'm Late...

Well, I've been a bit caught up with things that distract from sitting down to write a proper blog post. But I promised a post on the 25th and failed, so I've found a link to a wonderful list of free patterns. Some of them are great and easy gifts or ornaments. I'm going to try a few of them as I've got some homemade gifts that I need to get out to people.

Friday, April 15, 2011

This Is To Have Succeeded...

"To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better,
whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.”

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I just found that quote on the blog for Little Acorn Learning, which is a Waldorf education based organization for childcare and early education. I think it's an excellent quote to guide one's life by.

It's been a very long week for me with the kids having Star testing 3 days, a doctor's appointment in San Jose another day, my minivan's transmission dying and a pretty serious reaction to a vaccine that has caused my arm to swell up among other things. I decided that it was in everyone's best interest to cancel today's activities and just stay home. But with all the driving I've been doing this week plus all the waiting around at various places, I have been doing a lot of thinking. I've come up with a few long term project ideas for myself in the various things that I do. One of my ideas is to post more "how-to"s and recipes here on my homesteading blog.

I've also considered posting ideas once a month for homemade gift giving for the holidays. I'm going to attempt to do a homemade gifts post on the 25th of every month leading to Christmas. I'm not Christian, nor particularly fond of the commercial version of the holiday, but the season still draws my nostalgia and gets me excited. (Perhaps my birthday being the 24th plays into this.) My favorite parts of the holidays are the homemade parts. I like homemade cookies, home cooked meals, handmade ornaments and gifts, hand drawn cards and the natural beauty of the season. I like candles lit in the darkness, the taste of peppermint and the joy of giving to and cooking for the people I love.

So, these are my blog ideas. I'm going to base the "how-to"s and recipes on what I am currently up to but if there's something anyone is particularly interested in me covering, let me know.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Two Paths Merged on a Wild Hill

I'm happy to begin this post with the good news: Jamie has finished moving and is now fully living here on the gypsy homestead with me and my kids.

During his moving, we had days and days of rain that just would not let up. The road was flooded and Jamie and I had to switch cars for a week. The mud out here was so bad that I couldn't go outside at all without nearly falling by slipping on it. Then the weather immediately switched to a heat wave. All the mud dried up but the extreme weather shift triggered my disability and I spent a few days unable to get much work done and using my cane to get around. I finally recovered after a couple days of rest and regained full mobility when the weather shifted again and we got snow! Snow! In April! I lost a few little plants that I had just put out, but thankfully not all of them. And THEN my van's battery died and the transmission started acting very strange. We replaced the battery and the van is now in the shop to see how bad the damage is. I am thankful that Jamie was here to help us get the van taken care of and get us home. We've got to do some juggling though to get through next week, the one week I have to drive into town every single day.

So, as if moving itself weren't stressful enough, the world hailed down on us even more stress. When things like this happen, I tend to believe it's a test of our strength and commitment. Through all of what has been happening, Jamie and I have been able to stay positive because we support and nourish each other. Our connection is very strong and we've now survived our first week of living together.

Last night we dined with Shannon and Morpheus and toasted to the occasion. Jamie and I proudly and happily live and work here together at Stone City Pagan Sanctuary. We are learning together the valuable homesteading skills we will use to feed and care for our family and we are serving our religious community by maintaining safe and sacred space here in these wild hills.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Gardening As If My Life Depended On It...

I was sitting here plotting out a new blog post when Shannon posted a link to this article on Facebook.

I bring this article to your attention, because this is a lot of what drives me to my chosen homesteading lifestyle. But what I really want to tell you about is my garden...

The small raised bed that I dragged here from the house in San Jose is now chock full of greenery. In the fall I planted lettuce, swiss chard and Brussels sprouts in it. The lettuce was good at first but then 5 of the 6 plants died over the winter. The remaining plant is sort of sad looking and I'm leaving it alone to go to seed. The swiss chard has been abundant, supplying us with leafy greens for our dinners throughout the winter. I've even given some of it to the chickens and the rabbit. The Brussels sprouts are just now showing buds, so I expect to have a harvest in a few weeks. I'm really looking forward to that as I am craving a bowl of nicely roasted Brussels sprouts. And, to answer speculation that came up on Facebook, it is actually natural for people to crave certain foods based on seasonal changes and Spring is time to crave leafy greens.

My ghetto coldframe version 2 is a large shallow wooden box with an angled top that I replaced with an old trailer window. I filled it with potting soil and planted several rows of seeds. I now have radish and pea sprouts showing up in there. I'm looking forward to one day soon when I find the entire box sprouting with baby plants that will soon help me feed my family. I also have plans to build a greenhouse out of salvaged windows from the neighbor's property. I'd like to grow more food through next winter and I've toyed with the idea of eventually getting into small-scale aquaponics.

All of those little seedlings (along with the sugar pumpkin seedlings growing in my bedroom window) will soon be transplanted to the garden bed that I acquired from one of my neighbors. I'm really excited to be growing food to feed my family and, with the nearest grocery store being a 45 minute drive away, it will be nice to have abundant produce available only a short walk from my kitchen.

While I'm at it, here's a pic of the first eggs laid by my youngest hen, Madeline, who is a Black Copper Maran. I included the green egg laid by the Easter Egger to show the color contrast. I now have over a dozen eggs in my fridge at just about any give time. In a couple months I plan to let Madeline go broody if she will, so maybe we'll get some chicks too!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sunshine & Spring Cleaning

It has been raining for a couple weeks now. Our road flooded so badly that I could not make it home in my minivan and had to borrow Jamie's truck for the week. My driveway, front yard and chicken yard all turned to muddy messes that threatened to make me slip every time I went outside. Some days were so cold and wet that even the dog would not go outside. The sound of rain pelting the metal roof of the travel trailer was what I woke up to most mornings and any moment of silence felt eery. But today, there is sun.

Not only is it sunny, but Jamie is in the process of actually moving up here. I went to San Jose yesterday to help him pack and brought a load of his stuff home with me. I am hoping that he'll be finished by the end of next weekend. This has been a really difficult month for us because the time we usually spend together, he has spent packing and getting rid of stuff while I get ready up here for him to move in. The separation has become increasingly more agonizing with every weekend. I'm quite ready for him to be living here full time.

Today I unloaded Jamie's stuff from the van and put things away in the house. His stuff now fills every extra space I could find in the kitchen and his side of the closet is full. It really feels like he's almost here. Then I decided to start cleaning out my closet, reorganizing and getting rid of a few things. I discovered that all of the trailer walls have been condensating all winter and that means a lot of stuff is wet and moldy. Ew.

The kids and I tackled their bedroom and managed to find all of the dirty clothes that they never give me on laundry day. (I now have a lot more laundry to do...) We also filled a garbage can and 3 paper bags for Goodwill. We found the snow gloves Terran needed when it was snowing and his nice fleece slippers I'm always telling him to put on his cold feet. Maia found all sorts of things she'd been looking for. And a LOT of stuff in there was wet and moldy from the walls. Finally, Terran's side is totally clean and tidy and Maia is working on the last of hers while I type this out.

This week is supposed to remain sunny and clear, so I will use the opportunity to totally clean, organize, and tidy the house. Then I'll wash all of the windows and walls to make sure there's no more mold, sweep the floors and wipe out the fridge, freezer and oven. I really love having things organized and tidy. I'm easily overwhelmed by the mess, though, and easily distracted by my creative endeavors. I hardly can blame the children for being just like me.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mountain Medicine

Over Presidents Weekend, the residents of Stone City were at Pantheacon 2011 in San Jose. As the kids and I drove down the mountain that Thursday, the snow was just beginning to fall. I had a hard time not being mesmerized by the beautiful white flakes coming towards the windshield, but Maia was there to remind me to "watch the road, Mama."

By Friday there was a couple inches of snow and Morpheus and Shannon were delayed in getting to the con. So, as the only representative of Stone City there by 1:30, I dragged T-Rex off to a workshop led by Daniel Foor and Earth Medicine Alliance that turned out to be a Shamanic ritual for the spirit of Mount Hamilton. Stone City Pagan Sanctuary is located just east of Mount Hamilton and we feel a close tie to the energy of the mountain so we were all very interested in Daniel's workshop offering. I got T-Rex settled with a video game in a corner (this is how he prefers to deal with the Con) and settled in to see what Daniel and EMA were all about.

I didn't arrive prepared for a ritual, and often have issues with rituals that take place indoors, but this was part talk, part ritual and I felt that Daniel did a really good job of making it appropriate for the space. I was very interested in the items and herbs he was using and, to be honest, don't remember what they all were. He handed out 3 bay leaves to each attendee and asked us to meditate on our prayer for the mountain, directing the energy into the leaves with breath. The leaves were then added to a bundle he'd already begun preparing. The preparations were finished by attendees who felt drawn to it and this, my friends, is how I left the ritual with honey and herb covered fingers. (For those who later asked "How did you get that all over you?")

During the trance journey that was part of the workshop, my mind and heart were brought back to home, where my connection to the mountain lives. As I meditated on home, all of the pain and difficulty of the winter was very quickly replaced with what felt like a preview of the coming year. It was as if the mountain herself had made this movie trailer just for me to help me remember why I was here living this life. I saw happy faces of friends old and new coming to the stone circle for ritual, dancing in the firelight to the drums. I saw the flowers blooming and the animals passing by. I saw my children laughing and playing in the pond. I saw my home evolving. I saw the community which brought me here growing and becoming more like family for me. As this trance journey ended, I felt as if I had been recharged by the power of the Earth and the mountain.

The entirety of Pantheacon went on in this positive light for me. It was truly the best Pantheacon I have ever been to in all of the years I have spent attending. I felt this inner power shine as I talked to numerous people about Stone City. I connected with new and wonderful people all weekend. I hardly needed sleep, I was so high on this energy. I stayed up very very late being with my friends and got up early to experience more. I did henna in the Stone City suite while Morpheus served chai and turkish coffee and we connected with many new people there. Thankfully, the wonderful people of Earth Medicine Alliance came to talk to us several times and have made plans to visit our land. I am really excited, they seem like great people.

The peak of energy seems to have been the Morrigan devotional put on by Morpheus, Thorn, Sharon and other friends of mine. 500 people attended this ritual!! Others have written about that ritual here and here, so I won't say much more. When they asked everyone in the room to make an oath on the Morrigan's sword, I had no hesitation in knowing mine or making it. My path and place in this world is so strongly clear for me right now. Though my disability was acting up that night and I was walking at a shuffle pace when without my cane, I knew that many of my favorite people were in that room with me among the 500 people and I felt safe and whole and strong.

Monday morning I woke up early and did my own workshop, bringing together Pagan parents to discuss our space in the community, our role with our children (and grandchildren), and what we hoped would improve and grow. The room was energized despite the small group and the time seemed to end too soon. I've since created a group on Facebook for further connection and one attendee wrote this article that includes mention of me and Stone City.

Leaving Pantheacon, I felt as if my work had been done there and fully ready to return home. The memories have been dancing through my days ever since, leaving me smiling, laughing, thinking and looking forward to all that is to come.

I am truly blessed to have this life to live on this mountain.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Babbling Towards Spring

Now that we are all looking forward to Spring here, it's time to start thinking about planting seeds, organizing, cleaning out the accumulated dust and clutter of the winter and better organizing the yard for efficiency.

It's February 1st and I am fighting off a sickness that is totally wearing me out. I haven't got enough energy to actually get up and do anything, but I'm still awake enough that I am terribly fidgety. I at least have enough energy to blog.

I've started getting seed catalogs. There's Gurney's and Raintree here already. I've perused the Seeds of Change website. I really need to check out the new companies that are supporting The Survival Podcast while I wait for Seeds of Change to renew their TSP members discount. Recently I bought three packs of seeds at Home Depot while I was there looking for stainless steel staples. I got beets, zucchini and pickling cucumbers. I also have some seedlings starting in my bedroom window. A sugar pumpkin that Morpheus' dad gave me a couple months ago had a ton of seeds in it that I had saved in a small container. However, they hadn't dried out all the way and began to sprout! So I now have 14 seeds starting. I'm looking forward to pumpkin pies and a yard full of other food for my family.

Part of growing your own food seems to be storing it. In such small living quarters, I've begun to see the limitations of storage that I need to overcome. The cabinets are usually stuffed with baking supplies, canned goods and other shelf-stable foods. Whenever I see good foods that we'll eat on sale, I buy extras. I've got things as organized as I can but am running out of obvious space for food storage. I've considered using the old trailer for surplus food storage, but it already has all of my books and craft supplies stored there and there are still more books in boxes that haven't yet been unpacked. I also need better water storage options. I'd like to store some extra water for emergencies and for when I fail to see that the water tanks are nearly empty as I usually do. I have water stored in the car but not any in the house. I'd also like to set up rain barrels, but that's a different topic. I'm thinking that we might need to look into an outdoor surplus pantry, possibly built out of one of those upright garden tool sheds or something.

Walking around the house I am realizing that it desperately needs a sweep out. I'd like a good warm, non-windy day to pull everything out of the house, even the rugs, and sweep the whole thing out. Both trailers could use this, actually. Everything needs a good wipe down too. The windows have accumulated some mold, some of it accessible only from outside, yet coming into the house through the screens. I think that once I am feeling better, the first sunny day is going to be a massive clean the trailers out day. Does anyone know how to clean carpet without an electric vacuum? The new trailer could use a serious vacuuming.

We recently added a cabover to our strange little homestead. So, now, the old trailer goes along the center, the new trailer is perpendicular to it on it's right as you look towards the it, and to the left, parallel to the new trailer, is the cabover. This cabover is now Maia's personal space or "clubhouse". In the old trailer, what was once the kids' only bedroom is now Terran's playroom. Both kids sleep in the new trailer in a room that holds two bunk beds. They sleep and store their clothes here and that seems to be all the space allows for. With the new addition, the yard once again got totally disrupted and has remained a frazzled mess ever since. Some days are just too cold and rainy to figure out what to do with the mess and other days I am too busy with something else (like sewing boat cushion covers). I really need to get the front yard space under control to allow for vegetable and herb gardens and for creating my outdoor 'internet cafe' for when we have people staying up here. I have one raised bed out there that has lettuce, swiss chard and brussels sprouts growing in it. I also have two tables with umbrellas and 4 chairs each plus the porch swing and a few small tables. I need a few more raised beds, at the very least, and I have some great ideas for how to do that with things I can find around here. I may need another table, though I'd really like a kid height table that is big enough for a lot of kids to sit around and do craft projects or something. I have one in storage but it's wooden. I need one that can survive the weather out here.

Well, that is as much babbling as I can do while sick before really sounding like I'm losing my brain. This inspired some of my blog:

Also, I tried to fix the complications of commenting on my blog. Please let me know if it's working better for you.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Winter Breaks My Heart

I have been losing hope out here. I'm lonely, it's cold, things go wrong constantly and the kids whine and complain. Some days I just want to hide in my bed and play solitaire all day. I was ready to move. I got so down that anywhere seemed like a good idea. However, I was getting totally unrealistic. Where am I going to go that is better than here when I live on an income of less than $1000/ month?? Who am I kidding? I live in California. Where could I go where my kids would have this much room to play? Where would we go that we could keep 5 chickens, 3 cats and a rabbit? Where could we go that I would have time to be with my kids, be self-employed, grow my own food and live by my personal ideals? And if I did manage to find some place like this, how was I going to move all of this that I have built here? Where else could I live that would allow me to pay off my student loans, save up some money for my future and be able to consider affording fixing my car, much less looking into getting a new (to me) one?

So I was completely set in my head on the failure of this arrangement when I went to talk with Shannon and Morpheus. They helped me put a lot of this into perspective and reassured me that this IS the hardest part of living out there. Winter IS lonely, cold and discouraging. Nobody is visiting us... however, there are other people living out here. They reminded me of all of the resources that I haven't yet taken advantage of. They suggested I start some sort of social meeting group like a Stitch & Bitch or something at the Junction (which is a bar, yet also a sort of community center out here). We made a list of my "problems" so that we could resolve what we could of them. That really helps, to have someone else state your issues and think about how they can be resolved. Talking with them, I also realized that my frustrations are compounded by the emotional issues I am dealing with in going through a separation and divorce. The kids are dealing with this too, emotional reactions to so much change in their lives. It's going to happen wherever we live.

After talking with my amazing friends and 'landlords' about my frustrations, I listened to a Survival Podcast interview of Margery Wildcraft about building community. This just put the final wrapping on what they were saying about connecting with other people out here. So far I have only really had much contact with one neighbor, because I end up making so many business transactions with him (I bought the 5th wheel from him) and, thus, end up talking to him a lot. I need to reach out, go to the Junction, and start really becoming a part of the community around here. There are other families with kids, but I will never meet them if I stay in my trailer/house all day.

Well, then I had a good talk with the above-mentioned neighbor. He was kind of cranky with me about something so I went over to talk to him about it. In the course of discussing the issue, we really did have a great conversation that ignited many new ideas and some hope for my future out here and in general. He's no longer cranky with me, so far as I can tell, but he has some serious expectations of me that I would be a fool to not live up to. Mostly I am being very vague about some good business ideas and plans. So, I headed home after this and felt this renewed surge of hope. I know that my kids will not join me in this until they see a noticeable fix of that which irks them, but I think we can get there. As a mom I have to trust my own gut and keep going even if the kids resist and/or complain.

There are issues I still don't know how to fix. But, I can work on solutions and I am not alone out here. I have friends who are crazier than I am and willing to tackle just about anything. I moved out here to live my life from my heart, as I have always tried to do. Part of living that way has always meant that falter and failure are crushing. My heart breaks. Living your passions is like a romantic relationship with yourself and we do not want to break hearts or have our hearts be broken. But it is only when we live past that fear that we are able to experience the highest love.

This new hope is a great relief. Moving is hard work and the thought was holding me back from making infrastructure improvements and planning out getting the dog I know I should have out here. It is not the choice that many of you reading this would make and you may not understand me or what motivates me, but that is why I am living my life and you are living yours. And now my love of my life must make it through the rest of this cold, wet and difficult winter...

How many darkest moments and traps
Still lay ahead of us
How many final frontiers
We gonna mount
And maybe no victory laps
But if you stepped on path of sacred art
and stuck it out through thick and thin
God knows you become one
With undestructable
This is my life and freedom is my profession
This is my mission throughout all flight duration
There is a core and it's hardcore
All is hardcore when made with love
Love is a voice of a savage soul
This savage love is

-Gogol Bordello

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Mountain Lions, Marmalade & Tech Gadgets

I haven't really been in the mood to blog for the last month. Nor have I had much time for it. I was getting ready for the holidays, catching the kids up on their schooling, sewing for income and constantly trying to keep the house running. But now we're in the new year, 2011, the holidays are over and we return to our schooling tomorrow. And, now, I have new tech gadgets. I came away from the last of our Christmas travels with a brand new 16gb iPad and a used back up hard drive. So, this is my first attempt to blog using the iPad. I wasn't expecting to own such a gadget, but it is fun and I have been busy trying to determine how it can help me with my homemaking and homesteading tasks. Perhaps I will write an entire blog on that topic soon.

Christmas this year brought us some new cast iron for the kitchen, some great books on homesteading, canning and gluten-free baking, fleece sheets and, most importantly, some amazingly unstressful and enjoyable time with family. Jamie and I managed to travel to Fresno, Redding, Valley Springs and Sacramento to see almost all of both of our families! But, Christmas also brought an unwelcome visitor to our little mountain homestead... A mountain lion. We knew it was getting closer, but we thought it would keep a distance from a human home. I thought I only had to worry about the kitties straying OUT of the yard. I was very tragically mistaken. While we were out, and just before we arrived home one evening, a mountain lion entered our yard and took our smallest kitten, Maia's beloved kitten named Batman. We found tracks in the yard that told the tale of the wee kitten's demise, as well as tracks behind our newer trailer. This makes me feel as if we're being watched closely and makes me nervous that the new visitor is going to go after a slightly larger member of our family next. We have made new rules regarding going out after dark and keeping the kitties inside more often. Batman was a tiny, sweet and extraordinarily polite kitten. He would not leave the yard and had to be invited in or out of the house. He never made a fuss unless Maia wasn't home, and then he would cry out for her and look for her until resigning himself to accepting someone else's love until she returned. He was probably distraught by how much we were gone for the holidays, and I imagine him sitting there at the edge of the yard waiting for us to get home. He wasn't fond of the dark and cold and wouldn't have otherwise been out there like that. We are all very sad and Maia has been devastated. She's an amazing kid though and is doing her best to process her grief and love the other kitties as much as she can. She asked me at one point "Mama, do ghost kittens cuddle?" I said "I'm not sure, honey" she replied, "Well, I think Batman will come and cuddle with me at Samhain." And then she seemed to be doing better.

On a lighter note, as we all here know that death is part of life and life goes on after death...

The rainy and cold winter days are keeping us indoors and we are playing a lot of board and card games, baking yummy things and yesterday I tried my first attempt at marmalade. I made Morning Cheer Marmalade from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. It has oranges and carrots, and the few bits I tasted were delicious! Though the recipe says I should end up with 6 8-oz jars at the end of it, I only ended up with 2 12-oz jars (half of what it says, if you don't want to do the math). I had the same problem when I made apple butter. Why is this, I wonder?

Now it is 2011, time to prepare for a new year, make our resolutions and go on with living the life we want to be living. We're ordering seed catalogs, discussing new plans and doing our best to stay warm. I hope you few who read this blog had a lovely holiday and I wish you a great new year.

(Btw, I lost my patience with the iPad for blogging in the second to last paragraph.)

RIP Batman...