Coming Full Circle…

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When I was a little girl living in Hawaii my parents sent my brother and I on an airplane, alone, to spend summers with my grandparents in Northern Minnesota.  I dreaded those summer getaways… all I could think of was spending my summer with “old” people, out in the middle of nowhere, with absolutely nothing to do.  It was time spent in the garden, stealing apples from old man Marco’s apple tree, dirt road rides in search of wild critters, hanging out at the lake diving for clams, and walking down the street to the corner store to buy penny candy.  Oh, and, yes, going to the annual polka festival.  A night out to eat was to the local Bonanza, where all I longed for was the lollipop at the end of my meal.

To top it all off, I was somehow taught, led to believe, that growing your own food or buying local was embarrassing, going beneath yourself.  I vividly remember my grandfather coming home one day with local strawberries.  All I could do was laugh at the thought that Minnesota strawberries were so much better than a strawberry from elsewhere (like I was some expert that strawberries from a tropical island were so much better).   I also remember being so critical over a fireworks show in town, thinking how could such a local celebration be so much better than seeing one in a huge city like New York City?

As I write this blog I am amazed at how much I disliked those times.  How could I not have appreciated and enjoyed all that I did, and learned?  It’s so sad.

Here I am today living in a simple home, with a few acres, out in the country in Maine.  The life I have today is actually is no different than my grandparents.  Gardens, fruit trees, fishing, hunting, buying local, and supporting community efforts.  I have come full circle.  Everything old is new again.  The passion I have for this lifestyle, for me and for my family is deep.  It is important to myself and to my husband.  Shouldn’t our kids know that locally grown food is so much better than food grown thousands miles away?  Shouldn’t our kids know the importance of where our food comes from?  Shouldn’t our kids know basic outdoor skills?  Shouldn’t our kids experience green trees and fresh air?

I wish I could go back in time and enjoy my Minnesota visits more.  I wish I could tell my grandparents how much those visits influenced who and where I am today.  I only hope that both are looking down at me from above smiling… and, of course, shouting, “I told so”‘!

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Mooing over Milk…

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When I was a little girl living in Japan I remember my mom had glass bottled milk delivered to our doorstep.  At that time there was no relevance to it.  As a teenager I thought it was so “uncool” to have some old Japanese guy deliver milk by bicycle to our doorstep.

Fast forward to today and I can’t believe we actually had milk delivered that way!  It was way cool!  If only we could get our milk delivered that way again.

Even though we can’t get personal milk delivery where I live I am lucky to have a local dairy farm a few miles from my home.  That is where I purchase my milk.  And, yes, it comes in glass bottles!

Aside from the “coolness” of having your milk in glass bottles there are actually many advantages in doing so.  Here are some of them:

  • Glass milk bottles can be sterilized and reused multiple times.  We return our milk bottles to the dairy farm for a refund on the deposit we pay for the bottle.  
  • The dairy farm sells milk in half gallon, quart and pint sizes.  I often keep a few bottles at home for multiple uses.  I use the pint bottles to hold paint brushes.  The quarts make great vases for my favorite flower, sunflowers.  The half gallon bottles make great sun tea in the summertime.  Even my husband uses the pint bottle for his early morning coffee while he commutes to work!
  • Like I just mentioned above, glass can be recycled indefinitely.  Plastic, on the other hand, degrades during the recycling process and cannot be reused in the same manner.  Yes, tetra pak milk cartons can be recycled, but they are not accepted by most curbside recycling programs.  Some research I’ve found suggests that a majority just end up in landfills.
  • Plastic is made from petroleum, and its manufacturer is highly polluting.  Research suggests that one 16 ounce bottle generates 100 times the toxic emissions as making the same bottle out of glass.  Pretty amazing, isn’t it?
  • There has been a lot of chatter lately about chemicals leaching from plastic.  It is extremely worrisome when that very plastic holds our food.  Glass, on the other hand, is known to be safe.
  • If you buy milk in glass bottles chances are you are buying local.  Buying local supports your community.  Buying local typically supports small local business.  Bottom line, buying local is just better.

There are many more reasons why I think buying milk in glass bottles is beneficial.  But, when it comes down to it, I just love the nostalgia of it all.  So, even if the above weren’t facts I’d still buy milk in glass bottles.  Knowing that it is much better from an environmental standpoint just makes me much happier with my choice.

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This post was featured at the Homestead Barn Hop.

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Good morning all!  A day late but… I hope everyone had a very Happy Easter!

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This year I lost my daughter to the Easter Bunny tradition.  Although it was sad I was happy she could help mom and dad, and shop for goodies for her little brother and baby sister.  Of course, she got to pick out her own basket goodies as well, which worked out well in her favor.  I always add toothbrushes and toothpaste in the kids baskets.  It never hurts to remind my little ones about the importance of dental hygiene!

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This year I also added books.  My daughter got “Middle School:  My Brother is a Big, Fat Liar” and my son got his very first Magic Tree House book, “Dinosaurs Before Dark”.  Unlike his artistic sister my son is very factual.  Both are very excited to start reading their books!

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This week was more of a planning project week.  It’s finally warming up enough where we could open the tree house back up.  We still need to put down some simple wood flooring and finish the roofing.  Right now it looks like the tree house will have a metal roof, which will end up being a lot nicer than the roof we have on our house!

The kids love it.

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Our veggies are finally starting to sprout.  We can’t wait to finally put them in the ground!

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This past week I read “Anya’s Ghost”.  I found out about this book from my daughter’s teacher who has a blog of her own, The Late Bloomer’s Book Blog.

This was my first time reading a graphic novel and I must say the graphics are excellent.  It is a novel for young teens, especially girls.  The story is quick and speaks about social anxiety, body image, friendship, and ghostbusting.  The main character, Anya, smokes which I did not like at all.  But, all in all, it was a a quick read and was a good graphic novel to read.

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Mucking it Up in Mud Season…

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When I first moved to the New England 14 years ago I had never set foot on the East Coast.  Yet I had this odd fascination with the East Coast lifestyle.  Somehow that lifestyle seemed much more fitting to me.  Living a majority of my life overseas in Japan, I was also fortunate to live in places like California, Guam and Hawaii.  Pretty awesome, right?  Even with those wonderful opportunities I missed something… I never truly experienced  the change of seasons.   So when I met my husband I was lucky to discover he was from Maine… which eventually led us “home” to raise our family on our beautiful mini-homestead.

Spring is a tricky time in Northern New England.  Yes, spring officially starts in March, although you really don’t reap the warmer temperature benefits until much later.  But, in all honesty, there never really is a true spring up here.  It’s mud season.  This is when all the snow and ice melts. Sometimes it rains. Sometimes it snows. More often, we get a wintery mix and erratic swings in climate. Nature is at its most capricious.

Just looking out my door I can see the soft ground peeking through the melting snow.  It’s soft, it’s squishy… it’s mud.  And at this homestead it means a lot of dirt dragging in the house.  Not only from my kids, but the dog and, worst of all, my husband (sorry, honey, but it’s true).  Mud season also means it’s time to put up those heavy winter coats and break out the spring weather wear.  Fleeces for chilly mornings and evenings, rain coats for the slushy mess, and muck boots to trek out in to the yard or, as in my kids case, just play.

Mud season is probably the most dreaded season of the year.  Yes, even more dreaded than winter.  However, it’s the price of living in Maine. Our winter brings fresh snow and bright blue skies; autumn has the most glorious foliage and summer, with moderate heat and low humidity, is perfection. Spring does not really kick in until May, and then everything blooms at once. I love living in a place with all the seasons, even if I’m counting the days to daffodils and tulips.

When I think about it mud season is not all bad. There are no crowds. Days are getting longer. Shovels rest while snow piles shrink. Empty beaches are beautifully surreal. The sidewalks around town are finally clear of ice.  We’ve been hibernating all winter so throw on a pair of your mud boots and enjoy the outdoors!

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Happy Maple Syrup Sunday!

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In Maine we celebrate Maple Syrup Sunday on the second to the last Sunday in March.  Did you know that Maine is the second largest producer of maple syrup in the U.S.?

Here are some other interesting factoids:

– It takes 40 gallons of sugar maple sap to make one gallon of pure Maine Maple Syrup.

– It takes freezing cold nights and warm sunny days with temperatures in the 40’s and up before the sap will run.

– It takes approximately 40 years for a sugar maple tree to reach tapping size.

Our home has once again taken on the challenge of tapping our own trees.  Each year is a bust for us when it comes time to make syrup.  But I am determined to one day get it right, without having to spend thousands of dollars on industrial equipment.  We shall see what the next couple of weeks bring.  Hopefully it will be some syrup… even if it’s just a small pint!

I didn’t get much done project wise.  I think I needed some down time after all the stress from the Pinewood Derby.  I also needed a couple of days to get this house in order before my husband came home.  His patrol is finally over and the kids and I will have some time with him before he takes off yet again in another month.

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One thing husband and I did was start some cool weather crops down in the basement.  Using grow lights we (or should I say he) planted cabbage, brussel sprouts, onions, peas and beans.   We are so excited to finally get the garden started this year.  We have so many ideas and plans.  I hope to have an over abundance of crops.  Enough to share with our friends and neighbors!

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I love knitting, although I love yarn more.  I wish I had more time to knit and learn more knitting techniques.

Last summer, when I found out I was having another baby girl, I began knitting a blanket.  Here we are over 8 months later and the blanket is no where near finished.  I’ve promised myself that this darn blanket is going to be finished by the time summer arrives.  That should give me more than enough time… right?  Let’s hope so!  Or else Baby Girl will end up using this blanket as a towel cloth instead!

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This week I read “Touch Blue” by Cynthia Lord.  The story takes place in Maine so, of course, I had to enjoy the book.  I always love how authors depict Maine and New England in general.  It’s so refreshing and peaceful.  I can literally smell the ocean air and feel the sand gritting between my toes.  It’s fantastic.  In “Touch Blue” families volunteer as foster parents to meet minimum state requirements to keep their school open on the island where they live.  The story focuses on 11-year old Tess and her new, older, foster brother Aaron, a veteran of the foster care system.  I particularly like how each chapter begins with a superstition.  My favorite is Chapter 16, ‘If you write your wish beneath the stamp on a letter, the letter will carry the wish with it.”

How Does Your Garden Grow?

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Down with the groundhog I say!

Today is the first day of Spring and up here in the Northeast there is no sign of it… anywhere!  Instead, Mother Winter continues to drop snowflake upon snowflake.  If I’m not mistaken Punxsutawney Phil did say, “And so ye faithful, there is no shadow to see, an early Spring for you and me.”  You were surely mistaken… you… you… you rodent!

Okay, so let’s just pretend Spring is upon us.  We can now start planning and planting seeds for the garden!

In the past our homestead has done a combination of starting seeds indoors and directly planting in the ground from plants purchased at our local garden store.  This year we’re taking a bigger step and starting all of our seeds indoors using grow lights.  It’s probably a good idea we’re doing this since warmer weather is no where in sight.

My favorite part of garden planning is deciding what to grow.  We always do the standard… tomatoes, peppers, radishes, beans, peas, beets, lettuce, cucumbers, spinach, carrots.  We take a further step and also grow potatoes, eggplant, zucchini, squash, kale, swiss chard, pie pumpkins and edamame (soybeans).  In addition, I always like to pick a couple of ‘testers’ crops.  Two years ago I tried okra and got three.  I consider that a success since the okra was forced to grow up here in Maine.  Last year I took a stab at a few artichokes.  No luck.  However, I hear artichokes are perennials, but also hear they can’t survive winter.  We shall see what happens.   I also have tried bok choy, brussel sprouts, broccoli, and hot peppers.

This year I’ve decided on three ‘testers’… sweet potatoes, peanuts and banana peppers.  It is always fun to try out something new in the garden.  Who says you must stick to standard crops you find in the grocery store?  Even if you don’t know what kohlrabi is, or have no idea what to do with bok choy, watching them grow is almost as enjoyable as cooking and eating it.  You can always give them to your neighbor.  Or, better yet, you might find a recipe and a new found love!

If you’re not quite ready to try an unusual crop consider the commonly grown vegetables that come in an array of colors and varieties that you can’t find in the store.  How cool is it to pull up purple carrots?  Blue potatoes?  Zebra tomatoes?

Carpe diem fellow gardeners!  Carpe diem!

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Life’s Lesson… What is Winning Worth…

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Ahh… not only is spring around the corner, it’s Pinewood Derby time.  The Pinewood Derby is a racing event for Cub Scouts in the Boy Scouts.  Cub Scouts, with the help of parents, build their own cars from wood, usually from kits that contain a block of pine, plastic wheels and metal axles.  Truth be told, I didn’t know what the derby was until last year when my son joined the Cub Scouts.

The derby came right at a time when my husband began a 2-month patrol.  If you ask me (and him), horrible timing.  I panicked.  I have no clue how to build things, let alone build things that are suppose to move.  A neighbor offered to have my son build his car with their son.  At first it sounded appealing but after a lot thinking I knew this was a project my son and I needed to tackle on our own, even if dad wasn’t around.  In the end, we did it!  My son and I built a derby car!

At one point in the building phase I considered making a Facebook status that said, “who needs a man when a tool-deficient mom can do this?”  But I quickly remembered the kind old man at Lowe’s who quickly showed me how to operate my dremel tool in 10 seconds (I tried for hours at home and couldn’t figure it out).  I remembered the YouTube video (featuring a man) showing me how I’ll sand and polish the wheels.  Last, but not least, I remembered the numerous emails back and forth to my husband asking his advice.  And, most importantly, I reminded myself that this project was not about me, but about my son.  About us working together.  So, instead, I kept my lips sealed.

You see the whole idea of the Pinewood Derby is to encourage a bond between a boy and his parent/guardian.  They should work  together.  And, yes, they should build a car that looks cool and goes fast.  But the overall focus should be on fun and growth.  Right?!?!  At least that’s what I think.  However, I get the distinct impression that the derby is more about dad’s flexing their muscles desperately attempting to out race every other grown man.

I have worked hard with my son.  My son drew his design and was very adamant that his design was “the one”.  When it came time to saw I did the work.  But he helped sand and he painted.  He guided me every step of the way, down to the “x marks the spot” carving he wanted on his car.  It truly was a project he was 100% involved in and had 100% input.

These past few days have been an overflow of emotions.  I’ve broken down in tears three times… all over this damn derby car.

It all began when a fellow parent posted pictures of his son’s derby on a social media site.  Looking at the car I immediately knew it was a car completely made by the parent.  As I looked at that car the only thing I could think of was how much my son will be disappointed because his car didn’t look as “cool”.  I began to obsess at how I could just do something to make his car better.  And as awful as it sounds, I even contemplated buying a car on eBay.  Thank goodness for my husband and my wonderful kids.  They quickly snapped me out of this horrible funk.  However, it led me to do some research and reading on the whole concept of competitive parenting, parents taking on their children’s assignments as their own.

Did you know that a recent study found that up to 70% of kids will plagiarize, cheat and pass off others works as their own before they graduate college?  The study suggested that kids are under greater pressure than ever before to succeed, and that they have a greater number of daily stressors than any other generation.  It’s a tough world out there, I get that, but does this mean parents need to start doing their children’s work for them?  Don’t you think that by doing more for our kids we are actually doing less, creating the inability to learn about life’s lessons on their own?

This derby has inspired me to create a rule in our house:  Projects will be done by our kids.  My husband and I buy materials, advise and even make suggestions.  We encourage the kids and guide them but we also make sure they take ownership of the project/task.  They need to learn how to develop skills to complete a project from beginning to end.  This new rule came at a time when my daughter was also assigned a project in school.  Sh needed to create a poster on why our family loves Maine.  It was a family project.  My daughter insisted I come up with all the reasons why we love Maine.  I helped, but I left the rest to her.  And guess what?  She came up with the best reason why our family loves Maine, on her own!

Whether it’s a derby car or some other project, when parents give their children sufficient guidance and freedom to let their imaginations soar (without imposing their own viewpoints or worse, taking over entire projects) we give our kids the confidence and self satisfaction that helps them grow into secure, assertive adults.

I like to think I chose the high road on this one.  Was I tempted to cheat after seeing all of those pictures of glossy pieces of wood and glue?  Hell yes I was, but I didn’t.

We did this together and made the most of what we have, time and love.

And that is what I love the idea of living simply, and the whole homesteading movement.  I think perhaps Robert Frost was right.  Choosing the road less traveled may very well make all the difference in the world.

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**At the completion of writing this blog I came across a movie on Netflix, “Down & Derby”.  It’s a comedy that satirizes the desperate behavior of parents who compete with one another through their children.  It was a hoot to watch… and made me thankful I never went off the deep end.

**To read Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” click here.