August 12, 2014

The Personal Side of the Simple Life, A Review of "Gone Feral"

I was recently contacted and asked if I would be interested in writing a review of Novella Carpenter's new book Gone Feral in exchange for a free copy of the book. Since I loved her first book, Farm City, and I am a total book junkie that would never turn down the opportunity for a free book, I jumped at the opportunity. So while I received no financial compensation and the following review is entirely my own, I wanted to be up front about any personal benefit I received. (And while on this subject, if you choose to buy either of Novella's books... or anything on Amazon for that matter, clicking either of the pictures to the left will link you my associate account at Amazon. Which means if you use these links to buy the books...along with anything else you might buy while you are at it...I will receive a small compensation to help keep the blog running, and the cost of these books doesn't increase at all for you. A win-win!)

Gone Feral is about the personal side of choosing to live the simple life. It is Novella's honest and raw account of coming to terms with her relationship to her father and her journey to become a mother... all while running her urban farm in Oakland, CA.

Novella and her sister were raised in rural central Idaho near the town of Orofino (coincidentally one of the places we looked into on our journey to find a place to call home). Her parents were part of the idealistic back-to-the-land movement of the 70s and Novella's early years were spent with her parents struggling to make a living from the land. After her parent's marriage fell apart, Novella her mother and sister moved away from the farm, and Novella's relationship with her father became more distant and strained in the ensuing years. This book begins with news that her 73-year-old estranged father has gone missing, an event which in combination with Novella's hope to start a family of her own, spurs her to return to Idaho to search for her father. While it turns out that her father was in no physical danger, this initial trip begins a long journey of soul searching and trying to reconnect with her father. It is a story about healing old wounds, realizing that some wounds can't be healed, learning to accept things as they are, facing who you are, and being reborn as a mother.

I was moved by Novella's honesty and emotion. Her pain, anger, and eventual acceptance are raw and palpable. I believe that for most homesteaders or for anyone seeking a more simple life, this lifestyle choice is inherently personal and emotional. For many, the choice is deeply connected to one's value for family and the connection with the ones they love. This book brought to the forefront the often complicated interplay between family and the decision to live off the land.

I loved the thought provoking nature of this book. What does it mean to choose to raise your kids in this way? What is the responsibility of a parent toward their children; or of children towards their parents? How do these relationships form us as individuals? How do families deal with mental illness and other demons? And how do these constantly shifting relationships shape our priorities and our decision to live a simple life?

I am a very introspective person, so works like this connect with me. They help me to think through what my choices and the many paths I could choose mean for me,  my loved ones, and any children I may have someday. In many ways this book reminds me of why Nathan and I chose to pursue a more simple life in the first place. After a great deal of introspection, we decided that this type of life would allow us to be deliberate about giving attention to the things we value most in life. And that is what needs to come first.

So if you are looking for a good thought provoking book to curl up with in front of the fire this winter (since I am well aware that most of us are busy outside this time of year...), I would highly recommend Gone Feral.

July 21, 2014

Homestead Seasonality: The Summer Rush

I really like to keep myself busy, and I sometimes take on more projects than I can realistically handle at once... which is probably why I started this blog last October, right as canning season finished up and I started looking for ways to fill up my suddenly free(er) time. How quickly I forgot all those long days of trying to fit in gardening, preserving, enjoying Oregon's short sunny season, catching up with friends and family, and working a full time job.

Busy as a bee...

When you base your life on something as inherently seasonal as homesteading, there are moments of rest and moments where you feel that you can barely keep up with the rush. We are definitely in the rush stage. Our to-do list has grown exponentially, every spare minute is spent outside, and harvesting and canning season is already starting in earnest.

So as noble as my intentions in October were to blog at least 3 times a week were, and then down to at least 2 times a week as we started seeds in the spring, and then at least once a week once we starting planting in the garden, I am not sure how realistic those expectations were. So maybe someday I will find a way to manage my time so that I can blog more regularly, but for now I find that I can't pull myself away from the garden long enough to accomplish that goal. So we will continue to blog, but probably not as regularly during the summer months. Although once the slower season returns in September/October I will be happy to pick it back up more frequently. I miss interacting with everyone!


In the meantime be sure to follow us on Instagram... since I can post pictures from there even in the garden.

But since I managed to pull myself inside for little while (and Nathan was sweet enough to ofter to make dinner all by himself tonight), here is a tour of what we have been up to in the garden.

In the Garden

Our own little individual plots are bursting with life. We are having salads nearly every night and all the warm weather crops are officially in the ground and thriving.  It has been fun watching the progression as things grow, since I have at least been doing a good job of taking photos. Watch it grow!


Group Gardens

We have had a successful season so far. We work together with our neightbors to care for a communal field that grows some of the more space intensive crops. I love working side-by-side with friends and neighbors. And we have started to harvest quite the bounty!




General Bounty and Beauty

And I can't help but marvel at the people and the place we live in and to be grateful for all we have. Here are a few sights from around the Ecovillage.





And A New Project

As if I didn't have enough on my plate, I may have adopted another individual plot (Nathan is starting to call me the "saver of lost plots..." I decided I just didn't quite have enough room for fall crops... so I have another 100 sq ft to put them in now! Looks like there will be no time for sleep for me!


July 7, 2014

Guide to Mulching with Comfrey


We are heading out for a long backpacking trip in Idaho this week. But while we are gone we don't want our garden to fry in the hot weather, but we won't be able to water either since we obviously won't be here. Here is our solution to dealing with this conundrum with our thirstiest crops (such as the celeriac shown below).

We decided to mulch to preserve moisture (a good technique to use any time during the heat of summer to conserve water...and increase crop yields). We used comfrey (Symphytum spp.) leaves because they are free and plentiful and when they break down they release nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus and many minerals that comfrey is able to mine from the subsoil with it's long taproot. So in addition to saving water, this mulch is like free fertilizer, and as it breaks down it will add organic and help to improve the soil. We also spread some free compost from the Kailash Ecovillage kitchen compost system on top of the leaves because it will also help to fertilize and improve the soil way (plus we needed something on top of the leaves to keep them from blowing away). Here is our step by step guide:

Step 1: Harvest some comfrey leaves. (These are photos from Kailash Ecovillage but the actual comfrey we harvested was from the Reed College campus where it is growing as a weed).



Step 2: Water the crop well. In our case we had a few days of heavy rain that did the job for us. Just make sure that your soil is already moist before you begin.

Step 3: Optional. Fertilize the garden crop. (On our hungriest crops such as the celeriac we side-dressed with a mix of alfalfa meal, rock phospahte, lime, and rock dust before multching).


Step 4: Lay out the comfrey leaves around your plants so that no bare soil is showing.



Step 5: Cover the comfrey leaves with a thin layer of compost.



And voila, it is mulched. Now we don't have to worry about watering quite as often as the days begin to warm up. Hopefully this will be of use to someone out there in the blogosphere.

June 5, 2014

Scouting Trip for a Place to Call Home



Over Memorial Day weekend Kristy and I took a trip up to Sandpoint, Idaho. For those who have been following us for awhile, you'll know that Sandpoint is one of the areas that we are thinking about moving to to start our homestead dream. It is a beautiful area with a lot of potential for us. We have taken two previous trips to this area, (read about the reasoning behind this area here) this trip was designed to home in on some particular areas in and around Sandpoint.

We camped just across the border in Montana and went for a hike along Lightning Creek, about 20 minutes north of the town of Clark Fork. 


Clark Fork is located at the confluence of Lake Pend O'reille and the Clark Fork River. It is one of the areas we wanted to explore further. While it is a beautiful area, it is colder than Sandpoint and lies almost entirely in a floodplain. And Kristy's dad is a hydrologist who has beat into our heads that it is probably not a good idea to live in a floodplain.


After the hike we drove around the area to the northeast of Sandpoint. It is relatively flat mosaic of meadows and forest. Meadows would be good for agriculture and have more moderate temperatures than the surrounding mountains.


The unexpected highlight of this area were some of the largest alpaca ranches we have ever seen. And in my opinion, there is nothing cuter than a whole herd of alpacas.


We also drove around the south side of Lake Pend O'reille, south of Sandpoint. While not ideal for farming (too many mountains), it did offer some spectacular views.


The next morning we drove to Creston, British Columbia, an hour north of Sandpoint and across the international border into British Columbia, Canada. It lies in the same general climate zone as Sandpoint (valley surrounded by mountains). We drove through the Selkirk Mountains just across the border and drove back into northeast Washington.


Right after we crossed back into the U.S. we had a special welcoming committee.


We then drove to Kettle Falls, Washington. This location had been recommended to us by one of our readers since it has a climate similar to Sandpoint (and somewhat cheaper land). It was a pretty location close to the Columbia River (which also flows by Portland), but just didn't have that certain juene se quais.


A town that surprisingly did was Republic, to the west of Kettle Falls. This was a small town that we didn't know much about. It turned out to be a charming town that reminded us of our hometown of Hill City, South Dakota. We will need to do some more research on this area.


The next day we drove home. Sandpoint definitely remains at the top of our list of places to live someday. It is beautiful, close to recreation, and has land that will support the type of gardening/farming that we hope to do. No place is perfect but Sandpoint comes pretty darn close.
But Republic is a place to keep an eye on.
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