Tuesday 31 January 2012


The face of our kitchen bar.  Rotten spruce girt from a torn down pole barn.

I have recently seen some blogging about re-purposing and I thought that I would add to the discussion.

What is money worth?

I am not a scrounger at heart.
I do not like to dumpster-dive.
I feel uncomfortable sifting through the remnants of waste looking for treasure.
That doesn't stop me though.

Dropped and forgotten.
Draws warm air into
our utility room
One of the most short-sighted trends of post-modernity is the engineered obsolescence of consumer goods.  Utilized to drive a money economy, poorly made and non-serviceable items have put us on a fast track to deplete energy and natural resources.  Under-paid labour abroad has compounded the issue by making it cheaper to replace rather than repair.  The introduction of recycling programs has had the effect of green-washing the underlying root causes of excessive consumption.  We feel less guilty now that we believe that our spent consumption is being recycled rather than filling a landfill.  And so our energy and resources continue to dwindle while the demand increases.  A perfect capitalist dream of demand exceeding supply.
                    So it goes.

When recycling was introduced, it was known as the three Rs; Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
What happened to Reduce, and Reuse?  Were they dragged into the dark and beaten for failing to drive the economy?

And so those who choose to reduce and reuse are scroungers and dumpster-divers, or worse, hoarders.
Picking through the trash still bears a stigma of shame associated with poverty.
Will it ever be developed into a mainstream market of social responsibility?
Better not answer that one.

Flipped a tiffany upside down.
I am fortunate to have learned a trade that involves custom cutting and fitting, and using what is on hand in order to get the job done.  And so, maybe it is simply a matter of skill and education that stays the hand that wishes to reuse or repair an item.  There is a remarkable degradation of mechanical skill in the average household.  People have focused their knowledge to achieve career success, and that has left many at the mercy of the manufacturers.

We have an admirable collection of things here.  I say 'things' while others may say junk.  I feel prepared while they rely on the stores to stay open.  It may take some time to hunt through the bins and piles but when I need something special, it's a good bet that I'll have it.  Some things are in short supply like 5/16" fasteners, but otherwise, years of keeping what others would discard has made us more self-reliant.

I'll share my little rule with you.
If I can think of one use for an item within thirty-seconds, then I'll keep it.  Given more time I would easily be able to use it.  If I cannot think of anything at all in that time, then I discard the item.  Too much is too much and you need to learn where to draw the line.

Bed spring holds scrap wood.

Of course, if you live in a condo, then you likely don't have the ability to store scavenged goods.  It pays to have a go-to source of cast-off items even if you do have to pay a little.  There is a junk store in our area that sells the goods but returns the profits to the community.  It's a great source of raw materials and functioning appliances alike.

When you must buy new, remember that you are voting.
Vote for rugged quality.
Vote for serviceability.
Vote for longevity.
Vote for responsible resource use.
Vote for ethical manufacturing.
Kira rescued this old fridge drawer.

I like to get angry with the system.  But the system is the symptom.
The consumer needs to accept the responsibility.
More importantly, the consumer needs to be responsible.

Monday 30 January 2012

Introductions: The Woodlot

The woodshed is beginning to look a little empty.
Even though we are half way through the winter it would be nice to see a few more rows of firewood.
After seven years of heating with wood you might think that I would have the supply under control.
Not so.  As I improve my harvesting abilities, I marginalize the job to accommodate other projects. 
So, I only ever seem to get 'just enough' wood in.
Someday I'll get ahead on the fuel wood.

Our woodlot is one of our greatest assets here.  We may be at a disadvantage when it comes to preparing arable land, but we have a healthy hardwood forest to provide us with an endless list of renewable resources; the least of which is mere firewood.  
For that I am very thankful.
If you go by the book, we have enough fuel wood, if properly managed, to supply the family's needs indefinitely.  In fact, the last three years of wood has come from roughly two acres, an area that I intend to convert to field crops.  It is an area of mature maples that have grown poorly and are diseased by a fungus that consumes the heartwood leaving open wounds.  These trees live, yet are easily susceptible to high winds which break the crown of the tree off.  
Maple is my wood of choice for fuel. However, we have others to choose from. Among them each has it's own attributes with various purposes.  There are a great many mature large-toothed aspens that supply me with general purpose lumber.  There is spruce and balsam fir for softwood lumber.  There is both white and black ash for specialty flooring and furniture.  Although fewer in number, there is yellow birch and black cherry that I plan to use for woodworking.  The beeches are, for the most part, past maturity and are gradually falling down from their weighty age.  I love the look of their giant elephant legs and so I leave them alone to die peacefully.  
Chainsaw Milling

 The woodlot also provides an abundance of plants on the forest floor that can be so robust during late Spring.  The dense foliage and extreme humidity could easily convince you that you are in a rainforest.  Among these plants are wild edibles and healing herbs.  The first green of Spring draws us into the woods with buckets and trowels to selectively harvest a bounty of wild leeks.  For you in the U.S., I am talking about ramps.  Technically, it's wild garlic.  Kira chooses plants from the woodlot for our gardens around the house.  There are many striking shapes and flowers that are naturally hardy and visually pleasing. And of course, as it is for many of you, a walk in the forest alone or with family can heal the soul with it's meditative calm and grace.  The souls of countless plants and animals filling the world with nothing less than life itself.

It is with a great deal of consideration that we change this landscape with our activities.  We will not, for example, allow domestic livestock to forage the woods uncontrollably.  There are areas that I intend to develop for agriculture, but only as carefully selected patches.  

A critical component of our homesteading model is to find our niche in the environment; not superimpose ourselves upon it.  Our resources must remain renewable if we are to achieve a sustainable state of farming.

I love working with the woodlot.
I love working in the woodlot.
Firewood duty doesn't become relegated because it's tedious.  It just gets bumped down the list.

As I look at the dwindling pile I tell myself that this will be the year that I get ahead on the wood.
But I think I've said that for a few years in a row. 

Sunday 29 January 2012

Beautiful Snow

It snowed.

We haven't had much this year so I shouldn't complain.

It's beautiful.
The Kids love it.
We'll need the water in the Spring.

It makes me tired to see it though.
I've had to put off the doing the pig until I can get everything cleared up.
The vehicles have a coating of ice topped with a pile of snow.
And then there's the driveway.
There's a picture on the Feather+Anchor blog that sums up my feeling about the driveway.
(Except that he has a shovel.)

And so I shouldn't complain.

The house is warm, the food is wonderful, and the family is great.

Look at this!
Moist and delicious.
Chocolatey.  Actually, it's more chocolatey than that!
High in protein.  No wheat.

Saturday 28 January 2012

Kira's Quinoa & Honey Bread

I'm going to make a lot of you jealous right now.

We've been making our own bread for about four years now.
When I say we, I mean that Kira does it most of the time and I fill in when necessary.(ie.  Morning Sickness)
It has become a part of our weekly routine.
Every once in a while we must buy a loaf from the store, but that is extremely rare.

Making your own bread is very rewarding.
You take control over a diet staple.
You take control over what goes into a food that many of us consume daily.
Bread, in general, has become notoriously low in nutrition.
The mills enrichen the product with chemical vitamins and minerals, but the core value of the grains has already been stripped away by processing.
Many of you may already know about the serious drawbacks associated with consuming wheat.
Making your own bread allows you to use whatever ingredients you deem most healthful.
That means experimenting with flours and other added ingredients such as seeds and nuts.

Our children love toast.  It's the one food that they will always eat.
It is so very important, then, to ensure that our bread is not junk food.
We focus on reducing the wheat content and raising the protein level.
Bread is tricky with no wheat, and so we continue to use it, albeit in moderation.
We use organic, unbleached bread flour, spelt flour, rye flour, teff flour, quinoa and quinoa flour, soy flour and a variety of seeds and seed meals to complement the loaves.  Therefore, we always have a variety of nutrition rich bread on hand.

Today, Kira will share her recipe for Quinoa Honey bread.
Bear in mind that bread making is a practiced art.  Small differences in preparation can have a wide range of results.  Variables include such things as water composition, home temperature and humidity, oven characteristics, differences in yeasts, and the list goes on.
You need to make bread to learn so don't allow yourself to be discouraged if you don't get the results you expect.
  I spent a week working with just one recipe and ended up with a different loaf each night.

If anyone is interested in a full online workshop, just let us know in a comment.  If there's is enough interest then we'll set one up.  And trust me, Kira's bread is worth it!

So, I bet you want me to stop talking and let this recipe go!  Ok.  Take it from here Kir!

Quinoa & Honey Bread

1 cup water
1 cup milk
1/4 cup honey
2 tbsp butter or lard
1 tbsp salt
1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa
2 1/2 cups spelt flour
2 cups unbleached bread flour

1~ Put honey and warm water (warmer than luke warm) into the mixing bowl and stir together. Then, add the yeast.  While the yeast is proofing warm the milk and butter on the stove top in pot until butter is melted. 

2~ To the mixing bowl add in the milk and butter, quinoa, spelt flour and salt turn on mixer and mix until blended. Once blended start adding the bread flour about one tablespoon at a time leaving the mixer on . Once the dough has formed onto the dough hook mix for five minutes.  


3~  Place dough into an oiled bowl, cover and let rise until double in size roughly 40 minutes depending on temperatures.

4~ Take dough out and cut into two pieces. Roll into rectangles and roll up and pinch closed. Place into greased bread pans.  Let rise until about double in size about 40 minutes give or take depending on temperatures. Before this rise is over, about 3/4 of the way through preheat the oven to 375 deg.F 

*Do not use oil to grease the pans. The bread will stick when you take the loaf out after baking.
Use either butter or lard.

5~ Bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown. Take out of oven. Here you can brush tops of loaves with melted butter for a soft crust or leave them and the crust will be crunchy and flake. take out of pans and cool on rack.


Friday 27 January 2012

Going to 'The Farm'

The time has come to move another pig along.
There are lots of ways to say it and most of them help us avoid facing the reality of the event.
Kira grew up with the term 'going to the farm' for pets.
In truth, a farm can be a wonderful place for an animal.
In truth, most of them meet their end there.

I thought that the first time would be the hardest for me.
The word is slaughter.  
I thought that the first time I slaughtered a pig would be the hardest.
This will be the fourth and my heart is heavy.
The weight won't stay my hand though.
My family depends on me.
It's a matter of food.
It's a matter of money.

Today I spent some time preparing.
I still don't have a great system in place but it will do; I have what I need.
I almost forgot to clear the ice and snow from the gate. 
It's awkward when you're mentally prepared to do something that unexpectedly changes or falls through.

On the last animal, the bolt assembly on Kira's rifle gave me trouble just when I was about to use it.
Fortunately I had enough time to sort it out.  It's much easier to follow through a smooth motion.

There's a canopy over the hoist to keep the snow off me.  

I don't use the holding pen that I built next to the hoist.
It isn't a very nice pen.
It was, but the first two animals tore it up looking for food so that now it's muddy and damp.

it seems wrong for the animal to have to look at the hanging pole for a day.
But that's just me putting myself in the animal's place.

They Love their Food

You are supposed to keep the animals from eating for twenty-four hours prior to slaughter.  They're allowed only water.  This helps empty the viscera for a clean evisceration. 
I don't like to though.
I'm careful enough, so I think I'll let my animals eat.  It only seems fair.

The knives were due to be sharpened.

You cannot do this without the sharpest knives.
I have several that I use for different tasks.
The job dulls a knife quickly so it's best to save the best edge for the most difficult manoeuvres.

I'll talk about knives in the upcoming workshop.

The One in the Middle

Fortunately, I haven't really become emotionally attached to the animals.
The little black one likes me a lot, but I think it's because she's picked on by the other two pigs.
The smaller red one is the one that crossed the fence line recently, and the bigger red one is looking ready to go.

I'm fairly comfortable with death.
That's not to say that I take it lightly.
We rejoice birth and lament death.
I believe that life and death are just two sides of the same door.
I understand that death is just as natural as birth.
I talk about death with Auren.  
I tell him that we borrow our bodies from the Earth and must eventually give them back.
I respect him too much to lie.  Besides, he can see the truth for himself.
Birth and Death are both front and center at the farm.

The event...or slaughter has been pushed back one day.  I feel a sense of relief knowing that I have some more time to prepare.  
I remind myself that it is truly a selfish act to be apprehensive.
And that life's ebb and flow is Greater than me.

Thursday 26 January 2012

The Cocoa Dream

There's addiction here
in this house
that none of us goes without.
I'll be grumpy, Kira will sigh.
The Kids will cry and pout.
We've been on ration
for near two weeks.
You want to know,
so here's a peek.

I'll show my dream,
in another post,
Of coloured fruit,
and beans to roast.
An arboretum
in Winter cold,
all for cocoa's
addictive hold.

Before I surrender
to the night
just one more cup
in firelight.
As sleep arrives
to dote and tease
I'll dream again of cocoa trees.