Of Okra and Superhero Capes

Our first, albeit small, okra harvest of the year.

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And I remember…

One afternoon years ago, I was visiting with my grandparents and sharing with them the excitement of planting our first garden. During our visit, my granddaddy, better known as our “Honey”, rose from his chair and slowly shuffled to their laundry room. Upon his return, he handed to me a single dried pod of okra. A little perplexed, I took the pod from his wrinkled hand and waited for the story that was surely to follow.

When he was situated in his chair again, he said, “That okra is from Papaw’s garden.”

His daddy’s garden. My great granddaddy’s garden.

The seed was given, by my great granddaddy before he passed on, to a neighbor who continued to grow it and save seed from it each year. The last year that old man grew it, he saved a pod and gave it to my granddaddy, who in turn gave it to me.

As I turned that dried okra pod over in my hands, listening to the crackling of the seeds nestled inside, I realized I was holding a piece of the past and my mind was immediately flooded with memories of time spent in the only garden I knew as a child.

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That’s me in that picture there, with my Mamaw’s garden hat on, proudly displaying my Papaw’s cucumbers.

I loved being there, with my Mamaw and Papaw. In the garden, of course. But also riding my bike up and down their road, donning a magical superhero cape made from a hooded baby towel. Working word finds with my Mamaw. Lemon tea and pecan tassies. Mile long Pal Mal cigarettes in an oversize glass ashtray. Stories of war. I’d give anything to remember what he said on those days I sat at his feet, watching his mouth move but never hearing a word. Homemade Barbie clothes and fried eggs and The Wheel of Fortune. Old pictures of family and Avon perfume. Arguing with my Mamaw over who was cuter – Bo or Luke Duke. An old blue truck with a hole in the floorboard. That superhero cape getting hung up in the spokes of a bicycle tire, allowing me to believe for one brief moment that I really could fly…

{sigh}

I planted his okra seed with great pride that year, and have each year since then. Every time I hold those seeds in my hand, I’m reminded of all the beautiful memories.

And while I’m sure that okra doesn’t deserve a special status in the wide world of seeds, to me it will always, always be an cherished heirloom.

 

Blessings… 🙂

 

 

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Living Fractals

Many years ago, before my homesteading days, I read The Shack. The entire book rocked my world, but there was one chapter in particular that spoke to me so profoundly, so intimately, that I read it again and again, marking up the pages with a red pen as the words just seemed to come alive to me.

That chapter being A Long Time Ago, in a Garden Far, Far Away…

“As he rounded the trees, he saw for the first time a magnificent garden and orchard somehow contained within a plot of land hardly larger than an acre. For whatever reason, Mack had expected a perfectly manicured and ordered English garden. This was not that!

It was chaos in color. His eyes tried unsuccessfully to find some order in this blatant disregard for certainty. Dazzling sprays of flowers were blasted through patches of randomly planted vegetables and herbs, vegetation the likes of which Mack had never seen. It was confusing, stunning, and incredibly beautiful.

‘From above it’s a fractal,’ Sarayu said over her shoulder with an air of pleasure.

‘A what?’ asked Mack absentmindedly, his mind still trying to grapple with and control the pandemonium of sight and the movements of hues and shades. Every step he took changed whatever patterns he for an instant thought he had seen, and nothing was like it had been.

‘A fractal… something considered simple and orderly that is actually composed of repeated patterns no matter how magnified. A fractal is almost infinitely complex. I love fractals, so I put them everywhere.’

‘Looks like a mess to me,’ muttered Mack under his breath.”

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Come alongside, if you will, as I share with ya’ll some of the mess, the fractals, that make up the seemingly simple and orderly life we live here on the farm…

Rewind back to 2004. Two years married, two precious babies under the age of two. Bad decisions catching up with me. With us.

Brad and I lived in town in a little house that my sweet granddaddy had helped me to fix up. Oh how I loved that little house. He and I poured lots of time and energy and love into that place. Many memories were made that will forever overshadow the heartache that would soon follow.

As a result of those bad decisions, we would lose that house in the spring of 2004.

I was heartbroken, for many reasons, and completely unsure of what the future held for our young and struggling family.

We took country rides a lot, always dreaming about what it would be like to have a place away from the noise of town. Brad had a dream of building, with his own hands, a home for us on that land. I thought he was crazy. 🙂

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But one day, as we were riding and dreaming, we happened upon six acres and a tiny mobile home. And God practically threw it in our laps.

It was an escape for us. An escape to peace and quiet and away from the whispers and judgmental glares of those who knew our story.

We immediately branded our new place “the sanctuary”, because that’s what it was. A place of refuge and safety. For me and Brad. For our girls. But we hadn’t the faintest idea of just how far that name would go. And the thought of homesteading? Well, that was nowhere remotely close to even being a thought.

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Upon our move to the country, a sweet elderly couple from across the way befriended us. They began to visit us regularly, bringing fresh eggs, vegetables from their garden and m&ms for the girls. But most of all, they brought us friendship and through that we began to learn what “community” was all about.

In the meantime, our baby girl was born and Brad went to work offshore to provide for our family. I quickly became overwhelmed with being a single mom while he was gone. The amount of time it left me alone with all the duties of being momma and daddy was too much to bear, and to be completely raw with ya’ll, I resented him deeply for his decisions. I had a full time job as well, and could not keep up the house, the kids and with six acres while he was gone.

I wanted to move back to town. Where I had reinforcement. And stores. And convenience…

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But Brad didn’t take the bait.

So, one day while he was off in the Gulf of Mexico, I was walking around in the overgrown yard thinking, “Something’s gotta give…

“What are we doing out here?”

“Why do we even have all this land??”

“I don’t even have a lawnmower, for crying out loud!!”

Actually, I had never even mowed a yard before. Sad, yes. But true.

Sometime after that, this was given to me — “The Lord will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The Lord your God will bless you in the land He is giving you.” (Deut. 28:8)

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I remember thinking, “Uh, okay. We don’t have a barn. And right now I just wanna set a match to this place. Move me back to town!!”

And then, “But you were created in a garden for a reason, Erin.”

Hmm. Pullin’ out the big guns now, are ya? Well, I’m not biting. Nope. That’s what we have neighbors for. And grocery stores.

So, in 2008, we built our first garden… 🙂

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It was beautiful and I was hooked. I felt purposeful for the first time in a long while. The garden quickly became my happy place. A place where the world and problems and all my other duties ceased to exist.

That rocked on and one day my sweet neighbor asked me if I wanted to learn how to can vegetables. Yes!! So we canned snap beans. Jars and jars of snap beans in the midst of my tiny trailer kitchen. It was nostalgic, sitting there around the table, the whistling of the canner in the background, her telling me stories of how, when she was a young girl, they canned on a wood burning stove.

The following year, we began homeschooling, got some chickens, and those sweet little neighbors of ours introduced us to fresh cow milk. I never will forget when Mr. Ray called and said, “Hey Punkin’, you interested in some raw milk?”

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Now, I was quickly becoming a country girl, but “raw milk” had me so confused! But, I obliged, and through that I was introduced to another wise woman who would inspire me and grow me tremendously.

One day, in December 2010, upon visiting that wise woman, she asked me if I was ready for a milk cow of my own. Brad and I had talked about it, but we were also about to begin the ever adventuresome project of building our own house, and had decided we should wait. Until after the house was built.

Well, one month later, in January of 2011, we welcomed Bess the Jersey cow to our growing farm. 🙂

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That was the single worst year of my entire life. I had never – NEVER – milked a cow. And SHE had never been milked. She had a two week old calf and fire in her eyes. Talk about a rodeo. I feel quite certain that all of eternity sat around with their popcorn, placing bets on how much milk I could get in the bucket before Bess stuck her foot in it.

Oh, but there were soon many, many things God would teach me through that cow. The first being the memorization of James 1:2-4 – “Consider it pure joy, my sister, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.”

I quoted that durn scripture nearly every day while milking her. Mostly through my clenched teeth.

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He taught me how to let go of my need for control, and taught me self control in its place.

He taught me to replace “I can’t” with “I CAN.”

There were a multitude of other lessons learned. Too many to recall. I wish I had journaled them all.

We began building our house, with our own hands, in the summer of 2011, in the midst of Bessie’s first year with us, and would continue building it for the next five years. Much of our blood, sweat and tears was poured into those years. Literally.

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During that time also came a bigger garden, increased knowledge, more canning, more learning, more understanding, more growth, lots of reading, a more vivid purpose to live fully. Chickens have come and gone and come again. Yearly calves have stolen our hearts and we have made the shift to unschooling our girls.

Early this year, through much prayer and consideration, we welcomed four Nubian dairy goats to our farm and said goodbye to our Jersey girl of six years, rehoming her with a sweet family to be their first milk cow.

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2017 has also been our first year to raise and butcher meat birds. We’ve welcome a few hives of honeybees, expanded our gardening efforts and are dreaming of even more ways to encourage and inspire and teach…

The growth that has occurred in our family, through farm life, is exponential. But for myself, personally, it’s simply nothing short of a miracle.

Ya know, many people refer to this life as “the simple life.” The definition of simple being “that which is easily understood or done; presenting no difficulty.”

This life is far from that. We get up before dawn and we work hard. Every. Single. Day. Difficult lessons are learned. We lose crops. Animals get sick and die. Predators attack. Cows repeatedly cross ditches in search of greener, unfenced pastures. Things happen that you are not equipped to deal with and things happen that you just can’t explain. But so goes life.

It’s all part of the fractals…

At the end of that chapter in The Shack, Mack has been helping Sarayu clean out an area of the garden. She thanks him, and he says…

“I didn’t do that much, really. I mean, look at this mess.” His gaze moved over the garden that surrounded them. “But it really is beautiful, and full of you, Sarayu. Even though it seems like lots of work still needs to be done, I feel strangely at home and comfortable here.”

The two looked at each other and grinned.

Sarayu stepped toward him until she had invaded his personal space. “And well you should, because this garden is your soul. This mess is you! Together, you and I, we have been working with a purpose in your heart. And it is wild and beautiful and perfectly in process. To you it seems like a mess, but to me, I see a perfect pattern emerging and growing and alive — a living fractal.”

Wow. A perfect pattern. Emerging and growing and alive.

Living fractals.

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“And when I study the amount of complexity in a fractal — zooming in closer and closer, yet never losing any resolution or altering its appearance in any way — I am reminded that the same painstaking detail went into God’s plan for my life. I break out in praise. And then I want to zoom in a bit more.”

Humble blessings to you all… 🙂

Let’s Jam.

Hey ya’ll!

Hope everyone is having a great week. 🙂

Yesterday was a really full day of canning, including chicken broth, zucchini relish and bread & butter pickles, but the only thing I’m gonna bother telling ya’ll about is the blueberry jam. Because.

Oh. My. Blueberries. THE JAM.

Jam is so much more interesting than jelly. It has texture. It has body. It’s like summer in a jar.

So, as I told ya’ll last week, we ventured to a local pick-your-own blueberry farm. Seeing as how we came back with six gallons of fresh, plump, juicy berries, jam just seemed like the thing to do.

And without further adieu, here is the recipe…

 

Blueberry Jam (recipe is easily doubled)

Here’s what you’ll need to have on hand:

3 pints blueberries

3 cups sugar

1 T butter (to keep the mixture from foaming)

1 box Sure Jell fruit pectin

5 half pint canning jars (**While the jam is cooking, I allow my jars to warm up in the canner.)

Water bath canner

 

Instructions:

  1. Place blueberries in a large pot over medium high heat.IMG_2633
  2. When they begin to boil, stir in butter and pectin.IMG_2643
  3. Once the berries reach a rolling boil, stir in sugar and allow to reach a full boil again.IMG_2644
  4. Boil for one minute, stirring. Turn off heat.
  5. Fill hot, sterilized half pint jars with mixture, leaving 1/4″ headspace. IMG_2645
  6. Wipe rims of jars. Attach lids and bands. Process jars in boiling water canner, covered with one inch of water, for 10 minutes.
  7. After processing, remove jars from canner and allow to cool on counter.

 

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Just look at that, would ya? Mmm.

Now, take a big spoon and spread this deliciousness on a homemade buttermilk biscuit, or just eat it by the spoonful. Either way is yummy. 😉

Green beans are on the agenda for next week, so stay tuned! In the meantime, get you some blueberries and make some jam!

Blessings,

Erin

The Ripening Process

“I just don’t think these tomatoes are ever gonna turn red…” says many a gardener, every year.

Isn’t that just like us? Always rushing things.

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The plants are barely in the ground and we wanna be plucking fruit. Results, now. Please and thank you. Oh, and make them ripe, juicy, perfectly round and blemish free. K?

And while we’re at it, could ya throw in a harvest free of disease, weeds, pesky bugs, soil testing and all that jazz, too, because who has time for that?

“Cursed is the ground, because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it…”

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Hmm.

It is a finicky thing, the tomato. As the vine is growing, we must constantly check for signs of blight and other fungal diseases, acting wisely, and in haste, at the earliest signs of a threat. The soil must be tested and amended consistently in order to grow a strong, healthy plant that can stand up to threats of disease and pests. We must give each one plenty of room to grow, never overcrowding, which leads to insufficient air flow and a breeding ground for various issues. The roots need to be deeply watered, but not too often. And daily inspection is required, lest the well camouflaged hornworms destroy the vulnerable new growth of the plant.

Yes, the vine growth stage has many a growing pain. A lengthy and tiresome process at times. And perhaps the very thing about gardening that provides the most life lessons.

But wait, we’re supposed to be talking about ripening fruit, aren’t we? My apologies.

Did you know that the main determiner in how fast a tomato turns red is the variety? The variety of the tomato also determines how long it will take to reach the mature green stage.

Mature green stage. I’m not gonna detour on that. But I so could.

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Just keep in mind that a tomato (or, children & adults, for that matter…) absolutely cannot ripen, no matter how forced, unless it has reached its mature green stage.

And the time it takes for that stage to be reached is different. for. every. tomato. and very dependent on the quality of the vine growth stage.

Know your varieties. Test and amend your soil. Water deeply. Give them room. Tomatoes and kids.

Believe it or not, outside temperature is another factor in the ripening process. We can understand this in the south, surely. How many times have we thrown caution to the wind, planting our tomatoes way earlier than the Good Friday rule of thumb, only to find the loaded vines taking just as long to ripen as everyone else’s?

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Here’s why. Lycopene and carotene, two substances that help a tomato ripen, are only produced between the temperatures of 50 and 85 degrees F. Tomatoes will remain green if it’s any cooler than 50 degrees. Anything warmer than 85 degrees and the process that produces lycopene and carotene is halted. Interesting, yes?

And then there’s ethylene. The third and final part of the ripening trilogy. Ethylene is an odorless, tasteless and invisible gas that triggers a tomato to turn red. Only when a tomato has reached the green mature stage does it start to produce ethylene and begin the ripening process.

 

So you see, everything in its own perfectly appointed time.

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We have much to learn here on this earth. Us humans, given dominion over the creation. When will we realize that the very things we are given authority over are touched by the hand of God, and from them flow the most profound lessons, if approached in humility and respect, with eyes to see and ears to hear?

Blessings to ya’ll on this unseasonably cool Sunday… 🙂

 

 

 

This week on the farm…

As usual, it’s been a full week on the farm. Here’s a little of what we’ve been up to this week…

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We harvested our first mess of snap beans early this week…

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We were planning to wean our Nubian kids this week, as they are approaching the age of four months. However, upon weighing them, we weren’t very please with their gain since cutting bottles back. So, we’ve decided to keep them on milk for at least another couple of months in order to breed late fall/early winter.

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Our Cochin hen, Skit, hatched out two of the cutest, tiniest little chicks you ever did see! The girls have lovingly named them Tipper and Skippy. 🙂

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Blossom end rot also reared its ugly head in the garden this week. We have treated this go ’round by inserting 2 or 3 TUMS into the soil at the base of each plant for a quick release of calcium via the root system. Give it a try!

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The unseasonably cool mornings we’ve had this week allowed us a nice trip to a local blueberry farm, where we picked 6 gallons in just over an hour!

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I’ve also been side dressing pepper plants with Epsom salts to increase growth and fruit set…

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And of course, with fresh blueberries comes blueberry cobbler!

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Landry and I check on the swarm hive that we caught last week. Lots of comb being drawn out, as you can see here, but no evidence of brood just yet. Soon though!

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Our purple hull pea patch is looking very nice!

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And the girls even managed to get away from farm chores one cool morning and work on their fort. 🙂

Hope you all have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend!

Blessings from the farm… 🙂

Bread & Butter Zucchini Pickles

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Ahh, canning season… One of my most favorite things about spring/summer. 🙂

With all the busyness and bounty that comes along this time of year, we’ve set aside Wednesday as our “canning day”. It’s something I absolutely must schedule for a certain day – else it may not get done. So, it’s my intention to share with ya’ll the recipes we are using each week in our endeavors.

First up…

Bread & Butter Zucchini Pickles

3 1/2 pounds medium zucchini

1 cup thinly sliced, halved onion (1 large)

3 T pickling salt

crushed ice

2 cups apple cider vinegar

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 T mustard seeds

1 t celery seeds

1/2 t whole peppercorns

1/2 t ground turmeric

5 pint size mason jars

  1. Wash zucchini. Slice off the stem and blossom ends. Cut crosswise into 1/4″ thick slices. Measure 12 cups zucchini slices.
  2. In an extra large nonmetal bowl, combine the 12 cups zucchini and the 1 cup onion slices. Sprinkle with salt and toss gently to coat. Top with 2 inches of crushed ice. Weight down mixture with a heavy plate. Allow to stand at room temperature for 2 hours.
  3. After the 2 hours has passed, removed any remaining ice in zucchini mixture. Transfer mixture to colander set in sink, drain.
  4. In a 5 to 6 quart stainless steel, enamel or nonstick heavy pot, combine vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds, celery seeds, peppercorns and turmeric. Bring to boiling, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add zucchini mixture. Return to boiling, stirring frequently. Reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
  5. Ladle hot mixture into hot, sterilized pint canning jars, leaving a 1/2 ” headspace. Wipe jar rims; adjust lids.
  6. Process filled jars in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes (start timing when water returns to a boil). Remove jars from canner, cool on wire racks.

 

And that’s it. A quick and easy something to do with all those excess zucchini. I can’t wait to try them out on a BBQ sandwich!

Ya’ll enjoy, and be inspired. 🙂

Sanctuary Scutwork

A repost from a few years back. Sometimes, old words are the best motivators for new words…

Happy Friday, ya’ll. 🙂

 

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden to work it and take care of it.” – Genesis 2:15

I love that verse. I love the fact that as soon as God breathed life into the nostrils of man, he put the man in a garden. To work it. To take care of it.

I love that the Hebrew word for “work” here is ‘abad. It means so much more than the four letter word we translate it into. Out of the 290 times it is used in the Old Testament, 227 of those times it means “to serve”. To serve! God put man in the garden to serve Him by working the land He provided.

Not only did God put man there to serve Him by working the land, he put him there to keep it. To shamar it. To retain posession of it. To guard it. To observe it. To give heed to it.  To preserve it. To protect it.

Is that not fascinating?!

Well, maybe it doesn’t fascinate you as much as it does me. 🙂  But we take it pretty seriously around here. It’s how we came to name this place where we reside, “The Sanctuary”. A sacred place, and a refuge. This is where we serve God by getting our hands dirty. This is where we worship Him by exercising the skills He has gifted us with. This is where we observe and protect and guard His creation. This is where we retain posession of a parcel of land that is sold out for His work, not ours. This is where we preserve His will for family (Deut 6).

Sssooo, once a week, I’d like to invite you to The Sanctuary. It’s not a long trip. Just to your inbox. 🙂  Come and see what we do and how we live. There are always projects of some kind going on. And we’d love for you to be a part of it!

It’ll be as if you are getting your hands dirty, too. Come alongside…