Keeping Healthy as the Weather Turns Cool

The breeze is turning chilly, cool weather is late this year – last October we were already burning most of the day! This year, we still have nights that don’t require a fire in the stove. But late or soon, the seasons are shifting, and we already have our first cold in the house.

Poor Ilya has a sad little cough, not enough to dampen his spirits during the day, but definitely enough to make night-time a struggle. Colds are pretty much inescapable if you have kids, and your kids have friends to play with! But thankfully, their also pretty easy to fight. We have our cough-cold Oxymel – which Ilya loves drinking in ‘fuzzy water’ (sparkling water), pots full of herbal teas with honey (I like mullein, lemon balm, and bee-balm with a little bit of mint), and for the grown-ups (because no one wants to deal with Sick-mama!) we have a freshly mixed “master-tonic” – too spicy for the kids to handle, they won’t touch it!

A master tonic is super easy to make – it’s actually an oxymel too! – and like most herbal remedies, it can be edited to include more of what you have and less of what you don’t! Mine is heavy on the garlic, and the onions, because I have a bunch of them! And I threw in some rose-hips as well, because our wild-roses did pretty well this year! Mine is very light on peppers, I only got one from my plants this year, and it was a little one.

Altogether, I put in a whole, large onion; a whole bulb of red-russian garlic, one hot pepper (jalapeno? I think..), a moderately sized, peeled and chopped ginger root, a big chunk of horseradish root (they are taking over my garden!) – also chopped up small, a 1/4 cup of rose-hips, and a tablespoon of turmeric powder..oh, and a sprinkle of the last of the bee-balm on top!

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I let in all steep in a quart and a half of raw apple cider vinegar (the kind with “the Mother”) for two weeks, strained it out and mixed the infused vinegar with about a cup (more or less is fine too!) of raw, local honey.

This stuff is like fire! It’s awesome! Don’t mix it with water when you take it, just take about half a shot and feel the burn!

(*Do I have to say “I’m not a doctor, don’t pretend I am!”?? Well there, I said it.*)

It’s been great, because, while Seth has a killer immune system, mine is kind of crap. And I need all the help I can get to stay healthy!

Along with all these tonics and teas, we have another awesome weapon against illness in our house! I made it last night actually, to drive away Ilya’s cough and the chilly, rainy October air: Chicken and dumpling soup.

I’d roasted a chicken for Sunday’s dinner, so yesterday, I put the bones and skin and whatever else was leftover into a big soup pot. I let it get to a boil and then moved it over the the ‘cool’ part of the stove (on a non-wood-stove, this would be a low setting) It sat there all day, just making broth, until about two hours before dinner, I strained out the bird, added in about 2/3 of a bulb of garlic (about 5 cloves), 4 medium potatoes, 3 huge carrots, herbs (bay, sage, oregano, salt, pepper, a tiny bit of turmeric, and paprika), and about 1/4 of a cup butter. Then I let that cook on the middle of the stove (medium-heat), covered for about an hour.

And while that cooked I made dumplings: two cups of flour, 1/4 cup butter, 1/3 cup grated cheddar/asiago/gouda (pick one! or mix them all in!), one egg, and enough milk to make a soft, sticky dough.

Then, I pulled off chestnut-sized balls of dough and dropped them one-by-one into the simmering soup. They cook for an hour or a half-hour or a couple hours, (depending on how long it takes to get the rest of dinner ready!) and the soup tastes like wellness in a bowl.

We ate it with sourdough bread, apples, and red wine while the rain fell loud one the roof of the yurt.

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Monday Reflections

October is my favorite month, and this year especially, the mornings feel so fresh! I step out into the new light, let the birds out for the day, feed the goats, and let the autumn breezes wake me.

There is nothing better on an October morning than hot coffee and the sound of crows calling up in the trees. We have so many crows in October and November – they cluster together at the tops of the tall pines, and on the roadside.

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This week the wind is blowing in real, autumnal weather. I have plans to take the kids picnic-ing at out local cemetery, as well as walking down to visit the beavers. Much of our focus this week though, will be on trying to recapture our order. We’re still finishing up the big-yurt-overhall. It’s been back up and together for a few weeks now, but it’s far from finished for winter! We have a beautiful new door, a lovely, colorful ceiling, and less clutter, but we’re still unsettled. We have shelving to build and the tub to bring in, we have wood to split and stack, and of course, we have schoolwork to do and animals to tend. It all adds up, with Seth’s art and my writing, to an abundance of work!

And I am awful at focus, so this week, I’ll be practicing my ‘daily rule’ again with intensity.

Morning and evening routines are the most essential. I feel as if I can muscle my way through a rough day if it’s begun well, and if I know the evening is waiting for me. If I can fill my morning with journaling, coffee, and quite moments outside; and my evening with writing, books, and a cozy chat with my husband – I know I can bring order back to the house!

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This morning I’m also thinking of things beyond my little home.  I hear again and again that my generation is selfish, incapable, excessively consuming, ‘special snowflakes’.. and then I look around and see my generation reclaiming old ways of living, making-do with less, building homes intentionally free of material and technological clutter, and working toward something wholesome and loving in our relationships to others. It’s a tough time to be settling down and raising children. I had our little radio off much of the week, to keep the updates from Las Vegas from creeping into my children’s ears.  There is a reason this off-grid life is attractive to so many, most of whom will probably never pursue it.

In the world today, with so many people bitter at my generation for ‘killing the paper napkin industry’ or the diamond industry, or the 40 work week, or any other unnecessary conventionality, we some times forget what we’re building: free-form small businesses, a renewal of artisan-crafts, authentic beauty in the home, intentional relationships, and we’re building them amid the rubble of a nation so angry and divided that it is devouring its own.

My birches are swaying in the breeze. Their leaves are gold and green as they’re just beginning to turn. My children love their trees, their sky, their rocks and ferns. They feel so safe here. I feel safe here. I’m blessed that amid the rubble, members of my generation are building little hermitages of beauty, of intentionality, and of hospitality. Thousands of little abbas and ammas, learning again what is worth saving and what – like the paper napkin industry – can easily pass away.

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Cleaning with Essential Oils

Essential Oils are so trendy..or they were..maybe I’m behind the times. Are they still trendy?

Essential Oils – amazing little bottles of scent for so many tasks around the homestead!

They are the distilled heart of the herbs and flowers we interact with everyday. And they’re great for cleaning!

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I like dropping some lemongrass in with my Murphy’s Oil Soap and hot water then wiping down all the wood in my house until it gleams.

Or mixing baking soda and Lavender oil in with a little water to make a paste that scrubs away the soot and mildew stains after a long winter. (Yurts tend to have some condensation issues when snowy winter cold on the outside competes with wood-stove warmth on the inside.)

I love mixing lemon oil in with vinegar to spritz on our windows, and wipe them clean before laying them out in the sun to brighten up. I don’t have lemon right now though, so I’ve been using orange instead.

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And in the winter when I deep-clean and the whole house feels a bit tired, I put quite a lot of drops of bergamot and lavender and yarrow essential oils in the big iron dragon on the wood-stove. I fill him up with water and let the scented steam come pouring our to make all things fresh again.

Essential oils all have different properties. Some, like tea tree and lavender destroy mildew, others, like coffee, are better added to a counter/cutting board wood balm and rubbed into the wood. The coffee oil gives wood an extra sheen and moisture, and it smells amazing!

 

 

 

7 Quick Takes: Rebuilding and Renewing

1. Tearing down the house and putting it back up again was so hard! Oh my goodness I’m still exhausted..that might be due in part to last night’s mini-sickness – both kids woke up a few times to vomit a bit and then sadly drift back to sleep – I didn’t get to sleep in between episodes of sickness though, and they we awake and nestling in bed with us by 5, so yeah, exhaustion.

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But the house-cleaning was a huge undertaking..that canvas roof is super heavy! We scrubbed the interior walls, aired everything out, wiped down wood, and painted the wall panels before putting it all back together again. Now Seth is painting the ceiling and rebuilding all our problematic essentials, like the door. We have a tapestry up now to give the impression of a door.

Between all the house-stuff and homeschooling, we’re insanely busy these days, hence the neglected blog..but my house is going to look amazing this fall and winter! So it’s all worth it.

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2. I’m delving into a new level of homesteading this year..fermentations! We’ve made saurkraut and sour pickles before, but right now, I’ve got a kombucha SCOBY growing, beets, carrots, and onions lacto-fermenting on the shelf, pickles and dilly beans perched up beside the flour, saurkraut in the big crock on the floor, and a new sourdough started doing it’s thing on between the jars of fermenting roots. Oh, and honeys too: garlic, peach, blackberry and tulsi, basil, and rose-hip honeys in the pantry. It’s an exciting time! We’re stocking up on things for late fall and winter, trying to be more homesteady and less self-indulgent, and loving it all!

3. I’m also steeping some Fire Cider for winter healings: peppers, onions, garlic, rose-hips, the last of the bee balm, ginger, turmeric, horse-radish, and a golden beet are all chopped up and drowning in apple cider vinegar. This stuff is such a germ-killer, I can’t wait to have it all bottled and dose-able.

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4. With all this fermentation and homesteading-hardcore, we’re moving as a family to a more traditional, whole-foods approach to eating. Ok, we’re always been pretty whole-food-y, but now we’re not just rejecting stuff because it looks and tastes kinda yucky, we’re building on the food-culture that naturally exists in a home with two really good cooks and lots of homegrown foods..as much as sometimes I love eating a plant-based diet – Yay Lent! – its not something that I can sustain or enjoy long term. I have the Nourishing Traditions book coming soon, and I’m digging back into healthy, sustainable, traditional foods! It’s exciting and fun so full of variety right now that I really just want to go out and refresh our entire pantry, but…

5. It’s a tight-budget season for us as well. There is so much to do in preparation for winter, and so many repairs and replacements happening that despite some awesome work, it’s a tight time financially. Not painfully tight, just one of those times that has me putting off enthusiastic purchases that will renew everything..good training in learning to want less and make do with more! My husband is fantastic at this, he always finds something to use in building something new – our goat-shed was built entirely with material we had on hand, and he’s doing the same with most of our yurt renovations! He’s just amazing! It’s actually (as dorky as this might sound) an inspiration to watch him change something worthless into something beautiful.

6. We haven’t moved everything back into the yurt, and I don’t think we will. I am in love with all the space and the open walls, I want to bring things in very, very slowly, find a home for each object and stop when the house feels done. I don’t want my house to be full of distractions and toys and little bits of whatever. I have nothing under my bed right now and it looks so good!! And the kids can play under there, Luba can sulk under there, it’s such a nice little spot right now. I want it to say nice and clean and happy.  So I think this is the time to go forward with minimalism. No more half-hearted little purges, so much is going out the door forever this fall! Good-bye toys, good-bye 2nd and 3rd copies of books, good-bye unrepairable bits of pottery!

And at some point, goodbye clothes I’m only partially attached to, but right now, with 90% of my wardrobe falling in that category, I’m putting off the big-clothing-purge. Sometime before the new year though, I am determined!

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7.  I might take another social retreat this winter, maybe start off the New Year with one. Has anyone done this? Time away with no visitors, limited tech – I had phone hours last time, and the rest of the time my phone was off, off facebook, very intentional blogging times and essentially just a lot of solitude with my little family and Jesus. It’s seriously one of the most reviving things I’ve ever done. I really want to make it a regular practice, but I’m not sure of an ideal time. The new year seems like a nice choice…what do you think?

 

Tearing Down the House

We’re doing it! We took the walls off on Sunday and scrubbed them down, they’ll be painted today or tomorrow. This morning Seth is taking down the dome and we’ll be re-adjusting the lattice, cleaning the beams, and taking off the roof for cleaning and painting. It is so exciting. I can’t wait for my house to be all refreshed and ready for autumn!

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Right now, we’re tenting in the yard. The kids have been having a blast running wild, helping with clean up, and snuggling down in the nest of blankets our little tent has become. It holds the heat so well, the tent is warmer than the house would be during these chilly nights, and we can hear all the night noises just a little bit more clearly: the goats stamping and kicking their walls, the guineas waking up early, the rustling in the trees – just out of sight. Luba curls up in the tent with us, feeling deeply loved and taking up much more than her fair share of blankets.

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We’ll be busy this week with all the cleaning, painting, fixing up, and putting back together; and then afterwards we’ll be redecorating a bit. Replacing old shelves with something stronger, purging out all the things we don’t want to put back in the house, and getting ready for the cold weather that is coming oh-so-soon!

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Rain Week

My rain barrels are close to overflowing! They were empty before the rain started last Sunday. The chicken run, the goat yard, the driveway, are all muddy and messy now. But it’s a happy, autumnal mud. Russian folklore would have me give over early September to St. Paraskeva-the-dirty, patron of fertile fields and muddy roads.

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The beaver pond was low, almost a stream again before the rain. It’s high up the shoreline again. Hopefully our beavers are still there, settling in for winter, taking down trees for us to burn later.

It’s warm again this week. Summer temperatures, but with that fall scent in the air. People are out buying autumn decorations at the stores – but I don’t need them! I have two eager kids collecting red and gold (sometimes brown and crumbly) leaves, little stones, ferns, and pretty sticks for me to place on the altar; picking goldenrod and tansy for the table, and filling the house with baskets of woodland beauty.

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I also have blackberries scattered all over the land. Enough to add to pancakes, muffins, quick-breads, and sauce-less pizzas. And, if you’ve never made grilled cheese with blackberries, basil, and fresh mozzarella..well, you need to come see me before the berries are gone!

Bookish Homeschooling: September Breakfast Reading

We’re a week into schooling – and the structure of the day is holding up, for the most part, to distractions, spontaneity, and all the little things in life!

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We start the day with breakfast..well, the kids start the day trying to intrude on my early morning time, actually. They’re supposed to stay in bed until at least 7 while I instagram (@beautifulcrows if you’re interested), journal, make coffee, and pray..this is a new system, so it’s taking time to adjust to for Ilya who is used to running around like a wild man in the morning asking for ban’a and fig. Yarrow loves it though, she reads quietly in her bed, I read quietly at the table.

At breakfast though, when everyone is permitted to be up and we have bowls of oatmeal or plates of toasts with almond butter and grapefruits before us, I read books from our ‘morning basket’. We start with the Bible, a few poems, and then there could be selections from the art book, people around the world, our current saint book, nature reading, catechism, Spanish, alphabet books, or history. I try to mix it up so that there are a few books that are just on Ilya’s level and a few that challenge both of them. The books that I want Yarrow to narrate from after reading I read last, and right after an Ilya book. I also invite him to narrate as well – because he loves feeling big! – and give him lots of help.

Right now, we’re reading Matthew in the Bible, such inviting language for the kids! Two or three poems from our favorite Sing a Song of Popcorn poetry book; or two poems in both Spanish and English from The Tree is Older than You Are; Tomie dePaola’s Life of Mary (we love starting tbe school year with Her); an illustrated book called People by Peter Spier; The Story of Painting by the Jansons. And occasionally, selections from A Gospel of Wild Flowers, Star Maps, and Dahlov Ipcar’s ABC books. For Catechism Yarrow is currently reviewing the Faith and Life first and second grade books and Ilya is listening to My First Catechism: the Catholic Faith for Little Ones. But Faith and Life has gotten super dull for Yarrow, and I’m thinking of switching us to My Catholic Faith, an early 20th century catechism text that seems more interesting. History texts are still up the air..

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We don’t read all this every day, right now so much is just review..but we love having a book-heavy start to the morning, and a cozy early morning with coffee, books, ideas, and all the pretty pictures is such a gentle way to get little minds working again after a long night of dreaming.

 

Goats!

( I feel like a real homesteader now!)

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Aren’t they pretty!

Lilith, Pele, Freja, and Inanna arrived Wednesday. They’re nubian does, none of them are milking currently, but we hope to have two of them bred this fall if possible. Right now, they’re just settling in and loving their new home.

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The kids are in love..they’re learning to handle themselves around slightly larger-than-Luba animals, learning that goats don’t always respect personal space, and happily feeding hay and grasses to the greedy goats.

It’s so much fun.

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They also read to them, because what goat doesn’t want to hear the story of ‘The Fortune-Tellers’ or ‘The little Red Caboose’ three or four times a day? Our girls are an attentive audience. Most of the time..

We have a bit to learn about goat-tending, and the does have some learning to do as well..none of them has walked on a halter – though they’re pretty well behaved, they don’t know how to be led. So we’re learning together!

And while we do, our overgrown, briar-filled land is being tamed. It’s a delightful new adventure.

New School-Year Thoughts

IMG_20170828_172024_170Homeschooling is one of my favorite aspects of our lifestyle. It’s such a fantastic and intimate way to nurture the faith and intellectual-lives of my children, such a fun way to get to know them as people – and all the magical, hidden, mazes of their minds and thoughts. I adore homeschooling.

Ilya is a little young for anything official..ok, a lot young, actually, but he wants to be a part of the schooling because he adores Yarrow, and fortunately, our style of schooling is very inclusive. Lots of reading aloud, lots of walks in the woods, good music, drawing, painting, and prayers. I can spend a bit of one on one time with him reading some of his favorite books while Yarrow works on her math and copywork, and he can learn the art of ‘listening attentively’ while Yarrow tells me back some of what we’ve read.

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We’re starting the new school year officially yesterday! Yarrow has been doing prep levels and, while a lot of her prep-work has taken her through most of the first level of our curriculum, we’re sticking with that level for the fall, to make sure she’s got it all before adding in aspects of the second level. We change it up quite a bit, but the themes are the same.

What does schooling look like for you all? I would love to know how you decided what sort of schooling fits your family, and why! What do you love about it, and what’s a bit more challenging?

Because, as ideal as it is, homeschooling deep in the woods with the crickets and crows, homeschooling has some challenges too. I am always struggling to build a structured, intentional daily life, some days are less so than others, and some days don’t even come close to the sort of daily life I’m intending! And space gets limited as the seasons change, winter homeschooling is cozy in the yurt, but books and papers pile up quickly!

 

Night-time Fairies

The kids adore our fairy neighbors. We have primroses growing along their garden-bed, in hopes of attracting our friends, and heart’s – ease scattered among the balms. Almost every night I can hear Yarrow whisper her longing to the moon: Someday maybe the fairies will wake me and take me dancing under the trees. Maybe tonight!

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Our nights are full of fairies. On birthday and name-day eves, we leave out a slice of cake in the garden for our fairy friends, they eat it and cover the plate with flowers or tokens of love – luck for the year to come. We leave out cakes on the altar as well, for the saints to bless and share. Happy generosity, they love to celebrate with us!

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It’s become such a delightful ritual. We have a small cake-pan for the altar cakes, and two small plates for fey and blessed friends. And now, as Yarrow says ‘good-bye’ to her baby teeth, we have another chance to share. The fairies come at night to collect the lost and lonely tooth, eat a cake all their own, and take the tooth away to their woodland cave for safe-keeping. Witches love teeth – so many spells are better and stronger with a tooth in the mix – but our fairy neighbors keep them tucked away where no witch can find them. Or so they say, and who am I to argue?