Wednesday, December 24, 2008


There are so many creative things happening at our house right now!

Brent is knitting me a sock.

Rhianna made a journal.

Colleen knitted a scarf...

Then started a hat too.

Brent tried to make butter,

but we all thought it tasted like a barn. (I think he'll tell you more about it later.)

Wes' biggest challenge has been using his new driver's license while learning to use a stick shift,

but he's getting better every day.

The Jeopardy Answer: "YES!"

The Final Jeopardy Question: Are we having fun yet?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Good From the Earth Medley

It was a busy evening. Our daughter's band concert was awesome on this weekday evening, but it meant most of us were hungry after returning home at 8pm. If you've been following our blog, you know we have been cooking and eating local foods for as many of our meals as possible. We had also just picked up earlier today our winter harvest basket from the Cooley Family Farm.

So, I got creative and used one or more of just about everything from the winter basket for a late evening meal. Everyone said "this is the best thing you've ever cooked!" Well, gosh, that doesn't happen very often (maybe they were just really hungry?). So this is my first "recipe" I've ever written down that I came up with *under pressure*.

Brent's Good From the Earth Medley.

1 onion chopped
2-3 garlic cloves minced
1-2 carrots chopped small
3-4 fresh potatoes - chop bite size
1 turnip - chop bite size
1-2 beets - chop bite size
1-2 celery stalk - chopped
1 small bunch Kale - cut up
4 T olive or peanut oil
1 T sesame oil
2-3 dashes cayenne
salt + pepper
shot of rice vinegar or other vinegar

note: any combination of root vegetables you have on hand will work.
Variation: you can add small amount of scrambled eggs to this for more protein.

Warm skillet over medium heat, add 1-2T oil, add onions, add garlic. cook until light golden.
Add carrots - cook 3-4 min.
Add potatoes, turnip, beets. Add remaining oil. salt + pepper. cook 5 min.
Add celery. add 1/2 cup warm water. Stir. place lid on to steam for 5 min. Stir
Add sesame oil, cayenne. cook until veges tender. stirring to prevent sticking
Add chopped Kale, shot of vinegar, and steam for 2-3 min.

Sprinkle Cheddar cheese over all. enjoy. yum.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

One Week Getaway + Vow Renewal = Best Vacation Ever!

Brent and I had an anniversary in October. It wasn't a 10th or a 15th or any of the usual "big" years. But we felt like it was time to mark that special day in a big way. We loved our real wedding ceremony which was informal and outdoors on the edge of Otterbein Lake at Brent's grandparents' home. But we felt that we would like to have the experience of getting all dressed up and reminding each other that we would be happy to do it all over again. So we did!

We planned a week long getaway to the Smoky Mountains. I told everyone how excited I was and I don't think anyone really understood why. Brent and I had never spent a week alone ever. I already had kids when we got married and it just never seemed like something we could do. We didn't mind this but we started thinking that maybe it was time. So we lined up grandparents and wrote out schedules. I found great helpers to watch River Knits for the week. And with much excitement, we headed south! Before we left Brent had secretly put a new message on our car. It took me a while to catch on.

We planned a lunch time stop in Berea, Kentucky and ate at the unique little restaurant called Papa Leno's. I never knew that it was possible for garlic bread to be called decadent, but this was before I had eaten at Papa Leno's! If you are ever driving by Berea, treat yourself to lunch there and find out why.

While in Berea we saw that there was a solar tour of homes going on. We didn't have time to take the tour but we did stroll around the EcoVillage on the campus of Berea College. This is what apartment living should be like!

We finally went on our way towards the Smokies, made our way through the bewildering assemblage of carnival like tourist traps that make up Pigeon Forge to find our cabin, the Snuggy Bug. We laughed that the Snuggy Bug was really a lot like our own house. Who else drives two states away to stay in a house that is a lot like home? Apparently we do anyway!

The Snuggy Bug was advertised as being a one bedroom cabin in wooded setting. This was a little bit of a misnomer since it was really a one ROOM cabin. It did show us that you can do a lot of living in a small space. The open beams in the ceiling made it feel spacious and open even though it was about the size of our living room. We loved it!

One of the first things we were looking forward to was our vow renewal. Amanda and Michelle had helped me pick out a beautiful dress. I even had something borrowed--Amanda's cashmere shawl! --to go with the something old, new and blue. I had a true Tennessee experience by having my hair done at a local salon. While I was there Brent rented a tux, bought flowers and waited patiently. It was really fun to have my hair done fancy, but I was really looking forward to seeing my handsome man in a tux. I wasn't disappointed!

Our vow renewal ceremony was simple and short but left me with misty eyes and an overflowing heart. We have a (not digital) picture taken by the photographer that I love. Brent and I are facing each other and he is looking at me with a smile and holding my chin as if he is about to kiss me. There is a special sparkle in that picture that sums up my feelings about our special day.

After our vow renewal ceremony we ate a delicious meal at a neat little restaurant called the Greenbrier Inn. It was a lodge for travelers long ago, but is now a restaurant overlooking the mountains. Brent found a description in a travel brochure, or we would never have found it since it was at the end of a dead end road that looked like it went no where. I surprised Brent by eating every bit of an enormous steak. The food was good, but the company was better! We strolled around Gatlinburg that evening in our fancy clothes. Well wishers cheered us on and newlyweds held up their new rings in a sign of solidarity. We didn't care that we had been married for years; it felt exhilarating. I especially enjoyed knowing that my husband cared enough to do it all again, and in some ways, for the first time.

The rest of the week was as leisurely and decadent as we could make it. We ate at the Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant not once but twice because we just couldn't stay away from the apple fritters with fresh applebutter. We toured the Great Smoky Mountain National Park--from Cade's Cove

to Clingman's Dome.

We stepped on the Applachian trail just to say we did.

In fact Brent jumped the Appalachian Trail...

We took a sky lift up the mountains, and I bought a pair of new shoes (that will show off handknit socks of course).

We decided we've seen enough of old farm settlements that are designed to recreate history though. We're ready to blend the best of the old fashioned ways, with the best of the new, so we can do it ourselves! So I made Brent promise that this stop at this farm recreation by the welcome center on the North Carolina side was the last time we really need to see how they farmed in the 1800's. We've seen it all, in every state we've ever been in, and really we've started to figure out that we already know all that stuff and more. How much corn do you really need to look at anyway?

My favorite thing we saw was the Motor Nature Trail, a winding one lane trip through rather dense forest. We saw ruins of old cabins,

dense forest,

primeval mountain streams

and even 3 bears!

All too soon our week was over and it was time to come home. As we headed north, looking forward to seeing our kids and thinking about what a great time we had, we realized that we were getting hungry. We figured we were pretty close to Berea again so the pull of Papa Leno's breadsticks guided our car into town once again. We were pretty used to being decadent by then, so it was an easy choice!

We were of course glad to be home but we returned a little different from when we left. We were happier, lighter, and we knew more than ever that we have something very special. Most of all we knew that we won't wait 11 years to do it again!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sustainability Tour

Last week we journeyed to Stelle, IL, a small cluster of homes about 100 miles from Lafayette. A group of folks in Stelle started an effort known as Center for Sustainable Community. They teamed up with the University of Illinois to offer a one day tour of sustainable agriculture and permaculture examples. Beth is shown in front of a herd of sheep that are rotationally grazed on land that borders Stelle. We had an interesting time herding the sheep to a new grazing paddock.

Later we toured the Stelle community gardens, poutlry flock, and orchard. Shown in the second photo is a solar food dryer. The goal of CSC is to provide sustainable alternatives for living. It was good for us to view first hand some of the practices, and we realized that we can do many of these practices ourselves. Mostly it was a great day for Beth and I to be together and learn new ideas for our own Big Good!

Enjoying the Wabash River

In mid-August we joined with other NICHES landtrust members and canoed 16 miles of the Wabash River between Granville Bridge and Attica, IN. The day was beautiful. We stopped for lunch along Black Rock (picture). Prior to English settlement, Black Rock was an important strategic lookout for the Native Americans living in this area. It is now protected as part of the holding of the NICHES landtrust. After lunch we paddled down to the town of Attica. Along the way we spotted four eagles. We also marveled at the many small shacks and campers dotting the south bank of the river. Almost every spot had people camping out, fishing, or boating, and enjoying the summer and the river. Taking this canoe trip helped us realize the beauty of the river and the great natural areas that are near to us. Supporting efforts like NICHES helps to ensure that unique natural lands are protected, and made available for the public to enjoy.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Gloom, Despair and Agony on Me.

(Did anyone else grow up watching Hee-Haw?)

If you've been following this blog at all you know that Brent & I were really hoping to be able to buy "the land" in Warren County along Independence Road. We were working with NICHES, who was going to get help from the Indiana Heritage Trust, and they were going to get the woods & creek areas & sell us the home site & barn. It was all working GREAT and looked like the deal was a-go! Until NICHES called the owners in Iowa; and found out that they had sold the land the week before. We were in a fog for a while and could hardly believe it. We really thought we had everything on our side on this one. But I guess it was not meant to be.

About the same time we killed our camera on a WONDERFUL canoe trip on the Wabash. Unfortunately we can't show you the pictures because they are still on the camera and we don't have a way to read them until we get a new camera or borrow someone's card reader.

We have been kind of glum & in recovery for the last couple of weeks. But we are trying to consider other ideas and put out more feelers about new possibilities. We went to the library and looked up the county planning officials & building inspectors in surrounding counties and Brent has been calling them. So far we've learned that the Vermillion County folks would LOVE to have someone build a strawbale house in their county and they were nearly beside themselves with joy when Brent called to ask about it. I guess they don't get a lot of inquiries about people wanting to move their direction. The White County official had concerns about fire so we would have some educating to do if we found land there.

But isn't that really the big question?! Where can we find land? We're back on the quest. If you hear of anyone who would like to sell 5-10 acres with meadow or pasture, some woods and maybe adjoining a creek, pond or river, we want to know!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tastes Great

We feasted yesterday on a locally produced broiler chicken, with local carrots, onions, and green beans. Early this Spring we took a pledge to attempt to eat half of our food from local sources (within 100 miles of our home). We believe we've been attaining this goal. Our harvest basket from the Cooley CSA provides us with almost all of our vegetables and greens. We have been getting apples, peaches, and tomatoes from my parents' place. We picked blueberries at Prelock's, and strawberries from friends Sharon and Tom. Our milk comes from a local German Baptist farm, and for the most part our meat is also from local small farms. Our bees we'll give an update soon...we still don't know how well or not well they are doing.

As much as possible we've been canning and freezing excess for eating this winter. It has NOT been difficult. We have enjoyed learning and trying out various techniques and recipes. We spend very little time or money in the grocery store, and more time at the wonderful Sagamore West Farmers Market in West Lafayette.

One of our goals is to raise a good part of our own food on our small farm, starting with Beef calves and chickens.

Wilderness Man No More!

Letting go of things that hold us back help free that space in our lives to be real, new, imaginative, and see life with new vigor. For me it is time, finally, to move beyond the stigma of being known as the local wilderness man, primitive living expert, etc. In the mid 90's for a few years, I lived a mostly primitive lifestyle in the woodlands near the Great Lakes. I did this for many reasons, some seemingly noble, but some because I was also running from my own fears and emotional hurts. The skills I gained from this period are perhaps still good to making a fire by friction methods, or medicine plants, building a shelter, etc. But being known primarily as "the guy who lived in the woods" is not a good thing....especially since this is not who I am today.

Coming to grips with all of this, I decided to rid my life of all the primitive "trappings" I gathered and have held on to for more than 10 years. I put them in a huge pile (except a few items we are selling on ebay for helping with land fund and farmer's market fun money), and gleefully burned them. I think it might be the biggest fire I've burned in 10 years. Ah, the release. The new freedom. I'm no longer wilderness man! Instead, I'm really marching forward with Beth on the Big Good Path.

As we locate items in our lives, we decide if they are useful or meaningful to us. If not, they are getting ebayed, given away, or tossed out....or even burned!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ebay for the Big Good!

What do an old wedding ring, a fetal doppler, a fraternity pin and a birthing stool have in common? They are all things from earlier eras of our lives that have needed to be let go.

You probably have a place like that too; a box, a closet, a shelf, maybe even a whole room. A place you don't want to go because you'd rather not think about what is in there. You close the door, the things in there get dusty or moldy and time moves on. But one day you realize that you really need to take a look, push aside the dust, and let go.

That's what we've been doing. Beth sold her birth stool, some midwifery textbooks, and her doppler. It was kind of hard both emotionally and physically to crawl into the closet under the basement stairway to sort out these things and send them out into the world where someone can use them again. But it felt great to turn what had become leftovers from another era of my life, into extra funds for the land quest. Just yesterday I took the final box to another local midwife for her to "redistribute" to other aspiring midwives.

Brent had delved into his unopened boxes & bins too. First to go--his first wedding ring. That put money into his pocket that he traded at the farmer's market for the the sweetest apple cider I've ever tasted and the most expensive chicken he's ever bought in his life. He said it was a good trade.

Next he sold a fraternity membership pin on ebay. The money from that has put lunch money in our son's pocket, bought us lunch yesterday at a cute little cafe we found just down the road from "the land," as well as sundaes at the Frozen Custard; AND he still has some in his wallet for this week's farmer's market.

So a new endeavor is set in motion. You could call it "Ebay for the Big Good." We're going to keep purging the things that we don't need anymore but that for some reason we have held onto. If it brings us a little cash in hand that we can trade for good local food and fun, all the better. If it gives us a lot then we'll put it in our land fund. If it brings us nothing other than peace of mind, we'll send it out into the world anyway and be glad that we're really moving on.

"You think by now we’d be a little further on
For all this tumbling we’ve been through...
I feel like I’m finally getting closer to you."
--Carrie Newcomer

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Eating Locally - High Summer

It's the time of year when it would be hard NOT to eat locally.

We realized everything on our plates at this meal was local! An heirloom melon, broccoli and "Slaw Chez Nous" (from the cookbook Laurel's Kitchen)all from Cooley Family Farm. Plus my favorite Indiana summer time sweet corn; this bunch was the best I've had all year (and I consider myself a tough critic on that topic!)

In addition to the fresh local abundance that fills our table, we are having fun working on our early spring goal to preserve as much local goodness as possible to take us through the winter. In addition to the early strawberries (jam & frozen), we now have blueberries (also jam & frozen), early transparent apples (sauce that really is more like apple butter because we cooked it down a little too much), and our first attempt at tomato sauce. This was easier than I thought it would be. We're planning a 2nd sauce production run this weekend.

I used what didn't go in the jars to make a never-the-same meal from what I like to call my "Cooking for Poor People" cookbook. It is really a booklet I got when I took a class sponsored by Purdue Extension as a part of a WIC program years ago. The most useful recipe in it is really more of a formula for using what is on hand. When what is on hand is fresh and wonderful, it is even better!

In addition to tomatoes, we got a sack full of green beans, some crisp winter apples and a bag full of peaches at Brent's Mom & Dad's. The green beans will get canned and if the peaches ripen successfully in a paper bag, some slices will go in the freezer. We picked the peaches a little early to save them from the Japanese beetles. I thought we would store the apples, but they seem to just be getting eaten right now, which is all the better.

Natural Building with Straw Bales

One of our dreams is to build our own home using natural materials that provide energy efficiency, beauty, and elegant design, while allowing us to become mortgage free all in one. We spent two July weekends in a row near Kankakee, Illinois learning the nuances of using straw bales and earthen plasters for walls of building. The workshop was organized by Center for Sustainable Community in Stelle, IL.

The structure was a small guest/play house. It took much more labor and attention to detail than I had previously imagined. The bales of straw, once baled and dry, are stacked like large building blocks. The finished wall can provide up to R40 insulation value and this greatly reduces the need for mechanical heating and cooling systems of a building.

Here Beth is shaving a straw bale using a weed whacker to carve a depression so that the straw bale will fit the corner bracing. There was much attention to detail in terms of making sure that all crevices and gaps between the courses of bales were completely plugged.

This is a photo of Brent using earthen plaster to coat the inside walls. The walls will need two main coats and a final plaster coat. With 16 people in the straw bale workshop and the structure being only 13 x 15 there was plenty to do, but sometimes not enough room for everyone to get involved. We learned a lot about plasters and getting a solid, straight, strong wall using straw bales.

An nice benefit to the straw bale workshops is that Beth and I camped at the nearby Kankakee River State Park (sans kids). We ate a lot of good food, rode our bikes, explored the river banks, and greatly enjoyed our company together.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Independence Day Black Raspberry Cobbler

A day before Independence Day, we made our way along Independence Road toward a place we are beginning to call "The Land"; an abandoned farmstead from the early 1900's. In our search for a place to grow, where we can swing into full tilt on our sustainable living plans, we discovered this hidden jewel. We had set out on our little journey to hike the pasture, and the woods that borders the pasture. We were elated to discover that in just about every nook of the farm, wild black raspberries flourished. Along with apples, strawberries, and blueberries to pick and preserve for the year, we very much wanted to find a good spot to pick raspberries for pies, jams, and such.

As we gobbled these small orbs of royal purple sweetness, we decided to pick enough to make a cobbler. We shared "Independence Black Raspberry Cobbler" with family on Independence Day. We also really hope things work out for us to secure "The Land" and we are saying our affirmations regularly.

Our hike through the pasture was enlightening, and I could envision cows grazing, chickens ranging, and deer nibbling at the edge. The soil smelled sweet, and the grass was healthy and chest high. We took a path into the woods to a rocky point above a creek that rushed on its way to the great Wabash River less than a mile away. Here on this overlook we had a great picnic break listening to the water and birds among the great oaks. Are we jinxing ourselves to want something too much that isn't ours? We can see ourselves making our home in this place, resurrecting the old farm and mixing in an elegant new production of food, spirit, and love. The owners are visiting here soon to make a decision about selling, so please cross your fingers and send good vibes for us!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Blow up yur t.v.

"Blow up yur t.v., move ta tha country, eat a lotta peaches, try n find Jesus on yor own"...ok, I like John Prine songs. We didn't technically blow up our t.v., but I did call our cable company last week to cancel our service. Mainly because we simply don't watch t.v. and thought we could save $50 a month by canceling. The kicker is that we do use the internet service that the cable company provides. Well, before I hung up the phone, they had me signed up for 12 months of digital channels plus internet for $3 more than it would have been if we only payed for internet service.

Long story, but once I contacted the local cable office I found out about some hidden expenses, and canceled it right on the spot...but got the internet for quite a bit less than the national office quoted. Media expenses such as newspapers, magazines, cable t.v., internet service, cell phone service, data download for cell phone, i-tunes....when added up together it spells expensive! We are trying our best to cancel services we simply don't use, or don't need, while having the ability to stay "connected" to the larger world and network of people and ideas. So, today I am using our internet service to work from home (not commuting, saving gas). This gives me the ability to see my family, take a break to take a walk, play a game of basketball, eat home cooked local food, and still get everything done for my employer.

Eating Locally: Preserving Eggs?

We have discovered that when you have 14 of these:

you get about a dozen eggs a day. This time of year anyway!

Brent & I were talking about what we ought to do with our surfeit of eggs and he suggested we find some ways to preserve them for the time of year when we won't have so many.

As I do in most situations I turned to Carla Emery's Encyclopedia of Country Living. Carla confirmed that hens lay more eggs in March through June than the rest of the year combined; that we can expect a shortage in December and January and a glut in the spring & early summer. She had a lot of recipes for pickling eggs and also suggested turning extra eggs into egg noodles. I haven't been adventurous enough to try the pickled egg recipes although the egg noodles sound good.

We were really interested in how we could just use the eggs as eggs later in the year. Drying them sounded drawn out & involved. Rubbing them in grease & packing in salt had its merit but we were lacking a five gallon bucket of salt. Freezing got our vote as the easiest method we could try because we alraedy had everything we needed.

Carla says to break them and mix them together without really whipping them. Then add either 1 T. of sugar or 1/2 tsp. of salt to each cup of whole eggs. Freeze them and label them as to whether they are intended to be used in sweet or salty recipes later. Another idea was to freeze them in ice cube trays and consider each cube to be about equivalent to half an egg. That sounded easy to me!

And it was--until it was time to get them OUT of the trays! Cracking an ice cube tray of eggs is nothing like cracking an ice cube tray of ice. Cracking is really a misnomer because they didn't want to "crack" at all. It was like having an ice cube tray full of jello.

Brent finally figured out a method involving hot water and force to get the egg cubes dislodged!

Now we have a dozen frozen "sweet" eggs. Tonight we'll try "salty." Until the excess in our fridge goes down a bit we'll keep experimenting with egg preservation methods.

I guess we can't tell you how it works out until our shortage season begins. Barring any chicken massacres or catastrophes, we'll give a full report on our preserved eggs come December!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Eating Locally: Strawberries!

Our friends Tom & Sharon picked a GREAT week to go on vacation--the week their strawberries all ripened! Sure, we offered to pick some while they were gone. After all, what are friends for?

As it turned out, Brent ended up being the one with time to pick while I was away at the TNNA trade show, and again later in the week between the many rain storms. Once the berries were home, I got in on the action too.

We made 2 batches of regular strawberry jam and 1 batch sweetened with honey. The honey recipe was from Stocking Up. We haven't tried any of the honey jam yet, so we don't know how it tastes, but it made our house smell deliciously sweet.

We also froze several quart bags full for winter time smoothies, pies, and crisps. Not counting the rhubarb crisp we made or the many strawberries that we just ate out of the bowl this is what we ended up with after the first session.

Next quest: black raspberries! Does anyone know of a great spot for picking them?