Thursday, November 13, 2014

In Due Time

Feeling a bit...something...lately.  Since purchasing this old homestead, we've experienced our share of ups and downs.  This is certainly not something that Music Man and I are unaccustomed to.  In fact, well, we've had a lot of both.  For whatever reason, we've had a lot of turbulence during our 16 years together.  I suppose to some extent, that's to be expected.  Hell, life is nothing if it isn't ever changing.
But, by the same token...well, when we got this house, I really felt it was meant to be.  We waited and worked for a very long time for our little homestead.  One we could call our own, and change and plant and grow our own food.  A place for our kids to stay for a long time, to feel they truly belonged.  A place to raise our chickens, and get the dog we've wanted since we met.  But, to get a dog when you don't own the house you live in is a big risk.  If you're forced to move, and you can't find another place that allows dogs, you have to give it up.  I would no more do that then give one of my kids away, if we give one a home, with us it will stay.  So, we waited until we had the right place. 
Waiting for the boys bus to come
A long series of events brought us to the place where we were able to scrape together the down payment for this home.  Just barely, and it took most of what we had just to do that.  The events were years in coming, one failed attempt to buy a place after another brought us to the crossroads.  Were we just not supposed to be here in this town?  Did we chose the wrong place?  Are we supposed to be in a location more affordable, New England is so expensive to live in?  Should we leave most of our family and the place our boys love to start over somewhere else, again?  We really were unsure of what to do.  Then the tragedy fell that changed so many lives.  My very healthy mother-in-law passed very unexpectedly and way too soon.  We were deep in the grief of losing her, and discovered she left us enough money to put the down payment on this home that had until then, been way out of our price range.  We debated with what to do, should we spend the money for a house?  Should we save it for retirement?  What's the best choice to make for our family?

The boys are ALMOST in from the bus!!

In the end, we thought about what we truly needed at that time in our lives.  A place to make our home.  Not just a house, but a home.  We had agreed from our meeting that Music Man and I both loved antique houses. Having been built in 1755, this place sure fit the bill.  We wanted a place for big vegetable gardens, a barn big enough not just for our farming endeavors, but for Music Man's lifelong dream of a space to gather people and share music.  We wanted room for our boys to roam, preferably with woods where they could explore and a small field to play baseball in.  And we wanted space for the dog they had been begging for since almost birth.  We also thought long and hard about whether this would be something that my mother-in-law would want done with her money.  And that was one of the biggest factors for us in making the decision to purchase.  We felt she would have loved this place, would have loved us in the place, and seeing her grandsons playing and thriving and belonging here.  Yes, it seemed like it was meant to be.

We've been here almost  year now, we're just a couple of days shy.  After two concussions and a broken shoulder caused medical bills from our lousy insurance to mount, we've used a lot of the money we had pegged for renovations.  The honeymoon has worn off a bit, we've discovered that, being an older house, it needs things we could never have imagined. Some of them more urgent then we would have assumed.  Repairs that, in the end, are costing more then we are able to bear when they are needed.  It's a stressful time for us. I'm job hunting again after three years away, Music Man's company issued a mandatory pay cut for it's employees.  Yes, stress is the name of the game now.  The barn needs siding, like yesterday...and beam repairs. We've discovered that its roof will need replacing sooner then we originally thought. These are not small ticket items.  We have almost no insulation in the house, which in small would not be so bad, but in whole is a bit overwhelming.  And the furnace that is 25 years old is sporting duct work that will eventually need to be replaced.  The kitchen is there, but really needs to be expanded to meet the needs of a modern family that homesteads and makes 90% of it's food from scratch.  The to-do list around here is larger then we can ever accomplish with just the two of us working at it with our limited expertise.

But...we've also come a long way.  The first year living in a house, especially an older one, we didn't want to rush into changes.  I've made some mistakes along the way, like you'll remember digging up the asparagus bed not knowing it WAS an asparagus bed.  We ended up with a nice crop despite my eagerness to make it something else.  We got a great crop of sweet potatoes, but the white and red potatoes fell victim to a vole infestation.  We went through a lot of wood last winter using a stove that was here and inadequate for the size of this house, so we've replaced it with a wonderful stove Music Man bartered for years ago and have been moving around ever since. It heats more evenly and being cast iron holds its heat much longer.  We raised our first meat chickens here, and made the mistakes of the first time, lessons we learned and won't repeat.  We made a garden out of a yard and grew enough food to keep our family in veggies for the summer months with enough to put by a bit for the winter.  Next year's garden will be larger, and more planned out.  We've hosted holidays, birthday parties and friends for dinners.

We're building the life we wanted, by hook or by crook.  We want to preserve this place for the next generation.  It's a solid piece of history that is beginning to show some wear and need for attention.  How many people can say they had the privilege of living in a museum of sorts?  These walls were here when pounds paid for the deed, we weren't even an official country and people fought Native Americans to keep the house standing.  Flu, smallpox and tuberculosis may have killed family members in it's walls.  It's been here for a very long time, and we're hoping to have the chance to help it survive and become better.

We've really tried to embrace our new place, and we're hoping that in the end, we'll figure out the way to keep it ours.  At least until the boys are done with high school and on to their own lives, and we're settling down for a bit of retirement.  Preferably in a little seaside town called Freeport.  Until then, we're debating things like a campaign to save the barn.  It's not just a barn for us, after all, but one for the country as it's living history right here and now.  Lots of things in the thought-track, just needing to decide what to act on to get everything moving in the right direction.

A moment that's real for you,

Monday, October 6, 2014

Autumn Arrives!

Autumn is arriving here on the farm!  It's been a graceful introduction to the season thus far and we're happy for it.  This summer was not a terribly hot one here in New Hampshire, but we had a few stretches of weather that were too hot for this yankee girl.  Now, we're down into the much more enjoyable temperatures with all it's beauty.

We're slowly wrapping up the harvesting season.  I was able to put by quite a lot of food in the past two months, some from our garden, some from the farm stands and I was gifted 70 pounds of beautiful roma tomatoes from my good friend, Diane.  I made a lot of sauce, diced tomatoes, salsa, pizza sauce and even tried my hand at home made ketchup.  The fruit ketchup I chose to try had peaches and apples in it as well and a kick of some jalapeno peppers.  It's a delight and will be great to light up some winter dishes.  I never appreciated that condiment until I made it for myself.  It is a real load of work!  Next time you put the squeeze to the Heinz ketchup, be thankful that anyone is willing to take on that task, it's a time consuming one.  Along with the ketchup and tomato products, I was able to put by zucchini salsa, chicken broth and soup, waxed beans, pinto and cranberry beans, 3 types of jelly, and big vats of sauerkraut (which I'm fermenting for the first time!) and we've still the full apple collection to get through with apple sauce, butter and pie fillings still to come.  I would also like to try my hand at canning a bit of venison if Music Man happens to get a deer this year.   I did manage to dehydrate some foods as well including zucchini and cherry tomatoes and a bit of beef jerky.
Among the wonderful things to harvest here on the farm included some wild foraging, too!  These grape vines are covering way too many of our trees and bushes here and will need to be beaten back a bit.  Here you can see that it has taken a liking to our crab apple tree. In the meantime I was able to harvest a large basket of grapes from just the ones I could reach.
Now, if you've not tasted a wild grape, they are a taste sensation and way too sour to actually eat off the vine.  Following an age-old recipe, I made some grape jelly!  I call it Heritage Jam in honor of the fact that these grape vines have undoubtedly been here for many years.  The jelly is amazing in flavor, like none I've ever had before, I'm truly enjoying it.  The boys are not as keen on it as I am as it contains a bit less sugar then they like in their jelly, so more of an adult flavor I guess, but I'm smitten for sure.  I still have about 2 1/2 cups to make into one more batch and I will be doing that just as soon as I get the apples together for my apple lilac jam, too.
As we're approaching our one year anniversary in our home next month, we remember the woefully cold first winter.  Determined not to have a repeat of that, we've got 3 cords of beautifully seasoned hard wood split and stacked and ready to grace us with it's BTU's.  We're all getting ready in our own way for the coming winter.
Finding charming sights like this help me to remember that we're not alone in this preparation.  The squirrels have been busy with gathering their necessary larder as well and we should all be well fed over the winter. 
This is the view of the garden in the distance, now dismantled except for the kale, which has gone strong all spring, summer and now into the fall, the sweet potato vines which have small roots on them and many voles.  My entire potato crop was lost to the voles save for a few of them, and it looks like they've discovered the sweet potatoes also, not sure we'll see any ourselves.  One of my friends told me to put Juicy Fruit gum in the holes and it drives them away.  Worth a shot, I guess so I'll be picking some up the next time I'm out.  When I have to compete with the voles, they seem to get the upper hand, every time. My sunflowers, which you can also see from this picture were just beautiful until the gold finches decided to pull every last petal off of them!  Not sure why they are so offensive to them, but this is the third time I've grown them and every time, the gold finches do their damage.
I've got the indoors decked out for autumn, as well. Upcoming in a couple of weeks I will be gathering the women in my family for my annual tea.  This is our 7th one and a day I really enjoy and look forward to.  The men in the household go to their annual trip to visit with Little Red's godfather and his family, they live a couple of hours away.  They visit and bang on drums for a while and  I get to have some much needed female bonding time with my family.  A good time is had by all.
I guess I will wrap this up here.  Wishing you all a wonderful, fruitful, thankful, blessed autumn season.  I know it's my favorite time of the year, and I hope you will find the joy in it that I do.
Harvest wishes to you all, ~Peacemom

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Harvest Has Begun

Hello All!  A little update from Grace Note.  This is the haul from the garden today.  I will be harvesting my sweet onions pretty soon as well and my potato plants have begun the die off that will signal their readiness to harvest.  I've especially enjoyed the waxed beans and though I didn't get to plant many this year, they are abundant for what I do have and we've been enjoying them.  And, I managed to make a tomato convert out of Little Red.  That child doesn't like tomatoes, but when I told him to try one of the gold ones with the assurance that he would like them indeed, he scowled at me and reluctantly put it in his mouth.  His grimace turned to a smile and a pleasantly surprised "Hunh!".  He said, "Yah, those are okay".  Score one for Mom!  Nature's candy those little orbs, so sweet and juicy, there's no way you just can't love them.  I will for sure be doubling my efforts with those next year as they are great dried as well. 

One of the other things we discovered was zucchini chips.  Sliced thin with a little salt and dehydrated for a few hours and they are so yummy.  When you first put them in your mouth, well, you're just not sure.  Then the flavor grows on you quickly and you just can't stop eating them.  Not bad for a kid snack!  I'm glad we discovered them as the zucchini has been very abundant from the 4 plants I put in.  This year the garden is almost miniature compared to where I hope to have it next year, but we had to start somewhere with it and for what we did this year, we've gotten a nice crop so far.  We tried some sweet potatoes as well for the first time, and I'm anxious to see how they do.  I'm too nervous to pick any out yet, just want to wait and see what we get when the harvest is ready.

This past weekend, we also killed our meat chickens.  We left one egg layer that we weren't sure if it was a roo or not, and the day after we got them all processed, the little bugger started crowing.  He's a beautiful bird, but we just don't need another roo so he'll be joining his frozen brethren soon.  This was the first time we actually killed, plucked and eviscerated our own birds.  It was a difficult day for us and we did not enjoy any of the process.  Except when the freezer was full and we were all cleaned up and didn't have to fret over it any more.  Each bird's life that we took was as hard at the one before it.  Having to hold the chicken while it's life left it's body was a very hard task, knowing that you are the reason it lived and died.  Music Man did the actual killing while I held and it was a sick in the stomach feeling the whole time.  We did the roosters the first day and the hens the second. 

I will admit, I cried over the first hen.  For some reason, it hit me harder for the hens.  Maybe because I am female and I relate to them more, or maybe because we have pet laying hens and I could see them in these birds.  It was definitely a very solemn task for us.  I said a prayer of thanks over each bird, fully recognizing that their lives had ended so that we could eat.  Having been a vegetarian in my early 20's, that provided an even deeper understanding of what we were doing.  We are unsure of whether we will do this again next year.

It is hard to eat the meat and then not be willing to do the work to get it here in our little world.  We understand what horrible lives factory farmed chickens live and the terrible ways that they die.  It's really hard to reconcile that when you're eating the meat.  So, we gave that up years ago and had a local farmer and friend raising them for us.  That was acceptable, the meat was delicious, the chickens lived good lives and were humanely processed, but it still felt like a bit of a cop out somehow.  We do have a pig being raised by those same farmers this year, and we've discussed whether we will raise our own pigs next year.  This is also tough as they are very smart and social animals, so we would have to work hard not to bond to them.  We made a point of not bonding with the chickens and it was still difficult for us this year, so not sure about the pig.

Maestro is at the age where he is curious about a lot of things.  He wanted to be there with us helping out with the chickens, and he was a big help with the plucking process.  He helped Music Man eviscerate and me to pluck.  He was curious about how the chicken insides were put together and stretched them out and we examined the organs to see how they all fit together.  Morbid, maybe but it felt more like a science lesson then anything else.  Little Red, who is a big animal lover stayed on the outskirts of the scene, playing cars in the dirt and shooting us with Nerf gun darts.  He was not very happy with the whole idea of it, but understands that this is where chicken comes from.  And he likes to eat chicken, so he gets it.  He didn't want any part of it, though, and that's okay with us.  I was like him when I was 9 and couldn't have imagined being forced to take part in that.  So, we let him decide what level he was comfortable with and he did come closer from time to time to see what was happening, but on the whole remained a very distant observer.

So, we're producing food here.  That first roast chicken dinner was out of this world delicious. Next year will be on a bigger scale we hope and maybe even have a little to sell if we get the garden a bit bigger then it is now.  It's been a learning process for us as well and fulfilling in a way we've never experienced before.  We are truly learning the skills to become as self sufficient as possible.

That's about as fulfilling as life was meant to be, we believe.

Food harvesting with good faith,


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Summer In Full Swing

Hello All, I know it's been a while since I was here visiting.  Things around here are quite busy and I've had my hands full with taking care of this place, the kids home from school and getting food production and preservation started.

Living in a new place is always interesting as you see what landscaping bloom brings you in the spring.  We've sort of decided to live here for a year before we do anything drastic in the change department.  This is further necessary as Music Man broke his shoulder in May and is out of commission on anything in the heavy lifting department.  And I need him to be healthy, as he's not only a part of my heart, but also the muscle around here.  So, we're taking the time to try to heal him up.  But it also gives us a chance to not jump into changes that we might regret later...yes, that's what I'm telling myself so that his injury doesn't drive us both nuts.

In the spirit of taking time, I've happily discovered some food in production naturally around our property.  We have a nice selection of black raspberry patches here and there and it's provided me with some beautiful, organic and free food for the summer garden.  Fabulous!  We also have a blueberry bush that is about 10 feet tall growing down by the pond.  Now, the berries on it are uber tiny, so I'm not sure they will, in fact, amount to anything, but the excitement I feel about the possibility of all those berries becoming cobbler is palpable.  In the meantime, I've planted nine blueberry bushes close to it down by the pond where the ground tends to remain moister then anywhere else on the property.  I also frequented our favorite cultivated blueberry farm, Blueberry Bay, on opening day where I picked seven pounds of lovely berries, three of which I froze and three of which went directly into our stomachs.  It's a long time between fresh berries around here, so we like to partake copious quantities when they are available.

I have a lot of milk here as well as we get two gallons from a local raw milk farmer who milks his one cow and sells it to a few people each week.  I have an agreement to do this each week with this farmer, so I have to pick up.  The problem is, I don't really drink milk, Music Man is allergic to it (though he will drink it anyway sometimes) and the boys aren't fond of it on long, hot summer days.  They would always choose cold water over milk if given the option in the summer time.  So, you can see how two gallons would add up in this case.  I decided last week that after sharing 1/2 gallon with a friend and still having two gallons in the fridge the day before I was to pick up two more, I needed to do something with that milk and cream.  So, I thought I'd make a nice batch of butter to put in the freezer.  Having fresh farm creamy butter for our holiday meals is a treat, so I thought I'd freeze it for those Thanksgiving rolls.  If you've never made butter from scratch, you go through a stage in the whipping of it that it becomes whipped cream.  And I had fresh blueberries picked the day I think you can see where I'm going with this one, right?  Yep, the bowl in the picture above is cream on the way to butter topping those most delicious blueberries.  I mean, what's a girl to do?  I had to do it, it was calling my name.  And, not for nothin', it doesn't get any better then that.  I savored every bite and didn't share a bit of it with any of those growing boys around here.  Mine, hahahaha!  All mine!
The rest of it did make it to butter, which I assure you would not have happened if I had shared with the menfolk, it would have been inhaled as whipped cream and I would have been out of blueberries, too.  Growing boys will eat you out of house and home and then come back for crumbs, it's unbelievable.  So, I got the butter whipped up and nicely packaged and ready for the freezer.  Living in the moment is so important, but so is planning for the future and so our Thanksgiving butter is ready for the table when I thaw it out.
I also managed a batch of yogurt that made it to the yogurt maker.  I went strawberry picking a couple weeks back and picked 12 pounds which I made mostly into jam, but also did some strawberry syrup. This poured on to the plain yogurt is heavenly, so I may have to try my hand at some blueberry syrup to go along with it!
As you can see, I've had my hands full around here.  Now that we have a pool, a lot of people have come over to swim.  I'm not used to entertaining so much and the days seem to be dedicated to that lately, but soon it will settle down so I can get more done around here.  The pool has been a great asset for the boys as they are in it just about every day and not only have their swimming skills improved immeasurably, but they are entertained quite nicely and that's been good.  They aren't quite at the point where I feel safe leaving them to swim alone yet, but since I spend a lot of time outdoors this time of year, I can keep an eye on them and still work in the garden.

Soon enough our time will be all about school books, sweaters, sports and scouts, so I'm taking this summer to enjoy my boys and the fact that we don't have to be in any particular place at any particular time.  Time to just be and have fun, though plenty of work happens too.  I'm a firm believer in the fact that children need unstructured play time, it's necessary to their development and also their stress level.

This child looks pretty stressed out, wouldn't you say?
Happy summer to you all!!  Enjoy these warmer days, the heat bills are fast approaching!


Sunday, June 1, 2014


Meet our newest member of the farm!  His name is Brady.  As we found out, try to get 4 people to agree on a name, it's not easy!  He's been here about a week and a half now and we already are totally smitten.  He's very smart and awfully cute, wouldn't you agree?  He was rescued from a kill shelter in South Carolina along with his 5 littermates.

So far, he's been a great dog and he's very charming.  He's about 5 months old and we think he's a mix of beagle, hound and Jack Russell Terrier.  Whatever he is, he's staying.  We're hoping he will deter some of the chicken predators around here...foxes, coy dogs (coyotes to you non-New Hampshirites) and the occasional fisher cat.
And even though HE ate the bbq'd chicken off the dining room table tonight when our backs were turned for two seconds, he's still gonna be part of our family farm.  Puppies, what can you do?

Wishing you doggie dreams of your own,


Friday, May 16, 2014

May Days

Food is in production here at Grace Note Farm!  I didn't actually completely kill my asparagus bed (phew!), and so I've gotten enough for a few meals.  I can honestly say that fresh asparagus right off the garden bed is one of the most amazing things I've ever tasted.  A very complex flavor of sweet and bitter at the same time along with a fresh "SNAP!" that you'll never get from grocery store stalks.  So amazing in fact that I went and got 8 new root balls to put in the soil and am hoping for a nice big harvest of them in the future.  Just outstanding!

The big chickens have been doing their part to keep us in food, also.  We've had plenty of eggs to keep us going and they, in fact, made the perfect birthday breakfast for me.  Along with lending their part in the waffles Music Man made for Mother's Day, amazing!

And here's my handsome roo, Snowball, or just Snowy for short.  Behind him there is my little Egyptian Fayoumis (pronounced fay you me), Wilma. 

She's one of our original chickens and has turned 3 this spring.  She was one of the ones hit by the virus I had go through the coop last year where we lost 3 birds, and her reproductive system seems to have been affected as well.  She lays eggs very sporadically and often times they don't have a shell on the, they are just the membrane you see attached to the shell when you crack the egg.  The insides are fine, but we don't eat them because of the bacteria factor.  Plus, they just look kind of gross.  The other hens usually eat them before we see much of them as well. I know, disgusting, but chickens are like that.

We've had plenty to keep us busy, these little buggers are finally out of the house and in their own little pen and coop.  This is the view I see when I open the door in the morning.

They have absolutely voracious appetites and attack me the second they can get a peck on me when I'm reaching for their feeders.  I was afraid that I would not be able to slaughter them when the time came, but honestly, they are so aggressive and tend to stress me out a little, it's not going to be a problem!  Because when they were this cute...

But now, the roosters are sparing off with each other, they attack anyone who comes near them  for food.  Mainly that's me as I take care of the animals around here...not sure how that duty came to fall on me, but it seems to have done just that.  Good thing I like animals.  And we're adding a dog to the mix next week, more on him when he arrives from his shelter down south soon.

Work continues in earnest, here are a couple of the things Music Man has been up to, pretty self explanatory...






Tuning up...




See why I'm so incredibly lucky?  You can't beat a handy husband, and he's one of the handiest going.  We have never a dull moment here on the farm.  The list of "need to do" far outweighs our available time, but we just keep on plugging along and doing what we can do.  The boys sports schedules tend to dominate our time, especially Music Man's, so that's always a precarious balancing act.  But, somehow, we're making it work.  We always do. 
 Spring cheers to you, ~Peacemom

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Daffodils! At the Grace Note

And so, spring rolls in.  As the old homestead has thawed, so many beautiful daffodils are popping up everywhere!  It's been amazing to see them peeking up from all corners (even in one of my compost piles!)
The path down to the basement of the barn is lined with them.  I think it's interesting how a little used area would be so attended to with flowers, but it sure is.  I know they will multiply on their own, so maybe it's nicely fertile for them there or something.  In any case, they are a spring show we've truly enjoyed here.  Also seeing some other flowers popping up, crocuses and hyacinths...
and these crazy beauties.  I'm not sure what they are, but my friend Diane told me she has them, too and they turn into beautiful yellow flowers on tall stalks.  Can't wait to find out what they look like!
I've unearthed the 4 garden beds that were existing here previously.  They are small, but will do nicely for my potatoes and peas for now.  I was cleaning the last one and found it to be overgrown with a very tough root system. So, I hacked and hacked at it, tearing it out so that I could plant in the bed.  Then on the last bit of chopping I was doing, I noticed a slight white root...and I discovered it was an asparagus bed that had not yet started to bud!!!  Ohhh, I was so mad at myself, I have always wanted an asparagus bed and just dug up one that was already here, and quite old gauging by the stalk that was making it's appearance.  So mad at myself!  I have never actually planted it, though always wanted to and didn't know what the root stock looked like.  This is why you should always live in a place for a while before you do something like chop the heck out of the beds.  Now, I know this to be sage advice, but in my eagerness to get this place productive, I didn't follow such advice.  I did manage to rescue some of the root balls and stuck them back in the ground, but it will be years before they are productive again.  Living and learning the hardest way possible.

New meat chicks are doing well.  Going on 3 weeks tomorrow.  We lost a total of 4 birds, not really sure why, there didn't seem to be anything wrong with them in particular.  The heat lamp was a little higher then prudent at one point while we were first working out the lighting situation, and one of them did pass right after that, so not sure if that was the cause or not.  At week 2, Music Man threw together a new enclosure for them as they had badly outgrown the one we thought would be good for a while.  They have about tripled in size since they got here, so it was necessary.  They are happily dust bathing constantly and my house is full of dust, so I'm anxious to get them outside now.  We think another week or so and they can go in the little coop with the lights on, at least that's the goal.  We just need the nights to be warmer and their big bird feathers to come in more.  Right now they are looking like gangly pre-teens. be dust free again!  It's coming, I know it!

Alright so that's the update on our little homestead here.  We've officially named it Grace Note Farm, so, it's on the local agricultural society's map as such. Must be official then, right?  I've got lots of seeds peeking up from their little cells in the dining room, great slider there for that action.  Still working on the hoop house so we can get those outside, too, hoping to get that completed finally this weekend.

As a parting shot, one more of our lovely daffodils, harbingers of spring...

Bienvenue le pretemps!  ~Peacemom