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A Family Heirloom

My mama brought me a family quilt today.

Isn’t it beautiful?!

quilt

It was made by two “old maid” cousins of my grandmother – Nellie & Goldie (how awesome are those names, btw?!). 

My grandmother passed away last year, so the quilt (and another one like it) went to my mother.  My mother brought one to me and gave the other to my sister.

I love this quilt!  It still smells like my grandmother – a combination of her soap, baby powder, and the drawer liners she used in her bureau – and it makes me feel connected to the women in my family, going back generations.

I would absolutely LOVE to learn how to do this.  Not only is it a practical skill, but quilting allows you to create a family heirloom that can be handed down for years to come.  I can just envision myself sitting in front of a fire on a cold winter evening, quilting my little heart out. 

Quilting and skills like it – what I refer to as “heirloom skills” – are being lost.  I worry that, in the not-so-distant future, the people who know how to quilt or can or grow food will be long gone.  And those skills will be forgotten for good.  People don’t seem to appreciate or care about that stuff anymore.  Everything is so massed produced these days that anything made by hand is something to be treasured.

I want to do my part to keep that knowledge alive by learning and passing it down to my children.  A very special, very important family heirloom.

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Perspective

So I think I might have mentioned how I never really liked or learned to cook until recently.

I always used to say I didn’t know how to cook.  Hubby would correct me and say “you know how to cook, you just choose not to.”  Okay, that’s partially true.  Sort of.  Sure, I could make “normal” stuff – cereal, sandwiches, heating a can of soup. 

That’s not really cooking. 

I could also scramble eggs, bake potatoes, and grill pretty much any kind of meat.

Okay, we’re getting closer.

I guess I could follow a recipe, but I never really did it.  Maybe on holidays.  It wasn’t that I was intimidated.  It just didn’t interest me.  I’d take one look at the instructions, and if it had more than 5 ingredients, or involved continuous stirring for hours on end . . . nope.  Plus I pretty much never had the right ingredients or equipment required.  I still don’t own a spring form pan or a double boiler.

apple pecan bread

Reminds me of a bit comedian Richard Jenny (RIP) once did about gourmet cooking:

“Today we’re going to make a massively complicated dish using ingredients you don’t have, utensils you can’t afford, in a kitchen bigger than your whole F-ing apartment!”

That pretty much summed up how I felt about anything to do with scratch food prep.

Why am I telling you this? 

Perspective.

If you are sitting there saying, yep that’s me, and there is no way I’ll ever be able to can my own veggies or make bread from scratch . . . well, I’m here to tell you – IT CAN BE DONE!  If you want to do it.  I’m a perfect example.

pasta pom

I saw a quote recently that resonated with me:  “You can learn new things at any time in your life if you’re willing to be a beginner.”

Too often, once we get to a certain age (ahem), we are afraid of feeling stupid.  We don’t want to appear like we don’t know how to do something.  We don’t want to fail.

So what!  A year ago, I could barely boil water (that’s only a slight exaggeration).  But so far in 2013, I’ve made homemade strawberry jam and homemade bread, I’ve learned how to water-bath can, and I’ve started cooking real meals.  Are all of the things I try a success?  Nope.  Are some of the recipes duds?  Yep.  But that’s okay.  That’s how I learn.

And if I can do it, anyone can. 

And it’s not just cooking.  There are tons of things I want to learn more about!  Gardening, first-aid, quilting, firearms, chickens & goats & bees – oh my!

Find a friend you can learn from. Take a class. Watch some YouTube videos. Read some blogs! That’s what I do when I want to learn something new. 

I’m definitely a beginner.  But I’m willing to be one.  Are you?

My Little Corner

I just got back from an extended overseas vacation w/my family.  Wow, is there a lot of catch-up work to do in the yard.  I am disappointed in the weather this year because it wasn’t hot enough for a bumper tomato crop, but I guess that was actually a good thing considering I just missed a huge chunk of the season.  Gotta think positive, right?

Until the time is right for our family to move somewhere with more room, I’m making the best of my little suburban yard.  You can do the same.  I only have a 1/3-acre lot, most of it fenced back yard.  I am bound by HOA covenants as to what I can and can’t do, but sometimes I push the limits. 

We back up to common area, so I don’t really have to worry about irritating a lot of other people.  Luckily, my neighbors on either side have lived here as long as I have (16+ years) and are awesome.  They benefit from my garden, as well!

I’ve tried to make my little corner of the world beautiful as well as practical.  And I try to make it attractive to birds and bees.  Here are a few pictures.  All the work you see here, I’ve done myself, typically BY myself.  Enjoy!

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Forsythia in bloom.

 

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Daddy bluebird.

 

hostas

Hostas & Hydrangeas.

 

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Visitor on my butterfly bush.

 

basil

Potted basil.

 

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Guarding his box.

 

crepe myrtle

Crepe myrtle in bloom.

 

peonies

Peony bed in bud.

 

iris

Bearded iris.

 

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Hummingbird!

 

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Cucs going nuts!

 

robin eggs

Robin’s nest.

 

onions

Onions flopped & ready to pull.

 

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Red-tailed hawk.

 

blueberry patch

Newly planted blueberry patch (& marigolds).

Domestic Priorities

For the moment, I live in the suburbs.

The two families on either side of me are the original owners and have lived along side us for 15 years or more. We get along great, although we are all very different from each other. One is an older couple from the hills of Kentucky, with one college-age daughter and five cars that they periodically park on their lawn. The others are born & bred New Jersey with three kids in their late teens, all still living at home.

I was asking my NJ neighbor to keep an eye on the house while we’re on vacation later this month. Along with getting the mail and papers, I told her she could take whatever she wanted from my garden because it was just going to rot on the vine (taking a big vacation in August was NOT my idea, and I will do everything I can to avoid that in the future!).

Then I happened to mention about all my cucumbers and that I was going to try to make some pickles before we went away. She chuckled and waved me off and said, “Don’t be telling me about all your domestic stuff. I was born without that gene. I don’t have time for all that.”

Ummm . . . ok.

I thought about her comment the rest of the day.

As little as two years ago, I felt the same way. I was involved in so many things outside my home that I didn’t have much time for the inside. And I was among those people who are basically unprepared to take care of themselves and their family for any significant length of time without help. I didn’t know it, though.

I never had more than a few days worth of food in my house. Nor any stash of paper, cleaning, or other supplies. (Yes, I, too, ran to the store for milk, bread and toilet paper along with everyone else prior to a snowstorm.) And I didn’t like to cook either – didn’t even really think it was necessary with all the grocery stores and restaurants within a 10-mile radius of my house. I certainly had no CLUE about dehydrating, canning or preserving food for long-term storage. And while I knew how to garden, I didn’t have time for it – at least I thought I didn’t.

Not only did I not have many “domestic” skills, I had no interest in learning them. Yes, back then I was exhausted and busy with small children and a husband that worked too much, but I was also too wrapped up in things that didn’t matter.

Many of the homestead blogs I follow are written by women with children. YOUNG children . . . whom they homeschool in addition to all else they do around the home. Now THAT’s someone who “doesn’t have time.” I have no idea how they do all that they do. I guess they never sleep. Maybe they have help?

I still have a spouse that works too much and so, for the moment, I’m leading the way in new skill-building. Translation – I pretty much do everything myself (unless I need to draft him as heavy labor). But I don’t have super young children anymore either (mine are 11 & 14). They can occupy themselves, feed themselves, and HELP me when I need it.

My neighbor’s comment really resonated with me. And in a way, it made me feel good. I NEVER thought anyone would call me “domestic.” I used to be where she is. But I’ve come a long way in a short amount of time. I realize I do have time to pursue the knowledge and skills for truly taking care of my family. And I’m making it a priority.

Plans for the Future

I’ve always wanted to live in “the country.”  Everyone pictures something different when you say that, but to me that means a semi-rural area where I can have a small homestead.  A modest house with a big front porch, on multiple acres of fenced land, partially wooded, with a stream, and a nice view.  Where I can enjoy the birds, bees, butterflies, and fresh air.  And plant a BIG garden, and have chickens and goats.  Where I can light a campfire, fire a gun, or build a greenhouse without it bothering anyone.  And see the stars at night and NOT see my neighbors (or hear their cars/mowers/kids/dogs) if I so choose.

Hubby was initially unsure about this idea.  He has always liked and needed socialization, and until recently, he has enjoyed living in planned suburbia with all its modern conveniences like movie theaters, health clubs, and paved roads.  For the better part of our marriage, he has poked fun at my father, calling him the Unabomber (note to NSA: my dad is not really the Unabomber) because he shuns society and prefers to keep to himself (my mother is another story).

Now he’s realizing that my dad might be onto something.  So what has changed?

Well, a few things.  Due to the nature of his business, Hubby spends nearly every hour of each and every day engaging with people.  And it’s exhausting.  When he comes home, he just wants to unplug and not be bothered by anyone (including us sometimes!).  It’s difficult to do that, though, when your job demands you be accessible virtually 24/7.  And since his industry is technology, the constant barrage of information and stimulation can be overwhelming and inescapable.

In addition, he’s discovering what I’ve been telling him for years.  The company of too many other people is becoming less and less enjoyable.  I’m not sure what’s going on.  We live in the richest county in the nation.  I don’t know if the two are connected, but we seem to have an inordinate share of arrogant, selfish, hypocritical, superficial people living here.  Road-rage, passive-aggressive behavior, gossip, and a general rudeness abounds.  Everyone is so wrapped up in themselves, and so far more important than anyone else, that they disregard common courtesies.  I find myself wondering if it’s just this area or is everywhere like this?  And if so, why?

Whatever the reason, Hubby finds himself joining me in my desire to withdraw a bit.

As for timing, I’d go sooner vs. later, but the rest of the family gets a say in the matter.  Hubby isn’t quite ready to jump in (or out?) with both feet yet.  And while the idea of having our own little homestead sounds romantic and fun to them, the kids don’t want to leave their familiar routines.  So we’ve decided not to move until after both kids have graduated from high school.

You might be wondering, after my glowing description of life in suburbia, WHY WAIT seven more years?!

Although there are certainly negatives to where we live, there are also quite a number of positives (otherwise we would never have come here).  Among them, excellent schools and close proximity to sports, arts, and other such opportunities for our children.  The weather is moderate, the economy is good (relatively speaking), and the scenery is beautiful in any season.

And frankly, we just don’t want to uproot the kids.  Hubby and I were both military brats.  We know what it’s like to move around a lot, to have to start over, making new friends year after year, not having a town to call home.  Many people would say it builds character, and in some cases, that might be so.  But unless you’ve been through it, you have no idea how stressful it can be. And unless you know my children better than I do, you don’t know what it would do to them.  We are simply choosing not to put them through that.

Besides, I like that my children have lived in the same house since the day they were born.  I like that they have known many of their classmates since they could walk.  I like that one day, when someone asks them where they are from or where they grew up, they’ll have an answer.  I never did.

Suburbs aside, we do love living in Virginia. But due to our county’s high cost of living, plus the traffic congestion, over-development, and high taxes, we want to move farther south. We’ve started compiling our list of required features (amount of acreage, etc.) and are beginning to narrow down to a certain geographic area. Seven years may sound like a long time, but it’ll be gone before we know it.

So we are giving ourselves some time.  Time to make some changes.  Time to find the right place.  Time to learn and practice new skills.  After all, the last thing I want to do is move out to the country without a clue as to what I’m doing.  I want a Shire of my very own, and I intend to be ready when I find it!

Shire Girl

Here We Go

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – Bilbo Baggins

For awhile now, I’ve been thinking about making some major changes to our way of life.

Last year, my husband had some health problems that resulted in two different ambulance rides to the local hospital.  He’s fine now (though that’s certainly relative), but I constantly worry that the next trip is right around the corner.  It’s all caused by stress, of course, and his job is the main cause.  He owns his own business, a professional services company (yes, he “built that!”), and that means long days meeting customer demands, finding new business, and putting out fires.  He not only feels responsible to our family, but to those of his employees, as well.  His goal is to make enough money to retire early, make sure the kids are “set,” and ensure that we can enjoy our non-kid years doing the fun stuff we don’t have much time for now.

But I worry he won’t make it that far.

I also worry about the message we are sending our children.  Work hard to get good grades so you can go to a good college where you need to work hard to get a great job so you can kill yourself making money to pay for stuff so you can maybe finally be free when you are getting too old to enjoy it.  See what you have to look forward to, kids?! 

Why?

Why?  Because “stuff” costs money, of course.

Not just food, clothing, & shelter, but all manner of things.  Tangible things like cars, furniture, electronics.  Not-so-tangible things like taxes, home/car/health/life insurance, cellphone service, music lessons.  Fun things like movies, sporting events, and vacations.  And not-so-fun things like vet bills and home repairs and surgeries.

Wouldn’t having less money mean giving up some of that stuff?

Why, yes.  Yes it would.

I think we probably have it better than most Americans do these days.  We live within our means.  We save for retirement, college, and emergencies.  We have a mortgage (LTV is about 70%), but pretty much no other debt.  We do use credit cards for the “points” but pay them off in full every month.  I drive a ten-year-old van with 100k+ miles on it.  Thankfully, we no longer worry about my husband having an unforeseen job loss.  And if he did, assuming the economy allowed, Plan B would be for me to go back to my career as a CPA.  (We had to temporarily implement Plan B once before when I was 9 months pregnant w/our son – which is how hubby came to own his own company.)

But there is more to my desire for change.

Awhile back, I started getting an uneasy feeling.  I can’t tell you exactly when because I think I kept dismissing it in the beginning.  It wasn’t something I could explain; I just knew I wasn’t feeling “right.”  I had this nagging feeling that I need to be better prepared to take care of my family.  Certainly some of my apprehension stemmed from the bleak economic news of the times (which continues today, assuming you’re paying attention and don’t accept MSM news stories at face value).  But I don’t think that was all of it.

I tend to sit with things for awhile and mull them over, like picking at a knot. I kept these thoughts to myself, not even sharing them w/my husband. Partly because I couldn’t even really articulate what I was feeling yet, but also because I didn’t want anyone to think I was nuts. I am a big believer in animal instinct.  We humans are animals, but because we have been “civilized,” we learned long ago to ignore that instinct.  In some (many) cases, it has been bred out of us completely.  It’s that small voice we have deep inside.  I still try to hear mine; and when I feel like it’s sounding the alarm, I listen.

So I thought long and hard about what it would mean to give up the traditional suburban life, to detach from a society that tries to control you by making you feel inadequate at every turn, to SIMPLIFY.

For me, that means relying less on others and learning to DO for myself.  Getting back to the land, growing my own food, and/or supporting those who do so naturally and organically.  Doing without certain conveniences and technological advances.   And learning, learning, learning!

My hope in making these changes is that we will be happier and healthier and feel more connected to the Universe.

 

Shire Girl