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Sustainable Steps: Buy Food from Farmers Who Feel Bad

       I shared on Instagram last week that we lost two lambs because I didn't clear the ewe's milk ducts when I checked on them after they were born. I still feel a heavy weight about being responsible for their loss, but I've switched from beating myself up to carrying a responsibility for doing better. Making a mistake like this has actually catalyzed my learning, and feeling bad about losing those two lambs has actually helped me care more about the minutia of my management.

In struggling to adjust to animal losses, I have begun to notice that other farmers -the ones who are doing it right- feel horrible about the deaths that happen on their watch. My friends, Craig and Jen at Rockside Ranch, almost scared me initially with their stories of dismembered chickens and shriveled stillborn piglets, but I realized that those images affected them because they are brilliantly conscientious farmers. I really believe that farmers who don't feel bad about death are probably not the farmers you want raising your food. 

      Full disclosure: I am an omnivore and I raise animals to eat them. I spent many hours last year trying to reconcile the connection between eating meat and death, cementing my own justification for it while responding to vegans online. It's still too strange for words to witness the raw disassembly of living beings, but getting food on the other end of that process makes it worth it. What feels less noble to me, is the inevitable deaths of animals that don't become food for anyone. Little sparks of life snuffed out by bad genetics or sloppy management. These deaths feel frustratingly unjustifiable. 

      Last June I looked in on our brooder of 30 brand new heritage turkeys and found a wreck of tiny bodies strewn about in the straw, gasping for air. It was only days since their arrival and some had brought with them a fatal respiratory disease that typically arises from poor sanitation in the hatchery. Half of them died.

     The worst of it wasn't really the loss, since I talked the hatchery into refunding us, but I felt horrible that those tiny birds travelled so far just to suffocate in their own bronchial fluids. In my conversation with the hatchery's sales associate, I passed along the comment I had learned from several industry-leading turkey breeders that pneumatic E. coli can often from unsanitary eggs. I could literally hear over the phone that the man was rolling his eyes, and it made a splash of white hot anger wash over me as he dismissed my gentle critique. Of course a business that large would be comfortable with a larger margin of error than our minuscule operation, but that sales associate wasn't the one filling an empty pizza box with the dead. I believe that it matters to God when even the littlest animals die so shouldn't it matter to us?

      Buying organic is great. Sometimes, however, organic food comes from the same big farms that casually pick out dead animals like they're sorting dirty laundry. Agribusinesses that house tens of thousands of creatures in tight quarters just can't escape disease (and sometimes cannibalism!) so they've learned to medicate the heck out of those animals and they've become numb to the high volume of senseless death that happens inside their walls. It's impossible for giant factories to replicate the care and attention that family farms provide.

      When you purchase your food from somebody who is emotionally invested in the animal from which your food comes, you can bet that they devoted themselves to learning the best management techniques for the highest quality product. Sure, we're a little emotionally unstable at times, but it's totally worth it! Just give us hugs, ok?

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This Week At Our Place: Sick Week Essentials

Five little things that helped facilitate place sharing amidst a stressful week of head/chest colds.

1. A giant snuggly blanket.

You might as well be able to envelop everyone at once -especially when we're all sick!

You might as well be able to envelop everyone at once -especially when we're all sick!

 

2. An invaluable herbal intervention.

This company has superior transparency and a wonderful mission for growing their herbs.

This company has superior transparency and a wonderful mission for growing their herbs.

 

3. A quiet afternoon of I Spy.

I loved these books as a child, and for some reason hadn't shared them with the kids until yesterday, when restful, picture-book-hunting was the perfect activity for sick kids.

I loved these books as a child, and for some reason hadn't shared them with the kids until yesterday, when restful, picture-book-hunting was the perfect activity for sick kids.

 

4. Wood fire heat.

This wood stove is one of my favorite parts of this house. 

This wood stove is one of my favorite parts of this house. 

 

5. Some hand stitching to do while snuggling with sleepy sickies.

This is a quilt I'm making with shibori indigo dyed cotton.

This is a quilt I'm making with shibori indigo dyed cotton.

Things for sick days:

What are your sick day (or week) essentials? 

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This Week At Our Place

Five little moments of place sharing from my week.

1. Bee pollen: for getting ahead of allergy season.

The goal is that I'll be helpful in the garden instead of miserable!

The goal is that I'll be helpful in the garden instead of miserable!

 

2. A view that I'm trying to imprint into my brain, every day I can while we're still in this house.

To all of you who sent me a note of encouragement as we look for a new rental, thanks!

To all of you who sent me a note of encouragement as we look for a new rental, thanks!

 

3. Juniper berries in the loveliest tiny hands.

 

4. Noodle Face.

 

5. Front porch bling.

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Hospitality Matters: Say It With Pie

  As with any food that has a prized, cult-like place in our culture, pie matters to people. Almost everyone has a folkloric pie experience committed to memory: a grandmother's delicate, flaky crust or a cascade of warm, melting filling topped with whipped cream from a favorite restaurant. It doesn't matter what town or strata of society you're from, -they have pie there. Pie goes with most of our major holidays and it's recently become a trendy replacement for wedding cake.

   Everyone has something to say about pie, whether it be Ralph Waldo Emerson's incredulous response when asked why New Englanders eat pie for breakfast: "What else is pie for?" or Carl Sagen's cerebral musings: "To make an apple pie from scratch you must first invent the universe."

   I'd like to suggest that the particular resonance of pie in our culture makes it a special social currency. We have lots of ways to communicate with each other these days and while it's never been easier or more instant, technology often falls short when it comes to matters of the heart. We all know that texts and emails just don't convey the tone of a human conversation (which is why emojis were invented) but pie is never vague. Every layer of melty goodness says "I love you" loud and clear.

    A text with thoughtful words is wonderful, but pie is pie, enough said! 

   Making someone a pie is a dual expression of love; it says, "I love you enough to get out all my ridiculous baking accouterments and trash my kitchen," and "I love you so much I want your day to be filled with the surpassing deliciousness that only pie can provide." This is not a casual statement. In high school I knew a girl who landed a boyfriend by baking him a pie -she could not have communicated her intentions more clearly (and unsurprisingly, they got married.) That's the power of pie, folks.

   A homemade pie is so laden with personal investment and emotion that it only seems right to share it with people you care about, like in this chilling haiku by food writer Caroline Lange:

a nightmare: my least
favorite people eat a pie

i'd not meant for them.

  (Although, maybe enjoying a pie might make one's least favorite people more agreeable?)

   Give someone a pie when they've had a crummy day. Mail them a pie (perhaps in this box) when you miss them. When you've had an argument or you totally acted like a jerk, a pie will go a long way toward emphasizing your apology. Bring a pie to your friend-crush and take your budding friendship to the next level. Make pie for your significant other all the time and keep the romance alive! All we need is love, yes, but maybe all we need is pie!!

   Part of what makes pie so special is that it's not the easiest thing to make, but the good news is that the little tips and tricks you use to bring the whole thing together can become your signature style. See? Pie elevates everything! When we're talking about the difficulty of making pie we're usually referring to the crust, and fortunately, Food 52 has an excellent pie crust troubleshooting guide here. I have been using this recipe for the past several years with success:

Pie Crust:
1 ¼ c flour (I used organic sprouted flour)
½ c butter cold from the fridge
¼ tsp sea salt
4+ tbs ice water (as needed)

   In a food processor, I mix the flour and salt and then add the butter in pieces, 1 Tbs sized squares at a time. After the butter and flour combine into tiny pieces, keep the food processor going and add the ice water a little at a time until the dough starts forming into a ball. Then flour up your whole work surface and rolling pin and roll out the dough 1/4 inch thick. I move my crust to the greased pie dish by folding it into quarters, moving it gently to the pie dish, unfolding it and then pressing it into the dish. This recipe makes one crust, multiply by two for a double crust pie. No matter the filling, I bake this crust at 350 degrees for 30 minutes and then check it incessantly for the next 10 minutes until it looks like the crust is finished.

   If you want to up your Pie-As-Love-Letter game even more, you can get these adorable alphabet cookie cutters and actually include a message in your pie crust. A Pie-gram! You can punch in your design before you place your crust, but after tends to work better. There are no guarantees on the legibility of the finished product, but this crust recipe seems to hold its shape pretty well.  For other fancy crust design tips check out this article.

   I am confident that pie is a catalyst for love in relationships, because it's the intentional things that we do for one another that communicate how valuable those people are to us. I think the people in my life are totally worth it!

Do you have any pie making tips or memorable experiences? What does pie mean to you? Is it overrated? 

 

 

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This Week at Our Place

Five little moments of place sharing from my week.

1. This fresh batch of avocado dyed tea towels ready to be printed for Etsy

The trick was to leave them in the dye pot and forget about them for two weeks...

The trick was to leave them in the dye pot and forget about them for two weeks...

 

2. We have two cats: the active-duty mouser and the slob. Guess which one this is?

Answer: this cat is looking very stealth perched up there on the tire, but that's about as ninja as he gets. He's normally lounged on the doormat. Sometimes I actually use him as a doormat.

Answer: this cat is looking very stealth perched up there on the tire, but that's about as ninja as he gets. He's normally lounged on the doormat. Sometimes I actually use him as a doormat.

 

3. Mornings wrapped up in linen.

Favorite toy names: Ozzie's raccoon: "Waccoo," Selah's striped cat: "Little Kitty Octopus Flower Star"

Favorite toy names: Ozzie's raccoon: "Waccoo," Selah's striped cat: "Little Kitty Octopus Flower Star"

 

4. These girls who are (hopefully) lambing in a few weeks!

 
It looks like Taco is yelling, "Hey, would you be a dear and grab me the sriracha?"

It looks like Taco is yelling, "Hey, would you be a dear and grab me the sriracha?"

5. A lovely gift from an Instagram friend, handmade out of Ace & Jig alterations remnants!

Each fabric is lovingly hand woven by artisans in India who are paid a fair wage and work in excellent conditions. I am so glad my friend saved every last scrap of these beautiful textiles to piece together something new!

Each fabric is lovingly hand woven by artisans in India who are paid a fair wage and work in excellent conditions. I am so glad my friend saved every last scrap of these beautiful textiles to piece together something new!

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Sustainable Steps: Reducing Plastic Use

   Plastic. It's only been around since 1907 and yet every single piece of plastic created since then still exists today (with the 5% exception of incinerated or recycled pieces.) Every year enough plastic is thrown away to circle the earth four times, including 48,000,000,000 plastic water bottles. 48 BILLION. The fate of all these discarded materials is pretty grim, and while recycling can alleviate this damage, we have been trying to progressively cut down our use of plastics altogether.

   Part of my reasoning is safety. We've all heard about the carcinogenic and hormone-disrupting properties of Bisphenol A and phthalates, and yet still, an estimated 90% of adults have detectable levels of BPA and phthalates in their blood. Even BPA-free plastics have been found to be equally unsafe. Here are just a few of the side affects credible research has linked to plastic exposure: diabetes, liver toxicity, heart disease, low-sperm count, irregular ovulation, high blood pressure, genital disfigurement in baby boys, hyperactivity and developmental delays in children. In the video above, Allegre Ramos from Ember Living explains which types of plastic tend to contain more of these harmful chemicals, and which ones tend to have less.

  Beyond the safety and waste issues, I have a more personal, aesthetic dislike for plastic. Actually, I should say that I have a huge preference for the weight and feel of natural materials and that using plastic has been somewhat of a chore to me. There's a practicalness of the cheap, durable plastic things I've had in my life that made me feel obligated to slate them for my primary, everyday use and save the nicer things for fancier times. Then, two springs ago, I ran out of plastic bowls and reached for a gorgeous, swirling-blue handmade stoneware bowl for a boring, everyday bread recipe. As I kneaded the bread, I held the soft, organic form of that beautiful bowl and this delicious, irreverent joy came over me like I was stealing back all the saved-up fanciness for that mundane moment. That afternoon I put all the obligatory plastic in a box for the Goodwill and have used all my best ceramic, stoneware and glass things every single day since.

   The same goes for textiles. I am a firm believer in natural fibers firstly because of the environmental and health impacts, but mostly because I love the feeling of cotton, linen, wool and silk against my skin. You can read a little more on my natural textile philosophy here

   I don't think we can ever fully escape plastic, (I'm typing on plastic keys right now) but if you want to reduce the plastic in your life, chances are you already have a lot of things already in your home that you can sub-out (we use old glass jars for everything!) If, however, you're looking for some replacement options, I have complied a list below of some plastic alternatives that I personally use (or want to try when the funds allow.)

You can go as far as you want with this whole plastic-free thing, but personally, I would rather not spend a ton of money on replacing items that don't come into physical contact with my family as often as the items listed above, (like this ridiculous leather fly swatter!) I am also painfully aware of the fact that so many of my cleaning, health and food products come in plastic containers -but, while those things can't always be avoided, I can always check the bottom of the products to see what type of plastic the container is made out of (Remember, 1-2-4-5 stay alive and 3-6-7 straight to heaven!)

Do you have any plastic substitutions that I missed? Do you have any recommendations for small, handmade businesses that offer beautiful, plastic-free home goods?

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This Week At Our Place

Moments of place sharing from my week.

1. This auntie-niece relationship, which has taken on more of a bff status.

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2. The rescue that occurred after I came to this washed out part of the road, chickened out, and then returned home to be picked up by my father in law to cross it in his giant truck instead! (We made it safely across.)

 

3. Tiny jackets.

 

4. A valentine I keep reading and re-reading from the man I started dating eight years ago.

 

5. A sweetie dog who is wondering when all the snow will go away (or maybe she likes the excuse to curl up and be cozy?)

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Hospitality Matters: Make Your Home Smell Like Spring

  There are still patches of snow in the yard, but I'm ignoring them because the sun is out, I can hear birds and I've cracked the windows to let in that first bit of spring air! I was joking with a friend on Sunday that a day just like today in August would have us all grabbing sweaters and whining about the cold, but in February this day warrants bare feet and t-shirts. Context is everything, no?

  Speaking of context, when I opened the window and felt the clean air rush past my face I realized with disappointment that it smelled so much nicer outside than in my house. Noseblindness is real, my friends. Sometimes when I arrive home after being gone all day I notice how my house smells, and while it's usually ok, I'm fairly certain that having two toddlers as housemates has lowered both my smell expectations and overall sensation. There is also a half-intentional smell agnosticism between my husband and I as we wait for the other to acknowledge a poopy diaper first (which automatically assigns the changing duty.)

  Smell agnosticism may be a survival mechanism for days when laundry or cleaning just don't get done, but I do become extremely conscious of how my house smells when someone else steps through my door. I try not to be overly obsessive about having my home perfect for guests because I think most people are understanding of a little clutter, but smells are different. Smells are less logical and more primal: the olfactory sensors in your nose trigger the parts of your brain that are associated with emotion and memory, which is why smelling warm bread makes me think of my mother's kitchen, and the fumes of a sun-warmed trash can bring back images from my childhood wanderings in the streets of Tirana, Albania.

  The brain's processing of smell shows us that the scents around our house can go a long way towards how someone feels in our home. People are often happy to ignore a bit of mess in our houses but they literally can't help themselves from absorbing the odors. Or as science historian Diane Ackerman puts it, "Cover your eyes and you will stop seeing, cover your ears and you will stop hearing, but if you cover your nose and stop smelling, you will die.”

  For those of us who have a bit of funk to tame in the service of invoking good feelings and comfort for all who enter our home, here are some tips for good smells all around:

Nothing beats the smell of breakfast for my sweet valentines!

Nothing beats the smell of breakfast for my sweet valentines!

  1. Deep clean all the areas of your space that tend to trap stink, such as the back of the trash can/compost bin, under the microwave, in the cushions of the couch, around and under toilets, anywhere you store food, garbage, or compost. I'm into using natural cleaners like this or this, but plain old vinegar works great and can be mixed with lemon for a brighter smell.

  2. Place textiles on a tarp outside in the sun for an hour, so that your rugs, cushions, blankets and pillows can disinfect in the sun's UV rays and freshen up in the clean air. Be aware that the sun can sometimes bleach out colors that are not very lightfast (like naturally dyed items.)

  3. Burn incense or sage, which has been traditionally thought as both spiritually and physically cleansing. These incense sticks from Juniper Ridge converted me; I am not a fan of straight-up patchouli but these ones are made from foraged plant matter and sap, emitting a beautiful, spicy campfire smell. 

  4. Diffuse essential oils throughout the house with therapeutic-grade blends you can get from a friend. Essential oils are powerful mood boosters and they've been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, pain and a range of other conditions. My friend, Char, brought this diffuser to a baby shower and it was almost like the grapefruit, floral smell matched the colorful decorations! I love the look of this pretty humidifier, but I could also go for a reed diffuser, in which case I'd choose this smokey scent.

  5. Find a new favorite candle like this delicious one, my old favorite, or this one I'd love to try.

  6. Cook or bake something before guests arrive and let those good smells permeate your whole house. My grandmother would throw butter and garlic on in the frying pan when she saw my grandpa pulling up from work, just so that it would smell like she'd been busily preparing dinner all along! (Good one, Oma!)

  How do you like to fill your home with lovely smells? Have you suffered from nose-blindness this winter, and what do you do about it?

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This Week at our Place

1. These tiny soccer cleats were very hesitant to jump in and join the fray, revealing that I too have that crazy parent inside of me that wants to shove my child out onto the field, "Suck it up and play ball!" All she needed was a few moments in Justin's arms and she leaped after the ball as it went by.

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2. This wooly mister is going to the freezer soon, which is truly sad and I am bracing myself for some hardcore tears. Meat is so costly! Farming has me constantly on the brink of veganism, which I think is a healthy tension to live in.

3. She's halfway through her first time learning to write the alphabet (and I'm scheming to add some Waldorf-style activities to our school routine.)

4. The #farmfailfriday award goes to these turkeys who will NOT be ready for turkey day! I'm crossing my fingers that they'll fill out in time to be someone's Christmas Roast Beast

5. Crisp from the ridiculous volume of apples Justin has brought back from his days at Scott River Lodge.

Also this:

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Why I prefer animals that hate me

They are all judging me.

They are all judging me.

  Icelandic sheep are more genetically similar to their wild counterparts than many conventional breeds, making them tougher and more intelligent. However, these qualities also mean that the sheep aren't as compliant with the will of humans. When we tried to milk an ewe this afternoon, she warily kept her distance and didn't fall for any of our tricks. She was the best milker for the lady who raised her, but she wasn't about to share that with us for free. These sheep are smart, and a lot of trust and respect must be built between us before we can start taking things from them.

  I realized that while modern farming has created low key, placid breeds of animals that are easy to extract product from, those animals aren't as healthy and vibrant as the wilder breeds. According to the Livestock Conservancy, many conventional breeds of animals that end up in grocery stores have been so inbred that their immune systems are unable to keep the animals alive without antibiotics. Some are unable to mate naturally or have lost the instincts to take care of their young. Industrial farming methods try to supplement and mechanize these problems away, but the fact remains that when you treat an animal like a machine, it actually starts to become a machine and lose its animal-ness.

  The lineage of animals in the wild have persevered and adapted throughout history because of their ability to survive, which means that they hold the key to our collapsing agricultural complex. Even though cultural traits like instant gratification and short-term profit strategy are in the DNA of our economy (and in the DNA of those mutant, giant-breasted chickens that can't stand up in their tiny cages) our survival depends on the adaptation of our values. We need to treat our land, our animals and especially our people like they are not disposable, because they aren't.

  It turns out that even Icelandic sheep will be your best friend if you give them a little grain and spend some time with them. When I went out to meet our new baby ewe born yesterday, all the mamas were excited to see me, "Hey there's that grain girl again!" I really couldn't earn the right to be friends with them until I put aside my own agenda and considered what interaction would be meaningful to them on their own terms (lets hear it for snacks.) I am really confident that the people who are thinking relationally about their animals and land are going to be the ones who change our food economy, because the best things in life require a meaningful relationship built on patience and love.

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