Possum Living

Journeywoman

I cannot complain about my childhood.  I had a close nuclear family, an extended family with deep roots, I was well educated, and my parents went to great lengths to fill the years with vacations, museums, theatre, Sunday school, music lessons and sports teams.  Because my dad was in the Air Force, I even got to travel all over the US, Europe and the Middle East.  I’m grateful for every bit of it, and I wouldn’t change a thing (even the poopy bits).

True story.

Even so, the childhood I was gifted with was not the life I would have made for myself.  I appreciated the trappings of modern life, such as running water, electricity and toilet paper, but I dreamed of a wilder life.  Why did everyone drive cars?  Horses are so much nicer, and they go slow enough for you to see what’s blooming on the side of the road.  Why do I have to go to school?  Can’t we have a tribe where the children learn to do what the adults do?  Why are buildings so big and ugly and smelling of chemicals?  Couldn’t we just sleep in tents outside?  Why can’t we live with dogs and cats and rabbits and birds and horses?

My mother told me the things I wanted to do cost lots of money.  My father told me I wouldn’t be happy without toilet paper and running water.  I didn’t quite believe my parents.  Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t have any money and she seemed pretty happy without toilet paper and running water.  But what did I know?  I figured once I wasn’t a kid anymore I’d know what I wanted to do.

But then 17 happened, and suddenly everyone wanted to know where I was going to college, what I was going to major in, what career field had I chosen?  Shit.  I’m supposed to be a grownup now, but when someone would ask me, “What do you want to DO?” all I could think of were green forests, swimming in rivers, riding horses, sleeping in hammocks, wearing almost nothing, foraging, hiking, and finding a partner to do it all with.

Yep.

I wanted to be a cowgirl.  An adventurer.  A witch.  A pirate.

But these were not offered as majors at any colleges (that I knew of).  I tried to get a degree, have a career, get married, have a car and a house and babies.  Turns out I suck at that kind of a life.  It took me 7 years and 3 colleges to get a BFA, my first marriage crashed and burned like a moth in a bugzapper, and I chose a career as an actor (guess how that went!).  Plus it turns out that I hate cars and houses and babies.

In college, learning mad life skillz.

It’s been about 12 years since my old life exploded.  I’ve spent most of that time as a beginner.  A student.  An apprentice.  I let go of the things that weren’t truly me, like the first husband, the car, the career, and lots of beliefs that I was holding onto for no good reason.  I read as much as I could about the topics I was interested in, like feminism, horses, gardening, frugal living, simplicity, minimalism, biology, mythology, cooking and food.  I took jobs that offered me experience and benefits and education while paying me:  a carriage tour company, a riding stable, an organic grocery store, landscaping with a master gardener.  I took opportunities to learn in new ways:  I went to massage school, I attended alternative healing conferences and lectures, I apprenticed with herbalist Susun Weed at her Wise Woman Center in upstate New York.

It’s only in the last few years that I’ve stopped feeling like a beginner.  The books are all repeating themselves, I’ve been to all the lectures, I don’t need more classes or degrees.

But I’m not an expert either.  I don’t have enough experience as a wild witch pirate cowgirl.  The living hasn’t quite caught up to the believing, as Peace Pilgrim would say.  I’m not yet living in my horse drawn gypsy caravan, cooking over a fire, fishing for my dinner and pooping on the compost pile.  I’m working on it, but these kinds of skills don’t come from library books — I have to practice them.  Practice the crafts until I master them.

Fishing!

I’m not sure how long it will take me to become a Master Herban Cowgirl.  Thank goodness the practice is so much fun.

Categories: Possum Living, Telling Stories, Wise Woman Way | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

White Trash Gardening

People think gardening has to be expensive and lots of hard work.  Those people are woefully, ignorantly, wrong.  Poor, deluded fools.

Not pictured: Working hard.

Actually, I can’t blame people for believing this.  Research gardening online and you will be inundated with advertisements for products, projects that cost thousands of dollars, and articles with a long shopping list of stuff to buy.  Go to the local garden shop and get dizzy trying to figure out what all that expensive crap is for.  Mulch, topsoil, potting soil, cactus mix, roundup, plant food, fertilizer, weed killer, bug spray, hoses and the billions of attachments and convenience gadgets.

Not pictured: Anything expensive.

Well forget all that.  Pretty much anything you need for gardening you can find free or disgustingly cheap.  And you don’t have to work long and hard at it.  Most of the labor is done here and there, as weather and time permit.  You can go at your own pace, and make easy choices.

Here’s all you need to start a garden for literally a few dollars.  These are plans for one small raised bed, sized anywhere from 2′ x 4′ to 4′ x 6′ or whatever size you end up making.  Just make sure you can reach the middle of the bed for planting, weeding, watering and harvesting.

It doesn’t matter what season you start in, there’s almost always something you can plant right now (especially down here in south Georgia), and there’s always the next season to be anticipating, too.  And you don’t have to be an expert!  Go to the library.  Troll YouTube.  There’s so much to know so just get started reading.  I’m always reading new books on gardening and botany, even if it’s just to skim it for tips and ideas (yay for the library!)

Assuming you’ve chosen a sunny spot, follow me….

TOOLS:  You really don’t need many.  A flat spade, a leveling rake, a bucket or two, a hand trowel (the little hand shovel thingy).  That’s about it.   You can get these cheap enough at a regular store, or you can find them at yard sales, second hand shops, and even dollar stores.  Freecycle is another of my favorite places to keep an eye out for garden needs.  You can even borrow from friends or neighbors, as long as you take responsibility for the maintenance and cleanliness of other people stuff..  Most people are happy to lend tools, especially if they’re returned with homemade cookies.

More than you need for a small yard and garden.

RAISED BED:  You’ll want your veggies to have a well drained spot, so make them a raised bed.  Some of our beds were made from wood we reclaimed from old fence pieces a neighbor gave us.  Cinder blocks found at the local dump make the border of another.  You can bury bottles halfway into the dirt to make the border, or you can use big rocks, bricks — get creative.  You can make a border out of anything, as long as it holds its shape in the weather.  I’ve seen people use half-buried coffee cans, which I thought looked kind of awesome.  Make sure everything is able to drain, otherwise you’ll have a mosquito resort hotel on your hands after the first rain.  My favorite raised beds are old tires.  I plant tomatoes in mine.  I’m currently looking for more.  I search the back lanes by trash cans for these.

Raised beds: one made from old tires, one from discarded cinder blocks, and a bunch made from old fence pieces.

SOIL:  This is just dirt.  Don’t overthink it.  Find somewhere you can dig some up.  A friend’s house, an empty lot, another part of your own yard, just get some.  You’ll need your shovel and at least one bucket.  Fill up your raised bed with this. (You can break up the soil first with your spade if you want.  It will help drainage, but if you’re feeling lazy, skip it.)

Make a border. Fill it with dirt. This is not rocket science.

COMPOST:  If you have compost, put a nice fat layer on top of your dirt.  If you don’t have compost, relax.  Plant your garden anyway, but start a pile now.  Just pile up all your leaves, lawn waste, fruit and veggie scraps in a pile.  Keep the pile topped with a layer of dry leaves or pine straw to keep flies and smell away.  Compost is just rotting stuff.  When it rots down do a nice, black, crumbly consistency, it’s ready to add to the garden.  Depending on the materials and your weather conditions, this can take a few months to a few years.  So get started on your pile.

Compost. It's a pile of rotting stuff. Doesn't get much more low-tech than that.

MULCH:  I use the pine straw that collects on my roof.  You can also use dried leaves, hay, wood chips, cardboard, newspapers, carpet scraps, or tin foil.  Light mulch like tin foil and cardboard need to be anchored with rocks or something to keep them from blowing away.

The witch in her garden.

At this point, you should have a raised bed full of dirt, compost and covered with mulch.  This is where your groceries will live.  Love it.  Water it down with the hose.  Really soak it good.

Now you’re ready to start adding food.  There are two ways to do this:  seeds and plants.

SEEDS:  This is the cheapest.  You can find seeds online or at local stores:  hardware, garden, dollar tree, big box, farmers’ market.  Plant seeds directly in your bed by making a little hole in the mulch layer.  Plant the seeds, leaving the hole for the seedlings to sprout through.  Keep them moist until they germinate, then keep them watered until they get a few inches high.  You can also germinate seeds in little containers of dirt, transplanting them into the bed when they’re a few weeks old.

YOUNG PLANTS:  It costs a bit more to buy plants, but sometimes it’s worth the tradeoff in babysitting seedlings.  Some sources for veggie plants to transplant into your new incredible, amazing garden bed:  hardware and home improvement stores, local feed & seed, freecycle, garden stores, Facebook groups, grocery stores (sometimes have fresh herb plants in the produce section).  Friends who garden often have stem or root cuttings, extra seeds, or volunteer plants to give away.

Once you’ve got your veggies planted in the beds and they’re a few inches high, water them deeply every other day or so.  Don’t let them stay wet, but don’t let them die of thirst either.  Check them every few days for weed or insect infestation.  In just a month or so, you should have something to eat that you grew in your backyard.

So, so yummy.

It’s easier and cheaper than you think.  Go ahead and try something.  One bed.  One plant.  Start from there.

SOURCES:  My two favorite gardening books are White Trash Gardening by Rufus T. Firefly (as told to Mike Benton) and Possum Living by Dolly Freed.  These are worth purchasing to have as reference.  Everything else I check out from the library as needed.

Categories: Green Goddess Garden, Possum Living, The Homestead, To DIY For | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Solar Power

Mavis and Hazel roll around and kick up the dirt. My dirty little yard birds.

I’m out in the garden, sitting on the glider bench, sweating and typing on the Herban Cowboy’s notebook.  It’s 85 degrees and sunny.  There are shiny red strawberries fattening in the strawberry patch.  The chickens just took an ecstatic dust bath in the dirt behind me.  And we’re finally finishing the solar energy experiment we started last week.

In this experiment, Little Boy thinks light colors will absorb more solar energy.  We painted one bottle white and one bottle black, put a corresponding color balloon on top of each, and have set them in the sun.  The idea is, the color bottle whose balloon expands first is the one that absorbs the most solar energy (the heated air having expanded into the balloon).

Mavis, Hazel, Daphne and Gloria, pictured here weeding the garden, removing insect pests, and fertilizing all at the same time.

So now, while we’re waiting for the sun’s sciency goodness to manifest itself, Little Boy is learning how to herd chickens out of the garden beds, and the Herban Cowboy is moving a bit of chicken wire fencing, expanding the yard our girls have to scratch around in.

As for the rest of the Green Goddess Gardens, the kitchen garden has been mulched, the nasty garden fence taken down, peas growing, sprouts (green beans, radishes, broccoli, lettuce).  There’s a lemon cucumber plant and some kind of tomato that the Husband brought home from work, seeds are planted (yellow squash, zucchini, cucumber, basil, parsley).

Wood sorrel. The Irish shamrock. Little Boy eats them right out of the ground. I prefer them in egg salad.

Spring is so busy.  It’s too much work for me.  I prefer the forced laziness that the heat of summer brings.  But at least the work is fun.  And it goes with beer or wine.

And gardening is not all hard work.  We forage for wild food and encourage it in our yard.  We’ve got yellow dock for soups, chickweed and wood sorrel for salads, and Little Boy and I are both watching the wild blackberry flowers with mouth watering impatience.  This year I am resolved to make wild fruit jam.  Either blackberry or mulberry.  I vow this every spring.  I hope this is the year I really do it.

UPDATE:  Our solar energy experiment was a dud.  Neither balloon expanded.  Not sure if bottles were not painted enough, or if we’re just crappy scientists.  Either way, I think we’ll just move on to the next one in the book.

Wild blackberry. We're gonna eat it.

Categories: Cowgirl's Livestock, Fabulous Foraging, Green Goddess Garden, Possum Living, The Homestead, Unschooling | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Supermom in Sweatpants

My mom raked my entire front yard yesterday.  It had been bothering her.

Go Mom!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First you should know that my mother keeps an immaculate house and yard.  I do not.  I tried for years to be as clean as my mother, but I just couldn’t do it.  So now instead I just live with the shame.  It’s easier.

I’m a basically lazy person, and am happiest when I don’t have a lot of shit to do.  If I have to choose between maintaining my front yard, or watching Invader Zim with the Little Boy while I knit and drink coffee, guess what I’m going to pick EVERY TIME?  What I’m saying is, in the almost 3 years we have lived in this house, the front yard has NOT been my priority.  Ever.

Rockin' the sweatpants all DAY.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So my 60-something year old mother spent HOURS yesterday raking up more than a decade’s worth of leaf litter from the darkest corners of my ratty front yard.  Little Boy ran circles around her playing, and the Herban Cowboy was turning and raking compost, putting in the border to the kitchen garden, and helping me in the kitchen.

The cement border is salvaged from the cement pile at the dump. Compost that's been "stewing" for two years is spread on top. Time to plant some flowers and herbs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I spent the time playing country housewife, cooking up a “mess of vittles” for the all the folks.  I made a double batch of chicken soup with two whole chickens in it, steamed broccoli, baked potatoes and sweet potatoes, sausage, and some coconut-chocolate-chip-oatmeal cookies.  The Husband made a loaf of wheat bread to go with it all.

Picnic lunch in the backyard garden. Baked potatoes with butter, bacon bits, cheddar cheese and plain yogurt. Fried sausage and steamed broccoli. Oatstraw infusion to wash it all down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a busier day than I like to have, and I was tired and stressed by the end of it all (I also had to break away for an hour to do a birthday party puppet show!), but I’m glad we did it.  Now we’ve got a cleaned up front yard, chicken soup in the freezer, leftovers for lunch, and enough bread dough to make a pizza for dinner tonight.  We even sent my mom home with soup, bread, sweet potato, and greens.

Wining and reclining after a long, long day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope she can move today.  Maybe I should call her.

 

Next on Mom's list: "Cut back those dang azaleas!"

Categories: Kitchen Witchery, Possum Living, The Homestead | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Lazy Dinner

Since I hate cooking, when I get busy or tired (or both), I don’t feel like making dinner, okay?  Preparing food is the last thing I want to do.  I don’t want to wash things.  I don’t want to chop things.  I don’t want to stir and sweat and stand.  It’s late in the afternoon, and I just want to sit with my feet up.  Either on the couch, knitting to a funny, brainless video, or out in the garden, with the chickens pecking around my feet.  Also there would be wine.

I want someone to make ME dinner.  I want food to magically appear in front of me, with no dishes to wash afterward.  Is that really too much to ask?

So a couple nights a week we have Lazy Dinner.  Sometimes it’s boxed mac & cheese with frozen peas stirred in.  Sometimes it’s a frozen pizza from the gas station across the street (don’t judge me).  Tonight it’s organic frozen fish sticks and steamed green beans.  Dipped in ranch dressing.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll be able to bring myself to cook again.  (*dramatic hand to back of forehead*)

Categories: Kitchen Witchery, Possum Living, Wise Woman Way | Leave a comment

What’s up, Homeschool?

Working hard at playing.

“What do you DO?” is a question I get a lot.  My son is 4 (and a half) and he doesn’t go to a school.  He isn’t in a program.  He doesn’t have daycare.  This is how most people live, and for lots of them, I suppose it’s difficult to imagine life any other way.

There are homeschooling families who purchase and follow specific curricula, but we don’t do that.  I don’t see anything wrong with it, nor do I have a problem with schools.  We just like the way we do things.

So what DO we do?

Well, that depends on the day.  Today is Tuesday, and Tuesday is library day.  There’s a story time at our local branch, and we’ve been going for over 2 years.  At first, Little Boy clung to my lap the whole time.  Last year he sat on the rug with the other kids, singing the songs and participating in the games.  This year, he’s over story time and is all about doing everything himself.  He waits in line and asks the librarians to put all sorts of things on hold for him:  books on castles and dragons, DVDs of Ben 10, arts and crafts books — it’s something different every week.  He’s got his own library card, and each week we check out a stack of books and DVDs.  We get some storybooks with amazing illustrations, some early reader books so Little Boy can practice reading and memorizing, and some school books.  Our DVD selections range from family movies, to TV shows, to documentaries and Eyewitness videos (Little Boy’s favorite).

Library time isn’t just about books and DVDs though.  Little Boy has friends who show up every week (brothers “R” and “E”, and redheaded girlfriend “A”), and for about an hour or so, they’ll be combing the stacks together, pretending to read to each other, turning into various ferocious animals, and coloring endless pages printed out by the librarians.  The children’s section of the Thunderbolt Library is school, playground, and sanctuary.

The best part for me is that the entire Chatham County library is online.  I can search for anything in the collection, put things on hold, and re-check items all while in my jammies on my couch.  I can even get things from other library systems on loan.  Then, when my stuff comes in, they call me to come pick it up.  For free.  Well, paid for by US taxpayers like you and me.

Our most recent school books we found at the library are:  Play and Find Out About Math by Janice VanCleave, Garden Crafts for Kids by Diane Rhoades, St. Patrick’s Day Crafts by Carol Gnojewski, and Junior Scientists Experiment with Solar Energy by Christine Taylor-Butler.

Little Boy’s favorite is the math book.  We’ve re-checked it the maximum amount of times and will soon have to part with it.  We’ve done most of it anyway.  The games in the book teach mathematical concepts by involving toys, candy, and art projects.  Not a hard sell, really.

Let's make a mess. You know, for science.

The book we worked on this morning is the solar energy one.  The first experiment is to see if light colors absorb more solar energy than dark colors.  We collected the supplies, and this morning, the Boy got (washable) white paint all over a plastic bottle, as well as the table, chairs, floor and nearby cabinets.  Yay science!  Of course, now I can’t find the black paint for the other plastic bottle, so we’ve temporarily ground to a halt.  We then moved on to creating aliens from paper plates with scissors, tape, markers and googly eyes.

Our library is a little over a mile away, and since we’ll be getting a ride home later, today we’ll walk.  We have our best talks when we walk.

 

 

Categories: Possum Living, Unschooling | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Georgia Crackers

I hate to cook, but I love, love, LOVE homemade food.  Getting my guys to help in the kitchen makes everything take longer and the scope of the mess so much more epic, but it’s WAY more fun than cooking alone.  So yesterday I coaxed them into helping me make crackers.  Because rolling dough annoys the crap out of me.

This was only our second batch ever.  It’s not very difficult.  Mix up some dough, roll it, cut it, bake it.  But it does end up taking forever and making a huge mess.  The recipe is from “Diet for a New America” by John Robbins.  I’m not vegan, but I used to be, and this cookbook has survived 20 years with me for the cornbread recipe alone.  But I’ve always wanted to try the cracker recipe.  The ones we make turn out pretty crunchy, not light and crispy like a store bought cracker.  But the flavor is wonderful and they are hearty and satisfying.  I’m already hooked.

My Herban Cowboy and the Little Boy cut some shapes with a cookie cutter at first, but quickly figured out that’s a pain in the ass.  So the rest were cut with a pizza roller.  Easy peasy.

 

WHOLE WHEAT SESAME CRACKERS (we double the recipe)

6 Tablespoons plus 1/2 cup sesame seeds

1 cup water

3 Tablespoons canola (or other) oil

1 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (we used half white and half wheat yesterday)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Position 2 racks in the center and the bottom third of the oven.  Heat to 350 degrees.  Spread 2 Tablespoons sesame seeds on each of three unoiled baking sheets (we worked 2 sheets at a time).

Put oil, water, and salt in a small bowl and stir together.  In a large bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder.  Stir in sesame seeds.  Add water/oil mixture and combine to form dough.  Shape dough into a ball.  Roll out onto floured surface until 1/16″ — very thin.  Use a fork and prick the dough all over to prevent puffing up.  Cut into rectangles with a pizza wheel.  Transfer to cookie sheets and bake 15-25 minutes, switching the positions of the cookie sheets on the racks halfway through baking.  Crackers are done when they are firm and light brown.

They’re good plain, or smeared with cream cheese.  I also like them with some sharp cheddar and a glass of white wine.

Little Boy helping Daddy cut cracker shapes.

The cookie cutter shapes are fun to eat, but the pizza wheel ZIPS through this step. SO much easier.

Cracka-lackin'!

He will be furious to discover I posted the duckface picture. Muahahaha....

Categories: Kitchen Witchery, Possum Living, The Homestead, Unschooling | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

A Lazy (Crazy) Sunday Morning

Savannah is quiet on Sunday mornings.  I don’t sleep in, because The Boy gets up at the crack of dawn.  Every.  Single.  Morning.  And he must come snuggle with me, which means singing little songs and pretending to be various animals and superheroes and aliens while somehow managing to kick me in the stomach and smash my boobs.  Every.  Single.  Morning.

I’m pretty fucking cranky this morning.  It rained all night long (I mean ALL NIGHT LONG) and now it’s cold.  The kitchen was left a mess, which seemed okay last night, but now is incredibly wrong.  Everything The Husband says this morning is the stupidest thing I have ever heard.  Every noise my child makes gives me the urge to scream.  I just want to be left alone.  And there are tiny red pimples on my forehead like I’m 13.  According to my internal calendar, I should start some time tomorrow.

Fortunately, my Herban Cowboy is not an actual idiot, no matter what my hormones are telling me today.  He leapt into action quickly, cleaning the kitchen, taking out the trash and recycling, and making a giant pot of coffee.  THEN he made scrambled eggs and toast.

He has now escaped back to the Boy’s room, where they are watching something with Wolverine and drawing pictures of robots.

I feel like some sort of volcano goddess, who has spent the morning with the natives tossing virgins at me to appease my angry fire.  But now I’m left alone with a full belly and a fresh cup of coffee.  I am so, so spoiled.

Now that I have my brain for a minute I’m working out a plan for the day.  The yard is wet from last night’s rains, and it will be chilly today, but the clouds are already clearing up and it should be beautiful by afternoon.  There are some chores to catch up on:  laundry & dishes, sweep & vacuum.  Other than that it’s all fun stuff.  Plant seeds.  Pull weeds to feed to the chickens.  Rake pine straw for mulch and the chicken yard.  Pick chickweed to add to salad for lunch.

The thunderstorms started yesterday after we’d finished mulching all the veggie beds.  I took a few pics…

Pine straw raked from the roof of our house. We use it to mulch our veggie beds. Old mulch gets thrown into the chicken yard for them to scratch around in and compost for us.

Sprouting pea plant. The "container" is a square cinder block I found at the dump. The stake is an old curtain rod. Plant marker is a craft stick from the dollar store.

Freshly mulched veggie beds. Little Boy is making mud pie soup in a bucket. Such a helper.

It's too cool to plant tomatoes yet, but when we do, they'll go in these tire beds. Tomato cages were second hand from my mom.

Where we have our picnic lunches.

The first early bearing strawberries. We better put netting over that bed before the birds beat us to them.

Categories: Cowgirl's Livestock, Green Goddess Garden, Possum Living, Telling Stories, The Homestead, Wise Woman Way | Leave a comment

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