My ole’ pal Rachel “interviewed” me, for her blog Mogantosh. If you want some Calamity wordspew, head on over!
Several weeks ago a friend said,
“My kids are probably excited about winter coming. It means I’ll start doing craft projects and reading to them again, instead of just yelling at them to go back to their movie so mama can work outside some more.”
The words could as easily have come out of my mouth. Although there are plenty of good wholesome times when the kids join me outside, helping with my projects or playing blessedly independent games alongside, there are as many times when I am out working in the yard alone, occasionally checking for their glazed faces through the dining room window.
Although we don’t get typically get snow until November, in many ways winter here in Cordova begins in September (if not August) with monsoon style rains and hurricane force wind. Not easy weather to work in the yard.
As you may remember from my last post, this was the first summer in a long time that I had tried to take on any significant projects, and I definitely bit off more than I could chew. When the weather called a halt to my projects, and the total sum of my summer’s accomplishments became evident, I was forced to accept that I hadn’t gotten even half of what I’d planned to do done.
After the disappointment wore off, I have to admit to a feeling of relief. True I hadn’t fulfilled my great expectations, but I had gotten something done, I had moved forward. And now, with winter setting in, I could finally let go those expectations. After a summer of feeling perpetually, almost frantically behind, I could finally relax.
For the last month I have been stretching with pleasure into the simple routine of playing with kids, cleaning the house, and cooking dinner. The luxurious feeling that nothing of import needs to happen, I can allow my days to be filled by the basic maintenance of family life.
I’ll get bored soon enough. But for now, my kids are reaping the benefits.
With the extra time of early winter, and in the anticipation of it’s long totality, I have been making some good stuff for indoor play. It started with turning the cubby hole under our stairs into The Bat Cave.
We all have electronics sitting around unused in a box upstairs, right? We think we need to keep them for later, but really, they are already obsolete. The kids love clomping on this old chattery keyboard, the “monitor” behind it is a framed printout. And the old phone on the right was an instant hit after I spray painted it gold!
With the bat cave under my belt, I was motivated to finally make the indoor “playground” I’ve wanted for years. And it was so easy, I am kicking myself. All I did was nail a good 2×4 up across our wide hall (make sure you nail into studs though!) and hang some ropes down from it. There are two long ropes to hold a swing, and two shorter ropes to hold a hanging bar (which is pulled out of the way in this photo).
The climbing rope, on the right, had been there for awhile, and is no more than rope through an eye bolt. Although the rest of this playground needs an open hallway to make set-up easy, the climbing rope just needs a wall with a findable stud. Check out this youtube for how to make a simple harness.
I cut two sizes of 2×4 for the swing seats, so that there can be someone swinging and someone using the hanging bar, or move the ropes about a bit and fit in the two-kid swing for extra fun.
After the thrill of an indoor playground leveled out, I made this play kitchen out of a big cardboard box. I was surprised at how excited the kids were, my 4YO boy couldn’t stop gushing and he played on it for hours that first day.
And yes, my boy likes to wear pink and purple striped tights. A lot. Gotta problem with that? He also turns everything which can be held in his hands into a gun, including his penis, so I’m sure he’s quite healthy.
I just had my first article as a contributing author for The Permaculture Research Institute published! This one is about ducks and how they fit into a backyard system, the next one will be about converting my coop’s bedding into a worm farm! It’s not quite your typical Apron Stringz material, but I thought some of you might enjoy it.
Turns out, I miss this place. I went on for many months quite happily without the computer. Working on my farm projects. Summer was banner this year, and my plate was manically full. But somewhere around July, I started to itch for writing. A place and a way to express my thoughts, to communicate all the stuff that crowds my head. Ears who care to listen.
Now, don’t go creaming yer panties, I’m not coming back here on a regular basis. But, maybe just a quickie now and then, in the laundry room.
Besides, I have some important addendums to the inherent subject matter of Apron Stringz. My life as a ‘mama who likes to get shit done’ continues to evolve, and it seems wrong to leave off when new discoveries are being made.
Not that I have come to any conclusions. As usual the farther I get into it, the more confusled I become. Certainly nothing has become clear to me, in my absence from blogging. I have not come back to share brilliant epiphanies. But that’s why you love me right? For laying bare the absolute bewilderment of life and loving?
I do have one particular thing to say, the thing that has made me come back, an admission.
For the record– it didn’t work.
This whole ‘yielding to motherhood and the inglorious work of housewifery’ thing, it didn’t work. I mean, I guess it worked for a while, gave me some peace when I needed it most. Allowed me to survive a period of intensity that otherwise might have destroyed me. I still recommend it, wholeheartedly. If you can manage it, submitting to the humble task of motherhood is a strangely liberating experience.
I just want to make sure you understand the further evolution of that story. Although I cultivated it successfully for a few years, as soon as the life-or-death necessity for submission had worn off, I abandoned it like a leaky rubber boot. I went straight back to my old ways– taking on way too much for someone with small children, trying to do it all, wanting it all with an almost debilitating lust, then beating myself up for failing on all accounts.
Part of that is just summer in Alaska. It all happens so fast. It’s winter and winter and winter, and then all of a sudden– BAM. It’s summer and it’s going to be over before you can finish even half the projects on your list, so hurry the fuck up!
But I can’t just blame summer. There’s more to the story.
Six years ago now, we had our first baby. I slowly and painfully began to set aside my own projects and passions for the all-encompassing work of motherhood. Two years into it, we moved to New Orleans, My Man went to law school, and we had our second baby. Enter the Submission Phase, blah, blah, blah. I gave up on accomplishing anything of consequence, outside of raising up two beautiful new souls. I didn’t submit easily, in fact it was emotionally akin to amputating both legs. But I did it– I put my own, separate, non-mama path on hold for a few years. I relegated my passions and what I consider my real work to ‘charming hobby’ status.
Then My Man finished school. Moving back to Alaska was something of an anti-climax because even though I was back in my own home turf, surrounded by my previous years’ work on our little property, My Man was studying harder than ever for the Bar. Time and energy were still too tight for me to take back up those passions in any meaningful capacity. So, I squelched them back down and screwed the lid on once again.
Our little backyard homestead lay in a state of dormancy, fertile soil covered in a dense blanket of weeds. It would have to wait.
My mind lay similarly neglected. After years of fighting for each little scrap, I had acquired a resident apathy. I could hardly remember what I might care to do with myself, should I ever have time to do anything in. As someone who had been vehemently motivated to do cool stuff, before I had kids, the apathy was perhaps the most disturbing thing of all.
But, here we were– back home in my chosen context, with all the things I claimed to care about around me. And that is when my greatest fear of all surfaced. What if I had just changed? What if I didn’t care about homesteading and wilderness and harvesting anymore? What then? What would I care about if not that?
This is the identity crisis which I alluded to in my few posts last summer, but never had the guts to write about. I was terrified. I had built my entire life around this homesteader dream, the possibility of it’s loss was haunting.
Our girl started kindergarten that fall. Suddenly I had just one kid again, for half of every day. The desperation of mothering two littles began to ease. I had finally settled back into Alaska. My Man passed the Bar, and started working. At long last, the 3YO began to sleep through the night and into the morning, allowing me a good night’s sleep and an hour or two of quiet solitude at the beginning of each day. I took a deep, wonderful breath.
My mind opened tentatively into that extra space, like a hermit crab poking out of it’s shell. Is it safe? Is there really room for me again?
It was at that moment in time, serendipitously, that I discovered permaculture. I was ripe and ready, it was exactly what I needed. Knowledge! Learning! Permaculture was the next step to everything I had done before I had kids– an advanced course in gardening and homesteading. I was consumed, like a hot, teenage crush. It was so exciting to be excited again. Even now, when I hear the intro song to Thomas the Train (which allowed me many an hour to sit around learning) I feel a wave of giddy joy.
And that is when I realized that I had not changed at all. I had not lost my love for all things which grow from the soil, and a life which relates to wild nature. Rather, my lust for learning had just been squashed by too many loads of laundry, I had had too many attempts to try something new crushed into the ground by a screaming toddler. I had given up.
I had tried for graceful submission, but in the end had settled into apathetic resignation. Not towards my life as a whole, but certainly towards my personal passions and ambitions.
I still believe that graceful submission would be a beautiful thing. I did hit it for small moments, and they were good and sweet. I don’t begrudge the resignation either, it is acceptable to me on a short term basis. It served me well when I needed it.
I was so thrilled to find my own spark still alive, so relieved that it was (conveniently) still flaring in the same general direction, that I hardly cared whether it had been submission or resignation or what. I flung my painstakingly acquired good mom habits out the window and set right into ignoring my kids in the name of backyard homesteading.
I weeded out three years’ worth of creeping buttercups and planted all my old garden beds. I started teaching classes, something I had always wanted to, in bread making, gardening and wild plants. I butchered, packaged and froze two black bears given me by a local guide. I started making herbal medicine. I picked gallons of wild blueberries. But, most significantly, before summer had even begun, I ordered fifty chicks and ducklings thereby turning my nice little gardens into a full fledged small farm.
I ordered the birds while there was still snow on the ground. I had spent the winter drawing up a totally awesome permaculture design for our property, and had convinced myself on paper that I could build an addition to my coop which would quadruple it’s size, before the chicks grew out of their brooder.
I had forgotten that I was in fact still a mama! You can throw the ole’ submission idea out the window, but the kids don’t seem to notice. Well, I’m sure they noticed something. Like the fact that I had stopped taking them to kid activities around town, stopped doing crafts with them, stopped reading stories in the middle of the day, and started a hell of a lot more yelling.
It wasn’t all bad. There were some absolutely amazing days, the kind of days I imagined motherhood would be– working outside building the coop, or digging in the garden; a little pack of kids ranging around between our yard and our neighbors, happily playing in the sunshine with sticks. Brilliant days, which I did have the good sense to stop and appreciate, recognizing these moments as the best of the best, what I had always hoped my life would be like.
I don’t regret my regression back into project-land. Mamas busy with projects are a good thing. But there’s busy and then there’s too busy. I do regret ordering fifty birds. What the fuck was I thinking? I could have simply doubled my flock, like a normal person, just dabbled in raising meat birds; but no, I needed to quintuple my flock so that I could put a year’s worth of birds in the freezer, and still have several different laying breeds left to trial.
The stress of all those animals under my care, inadequately housed (barely better off than factory farmed birds for a while there) gave me actual belly cramps during the month of June. I just couldn’t build fast enough. It seemed like I managed to nail up about two boards/day.
At any rate, here I am now, at the end of it. A nice big pack of roasters in my freezer, and a beautiful flock of laying hens and ducks. I am learning new things, evolving my homesteading skills, moving forward on my path again.
Occasionally I miss those days when I just let taking the kids on an outing, doing laundry and making dinner be enough. I am still often jealous of the mamas who can sustain that kind of devotion. But I am not that mama. For me, submission was a temporary helpmate.
And for you other mamas out there who used to like to get shit done, who now feel your own passions numbed by motherhood, understand that you can submit for a few years and still resurface intact at the end of it. It might take some time to wake your mind and passions back up, but don’t be frightened by a little apathy. When the time comes, your spark will reignite.
Friends, I am actually in the middle of a real post! An interesting, contemplative, reliving the good ole’ Calamity days post. Though it could take me another month or two to finish.
But in the meantime, two things.
1. Check me out, I made another website. Don’t worry, not a real blog, if I ever come back, it will be here to you. This one is just a virtual ego stroke in which I name my whole homesteading-project-extravaganza and thereby give it identity and recognition. I am now master of Feral Edge Rainfarm. Ha! Take that!
2. We are planning a short vacation to central California– from San Francisco to Carmel (family reunion)– and I have a nagging feeling that one or another of you live in that neck of the woods. Is it true? And if so, can we crash at yer place for a night or two? Extra credit if you live on a farm, or downtown SF.
Email me! I’m scarletfevir (at) yahoo (dot) com
Also just email me if you missed me and you want to tell me all about everything, and how you can’t live without my posts every week.
PS. I missed you.
It’s been awhile.
I am well and happy, my family is all good, we are settled firmly back home in Cordova and beginning spring work on our tiny yard-sized homestead. I have lots and lots of things I could write about, many cool projects underway and, as always, deep thoughts aplenty.
But the truth is, I waited and waited for it and the urge to blog just never really came back to me. Since I left you all waiting as well, I thought I’d better at least come back and say it– farewell for now, it’s been a good run.
I do feel the need to explain a bit. Because it’s not completely without reason that I have abandoned writing here. I wish I could say it’s because I’m not using the computer much, but that’s not the case– I have been researching permaculture all winter, and now I’m on to botanical medicine, both involving lots of computer time.
Honestly, it’s more about the particular perspective blogging gives you on your world. Have you ever been into photography? Carry your camera around long enough and you get ‘photo-eye,’ everything is seen through it’s possible worth as an aesthetic composition. You don’t see life as it is so much as you see potential photographs.
Blogging is like that. When I’m deep in it, I see life through the post I will write about it.
Interestingly, this downside is all wrapped around the upside, the thing I loved best about blogging– the way it gave me an outlet to process my thoughts, a way to make sense of the world and my life. Blogging was immensely useful and enjoyable for me, during a very hard time.
But the long enforced break of our move home shook off the ‘blogger-eye.’ Eventually I remembered what it was like to just be me, living my life with my family, instead of Calamity Jane: Punk Housewife Extraordinaire. And, I liked it. I like being plain old me.
I do miss the glamour, the acclaim and the page hits. I miss the way I felt important, big.
Some would say I need to find ‘big-ness’ in myself, not in others’ perception of me. I don’t know. It’s complicated. I think we as humans want to feel useful to the world at large. We crave purpose beyond self. Doing anything very useful in the world is all tangled up with the self-satisfaction of having done it. What are we to do?
So many of what I consider my important writings on this blog were about learning to find value in the eminently humble work of motherhood and housewifery. Don’t you think it’s ironic that in writing about it, I created for myself a more auspicious and vainglorious work? I made myself a “writer,” with loyal readers around the world. Although I tried so hard not to, I inevitably framed my homemaking as punkier than it really was. There is really no way to convey truth in this media. Without intention I painted a very cool picture of myself. Hardly a way to actually submit to the humility of motherhood.
I don’t mean to devalue my writings in any way, or their worth to you or myself. They were genuine expressions of my humanity. They were good and true and useful to so many of you, and I feel blessed to have been able to give in that way. I loved being Calamity Jane, and I reserve my right to reclaim her at any time.
But for now, I’m enjoying being just plain old me. Thank you for reading, thank you for commenting, thank you for existing as a community, however virtual. That’s the part I miss most. I don’t forget friends, even ones I’ve never met.
Here’s to life, in real life.
If you stock homemade granola in your kitchen, and you have small children with incredibly variable appetites, you are likely to have come across the leftover granola issue. After the cost of the high quality ingredients, and the time of mixing and baking each batch, to throw away even just a half cup of it just about kills me.
So, I save up the leftovers in a pint jar in the freezer. When it’s full, I make these puppies, and redeem my children’s otherwise wasteful habits.
This recipe is from an old post, full of all kinds of jumble. But since I myself have G**gle searched “apronstringz leftover granola muffins” at least half a dozen times since publishing it, it occurred to me today that maybe I had better give it it’s very own brand new post. They are really good!
Cinnamon Crumble Muffins (wink)
makes one dozen very tall muffins
- 1 pint jar (2 cups) leftover granola and milk
- 3 eggs
- 1/4 cup melted butter
- 1/4 cup oil (don’t be afraid of olive oil for baking btw, it works just fine)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
- 1 cup white all-purpose (plus 1/2 cup or more if necessary)
- 5 teaspoons baking powder (I know this seems like a lot, but it wasn’t too much)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- 1/4-1/2 cup raisins (optional)
for the crumble topping
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 cup oats
Butter your muffin tin generously. I never used to use butter to grease pans, but have since realized that it does a much better job than oil and makes a delicious crust to boot.
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Beat all the wet ingredients together, whisk the dry ingredients together, then fold the dry into the wet. Add the extra 1/2 cup or more of white flour until you have a thick batter. You should be able to scoop it with a spoon like soft ice cream. Fill the muffin cups to the brim, and then even a teeny bit more. This recipe fit (barely) into my tin, which I think has 1/2 cup sized cups.
Dump all the crumble ingredient together in the empty batter bowl and mash/stir until thoroughly incorporated. Sprinkle onto muffins. It will seem like way too much, but keep trying to pack it on there. As the muffins bake and expand, the tops will suck up the crumble and it will be perfect! Pat the tops so that the crumble stays put. If you really can’t fit all the crumble on, save it in your freezer for your next batch o’ muffs.
Pop into the oven. After 10 or 15 minutes, turn the heat down to 350. Starting at a high heat like this helps make your muffins nicely domed. Bake another- oh hell I don’t know, I never time ’em- 10 minutes? They’re done when the tops feel springy, stick a butter knife in if you’re not sure, there should be sticky crumbs but no batter clinging.
Cool on a wire rack, where the 3YO can’t reach if you want to have any crumble left for anyone else.
Post Script: Add chocolate chips to the batter, and top with frosting and sprinkles for some big mama points!