January 15, 2016

Thieves of Joy

Last week, I confessed that I'm no fun.

I was wrong. Well, sort of.

I am actually quite fun.

And, guess what? You are too.

I had this mini-breakdown on New Year's Eve looking back at 2015 and struggling to find the joy. I accomplished a lot and we did a whole bunch of things, including big fun things like seeing college friends for the first time in a decade or wading in a glacier lake or spending the Fourth of July with friends who feel like family. But, I lamented, I couldn't remember if I really, truly enjoyed any of it. (I did, for the record, but in haze of holiday blues, I just couldn't see that.)

After being more intentional about looking for the fun (and capturing it), and becoming more clear on what kind of fun I was actually looking for, I realized, by golly, it's here, all the time. In me! In my house! While washing dishes! While making supper! While putting my kids to bed! (OK, so that last one is a bit of a lie.)

It's easy to lose track of your own definition of joy by looking at your life through someone else's filter. Who's? Maybe someone water skiing behind a swimming unicorn. Or kayaking a river of chocolate and marshmallows. You know, someone doing something that looks a lot like the kind of fun you should be having.

FOMO, yo. It's a real thing. (FOMO is "fear of missing out.") We get it when we see something in someone else's life we don't have.

It's cliche, I know, but life isn't about finding joy, it's about finding your joy. 

And, just like anything else good, that takes work, man. It takes intention and careful prioritizing of your own needs and wants. Like I said, work.

Because comparison isn't the only thief of joy. There's a whole gang of thieves and part of finding your joy is identifying the thieves that steal that joy for you -- like perfection or expectation or measuring up or self consciousness or distraction or the countless books and experts that tell you all that you're doing wrong, in my case.

It takes work, like kicking out the germophobe thief in your brain for a few minutes when your 5-year-old asks to crack the eggs.

Even if five seconds after taking this celebratory photo, she crushes the next egg in her hands, necessitating a wholesale cleaning and sanitizing of the counter, the chair, the floor, the girl and the princess dress.

(But, because I didn't lose my cool, a day later, while making scrambled eggs, she didn't remember the slip up, she remembered that, "Guess what? I can do that now!")

It takes work, like bundling everyone up to go sledding, even though it's windy and cold and you should be getting a head start on next week's workload.

And, it takes work to remind yourself that even though it feels more isolated and harsh and unfun than you'd like this time of year, this landscape you chose is beautiful in its own right.

It takes work, like not throwing out your to-do list to be present with your kids (because let's face it, I'm just not that person). Or, not yelling at your kids to get out of your way so you can finish the chores and then have fun (because that's what you'd like to do). Instead, you let the kids make the chores themselves fun and WAH-LA! The floor gets mopped, you get a workout and the kid gets a ride.

It takes work, like allowing yourself to admit that even though hugs from your kids are awesome, they're not awesome all the time. Like when you're working on deadline. Or, when they're painful. Or when they cover you in slimy snot that makes you throw up a little in your mouth.

What are your biggest, cloaked thieves of joy?

January 6, 2016

Insufferable Glitter: On Why I Googled "How To Make Your Family More Fun"

I'm about to get insufferable.
Consider yourself warned.

Oh, and Happy New Year!  (Isn't January the traditional time to be insufferable?)

Here's the thing: 2015 was a good year. Productivity-wise, it was a best year. The farm did stellar, my editing work grew (even amid threats of shrinking), my teaching work positively blossomed (also amid threats of disintegration) and, dare I say it? My house wasn't a total wreck the whole time.

But, when I tried filling out this handy year-end/year-ahead reflection booklet I got off the Interwebs on New Year's Eve I was paralyzed by any questions having anything to do with best memories or connections or joyful moments.

I did whole bunch of stuff last year. But, I'm not sure I allowed myself to enjoy much of it. Or, remember much of it.

Hence, why I'm about to get insufferable.

I closed out 2015 with two crying kids who didn't want anything to do with dinner so they got sent to bed early. I sent myself to bed early too, not out of discipline, but because I couldn't stop sobbing and telling my husband "we have no idea how to have fun." (This is a deeper subject which I'll break down next week.)

So, this year, instead of resolutions to be healthier, more organized, more productive, read more, watch less TV, shower more, get out of debt or any of the other resolutions I've set and broken over the years, I resolved to start giving less of a f*&k about the things that don't really matter

Because when you wake up on Jan. 1 and Google, "how to make your family more fun" that's the only resolution you should make.

To hold myself to it, every week this month, I'm going to post photos of moments during the week when I make the conscious choice to let go -- of worry, of mess, of responsibility, of expectation, of efficiency and allow the chaos to win, in the name of being just a little bit more fun.

I'll try not to get too maudlin, but I'm giving myself permission to be wee bit insufferable with the life lessons little kids and life can teach when we listen.

Drum roll...

First up: I read something recently that instructed how to be happier in your home and one of the tips was make your bed every day. Easy, right?

When both of my kids were babies and sleeping (or actually, not sleeping) in a sidecar crib thing attatched to our bed, they would giggle when I made the bed. So fun to watch the sheets go up in the air and whoosh down! So. Much. Fun.

Maybe that's why, even if they're downstairs their heads in a pile of pillows, they can sense when I'm making the bed and they rush in as fast as they can to come watch the linens go up in the air... so they can jump under them and make my 30-second bed-making task into 2 minutes of giggling and bouncing and then 5 minutes of Mama repeatedly asking them nicely, and then not so nicely, to just let her finish making the bed, for the love of...

Let go of efficiency, I had resolved. So, I left the bed unmade that day and bounced with them and then brought out the camera. This isn't the best photo, but it is the best of Eli's hair.

Next up: Do you know how long it takes to get the five-and-under set in snow gear? Hint: It takes twice the time the children will actually remain outside. A few weeks ago, I realized the kids and I hadn't been outside in days. Days. Not because it was too cold. And, not because they didn't want to. But, because I did not want to take the time and effort to find all the paraphernalia that their three-minute outdoor adventure necessitates. Nor did I want to clean up the veritable wreckage they leave of mud, snow and said paraphanalia when they can't stand to be outside one more minute and rush in, flinging their gear in a tornado of waterproof material.

Let go of mess, I had resolved.

Because, snowman, man.

Here was our first, which I tried, naturally, to control, telling Willa that he needed pebbles for a mouth, not a twig or pine cone as she suggested.

A few days later, I decided to let them play. This one took twice as long as the first one to make, but I love it more because Willa insisted on an "oh" mouth this time.

 And when we forgot arms, she said, "But Mama, how is he going to give hugs?"

 Also, she did not want him to be surprised and took great offense to my placement of his left hand.

 "He is singing. Or, he's in love, Mama. See how I picked heart rocks for his eyes?"

With that, we spent another hour outside, which felt like 10 because when a book or blog tells you to "follow your child's lead" what they really mean is "kneel on the frozen ground until you can't feel your thighs and your hands are blue and throbbing from scooping dry Central Montana snow into a pile and then using the body heat from your hands to secure and shape the pile into a wife for the in-love snowman."

There are no pictures of the snowman's wife. She was haphazard and hideous because, you know, let go of perfection.

Finally: Today, in my normal rush out the door to get to town in time to drop the kids off with Nana so I could work, good God, when I looked up from the scramble, everything was so so sparkly. I stopped the car to capture, and talk about Mother Nature's glitter work. 

Because, little darlin,' it's going to be a long, cold, lonely winter. But, there will be plenty of glitter. 

Even if glitter is super messy.

March 18, 2015

Ripening, Or Why We Should Stop Saying "Bouncing Back" After Baby

Our farm is full of lessons.

I learned a big one this fall, when August brought its hot, dry, dusty days to the farm.

In August, moisture escapes the ground by 9 a.m., the barley goes golden, the grass grows tall and brittle. Everything that was green three months ago is now parched and losing color.

But the fruit coming on is relentless. Cherry tomatoes ready to split. Cucumbers growing fat and white at the ends. Eggplant getting shinier and more rotund with every pass. Zucchini that needs to be harvested every day lest it grow as big as your thigh.

August in Montana – August on the farm – is a season unto itself. Ripening season.

It so happened that right around ripening season, I  started trying some tricks to, as the perky instructor I was following says, get my body back after two kids.

Because, hoo-doggy, these two kids did a number on this mama. Both of them just pooked right out in the womb. Well, pook makes it sound cute. It was more like a thrust forward. A lunge. A big, forceful leap from my midsection. My doctor, the sweet, sweet man that he is, called it “an unusual presentation.”  My dear doula friend who’s attended hundreds of births and cared for even more pregnant mothers said it was one of the weirdest things she’d seen.

So, now, even though I’m 75 pounds lighter than the day I gave birth to Eli, I still have a two-finger-width gap between my two main abdominal muscles. This summer at the pool, I saw a few people glancing my belly's way and I wondered just how many of them were guessing I was carrying a third child. Heck, I was wondering if I was carrying a third child.

Hence, all the YouTube videos on getting my body back.

I admire these women on these timelapses, showcasing how quickly and effectively they’ve rebuilt their bodies. And, I don’t for a moment disparage their effort or commitment.

But the idea of getting a body back bothers me. As if someone stole it. Or, as if you’ve lost something and are desperate to find it again. As if you’re trying to reclaim something that is reclaimable.

I’ll never have the body I had before I carried these two little gems. But, my body can work in ways it never did. I’m scarred and droopy and different, yes. But I am strong and beautiful in ways I’ve never been before.

That body – the one I didn’t fully know or love for what it’s made for – the one that perhaps looked a bit better in a swimsuit but hadn’t grown and nourished two human beings or spent days in the sun growing food or hours crinkling eyes to laugh – I don’t want it back.

I want it to ripen.

In August, I looked around the farm at the hail-damaged leaves still producing gorgeous fruit, the once-tender greens finding the strength to put out seeds for next year or the grain hardening and turning brown but busting with life and food. What I saw wasn't the end of something -- it was the beginning of something, the continuation of life. Life is beautiful and productive in all its stages – when it’s green, lush and tender and when it’s golden and sun drenched and maybe even a little scarred.

So I stopped thinking about "bouncing back" and started thinking instead about growing into this new body. 

Because, it's impossible to bounce back and go forward.

May 11, 2014


Montanans love to tell people how much they love the seasons here. But, if you pay attention, you'll note that this praise often comes in the spring or fall – when the brutality of winter is thawing or the oppressive dry heat of summer is starting to lift.

In January, if you ask, the honest ones will tell you, Eff This Place.

As I write this, it's Mother's Day – May 11, and it's snowing. Nay, blizzarding. The first thing I said upon waking was “bullshit.”

It's been a long winter. Everyone says so. (Long enough, apparently, that we (I) swear more than we (I) should. Sorry about that.)

But I'm not sure it's really been any longer than any other winter. (The winter you just went through is always the longest, right?)

For this family, this has been the longest winter that has ever been. Ever.

One of my friends recently shared a photo of a rosemary plant, peeking through the cold dirt, but still green and growing. She was so proud she said, that the plant had overwintered.


The term has been on my mind a lot because honestly, just like the kale that started shooting green sprouts after numerous -30 degree days or the scallions that popped up in the field or the lilac that still managed to grow buds, I am genuinely surprised we made it to May this year.

The winter after my oldest was born, my husband traveled a lot. We lived in a tiny rental house – cozy and cute, but little and dark. It was one of the longest seasons of my life and the first time I really – and I mean really felt winter in Montana. And then I had another baby.

During that first of the longest of winters, on one of Jacob's travels, he met our now friend Sarah. She was authentic and funny and driven and he told her she must meet his wife – the wife who he must have known was struggling and needed a friend just like Sarah. So, Sarah took Jacob at his word and stopped by one day on her way through. It may have seemed odd to anyone else – these two just-strangers, gabbing and hugging like old friends. But when you live in the middle of nowhere and you've survived more sub-zero days in a row than you'd like to count, and one of you has been taking care of a suckling baby inside of a dark house for months, and the other's been building a business from scratch in a tiny town, it's not so odd at all.

I was reminded of this when Sarah said recently during a TEDx talk (she really is awesome, did I mention?) “These raw winters keep a person honest. It's the kind of place where you need a lot of grit and dependable friends and neighbors to make it."

When we first started farming, I loved how it made us live a life that followed the seasons, a life that truly mirrored natural rhythms. Birth in the spring, ripening in the summer, bounty in the fall and the quiet of winter.

But that was until this last year. It was our first season on our new farm and had our little Eli in May. Birth in spring was overwhelming. Too many babies to tend to. Then came the ripening of summer with too many weeds to pull and plants to feed and a baby that needed more than just food. Fall brought more bounty than I could handle -- a baby that was moving and crawling and a toddler who was growing up too fast. And then the winter hit and the slowness was just too cold, too dark, too lonely.

I started rethinking that romantic idea that we should follow the seasons. Perhaps progress is being able to ignore what's happening outside – keeping a constant flow throughout the year instead of having to bend with the changing of the seasons. Would it just be easier somewhere else? Doing something else?

But then slowly, the grass started to green. The lilacs put out buds. The tulips even bloomed. We watched as our ewes (somewhat effortlessly, I thought) birthed their fuzzy little lambs. The sky opened. The birds, oh the birds – they started singing again. The hay started smelling sweet and the new willow shoots spread their fragrance across the yard. New ideas swirled, hope returned and miraculously, excitement, even enthusiasm, sparked again.

These things, they pale unless you've been without them for awhile. You don't appreciate the greenness if you haven't just been through too much brown. You don't feel the warmth of a 60 degree day unless you've survived -30. A new idea isn't as rich if you haven't been stagnant for some time. You don't hug your friends, or your kids or your husband as hard if you haven't just survived together.

These winters keep do keep us honest. They keep us grounded. They keep us grateful. They make us creative -- not on a whim, but out of necessity. More importantly, getting through does make for good neighbors, good friends, strong family and good people.

Maybe that's why it does make sense to live a life so intimately tied to the natural rhythm.

And, maybe that's what we really mean when we say we love the seasons here.

February 12, 2013

On Death and Farm Life

Last week, I spent a morning lumbering over a 6-months-along-but-looks-more-like-8-months pregnant belly, collecting tools from the shed to pick away at a small shallow grave in still frozen ground near the back of our shelterbelt.

I'd found my favorite cat dead in the barn that morning. 

When she got sick, I'd wrapped her in her blanket, the one she used to curl up with on our bed, and less than a day later, when I found her dead, I kept her in that blanket as I placed her in the grave – the biggest one I could muster in mid-winter, mid-pregnancy.

I vacillated from “it's just a cat” to wailing uncontrollably at the foot of the grave, from grunting with the pick axe and just getting it done to shrieking like a scared child at the stiffness of my sweet cat's limbs, claws out, still clinging to the blanket.

As I buried the little black and white cat, I was struck at how equally I felt guilt for feeling too little and weakness for feeling too much.

I'm no stranger to dead animals. I've mourned my share, especially as farm kid. But, it was different then. I had someone to take care of the aftermath for me, leaving me with just the emotion, the heady wrangling that comes when you're faced with death, and none of the actual logistical chores that come with it. Whether it was the day the “custom slaughtering” vehicle pulled up to the house or the day I watched my cocker spaniel get hit on the highway, my reaction was allowed to be emotional only.

But now, as an adult, I have to deal with it all – the emotion and the cold, hard logistics. I have to cram the already rigid beloved cat in a too-small grave. And, I have to slit the throat of the Thanksgiving turkey, carry the blood bucket, pluck the feathers, cut the meat, throw away the dead baby turkeys or dispose of the body of a goose who strangled itself in the fence.

Death is part of any life, but on the farm, it's part of everyday life.

That has meant a bit of hardening in my heart. I actually cringe a little at admitting that, but it's true.

I used to be the one who brought home stray cats to the farm to “save” them. I insisted as a 10-year-old that Peter, the cat I'd saved from the tree in town, get extensive surgery to reset his leg and stitch his ear back on. Just a few short years ago, Jacob and I spent hundreds upon hundreds of dollars on the very cat I buried last week when she came down with some weird auto-immune thing. Back then, I wrapped bandages and applied ointment several times a day. This time around, I just wrapped her in her favorite blanket, made her comfortable and let her die. (In my defense, she was an older cat and had something obviously serious going on that I was pretty sure a vet couldn't fix. And, she'd become a barn cat – no less valuable than the house cat she was before, but just in a more natural habitat. I like to think she was happier there – in life and in death. But, also, she was just a cat.)

See? The equal parts guilt and weakness.

But what was worse within all of that was the strange, terrible feeling that somewhere along the line, life took away a little smidge of my sensitivity.

I'm still wrestling with that – whether it's a good or a bad thing. There's a fine line between becoming strong and becoming heartless. And, I'm trying to remind myself that the juxtaposition of practicality and sadness I felt burying that little cat is a good thing – it means I haven't crossed that line.

I never want to stop feeling the emotion about the loss of any life, whether that be a cat or turkey or a pig. But I also don't want to go back to that naive place I was as a child in which nothing should die, ever. And if it does, I don't have to see what that really means. Too often, I think we shelter kids (and ourselves really), girls in particular, from the full picture of life, showing only the pretty stuff and letting them, and ourselves blissfully ignore the hard, yucky stuff.

My first instinct was to wait for Jacob to get home and have him deal with the cat. My friend Renee suggested I call my Dad. My friend Brooke offered to come over and do the deed. But, for some reason, I felt like I had to do it. For one, I don't want Willa growing up thinking that only Papa deals with the hard stuff. And secondly, I just felt like I need to continue to prove to myself that I can be soft and sad and hard and practical all at the same time -- that I have the capacity and strength to deal with both the emotion and the realities.

Still, I took Willa to a friend's as I did the burying, not wanting to expose her to that just yet. It was the same instinct I had this fall when, just before the first turkey was killed on slaughter day I brought her back to the house and spared her the blood.

But both times, I wondered if I was doing the right thing. Maybe it would be easier on her to know, early on, the dichotomy I'm just now coming to grips with. Maybe it will be smoother for her to just know from the beginning that death is hard and sad but also necessary and inevitable.

Then again, she's two. We still have lots of time to talk about it and many, many opportunities. And maybe by the time we get there, I'll finally have figured it out for myself.

November 29, 2012

The New Farm

I feel like we are really starting from scratch.

I should have been documenting this whole thing -- the big leap our family has taken since I last wrote -- but it's almost as if it were too precious, to fragile to really put into words out there in the world. Not just yet anyway.

See, since my last post, we bought a farm. A real, honest-to-goodness farm -- of our own.

We've been working toward this for the last four -- eight, really -- years.

"If only," we'd say, "we had a place of our own."

"Someday, when we actually have a farm..."

"If we ever own our own farm we'll..."

And now we're actually here, on our own farm. 

We did first things first. We moved our stuff, turkeys and equipment.

Then, we broke ground.

Then we butchered said turkeys and delivered them across the state for Thanksgiving. (We have so many thanks to give for all the help we got with that.)

And now, that the dust has settled, it's started to sink in that this magical place is ours. Ours.

Then the panic really set in.

When you finally get something you really, really, really want, it can be a bit paralyzing.

Because now, we don't have any somedays. We have todays.

All the things we thought we could make happen if -- they don't have ifs anymore. They have whens. Now the real work starts.

And all that stuff I thought about our someday? Some of it was true and some of it wasn't, reaffirming that darnit -- life, motherhood, farming, love -- it all takes work, no matter how magical the place or how nicely situated the outbuildings or how well-organized the kitchen.

Everything is a bit easier, yes, and we're doing it all in a breathtaking place, but it all still takes hard, heart-ful, back-aching work.

One thing hasn't changed, though: It's still so very worth it.

August 8, 2012

All Kinds of Awesome

 A few weeks ago, I was ready to ring the bell. Big deadlines, covering for other editors, working around limited child care, a big camping/festival/selling weekend to get ready for and Jacob off the farm for a few days, leaving Willa and I to harvest (with our apprentices and some friend help) and then deliver veggies to 50 families in two cities, 2 hours apart.

It was all enough to a) strip me down to the very last shred of my strength and b) remind me of how strong I actually can be, even on a shred.

By Friday, harvest day, I was frazzled. I had to be out to the field early so I quickly woke the babe, got breakfast in both of us, slapped on one of my trusty, so threadbare-it's-almost-see-through farm shirts, my hat and dirty boots and dropped Willa off at daycare before zooming out for harvest. As I drove back into town from the morning, the logistics of the next two days of delivery and travel rambling through my head, I caught a glimpse of myself in the rearview mirror.

And, whoa Nellie. What a sight.  Dirty, sweaty, frazzled. Haggard even. I was covered, head to toe, in sweat and mud and stress.

As luck would have it, I'd recently run into an old friend, who, of course, looked fabulous, just when I looked like a hot mess.

And the truth is, I look like am a hot mess most days.

I don't notice, really, until I see someone looking fabulous. Stylish. Put together. Clean. You know -- how I looked before the mud and dirt and beet juice on my shirt and no time for mascara or concealer or, let's admit it, showers even.

I like to think I don't care -- that I have more important things to think about and more important values to live up to.

But, I do care sometimes. And, it affects my self worth. Looking haggard can contribute to feeling haggard. And lately, I've both looked and felt pretty haggard.

I thought about it a lot on my early morning drive to Helena to deliver that Saturday and by the time I got there, I'd pretty much convinced myself that, judging by how much I'd -- what's the phrase? -- let myself go, I was hanging by the thread of one of my threadbare farm shirts.

I waver, pretty drastically, between being a strong, I-don't-care-what-I-look-like farm girl and a self-conscious, let's say medium-maitenence girl who doesn't feel quite right without a little foundation to cover up her old acne scars. I've never been pretty enough to be a pretty girl and never felt strong enough to hang with the real tough-as-nails farm girls out there. So I waffle somewhere in the middle, never quite knowing where I fit in. Why? I wonder, do I feel the need to be one or the other?

But, back to the big, hard week: I pulled it off by myself, even with Willa in tow, editing, writing, singing Muffin Man! at the top of my lungs over and over, chopping the tops off of kohrabi and lugging huge coolers of beets and cabbage and zucchini (you can't imagine how heavy those coolers were) in and out of our beat-up Chevy. Customers were happy at both deliveries and I was proud to pull every last head of cabbage out of those coolers.

At the final delivery, once everyone was gone, I started to load back up and noticed an old man walking by the pickup for a second time, gawking a little at a (what I saw as) frazzled farmer/mom in an already coffee-stained white tank top and muddy shorts awkwardly trying to push coolers almost as long as her into her truck.

He stopped for a moment and then kept walking, turning back to shout:

"I thought for a second you might need some help. But you look like you're pretty tough."

That's right old man. I am pretty tough. 

And pretty awesome.

Here's the thing I want to model for my daughter:

There are all kinds of awesome.

I may not be the prettiest or the strongest, but by God, I am pretty strong and even pretty pretty and I do awesome things every single day.

Once in awhile, we have to be the ones to tell ourselves that.


By the way, it's amazing what a little bit of self confidence can do for a girl. She'll think she can do just about anything...

  Like you know, hop on a mechanical bull at the State Fair.

And be perfectly happy getting bucked off.

July 31, 2012

Here's to Family Farms! And Music! And Rural Communities! And Red Ants Pants!

We had just a fantastic time this weekend at the 2nd Annual Red Ants Pants Festival in White Sulphur Springs.

It's nothing short of amazing to watch a big pasture outside of a small Montana town come to life the way the Jackson Ranch does for this festival. And, to know that one incredible woman's vision for women in leadership and strong family farms and viable rural communities is the reason for it all makes it even more so. That's the reason we go. Because even in dust and heat (and with a toddler in dust and heat) -- it's just magical to watch it all come together and feel that energy.

This is the second year we've done the festival and this year, the music was even better (Mary Chapin Carpenter!) and we were able to do a demonstration of our bike-powered fresh flour, in addition to selling whole ancient and heritage grains and our sourdough Farmer Bread.

About 125 people showed up for the demo (called the Tour de Flour) to hear us talk about heritage and ancient grains, fresh flour and the renaissance of family farming. And, at least 15 brave people signed up to compete to win flour and bread with our grain-grinding bike time trials. (We did, however, had to call it at 7 contestants because the mill got so hot it started to gum up -- basically baking -- the flour. We've never tried grinding that fast, for that long or in that kind of heat. :)

To top off the excitement, the Red Ants Pants Foundation -- which is why the whole festival was started to begin with -- announced on stage Saturday that we are one of their first grant winners. Pretty darn cool, especially considering how highly we think of the foundation (and of our friend Sarah Calhoun, the owner of Red Ants Pants). Basically the organization was founded:

-To develop and expand leadership roles for women
-To preserve and support working family farms and ranches
-To enrich and promote rural communities

To that end, this year, the foundation used the proceeds of last year's festival to dole out community grant awards to people and organizations working toward those goals. We were so honored to be on this first list.

We won for a project we've been dreaming about for some time now: stone-milled ancient and heritage grains. So, thanks to the foundation, we're shopping now for an electric (our legs are so happy!) stone mill that will get fresh flour to our Grain CSA farm share members (sign up now!) as well as individuals, restaurants and bakeries across the state and the region.

So, even despite the dust and rain and sunburns, it was a tip-top weekend.

Here's the proof:

Willa and her Papa had a grand time walking around the festival, collecting rocks, listening to music and watching all the people. This girl did not get her Mama's aversion to crowds.
We got to hang all weekend with Emily, our amazing, awesome, incredible apprentice.  Here's Willa and Emily (or, "Ammee" to Willa) watching Mary Chapin Carpenter, sipping on a lemonade slushy and yelling "Good job people!" after each song. (That was Willa's idea.)

Oh, Mary Chapin Carpenter, your voice is like home to me. Here's one big reason why, and why she was just the perfect voice for this event.

July 19, 2012

When Things Make Sense, And Then They Don't

There are days when your life make sense. And then there are days it doesn't.

Being aware and respectful of how quickly it can change from one to the other can make you more thankful for the days it does and more patient on the days it doesn't.

On Monday, it all made sense, all this scrambling around, all this juggling. This cobbled-together existence of farm and work and home and parenting -- it's for something.

Mostly, it's for what I get to do on Mondays when I deliver farm shares to customers and veggies to the Mountain Front Market in Choteau. On those days, I get to: 1) get food to rural folks who are so appreciative of good food and good farmers and good local economies and good community and 2) do this while my daughter, who I often worry will someday resent the fact that we spent our summers schlepping vegetables all over the Golden Triangle, has a big time helping our friend and market owner Jill. This week, she helped stock apples.

Jill told me later that Willa would pick up an apple and stare at it for a few moments, intently exploring each curve and bump and color before handing it up to Jill to stock. "Isn't that what we should all be doing?" Jill asked. Stopping to smell and touch and really see the things in our lives?

After all that hard work, Willa sat down for a glass of milk with Jill in the back and Willa colored while Jill made new labels for the produce I'd just dropped off. I had a vision of her at 5 or 6 or 7 doing the same thing every Monday -- helping Mama deliver veggies and drinking milk with Jill in the back of a grocery store.

I thought about the stories someday she might tell her kids about those afternoons spent in the store. Picking out treats. Coloring. Hanging with her pal Jill.

I thought too about how similar her stories might be to the stories my Mom tells me about her childhood in her grandparents' store.

(My great grandparents, Lebanese immigrants, owned and ran "People's Grocery" in Great Falls -- which my Great Grandpa Mike called "Pe-op-o-lee's" -- for many, many years. Maybe the retail side of food was in my blood as much as the growing side after all.)

Sometimes, that full circle stuff just chokes me up, I tell you. I turn into a big, sappy fool. 

But, then, on Tuesday, wham. Nothing made sense. There were many tears, too much to do, not enough time, calls and texts and urgent emails, lettuce wilting, needing ice, conference calls wedged between my shoulder and chin while I tried to walk a squirmy, hot, cranky toddler in a stroller (nap, dammit!) for the third time around the neighborhood, spilled liquids on keyboards, sticky skin, dishes piling, dog puke on the couch and a mountain of laundry that seemed to have doubled in size overnight. Oh, and a veggie pick up at our aforementioned disaster of a house.

No, I don't have any photos to illustrate this s*^tshow.

But then! Wednesday. Harried, but manageable. Willa's pal Carey, who takes care of her occasionally while I work, saw the ridiculousness the day before in our house and so she offered to take her for the whole day. (And, she baked one whole cake and brownies and cupcakes for us to boot. That woman has saved my life more than once, I swear.) And then to cap off a productive day, we had our awesome farm apprentices over for dinner.  (Stuffed zucchini. Recipe to come.)

As I finished dinner prep and got everything out to the table, finally, I felt a calm I hadn't felt for a few days.

And I was able to stop long enough to witness this little girl's Papa tickling her with a few leaves.

Things made sense again. Just. Like. That.


By the way, I'm back on the column writing for The Daily Yonder (a very cool online journal about Rural America) this week and my return column is about making room for special things to grow.

July 5, 2012

Farro It, Dude!

Hey there. We've been off gallivanting in North Dakota. Why? Because that's what Montana farmers do, apparently. On the only three days they have off in a row, they drive to North Dakota to talk to other farmers about, you guessed it, farming.

So, I don't have much to tell you this week. But, I do have a new recipe over on the farm blog to share:

Warm Prairie Farro Salad With Baby Beets, Blue Cheese and Mustard Greens


June 26, 2012

Pizza Season!

Summer means pizza around here.

There's no better way to carry all that goodness coming off the farm to your mouth than a good crust covered with cheese.

The latest creation took some of the arugula, now flowering, and thus, done for the season (sad face), and made it something to photograph.

Here is said flowering arugula. So pretty. But, again, so sad. (We are letting this bed flower, however, to hope to save the seed for next year. Jacob's been really into helping figure out how to create a more sustainable seed supply for both our farm and for our region.)

Aforementioned really something of a pizza.

This pizza was a bit of a mashup. I took this favorite salad recipe (the famous Prado Pressed Salad) as inspiration and combined it with an awesome pizza I had once at Missoula's Biga Pizza and just ran with it.

Here, again, is the dough recipe from Mark Bittman.

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, plus more as needed (*Only, I use one cup all-purpose and two cups Prairie Heritage Farm whole Sonora wheat flour. Naturally.)
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

I just put the dry ingredients in a food processor and pulse for a second or two. Then, add the olive oil and drizzle in about a cup (or a cup and a 1/2) of water until the mixture forms a ball. Take out the ball and knead it on a floured surface 10-15 times and then put it in an oiled bowl and cover and let it rise about 2 hours. Then, I divide it into two chunks, let it rise again for 10 minutes or so, roll it out, put it on a pizza peel (covered in cornmeal or, see note below about parchment) and top it.

Bake on a super hot pizza stone (preheated to 500 degrees) for 9-10 minutes.

On top of this pizza was:

-A drizzle of olive oil
-Sea salt
-Cracked pepper
-Rosemary (I prefer fresh, but went with dried this time)
-Sliced dried figs
-Sliced shallots
-A handful of walnuts
-Crumbled Cambozola cheese
-A sprinkling of Parmesan
-Fresh arugula piled on top after the baking

The second pizza was sausage, onion, our first picking of spinach and mozzarella.

Also quite lovely.

P.S. I recently started putting the rolled dough on parchment paper and then putting it on the pizza peel, rather than using cornmeal to get the pie to slide off into the oven. I haven't burned my arm since I started doing that and while I do miss the cornmeal crunch, my arms, and my nerves are much better for it. (One of the only times I slip and say the f word around the toddler is when I'm trying to get my perfectly created pizza to slide onto a pizza stone only to end up with a misshapen hunk of dough and cheese and spinach or something.)

P.P.S. These lovely things were grilled on the grill (so I did use cornmeal on the peel). We put our pizza stone (which is actually a few unglazed quarry tiles) on the grill and heated the sucker up. (Because as much as we love pizza in the summer, my body does not like the heat of a 500 degree oven in the middle of summer.)

The pizza took a little longer on the grill (like 10-12 minutes), but it gave it a super yummy crunch. And, I didn't pit out while making it either. Win, win.

And, I promise, this face isn't an indication of the goodness of the pizza. In fact, this pizza prompted a new phrase: "I like it!" which sounds a bit more like, "Awee LIE-EE-K! it." (Or, maybe that's "I don't like it." Hmmm.)

June 14, 2012

A Week With A Small Farm Family

Photo dump! 

In case you're as scattered as I am and just want to look at something and not think for a second, I give you:

The week in pictures from a life cultivated and Prairie Heritage Farm...

Morning sun is about all we get in our otherwise, dark, dark, little house in town. Oh, what we wouldn't give to finally live out in the country. To live where we work the land.

We're working on it. But for now, we have all the stresses and risks of running a small farm with few of the perks, like you know, waking up with the sun streaming through the windows, or picking fresh veggies from your backyard for dinner, or playing, whenever you want, in the dirt with your daughter.

Someday, little one, some day.

For now though, we spend a lot of time outside to pretend like we live on a farm. As much as we can, we get outside to the farm itself, and every other waking moment we get outside in the backyard.

(Happy Father's Day, by the way, to this guy. What an awesome Papa he is.)

Or, we grab some valuable time at the park.
This is Willa's new "smile." Ask her to smile for the camera and she goes one step too far turning that frown upside down with her hands. 

 Last Wednesday, we hit the road to see Auntie Hannah graduate. Only the cool kids were allowed on the trip.
We met some nice chickens at the Museum of the Rockies, where we wandered through Jacob's favorite museum exhibit of all time: The Living History Farm. He said, at least twice, and wistfully, "I think I was born at the wrong time." 

If this guy had a time travel device, he would so be living on a turn-of-the-century (and I mean last century) farm, wearing suspenders and doing everything by hand. (See the photo in this post as evidence.) Jacob, of course, chatted it up with the farm folks and ended up leaving with some seedlings of an old variety of red orach, a red spinachy-kind of leafy veggie.

 And, the whole family got to practice their Willa smiles.

And finally, Willa and I got some farm time in this week. (We're home a lot these days while Papa toils in the dirt, given my whole online editing job, which you know, requires an Internet connection, which is absent at the farm.) You can almost hear things growing out there. (The weeds too though.)

Willa and I took care of some little bunches of chives that were buried under a mountain of quack grass while we were out there. And, oh, it felt good to dig and pull and smell and talk about what dirt and sun do for plants and which plants are yummy and which ones are yuck. 

It's a dandy thing, hanging out with a kid on a farm.

And, don't tell my husband, but I really miss the whole manual labor side of the farming thing, a lot, even the weeding part.

This is what we'll be doing again this weekend: driving first to Great Falls on Friday to deliver fresh veggies to our awesome customers there and then on to Helena for the Farmer's Market on Saturday morning, where we meet up with more awesome farm share customers and watch Jacob build up his quads using a bike-powered flour mill to get the fine people of Helena freshly-ground, flour from organic, heritage wheat. 

Nothing like it.


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