muddy feet memoirs

The Chronicle of My Comeback

Month: December, 2012

Make It or Buy It?

Yesterday I picked up this terrific little book called Make the Bread, Buy the Butter.  In snappy, no-nonsense prose Jennifer Reese (author) makes the compelling case that economy should trump romance when it comes to the “homemade” life.

Make the Bread Buy the Buter

Like a lot of us, her journey began with loss of income.  After being laid off she chose to “economize by doing for herself what she had previously paid for.”  Her book is filled with insights and anecdotes about her family, kitchen & garden, but what I love most about it (and what makes it unique in the realm of DIY home making books) is her collection of experiments and data.  She does what I have never been successful at – breaking down homemade food production into dollars and cents – then offering her opinion as to whether is is cost-effective to either Make It or Buy It.

The author dishes on cheese making, killing chickens, keeping bees, making peanut butter and curing meat.  She also shares recipes for making oreo cookies, glazed donuts and marshmallows.  How refreshing!  Absent from Ms. Reese’s story is the romantic hipster-ism of many current urban homesteading manuals.  Also absent is any hard commitment to organics, food politics or “prepper” self-reliance.  This is her story, her family’s shopping list, and her research into the monetary cost of homemade foods.  I may not agree with every opinion she shares, but I certainly appreciate the spirit and frankness of her insights.

As I stare at the cauliflower waiting to be pickled on my butcher block table, the jar waiting for another batch of homemade peanut butter to fill it, the dregs of bread-butts reminding me it’s time for baking again…  none of these things compel me to forgo the work it takes to make these things at home.  But I am certainly rethinking the goats-for-milk plan and am grateful that making butter isn’t currently on my to-do list.

Lucy and Ethel try their hand at breadmaking

Lucy and Ethel try their hand at breadmaking

That’s it for now.  Thanks for stopping by!


Mother Nature Sets the Schedule

Mid-December.  The temperature has finally dropped enough to use the wood stove.  No matter how many gardening books I pick up, none of them give me permission to plant garlic this late.  I am forced to pause, despite the chores still on the to-do list.  It’s good that Mother Nature has built in a lull into the schedule.  I must learn to keep up with her.

Dec 2012 garden from bathroom window

Jay is napping under a vibrant quilt gifted to us by Angie and Adelle, our cancer support gurus (and friends).  The whole room seems to rest in a still grey fog, except the bed.  Jay sleeps under a blanket of defiant brightness.

Cancer-fighting quilt by the Napa Quilters

Cancer-fighting quilt by the Napa Quilters

Tonight we will slow roast a pork roast and finish making Christmas candies.  My mom will play holiday songs on her guitar and the bread will be baked in time for sandwiches tomorrow.  I think I’ll leave the tree lights on tonight.

The Tree, 2012

The Tree, 2012

That’s it for now.  Thanks for stopping by.

The Resilient Gardener

About a year ago I picked up a book from Smith Family Bookstore in Eugene, Oregon called “The Resilient Gardener.”  We were visiting Jay’s sister for Thanksgiving.  It was that weird blissful moment right before he was re-diagnosed.


It’s a quirky book.  It seemed pricey compared to the sea of other Nouveau-Homesteader books flooding the bookstores at the time, but it was clearly written by a woman with a deep understanding of the topic.  Carol Deppe – the author – hooked me with a compelling argument about self-reliance.  Unlike many mini-farm/urban farm authors, she eschews bio-intensive methods (others I respect advocate for it).  She reminds us that in an environmental or energy crisis we won’t have the water to maintain food production like that.  She also meanders into topics such as celiac’s disease, gardening with a bad back and covenants with plants (you read that right).  She brings up fantastic reminders that we should research what the natives and the early settlers ate in our region.  Her advice about seed saving and food storage is sage.  She rambles, and within the stuff that seems too regional (Willamette Valley, OR) or personal (she takes at least 20 minutes to eat a meal) Ms. Deppe shares a wealth of knowledge.  It’s kind of like sitting next to your eccentric aunt at Thanksgiving and realizing she’s actually the keeper of every important detail you may ever need.  Her life story is intertwined with those details, and though seemingly wacky now, may prove to be important later.


I find myself reflecting on her story tonight because I am not sure if my chickens have been fed or watered in the last 2 days.  I am grateful for the rain and have seen from the bathroom window (in the morning, before racing to the hospital) that the garden looks terrific, but I have not tended anything for two days.  The chickens are in the coop, incarcerated since last winter’s garden massacre.  Jay is now home, recovering from yet another surgery.  Tomorrow I will make amends.  But as Carol Deppe reminds us:  “Hard times are normal….  How to garden in the best of times [is] not the issue….  I needed a garden that better enhanced my own resilience, in all kinds of times, good and bad.”

Her gardening history is recounted many times in the book, but the argument for a resilient garden starts with the story of her elderly, dying mother.  It starts with the role of the care-taker/gardener, watching her food source (“entire crops and much of the season’s labor”) waste from neglect as her mother’s needs overwhelmed her.  Medical emergencies trumped food production.  As she says, “When I most needed help, my garden often created pressures and contributed to my problems instead of relieving them.”

There have been many times that I’ve been paralyzed by the thought of continuing our self-reliance adventure alone, without Jay.  But really the adventure is meant to be a way of life.  How do I adapt our current model to one that works – during what Ms. Deppe calls “Hard times Great and Small”?  How do I avoid the pitfalls of the recent past – failing to plant the Fall garden before Winter, losing to the aphids, starving the chickens – while being with Jay during cancer treatments and running our non-profit?  How can the garden act as a source of support instead of a neglected burden?

Boots May 2011

This wacky book, which I found myself skimming after a while upon first-read, is something I’m going to take up again.  There is relevant knowledge for me in those pages.  These are uncertain times and no time to mess around.  And when the miracle comes and we grow to old-age together, how nice it will be to know how to garden with a bad back!

Nothing is Good and Everything is Precious

Jay is recovering from another lung surgery tonight.  I’m not sure why we thought of it as “small” or “good news.”  When its not making things painfully clear, cancer turns everything on its head.

Six months ago – when I started this blog, in fact – Jay was fresh from his first lung surgery.  That surgery removed a nasty metastasis of his rectal cancer and most of his lower left lobe.  Today he had a much smaller mass (tumor? lymph node? – I forgot to ask) removed from his upper right lung.  It was a bit too close to a major artery so the surgeon couldn’t scrape a perfect margin…  once we recover we have radiation to look forward to.  Good news?  Bad news?  Yes.  Sure.

It is so much work having cancer in your life.

I went to the bookstore today during that 2 hour window Jay was to spend in recovery.  Thought I’d find him a magazine to flip through…  Wanky literary journal?  GQ men’s style manual?  Urban farm porn?  Nah.  I stared at the edgy art mags. I can’t remember why those felt precious to me once.  I have changed.

There was a time when I thought myself a mover and shaker.  I was a rising political star.  I was the queen of the scene.  Now, I just want to stay with my family.  I never want to leave.  I want to be invisible, unknown.  I have nothing to sell.

I started writing to document our family’s exploration into self-sufficiency – not as an expert but as a willing neophyte.  Food is all we talk about; our world revolves around growing it, gleaning it, preserving it and sharing it.  I wish we could enjoy this time with lighter hearts.  I wish its magic could escape the gloom of our tenuous future.

We work towards our stability as a family, raising and collecting food, bringing a sense of meaning to our kids’ lives through good works and honest labor, but it is weighted very heavily by this extra burden, these cancer cells we have to keep chasing.

It has been raining and warm in Northern California.  The garden is splitting its pants.  Soon I will turn the fava cover crop into the soil to rebuild the beds, and start another crop for spring harvest.  The broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts and kale are lush, the potatoes seem fine.  I need to get our garlic in – I probably blew that chance, but I’ll try.  And our peas are poking little green fingers out of the ground.  Our kids are doing well, especially considering the stress.  We’re madly in love.

Nothing is good and everything is precious.