Old-fashioned family fun

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I’m over on Happy Healthy Family, the LüSa Organics blog today sharing an old favorite blog post: 25 tips for a wonderfully old-fashioned summer vacation.

It’s one I revisit often myself, as a reminder to keep things simple. Are we purists? Of course not. But simple fun forms the core of our time together as a family and our summer memories. I can’t imagine it any other way.

Find that post (with ideas for everyone!) here.

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Forest magic on our table

Click on any photo for a full-sized image.

We were in the thick of our homeschooling day when Sage asked if we could head out to the woods to look for morels and dryad’s saddles (pheasant backs). We’ve been watching the world turn green through our windows these past few days, and the forest was calling us.

We finished our lessons, packed up our books, and prepared ourselves for the woods. We tucked our pants into our socks, spritzed on the tick spray, and headed out – with foraging bags in hand.

We mushroom hunted for half an hour or so, then gave up on mushrooms (as we often do) and decided to simply enjoy a hike in the woods instead.

We revisited an old fairy house that Lupine built a year or two ago, and found the roof partially collapsed but covered with spring ephemerals: may apples, dutchman’s breeches, hepatica. So magical!

Before I knew it we were filling our bags with all manner of forage spring fare, and clearing a few patches of invasive garlic mustard while we were there.

Back home, Lupine made a 100% foraged salad (violet flowers and greens, dandelion flowers and greens, cherry blossoms, Virginia waterleaf, cattail shoots, watercress, wild ramps, and more). She was over the moon, and we all enjoyed the wild flavors and textures.

Our dinner was completed with a mushroom stroganoff made with garlic mustard and ramps (alas, no morels or dryad’s saddles, but not for lack of trying!) and homemade einkorn noodles, made by Sage; and a trout caught and cooked by Pete.

Sitting outside in the cool evening air, enjoying our dinner, was such a simple but deeply felt pleasure. This meal, made by our hands (and largely harvested from our land) filled us with gratitude.

Nature provides, if we only pull on our boots and set off to explore.

Spring foraging

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When the kids were little we had a favorite park not far out in the country that we loved to visit. We usually had it to ourselves, and it was full of wild ramps and ephemeral wildflowers each spring.

After a long winter in town, this place was my bliss.

Having our own 40-some acres to explore, we no longer visit as often as we once did. But the underbrush is thick in our woods, and the ramps are not, so each spring this park calls me back again.

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With the fleeting ramp season in mind, Lupine and I met up here with some of our dearest friends.

To make time to forage and have a long-overdue visit with our friends? We managed to feed body and soul in one swoop.

None of us were in a hurry and had plenty of time to savor wandering the spring woods and talking while we picked, our kids doing the same on some far off trail.

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Though most people dig the ramps, crisp and flavorful bulb and all, we harvest just one leaf from each plant and leave the bulb and second leaf to grow and set seed in the forest.

I’m not sure who taught me this, but it’s how we have done for years, and what feels right in my heart.

Slowly, slowly we worked our way through the woods and along the trail: picking leaves, soaking in the dappled sun, and talking about the things that friends do when they finally have the space in which to connect.

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Back home we’ll be making nettle and ramp pesto, infused oil, fermented herbs, and so much more. And, of course, we’ll stock the freezer with bags of sliced ramps for winter soups, pizzas, and omelets.

Spring and friendship and foraging and the forest: these are among life’s finest gifts.

What is calling you out into the woods this season? Do you have a favorite spring plant that you forage?

 

Gardening, simplified

This is the longest backstory ever. If you want to see what we built this weekend, you can cut to the chase by scrolling to the garden building photos below! 

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Two years ago, in over our heads with livestock and farm projects and weeds as far as the eye could see, we threw in the towel on gardening for the year.

I’ve never been quite so conflicted (yet ecstatic) to give up on a project that I loved before.

Our old garden was huge. Tilled out of a tired pasture with a major invasive bindweed and Canada thistle problem, it was a disaster that we could never get on top of. Established when we were still renting our land, we chose the only available site that wasn’t being rented out for pasture by another family, or planted in hay. We used the land that we could, but it wasn’t the right site and every season was a painful, uphill battle.

The invasives problem was real in the old garden, and I was weary of being pricked in the backside by thistle shoots every time I knelt down to pick a green bean, and so over the bindweed that sprung up overnight to strangle my lettuces to death.

I remember harvesting potatoes one year and literally crying, after digging up more old farm debris than produce.

“If we were the Ingalls we would DIE!” I sputtered through tears.

Oh, the drama.

So I called “game-off” on the garden plans, despite having already bought seeds and planned the crops for the coming year.

I suggested that instead we cover crop, rethink, and rebuild the garden.

And then? We exhaled.

Not gardening that first year was bliss. So much so that we took last year off as well. We found more time to forage, work on other projects, and be together as a family. My friend Mary created a CSA box just for us, and I’d pick up organic veggies on their Amish farm for a song once a week.

My old garden was taken over by nettle, which (in my book) is the best crop ever to beat back the thistles. I harvest in the old beds every morning throughout the spring, filling my larder with dried nettle for the coming year. Later in the year I harvest catnip, motherwort, mullein, and burdock from what was once our garden.

The perfect ending to a long-frustrating site.

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But then, two years after quitting, a funny thing began to happen.

We all missed the garden.

The kids (who previously lacked enthusiasm when it came to all things gardening beyond snacking on sungold tomatoes and fresh cucumbers) in particular started pleading:

Can we plant a garden this year?

It felt like some sort of accidental parenting win: kids hate gardening? Quit. Then they’ll magically become passionate garden enthusiasts.

Of course, we said yes. We had only meant to take one year off, not two. If we pushed it to three it might be time to move back to town.

To escape the bindweed and thistle, we decided raised beds were in order, and far away from our old garden plot. And to prevent our annual garden overwhelm, we also wanted to start slow: one small raised bed each. Then if we love it, we can build four more next season, or throw caution to the wind and broadfork some beds right in the earth.

So last week we got to work:

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Pete, Sage, and Lupine built four 4 x 8 cedar garden beds. Our whole farm is hills, so they were set level on the hill above our house, then filled halfway with tightly packed organic hay we harvested (from the very site that our new garden now stands) when we had sheep.

We used hay to save money on the compost we filled the boxes with, and provide drainage. We figured it’s sort of a raised bed/hugel bed/bale gardening hybrid. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Everyone was so excited we could hardly stand it. We had two cubic yards of organic compost delivered, and topped each bed to the brim with that, leaving just enough leftover for a few mounds outside the beds for pumpkins, melons, and zucchini. (Because, as it turned out, Sage and I couldn’t limit ourselves to a 4 x 8 after all.)

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Conveniently, Seed Savers was running their annual organic heirloom plant sale just across the river in Iowa on Saturday so we paused our work and headed over for starts and seeds, then got busy planning  and planting our beds.

To add to the charm, Lupine crafted our garden markers from some mulberry and pine branches.

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I’m not sure when gardening felt like less of a chore and more like unwrapping a present than this. The new raised beds are beautiful, self-contained, manageably sized, and – at least for now – weed free. We plan to use the Ruth Stout deep mulch method, as recommended by my gardening friend Genie, to keep the weeds at bay (afflink).

We’ll harden off our starts this week, then finish planting. And then? We’ll spend some time this summer with our hands in the soil once again, but this time without so may thistles.

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How excited I am for the coming season!

Are you a gardener? What are you most eager to plant with your family this season?

Carpe this diem

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Earlier this week, the kids and I loaded up our little vintage camper and set off on our first foray of the season.

We wandered just a couple of hours from home, to see the magnolia blooms and spend a few days playing at our makerspace. There’s something about stepping away from our own rooms and the rhythm of home and sharing this micro-small space… it’s our jam. We thrive in that tiny, quirky camper together.

Being on the road with the kids once more had me remembering the epic month-long road trips we have taken, setting off cross-country to Maine and North Carolina, just the kids and me for 4 weeks at a go; and our recent month-long family road trip around Ireland.

And in remembering these journeys, I was struck once more by how fast the past years have elapsed. Lupine was three when I loaded them up and headed to the Outerbanks. Sage was only seven. But now? They’re big, and showing no signs of stopping with this growing up. I can see the last grains of sand slipping down that steep incline of the hourglass.

Fleeting, indeed.

This summer Sage begins driver’s ed. Last night he said casually, “The next time we take a cross-country road trip, I can help with the driving.”

Um.

How did this happen?

Because like 20 minutes ago I was overwhelmed, under-slept, and all touched-out.

And then, poof.

All at once we’ve begun the last pages of the chapter that changed everything. As we complete this transition from small into big, parenting feels simultaneously more rewarding, more complex, and more important than ever before.

I have never felt more bereft of the skills required to do a job than I do now, nor more rewarded by my fumbling, awkward efforts.

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Remember that feeling when your midwife finally left, or when you came home from the hospital with your newborn and you looked at your baby and wondered, wild-eyed and possibly aloud:

“What were they thinking? They just left me with this little human, and I have absolutely no idea what the hell I’m doing.”

This new chapter of parenting is kind of like that all over again. Except now the small shoes suddenly belong to you (the kid feet long ago eclipsing your own in size), and your kids outpace you in their quickness of thought, wit, and motion.

And you feel like you should know what you’re doing by now, but like every other stage in parenthood, things shift and change in an instant. And you find yourself learning new skills every step of the way (or that’s how it is for me anyway).

Yet, the basics of parenting remain the same: validate, listen, connect. Be honest and gentle and kind. And for goodness sake, play.

We circle back to this foundation, time and again. Sometimes we forget, but our kids will remind us with their expressions, their words, and their actions.

At the same time that we learn these news skills – this complicated new dance – the rewards of this journey have grown proportionally with the people. These older kids inspire and amaze me constantly with their skills, their wisdom, their spirit, and their wit. They are a delight to talk to, debate with, be around, and hang out with. I adore them – as my kids, yes, but also simply as people. And I can’t wait to see who they become as adults.

My kids. As adults.

Whoa, nellie.

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Which brings me back to Nellie, our camper.

With Sage turning 18 in two short years, the proverbial light is no longer at some distant end of a tunnel. It’s so close it’s burning my retinas. So we decided to carpe the living heck out of this diem.

Did I mention that neither of my kids go to school and Pete and I are self-employed and we already sold the sheep? We can go anywhere. So maybe we just will.

The world is waiting, and childhood is fading. Let’s savor every drop.

We’re planning to take an extended road trip together each year. I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to fund another trip oversees like we did last year (we spent all of our abundant 15-year stockpile of airline miles). But to load up our funky camper with cozy quilts and hiking boots and knitting projects and so much Irish tea, then get out there and make some more memories? That we can swing.

We’re contemplating Yellowstone and Yosemite, the California Coast and a loop around Lake Superior. The desert southwest and the redwoods are calling, too. But the truth is, we don’t have that many years left before adult things like jobs or college or business start-ups get in the way, so we’re narrowing it down to our top 2 or maybe 3 picks. 

Because that’s all the time we have left for this carefree childhood we have created.

You could say I am binging on childhood, an accusation I will happily own.

Because it’s fading before my eyes. And the young adults that will remain when childhood is gone will be every bit as inspiring and delightful as the kids they left behind, but for me – for now – I want to make the most of our copious free time and togetherness. Of this last breath of childhood.

Because despite the stress and frustration and overwhelm and messes that make up so much of parenthood, it’s going too damn fast.

And like the most breathtaking sunrise, I don’t want to look away for an instant.

The day will surely be beautiful, but the fleeting magic of the sun cresting over the hills? That I will pause to savor.

So that I may never forget.

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This week

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This week has been one of those ordinary but brimful weeks that spring is made of.

The snow finally melted, and our winter doldrums with is. We find ourselves eager to make, explore, and do – day in, day out.

Because: spring!

I threw together my version of the Blood Moon Tonic found in the current issue of Taproot Magazine (HEAL), (more about that here) and Sage whipped up a big, beautiful batch of organic marmalade, then taught himself to water bath can, all while baking a loaf of Einkorn bread, impressing me and everyone else.

The marmalade is delicious and being consumed far too quickly for my sugar-loathing sensibilities. (The bread was gone within hours.)

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Because this spring was so hard-earned, I’m feeling desperate to make medicine. Each day you can find me hovering around my nettle patch and cheering their growth onward (Totoro style).

In the meantime, I’m making lots of herbal shrubs and vinegars and syrups to get me by until the spring herbs take off.

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Inside? there’s lots happening there, as well. Though we moved into our little house some five-plus years ago, we never got around to painting or reworking most of the house. Our bedrooms, for example, have never been painted.

The trouble is, our house is small. There isn’t adequate space to move anyone out of a room without them having to sleep in the yard, so we have long felt stuck as to how to make space in order to paint. We’ve painted the kitchen, bathrooms, and hall, yes. But bedrooms? We just didn’t know how to make that work.

Finally this spring Pete and I came up with an overly complicated plan that we think will work, and the kids temporarily gave up their bedrooms to make it happen. Lots of belongings have been moved to the barn and the basement, and yesterday it was time to get started.

First up? Wallpaper removal! At long last. Next we’ll learn to patch, skim coat, and put of a much needed fresh coat of pain. Commence our spring homeschooling life-skills unit!

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Or was it the end?

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Because I don’t think I mentioned the rabbits. Oh, the rabbits.

You see, Lupine heard a kerfuffle in the barnyard as I was putting a late (and somewhat lame) dinner on the table after that overfull day. Pete went to help her to see what was going on, and they found that our barn cats had pillaged a rabbit nest.

Because of the size and constitution of her heart, this meant that a baby rabbit rescue was undertaken, leading to a hastily eaten (cold) dinner eaten while researching the best way to get these scared babies back to their mama.

Which we did, thank goodness. Just before collapsing, gratefully, into bed.

Oh, spring! Welcome back to you, dear friend.

What else are you going to do?

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Most of the previous mid-April snow had already melted, and we were hopeful for spring.

But then yesterday more snow began to fall in the morning, and we stayed hunkered down by the fire with our homeschooling. The kids had asked for spelling, math, and science (yes, asked – I’m happy to discuss our educational model more for those who are interested!), so that was what we were working on as more and more snow fell.

We refilled the bird feeders. We pulled out the field guide to identify a few visitors that we hadn’t seen in a while. We marveled at how many birds our feeders can hold at one time, then refilled the feeders again.

And despite ourselves we were captivated by the beauty of the falling snow.

Around Lunch time, Sage (winter’s #1 fan) said that he wanted to walk to the creek while the snow was still falling. So we did a bit more homeschooling, working on our herbalism class, and then set to bundling up in our winter gear (that we were either wise – or lazy – enough to not have packed away yet).

And off we set!

We picked up Pete along the way, who was working from home (because: blizzard), and the four of us embarked – with two barn cats and one farm dog in tow (as often happens).

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There was a snowball fight to have, gigantic snowballs to roll up and into the creek, and a family of snow Totoros to sculpt into life. There were belted kingfishers to marvel at, wood ducks to watch descend, and snipe to see winging across the pasture.

We stayed out for hours.

Despite it being dinnertime. Despite it being April. Despite there being a very distinct possibility that we were feeling quite done with winter and ready to move on into flowers, gardens, foraging, and sunshine.

And yet…

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This day was magical.

It was one of the best days we had all winter, never mind that we’re already well into spring.

Because here’s the thing: we’re given one day to do with what we will each morning.

And how we spent it – how we interpret its meaning – is completely up to us.

And we could have spent it worrying about the birds that are hungry on account of the snow, but instead we filled the feeders. And we could have been frustrated that with the Narnia-esque spring we are having and grumped about the weather, but instead we found magic.

We bundled up and got into it. We found the magic and mystery; laughter and beauty in those falling flakes, and we savored every bit. We found connection, creativity, joy and wonder in this wintery spring magic.

Because honestly, what else are you going to do?

You always have two choices of how to play the hand you’ve been dealt, and one of them most certainly feels better than other. The choice of where you dwell is up to you.

Are we done with winter?

Most definitely.

But did magic happen yesterday on account of that unexpected snowfall?

Oh my, yes. Did it ever. And for that I am so glad.

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How we celebrated

Birthdays celebrations are my jam. Whether marking milestones for my kids, Pete, or enjoying my own birthday celebration, I love a simple and meaningful day centered around time together enjoying our favorite things.

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The way we celebrate has changed little through the years, except, perhaps, finally dialing in our game. There is a birthday bunting to hang (I shared instructions for making your own here), favorite meals to make, and a day to take off of work, no matter what’s on the usual agenda.

Even in my teens and 20’s I took my birthday off of work, and now my team at LüSa is given the same, a day off to celebrate family, friends, and life.

Yesterday was no different except: pottery!

This year my birthday brilliantly conceded with our weekly pottery lessons, and I convinced Pete decided to join us. For his first time at the wheel he was fantastic! (No surprise there.)

We spent the morning throwing pots, making messes, and enjoying ourselves thoroughly at the pottery wheels.

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Back home there was ample time to knit in front of the wood stove (clay still on my jeans), hike to the spring to forage some watercress, and soak in some needed sunshine.

In the evening I even set to work exploring the herbalism course I signed up for (mentioned yesterday). It seemed like the perfect day to begin!

The best part of the day was that Pete and the kids managed all the birthday prep work, cooking, and clean up while I gluttonously relaxed by the fire. The food was incredible. Perhaps partially because I did zero to prepare it; perhaps because it was made with love; or perhaps because these three are fine cooks and bakers!

Likely all three.

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And the day wouldn’t be complete without some small, thoughtful gifts handmade by my loves. We have never gotten into the habit of buying gifts, and I’m glad. That means the fabric, paints, hammers, and saws are pulled out for each celebration and the gifts are made with heart.

This year Lupine freezer paper stenciled some t-shirts for me from her own art (at 11 she can do every step herself, a tutorial for those is here). Sage took apart and rebuilt the gearbox of my stand mixer (wha?!), something that has been broken for the three or four years and sorely missed.

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And Pete carved me two mind-blowingly beautiful wooden spoons from wood he harvested in his prairie restoration project. Whoa. They are amazing, and the ladle even has a little heart carved into the end of the handle.

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And just like that, I’m 45!

So far this year is off to an excellent start.

Herbalist Day/Birthday

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When I stumbled upon “Thank an Herbalist Day” earlier this week, and discovered that it fell on my birthday of all days, I was tickled. Because what better newish holiday to overlap with my birthday than this?

And though here in Wisconsin this year Herbalist Day/my birthday looks more like Winter Solstice, I’ll take it!

But enough about birthdays (psst… 45!). Let’s talk about herbs.

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Several of you have reached out to ask if I’ll be hosting another Women’s Herbal Retreat or Green Magic Summer Camp this year. And the short answer is: no. (Not yet anyway.) While I absolutely loved doing each and every retreat I have done so far, other projects have risen to the top and retreats are on hold until further notice. (More on that very soon. I promise!)

In the meantime, I’ve been expanding my own herbal knowledge, which feels fabulous. After months of research, I finally decided on where to study and signed up for a class with Herbal Academy (afflink). They offer classes at a variety of levels, from beginner to advanced, and the kids and I decided to study together as a part of our homeschool and my continuing education.

Herbal Academy is currently releasing a foraging and botany class that looks lovely, and speaks to skills many of you have asked me for tips to develop. (They have the class discounted today on account of Herbalist Day, so I thought I would mention it for those of you who were interested in furthering – or beginning – your study.)

Learning new things is, perhaps, the best part of growing older, don’t you think?

And with that, I have birthday goodness to get on with. We’re off to make pottery together, drink good coffee, and eat all manner of delicious foods – cooked by my favorite people.

Happy Herbalist Day, friends!