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Homestead Happenings: transitions and adjustments

August 24, 2010

This weekend Dan made a smoldering, smoky fire in our backyard, stitched his softened elk hide up like a cocoon and hung it over the fire. This is the last step in tanning a hide, whereby the smoke impregnates the elk skin and seals the fibers.

Col adding some more "punk wood" to the smoldering coals (under the wool blanket)

The smoke is strong enough that if you sit by the fire, which Dan does, feeding it wood for eight hours straight, you smell like you’ve fallen asleep at boy scout camp and awoken ten years later.

Or, if you’re like me, you feel like you’ve fallen asleep in June and awoken to fall whispering through the cottonwood trees. While the kids napped, I blundered somberly through the garden like I was looking for something that had been there just yesterday. Something permanent and cheery. Something like a tomato plant forever at peak. Something like stasis. Something that doesn’t exist.

Instead, chickadees were nabbing seed from huge, drooping sunflowers, baby lettuces were growing as slow as preemies in incubators, and the squash waved their hail-spanked leaves in a sort of surrender.

Even the zucchini is slowing down, getting ready to exit down the off ramp into autumn.

Every growing thing seemed to be flashing its own quiet expiration date and I actually cried.


Next week, Col starts kindergarten at his sweet little neighborhood Montessori school. And you’d think he was going off to war for all my melancholy moping, instead of going to this lovely house of wooden beads and cloth napkins, where they celebrate the solstice instead of that other winter holiday. But still. I’m a little heartbroken about the way of things. The way you birth these babies and you explore the world together, you teaching them and they teaching you, small hands in big hands, being there for the triumphant finish lines and the bruisey face-plants and then your child turns five and you turn them over to this Institution of Education.

But, I’m consoling myself with the fact that as my kids grow up a little bit more, I can stretch into the spaces they leave behind, and grow up a little myself. A friend’s husband has said to me several times, “Rachel, face it: they’re gonna grow up and you’ll have to get a job.” And even though each time he says this I feel like whacking him with a sippy cup, guess what? I kind of did get a job!

I'm teaching these writing classes, that is, if anyone signs up, I mean if YOU sign up. Interested locals, check out the FLC Continuing Education catalog (online and at coffee shops).

And I’ll be writing a weekly column for this fabulous magazine, about feeding my family local food despite the banana and cheddar bunny addictions, starting early September.

Which reminds me of this time fifteen years ago that I visited my friend Amy at her 9500 foot, biology research station and she had just received a letter awarding her an $800 grant to study salamanders. She skipped through the purple fireweed clutching that piece of paper like it contained the dalai lama’s direct phone number. And here’s the thing. She would have studied the salamanders anyway. Just like I would be writing anyway. But, someone was saying to her: I believe in your work. And that is almost as good as the dalai lama ringing you up to chat about how the first day of kindergarten went.

And you know what else? It’s not just the kids that are growing and evolving and adjusting. I’m realizing we mamas are like this stretchable putty, expanding to envelop the night-waking baby with milky cuddles and then snapping back to size when that same baby tells his Mama (as my friend Natalie’s son did on his first day of kindergarten): “I’m going to make 100 new friends today Mama. Goodbye!” We forge these child-sized spaces in our arms, laps and hips, and then watch them close up like unused earring holes, as our children leap away. But of course we’ll stretch again into what is needed, even if it’s to become a chauffeur to drop them off at the pharmacy for condoms and a red bull.

Here’s what cheers me up this time of year:

wild raspberry syrup on waffles

King bolete mushrooms AKA porcinis

Dan's grubbalicious local-food appetizer: green chiles, tomatoes and sauteed porcinis atop tortillas

picking chokecherries with my little bears, 9 pints syrup canned.

Porcinis for the freezer, to be paired with wild meat, if we're so lucky.


Okay, the garden *is* still rockin.' The end of August just gives me the overly dramatic melancholies.

Do you wonder if I ever get excited about anything other than food? Me too.



29 Comments leave one →
  1. Steph permalink
    August 24, 2010 11:04 pm

    I actually felt fall in the breeze the other day, while tending to my garden. I’ve found myself dreaming of living in a place with a year-round growing season so I never have to see the end of the garden! I will miss the warm comfort of summer.

    By the way, 9 PINTS of chokecherry syrup is impressive! That’s a lot of chokecherries to process.

  2. August 25, 2010 6:15 am

    Oh my, I do miss the fall…… can’t wait to read more on the magazine, congrats! And when that boy of yours heads to school, if he should barely flash a grin and yell goodbye as he runs off, just remember that’s a good thing.

  3. August 25, 2010 7:21 am

    You are just the most amazing writer ever! So funny and witty and descriptive!! I love your blog!!! Your pictures are also dreamy! Can’t wait to buy my little piece of land in that great state of paradise!!!

    I also get so weepy this time of year!!! The other day I was cutting back some black eyed susans and I just about balled that they won’t be back until next year and that we won’t be in this house to enjoy them!! Boo!


  4. Sarah permalink
    August 25, 2010 7:24 am

    Oh, this was just what I needed today. I have been moping/feeling anxiety for the past week, trying to figure out why, but not being able to pin-point any one thing. But really, it is all the changes in my mama life. My eldest about to start kindergarten, who is suddenly no longer afraid to cross the dark hallway by himself to pee in the middle of the night; the prospect of having to get a job sooner than originally planned and put my little one in day care; the end of summer and late warm nights and beach days traded in for homework and places we HAVE to be at certain times. But my mama putty will stretch to accomidate these changes, and before long it will feel so right. Thanks for this perspective!

  5. August 25, 2010 7:38 am

    Oh, my, condoms and red bull…you’ll have my cubicle-neighbors wondering what I’m laugh/crying about. I am so with you, sister (only your garden looks so much more voluptuous than mine…and I can’t even take credit for anything growing outside…and get a-talkin’-to for picking cherry tomatoes before their exact prime…you know the second before they fall into the dirt to be eaten by slugs and mice). Yea for your class! I want to take it…do you think the commute is too far? Hope you get lots of sign-ups. And wild mushrooms??? So lucky (and scary…I wouldn’t know what to look for)!! Yummmm…

  6. August 25, 2010 9:38 am

    Uhm…do you teach your classes online? Because I’d LOVE to sign up. You continue to amaze me every day. Your writing doesn’t just speak to me, it sings, it soars, it embraces, it warms, it is just what this mama needs. Even if sometimes it reduces her to tears. The bittersweet kind.

    Rachel your words are a gift to my day.

  7. August 25, 2010 9:41 am

    oh wow…great for you rachel with the classes and the writing gig. I so wish I could take a writing class from you…maybe a telecourse???

    I ‘ve hit that time of year where I am full of regret for all the things I didn’t manage to do enough of and feeling like I am running out of time. Well, truth be told, that feels like my life at this stage in the game. Late summer rains are splitting my tomatoes, the cucumber vines have withered, and I didn’t get stuff in for fall like I intended.

    I am crying too and my little guy isn’t going off to school, but that energy is definitely in the air.

  8. August 25, 2010 9:42 am

    I agree with Justine. You really have a way with words!

  9. August 25, 2010 10:58 am

    well, now you made me cry. “We forge these child-sized spaces in our arms, laps and hips, and then watch them close up like unused earring holes, as our children leap away.” just tear my heart out! i am REALLY struggling with hazel starting kindergarten on monday…

  10. August 25, 2010 2:20 pm

    Theo is only starting preschool and I’m feeling so many of the same things you’ve written about. Last night I had this sudden thought that when Sully turns 3, Theo will be six. For a split second I thought it was just a joke. And then I thought….no, no, no~it’s real! I want them to stay just as they are~my heart is so happy here.

    This was so beautifully written, Rachel. I loved it. So wish I could take your two writing classes. Congrats!

  11. August 25, 2010 11:20 pm

    I would *love* to be able to take one of your writing classes! I hope they go incredibly well.

    Our daughter is *not* starting kindergarten in a few days. We talked and talked and made the decision to keep her home. So, here’s to homeschooling and juggling schedules and figuring it out as we go along.

    Also, here’s to Col and his kindergarten adventure, complete with soltice celebrations!

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      August 26, 2010 9:53 pm

      Good luck with homeschooling, I’d love to hear how it goes.

      • August 30, 2010 12:00 am

        Thank you! We are very much looking forward to seeing how it goes. I should mention that right now, we are unschoolers/life learners, so I won’t really have much (if anything) to share as far as curriculum stuff goes.

  12. August 26, 2010 12:36 am

    The gardens are turning here too. I feel your pain. When I look up and see new birds flitting about, when the last butterfly bush blooms fade away, when the leaves of everything grown, loved, harvested and spent begin to yellow and wither…I know your pain.

    Tomorrow I shall look around, really look around the garden and smile with the wonder of it all, so fleeting, so joyful, so abundant, so magical. Thanks for your sensual writing.

    And, I remember the kindergarten angst…K was the last year my oldest went to a brick-and-mortar school. After that we decided to choose the path of homelearning. Same angst; different context ;-)Hurrah for new places for Col to feel and explore his edges!! And for some new independance for Rose.

  13. August 26, 2010 1:52 am

    i woke up the other day feeling ooky and ill and our house was a little cold and every.part of my body said “fall?” also, about that writing class?
    i am So There.

  14. August 26, 2010 6:42 am

    I would take your writing class just to hang out with you! Hey, can you share your chokecherry recipe with me? Two gallons of the little darlings arrived on my table last night…

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      August 26, 2010 2:44 pm


      Do you have chokecherries in Maine? That’s kind of blowing my mind as I always thought of them as a southwest gem.

      Here’s the recipe: Wash and de-stem chokecherries In a big pot simmer: 4 cups chokecherries to 1 cup water until pretty mushy. Use a potato masher to press as much juice and pulp out of the berries. Over a sieve, squeeze berries through a cheesecloth (this is the time consuming part – get your little helpers on board). Squeeze as much liquid as you can from the berries and leave the berry pits for your evening grosbeaks. Then, mix each cup of chokecherry juice with 1/2 a cup of honey, simmer and stir for an hour or so and process in canning jars. (the recipe calls for 1:1 juice to sugar, but you can get by with half as much sweetener for syrup).

      Good luck!

  15. August 26, 2010 3:02 pm

    i just noticed my neighbor’s tree turning. but i still keep telling myself the zucchini have time… *sigh* just not our gardening year i guess. i did think back and realize, heck, we did pick strawberries, and blueberries, and blackberries. and that ain’t half bad! (i aspire to porcinis and chokecherries though – wow!)

    congratulations on your classes and your magazine gig – they both sound fabulous! and i am sure rose will figure out how to make use of all your “extra time” and “space”. : )

  16. Emily permalink
    August 27, 2010 3:05 am

    Hi there,
    You don’t even know me but I linked to your blog from Kristi’s Silver Sparrow blog and just had to leave a comment for you. I’m just sitting here nursing my 4 month old baby who’s not feeling so well (middle of the night, can you see what time I’m posting this :) and just crying because I have my little girl going off to pre-school next week and I am wondering how she went from a sweet babe in my arms to an independent, bossy 4 year old that acts like she doesn’t need a mommy anymore. My favorite line is “The way you birth these babies and you explore the world together, you teaching them and they teaching you, small hands in big hands, being there for the triumphant finish lines and the bruisey face-plants…” Thanks for encapsulating my feelings perfectly in your post. It helps me come to terms better with my mommy emotions :) Good night!

  17. ike permalink
    August 27, 2010 11:08 am

    Thought I already sent a comment but guess it got lost in ether. Anyways, I love your blog and just want to add that dads too have to adjust/accept -and mostly enjoy-all the changes their children will go through as they grow up. It is a beautiful process to see your children become wonderful parents and we are so lucky to be grandparents.


    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      August 27, 2010 2:54 pm

      Thanks for speaking up for the dads, I guess they get sentimental occasionally too.

  18. August 27, 2010 1:42 pm

    Your classes are going to be wonderful, Rachel. And I think as soon as Col is settled in kindergarten, the melancholy will lift. It’s so amazing to send them off and see how they describe all the things they’re learning!

  19. August 27, 2010 4:54 pm

    love <3

  20. August 29, 2010 11:04 am


  21. September 3, 2010 4:18 am

    You know, you don’t HAVE to send them off. Homeschooling is wonderful and would fit into your beliefs really well.

    Just sayin…

  22. Audrey permalink
    September 3, 2010 11:53 am

    Oh, I miss you soo much!

    How funny I never knew those were porcinis. When I spent summers up at Vallecito as a kid, my grandmother would send us out to pick those. We’d bring them home and she’d chop them into 1″ dice, saute them with butter and lots and lots of black pepper, and that was lunch.

    Wishing I was there with the chokecherries and the porcinis!

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      September 3, 2010 8:47 pm

      I love how the grandma’s know these things.

      And oh how we all miss you all!

  23. September 8, 2010 6:47 pm

    I discovered you over at SouleMama and wanted to tell you about The Happiness Project going on over at my blog. Every Tuesday I host a carnival where everyone posts a photo of something that makes them happy. It’s that simple. I am trying to take over the blogosphere with happiness.

    Here is a link to yesterday’s post if you want to check it out.

    I would love it if you joined in the fun next Tuesday!!


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