Orin and I began working on a little hobbit hole. Every night he asks for bedtime stories about hobbits, so here we are taking the next steps.

Eventually this will just be a shady nook while the other side (not visible here) will be the true hole.

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Manijeh spent Thursday, April 1st working on an herb spiral. We have a few herbs ready for planting, but we’ve a few weeks before the last frost date.

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Last fall and early winter, I collected a bucket full of Osage Oranges – what some people call Hedge Apples – and left them to ferment until spring.

I smushed them into a slurry (shown in the photo below), then dug a long trench along the eastern border of the property.

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Using a stick, I ladled the slurry liberally and covered them with a thin layer of dirt. With any luck we’ll have a bit of natural fencing to work with in a few months.

The long term goal is to have an enclosure that can serve as a large subdividable paddock for livestock grazing. It should also serve as a bit of privacy fencing from the road to the east.

We spent the afternoon harvesting wild stinging nettles and basking in the spring sunshine.

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After a few stings and a little skinny dipping, we headed home to process (wash, soak, trim, and dry) them. If you’ve never had the good fortune of getting a sting, it’s pretty much like getting an ant bite. In both cases the sting is the result of formic acid, which luckily dissipates in the drying / cooking process.

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Most of these will be dried, steeped in spring water and drunk as tea throughout the year. Nettle tea is a tasty drink with many health benefits.

After the work was done, Manijeh made a simple nettle frittata. Delicious!

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The following night for supper, I made a variation on my usual cottage pie and added a layer of sautéed nettles between the meat and mashed potatoes. To make sure we had enough for a few days, in addition to the usual beef I also added some Italian sausage from our pig share.

The combination was a big hit and I have to say that nettles should always be in Shepherds Pie / Cottage Pie.

We spent February 2014 in Menomonie, Wisconsin at ReWild University where we studied all manner of interesting things with Kenton Whitman and crew.

While there we learned how to:

Build different types of shelter

Make a fire using a hand drill, bow drill, and flint and steel

Make char cloth

Bake bread using “ancient grains”

Coal burn wooden utensils

Scrape and tan hides (I’ll explain this process in greater detail later)

Identify useful plants in deep winter

Practice mindfulness

Survive a fall through ice

Reverse wrap cordage

Make pitch glue

An incredibly brief description of our time:

There is no electricity or running water in the 16′ yurt where we stayed. However, there is a great little wood stove with a soapstone cooktop and a catalytic converter (which is my first time using something like that). We carried a water container a short distance every day for washing and drinking.

Home base

We arrived during an especially cold snap, so the nights were between -30 and -25. I stoked the heater two or three times a night and we all bundle up under the covers, so it’s really not as bad as you might think. Luckily we both have experience cooking on wood stoves and rocket stoves. Otherwise we’d have been pretty hungry!

Inner yurt

The lack of media and the constant barrage of marketing messages was blissful.

In addition to learning “old skills”, we also had the good fortune to see other people raising children using the same methods we’ve chosen (I’ll explain our choice of attachment parenting some other time). Priceless.

Because we’re trying to build a house this summer, we need money. The folks at the farm were very supportive and made sure that I had a temporary office and all the bandwidth I needed. I worked 3 days a week for about 4 hours a day. My clients were intrigued and supportive of my irregular hours (I also worked in overdrive to clear my plate in the weeks prior to leaving).

By candle light we read many books. We each chose books based on our interests – Manijeh went mostly with plant books (both informational and spiritual), I chose to read about Buddhism and the Zen mind, and Orin sampled a little of everything before napping.

Napping

On waking, we prepared breakfast and geared up for our daily trip outside with the instructor for that day. Once the instructor arrived at the yurt, we discussed the day’s lessons and shared any questions or observations from the previous day.

We hunted for chaga and other wild edibles. Here’s Kenton harvesting chaga with Orin strapped to his back.

Chaga hunters

Once a week or so we shared supper with all of the people who lived on the farm, usually at the home of the matriarch, Dotty. Each home was hand built by the residents from wood harvested on the land. Meals were usually made with meat, fruit and veggies grown on the farm. Here are a couple of rabbits I dispatched and braised. Made a fine meal with lentils and kale.

Rabbits

The last week we were there, I built a little snow playground for Orin and Kenton’s little girl, Mirabelle. The two had a grand time going down the slide and crawling into the little snow cave.

Playground

Late one night as I lay in bed, I had the idea to pick apart the Flower of Life symbol. I imagined pulling it apart in strands and I suddenly saw it as intertwining strands of DNA. The following morning I sat down to try to capture the idea in a piece of art. Two hours later I produced this image:

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If you’d like a copy, shoot me an email and I’ll have a high res print made.

It will take some time, but we’ve decided that it is important to share the things we’ve learned – both in and out of the classes. Our 5 year plan is to develop the infrastructure needed to begin teaching some of the things we’ve learned in recent years.

If you’d like to live a little, I can’t recommend this experience enough. Drop Kenton a line and work something out. You wont regret it.

Snow jumping

 

What it means to be mainstream.

Considering the “stream” metaphor.

A stream is defined by its banks. Banks constrain and guide a stream to its destination. In the case of Mainstream America, one might ask “What are the banks which guide my course and what is the destination?” The banks of the main stream are created subtly over time by media and marketing. You know this already.

Time passes.

Decades / generations pass and the stream bed gets deeper and smoother. Soon it seems as if there was never any other path than this smoothly polished one through which most of us travel. The path of comfort.

Tremendous amounts of marketing messages bombard you every day. Culture comes blended and prepackaged. The less you feel it, the smarter the focus group and the better the marketing strategy. http://bit.ly/1hB4xBB

Deep water.

If you have children, you may become interested in how much corporate effort goes into researching the stages of your child’s brain development. Allow me:  http://bit.ly/1pNydQb

You may also become curious to know how your child’s brain works and at what stage does the prefrontal cortex begin to function, filter information and detect deception. Follow your curiosity without a sense of guilt.

Full disclosure.

We still watch documentaries and the occasional movie – maybe 2-3hrs a week with popcorn made on the stove – but we’ve not subscribed to network television for many years and avoid it when possible. Years spent in entertainment industry marketing departments can have that effect. Ask me about it sometime.

Here it is. Our very first Holiday Special.

Dianna hung one of her rag quilts on the wall and then made 25 little mittens for Orin. We filled a mitten every morning with a little toy or treat. It was good fun and Orin was a big fan.

We cut a tree from a nearby fir monoculture and carried it back. Popcorn was strung, ornaments were hung and home made apple cider (both virgin and hard) was tasted. We celebrated the solstice with friends (I dressed as Krampus – photographic evidence below) and gave Orin his Christmas presents from family on Christmas day. A most excellent holiday season was had on The Hill.

Krampus

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Got too many brain cells crowding your noggin? Love apples and a jumbotron hangover? Then applejack is for you!

A relatively simple process.

1. Apples. Lots of apples.

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2. Press those apples into cider. Teenage boys with excess energy are useful here.

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3. Ferment cider to make hard cider. Recipes may vary. We chose to use wild yeast.

Hard cider.

4. Freeze hard cider.

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5. Separate ice from liquid (alcohol freezes at a much lower temperature than the water content). Discard ice.

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6. Drink remaining 80 proof liquid with friends.

7. Spend the following day listening to Red House Painters on repeat while nursing a soul crushing hangover.

8. Vow to never make Applejack again.

In a rare moment of thoughtfulness I photographed the future and the past.

This was the view from the driver’s seat of our moving truck as we drove our things to the top of the hill, marking the end of our old life and the beginning of our new life.

I discovered this pair of photos while randomly sifting through photos to show Orin.

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Manijeh began harvesting polypore mushrooms.

Polypores have anti-oxidant,  anti-cancer, ant-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic and even anti-fungal properties. Some, such as Chaga, are adaptogenic, which means that it stimulates the immune system only specifically where this stimulation is needed, so doesn’t cause the strong reactions that other immune boosters can cause in some people. Pretty interesting.

It’s important to know that there are no known toxic polypore mushrooms that grow on trees, but it’s still very important to correctly identify your mushrooms.

Our first test subject is an Aspen Conk harvested in the aspen grove in the valley below (you’ve probably seen this grove in some of our photos). So Manijeh made a decoction from this little guy.

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Observations:

When warm with nothing added, it’s bitter and wouldn’t appeal to many, though we don’t mind it.

When warm and mixed with a little honey, it’s bitter but pleasant.

When cold with nothing added, it tastes like Essence of Dog. Really. It tastes exactly how our dog, Kippen, smells. Manijeh disagrees, but in this case… I’m right.

 

Final thoughts on this Aspen Conk decoction:

Drink it warm with honey or other spices.

 

We’ll continue exploring and trying new recipes. It is a fascinating path to research.