Last spring was, sadly, lamb-less; but I hadn’t realized how much I missed them until these two darlings arrived last night! Born under the rising full moon, little boy Chocolate and little girl Moon were named by Claire this morning as they staggered around their attentive first-time mama Leda.

If all nine of the other ewes give birth, we could have up to 30 sheep crowding our pastures! We usually have a pretty good balance of twins and singles, but even so we’re looking at a serious flock increase. I’m planning to keep a few white ones, to add variety to the wool rainbow, and others will be raised for meat; but we may also end up selling some. They grow so fast and eat so much that we’ll quickly run out of space!

For now, though, I’m just excited to see the pasture filling up with little fluff balls bouncing around like popcorn.

So it begins.

When we first started homesteading in Oregon, I left the gardening part to my mother. I was more interested in animal husbandry and farm projects, so it made sense to let her, as the seasoned gardener, take charge of that department.

It soon became clear, however, that a garden of the size we’d planned would be the work of more than one person. With baby Sam in tow, I discovered the delights of getting my hands in the dirt, watching tiny seedlings burgeon into healthy plants, and harvesting baskets full of vegetables to cook and can and preserve.

But for years, the part I found fussy and less than enjoyable was starting seeds. I much preferred direct sowing and putting in the plants themselves, so I let my mother potter about happily in the greenhouse.

Once I had my own garden, though, this arrangement was less practical, and I finally bought a mini greenhouse and resigned myself to the tedious task of poking seed after seed into little pots of soil. Except… it wasn’t tedious! In fact, it was delightful to get my hands in the dirt months earlier than usual, and so satisfying to see the best rows of pots lined up in their trays.

And then, like magic, the first sprouts emerged, and I was hooked! The excitement of seeing new little specks of green every time I entered the greenhouse! Pretty soon I needed a full-size greenhouse, and now I find myself starting far more seeds than I could ever plant in my garden. Fortunately there’s always someone willing to take extra plants, and I’m happy to share.

I don’t have any fancy equipment. I don’t use grow lights or heaters. We keep a compost pile in the greenhouse, which helps to add a little warmth, and any delicate seedlings (like tomatoes and basil) get carted into the house on chilly nights. The greenhouse we built was expensive (and a royal pain to put together), but totally worth it. Even on a rainy day it’s pleasantly warm in there, and makes a welcome retreat for me when I need to get out of the house on these late winter days.

On My Nightstand

Even when I shop online, I end up with more books than I can carry!

A few weeks ago Bill and I were inspired by a book list on List Challenges, and got a little carried away adding books to our Alibris cart. I didn’t realize quite how many books we’d ended up ordering until they began to arrive! For days our mailbox was packed, Tetris-style, with parcels from all over the country. This is my stack; Bill’s is even more imposing and includes this gorgeous volume:

I won’t get through all of these this year, but my goal is to make a good dent. For the past few years I’ve taken on several different reading challenges, but this year none of them inspired me. Instead I’m making sure that I keep a good variety of books going at a time, continuing to broaden my horizons with more diverse and challenging reads.

Currently I’m reading several nonfiction books: The Splendid and the Vile, by Erik Larsen; Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs; and Coming Into the Country, by John McPhee. Also a book of poetry by T.S. Eliot, the Five Marys cookbook, the hefty classic Clarissa by Samuel Richardson, and the sci-fi novel Trouble on Triton for fun.

Once I get through a few of these, I’m looking forward to diving into the Jane Addams memoir and the Fortunes of War trilogy (after which I’m excited to watch the miniseries starring Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson!).

Pantry Challenge 2021

Last January I joined Jessica @threerivershomestead in her pantry challenge. My goal was to reduce our dependence on grocery stores, to use what we had stocked up already, and to order everything we needed from @azurestandard and @imperfectfoods . I’m so, so thankful that I started off the year that way, since it meant that we headed into lockdown with plans already in place. Over the rest of the year, I continued to order most of our groceries, as well as growing and preserving more food than I ever have before. I did make a few shopping trips to Costco, Trader Joe’s, and Fred Meyer, but far fewer than usual; and I found myself buying mostly “treats” and indulgence foods rather than staples.

So, here we go again! The challenge officially starts in January, but I’m actually starting now because I have no plans to go to grocery stores for anything but Christmas baking ingredients (and I don’t expect to need much, as I’m well stocked). I’ll continue to visit our neighbors for our weekly two gallons of raw cow’s milk; and I’ll put in my Azure orders as usual, because I don’t think this is a good time to run out of things–not to mention the fact that it causes me extreme anxiety. Life in our area is uncertain enough at the best of times, and I sleep better at night knowing that we can feed our family through floods, blizzards, and power outages.

However, I’ll be pausing my Imperfect account soon, since I use it mostly for fruit, fish, pork products, and treats. So through January and hopefully February, we will be eating the food that we have processed and stored for the winter. Our freezers are full of lamb, chicken, vegetables, and berries; our pantry shelves are stocked with jam, pickles, tomato sauce, and salsa; and my dry goods buckets are stacked high, storing flour, sugar, salt, oats, beans, and rice. If I run out of convenience foods like crackers or tortillas, we’ll make them from scratch. My little fruit gobblers will have to be satisfied with dried fruit, applesauce, and smoothies made with frozen berries. We’ll eat our way through the piles of winter squash, beets, potatoes, and carrots, supplementing with sprouts (and maybe arugula if I can manage to grow some in the house).

The pantry challenge was one of the best things I did in 2020, and I hope you’ll join in this time. The craziness isn’t over, folks–and there’s nothing more practical you can do than take control of your food supply and storage. Even if you live in a tiny apartment with no storage space, take this opportunity to learn how to bake bread. Even if your budget allows for no wiggle room, take this opportunity to learn how to cook dried beans. Sprout seeds. Grow herbs on your windowsill. Buy an extra can or box or bag every time you shop. Look at your situation and figure out what you can do to make it more secure, and sleep better at night.

Watching my kiddos play with their baby cousin is one of my favorite things. I love their sweet fascination and his delighted baby grin. He got to be a big kid with them on the trampoline and the jungle gym today!

Church at Home

Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38,39

How We Feel About Staying Home for Two Weeks

I won’t claim prescience, but the timing for my pantry challenge was pretty convenient. I’m very thankful not to be standing in line at Costco right now. And the prospect of two weeks at home is kind of exciting for us introverts! We have lots of plans for things to keep us busy—getting some more seeds started in the greenhouse and maybe in the garden, shearing sheep, putting some of the excess lambs and chickens in the freezer, planting strawberries, foraging for nettles and other wild edibles, and taking walks in the sunshine. There will be lots of cooking projects, as well as spinning and knitting and other crafts; books and games and movies and writing and drawing and science experiments and legos and maybe even some decluttering and organizing. I’ll also be keeping my ears open for local opportunities to help those who might be struggling through these next weeks.

I’m well aware that for many people this will be a frustrating and difficult time. But for those who are able, I hope you will see these next weeks as an opportunity to enjoy unexpected freedom. Instead of panicking and/or staying glued to screens, go outside with your kids. Bake some cookies. Have a dance party. Clean out the attic. Get to know your neighbors. Be a good example to those around you.