Counting Goats
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I've stopped looking out the back windows to the house. While the views beyond the paddock to the forests and mountains is stunning, inevitably when I do look I will see that the three goats that are supposed to be grazing and foraging in the foreground are no where to be found. 

I'd like to think that you haven't lived until you have chased three dairy goats through two pastures, over a stone wall and down a lane so muddy you lose a shoe that turns up three days later, unrecognisable as a brown lump left on your front step by a hunter. Or stood in your kitchen making a cup of tea after that escapade and watching those hooved Musketeers head straight back over the wall and into trouble, their little upright tails flipping you the bird as they go. Climbing back into the muddy coat and new boots to spend the next 45 minutes looking for them, only to give up and head back to the house to find them standing in your kitchen waiting patiently for you, having eaten your houseplants.  Who needs a gym membership, TV, a life or to get anything done when you have goats.

For the first year or so of goat keeping, goat escapes were tame. With just two goats, Dascha and Freya, they didn't get far.  D was too fat and unweildly to go anywhere and F didn't want to leave her friend behind.  At worst, Frey would stand on the wall just outside the pen and wait until bed time to go in.  And then we got Red.

In order to keep ourselves in milk, the girls need to kid, or freshen, every other year or so. Dascha, being the breed that is one of the heaviest and longest milkers in the dairy goat world, has been in milk since a teenage pregnancy (she busted out of her pen as a youngster to cavort with a field of billies) since January 2015. But, her production slowed to a stop over the autumn and our supply of home grown milk and cheese was replaced with the store bought variety. Our debates about whether or not to bring a billy goat into our lives were abruptly put to bed when my friend said she had a billy in her trailer and was bringing him over for us.  

And so Red joined our little herd.  Despite his small stature and with the aid of his daily baths in urine and ejaculate (yes, I just typed that!!!!) he has proven irresistible to the girls whose increasing plumpness indicate that he has been successful in his wooing. So enamoured are they, in fact, that they follow him anywhere - over the fence and into the fields and forests surrounding the house in search of the tastiest leaves, branches and trouble they can find. With the expectation that his progeny will be equally as ornery, I have been costing up prison fencing and full time guards as my only viable containment option.

And so, I avoid looking at the paddock, knowing that when and if I do, I will be tromping through mud to round up my merry band of naughty goats who are never where we left them. 

 

 

Kat GoldinComment
Out of the Corner of My Eye

There are 25 pounds of green tomatoes sitting in my window sill. They've been there for 3 weeks, bought from the local market after asking weekly for a month if the owner was going to be able to get any in for our year's suply of green salsa. And there they have sat - waiting for the final ingredients of jars, green peppers, onions and tie to do something with them.

 

If anything were a symbol of the last season we've been through, it would be that rotting basket of tomatoes. So much intention, so little time. 

I do hate it when people tell you how busy they are - the modern status symbol where people compete with each other to see who can drop down more dog tired than the other. But it has been busy here and in the moments it hasn't, we have dropped down dog tired. We seem to careen through the day by simply solving the latest and most urgent catastrophe. Any plans for moving forward, knocked back by the reality of forever trying not to slip backwards - chasing escaped goats, making beds, making food, making messes, chopping firewood, doing work, listening to trombone practice, fighting about homework and somewhere in there gulp down dinner and pray the bills get paid on time.  Its all so fast, it feels like a blur.

These daily routines are also a tour through the things we haven't done. We haven't sorted the garden for autumn. We haven't planted the 10lbs of tulip bulbs I bought. We haven't put in the garlic or the onions. We haven't fixed the fence where the goats got in and ate all the beans and corn. We haven't sorted out the strawberry bed that was infested with creeping buttercup. The barn needs cleaning. The coops need wintering. I need to find a new straw supplier. I've always hated having items on a to do list hanging over my head and smallholding is a lesson over and over in never being finished. 

And then out the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of how far we've come in the 3 and a half years we've been here. I see the much longed for sheep, happily munching in the field.  I have a  freezer full of chicken and lamb that we butchered ourselves. We had the best growing season yet in the garden, thanks to a new fence Kevin built.  The autumn program of workshops was a huge success and more are booked in the spring.  If I stand just so and squint, I can just about see that we are on the path we'd intended to be on when we drove down the drive way 4 years ago. 

That is as long as I don't look at those fucking tomatoes. 

A Trip to Kintyre - Part 2

Continuing on my posts about our trip to Kintyre with CalMac ferries.  You can read Part 1 here

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On Sunday, we were up early to catch the 10am ferry to the Island of Gigha. We’d been before, taking Ellis as a baby and had fallen in love with the tiny island just off of Kintyre, plus it has a botanic garden – Achamore – and I couldn’t wait to nosy around the plants.

The ferry takes just 20 minutes and with glorious warm, weather it felt like we were stepping off the boat into another world. Gigha is lush with plantlife, that coastal climate making it so intensely green and lush.  In fact, where our leaves up here had started to turn weeks earlier, we could only find one sign that autumn was on its way to Gigha as well.

Our first stop was Achamore Gardens.   Wandering around the woods and the gardens was really like stepping into the foothills of the Himalayas.  There were rhododendron specimens everywhere, and while we had missed the blooms, it wasn’t hard to imagine the woods being a light with colour in the spring.  The walled gardens were full of late summer blooms and we could see signs of the new work being undertaken to restore the gardens by its new caretakers the Achamore Gardens Trust.

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We spent the rest of the morning wandering around the beautiful little island.  First, exploring the ruins of the Kilchattan church, then heading to the north of the island for some beach time. We had reservations for lunch at the Boathouse at the dock and I begrudgingly peeled myself off of the beach.

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If I had known what came next, I would have run. Holy lobster. I have never been a huge fan of seafood since an unfortunate incident with a fish finger when I was 3. I always want to like it, but very rarely can be convinced to try some.  Well, count me a convert. The Boathouse’s menu of local (as in so local the lobsters are actually in kreels at the end of the dock and the oysters and halibut are from down the road) seafood completely knocked my socks off. I even ate an oyster. And loved it. Lobster mac n cheese, fresh langoustine tails, good bread and an outside table with a view of the sea.  The perfect way to end a holiday before we made our way back by ferry to the mainland.

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ScotlandKat GoldinComment
A Trip to Kintyre - Part One

I can go for a week at a time without going further than the bus stop at the end of our road. Working from home and being a general home body means that, other than the occasional trip out to a friend's for a coffee and the weekly veg market, my world doesn't really need to be bigger than the 4 acres the house sits upon. I spent so much of my late teens and early twenties travelling that I rarely get much wanderlust and if I did, the sheer effort of packing up 3 kids and leaving a farm for any length of time cures me of any lingering desire to travel.

And then one day in my inbox popped an offer from Caledonian MacBrayne ferries asking if I wanted to work with them on a piece of content. Though travel and sponsored content aren't my normal scene, I've had a soft spot for CalMac ferries since I arrived in Scotland and this landlubber was introduced to the joy of travel by boat. I'll never forget our first trip to Arran as I nervously drove my car onto a boat, certain that such a thing shouldn't be possible (I'm from land locked Iowa, remember and such a feat was beyond what my Mid Western brain could handle). I was hooked. 

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And so, after a fair bit of scrabble to find house, farm and child sitters, Kevin and I departed on our first trip in 10 years without children. We took the ferry from Ardrossan to Campbeltown, boarding as the rain fell so hard it was bouncing off the deck.  I’ve only ever taken morning ferries before and swapped my usual bacon rolls and tea  (a firm requirement for all AM ferry crossings) to steak pie and local ale. It was all local and fresh, not the limp school cafeteria food that I was expecting (and worrying about how I'd write about it if it was awful) - the beef from Kintyre and the beer from just up the way at Loch Fyne.  

The ferry takes 2.5hours from Ardrossan to Campeltown, with another 1.5 hours before that from the house to the ferry terminal.  It is a bit longer for us to travel this way than just to drive, but the appeal of dinner and both being able to enjoy the trip really outweighed any extra travel time. I don’t like being inside when we travel by boat – its not travel sickness or anything, just a love for that feeling of being windswept and salty that only the top deck can give you – so the moment we finished I forced Kevin onto the deck. We watched for sea life and birds, and caught the sunset fading over Arran.

Arriving in Campbeltown just after 9, we checked into the Royal Hotel for our two nights there.  The hotel is beautiful with views over the harbour (which obviously meant I took roughly 1,000 photos out of the window trying to catch the perfect sunrise). After finally tearing myself away from the window for breakfast the next morning, we headed a few miles over the peninsula to Machrihanish. 

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The tiny village sits on the the Atlantic side of the peninsula with wide, sandy beaches and views to Northern Ireland. At the southern tip of the village, there is the Seabird Centre and Wildlife Observatory.  It’s a very small place, maintained by the local community, but with its resident seals (Kevin was sad he didn’t bring his mandolin to play to them) and bird life, we it was quite easy to lose track of time with so much to see.

The village boasts 2 golf clubs and another beautiful hotel and pub. Have I ever told you that I took golf lessons as a kid?  Oh yes.  My family was extremely into golf, so much so that at one time my brother wanted to study golf course management.  However hard the rest of them tried, that love did not pass on to me, but as we walked around the beautiful Machrihanish Dunes Golf Course, I suddenly understood the appeal. In contrast to the golf course of my youth with views over Highway 30 and my friend's house, I could see the appeal of wandering this amazing landscape, watching the Atlantic and her wildlife, even if it involved a level of hand eye coordination that I was not blessed with.

After exploring the dunes and the amazing beach just behind, we headed back into the village for lunch at The Old Clubhouse.  The Dunes hotels are all owned by an American and the menu was a glorious mix of locally sourced produce, meat, fish and dairy, with many American touches - which meant I got to eat the best beef brisket this side of the Mississippi.

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After lunch, we drove back to Campbeltown for the Springbank Distillery tour. Unlike the other distilleries we’ve visited Springbank does all of its own barley malting and smoking itself and by hand. I don’t drink whiskey, but it was so interesting to hear about working with local farmers – either to use local barley for special batches or to move on the spent grain for animal feed.  I love a family run business and Springbank really had that feel to it.

In fact, that was one thing that really came over strongly everywhere we went in Kintyre – from family run shops that haven’t been replaced by high street equivalents to the food on every menu being as local as possible. There was a strong sense of provenance – knowing where things came from and valuing the local.

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The absolute highlight of the trip for us for us was visiting my friend Emma in the afternoon at the Torrisdale Castle Estate.  The Estate has been in Emma’s husband’s family for generations and they moved back 4 years ago from Stirling, where Emma and I had met (over crochet of course). In that time, Emma and Niall have made some amazing improvements to the estate, including refurbishing their holiday cottages, to building a hydro electric scheme, and even starting a gin distillery! As Emma showed us around, we were just so inspired by the way the land and the residents work together – the hydro scheme powers the distillery, the forestry powers the wood fired hot tubs, Aunty Carol lives in the archway, Niall's mum runs an organic tannery that tans local sheep hides – all fitting together.

So as Emma and her family headed out to the local village hall for a celebration of the local fishing community and a haddock supper caught by those same fishermen, we headed back to the hotel for dinner in the Harbourview Grille and our own locally caught Haddock (well, Kevin had that, I had Chicken Parmigiana, because its my favourite and I’ve never seen it on another menu in the UK and it was exactly how I remembered it).

I'll be back next week with our trip onward to Gigha! 

Kat GoldinComment
The Summer Summary

High fives and belly bumps, people.  We made it. Summer holidays are over and the children are safely back in school. *insert celebratory emojis here*

I want to tell you about all the great adventures we had, how we seamlessly blended the work and kid juggle and how great it was...and it was in parts, but the truth is that I found this summer hard, and I am glad it's over. Summer is always a perfect storm of being both the busiest time of year work wise, prepping for an autumn and winter of releases, events and workshops and the slowest in terms of income.  And while we did really awesome, fun things, we also sat around and watched a lot of TV in our underpants, me working, kids eating cereal for every meal.

 

There were a few moments where I was able to pry them out of the house.  Usually it involved throwing them in a loch or river, sometimes with Kevin as well.  

We also, 

  • worked steadily on building up natural dye samples for the upcoming Foraging for Colour workshop
  • perfected sourdough croissants
  • swam, swam, swam
  • got a new billy goat, named Red/Harry/Oi You!
  • visited the glorious Seacliffe Beach near North Berwick.  What a place!!
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However, the absolute highlight of the holidays came on the Monday of the 2nd week.  I was working on a deadline for the Great Wave KAL and needed to knit like the wind.  Ells, tired of being ignored, climbed into bed with me to watch a film.  Luna the cat crawled between us.  As the movie went on, I noticed Luna acting a bit strange.  I checked her out and realised she was having kittens on my bed!! An amazing experience to get to watch them come into the world and we have absolutely loved having these 6 bundles of fluff running around the house. 

And that's that, really.  On to P2, P3 and P6, a very full autumn and deadlines galore. 

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Life On The Edge of Summer

It happens every year...a slow panic that starts on June 1st and builds up as each day ticks by...the end of term and summer holidays.

Part of me craves the break to the routine. The alarm goes off and I spend a good 20 minutes fantasising about not having to start the uniform/lunch/breakfast/teeth/chore cycle. Something is usually missing or forgotten, someone is usually upset at having to go to school, we are usually late for the bus. One morning, our neighbour/electrician popped up to look at the studio at 8 am and bore witness to full chaos - naked and crying children, goats escaping, sheep in the house, and worst of all, pre-coffee me. He left just about as fast as he could get in the van and it took all the control I had not to ask to hop in with him and drive away with him. 

 The prospect of lazy mornings aside, summer holidays mean an end to my working routine for 8 weeks.  With my children more and more independent and clear expectations of what I will be able to realistically achieve, school holidays are marginally less stressful than they used to be.  I structure my work so that I have some clear computer days where the kids are with Kevin or friends and the rest of the time I plan work that involves things I don't need to concentrate as much on usually small making projects that I can cart along with us as we go. Also, this summer's main task is getting the farm ready for the programme of workshops and retreats (more on that later) that are starting this September.   Kids can usually be roped in to help with painting and tidying if a bribe of ice cream or swimming can be offered at the end.

Sometimes I look back on the early days of Kat Goldin Designs with amazement.  I started with all 3 kids at home full time - Ellis was 4.5, Georgia was 18m and Theo was 6 months when I started selling handmade hats and patterns.  I blogged every day and I even wrote books before they were all at school! HOW ON EARTH DID I DO THAT?  or more accurately HOW ARE KEVIN AND I STILL TOGETHER AFTER THOSE YEARS?!?

Because, that really is the crux of it.  Kevin and I don't fight about anything, except who gets to work. Part of me recognises that my work is more flexible than his, part of me hates that it feels like time and again his work comittments trump mine. On my good days, I accept it and work with what we've got - he tries to take 2 days off a week to work at home and look after the kids. On my bad days, I see it for the patriarchal nonsense it is - my work constantly having to  fit into other people's schedules and needs. He says he would choose differently if he could, and makes up for it by doing all the laundry and vacuuming and chores and we call it even as I lay in bed with the kids, blissfully enjoying my slow summer mornings.

Regardless of how I feel about it, summer break starts in 1.5 days...and the juggle begins. 

Kat GoldinComment
There's No Business Like Yolk Business

For roughly 3 of the last 3.5 years of living here, Kevin and I have talked about selling our eggs in an honesty box at the end of the road.  We've always had an abundance of eggs and a sweet little egg box sat unloved and filling with wasp nests next to the bus stop for that entire time.  We'd absent-mindedly mention it to each other, agree that it was a good idea and then nothing would happen...some other more urgent farm task taking precedence. 

A few weeks ago, the dreaded topic of summer pocket money came up. Our implementation of pocket money has been very hit and miss in the last 10 years of parenting.  Never having had a firm stance on the concept, other than Kevin and I firmly agreeing that we didn't want to pay the kids for doing tasks they really should be doing any way, we would implement a plan and then the kid's interests would fizzle out with screens or running around with their friends being far more interesting. 

In the end, it was Georgia who decided that the solution to both problems was the kids starting their own egg business.  Kevin and I contributed labour, fixing up the old hutch and making signs, while the kids would be responsible for gathering and sorting the eggs and making sure the hutch was always stocked. They would pay us the first £7 a month for feed (roughly the cost of feeding the laying hens and ducks in a month) and they could keep the rest.

For two days, the eggs sat. Georgie would check every morning and every evening to see if someone, anyone had bought her eggs - with big tears when she was convinced that no one wanted her eggs.  She even wanted to miss school and camp out at the bottom of the road, calling out to passers by, letting them know that she was selling eggs. As I was on the verge of giving my neighbour who has chickens £1 to take a half dozen and someone bought 2 cartons.  Since then, we've done a steady business and we actually make it to the bus stop early enough to check on any overnight purchases before Jim arrives. 

And so, the kids are in the egg business. They've decided that they want to get a proper logo stamp for our cartons and have grand plans for selling all sorts of lemonade, flowers, veg and crafts over the summer.  We are even off to pick up some green egg laying hens today to add to their production line. The only problem now is convincing Georgia that she probably isn't going to get the brothers to agree to spend the profits on a horse...

Dyeing with Cow Parsley

Ah, early June.  I don't know about where you are, but up here the roadsides and hedgerows are simply bursting with flowers.  

Perhaps the most eye catching at the moment is Cow Parsley.  It is the tallest of these first umbellifers to open up and its billowy head, hollow stem and fern-like leaves can be used to for something other than dropping little petals everywhere when your kids bring you a bunch.

Materials:

  • a Large Pot
  • Pre-mordanted fibres*
  • At least the same weight of cow parsley as the weight of your dry fibres.  Using more will produce a more vibrant colour.
  • Tongs or a wooden spoon.

Note: its not a great idea to use the same pots and utensils for dyeing as it is for eating. 

* A mordant is a mineral salt that helps dye afix to the fibres you are dyeing.  For protein based fibres (wool, silk, soya) alum is commonly used.  You can find instructions and buy materials here. For plant-based fibres, I have heard people having great success using soya milk baths, though I have not tried it myself. Read more here

1. Collect your Cow Parsley

 From left to right: Cow Parsley, wild carrot (also good for dyeing) and hogweed leaves (no flowers are out yet)

From left to right: Cow Parsley, wild carrot (also good for dyeing) and hogweed leaves (no flowers are out yet)

Cow Parsley (also called Wild Chervil or sometimes referred to as Queen Anne's Lace) can be mistaken for a number of other umbellifers. At this early point in the season, it is really only wild carrots that are also out and they are easily distinguished  from cow parsley by their smaller size and thinner leaves.  Later in the season, giant hogweed can be mistaken for cow parsley and as its sap can cause burns, so be careful!

It is best to harvest your cow parsley when it has been a dry day.  Collect flowers, stems and leaves for the dyepot as this will give you the greeny colour shown here.  

2. Chop up and weigh your collected dyestuff

I aim for about 2x the weight of the wool I am dyeing. This means for 100g of wool, I would be looking to collect around 200g of cow parsley.  Other people will use other ratios and experimentation is the best part of natural dyes.  

3. Simmer the cow parsley for about an hour

Place your chopped up herbs into a large pot and add enough water to cover it and so that the dyestuff can move freely.  You won't dilute the dye if you add more water, but equally you want to be energy efficient.

4. Add your mordanted wool. 

The best way to do this is to let your dyebath cool then add your mordanted  wool, as sharp temperature changes can cause your wool to felt. However, I have found that gently heating the wool in some warm water and bringing it close to the temp of the dyebath is another way to get it in without shocking it. 

You can strain your cow parsley out at this stage.  This is especially useful if you aren't going to use the dyebath immediately as it can then be stored in the fridge.  However, leaving the plant matter in will get you a stronger colour. You may want to put your wool in a mesh bag at this stage to help keep plant matter out of the fibres. 

5. Simmer your wool for about 45 minutes. Then you can remove or for a deeper colour, leave in overnight.

6. Rinse your fibre and hang to dry.

And bob is your uncle. The light fastness is OK with cow parsley, but as with any naturally dyed object, it is best to treat it gently and keep out of the sun where possible. 

Interested in natural dye?  In September, we are hosting a workshop let by Callum McNeill-Ritchie a local environmental consultant who specialises in humans' historical links to the environment and use of the natural world in human activity. He likes to interpret both natural and cultural heritage together, to give a better understanding of the environment around us. Callum will be leading us in the morning's plant identification and gathering walk and talking about the use of dyes in a historical context. We will spend the afternoon dyeing a range of fibers.  You can find out more here.

 
 
Living The Dream

About 15 or so years ago I took a course with an activity to draw your dream life. I drew a cottage in the country, with chickens and dogs, flowers, a big garden where we grow our own food and lots of space for children to run around. There were big blowsy flowers, a rainbow and wild birds in the sky.  I drew part of it at night, with clear bright stars shining through. It was a far cry from our flat in Windsor's busy city centre and our 4 mile commutes that could take 2 hours on a bad day and a sky with so much noise, light and air pollution I am pretty sure I only saw pigeons and seagulls.

This dream stayed with me and pushed us on -  from Windsor, to a small flat in Stirling, to a house in Alloa, to where we are now - in the middle of nowhere with a full menagerie of chickens, dogs, turkeys, geese, guinea fowl, peacocks, sheep, a cat and some goats. The children have miles to run around and our garden, cupboards and freezer are full of things we grow ourselves. 

There is a moment every single day where I am so unbelievably grateful to have found this place and to have the opportunity to live this life. And then, usually about 5 minutes later, I am overwhelmed just how hard it is. So much of this journey reminds me of parenthood - the unbelievable work involved, the heartache, the expense, the raw emotion and then the unfathomable joy. And the poo. So much poo.

Take this morning.  A dog got into the car and managed to lock it with the keys helpfully sitting on the dash, so I am waiting for the AA to come and break into my car. The sheep broke down a fence yesterday, letting all of the meat birds out and now the path between the house and the garden is covered in bird poo. Milking took an extra person and 35 minutes because the goats have figured out how to tip their feed bucket to get into it. The grass is knee high. I had to retrieve a dead turkey poult from under its mama so the dogs would leave her alone. While checking on another mama, I found the coop swarming with mites. We have been eating only things I can cook in an electric frying pan, as the oil is about to run out and I am not sure when it will be delivered.  Less than dreamy.

 

And just like when my children were little and a well meaning lady would come up while my children were screaming and tell me to "enjoy minute because they grow up so fast", I've come to understand that not every moment, maybe not even most of the moments of this dream are good.  Some are pretty crappy, but just like the pink-tinted cheeks of a sleeping baby who spent the whole day crying - it is the perfect moments that make the rest of it worth while. Its the perfect meals that only travelled down that poopy path from the garden to the kitchen. It is watching Georgia tell everyone about her Turkey, Jerky, as they walk past its cage at the local country show.  It comes from standing at my window watching the sun go down as the local osprey flies past.  

Its worth it, I think. The expense and the work and the heartache for the dream. I wouldn't mind less poo though.  

 

 

A Year With Goats

Over the Easter Holidays, we were sitting in the living room with some friends we hadn't seen in awhile. As we ate and chatted, we heard loud laughter coming from the gaggle of children in the next room. A few moments and a thundering of hooves later, in comes Freya Goat to say hello. 

I wish I could have told my friends that this was a one off, that some random and unavoidable set of circumstances out-with our control led to there being a large hooved animal busting up our dinner party, nibbling the oat cakes and that such a thing had never happened before. In fact, I probably said as much, covering my embarrassment the best I could.  The truth of the matter is that probably only 12 foot high deer/prison fencing could keep that goat in and most days are spent playing the delightful game of "where's the goat" with the "where" frequently being "in the kitchen".

When we embarked on goat keeping a year ago, I don't know what I expected. I'd read the books, scoured the blogs, posted on the forums and felt that I had enough of the basics to get us started. A year on, I've learned a few things:

  • Keeping a dairy animal is a commitment.  When we first got the goats, we were milking twice a day. This meant that someone always needed to be here at 7am and 7pm. While Kevin has the milking itself to about 15 minutes, our plans always had to include someone being at the house for milking. We've since cut the evening milking but still in the last year, neither of us have been able to go away at the same time. We do have a friend who will milk for us if we ever do go out, but it's a big ask.
  • Using up the milk is serious business. Other than the endless task of getting her and her crazy companion into the field, the single biggest task is figuring out a way to use all the milk. Our single Saanen goat, Dascha, produces about 3 litres of milk a day. While cereal and coffee uses up a fair chunk of milk, we frequently end up with a refrigerator full of milk in ever available receptacle we have. As we are not a licensed dairy, I can't sell any of the milk or cheese and it is not uncommon that the milk goes straight to the chickens. 
  • Cheese making makes friends. In the last year, I have perfected goat's curd, yoghurt, halloumi and mozzarella. You have not had goat's cheese until you have had farm fresh, small batch cheese. It is simply the best cheese you will ever taste and I am 99% sure most of the time I am invited over for dinner because my host gift is usually half a kilo of goat's curd. 
  • Goats are trouble. Other than the constant struggle of keeping Freya in her pen, goats are wiley. They know where the corn for the chickens (aka Goat Crack) is kept and how to open the barrel if it is even slightly ajar.  They know which plants they shouldn't eat and go straight for them every time.  Freya knows that if she leans on me in a certain way, I will absolutely give her a scratch just the way she likes it.  They are forever on the lookout for a way to get out or get food and usually both. Kevin and I often say that the goats are like large cats. But with horns.
  • In our homesteading journey, goats are the biggest step in our food independence. While we raise our own food because of big and noble reasons - health, environmental, etc, there is also a level of practicality to it all, I just really hate going to the store. Having milk on tap means more of our food can come straight from here.  
  • Finding a Billy is a Bit of a Problem. Dascha has been in milk for about 2 years, so she will need to be put to a billy this year if we are going to keep her in milk. This is a slightly daunting task, and one we haven't decided on.  All of the options come with some negatives.  We would happily keep a billy, but they can be aggressive and smell bad, plus the presence of a billy on the farm can taint the milk.   Transporting the goats is another option, but we don't have animal transport and would need to get help, plus a slew of medical tests to insure the health of our herd. So, watch this space.

A year on, bringing our goats home has been the best decision, not without its downsides, but overwhelmingly positive. 

Though I may have put on 10lbs in goat's cheese alone. 

The Anti-Authoritarian In Me

When I was in the first grade, my mother was called in to talk to my teacher Mrs Westercamp.  It seems that I had a VERY SERIOUS PROBLEM that needed addressing. My mother tells the story of how she was sat down and expected the worst - and given that I was the 4th of 5 children, "the worst" was probably pretty bad in her mind. 

However, rather than horrific crimes against my fellow pupils or failing anything one actually needs to pass when one is 6, Mrs Westercamp told my mother that my offence was quite simply that I refused to wear socks. There were no smell or temperature issues, no hygiene ones either.  She just felt very deeply that it was improper for children to attend school with nothing between their feet and their soles and that in future I *must* wear them. While my mother laughed at the thought of Mrs Westercamp trying to get me to do anything of the sort. And of course, I put my unsocked foot down and refused and after awhile it was never brought up again.

I think my mother should've taken this as foreshadowing for the rest of my school career.  Year after year she was hauled in to discuss various other ways in which I simply refused to follow the convention of school life. In the 4th grade, I declined to do the full math's worksheets insisting a random sampling of questions was sufficient to show my understanding of the skills. I would get sent to the hall as punishment, but it just never seemed worth the extra effort of completing any future worksheet. In the 5th grade, Mrs Whitman called my mom to tell her I refused to read Laura Ingalls Wilder in class and that my choice of book (a non-fiction book on Pocahontas) wasn't appropriate for 5th grade American history. I still wrote my final book review on Pocahontas, despite being told not to. On and on it goes. I just never liked to be told what to do. In fact, telling me to do something was always the quickest way to get me not to do it.

Even now, at the age of 38, I see this defiance come out in funny ways. Hashtags on Instagram:  Ugh, do I have to? Children's project homework: What do you mean I have to make a cardboard castle that I would normally enjoy doing but now despise because you told me that I had to make it. Tell me what to do and I instantly start thinking of ways out of it.

I tell you this all in hopes that it goes some way to explain my absence in this space. I woke up one day after 10 years of blogging and realised it had become a chore - something I was told I had to do by all the people who know stuff on the internet. I tried to keep it going, but failed and resented it. So I stopped. Six months away and I didn't give it much thought, but then the domain came due and I decided to press delete on the whole thing. But then I didn't. Simple as that, really.

And here I am. I have so much to catch you up on. But one things hasn't changed...I still bloody hate wearing socks.

 

Where You'll Find Me

These days, I spend most of my time on Instagram.  Head over there for a current glimpse into our days.  For crochet releases and new Tutorials, head to thecrochetproject.com

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Goats and a Recipe for Soft Chevre

"I did think, let’s go about this slowly.
This is important. This should take
some really deep thought. We should take
small thoughtful steps.

But, bless us, we didn’t."

--Mary Oliver

I am pretty sure that Mary Oliver was writing about the adventure that is smallholding when she wrote that poem.  I can't tell you how many times similar thoughts have crossed my mind in the last 3 years - from buying far too many seeds to fill our not terribly big garden to ordering aproximately a dozen more meat birds than we could possibly house to getting a second crazy collie dog to keep our even more insane one company.  However, the goats have taken our insanity to new levels. 

I can't remember exactly how the goaty Rube Goldberg machine started, but before we knew it, Dasha the British Saannen nanny goat and Freya, a companion British Toggenburg/saannen cross kid, arrived here and we were in the dairy animal owners club.

Our first few weeks were, um, interesting as we tried to learn to milk and contain two lively goats in what we learned was hugely inadequate fencing. Twice a day, Kevin and I would trudge out to the barn, each milking one side as we tried to learn the skills and build up the hand strength to get the milk out in a decent time. Dasha would kick and walk away and put her foot in the milk more often than not as she grew completely impatient with us both. For weeks we had to bribe her with apples to get her to stand and it has taken months to get her milked and out in a reasonable time.  As you would expect, fencing has also proved challenging, with the goats unexpectedly arriving in my kitchen a couple of times over the summer or eating all of the holiday cottage's roses. 

All in though, the experience has been a good one.  All of our milk needs are covered by Dasha's twice daily milking, with plenty left over for 2 batches of goat's cheese a week. I make chevre most of the time, but mozzarella has been an epic addition to Friday night pizza night. There is no question that keeping dairy animals is at the same time extremely liberating - with one of our main staples completely provided for on farm and intensely tying, with one of us needed to be here to do chores each morning and night.

The chevre has become a hot commodity on the estate and as I can't sell it, the transactions are strictly barter-based, with wine, beer and even pottery used as payment.

 My Soft Chevre Recipe

Makes about 500-800g of chevre

  • 4.5l (1gal) of Goat's milk
  • 3T of prepared starter*
  • 4 drops of Rennet diluted in 1/4 cup of cold water
  • salt to taste
  • thermometer

* I use mesophillic starter from Homestead Cheese Supplies prepared according to directions and frozen in ice cube trays once prepared.  1 ice cube = 1 T.

Heat the milk to 90C/194F. Cool rapidly to 30C/86F. I use a sink full of cold water.  I pop the pan in with the lid and change out the water every so often.

When 30C has been reached, add the prepared starter.  If it is ice cubes, let it melt. then, using up and down strokes (not circular ones) stir in the starter and then the rennet that has been dissolved.

Let it set covered for 24 hours. It will be a soft yoghurt texture when done.

Line a seive with cheese cloth or muslin (I use baby muslins or the cheapest dish towels from Ikea) and pour the whole mixture through.  You may need more than one.  Tie them up and let them hang with a pot underneath for at least 24 hours.  Dont handle the curds too much, as it can change their texture and make them tougher. Discard the whey or use it in fermenting or breadmaking.

Once a soft texture has been reached, remove the cheese from the cloths and salt to taste.  Cheese keeps for about a week, if it lasts that long.

I am often asked if you can use goat's milk from the store for this.  I would bet that you can, as my milk is pasteurised (the heating process) before I make cheese.  I know that some people make this cheese from raw, but I have found that the natural bacteria interferes with the starter culture giving inconsistent and sometimes grainy results.

Around Here

Breaking a long blog absence is always awkward  - to mention the absence or not?  That is the question.  I am voting for generally skipping it and plunging straight back in.  I will say that while it is my intention to start blogging regularly again, if you are after a regularly updated crochet blog, The Crochet Project will be your best bet.  We have been working to build up our tutorials and all individual patterns going forward will be released through that. 

Anyway, how about a list to bring y'all up to speed?

  • Theo has started school.  Can you believe it? I can't.  We are two weeks in and I hardly know what to do with myself.  I managed to clear the backlog of work I simply haven't got done and for the first time in probably 5 years I have been able to be proactive. I don't even know who I am any more!! I even met a deadline today! ON THE DAY IT WAS DUE!!
  • Ellis has started taking trombone lessons. I played trombone in school.  He wanted something that was different from what everyone else played and when I suggested trombone, he was all in.  He has used to to wake us up in the morning, 
  • We have goats now.  I know, right?  We make goats cheese and it is AMAZING. 
  • And that shawl up at the top?  A new release as part of Kettle Yarn Co's Baskerville collection.  Hop over to The Crochet Project blog for all the details. 
Kat GoldinComment
Notes on Failure
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My first review ever on Amazon was a bad one - a horrific one star, completely slating my first book Crochet at Play.

In the weeks before the book’s release, I would lay awake in bed, heart pounding dreading exactly this moment. I was certain it would be the worst, most heart breaking creative moment of my career.

And then my exact fear came true…I can’t remember how I found out or why I was even looking, but I remember clearly clicking through to the full review, hand shaking, feeling sick to my stomach.

Despite my worries beforehand, the sky didn’t fall, the world didn’t end and actually, it wasn’t that bad. The review itself was about a technical issue with the cover, nothing more, but that was almost irrelevant. My worst fear came true and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d imagined it would be.

In the following weeks and months, other reviews came in and they were overwhelmingly positive…but its rarely the positive feedback that sticks. Criticism echoes much louder in the mind than praise and failures, real or perceived, haunt us long after the event. In retrospect, I am grateful for that review, it prepared me for a future of pattern support, complaints and failures that come with being a creative.

And I have had many failures along the way. I took 200 kits to a very well known craft fair and sold 5. I have designs that will never see the light of day because they are such an unresolvable hot mess.  I was knitting a cardigan for myself and only realised once I’d done 2 sleeves and the body to the underarm that I’d made it 3 sizes too small.  I burnt my sample of the Twist It cardigan for an issue of Simply Crochet on the Aga, after I had previously singed a pair of socks for my book Hook, Stitch & Give in the same way.

Each time, I just pick myself up, stuff the offending item in a closet and move forward, climbing the steep, hard climb of learning , improving my technical skills and refining my business strategy.

I was reminded of this particular aspect of my own journey recently when I was teaching a class on Crochet for Knitters. In the room were some incredibly talented knitters who were looking to expand their work into crochet.  As they grappled with one hook instead of two needles and getting their fingers working in the right way.   Learning is hard and much of my work as a teacher is reassuring students that there are few who get it from the outset, there are always mistakes and they won’t be the first whose initial attempts result is a tangled mess, but that its how they move on from it that counts.

Being creative is hard work, whether you are a designer, a maker, a writer, a baker, whether you write your own patterns or follow someone else’s, the simple act of creation puts a piece of yourself out into the world.  That’s the nature of it…you make something that wasn’t there in that exact form before.  You use your time, your money and your skills. You choose the combination of pattern and colour and material.

But creation and failure go hand in hand. Sometimes things work and sometimes they really don’t. Making anything involves some risk – it may be that the pattern doesn’t work or that the skills required are too steep a learning curve, but as makers these are risks that we not only willingly take, but love – chased by the eternal question of how is it going to turn out.

the truth is that I feel like a failure a lot of the time - whether I haven't paid attention to the brief and have to remake something (as above) or I let a much-loved blog gather moth balls as I am frozen by questions of where to go from here. But accepting the downs as part of the process is really the only way forward, I have found. The failures are usually worth it. 

 

A version of this post originally appeared in Simply Crochet issue 33.

 

A List for A Wednesday

Just like that it is May.  Time seems to be on some sort of speed up at the moment, where I wake up, blink and then its time for bed again.  Our days are filled to the brim with work, then garden work, then house work, then home work, then we crash in a daze.  Its good though. I think this level of busyness is just about right.  I like the ache in my muscles after a day of planting in the garden. Each day is different enough to feel energised rather than drained by drudgery.  My only ask would be if the weather could warm up, even in the slightest? Please?!?  *looks out at the howling gale* Today is probably not that day.

Also, have you seen Jane Burns' new collection of sock patterns? Its called Lazy Sunday and I had the immense priviliage of taking the photos. You can find out more here.

Also, if crochet socks are your thing, Joanne has released a companion to Saunders socks.  You can download the ebook with 2 sock patterns - one in Aran and one in 4ply weight.  These were hugely popular at Wonderwool.  You can buy the ebook here or the print copy here.

Also The Crochet Project's newest collection Three From The Top is live

I am off to put more layers on, drink some more coffee and see if there is a hairy dog or furry kitten to keep me warm. Maybe I was wrong and it isn't May and we've been sent back in time to Feb? 

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When I go silent around here, you can bet that either it is school holidays and the crazy crew are home or I am deep in the end game of a new collection.  The last 2 weeks, both coincided and today I waved goodbye to my 3 adorable but hard work children and we launched pre-orders for our new collection Three from the Top.

This is a collection of 3 cardigans, all worked from the top down, in sizes from baby to 5x.  I can't tell you how nervous we are to get this one out into the world.  While we both love to make, design and wear cardigans, we have been so nervous about releasing these into the wild.  Crochet garments get such a bad rap and we have worked hard to make these fitted and wearable and, well, gorgeous.

You can read all about the various designs over here or if you need no further selling, then hop on over to etsy to preorder.  Due to the fact that the official launch is at Wonderwool this weekend, we have had to limit the number of preorders to make sure that everyone attending Wonderwool is able to get a copy.  If you can't make it to Wales and want to get one of the first copies, buy today!!

Around Here

I do not sit still well. However, with a potential 2nd break to my arm and a lovely little piece of bone floating around in my elbow, that is precisely what I am currently supposed to be doing.  Everything is frustratingly slow - I shot a tutorial on Wednesday that should've taken a morning and ended up taking all day.

Fortunately, I am not the only slow thing around here. Normally by mid-march garden prep would be in full swing, but Spring has decided a slow roll out is in order this year.  We have no daffodils in bloom and the crocuses have only just popped their heads out.  This morning, a cold damp fog is hanging over the farm and even the chickens are cowering in the barn keeping warm in their feather coats.

However, not everything is slow.  We have taken on a new chief of pest control in the form of one fluffy Norwegian forest kitten, Luna.  Equal parts fun and trouble, she already has the two collies quivering in their boots. As you can see, she is highly ferocious.

I hope your weekend is just the right blend of slow and fast. I am off to Edinburgh Yarn Festival on Saturday - the first time I will have left the house (other than trips to the hospital) in almost 3 weeks!

Kat GoldinComment
A List for A Wednesday

Thank you all for your thoughtful comments and emails on my last post.  It means a lot to hear that I am not sinking into oblivion ;).

However, I have not just been sitting around gazing at my (rather squidgy) navel, and in fact, have been working my backside off the last few months to pull together some rather exciting things. 

The first of those coming to light is our new book in partnership with the insanely clever Rachel Coopey of Coop Knits.  Crochet Yeah is a collection of 6 accessories patterns in the utterly gorgeous Socks Yeah yarn. Joanne and Rachel will be launching it at Unravel, but you can catch a preview below and preorder the print book here and the eBook here.

In future, a lot of the crochet tutorials that I traditionally posted here will move to The Crochet Project website. Joanne has already started posting tutorials there and has written an excellent post on how she uses washi tape to manipulate stitch patterns

In other things:

  • I keep coming back to this Rheinlust shawl by Melanie Byrd.  I need to keep working on socks in my free time (you know, for the Christmas gifts I haven't finished yet!!!), but my fingers are itchy.
  • I am still making sourdough bread almost daily.  I tried this method the other day and it was great, but it also really outlines a great way to make sourdough part of your day. The only difference for my own method is that I feed my starter earlier, then start working on the dough when I turn the oven on at about 4:30 to start prepping dinner.  It goes in the fridge when I head upstairs at about 10. 
crochetKat GoldinComment
Blogging, 9 Years On

Last week marked the 9th year that I have been blogging. I started the blog as a way to keep in touch with my family in America as I was pregnant with Ellis.  With each season of my life, the blog changed and morphed - from documenting our early days in parenthood, to exploring my creativity, to being a crochet blog full of patterns and tutorials, to being a portfolio of my broad work, a promotional tool, to becoming a task on the to-do list of the thing I "should", but didn't necessarily want to, do.

Its that last evolution that I found myself in recently.  Dutifully I would write "Blog" on my daily task list, never quite making eye contact with it and hoping inspiration would strike so that it would feel less like a chore.  From the sparseness of posts the last few months, you can see how successful that was. 

There is a certain irony to the burden that blogging became - I purposefully  have never taken on sponsored content precisely because I never wanted the blog to feel like work - but it still did.  My head was filled with all of the shoulds "You should set up a regular schedule" "You should analyse your traffic to see what your most popular posts are" "You should create how-tos and tutorials to bring traffic" etc etc.  All of those things are undoubtably true, but the truth is having 100s of thousands of visitors a month is great, but it is nothing if you just can't face getting yourself to the computer to write.

And so, I took some time off.  I laid in bed and drank tea. I planned our veg garden. I baked up a storm. I played Uno with the kids. I hung out with friends. I worked 9-4 three days a week and only did work that would fit in that time. I spent endless hours watching swimming lessons. I spent A LOT of time on Instagram. I even let my domain expire, thinking I would just quietly let Slugs pass into the night.

And then yesterday, I stumbled across one of my favourite Mary Oliver quotes:

"Instructions for living a life. 
Pay attention. 
Be astonished. 
Tell about it." 
— Mary Oliver

I used to cite this as my blog mission's statement - forgotten somehow in endless redesigns. With its rediscovery, I found myself back at my desk thinking of all of the stories I want to tell and the love letters to my family I want to write. 

In the last 9 years, blogging has changed beyond anything I could have imagined.  In those early days, most of the blogs I read told stories of our families or shared our makes with other like-minded folks.  We have moved into a world of aspirational lifestyles, DIYs and curated feeds - things I love, but very different from the personal tales of life that used to fill my reader. And as much as I love to read them, I have come to recognise that those kinds are posts are not something I do particularly well or enjoy creating.

They say that comparison is the thief of joy - and for me this is so painfully true.  Not because I get wrapped up in what other people have or are doing, but because I feel like there are things I "should" be doing. I try for awhile, then get so fed up, everything stops.

I feel like I should end this post with announcing grand plans of what is to come in this space for the next 9 years, but the truth is, I have no idea. There will be posts or there won't. There will be photos. There will probably be pie and gardens and the adventures of three not so little people. And making, always making.