Posts in Life at the Farm
A Watched Udder

We are currently on udder watch. Three weeks after we finished lambing and 2 weeks after we were told she was due, Petunia has finally started showing signs that a calf is on its way.

I have to say that I am not sure there has ever been a back end of a cow that has been under so much scrutiny. At least once, if not twice a day, Kevin or I would spend a good 10 minutes examining her udders, trying to determine if any perceived change in udder meant we were hitting "go time". We had lengthy conversations about it. Brought out cattle farming friends. Posted on the internet. 

In the normal way of things, you have a general idea of due dates for your animals. With sheep and goats, you make a note of when the boy was put in with them and work back from there. Cows would be the same, or if you used AI, you would have a set date. The way Petunia came to us, a reject from the industrial milk industry, we weren't exact on dates. She didn't like the automatic milkers that are used in most parlours around here and had been sent out to pasture rather than be in the regimented system of breeding and milking that governs most dairy cows. She came to us after having been moved from pillar to post and back again, pregnant (we hoped) but without the exact dates of when tiny hooves would hit the pavement.

We were told to watch for a calf in June, which of course meant we started watching from May...and nothing. So we kept watching and waiting and hoping. We spent so much time watching that we sort of forgot what we were watching for. 

So when she did start "bagging up" we were hit with the blind panic that accompanies most of our less than thought through endeavours - HOLY SMOKES we are going to have a calf! And we will need to milk Petunia!! If you need me, I will be buried under a pile of cow keeping and cheesemaking books.

Seasonal Opulence

We have hit the busiest period of the year here. Our Soays lambed in the last week or so, the cow is due any day, the polytunnel is looking more jungle like at every moment, we are getting our wool ready to go off to the mill next month, we have two retreats in the next 2 weeks and the chanterelles are out in our secret spot! Oh and as soon as I send this, Kevin and I are off to Ellis' primary school leaving ceremony!!!!! When we were in the depths of winter and I was bored out of my mind, I was looking forward to this busy period, but now that it is here, I am convinced I have some sort of seasonal frenzy condition. At moments, there is an impending panic that invades the corners of my mind - "BUT WHAT IF WE MISS ALL THE ELDERFLOWER AND DON'T MAKE ENOUGH CORDIAL FOR THE YEAR!" or "I HAVEN'T BEEN SWIMMING IN TWO DAYS AND IT MAY NOT BE SUNNY AGAIN FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR!" There is a pressure, partially influenced by living in a place that isn't known for summery summers, to make the most of every moment of good weather and its produce.

Fortunately though, the busyness created by the season is also the thing that keeps us moving forward and not dwelling too much on any missed opportunities. The elderflower has to wait, as the little lamb whose mother isn't interested in mothering takes first priority. Watering the polytunnel is more pressing than the lake, and it's a heck of a lot warmer as well. I am working on accepting the abundance on offer this time of year and letting go of all of the things I can't get around to doing. Its hard, but I know I will be bored in the depths of winter and craving this chaotic opulence soon and I would rather enjoy it than let it pass me by in a panic.

Ok, I am off to go check on my polytunnel and the lambs and bake a cake and maybe grab some elderflowers on my way past before we head out to watch my first baby leave primary school!!! Do you think a full box of kleenex is enough for the leaving ceremony or should I bring two?

Meet Petunia the Jersey Cow

There aren’t many reasons for my birth state of Iowa to pop up on the news over here in Scotland. While us locals know it for many things, it tends to get narrowed down to the birthplace of James T. Kirk and Bill Bryson, the Bridges of Madison County, the Iowa Primary for the US presidential election and confused with both Idaho and Ohio. Occasionally, we get in the paper for other things, but if it is August, it usually has to do with the Iowa State Fair and its dubious fair food. A few years ago, it was the deep fried butter on a stick that became a talking point on these shores. Oh yes, you read that right. Deep fried butter. This gimmick really overshadowed the long standing and much more respectable Iowa State Fair tradition of butter carving. For over 100 years, Iowa has upheld the traditional display of the butter cow in the agricultural building.

Long story short, the love of butter runs deep in this Iowa girl. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that while goats are great for cheese and milk, cream and butter are a bit of a non starter (at least not without a lot of effort) for milking goats. So plans were hatched and last week saw the arrival of our own butter maker - in the form of one Jersey cow named Petunia.

She is four years old and has the longest eyelashes ever. She has arrived to us pregnany and we expect milk and butter and cream and mozzarella and a calf in June. Kevin, historically afraid of cows, is completely smitten.

We’ve put together a wee video all about her and I will keep you updated on the butter.

The To Do List

I'm writing to you from week 2 of the school year. The excitement and euphoria of week one has worn off and I am on my 4th cup of coffee, rushing through a mammoth to-do list and watching the clock until I have to drop what I am doing and run down the road to collect the children. Last week, those 6 hours a day when they were safely at school seemed to stretch into be an almost obscene amount of time to work in. I blasted through the work, even scheduling in naps, giddy with the sheer luxury of working without three children constantly needing feeding/entertaining/a fight breaking up/ feeding again. This week, I am dragging myself through the day and the list - tired already from the routine of getting kids out the door in the morning and feeling the squeeze of 'only' having 6 hours to do all the things. 

No matter how I feel about it though, that to do list still needs to get done. My mantra on these days where it seems like I am wading through it all is simply to "Turn up and do the work". There is no productivity app, no life hack, no cute acronym for achievement, just showing up, rolling up my sleeves, doing what needs to be done and forgiving myself if my list was bigger than I could manage that day.

I am learning that this last point is simply a reality of this 'life in the making' that we lead...the list will always be too big. We will always cross one thing off, only for 3 more to be added to the bottom.  As someone who loves a blank page to start from, to say I find the unending nature of our life 'hard' is an understatement.  But I am learning to develop the vision that allows me to see the things we have done, not just the things that lie unfinished. 

The Middle of Everywhere
first fleece.jpg

The road that comes up to the farm is 1.5 miles long.  The first half mile has 4 houses and a holiday cottage along it, but the last mile is empty and straight, stopping at a dead end at our gate. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten a call from a visitor, asking if they are on the right track as that last mile seems to stretch on forever. 

When we first moved out here, a neighbour expressed concern about me being here alone all day every day "I worry about you being alone way out there. Don't you get lonely?" I laughed. When we first moved here I had envisioned working all day in my PJs, not seeing anyone for days and building a reputation for myself as the Recluse of Gartur.  However, the truth is that rarely a day goes by that someone doesn't pop in, come for a visit, spend a night, take a class, drop something/some child off, pick something up, take a look around or stay for a meal. And despite my initial desires for the kind of isolation that meant I never had to wear a bra or brush my hair, the reality of a bustling homestead makes my heart so full. Because while I wouldn't have chosen this jam-packed life for myself in the past, the truth is that in the busyness of every day life I seem to have found my thing. 

In pretty much every self help book, there always seems to be an exercise where you imagine your perfect day - mine was always reading in bed with coffee, but now when I close my eyes I see friends and family around my old battered table, eating food from the farm, laughing together. We fill the house with people - from guests to workshop participants, family and friends.  This summer we have so many people staying that the tent has made a permanent feature in the garden so we can squeeze them all in. There is always something going on - extra kids building forts in the playroom, friend and family working at the kitchen table, Kevin giving goat milking demonstrations to anyone that asks. It catches me off guard some times, how different life is from what I imagined, but not even that, just how happy it makes me. 

And with this realisation, we have changed the farm to suit - we are putting the finishing on the studio this week to seat 16 and the refurbished dye studio fits 24. So, I've had to retire the idea of the Recluse of Gartur and instead am adopting the title of Party Director. 

10 Things To Do (Now That The Goat Ate My Garden)

Last Thursday, we said goodbye to Freya the goat. She and her daughter Cinnamon were taken to live in a field with cows to keep a billy goat company on a lovely hill farm in the Ochil Hills. In the lead up to her going, I did wonder if I would feel sad. She'd been with us for 2 years, since she was 8 weeks old. I was always her favourite...she would lean up against me for scratches, sniff my pockets for the biscuits I knew she liked and always kept tucked away for her. 

As she pulled away, rather than regret, I felt that she had gone one day late. You see, the day before she ate the entire contents of my veg garden.  In the blink of an eye, 3 goats (freya and het two kids) pushed open the garage door, ripped up 2 meters of chicken wire and inhaled a year's worth of dahlias, peas, yarrow, kale, lettuce, beans, pumpkins, comfrey and lupins. I am not going to lie, I cried angry hot tears and used more swear words than I even knew I knew.

Once the red mist of anger cleared, I decided to see it as an opportunity. Rather than mope away the rest of the summer, I put pen to paper to make a list of everything I was going to do with this gift of time I'd been given

This summer, I am going to:
1. Learn the ukulele.
2. Go wild swimming and not feel guilty I should be weeding.
3. Read the stack of books I have by my bedside table and not feel guilty I should be putting up garden produce. So far, I have read Skinful of Shadowsand the Beekeepers Lament (both excellent) and have started the Immortalists.
4. Pick wild berries and not feel guilty that I have veg just sitting in the garden waiting to be harvested.
5. Repaint and floor the studio, kitchen, kids' rooms and playroom.
6. Watch TV and not feel like a lazy slob who neglects their garden.
7. Replant my front garden and window boxes with confidence that they won't get eaten.
8. Really dig deep into my foraging skills to make up for the veg they ate.
9. Have clean fingernails for the first time since March.
10. Explore the 11.2 million ways to eat courgettes...because they were the only plant that wasn't eaten.

The Weight of Responsibility
bees at gartur

I wasn't going to add any more animals to the farm, so I added 10,000

We all sat at the front door from 10:55am.  Our postman, Jim, has always been a punctual sort of fellow and we can set the clock by his 11:10am arrival on the farm. The waiting isn't uncommon  - in turns we have all been known to watch the windows for our much awaited deliveries from the back of his red van - for me, cookbooks and yarn, for Kevin  - new saws and blades for carving and the kids seem to forever be waiting for a package from Grammie. 

That day, though, we were all waiting together, guessing at every passing sound if it was Jim bringing us our much anticipated parcel. Our 15 minute wait dragged on for what seemed like ever until finally, the crunch of tyres on the drive were his.  He climbed out of his cab and slid open the side door as we stood back and watched him pull out the small white box marked "Highland Bees".  We laughed about how his job was never dull, chatted about our plans for honey and he put his name down for the first jar.

As he handed me the box, I was struck by the weight of it.  In retrospect, I don't know what I expected from 10k+ honey bees, their brood, frames and honey, but I definitely expected it to be lighter.  The physical weight aside, there was something else heavy about the box...

I have been responsible for lives other than my own for the last 11.5 years.  I remember the moment the tiny 5lb baby Ellis was placed in my arms and the following realisation that his life was literally in my hands.  I thought there must be some mistake - how could I be in charge of such an important thing, I had barely kept a houseplant alive in the previous 27 years. 

Two more children, a dog, 3 cats, 5 goats, 17 sheep, 16 chickens, 3 geese, 5 ducks, 2 turkeys and a peacock later, you'd think that I would be well used to the role of caretaker, but there was something different this time and it wasn't the sheer number of lives contained therein. Bees aren't like the hobby sheep I keep to cut the grass that could as easily be done by the mower or the goats I milk for cheese that I can find in shops, there is something a bit more urgent about stewarding these little lives that simply wouldn't exist without beekeepers.

And just like those early days with my other babies, I keep checking that they are ok - watching them come in and out of the hive, just like I had watched little chests rise and fall in their sleep, leaving them for longer in between visits, trusting that they will be OK. 

Goatus Interruptus

Goats seemed like such a good idea...

Earlier this week, a friend shared a comment she'd seen about Instagram stories. The poster was recommending her favourite accounts and added me to that list (thank you, if it was you!!) and writing that I speak to the camera well but always seem to be looking for my goats. 

While I can't particularly comment on the first bit, the latter is not actually true, because I don't really have to look for the goats any more. If they aren't in their field, I simply need to consider where in the vicinity they could get into the most trouble and there they will be.  I hear our neighbouring farmer driving up? Without a doubt, they will be in his field grazing with his cows. Next door's holiday cottage door is open? They will be in the kitchen eating the holiday maker's dinner (true story). Have I bought new houseplants that day?  Unquestionably they will have broken into the house to eat them. While the sheep just escape, the goats plot.  

On Thursday morning, I woke up early to water the garden before the heat of the day. As I turned the corner to the veg plot, I saw 5 goats happily munching away at my peas, dahlias and raspberry bushes.  They looked up at me quite innocently as I screamed at them to get the *&^* out of my garden, unperturbed by my flailing arms, tears and cuss words. If goats could wear facial expressions, theirs was one of utter if they couldn't believe I hadn't grown the whole garden just for them.

Of course I threatened all sorts of ends they would meet (meat), as I led them out into their field.  Curry was mentioned, as was a rug or 5.  I locked the door behind them and stomped off back to the house to compose myself with coffee and breakfast.

That breakfast was an omlette - eggs from the hens, spinach from the garden and the best feta you will ever eat, made from the milk of those horned ravagers of vegetable patches.  I softened by bite one and by bite five, I sort of forgot why I had ever been mad at them in the first place. The power of a good cheese.

The Power of Doing it Yourself

A few months ago, Scotland came to a standstill.

The "beast from the east" came and dumped snow upon our normally green land, then blew it into drifts large enough to grind the motorways to a standstill and leave most of us able only to travel for as far as we could walk safely.

Living at the end of a 1.5 mile single track road, we expect to spend some part of the winter cut off and prepare accordingly, keeping a couple of dairy goats and plenty of flour on hand so at the very least we can have bread and cheese (I won't go into the fact that we'd under prepared without enough coffee and tonic water to get through - rookie mistake, Goldin), but my uncharacteristically Facebook timeline was filled with my more urban friends who could make it out of their homes and to the shops only to find them empty of bread. Scotland had run out. 

A few weeks previously, I'd run my first Sourdough Bread making workshop. Our informal class had taught a handful of people the skills necessary to make bread with the most basic ingredients - flour, water, salt - in their own homes. As the majority of my timeline filled with folks mourning their lack of toast, these students were posting pictures of their homemade bread.

I count that as one of my best moments in my working life. Of course, not that the country had come to a standstill or that people couldn't get out of their homes to get basic necessities, but that some how in a world where we are so dependent on systems that don't always serve us, I had given a handful of people the skills to do it themselves and provide for their families.

The times that I have felt most creative and then empowered are those where I have HAD to be creative. Maybe we didn't have enough money to buy a finished product or couldn't find something we were looking for and we had to make it ourselves. I started baking because we moved too far out and my love of a baked good wasn't enough to get me to drive the 20 minutes to the nearest cafe. I had to figure out how to do it myself on a budget that ensured we could continue to pay the rent. And once you get into that mindset, its addictive.  I look around at all of the things that need to be done in our kitchen or around the farm and I instantly start singing "I Can Do That" from A Chorus Line**.

Making from scratch, figuring things out, embedding creativity into the most mundane things, taking back a tiny bit of power in a world that wants us to hand it over with our cash...yep, pretty much the reason I get out of bed every morning. Well, that and coffee. 

**In our next instalment, Kevin lists the DIY projects that fall into the "Just Because You CAN, Doesn't Mean You Should" category. ;) 

I've put my favourite sourdough recipe on the blog, if you fancy giving it a go. If you don't have a starter, I recommend this method, or you can always buy one from the shop.

I also have spaces available on my upcoming sourdough workshops!!  

Life at the End of The Road

I am pretty sure I have told you before that our house sits at the end of a 1.5mile track.  We are the only ones who live this far down, with our nearest neighbours just over a mile back towards the main road.  99% of the time, this isolation is so welcome.  There is nothing quite like heading up the track after travelling for work and knowing that I won't see anyone but my family until I make my way back down the road.  And then there is that other 1% of the time - when the milk runs out or someone is sick and the outside world can't come fast enough...

Or when it snows.  In our 4 years in this house, we have only been properly snowed in once before this year. It was for about 24 hours and the snow melted quickly and we were released. For 6 days last week, the Beast from the East kept us firmly indoors and cut off from civilisation.  Our road made impassable by about a quarter mile of drifting snow.  Fortunately, I shop like the apocalypse is coming and with a dairy goat and the fact we make our own bread, supply wise we were ok. It was more the constant presence of my family that had me clawing at the door and imagining a Shining type situation.  Fortunately, we were released from our snow bound prison before I started writing Red Rum on anything. 

However, a week on life has mostly returned to normal.  The storm began and ended in time with both of our goats kidding.  Freya, our Toggenburg had two bouncing (and I mean BOUNCING) kids and, sadly, Dasher, our Saanen, lost her singleton buckling to dystocia (getting stuck).  We've had to watch D like a hawk, so rather than heralding the snow melt with getting stuck into garden tasks like planting seeds, we've spent most of the last week walking back and forth to the barn.

In between those moments, we have been dreaming about the seasons ahead. We've had a number of really successful fermentation and sourdough workshops and have planned a series of foraging and feasting days as I simply can't wait to get back into my normal routine of walking the dog, basket in hand, looking for that night's dinner and I thought it would be fun to take 10 or so people with me!!

19th January 2018

Its just gone 7am.  I've thrown Kevin's oversized lumberjack shirt and boots over my pyjamas to make the 8 steps to the studio.  My coffee has settled to the perfect lukewarm temperature and I am squeezing in a few precious moments of writing before I begin the daily ritual of breakfast/chores/school run.

This week has been exactly what I needed.  The first week since the holidays where our familiar routines seemed to fall into place - work/school/farm all bustling along at exactly the right speed. We hosted our first workshop of the year on Saturday, which was so wonderful and I feel like the positive energy of that has propelled us along all week (plus workshop leftovers are the best leftovers to start the week). Even little Theo, whose reluctance to leave my side and go to school has been the dominating force in our mornings, seems to have decided that school isn't that bad after all and I have been able to wave him off at the bus stop two days in a row.

I have to admit that I am always a fan of January for precisely these moments - when the excitement of the holidays is behind us and we settle back into our little habits and routines - with the added dose of New Year's reflection. There has been a lot of the latter, being the sucker I am for resolutions, but also coming out of a challenging year for work and family life - with 2 new ventures (workshops and air bnb), a thriving Crochet Project, a new flock of sheep and the tiny seeds of a long awaited yarn line they signify. With the addition of some personal problems that effected us deeply, the last half of 2017 felt overwhelming. So, I head into this year feeling I need to at least to attempt to future proof our lives as much as humanly possible. Being much more intentional with our time and money and growing our businesses to support us and toying with some big questions about where we go from here- with some big questions like should I rename Slugs on the Refrigerator? (turns out it's not a great name for a workshop venue! ha!) to smaller ones like which homemade dishwasher soap recipe actually works (I'll let you know).

Fortunately for the over thinker in me, there isn't much time for reflection with a herd of sheep hell bent on getting into my neighbour's field, 2 pregnant goats who are eating me out of house and home, a peacock and a chicken who believe they should live in the kitchen, an attack turkey and the rest of the menagerie.

And the school run...there always seems to be a school run! 

Have a wonderful weekend!! I will be:

Reading:: Playing Big by Tara Mohr and Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz

Making:: Beeswax Wraps and Sourdough Bagels (and dishwasher tablets)


12th January 2018

If there was a word to describe this week, it would probably be full. Or chaos. Or “pretty much normal” because chaotically full and full of chaos seem to be our new normal. 

Recently, I've felt thrown back into the early days of blogging and designing when the kids were little and I woke up crazy early to work before the rest of the house woke up and swept me up in the raging tide of family life. Some of this is motivated by my renewed energy to get shit done and starting fresh in the new year. However, a lot of it is just that every other moment seems to be full, so getting up earlier seems my only option.

The truth is, I thrive on busyness.  I am at my best when my days are full and my over analytical brain can't engage and I just have to do. I think my most happy days are when I haven't sat down all day - doing the mix of farm, work and family tasks that seem to expand to fill every moment of time available.

There is one caveat to this.  The control freak in me hates when things don't go to plan. It is a terrible character flaw that my most beloved Kevin will tell you has caused more fights in our 20 some years together than any other thing. And I have learned recently that nothing throws a spanner in the works like animals. 

Because in amongst the added work of busy deadlines, back to school angst and January financial juggling is a farm yard of animals hell bent on escaping/breaking into the feed store/getting into the house/developing health concerns/keeling over dead. You know how lessons in your life come back again and again until you learn them? Smallholding is that lesson in adaptability biting me in the backside on a daily basis.

So please excuse me for the short blog post today, because the carefully carved out hour I had to  tell you the tale of my week has been cut in half by 9 sheep who will not stay in their field and have wandered half a mile away, a goat who may be giving birth any day, chickens that knocked over two bags of feed outside the front door, a peacock who got into the studio, a dog that seems to have developed some sort of allergy to everything and a cat who left me just the innards of a mouse on the living room floor.

Full of chaos, chaotically full. Wouldn't change it...well, mostly. 

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. 

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!!

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. 

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...

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.


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.

Is, Was and Will Be

I am sitting down at the computer for the first time in over 3 weeks. The kids took over the space over the Winter break to play minecraft and the room smells like salt and vinegar crisps and chocolate milk. I've had to push aside roughly 75 photocopies Georgia made of various items of clothing in the copier and I found Theo's shoes we looked for all throughout the break. I found the wrappers of a box of chocolates that went missing last week and sticky labels have been stuck on every item with Georgia obviously practicing her writing skills. 

I feel like I should be annoyed with them, but am not because the office's neglect sort of parallels how I have felt over the last few months about outward expression of the mental neglect this space has had. 

2015 was a strange year.  It started, like so many things do, with good the intention to "Tend" my life, my garden, my business, but within days I found myself back in my usual pattern of over work, anxiousness, careening towards (and often missing) deadlines and generally not taking care of anything, especially myself. The kids lived on a diet of beans on toast and frozen pizza and I felt like all I did was fail everyone, at everything. I lived with near-constant anxiety attacks, where even thinking the word "anxiety" would drain the blood from my hands and send my heart pounding. I had chased big business dreams for so long that I lost sight of what I really wanted.

Miraculously, change happened. I took charge, cut back over half of my work, slowed down, got help. The last few months have mostly been about learning how to run my life on something other than pure adrenaline - a long slow process about finding motivation from something other than panic and fear. 

And just like that it is 2016 and for the first time in a long time, I feel tentatively hopeful that I can find the balance that I have sought for so long. Rather than ambitions that are big, this year it is the small things I want to focus on. Enjoying Theo's last few months at home before school, seeing the sea more often, cooking, growing, making, spending time with Kevin, being outside, crocheting and working with Joanne, building a sustainable business.

In many ways, I feel like all I have done is come full circle, back to doing the things I love and that sustain us, capturing the journey on the way. 

I am off now to round up the kids, dogs and the last of this amazing clementine cake for a morning out, maybe at the sea, maybe in the woods. 

“As the years pass, I am coming more and more to understand that it is the common, everyday blessings of our common everyday lives for which we should be particularly grateful. They are the things that fill our lives with comfort and our hearts with gladness -- just the pure air to breathe and the strength to breath it; just warmth and shelter and home folks; just plain food that gives us strength; the bright sunshine on a cold day; and a cool breeze when the day is warm.” 
-Laura Ingalls Wilder