Community Philosphy Blog and Library

HOMEGROWN Life: The Family That Crafts Together Laughs Together

 

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-MAGENTAIf you’re anything like me, this time of the year has crept up on you like frost in a field: slow and inevitable yet somehow invisible and surprising.

On my homestead, I’ve spent days making pounds of chili and pasta and packing soups and sweets for my hunter to take along with him to his camp. I’m hoping this pays dividends, and he brings home plenty for the freezer. I’ve been planning the garden again and hauling and chopping firewood. I had the chickens processed before winter and put them up in the freezer, ready to provide a warm meal after a cold day. Despite this being a season for family, I wasn’t feeling like I was getting a lot of time with the ones closest to me: my kids!

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Weekdays are so robotic lately, reviewing stacks of homework and trying to make sense of fourth grade math. By the time we’ve sifted through the sea of confusion and then dinner, it’s bedtime. So I was determined to hold on to this past weekend with a death grip. We were going to make stuff, listen to Burl Ives sing “Silver and Gold,” and RELAX—and we were going to do it together!

Because this has been a year of tumult and change for us, I wanted to put together two holiday crafts I’m calling Grateful Globes and Pride Journals. For the first, I lugged out the acrylic paints, Mod Podge (plain, silver, and gold), brushes, and clear glass Christmas balls that I got at a craft store. I laid down some newspaper and gave my kids intentionally loose instructions: Make a globe that represents you and your year. Include what you’re grateful for now or what you’d like to remember in the future.

grateful-globes2For the next couple of hours, the kids diligently discussed, clipped, and glued their way towards truly personalized Christmas ornaments. They spent time pouring over an old dictionary to talk about words that encompassed these past months, what they hope to accomplish in the next year, and what they hold close. I wanted these decorations to be something they could reminisce over years from now, when they’re hanging their own trees with their own children. They succeeded beautifully! We now have a few more heirloom ornaments hanging on our tree, and we’ll repeat this activity again in the coming years.

The best part was listening to the discussion their efforts prompted. My daughter spoke dreamily of our travels as she made a ball celebrating our life on the road; my son selected random hilarious highlights to focus on; and our guest made a wonderful piece commemorating her grades and her dreams for the coming year. It allowed me to peek inside their heads, which can be cluttered and closed off to Mom and Dad. (One tip: Don’t use a pen! The ink bleeds wildly when mixed with Mod Podge. If you want to incorporate text, you might print your grateful list on the computer and use that.)

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My next project is more of a commitment. I firmly believe that every child seeks a parent’s stamp of approval, no matter how old she or he is. (I’m talking to you, 16-year-old!) I also think that, in this day and age, it’s increasingly difficult for our children to hear us, REALLY hear us, when we say we’re proud of them. Frankly, sometimes we stink at saying it. To bridge that gap, I want to make sure I outline something my kids do every week that I’m proud of and that I think makes them better people.

I’ll sit down weekly to write out this one thing. It won’t always be warm and fuzzy. It might be overcoming something that was difficult for them in their everyday lives. Here’s an example: Recently, my son and I were watching a kid’s network that shall remain nameless and that was hosting an awards show, supposedly to honor kids for helping other kids. In the midst of this program aimed at kids, a musical guest sang about a girl having a “booty like an hourglass,” among other comments my boy had no business thinking were acceptable things to say about women.

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This led to a discussion that could have been incredibly awkward but ended up being very open and educational for both of us. It was certainly a moment in which he could’ve blushed and buried his head. I mean, his mom said “booty,” for goodness sake! Instead, we had a talk I was proud of. Into the Pride Journal it goes, along with some dialogue and a mother’s thought on why the moment was important.

My father is one of the rare and lucky few who has a treasure-trove of journals, letters, notes, and recordings left behind by his mother. No matter how many of these tangible memories he has, I’m certain he would always wish for more. Even now, I see him page through the books and glance over her handwriting or quote something she wrote. Her presence is palpable. Thanks to her example, I want to plan ahead and make sure my kids never forget how very proud I am of them and their accomplishments, big and small. At the end of the year, the journals will get packed away with the monthly photo books I’ve started to publish online, waiting for the kids to revisit them many years down the road—or maybe whenever they need to.

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This is an excellent time of year to plan ahead, not just for the new year but for a lifetime. How can you impact others and how can you make sure they know what impact they have on you? Within your family and well beyond it, you hold the capacity to spread far-reaching beauty. How can you start today?

HOMEGROWN-life-michelleMichelle Wire comes from serious pioneer stock: Her great-grandmother literally wrote the book. It’s this legacy, in part, that led Michelle to trade in her high-stress life for a Pennsylvania homestead where she holds down a full-time gig in between raising kids and chickens. 

PHOTOS: MICHELLE WIRE

HOMEGROWN Life: Rachel’s Christmas Crab Cake Recipe

 

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREENEvery Christmas Eve, we have a crab feast at my house. And every year, even when we buy crab to supplement those we catch, we end up with extra. Last year was no exception. My mom always made crab cakes with our leftovers, but since she’s in Ohio, last year was my turn to try my hand at them. Having never made crab cakes before, I was a bit nervous, but in the end I was really happy with them. In the spirit of the season, I’m sharing one of my favorite Christmas recipes so you can make them, too!

Remove all of the crab meat from the shell. Grind the oats up. (I like to use a coffee grinder as it gets the oats fairly fine.) Put everything except the oil in a bowl.

I made the mayonnaise from scratch. I find that the commercial stuff is a bit too strong for using in recipes. I’m not sure what that flavor is, but I don’t much care for it. The homemade mayo is much milder, and you can use whatever’s left to make an aioli to accompany the crab cakes. You can also more hot sauce, if you wish. A teaspoon doesn’t add much heat at all, but it does build on the flavor profile.

When I mixed all this together, I was surprised just how runny the batter was. But because it had egg in it, I knew it would be able to bind well.

Add the oil to a hot skillet over medium-high heat then drop in spoonfuls of the batter. Flatten them with the back of the spoon and cook until browned. Gently flip and continue to cook until the other side is browned.

Pull the crab cakes out and place them on paper towels to drain. Transfer them to a warm oven while you cook the rest of the cakes. Serve the crab cakes with any sauce you prefer. We like to eat ours with more hot sauce!

 

Rachel-Dog-Island-FarmRachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better! 

MORE HOMEGROWN HOLIDAY HELPERS

ALL PHOTOS: RACHEL

 

HOMEGROWN Life: Thank You, Women of Farm Country

 

HOMEGROWN-life-bryce-logo-150x150I sit here in the wake of Thanksgiving, my favorite on the all-too-sparse menu of U.S. holidays, and I really feel the need to express my gratitude. Sure, I could talk about the relative prosperity of modern Americans. I could write about my wonderful family and friends. I could go on and on about my privileges as a college-educated white male.

Instead, I’m going to say a bit about farm women and their role in modern agriculture.

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Farm women deserve all of the credit in the world for the roles they play, as farmers and as workers and providers of income and care. They are critical in all aspects of the family farm. They drive tractors, own land, make meals, tend the younger generations, work off the farm, and more to make sure that family farms keep chugging along. They balance checkbooks, pay bills, bake pies to support community events, and do much of the hard work it takes to keep rural communities churning.

You might be surprised to learn some statistics about the role of women in agriculture. You might not be aware that 30 percent of the nation’s farm operators are women. That share is likely to continue to grow. After all, women tend to live longer than us males—by quite a few years. A lot of women end up owning and controlling a lot of land due to longevity. And they do the work it takes to keep the farm going.

But that’s not the only story. There’s another narrative behind the numbers for a great swath of farm families—those of us who also work off the farm, as we try to keep building our farm assets. Women provide critical family income to help pay the bills and supplement family farm income. They hold down “steady” jobs with benefits like health insurance so our kids can go the doctor when a bone inevitably breaks.

My wife is a kindergarten through high school art teacher at a local rural school. She leaves the house before 7 a.m. every Monday through Friday and gets home right around sundown. Our pay is comparable, but hers provides the regular income and the benefits our family needs to get through the lean times in my farming-and-writing livelihood. She is the real backbone of our family’s economic order.

So, in honor of the women out there in rural America, those who bear and raise the children, those who work hard for paid and unpaid hours, those whose labor is often under-represented and under-respected, I give you a great big cheer of thanks. You are the real heroes of the food system.

It’s times like these when I wish I could summon the courage to be more poetic than I am right now. But just know, I truly appreciate all that you do, Women of Farm Country, to help keep the world turning. Thank you, and may the holiday season be happy and abundant for each of you.

Bryce-OatesBryce Oates is a farmer, a father, a writer, and a conservationist in western Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multigenerational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: to wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig some potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.

PHOTO: ANGIE THOMAS