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Homestead Progress: Fall + Winter

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This is our second installation of our family's progress to a more low impact and aligned lifestyle - for our first update on our spring and summer in 2023, check out this blog post here.

The fall and winter bring a nice slow down to our family in terms of simplifying what we are working on outside of our home. Early fall was busy with bringing our garden in and preparing the food we collected there and at some local markets and farms, but generally after that things quiet down. The chickens and bees were put to bed for the winter, the tools put away, and some rest happened! That is, outside of Harlowe Green, which gets busier for the holiday season, so for me, I rested from January onward and slowed down some of the time I was putting in at work as well.

In getting started with this, I wasn't sure what I was going to write about! But in reflecting, I've pieced together all of the mini projects that are happening in order to make this next season a great one.

Building Better Life Habits in anticipation of Summer

So, if you've read our blog much or followed along in our social stories, you'll know that last summer was an intense period of climate anxiety for me. The wildfires were intense and I didn't feel like I got a break from constant climate grief and anxiety until later on in the year. I know that this summer will be no different in terms of the heat, drought and fires. The winter we've had in Ontario has been very telling - while it has been colder and clearer in the air, month after month we've broken records for warm temperatures. There was a limited amount of snow, few very cold spells, and extreme shifts up and down in our temperatures with a lot of freezing and thawing. Luckily, our bee hives have lasted through this (so far, it is just the end of March and potentially we can expect some more shifts), but I have to wonder how it affects the hibernation periods of the flora and fauna around us.

So, I am recognizing that I need to be better prepared in terms of my resiliency this summer season. The thing about this climate anxiety stuff is that the more shut down we become, the more apathetic - the less the situation can actually improve. So, I am going to focus on an abundance mindset and have been trying to be more in the present moment with the approach that everything I get to do is an act of abundance. I am trying to prioritize eating well, dance (which I teach once a week for my own sort of thing away from work and family), simplifying where I can (this is extremely calming for me!), building some better routines and prioritizing sleep better. One really small new routine that I've managed to build is a gua sha routine after the kids go to bed and I gear down. I put on Apple Spa Music, close my eyes, and do a five minute gua sha on my face. This works so well for helping me reset into a more restful evening, when I find it hardest to make the good choices, like having a soothing hot lemon water (instead of a sugary snack) and going to sleep earlier without looking at a screen for a period of time before I do that. I know these habits will help me be a better mom, wannabe homesteader, and refillery owner during a tougher time.

Garden Update

While the garden slept, we were planning! This winter my partner built a little cold frame out of an old basement window and some scrap lumber. At the end of the summer, we planted some spinach and then put the cold frame over top of it near the end of September. It was a fun project to check it over the winter on our way out to meet the bus in the morning, and not only did the spinach live through the entire winter, but we didn't even water it. I know that there are many out there that use cold frames and harvest greens in a variety of ways over the winter, but this was the first time we've attempted it. I have to say, it seemed incredible to me (having never tried anything like this before) that we could just organize something like this with very little cost and not have to buy greens during the winter and not really have to do much to keep it happy (we can also do other cold weather loving greens like chard, lettuce, and kale). We have some friends with a Nutritower but it has seemed like a big upfront and ongoing expense for seeds/plant food/pellets, and the electricity and upkeep seemed like a lot for the amount that our family could manage around work. So, this was an exciting development.

It started the chats about having a little green house for winter food and escalated to buying some tempered glass off of Marketplace in February. I am lucky that my partner can manage to build things so well and is skilled in that way that we are going to have a little greenhouse later this season. We are working on getting some logs that we can mill in order to keep our costs low, and build raised beds in the bottom of the greenhouse for melons/cucumbers in the summer and greens in the winter.

We also had some offcut wood collected from a family member's winter projects that we have been able to build a few more raised beds. My husband also had to replace his tires, so we have four more tires to use for squash raised beds this summer. The winter hours afforded some research on growing plants in a more supportive way, and we have a solid garden plan this year and seeds purchased. We do not have a lot of luck seed starting, so we will buy tomato plants and some cucumbers, but hopefully the greenhouse addition will help next year. 

This year was our first year doing a winter cover crop on our raised beds and garden areas, with the plan to not leave the soil bare. We loved learning more about soil from "Kiss the Ground" and the idea that soil is never bare in nature for a reason sat with us. We want to keep adding to the soil and picked some winter peas. They stayed green all winter! I know that's the point, but in reading more about it, we realized that if we had of established them a little sooner, and let them grow some more shoots, we could also be eating the shoots throughout the winter season. This added to the thoughts we have in helping us shift away from the grocery store in the winter, when that seems much more difficult.

The Pressure Canner

This past season we also invested in a pressure canner. The canner was a bit of a project of my partner's as he really wants to add that to our summer canning routine in order to have more shelf stable foods. This makes sense also, because our hand-me-down freezer is starting to really wear out and probably needs a repair based on what it is doing. I have yet to really look into this, so if you have any suggestions of a good book or website, please share!

The Bidet x2

We really dug into the bidet experience and family cloth. This is exceptional for me because I didn't think I would ever do something like this. It for sure adds another layer to being self sufficient and helping us figure out how to limit our impact even further on forests that are really being stressed right now. We watched a documentary from the David Suzuki Foundation on the history of paper in Canada and it motivated me even further. Washing really didn't take that long to shift as we are already doing laundry, so I am glad to be saving that money and not have to keep *just one more thing* in my head to buy and keep stock of, that's for sure! We grabbed a second bidet off of Marketplace for our downstairs washroom and keep toilet paper in place for guests or anyone that wants it instead. I have to thank some key ladies in my life for making this switch seem more normal and not that difficult, especially Leanne that works in the shop (thank you!).

Family Events

For our family events this year, I found that slowing our lifestyle down and simplifying has really helped me to be more intentional about what we are gifting. We asked our family up front (the ones that are on my side of the family, that is, as I do feel more comfy asking them) about thrifted gifts and they were very happy about that! We thrift brand new snowshoes, expensive dance wear, perfect books, Lego sets, and more for our Christmas gifts. We bought very little new, and we were able to buy from small businesses downtown with what we were purchasing. The simpler Christmas felt a lot better as the mom who organizes it, and I didn't have a million things to manage and throw away afterwards. We even had some family use reusable cloths and pillowcases to wrap our boys gifts (who absolutely do not care what the wrapping looks like) and I was grateful that although others may not want to make those shifts, they were respecting what we are trying to move towards. 

For Halloween this year, I was also inspired by Jess of Buddy Pea Farm (a suburban farm in Kingston) and handed out some wildflower seeds we saved from our pollinator garden spaces with some Nerds (our favourite option for plastic free and palm oil free candy). Every year it gets a little easier to figure out how to do things differently, and things are really starting to feel more aligned with how we are consuming and living!

Learning to Cook Differently

Learning to actually use the food we preserved was a second step of this process that I didn't really anticipate or think about before the whole project. It is nutty how invested we are to keeping our routines and habits, and what I used to buy at the grocery store needed to be shifted and worked on a bit. I had to figure out a few recipes with the types of foods I had, and learn some simple ways to manage the foods I had. It was basically a second part of the process, and I had to do just as much Googling as I did when I was trying to figure out how to preserve the foods the best way, plant them, and harvest them! We found that roasting our frozen carrots with a dollop of honey and some garlic powder was amazing, and adding frozen broccoli to pasta on the stove was a hit with the kids. I started roasting sweet potato (which lasted a lot better in our basement than the white potatoes, they only made it to February) or potatoes in abundance and we could add it to our eggs, a wrap, a salad, as a side - you name it! I got better with noticing what I wasn't eating out of the freezer and shelves and figuring out how to shift that. I definitely eat a lot more vegetables now and I can see better how much we would need to grow and put away to last a whole winter. I know that it will take me quite some time to build up to actually doing that myself, and that we need to rely on some other farms to be able to do that, but it was a great project that just keeps moving forward with the learning.

I also have been working on eating more beans and legumes in place of the dairy proteins I usually rely on as a vegetarian. This is partly because I had to do a stint of antibiotics (and my IBS really goes a bit nuts with the dairy), partly because I am trying to eat more beans as a means of cheaper, quality whole food proteins, and also because I have been inspired by working with Riley in our shop! Riley shared some great accounts with us (my favourite is Gigi Goes Vegan on Insta) and figuring out how to actually use these things has been fun. I have had some flops (for example, I made a peanut butter chocolate chickpea breakfast cookie for the boys that they hated) but then I have had some wins that make my life easier and were extremely healthy (Big Mac wraps with Beyond Beef and chickpea smash salad). My boys and partner eat meat (although we do raise it or buy it from people raising it in a way that we feel is very harmonious with improving ecosystems instead of exacerbating things) but to diversify what we are doing really has been a good way to learn and grow.

We can really see how the meat chickens have regenerated our sandy soils. These sections of grass were greener long into the winter and are the first to come back this March.

Things that Went Poorly

One thing that hasn't felt that great is leaving the leaves on our lawn. I have talked and written about this before, but it just feels like such a mess, especially now that the snow has left (and really wasn't present for the full time). I know this is just a societal norm thing, and not really authentic to the life and home I want to have, but I think this one runs deep for me and will take a bit of mental unlearning. My family's farm won beautification awards when I was a child, and we put a lot of time and energy into the gardens and property, so I think it's just one of those deep childhood things, and I do like a visually neat look just in general. I haven't done much with the leaves so it is more of a mental thing, especially because I do have customers come by to the home shop, and people involved with our children that come by and may not necessarily understand what we are doing. I keep telling myself that the insect increase in the summer will make me feel a lot less anxious, but I am very ready to get this tidied up for the summer and some veggies growing.

Really not loving this, but leaving it and really wishing it was the norm! We will rake and tidy areas that were snowploughed as any insects overwintering there would likely not still be there, so I will focus on what I can do!

Another thing that has gone a bit poorly for our family is just general anticipation of the future. I am finding it very difficult as a parent of little boys to just enjoy life and the moments we have together in tandem with the uncertainty that we face for both the environment, my boys' futures, but also for small business. We watched so many friends' businesses close this past year, and while Harlowe Green is doing okay, it really showed us that this doesn't mean anything. Going into and building up an independent business is already a risk to begin with, and then trying to figure out and mentally cope with the pandemic business-wise, but it feels like there isn't much light at the end of the tunnel right now. Things can change so fast in a few months, and we also saw a spike in the increase with which everything is warming over the winter, so it feels like a lot is shifting quickly. I am finding it hard not to feel a lot of pressure and just be present. I know that it is important for me to keep going, because shifting to a newer type of work wouldn't ease the state of the environment more than what I am working on now. However, as a parent, I am wanting some relief from the environmental sphere worries and the small business worries just enough to get back going forth more confidently, but it doesn't really ease up. I generally feel quite alone and isolated in most of the areas and circles that our family is in, as most people I know are overwhelmed with the state of how things are and are generally ignoring and going about business as usual. We even had one friend tell us that if they just ignore everything (the news, Gaza, climate change, etc.) they have a much better life (but this also bothered me for many weeks later in realizing that this is extremely problematic for any of those issues to go away). So, it can be tough living against the grain and feeling like such an odd person, trying to break free from capitalism instead of just enjoying the sleepiness of it. I know I need to build my network and spend time with those that are also living a bit more like the house is on fire, and that resiliency in doing something authentically and your own way will build over time and with age, but it can get awful isolating and tiring as well. I can find myself wondering if I am not included in things because of how I visibly communicate my difference and online, or if my children will be left out, or if living authentically means I'll be doing that just with our family and then other times I know I'm exactly on the right path and to keep going. At the end of the day, I always keep going, but it can be a lot.

Over the past few months I have also been thrift reselling so that we can buy a family camper so that I can build in some moments of relief this summer, or build some family memories where we are hopefully removed from work and the future for some smaller pockets of time. Shifting to doing some reselling and some consulting/speaking work has been good for me to diversify how our family is doing things in the face of all this uncertainty, but quite honestly I do end up looking at Indeed once a month when the stress of the future gets to be too much! I hope that if you're experiencing worries for the future that we can work together on building some better habits to manage this stress. I reached out on my social network to find some like minded pals to do some canning and berry picking (etc) together this summer, and I think that will be very good for me. I always advocate for taking action in building more resilience and projects to decrease impact instead of stagnating and becoming apathetic and hopeless, so I have to make sure I'm actually doing that myself, too.

I urge you, if you've made it this far into the post and have the ability, to please look at where you can stop buying from companies that are not prioritizing our children's futures with their practices and find a small business that is working on this. I think the general public is aware of the state of small business in Ontario (and everywhere) but it is a lot of fear right now for the future just being billionaire led and that's just terrifying for the average person. As well, if you're unable to take steps right now to shift your individual impact, I urge you to make sure you are voting and participating in collective action to combat things (which is generally free, and there are many ways to decrease your impact without spending money, too!). To end it on a positive note, though, I am looking forward to Earth Day celebrations this coming month and seeing the hope and positivity that comes through with that!

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