Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A phenomenal retreat! What a treat!

Our homesteading and wilderness retreat last weekend was PHENOMENAL.  I'm a little speechless about it - not because I feel brain dead at the end of teaching skills for two whole days, but because it's hard to describe the depth of this full immersion experience.

The gist of it is that both Steve and I fell in love with every single one of our eight participants.  There were six people from Canada and a newly married couple who flew in from Texas.  We had one pregnant couple, a mother-and-daughter-duo, and two long-time friends from Vancouver island.

I know people left our homestead Sunday evening inspired, motivated, empowered, nurtured and fed, both on a physical and a soul level.

This year was very different from last year's retreat in October, where a huge storm knocked out power and our ten participants had to stay indoors most of the time due to the high winds.

This time around, people spent plenty of time in the sunshine, picking figs, apples and plums, harvesting cabbage for making sauerkraut, and eating meals on the porch with a chicken or dog in their lap.  In fact, my dog Yoda, who usually is totally focused on only ME, cheated on me by going goo-goo-eyed over one of our female students.

We started out the retreat with Gouda cheesemaking.  Since my goat doesn't give as much milk as usual, because her babies are still nursing on her, and since I sold my second milk goat a few months ago, I wanted to teach people how to make cheese with store bought cow milk.

The milk refused to set up and coagulate, so it didn't go as planned, but everyone assured me they learned a lot anyway, and they got to eat tons of  my different kinds of goat cheese, so they were happy.

What good sports they were!

After that class, I taught how to make goat milk soap and salves.  Part of the class included harvesting calendula flowers in the garden to infuse in olive oil.

Look how beautiful my students are!  Every single one could be a professional model, don't you think?

Back in the kitchen, we mixed oils, lye, goat milk and essential oils, poured this in beautiful molds and then strewed dried calendula petals over everything.

Steve taught some people wilderness skills during this time, and since he didn't take any pictures, we don't have photos to show you.  They learned about making primitive shelter, friction fire, and wilderness survival.

After a full day of learning and teaching, everyone headed down to a magical place by the river, and several brave souls even jumped in.

While they hung out by the water, my sons Luke and Kai helped me clean up  the kitchen and start dinner.  I pride myself in putting on a gourmet meal banquet for our students, including several organic, home-cooked dishes, including plenty of wine.

People loved it, and I loved that they loved it.  It's a win-win, man!

Also, I really want to do a shout-out for my sons.  These guys are so important in running a smooth show here, since Steve and I don't have a team of people to help put on this retreat.  We do it all ourselves, from creating the content to marketing to cleaning the house and homestead to teaching to cooking to cleaning up afterwards.

The next day started with milking goats.  I always love this segment of the retreat, because most people have never squirted warm milk from an animal's teats.  It's a special experience, and there's lots of cheering happening when the milk does flow.

After a generous breakfast and pots of coffee, some of us headed to the goat barn again to learn about raising goats, and others headed to Steve's shop to make their own wooden bows.

My goat people learned everything they need to know to raise goats, including hands-on stuff like trimming hooves.  I also show them videos I filmed on how to disbud (take horns off) and how to help a goat give birth.  It's all graphic stuff, but real-life, important things to know.

After all this, they learned archery and how to shoot their bows, and my group learned how to make sauerkraut.  This involved harvesting all the cabbages from my garden first.

We made 20 pounds of sauerkraut in less than two hours.  It's awesome to have such competent helpers in the kitchen!

I also showed them how to make another fermented super food: beet kvass.  It looks like wine, and we had fun taking some pictures of the Mom and Dad-to-be with this drink.

So there you have it.  I get a little teary looking at these pictures, because we had such fun and adored these people all so much.

One value of offering this retreat is not just in the skills people learn, but in the connection and interactions with one another and us.  There are so many informal chats going on, about our paths, lifestyle, giving inspiration, connecting deeply...  I love it all so much.

If you are are interested in attending next year's retreat, please sign up for our waiting list below.

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Friday, August 18, 2017

Water and shade, and tons and tons of food from the garden

By the time you read this, I'll be teaching people how to make Gouda cheese. Or if you read this in the afternoon, I'll show how to make goat milk soaps and lotions. Eight people are signed up for our homesteading and wilderness retreat, and today, we spent all day cleaning, pre-cooking and getting ready. We're excited to welcome these eager people to our homestead.

I thought I'd write this blog post in between cleaning, because I have to take a break sometime, right?

Before I show you all the fruits of our labor in the garden, let me take you to Larrabee State Park close to Bellingham, where we camped, hiked, kayaked and mountain biked last week. It's beautiful there, but I wouldn't recommend spending the night since trains blow their whistles by there all night long. I didn't get much sleep.

Aside from going to Puget Sound, we also sought out water in other places.  It has been soooooo hot, and for a while, there was lots of haze from the wild fires.  The smoke has lifted, thank goodness.   

Below is a picture of Baker Lake, where we found a rope swing, which promptly hurt Kai's friend when she got some pretty serious rope burn.  Also, we've been floating on the Skagit River, which is much colder than Baker Lake or the Puget Sound.

And of course, we are seeking shade below the beautiful, huge cedars that thrive in our climate.

So now after showing you all our play pictures, let me show you work pictures.  There's lots of that going on at our homestead, of course, and all of it centers around food production and preservation.

First, the garden: It's thriving and cranking out lots of food.

We harvested our red onions, and if you want to watch my tutorials on how to harvest and cure them, you can go to my youtube channel and learn for free.

Eva likes harvesting zucchini.  She makes them into dolls.  Seriously.  She draws faces and clothes on them, and she gives them names.  I have to take a picture of this one of these days...


I'm harvesting herbs as well, to use in making medicine and teas, soaps and salves.

Also: fig jam.  I'll make a tutorial on how I make jam with the many figs our tree is cranking out soon.  Nothing gets wasted around here: if fruit turns overripe, the chickens get to eat it.

I'm going nuts with the cookbook I told you about in another post.  Below are millet maple syrup muffins I made from its recipe.  They are to die for, and really healthy, so technically, they won't make you die but live longer, I guess.

Lastly, I'm making lots of sauerkraut, beet kvass and yogurt.  I teach how to do all this in my online fermentation course.  You should totally check it out, because this is the season to learn how to ferment food and drink.  It's all so, so good for you, and much easier than you might think...

I'll leave you with two special images: One if of impending winter, so firewood has to be chopped and stored.

The other is of the newly born baby ducks our duck hatched.  They deserve a separate blog post, but for now, you'll get one picture.

Okay, I'm off to clean some more.  And then I'll make lasagne and quiche for our retreat.  Bye!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Green Mountain

I promised to write a separate blog post about our hike up Green Mountain.

If you are local, you have to hike there, you hear me? It's so worth it, albeit a little gnarly with 3,300 feet elevation gain and a total of 8.5 miles. But our seven-year-old daughter did it (hint: pack lots of treats for bribing), and our tiny Shih Tzu doggie did it as well. There was lots of panting involved, but both humans and dogs are allowed to do so when you climb up to 6,500 feet.

It's not only the exercise that takes your breath away. It's the view. Look.

We hiked this a couple of weeks ago, before the wildfires around us (one in Canada, and one right up the road where we hiked) obscured the views with haze and smoke.

On top of this mountain sits a historic lookout with a 360 degree view. It was originally built in 1933 and used for years to house seasonal fire lookouts. In 1987 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. 

On the way up, there are billions of wildflowers, a few small mountain ponds, and large expanses of meadows. 

Let me show you some of the flowers. By the way, my 12-year-old son Luke took most of these pictures, so thanks, dude.

The little lake was cute, and a breeding ground for a trillion mosquitoes and black flies. Did I tell you that the bugs were terrible? There's a reason we love hiking in the fall, when colder temperatures kill those suckers.

Kai's girlfriend came with us. If you want to get to know a person, take them on a hike and see how they deal with pesky bugs, heat, tough elevation, and blisters. The verdict is in, and I knew it even before the hike: I like her a lot! Which is fortunate, because I've never had a teenage child before, and I was dreading the whole dating thing. 

She didn't complain once (as opposed to my little daughter, who whined incessantly about the bugs and steep trail). 

She loves handling snakes, which freaked me out, but more power to her! 

Here's what the Washington Trail Association has to say:

"Once at the lookout, the views are world class. Mount Baker is visible to the north, Buckindy, the Ptarmigan Traverse group, and Dome Peak rise above the Downey Creek valley to the east, with the top of pointy Mount Sinister peeking out behind Dome. Glacier Peak dominates the southern skyline just west of the Suiattle River valley, along with the usual Mountain Loop suspects: Mount Pugh, Sloan Peak, Del Campo, Three Fingers, White Chuck and White Horse.

WTA Pro Tip: Traveling to 6500 feet on mostly exposed slopes warrants more attention to packing than many other similarly proportioned dayhikes might. Bring lots of water, especially in the summer (all the more if traveling with a dog), wear base layers you can strip down to if it's hot but pack something windproof and something warm and puffy if it's cold up high. In the summer you will want bug spray, and on any sunny day, sunscreen and lip balm should be on hand. Don't forget your dog's nose and upright ears, though check the ingredients: zinc oxide is toxic to dogs. Leave time for berry picking if they're in season and more for photo taking. Bring a headlamp."

I hope to see you out there!  And if you're not local, I hope I am enticing you to visit our beautiful corner of the world!

In fact, if you want to hang out with us at our homestead, we have two more spots open for our Homesteading and Wilderness Retreat August 19 and 20!