At Home on Hill Haven

Musings, ramblings, and pontifications on motherhood, unschooling, farming, sustainability, spirit, and life in general...

Location: northwest Georgia, United States

I'm a living-working-breathing mom, writing, mothering, teaching, and soul-searching from our home in northwest Georgia. We are whole-life unschoolers, which basically means our kids actually have a say in what happens to them (it actually means infinitely more than that, but's it's a starting point for discussion). We are also hardcore environmentalists, anti-industrialists, trying to escape from our dependence on petroleum, manufactured products and other non-sustainable practices. We homebirth, homeschool, and homestead, and try to make sense of it all, in a constant whirlwind of chaos.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Weekend in Savannah

It has taken two weeks to recover from a three-day "vacation." I am seriously questioning the meaning of this word. The good news is, it's over, and I'm getting back to at least approximating having my head above water. Now, don't get me wrong, it was a good idea, it's just impossible to not fall irrevocably behind on practically everything by leaving home for a few days. Sheesh.

We (Galen and I) spent a long weekend in Savannah, Georgia, visiting my baby sister Rose (who at 23 is too young to be married and out of college with a job, dammit!) with my mom. After driving down Saturday (five hours, ouch), we spent Sunday morning on the beach at Tybee Island, where this adorable picture was taken...

These signs (it says "Turtle Xing") can be seen all along the road to and from Tybee:

Then we came back into Savannah to Fresh Market to pick up lunch, bags and bags of junk food (read: candy for Galen), and my birthday cake, a cappucino hazelnut cheesecake:

You think it looks decadent! I'm certain it must be illegal in some states.

Just in case that wasn't enough, my sister had made this astounding seafood dish (I have no idea what it was called; it was marinated, it had artichoke hearts and shrimp, it was fabulous) and my mom grilled scallops wrapped in bacon (were they competing for most cholesterol?). Wow.

Galen became very interested in the digital camera on this trip and took quite a few photos, including this one of me in the car:

and this one of his own feet, which I especially like the composition of:

I was really impressed with the quality of many of the pictures he took. Of course, I don't know that he really composed them, but the portraits must have been composed or they wouldn't have worked out so well, I think.

My dad is famous in the family for always buying "el cheapo" this or that, so this gas station photo is for him:

Although I don't see what's so el cheapo about nearly $3 a gallon for diesel fuel. Yikes!

Monday we went shopping on River Street and at the market area in downtown Savannah before beginning the long drive back. A real whirlwind tour!

While I was gone my sister-in-law Charlotte snuck off and had her baby, Graham Carter Swancy. Graham is Galen's first first cousin (he will be getting another later this year, a girl), and my new birthday buddy (born three days before my birthday). He was born with ease and speed at home, and the new momma and baby are doing fabulously. Here he is, just hours after birth, with his Nana Beverly:

Now if I can just get caught up with my writing!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Staff of Life

The utter unsustainability of purchasing bread at the grocery store, combined with the fact that I cannot even get organic bread at any local supermarket (and supermarkets are all there are here), chafes me much lately. I always ask my husband to bring back bread from his near-weekly forays across the state into Athens, GA, where we used to live (he still has work there). "Natural foods" is more the assumption in Athens, rather than the eccentricity it is here. Looking at the label on a loaf he brought back recently, I read that it was "produced and distributed by Rudi's Organic Bakery, Boulder, CO." The plastic bag (to be thrown away when you're done with the bread, of course) is stamped all over with "certified organic" and a kitschy description of "the legacy of the artisan baker." I could reuse the bag for vomit.

I don't mean to pick on Rudi's. They make good bread. But the sad fact is, organic doesn't mean much anymore. Sure, all the ingredients in this commercial loaf were grown without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or synthetic fertilizers. (Note that I do not say what is commonly said, that they do not use "chemical" fertilizers. There is no such thing as fertilizer that is not a chemical; all molecules are chemicals, including those in manure, which organic farmers most certainly do use! But that's a soapbox all its own...) Sure, this is an improvement over conventional farming practices and the ingredient list bears no items of questionable safety. But now that organic is mainstream, we realize that it is not enough. Shipping bread from Colorado to anywhere outside Colorado, let alone to me in Georgia, is not sustainable. Organic flour grown thousands of miles away (currently producers are not required to reveal the source(s) of their ingredients, so in the global market, flour could be from Argentina for all I know), milled hundreds or thousands of miles from the field, then baked hundreds or thousands of miles from the mill, is not sustainable. The consumption of the plastic bags (which were likely not produced in the US), even if I recycle or reuse them, is not sustainable. And what about the inks used to print the bags? What about the workers who make the bags? Economically this sends money right out of my community, and it never comes back. And for all this, I pay a premium price for my bread, because the farm (or, more accurately, the corporation that owns the farmland) paid for USDA organic certification.

And lest anyone remains deluded, don't think that it's a family farm you're supporting just because it's organic. Nowadays organic means big bucks, and the industrial-production agribusinesses are right in on it. They are the ones who can afford to pay for the USDA certification, with its high pricetag and minimal guidelines. So you still have to question the treatment of the farm workers and the sustainability of the farm, even with the organic label. It just doesn't mean what it used to...

All this adds up to me being pushed out of my comfort zone. My solution? Become the artisan baker! Proudly presenting whole grain organic spelt bread, made by hand, by me! I created this beauty start-to-finish last night. It is my second loaf (in my excitement the first loaf was devoured before I remembered to take a picture). At this point in time, my ingredients still come from faraway lands, but I have the power to change that, poco a poco.

Here's my recipe:

1 cup warm water (straight from the tap)
2 tbsp granulated brown sugar (Note that this is not regular brown sugar; it's also not turbinado sugar. It's sugar, it's granulated, and brown in color.)
one packet Red Star active dry yeast
3 cups organic whole spelt flour, plus more for dusting the kneading surface
sea salt
organic 2% milk
organic canola oil

I put the warm water in my mixing bowl, stirred the sugar in, and sprinkled the yeast on top. I left it alone for probably 10 minutes (longer than intended; I was distracted by Galen needing help with poop). I then added all the remaining ingredients, loosely measuring the flour, then eyeballing the others. The salt I poured into my cupped palm to measure about 2-3 tsp; the milk I poured in directly, about a 2-3 tbsp splash; ditto for the canola oil. I stirred with a wooden spoon to mix. When the ingredients had agreed to mingle all together into a single entity no longer recognizable as any one component, I turned the sticky blob out onto my floured kitchen counter. I began kneading. Checking the time to make sure I hit a minimum of five minutes, I folded and pushed, making monkey faces in the developing dough. I had to replenish the flour on the counter frequently, and ended up pulling some oat flour out of the freezer when I used up all I had left of the spelt. After about five minutes of kneading, I oiled my same mixing bowl (without cleaning it; what would be the point?) with more canola and put the dough ball back in, rolling it around to coat it. I covered the bowl with a kitchen towel and set it outside on top of my husband's truck, to be sure it was getting plenty of warmth from the sun. I set the timer for an hour and went about the business of cleaning up after myself and being a mom.

When the hour was up, I checked the dough, which had risen plenty. I'm not sure if it had truly doubled or not, but I decided it was good enough. I punched it down, covered it, and set the timer for 30 minutes. Not long after that my husband brought it inside. He and Galen had been playing with the water hose and had sprayed the towel. I set the bowl on a chair in the hottest room of the house, still covered with the wet towel. (It wasn't soaked, just damp.) In thirty minutes I punched it down again and prepared the dough for the final rise.

I oiled my 9" x 5" glass loaf pan with more of the canola, then oiled the counter with some not-very-tasty olive oil I didn't mind wasting and turned the dough out on the counter. Following some guidelines I found a few days ago (I'll have to edit this later to give credit to the website, which I can't remember at the moment), I pressed the dough out into a large rectangle, then folded that in half and pressed it out again. I folded the ends to the middle, pressed again, and rolled it back and forth a bit to shape it into a cylinder, pressing the ends together somewhat. I plopped it into the loaf pan and covered it with the towel for the last rising before baking. I set the timer for 30 minutes again and turned the oven down to 425 degrees (we had baked cornbread at 450 for supper).

When the time was up for the final rise, into the oven it went, and baked for around 30 minutes (I started checking it at 20, not sure how the oven performs). Voila! Bread from grain! The loaf stuck a little, as did my first, so I will probably switch to butter for greasing the sides of the pan. I think the oil slides down the glass too quickly, leaving it essentially ungreased. But I extracted it with little trouble by running a table knife around the sides. Magnifique!

Now, I still don't know the origin of most of my ingredients, and they doubtless came from at least hundreds of miles away. But I know where the bakery is, and there's no plastic bag, not to mention the quality is far, far superior than anything I can purchase. And the nonmaterial value is immeasurable: the spiritual nourishment of working the dough with my hands, of taking pride in my craft, and sharing the process with my child, who will not grow up thinking bread comes "from the store." He helps me knead, tastes the dough, punches it down, asks "is it ready yet?" It is a good beginning.

Steps I plan to take to further increase the sustainability of my breadmaking:

Growing my own grain (this is not as big a step for me as it is for most, as our family has a 150-acre organic farm, Riverview Farms, which is twenty minutes from our house)
Grinding my own grain (we have just purchased a grain mill-- look for it in a future post-- to add cornmeal, polenta and grits to the Riverview Farms product roster. Thanks go to my dad for the no-interest loan to purchase the mill!)
Using local organic milk (Riverview Farms CSA sells raw milk from nearby Carlton Dairy)
Keeping bees to make my own honey for sweetener/ yeast food
Switching to sourdough

My ultimate goal: the completely local organic loaf. I am excited to be on this journey.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Sleeping Babes

Although you can't tell thanks to the flash, it's actually dark in here. This was taken of Galen a few weeks ago, his first night in his own bed. I almost didn't think to take a picture until Brad reminded me. Oh yeah, this is a landmark! Meanwhile, we can't stand it. We have all slept in the family bed since, well, conception, and we miss him! Plus, he still wakes up during the night and could far too easily fall out of bed or worse, down the stairs. So that leaves us on the leaky air mattress on his floor, which we pick up and move out of the way during the day, futon-style. The past couple of nights he has climbed quietly out of his bed and onto the mattress with us, sometimes without me even knowing. And that's just fine with me.

There are so many things about prevailing custom that are downright insane, not to mention completely contradictory, and numerous expectations of our children top the list. We want our kids to form secure attachments (specifically to people-not-things), to be able to have healthy relationships, to be connected to others, to be kind. Yet we are expected to thrust them out on their own as babies when their very survival depends on our attentive presence. "Don't let them sleep with you, you'll never get them out of your bed," or "You'll spoil them!" (whatever that means!) are common comments. Then later the same parents complain, "They never listen to me!" "They don't care what I think!" Does it not stand to reason that if you don't care about them, they are under no obligation to care about you? Am I the only one paying attention here??

Thankfully, I am not. The tides are indeed shifting. Folks are less and less afraid of loving their children, a great and wonderful development. Shopping in Target recently I noticed they now carry cosleepers and slings in the baby section. In Target! Now that is mainstream! So you know it's permeating the culture at large. The peaceful and loving will prevail, bwa-ha-ha-ha!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A Beginning

Okay, okay. I'm blogging, dammit. You asked for it!

Today at Hill Haven it is slightly overcast, 81 degrees (Fahrenheit, stupid) on the back step in the shade, feeling pretty cool for July in Georgia (U.S., not Russia!). You might wonder why we settled on calling our place Hill Haven. Well, you know I'm about to tell you, whether you were wondering or not. It's pretty obvious. I'll give you some hints: it's on a --- and it's our ---. Get it? Now don't you feel clever figuring that out all by yourself?

Now really. It is our own little haven, a word we found ourselves using repeatedly. Home, to me, means refuge from the world at large; my cocoon, my safe, warm nest. And so this is, completely enclosed, invisible from the road when the trees are fully leafed out, our little five-acre spot to nurture and be nurtured by. And it is on a hill, quite a steep one, actually. It's a great butt-burner just trekking down and back up to fetch the mail. We have a hawk's nest in an oak alongside our driveway partway down, and we thought about naming it Hawk Haven, or Hawk-something-or-other, but all those we could come up with were just off-the-charts on the cheese factor. Whereas Hill Haven wasn't cheesy at ALL! :)

Why even name a place? Why do people name their homes? Why did I feel this was so necessary? I'm not even sure I can explain it. Naming gives identity, and implies that the named has some value as an individual, apart from others. I experience the spirits of place, and value my connection with the land that sustains me. So, I named the place that I and my family are calling home. Hill Haven.

By the way, this little guy/gal to the left here is one of our hawk babies, still in the nest. This photo was taken in late May. There were two babies, both of whom have long since fledged now, but I just got around to editing the pictures to find out if they could even be seen (no zoom lens at the time). Both babies (now juveniles) and their Momma are still around, and occasionally come back to the nest to share lunch. There's no place like home!