Dear Grit Family,
Our lives have been an interesting mix of super busy, yet busy with things that might not interest you. However, I felt that an update was needed nonetheless. I am going to put together a few posts from the last month or so to help fill in the gaps on our family's journey. We are always moving, as I'm sure you are too, so there's always something to write about.
Since we last spoke, I have dug deeper into creating things and developed an new found love of sewing! As I was hand sewing another felt toy, it occurred to me to look up patterns online of other toys I could make and well, let's just say Pandora knew I was coming. After about an hour of collecting free patterns of felt toys I could make, I realized that I could sew more, and faster, if I used a sewing machine and other materials. I began an Amazon search for books on making toys and that led me to look into popular books on learning the art of sewing from the ground up.
When I was younger, I learned to sew pillows with my mom. She was always mending my father's work jeans and my play clothes, as well as make the occasional window curtain or throw pillow for the house. I didn't really have an interest beyond pillow making and eventually, quit sewing along side her. It became obvious to me that I needed to revisit sewing with Mom and picked up the phone to ask her if she'd like to teach me how to sew...again.
She was delighted to work with me and we began informal lessons at her house, using her machine. With my birthday a week or so away, I asked to get a couple sewing books I'd found online and sure enough, they arrived at my door just after I turned 31. So there it was. A rabbit trail that led me to a destination I never even considered a mere two weeks ago. I now had a deep desire to become a sewist.
It had evolved past the toy making stage into a real desire to make things, useable things, for the family. I have been working through my new book, Stitch by Stitch, which takes you through step by step lessons and each project is not only practical, but builds upon the previous skills. It's incredibly thought out and the author's conversational tone makes me absolutely love it. Plus, it comes with a CD of patterns you can print.
Needless to say, I am excited. I'll take pictures of my projects as I complete them so you can follow my progress. Right now I am completing my fourth and fifth "mini-project" which teaches necessary skills before launching into a full blown sewing assignment.
As well, our family has been learning to Breathe. It's a reference to an early 2000's Switchfoot song, but in our instance, it applies to learning the art of patience before the Lord. We greatly desire another parcel of land to make a farming go of it (though not so large scale as at Foxwood), but financially, it would be very miraculous to make that happen. So we are continuing to work hard at building up Gourmet Grassfed, building up our family and reading as much as we can about homeschooling, sustainable home building and living off the land. Meanwhile, we are actively looking for a place to truly call home. A place in the country, some pasture, a home with a few bedrooms. Nothing fancy. Just some place we can garden, maybe keep a few chickens and return to some self sustainability. We eagerly anticipate a home for us. In the meantime, we're learning to just breathe.
Something about nearly dying seems to change a person and those around them. A couple weeks ago, Andy's father, Steve (whom I've written about many times on this blog) collapsed at work with a heart attack and had it not been for his quick thinking boss, the proximity to a hospital and a host of other little miraculous things, I'd be posting about a funeral instead. In my family's little world, we got the call while participating in a home school group at a local church. We rearranged plans and whipped the kids into the car and headed to Madison to see the patriarch Sell. At the time, no one was sure what happened when he blacked out, but after several tests and an invasive procedure, they determined he indeed had a heart attack and that he would need a quadruple bypass surgery within days. Thankfully we had a bunch of prayer warriors behind us and the knowledge of modern medicine in our corner. Today, a mere two weeks since the surgery, he is home and resting and even beginning physical therapy a few times per week.
This comes after our niece Maddy was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer in it's fourth stage. At one point during Steve's stay in Madison, Maddy was mere blocks away at the University hospital receiving her next dose of chemotherapy. Steve and Maddie both had laptops in their respective rooms and Skyped each other, laughing if nothing else, at the oddness of the situation.
On top of everything, most people weren't aware that Andy had just had light surgery to remove a "pre-cancerous" growth on his upper back. After Maddie was diagnosed in December, we decided to have a few odd moles and bumps on Andy's back looked at. Most of the biopsies returned negative, but they removed about five moles anyway. One, however, had warning signs of cancer and they wanted to get it out while the gettin' was good. In light of everything else going on, it seemed like the only thing to do.
And so, Andy is in the clear. But seeing his ten year old niece suffer every other week with chemo and his 60 year old father reduced to merely walking about the house every two hours motivated him to make some daily life changes. One can only change themselves after all and while we eat relatively healthily, our lifestyle is pretty sedentary. For the last three weeks, Andy has been working out nearly every morning in our family room to some Maximized Living DVDs. The concept is built on short bursts of serious workout. The whole thing never lasts more than 12 minutes each day, but it's pretty amazing how much body fat is burned and how much strength is built. I encourage him to "get down there and do it" when he needs it, but most mornings he flips that DVD on with no words from me. Elly and Ethan sometimes "workout" with him and that's when I realized that his motivation is being passed on to the next generation.
This is where change happens. In the home, by example and with intentionality.
Hopefully for you, it doesn't take a near tragedy to snap you into shape. Steve is already eating more greens as they have him on the Mediterranean diet. I'm not sure what that means exactly, but when we visited a week ago, we saw more organic items and green leafy veggies in the fridge than we ever had before. I remember making a salad for my in-laws when we first began farming. Everything in that salad had been grown in our own garden. At the time, I had no idea that Steve just didn't eat salads. He politely took a small amount on his plate and found himself amazed that he scooped up seconds. I guess home grown can make a difference. I'm hoping to help him set up a container garden for his deck this summer. That way, the deer and rodents won't get at them and he can easily walk out and pick a tomato or pepper as needed. We are excited for the coming months of recovery on everyone's part.
Maddie still fights on with an amazing hopefulness about her. We have been strapped for disposable income the last couple months and visiting her has been hard to coordinate. We can Skype with her from time to time at least and are thankful for that modern convenience.
In more recent news, Andy and I have been looking for a home of our own. In fact, we've had a couple of months of trying to figure out just what the heck we want and after looking at a few farmettes in the area and whether or not to rent some place or buy some place, we hit upon it. We are going to save up and build some place. Not just any place, but a completely sustainable home that uses the best technology to heat, light and cool nearly completely off the grid. Where, you might ask?
Let me tell you. There is a patch of land that contributed to Foxwood Farm back in the day, but we never really counted it as part of the acreage because 8 miles and the Fox River sat in between the two parcels of land. My parents bought this piece of land a few years before they purchased Foxwood (though it wasn't called that then) in 1978. They lived in the home on the property and Dad cash cropped the roughly 30 acres. When they had opportunity to buy the home farm, he kept the land and sold off the house, plus one acre. For the last 30+ years, it has been cropped for corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa (hay). The parcel is on a hill that overlooks the small town of Omro and even the Fox River. It's wonderfully situated with a south facing slope with a rim of woods on the southeastern side. We proposed to my parents that we'd like to eventually purchase an acre and build a home up there. Then, as we were able, we would buy the rest of the farm land. They were immediately receptive and expressed desire to see it go into family hands.
A view of the 25 acres from the east, looking west.
Dovetailing into this conversation is the fact that for the last 5-6 years, Andy has been passively "building" our dream home in his head. It began as a log cabin, then a yurt, then a hybrid of a few other designs, but after seeing the gorgeous slope northwest of Omro, he was able to put all his learning and knowledge together to plan out a bermed home that will serve as our place of refuge for the foreseeable future. Once the home is built, we'll add a couple small outbuildings to house our animals and continue to build our homestead each year as finances allow.
On the hill looking towards the road, north.
Until then, however, we have been given permission to rent a single acre to start a garden and an orchard. We figure it will take an orchard a few years to get established and it would be nice to have it close to functioning when we move in. So, where do we live until then?
We are pretty sure we've found a nice interim place to live in Oshkosh, but since that is not a done deal yet, I will not mention it just yet. Our friends here at Grit Magazine have been watching us collect books that deal with sustainable home building, water systems for those not hooked up to a sewer, solar heating books, alternative energy sources for the home and a myriad of other great home design books. They had to know something was up!
So as the 70˚ winds blow across our brown, March landscape, all we can think about is planting and digging in the earth and beginning anew. The thought of having our own stuff back from storage (as pared down as it is) is also very exciting to us. To have chickens again is probably the most thrilling for me. But I digress...there is a lot of planning and dreaming that must happen before any of this comes to pass.
Andy has been named President of Gourmet Grassfed which is really cool until you remember that he is one of two people actually running the company. :-) But this allows him to focus like a laser beam on efficiency and production while Ben takes CEO role and dreams big for the company, and the community. This delineation of roles will be good for them, and has already proven interesting as they learn how to live within their boundaries. I can't wait to see what they come up with next.
It's been too long since I updated you on my sewing endeavors. Well, there hasn't been much to report. The last time I dragged the ol' machine out was nearly a month ago. I took these photos of my creations. The paw print here is a study in embroidering with a standard wide stitch. Since I don't have a fancy embroidering sewing machine, this was quite a lesson in spacing and turning fabric and making sure the cloth didn't pull too much. Luckily, we found a plain shirt of Elly's that was a thicker cotton and didn't stretch nearly as much as most shirts would have. She is excited for warmer weather in which she can wear her "new" shirt. She picked out the material from my mom's scraps and since it was a fuzzy leopard print, I thought making a paw would be fun. The lesson asked you to make a heart so that you got a nice combination of straight edges and curved for your first time embroidering. After working on the main pad of the paw, I was wishing I had stuck with the heart. In the end, it's not perfect, but it will hold and from a distance, the paw print looks just fine.
My next project was more fun. I was to pick out a cotton print and make a set of four formal napkins. We already use and love cloth napkins in our home, made especially for us courtesy of Sarah
. I was excited to try my own. In this lesson, I learned how to miter edges and work with an iron. I also used an over-stitch to keep the edges of the cut fabric from pulling out. Below is the result. I ended up giving these to Steve for his birthday last week (yes he celebrated in his hospital room!) to use as handkerchiefs. My grandpa on my father's side used handkerchiefs and I was very fond of him. So the fact that my father-in-law uses them is not off-putting to me at all. In fact, it is very endearing.
I have not sewed anything else since these and while I long to get back on the machine nearly daily, I have since returned my mother's sewing machine to her house, realizing that until I can have a permanent spot for sewing, it's just not going to happen. In order to sew these napkins I had to have Drew watch the kids in the basement nearly a whole afternoon and that's just not practical. I think we'll be able to set something up in our new place so that I can continue on my learning journey. That's all for now!