Soggy Island Farm

Giving thanks for the simple things


This afternoon I was out on the front porch painting a second coat of white on our porch swing. For the last month, we’ve been working on repainting the outside of the house, a project which was no small undertaking.

“Do you do eyes?” 

I looked up from the bench. It was Darryl, the neighbor riding up on his bicycle. Darryl lives in a trailer up the road with about two hundred bicycles in his front yard. Among them stands a confederate flag. He loves bicycles and is constantly resurrecting them from various locations on the island. We’re not sure how they get there. Rumors abound.

“What?” I wondered if I heard him right. “Yeah I do eyes. I’m an optometrist. Why?”

“Oh I heard that from the lady at the store. You have nice teeth. You should take care of them.”

“Thank you." I smiled. " Yeah you have to brush them all the time.” 

“Well your smile becomes you.” Then he rode off home again.

As I went back to my painting, I thought how strange this little island is. I wonder who told him I was an optometrist. This town is so small- only 1300 people- it’s not like anything is a secret.

Yesterday at the post office I was walking out to my car and a man in his sixties approached me. “Are you really from Iowa?”

I was confused, as usual, about my origins. “Well kind of. My family moved there. I can’t work here until March, so I am sort of in between places.” I gave the short version of my reason for being on an island with Iowa plates. And somehow mentioned that I was an optometrist. His wife had eye cancer recently, and was still in the process of treatment. He was the second person who I randomly met with a direct family member who had eye cancer. The day before it had been a man on the ferry from DC whose granddaughter had bilateral eye tumors as an infant.

Sometimes I think this profession is useless repetitiveness but when I hear things like this, I figure that we're doing good things. For the last five years, I've been working off and on, which has allowed me freedom to travel, regenerate and visit family. Lately, I've used my free time to work on the house and the yard with Justin. But I think the best thing about the quiet time is that it gives me time to appreciate this life.

We're headed to Iowa for Thanksgiving. The first Thanksgiving that my whole family has spent together since 2000. I'm thankful this year to be traveling back to my family, with Justin in tow. I'm thankful for this new journey we are on, one small step at a time. 


Hurricane Sandy's Fresh Cranberry-Lime Whole Wheat Scones

Cranberry Lime Scones

With the recent visit of Hurricane Sandy to the east coast, our mild life has taken a battering. Although we were not a direct hit (in fact we were only skirted), she managed to wash out the road home and take a few houses into the sea, relegating us to an extra two-and-a-half hour ferry ride across the sound to get home. This changed the usual 2.5 to 3 hour journey between the Outer Banks and Virginia Beach into a 6-8 hour trip (or more depending on ferry lines).

It wouldn't have matter much, except I'd gone to Virginia Beach to do some fill-in work right before Sandy and ended up stuck there for an extra week. Since I was stranded without work or demands, I filled my time with alternate activities (drawing, baking, writing, daydreaming).

I'd been eyeing the fresh cranberries in the grocery store and picked up a package wondering what I could do with them. I scoured the internet and peeked in my fridge and decided I'd attempt a batch of scones. Mind you, not the scones you find in Starbucks or even at most bakeries. I wanted something that was just a teeny bit sweet with distinct flavors.

  Scones taste best fresh from the oven but can be stored sealed at room temperature for up to three days 

Fresh Cranberry and Lime Scones
These scones have just a hint of sweetness. Especially tasty served warm with a pat of butter. I used almost all organic ingredients. 

Yield: 8 scones


2 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sucanat (could also use brown sugar here)
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, chopped (I just cut in halves)
2 tablespoons freshly grated lime zest (about 2 small limes)
1/2 cup unsalted cold butter
1 cup yogurt (use vanilla or flavored for added sweetness)
1 cold egg

2 tablespoons sanding sugar or granulated sugar, to top, if you want extra sweetness

Directions:Position rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350F.

Mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sucanat until just combined. Stir in lime zest and cranberries.

Grate the butter over top of the mixed dry ingredients. Mix until the butter is slightly broken down and pea-sized pieces are still visible (I used my hands here). In a separate small bowl, whisk together yogurt and egg until well mixed. Pour the yogurt mixture into the flour-butter mixture and stir just until the dough comes together. It’s okay if there’s a little loose flour at the bottom of the bowl.

Dump dough onto a clean counter top and pat into an 8-inch circle about an inch thick. Cut the circle into 8 wedges and lay each wedge separate onto a baking sheet. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until they’re golden brown on the top and around the edges. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes.

  Soggy Island Farm pastel drawing hurricane activity 

Laying Down Roots

A Photo Of Sara Schultz"I feel like I've been taking speed all day every day," I said.

Justin said, "It's called happiness."

This afternoon while hoeing the garden, I thought how good it was to be in the earth, in the air, smelling and feeling everything. It's no stretch to say that sitting in front of a screen in a dark windowless office all day isn’t natural. It's depressing at minimum. Unhealthy too. Later after covering myself in dirt, I hopped in the shower, rinsing off the evidence of my efforts, and thought maybe I should decide how much I need to make each year and shoot for that. Working for “enough” so I have freedom to do what I want.

We call our place Soggy Island Farm, a name that came to me in a dream at the Mother Earth News Fair (along with a jingle!) But it's not really a farm. It’s a tiny 1937 Sears & Roebuck kit house sitting on a half-acre lot on Hatteras Island, forty miles off the coast of North Carolina in a place called the Outer Banks. It's as remote as you can get in a lot of ways and still stay in the lower 48, aside from some sort of mountain hut. If you haven’t lived out east, you probably haven’t heard of it. Hatteras Island is a barrier island with 4,000 total year-round residents, and in hurricane alley. But, during its lifetime our house has never taken water. His grandpa built the house and it's been in the family ever since, with Justin taking over eight years ago and myself joining him this year. In the backyard his grandpa tended a massive garden, which we’ve been working on restoring, as well as a lot of little projects, both of us crazy into sustainability and simple living. Justin's a graphic artist and works from home and I'm only doing fill-in stints (as an optometrist) which leaves us a lot of freedom to do what we want.

Sears 1937
1937 Sears & Roebuck kit house  

The two of us came from rural families. He from the Outer Banks and myself from the Midwest. My mom and dad were both farm kids and instilled in us the value of self-sufficiency. Growing up, our side yard was a massive garden that we tended ourselves. Rows, straight as an arrow marked with lines of taut string over the crops: peas, beans, potatoes, carrots. We did a lot by hand- canning, homemade clothes, and solar panels propped up behind the house looking like abandoned box springs. During the summers my sisters and I spent our days biking and climbing trees, picking a carrot or raspberry from the garden when the urge hit us. To this day, I prefer a carrot with a little dirt on it.

It's thrilling to be back in the soil. Gardening makes me acutely aware of the changing seasons. Fall is the time of year I've traditionally reserved for dark thoughts of winter to come. The leaves crumpling up and drifting to the earth, leaving barren trees. The anniversary of my dad's death. Long dark days. But this year it's been different. This year, I'm ready for colder weather and the changing of life that goes along with the seasons. On the first of November, I'll be a permanent resident on the island of Hatteras. We've been working on the house for the last ten months, but now it'll be my home.

Justin and I are homesteading the house and our relationship. We are mostly kindred souls with strong work ethic and the propensity to eat vegetables and wear old clothes forever. We're pretty cheap, and have the same child-like wonder when approaching new projects. We like music and art and documentaries. After years of complicated relationships, this is so easy. Even with all this island chaos surrounding us and the threat of high seas and hurricanes, we are solid footing together and we'll weather the tests of time.

In this blog, I plan to chronicle our projects as we take them on, as well as offer up some writing on the feeling of life on the island. I welcome advice and comments, and hope to learn by sharing.

SJ Ocean
Justin and myself on the Carolina Coast  

Thank you for reading.

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