We’ve had a busy spring and have been remiss in posting. Just so you know we are still alive, I give you this:
We’ve had a busy spring and have been remiss in posting. Just so you know we are still alive, I give you this:
A couple of weeks ago Caleb was in Chicago for work and I was home checking the weather after a long day with Abel Wilder. Another storm was blowing in with another foot of snow. That night at 9:30pm I decided to get out of town. My folks live 600 miles south of us in Kalamazoo, MI, three hours north of Chicago. I told Caleb to skip his return flight and meet me in Kalamazoo.
The next morning, I closed down the cabin, grabbed our dog, baby, and miscellany and made the difficult trek to our jeep. Freezing rain, punching through our trail into thigh deep snow, baby on my back, pulling a heavy sled loaded with our stuff, and of course a whiny wiener dog who didn’t want to walk.
600 miles of driving alone with a 5 month old is slow going. We stopped a total of 12 times. Abel Wilder stayed in his first Motel and I enjoyed seeing the growing evidence of spring as each mile passed. We visited my grandparents in Amish farm country in the middle of Michigan’s glove. They loved meeting their fifth great grandchild and we had wonderful meals together at their round antique dining table. We watched pretty birds at their feeders and Abel Wilder and I took an evening walk in the woods and breathed deeply the earthy green spring air.
Back on the road again after meeting up with my dearest aunt for breakfast, Abel Wilder and I pulled into an emerald green rest stop. Plunk, down he went to sit in the soft dewy grass. He loved it. I will never forget the look of bliss on my little guy’s face! He’s never known any thing but snow.
What was meant to be a two week hiatus has now been three and the snow on the ground in the UP (upper peninsula of Michigan) has gone from 48″ to 8″. It is time to return.
Yesterday, our visit took an unexpected turn. We bought a house in Kalamazoo for $12,000. It was too good of a deal to pass up. With a lot of sweat equity and cosmetic fix ups and a few larger fixes we are hoping to have it ready to rent out by August. With renters in this house we could pay off our cabin property in no time. We’ve never wanted to be landlords and by golly we sure had some very different plans for the summer other than fixing up this house, but we are excited about this investment and a little flabbergasted at the speed with which we became house owners.
As we head back north this weekend we have a lot of planing and reprioritizing to do. We miss home, our dog, the woods, and our friends. It will be good to get back but this spring get away was much more than we’d expected.
Life goes by so quickly. Moments that I swore never to forget I’ve forgotten already. Memory is fickle like that. I’ve always admired those people who keep journals. I’ve tried dozens of times but given up after feeling overwhelmed and behind in my journaling time and time again. Instead, I take thousands of pictures. Pictures I rarely look at again but sentimentally cling to because one day I may want to remember even those small moments like that perfect taco al pastor in Tulum.
Recently I came upon a list that I jotted down from the first several months living in the cabin. Occasionally I’ll do this because I do love making lists. Unlike an elaborate journal entry, a list is more like a footnote and there is less pressure to make it good, to elaborate, to accurately depict the exact mood of the moment. Then again maybe I expect too much of myself when it comes to journaling.
Barely a year has passed since Caleb and I pulled a few of our belongings in on the sled and camped inside of our very unfinished cabin. Part of the drywall was up and we were sleeping on the floor on a very cold air mattress. We didn’t have power or running water for quite a while. And honestly, it was an adventure of our own making and fun. Most if the time. Here’s the list of those first few months cabining.
The first week getting ready for work by candlelight and singeing my bangs.
Our fist meal in the cabin.
Caleb putting my first temporary kitchen together and the shower and having it all set up for me when I got home.
The surrealness of hiking out to the truck in the early morning to go to work.
Blowdrying my hair with the dryer plugged into an extension cord on the floor.
My first attempt at bread on the squirrel wood stove – inedible but I learned I could make bread!
The first successful loaf tasting like heaven – Caleb, David, and I nearly ate the whole loaf.
The first week getting the truck really stuck in the landing. That was the end of driving up for a while.
The first time I saw a deer in our yard and how magical that was. Caleb named her Carla.
Waking up to a 42 degree cabin.
Studying in the uninsulated, doorless, windowless ( except in the changing room) sauna in January with hot chocolate and the little buddy propane heater. My nose was so cold but my shins were burning from the heater. Bill was mudding and Caleb working.
My first snowshoe and chickadees came so close I could have touched them. I felt like Snow White.
Getting up at 5am to take the pregnancy test – twice! Finding out I was pregnant on my birthday. Going for a snowshoe that day and feeling so joyful and elated that even Caleb being sick in bed couldn’t change that.”
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
– Henry David Thoreau
I wouldn’t call what we are doing homesteading. In fact when we started this cabin project we planned it to be a getaway place – a second home (despite lacking a first home). We expected to be done in a year or so. We are now midway into our second year of ‘cabining’ and recently celebrated our one-year anniversary of living here full-time. Being off the grid, our life is necessarily more self-sufficient than most. We generate all of our electricity, supply our own water, harvest our own firewood, and deal with our own waste. In the last few months we have taken a keener interest in doing even more ourselves. Last summer we raised Guinea fowl for food (far from the most cost-effective meat bird), we had a small vegetable garden, and were a part of a small pig co-op and we now have a pile of pork stashed away. From that pig I’ve been making my own Pancetta, I’ve got some Lardo and Jamon curing, and soon we will be making loads of sausage. Marci bakes all of our bread (an amazing no knead dutch oven bread that makes PERFECT crust and crumb with hardly any effort, just time), I’ve been making Kefir, and recently started salt curing egg yolks. This summer we plan to raise a flock of Muscovy Ducks.
I think one thing that has pushed me to become increasingly self-sufficient, besides the economy of it, is the satisfaction is provides. Not just looking at something and saying “hey I made that”, but the deeper satisfaction knowing that if there is something in my life that I find lacking, it is possible to do the research, gather the tools and supplies, and make it happen – be it culturing milk or building a building.
This goes beyond some DIY trend or a stylized hipster new-frontierism fetishization, this really is about deliberately living. When we lived in Tulum, Mexico, it was beach life. And it was easy: do a little work, head to the beach, bake in the sun, eat a taco, drink a beer, then repeat. Seven days a week. It sounds nice, and it was, but Marci and I both settled into an ennui. In the end, it was relaxing, decadent, boring and unfulfilling.
After Mexico we were itinerant for about a year. During that time we spent time with family in suburban Kalamazoo. We quickly found that boring as well. We enjoyed the time with friends and family, but basically all we did was drive in a car between air-conditioned places and sit on comfy sofas. Both were lives of leisure. Both were easy.
We never meant to own land or live in a cabin. This all started on a whim. We saw land, it was cheap, we bought it. And since the only sensible thing to do with 20 acres of thick swampy woods is to put a cabin on it, we decided to build one.
While this whole adventure started spontaneously, we have fallen deeply love with it. We long for the city and everything it entails, but we love our life in the woods in the middle of nowhere. I love heating with firewood that I cut. I love eating food that I produced. I love being able to walk for a mile and still be on my own land (admittedly I need to walk in a circle for that to happen, but still, it’s a big circle). I love knowing that my whole world is plastic and that I can build it, change it, break it, fix it, design it, and develop it as I see fit. There is an immeasurable freedom found in seeing the world as something infinitely mutable. The only boundaries are geographic and the only limitations are self-imposed.
To live this life I’ve found that you need to bend to the weather (you can’t battle it), relax some inhibitions, be ready to get dirty, find satisfaction is the most unusual places, eschew the easy for the deliberate, and be prepared to face challenges with gusto…oh and enjoy working hard. Despite being off the grid, in the middle of the woods down a long road and far from even the nearest gas station – our life is quite civilized and not at all rustic. We did not come here to escape the world, but to live in one of our own making.
Our dear friend Jesse Smith from Seattle is a fantastic chef . His Youtube cooking show, Deep Prep, is now available on PBS! Yes PBS! That is the Public Broadcasting Service. Kinda like the BBC for Americans, kinda like NPR for your eyes, kinda like Youtube before there was the Internet. Check it out, I am sure you will like it.
From the PBS description:
Deep Prep is a weekly cooking show hosted by chef Jesse Smith. Jesse is a Washington born chef that has worked in many of Seattle’s favorite restaurants. He brings a northwest flare to this quirky and entertaining cooking show where he cooks classic and also innovative food. Never taking himself too seriously, his show will be sure to keep you captivated while learning step by step instructions on how to cook dishes that will inspire you in the kitchen and keep your dinner guests satisfied!
You come to us and we’ll make you dinner.
This has been our motto this winter. Our little man heads to bed and our friends make the trek to our cabin. We’ve had friends from San Francisco, from Madison, from London, and of course from Calumet. It’s been a treat each time to break bread with these friends, to share a sauna and enjoy the quiet winter evenings. If you’re within drivable distance from our neck of the woods, stop by. We’ll feed you and we love the company.
We live surrounded by beauty. Deer wander up to the cabin, the snow keeps falling and it’s so quiet that you can hear your own heartbeat. This is indeed serenity. But it is also tremendous isolation. This is where I’m learning how to be a mother to four month old Abel Wilder. It is both wonderful and incredibly difficult. We are still figuring each other out, the newness causing many moments of humor, frustration, anxiety, exhaustion, and immense joy. Like many mothers I am with my son day and night every day, every week. Caleb works from home which is such a blessing, but I’m still in charge of the little guy all day. Our days are spent watching him grow and learn, keeping up with our cabin chores, and spending hours trying to get Abel Wilder to sleep. I can’t tell you how many lifetimes I’ve spent in this corner of the cabin, rocking, hushing, swaddling and nursing our son. We have a one room cabin with huge windows – not exactly conducive to nap time. But each day I’m getting better. I am learning to let go of expectations, enjoy the moment and constantly change tactics. Most of all I’m learning how to relax and take it a day at a time.
Town is 16 miles away so usually getting out if the house means going for a walk or a snowshoe. On tough days, I put Abel Wilder in the carrier, strap on my snowshoes and head for the trees. He is truly a child of the north. Nothing settles him like the crisp winter air, the shush of my feet in the snow, and the motion of my body. This little boy will have acres of woods to play in. Just thinking of that makes me smile.
I’ve never had a cured egg yolk, but being a fan of cured things in general I couldn’t resist trying. A quick google lead me to try a simple 50/50 salt-sugar mix. I will leave the yolks in the curing mix in the fridge for about 24 hrs and then hang them in cheesecloth at room temp for a week or two until they are firm.