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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fresh Chicken

Fresh Chicken, originally uploaded by KMantoan.

This kids watch Papa clean a rooster before breakfast.

The Roost

The Roost, originally uploaded by KMantoan.

This is the door to our chicken coop. The kitschy art was a craft project my in-laws undertook sometime in the 70's. The rooster on the front is actually quite similar to one we just received, with two others, from some friends. The children have named the rooster that looks like this one Chanticleer after a children's book 'Chanticleer and the Fox' (taken from Chaucer's Caterbury Tales.) By the end of the week, all three should be either in my freezer or part of some leftovers in my fridge. I love, love, love me some fresh chicken.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Recommended Reading

A friend of mine recently took an interest in urban gardening and was asking me for books, blogs, and assorted resources for learning more. I thought I would pass along my reading list. Feel free to add your own suggestions via comments. My husband and I still have much to learn ourselves so don't skimp on any good recommendations (or shameless self-promotion.)
The first category of books I want to mention are more interested in discussing the question of why to homestead, live simply and make do with less rather than just how-to. (Though many also contain great tips.) These books helped changed my mind and made me more open to ideas that run contrary to popular consumer culture. It's hard to see the benefits of laboring over your own garden or herd if you value convenience more than quality.
The Complete Tightwad Gazette
The Simple Living Guide
Better Off
Crunchy Con
Ten Acres Enough
Mary Jane's Farm Magazine-try to get ahold of the early issues.
And, of course, my study of Dorothy Day, the Catholic Worker Movement and Distributism helped solidify my beliefs in homesteading and self sufficiency as a something that is seamlessly woven into my faith as a Catholic. Our earthy pursuits not only feed our bodies but our souls as well. There is dignity in our work on the land and joy in sacrificing the excesses of materialism. Our choices speak about us as Catholics, not just consumers.
I also thing there's bevy of books and websites one can read to open one's eyes to role of Big Ag and our country's food supply. When you understand where the neatly packaged, heavily processed foods you've come to rely on actually come from, it becomes easier to see the value in reading labels, shopping locally and setting up a raised bed out back.
Omnivores Dilemma
The Botany of Desire
The Unhealthy Truth
The Organic Consumers Association's website is constantly updated with great articles about food, organic and otherwise.
I also recently discovered the La Vida Locavore blog which pulls great info from across the Internet and compacts it into one concise, tasty package.
And once you have bushels of fresh veggies you'll need to figure out what to make with them. I like, finding another recipe for zucchini so much easier.
The More with Less Cookbook- proves you don't need meat with every meal.
Feeding the Healthy Vegetarian Family
Laurels Kitchen-Laurel's Bread Book is equally awesome. I feel guilty for owning a bread machine every time I see this book on my shelf.
Once you've decided to change your lifestyle and become a creator of your food source rather than just a consumer, there are plenty of resources to help you try your hand at homesteading or urban gardening. Regardless of the size of your apartment, city lot, suburban yard or country acreage you can do it! Really. There's lots of people out there doing the same thing and learning as they go. There are so many wonderful books, blogs and magazines filled to the brim with information. You'll still make mistakes along the way but you might discover some new tricks too.
Blogs-(You can visit all these from my sidebar.)
Path to Freedom
The Yeoman Farmer
Homegrown Evolution
Mother Earth News
Backwoods Home
Urban Gardener-just discovered this new magazine and it looks pretty good.
Anything written by Joe Salatin
Barnyard in your Backyard-good overview
Storey's Guide to Chickens-great in depth book. Storey's makes many other guide books too.
(Online, you can visit Be sure to check out all their sister sites.)
The Self Sufficient Life and How to Live It
Back to Basics
Compost This Book
Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
Root Cellaring
Preserving Food...
The New Square Foot Gardening-This is what we use for many of our veggies. Fool proof if it wasn't for our clever chickens.
The Bountiful Container - Great book or growing tons of stuff in very little space. You don't need to hang your tomatoes upside down to save room!
These are mostly books I own. There are plenty more I'd still love to read but so far, we can make do with these and the wealth of information on the Internet.
Our seed company of choice is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. And, since we only plant heirlooms, I want to get the book Seed to Seed ASAP. It's highly praised anywhere I see it so I feel confident passing along the recommendation.
I've also turned to the Instructables site for information on how to build greenhouses, rainwater collection systems and other farm improvements. (A quick peek around the site reveals DIY wood-stoves, solar power setups, compost bins and how to make a food dehydrator from a dorm fridge-cool beans!)
Lastly, be sure to check out Lehman's for some inspiration and all your non-electric needs.
The hardest thing for us with homesteading is finding time to do it all, especially given our family size and situation. And around the homestead, it's either feast or famine-the grain needs harvested, the roosters need killed and the seeds all need planted RIGHT NOW-and then you have a week of relative calm. We want to try as much as possible, but realistically, we can't and it can be hard to say no to that crop of garlic , herd of goats or whatever when you know the opportunity won't come around for another year.
So, I would say, it doesn't matter if you start small; just start something and don't be discouraged if your first attempt (or repeated attempts) fail. When you finally get around to serving your own fresh eggs for breakfast or fresh picked salad greens at dinner you'll feel great. And that feeling, plus a full stomach, will motivate you to do more, regardless of the extra work involved.

"To live in Newburgh, on the farm, to be arranging retreats, to be making bread and butter, taking care of and feeding children there, washing and carding wool, gathering herbs and salads and flowers — all these things are so good and beautiful that one does not want to take time to write except that one has to share them, and not just the knowledge of them, but how to start to achieve them." -DD, On Pilgrimage June 10

Monday, June 14, 2010

My Better Half

I am happy to announce that my husband Tony M., who currently blogs as benedictus over on his liturgically inspired blog Benedictus Deus, will be joining me on The Next Worker. Tony does all the 'manly' work around our homestead so it only made sense for me to drag him, er, politely ask him to join me in documenting exactly what it is that we do around here. Plus, given my delicate womanly condition, a.k.a pregnancy (complicated by hypertension), I've really had to focus on taking it easy for the sake of my health and that of the baby. It's absolutely maddening to me to have to sit still. And unfortunately, the tasks required to keep our homestead going cannot be done from the comfort of a rocking chair.
I'm very blessed to have a husband who gladly picks up the slack and a mother-in-law under my roof who jumps at every chance to interact with the kids, wash a load of laundry or even change a diaper. (No, I'm not exaggerating.) Maybe now you see how I find time to blog.
So I will go about my business as usual around here on TNW and Tony will help round out the content with his always insightful observations and commentary. Hopefully our relationship, which works so well in real life, will translate equally well into the virtual realm.

Waiting game

Heavy rain yesterday, combined with deep furrows in the farm fields around our house equalled LOTS of water in our strawberry and melon patches. Last time rainwater from the fields next door washed into our yard, it killed the grass. The particular method of plowing directed even more water onto our property (and into our basement) than we'd ever seen. We know the neighbors crops (tomatoes) are being treated with something, but we're not sure what. Our free range chickens also gulped heavily from the puddles that formed around their coop. It seems no matter how hard one tries to keep one's own food supply clean and pure, the decisions of larger producers will inevitably interfere. (Just look in any heirloom seed catalogue to see the problem with obtaining non-GM corn.) We now must wait and see whether or not the water that washed across our lawn carried more than just H2O. Perhaps a little isopropylamine salt of glyphosate?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

What's worth my time?

And BTW-I'm TOTALLY out of the Catholic blogging loop. I see some of the same ones out there I was reading a couple years ago but some have dropped off the face of the earth. I'm looking for some recommendations for good Catholic blogs and any other good blogs related to homeschooling, homesteading, simple living, distributism and the Catholic Worker Movement. (Yes, this is an opportunity to shamelessly plug your own blog as well.) Leave a comment or drop me a line. Thanks!


Today my family walked together in a fundraiser for my son Fulton. Around two dozen people came out to walk and many more pledged donations. We were astounded when the total amount came in at over $6,000, with more donations on the way. After such an overwhelming show of love and generosity, I've been moved to mention briefly, gratitude.
Being the recipient of such charity is difficult because you know you can never repay all the people for all the kindness and generosity they've shown you. It does however motivate one to want to give even more the next time an opportunity comes around. Looking over the donations, I was reminded of the story of the women who gave her last two coins. In the midst of an economic crisis, people are turning out their pockets, for my family. How often I've said, we don't have any extra money or time to give to this or that. How foolish I feel now, and how humbled. So I have immense gratitude towards those who gave so much when they are also struggling and I owe them a debt of thanks for schooling me in charity.
These people are only one of many blessings the Lord has given us in the midst of our trials. It would be easy to forget or dismiss them, and perhaps without grace I would, but thankfully, despite it all, I can wake up every morning and go to bed each night and thank God for many, many things in addition to my generous friends; the best husband in the world, four wonderful children, a roof over our heads, a garden and hens to produce food, space to run and savings in the bank just to name a few. God is so good. May He give me plenty of opportunities to repay that which has been so freely given to me.
"I do know that my nature is such that gratitude alone, gratitude for the faith, that most splendid gift, a gift not earned by me, a gratuitous gift, is enough to bind me in holy obedience to Holy Mother Church and her commands." -DD 12/17/66


Silkie, originally uploaded by KMantoan.

One of three new chickens on the farm.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A lifestyle blog?

After glancing over my last two posts, my husband says to me, "So, you're just putting it all out there, huh?"
Yes, I suppose I did. It wasn't my intent to start blogging again and pour my heart out in every post, however, it wasn't until I hashed out my thoughts through the last two posts that I was able to start thinking about what I do what to spend the majority of my time writing about.
Certainly, this blog is first and foremost Catholic, and I make no apologies for that. However, I would like to include information that I think would be of value to a much broader audience. I suppose if my incorporation of the Church's social teachings in my posts turns people away, I'll just have to live with it. But it is my goal to show how what on the surface seem to be distantly related topics (homesteading, distributism, simple living, Catholic values, etc) can all be brought together under the Catholic Worker umbrella into a coherent whole, or a complete lifestyle, if that makes sense. I think many people would be surprised to learn that the Church has historically supported what is now considered trendy, ie making do with less, supporting local businesses, and entrepreneurship, just to name a few.
With these thoughts in mind, I've added a few new widgets. Check out my Google Reader page for articles of interest. There's also a Google Calendar link. I've updated a liturgical calendar, plus I hope to add upcoming events such as farmers markets, county fairs, classes and more as a resource. The calendar is public so please feel free to add an event that may be of interest to my readers, or email me and I will personally.
I'll be attempting to post reviews of some books that have been especially helpful in our adjustment to homesteading, plus some observations on developments around our plot of Earth. If I'm confident enough, maybe even a how-to post or video.
Lastly, homeschooling is a large part of what I do around here. While I still have a lot to learn, I hope to share resources I've found to be helpful and techniques that have worked with my young children. But I'm always open to suggestions so please, don't hesitate to pass them along!
In time, I hope this site becomes a resource for those who hope to create the types of Catholic Worker farms and families that Maurin and Day originally envisioned. The CW movement was never meant to stay in the cities, though the work done there is some of its most well known and commendable. There is a way for the rest of us to incorporate the CW principles into our lives without running off to NYC.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

June Reflection

This weekend marks the one year anniversary of my youngest son's diagnosis with Spinal Muscular Atrophy. We will spend Saturday at a Walk-A-Thon organized by my friends to help raise money for his related medical expenses.
The arrival of this infamous milestone is cause for me to reflect on all that has transpired over the course of this last year. Obviously, Fulton's diagnosis is hands down, the absolute worst event that occurred and probably ever will occur in this family. When faced with a disease like SMA, everything else in ones life falls quickly, and clearly into perspective. The spiritual, physical and emotional toll is unimaginable and ongoing. The only way I can describe it to those whose lives are not touched by a similarly devastating event is as such; a gaping, open wound on my very heart and soul. There are times when the wound is covered by a scab and the pain is less intense, the fears and tribulations of the trauma that caused the wound seem long past. But other times, the scab is ripped off anew, sometimes only by a thoughtless word or gesture, and I am left clutching at a hole from which pours forth unceasing pain and agony, and drowns all joy until the damage can be repaired.
Compared to such, how could whatever else life hands me, compare? So it must seem to many that I am ignorant, foolish, hardhearted or prideful when I do not response emotionally to what others consider a stressful situation.
In the last year, on top of Fulton's diagnosis and ongoing care, we have welcomed my husband's parents into our home, as permanent residents. We accepted God's surprise blessing of another baby, due Nov. 16, into our lives. And today, I will watch my husband arrive home from his job of six years for the last time; laid off and unemployed.
What is one to do when confronted with so many situations that lay out of ones control, or seem to have slipped through the cracks in an otherwise meticulously organized life? I have tried to think of ways to write about this topic for quite awhile and I have no concrete answers to the questions I've been asking for the last 12 months. I've relied heavily on my sense of humor and heavily on abandoning everything to God. When I allow myself the time and energy to dwell on my situation I feel like Atlas, balancing the world on my shoulders, and I am crushed, and defeated.
There is only God. I could reject Him now, and blame him for everything and curse my situation. Or I could turn it all over to Him, the only One who can bring good from what mankind can only understand as tragedy.
I don't want to be a "Job" and I feel like now I keep expecting another disaster to befall our family. But accepting what comes our way as God's divine plan for us make everything manageable. It is not an excuse for throwing up our hands, as if we have no choice in the matter. In fact by choosing to participate with God in these trials we are more apt to learn and grow. Sacrifice makes us stronger and helps us to persevere down the path God outlines for his followers. Jesus never claimed our life on Earth would be easy and I have to laugh at those who feel only good things come from God and bad things are what we do to ourselves. Convenient, comfortable and casual is their brand of Christianity. We have so much to gain from the bad things that God allows. Just because the rewards lay outside the understanding of mainstream society does not mean they don't exist or have tangible value.
I am a different person than I was a year ago. My situation shows me more clearly than ever my own faults and failings. I hope the next year, most especially, brings my son a miraculous cure, but secondly a joy and hope in accepting God's will, while offering up the pain, rather than a hesitant and reluctant walk with Him. May my joyful example convert the hearts of those who now only understand my faith as a curse or cause of my misfortune.