Musingly Making a Magical Morning Brew

“Life Happens,

Coffee Helps.” -Unknown


Warm sun rays filtered through windows, the whistling of a teapot, rustling of kitchen cabinets and then boiling water pouring over coffee grounds. I watch through blurry eyes as my husband starts one of our morning rituals.

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This is a Chemx coffee pot, so much better than the average muggle coffee maker.

I’ve surprisingly grown to love mornings, something that I never thought would happen. It holds a certain kind of magic that makes you slow down, to stop and smell the roses. Not to say that I spring out of my bed at sunrise and I’m ready to take on the day…..but I will say it helps me to better prepare for the day ahead.

Finding time for intricate spells and rituals can be hard with the daily struggles of the muggle lives we live. That’s why I try to make my daily chores into opportunities to make magic. And my morning coffee is a great way to do this.

I truly enjoy the flavor of coffee as well the little pep is an added bonus. While most of us can still be going through the motions  while making coffee try and take your time. While pouring my coffee into my mug I try to take in the smell and just let that start waking up my mind and opening all my senses. I also don’t drink coffee black, so in goes the cream! Taking a spoon I will start stirring clockwise and begin to focus my mind. With each passing of the spoon I’m pouring in the intentions of alertness, clarity, focus or anything that I really need for that day.

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We also enjoy the taste of coffee made with a French Press.

With that I take the spoon out, give it a taste test then proceed to  sit in my spot on the couch and enjoy the early morning with my Husband talking, reflecting, reading and making plans for the day. All while sipping my magic brew.

Remember that magic is everywhere, around you and within you. All you have to do is look and be creative. Blessed be lovelys and may your path be bright.

-Jessie, The Homesteading Witch

 

Nothing Like a Good Deal…

As July is coming to a close we are building a whole new list of project goals for the upcoming months. August and September are going to be busy. Outside chores are beginning to slow down and with that we are buckling down to focus on paying off debts and getting some improvements to the house completely done. Walls need painted, shelves need moved, and we would both love to get some power outlets in reasonable locations (the house was originally open-floor so outlets are terribly situated). One of the other big goals we had decided on was the installation of a chimney in the center of the house. After having a seizure upon sight of last-winter’s electric bills, we want nothing to do with electric heaters and have decided to install a wood-stove in our home.

Originally we wanted a more ornate stove that could act as a nice center-piece for the living room (nothing like fire-light and reading!) Unfortunately though, those aren’t cheap and we decided to forgo buying what we wanted this year to save some cash. Instead we settled on an older cast-iron cook-stove we got from some family that was moving away. With the expense of a stove out of the way we realized we would still need to set aside approximately $1000 for stove-pipe, flashing, and other parts to get the job done right.

Doable, but certainly not chump change.

Then Tuesday came and we happened across this little beauty!

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A gorgeous little glass-front wood stove (the exact model we were wanting), 11 feet of just the pipe we needed, and the cap! All for the less than the price of the stove alone had we bought it brand new. All said and done, its a savings of over $1000 easily and we are happy happy happy.

 

Now just to get it installed…..Coming soon!

-J&D

Sunday Blog II: Knowing Your Salt…

Another Sunday morning here in Indiana and I’m out in the woods, sitting leaned up against a large red-maple tree listening to the morning-doves that live with us in the northwest corner of the property. The wind is coming out of the northwest; about 5 mph. The temperature is about 71  F and the clouds are for the most part stratus mixed with cumulus; enough to cover the sky in a light shade of gray. 

A moment ago I noticed two small trees next to me which had a peculiar trait. Each tree had two-three different shapes of leaves all scattered about on one branch. Standing up, I walked over and picked two of the differing leaves before sitting down and making some additional notes about these young fellows.

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I won’t bore you further with my botanical notes, but this process started me thinking about the importance of knowing the world around you. Being as it is Sunday, I thought I’d take a moment to see what the Bible had to say about it and I happened to open my book to this:

Matthew 5:13

“You are the salt of the earth, but what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.”

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If we are the salt of the earth, how can we expect to just remain useful? Leave salt in the cupboard for years and it will harden and solidify and while salt cannot actually lose its flavor, if it is mixed with the wrong things or allowed to become wet it can deteriorate and be washed away.

In the same way we can get sucked into the day-to-day, distracted so much by the ants in the cupboard we don’t realize they are carrying us away one grain at a time. Before long we might find ourselves missing something, a portion of our being gone; taken away by the process of life or eroded by the winds of time. We are like all other things, mortal and susceptible to decay and rot lest we make a conscious effort to prevent it. Closing the cupboard door will do nothing but blind us to ants coming in or the water leaking down, yet left to the natural path we will decay into nothingness.

So what can we do?

We can open our eyes and ears. We can look and listen so that when the ants come we can ward them off. When the cupboard leaks we can move to another place. We can look and listen to everything around us and do our best to understand all things. Instead of casually switching topics left and right, we can observe more closely to discern those details unnoticeable at a passing-glance. In short: we can learn to pay attention to the world around us.

Since I was a boy I’ve been told to slow down. I’m so grateful for the old-dogs who taught me to take time to observe the world around me and in the above passage, it seems to me Jesus is saying the same thing. Just as salt is worthless to the world if it has no flavor, we are equally worthless if we have nothing to offer. A man who knows nothing is a little more than a burden and a nuisance to others, and a man cannot know anything without having first paid close attention.

So this Sunday maybe try to slow down and listen a little more intently. Take the time to look a little closer at things and make sure your salt hasn’t been carried off by the ants or washed away by the rain. Get to know the world around you a little better than you did before and above all enjoy your time doing it.

Take the time to get to know your salt. Have a good Sunday,

Dalton

 

Homesteading Mindset: Think Long Term…

We all have dreams. We all have goals. We all have things we want to accomplish in life; whether it is becoming a business-owner or a pro-athlete, a top-level-chef or a world-renowned author, a television host or a simple homesteader.

Having dreams and goals is a critical part of the human experience we are all dealing with. Our dreams give us foresight and give birth to our goals. They allow us to look past the what-is and see instead the what-could-be. We know by their very existence that there is more to life than what lies in front of us and we naturally want to bring the real world a little closer to those dreams.

Here’s the thing though…..bringing those dreams to fruition is not an easy task. It takes time, effort, and a dedicated plan. Dreaming is easy, everybody does it. Setting goals is more difficult, but lots of people still do it. Keeping on the path to attaining those goals is the true challenge and we need more people who can do that too.

The problem is we live in a high-speed world. It is easy to get distracted and in many ways our lifestyle encourages us to embrace the distraction. Click this, click that. Don’t finish this video before you start another, don’t specialize because we need more generalists, don’t commit to one person too much, etc. Buy this, buy that, everything begs for all your attention at all times and everything is at your fingertips. All of this has combined to do away with the ancient world of waiting. We live today in a world of instant-gratification. Unfortunately….

Goals don’t work that way.

No, goals don’t work that way at all. Dreams come and go in a flash like a Google search, but goals take time. They take work. They take discipline. But above all things goals take PATIENCE and a commitment to the long-term.

The way I see it life is like one giant map and no matter where you start out on that map, your goals are always somewhere else. Sometimes its hard to tell exactly where they are, but you know they are out there somewhere on the map and you know if you want to reach them you have to start off down some road. You may encounter crossroads and corners, dead ends and detours, but you know one of the roads will lead to your goal. You know its there. You can feel it, even if you can’t usually see it. But it is hard to keep moving when you can’t see any progress, or when you see yourself go backwards. It can make you want to just give up and go home.

It is so important that you don’t. Keep walking. Keep taking steps. Keep moving forward even if the mailbox is still out-of-sight.  Keep doing the work because I promise you, even if the destination is still out of sight a quick glance behind you will show just how far you’ve come.

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I have to remind myself of this almost daily. As young homesteaders we have far more energy than we have time or money and it is difficult to find our projects brought to a standstill. At least once a week I fight with myself for not having more money to complete projects, or not having enough time to get what I want done. I feel lazy if I don’t see progress immediately. I feel inadequate if I find myself unable to do something I think I should be able to just do. But I know sometimes that is the way things go and thanks to my wife, my friends, and my family I know that in reality we are making progress. We have a clear goal in mind and we are taking strides along the path to reach it.

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And I can promise you….if you have a goal in mind and are working towards it you are making progress too. You may not be able to see it. You might get depressed or disappointed or disheartened. That is okay. It happens to all of us. But keep walking. Keep walking. KEEP WALKING. Every step you take forward takes you a little bit closer to your goal. Even right now I promise you’ve come a lot farther than you think. So I’ll say it one more time. KEEP WALKING, your destination awaits…

Even if you can’t see it yet….

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-J&D

II. Perfecting Form Through Philosophy…

I do not think there is a more lovely sight than the rising sun in the Midwest countryside. Mother morning is a lovely lass and she greeted me this morning with the beauty of the stars . She was a fetching sight to behold as I drove north for my Wednesday routine and I couldn’t help but smile at the twinkling morning-star as I made my way to the city to meet my instructor.

Such mornings are always a blessing. They make the struggle of waking up easier but they also serve as a foundation for the day, making it easier to maintain a positive outlook throughout the day’s challenges. What’s more, they help a sometimes restless soul to step back, reflect, and just relax for a little while……

It was this beautiful morning which inspired my enjoyment and reflections of this mornings class and I wanted to share….

Today’s class began in the typical fashion. Upon arriving I changed out and stretched before sitting down with my instructor to discuss a bit of the philosophy behind the art of Tai Chi before moving onto forms and applications. For today’s discussion, we reviewed the following passage of the Tao Te Ching 


Twenty-Eight:

Know the strength of man,
But keep a woman’s care!
Be the stream of the universe!
Being the stream of the universe,
Ever true and unswerving,
Become as a little child once more.

Know the white,
But keep the black!
Be an example to the world!
Being an example to the world,
Ever true and unwavering,
Return to the infinite.

Know honor,
Yet keep humility!
Be the valley of the universe!
Being the valley of the universe,
Ever true and resourceful,
Return to the state of the uncarved block.

When the block is carved, it becomes useful.
When the sage uses it, he becomes the ruler.
Thus, “A great tailor makes few cuts.” 


The Tao Te Ching is perhaps my favorite religious book to read due to each small verse reinforces and demonstrates the principles and truths of Tai Chi and life itself. This verse (like so many others) shows why.

In the first paragraph we read,

“Know the strength of man,
But keep a woman’s care!”

Any martial art can serve as both a spiritual and physical discipline. In all of our actions (physical and otherwise) it is good to know the strength of man. Without this strength we cannot stand our ground, we can only yield. Yet without the ability to yield willingly (thus keeping a woman’s care) we cannot hope to survive for long. Even the best boxers must yield to their opponents punches.

“Be the stream of the universe!
Being the stream of the universe,
Ever true and unswerving,
Become as a little child once more.”

A stream is a low place where water gathers and flows. In order for a stream to exist there must be some lower place for the water to go. In the universe this process of lowering is endless. In life there is always another lesson to be learned, some new view unconsidered, some new task to complete. If a heart be pure, it shall never waver in purpose. All who see it will know it for what it is, and it will be as a little child once more. (I cannot recall the exact verse though I think it be in the book of Matthew….there is a story of two men who, upon seeing Jesus and without introduction recognize him instantly as the son of God.)

We see this first verse repeated twice more, each time in different words and with each repetition we can glean some other meaning or lesson if we choose to look.

“Know the white,
But keep the black!
Be an example to the world!
Being an example to the world,
Ever true and unwavering,
Return to the infinite.”

To know the white is to be aware of the perfection. To keep the black is to recognize imperfection and accept it. Those who practice this can find peace. Those who find peace are examples to the world. Those examples who persevere in their quest shall return to the infinite. (This line can be seen in the necessary torturous death, resurrection, and ultimate ascension of Christ. It is also seen in the attaining of enlightenment by Siddhārtha Gautama, the first Buddha, while sitting beneath the Bodhi tree being taunted by demons.)

“Know honor,
Yet keep humility!
Be the valley of the universe!
Being the valley of the universe,
Ever true and resourceful,
Return to the state of the uncarved block.”

If we are to function in the world we must interact with it. In order to successfully do so we must honor certain things in certain ways. This honor must extend to ourselves as well, yet we must keep it in check! Let us leave seppuku to the history where it belongs.

The valley is the meeting place of all things. Animals come to the fertile valley to eat and drink. Humans build in the natural shelter of the surrounding hills. They are full of life and resources, yet in spite of their beauty they remain the lowest of the land; humble and meek, simple and plain. The simple things in life are often the most valuable.

“When the block is carved, it becomes useful.
When the sage uses it, he becomes the ruler.
Thus, “A great tailor makes few cuts.”

When something is given purpose it becomes useful. When the wise know how to use it they become great. In order to use something well, you must learn to use it well.


This is the reason I so love the Tao Te Ching. These verses….so many lessons can be learned from them. With each reread I find myself pondering some new realization and while the majority of the lessons seem exceedingly simple they are nonetheless true. In fact it is the simplicity of the lessons which makes their teaching and sharing so important. In reality, life is quite simple. It isn’t a complicated matter to live a successful life, yet we see many people barely getting by each day and the question arises….why?

We humans tend to overthink things. Sometimes that is okay. Sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it leads to a denial of the obvious for fear it too good to be true. Other times a little bit of overthinking….is just what we need to sweep off the complexities and reveal the simplicity beneath.

If you made it this far….congratulations and thank you. I hope you enjoyed some of this. Feel free to comment, share, ask, etc.

Dalton.

Sunday Blog 1: Garden Spaces and Sacred Places…

Good morning everyone. I hope this Sunday finds you well, relaxing with coffee in-hand. The sky here is gray with clouds, the lights are dimmed and the house is silent. Two pups are snoozing on the couch and my lovely wife is still asleep, enjoying a respite from my early-morning antics she puts up with every other day. As for myself, I’m enjoying my coffee, a pipe, and the beautiful silence of my Sunday morning solitude.

All this combines into what I wanted to bring up today: the importance of sacred place and time. 

I could probably write on this topic for hours, but Sunday is a day of rest is it not? So instead of boring you with my theory I’ll keep it short and sweet:


The single best thing you can do for your mental and spiritual well-being is to have a place and time set aside each day and/or week for reflection. This place must be considered sacred to you; no stress be permitted to enter. This time must be sacred to you: no work. Just uninterrupted time for self-reflection.


For myself and my wife this place is our home and in-particular; our garden.

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A line of tomatoes held up with wooden-trellis

The garden is one of our most sacred spaces. When we enter through it’s gate nothing enters with us. Saturday and Sunday mornings both are often spent peacefully milling about within it’s borders doing this or that, giving us time to stop thinking about life and simply live it.

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No reward is better than the cultivating of life…

So this Sunday morning (if you haven’t already) find yourself a sacred space to enjoy and take some time to stop thinking so much and worrying over life. Just let it happen.

Be that in church, or a garden, or a walk through the woods….go and enjoy some time to you.

After all you deserve it.

-J&D

Choosing, Cutting, and Preparing Firewood…

Growing up, summer-time was always a time for preparation. Winter shows up fast and if we were caught off-guard we went without heat. Now that we own a homestead ourselves we are living the same way, and the time of preparation for winter is here…


If you live in midwest America there is a good chance you use firewood for heat in the winter and, if you don’t, you at least know someone who does. There’s a lot to be said about this age-old method of heating a home. Its crude. Its primitive. Its the best heat there is if you ask anyone who has used it before. However nobody will deny heating with firewood can be a lot of work. Unless you are fortunate enough to be able to buy your firewood (seldom a very cost-effective option) heating with this fuel means you’ll find yourself cutting, splitting, and stacking firewood every spring, summer and fall, preparing for the winters ahead.

It is hard work to be sure, but its far from impossible. With a little bit of knowledge, the proper tools, and some good work-ethic getting ready for a winter of wood-burning can be made ten times easier. While I can’t help with the tools or work-ethic, I can try to shed a little light on a few of the things to help make your summers a little less laborious and your winters a little more warm.


Not all firewoods are created equal.

There are two ‘kinds’ of firewood; hardwoods and softwoods. Generally softwoods are readily available in higher elevations and more northerly locations and include species such as Alder, Juniper, and most (if not all) coniferous trees (pines and spruces). Hardwoods thrive in the middle and southern-latitudes and are normally broad-leaved. Oak trees, maples, and Osage Orange(Hedge-Apple) are examples of hardwoods.

As the name suggests, softwoods are less rigid than their hardwood counterparts and they tend to grow much faster. They are more readily available, lighter weight, and are easier to deal with when cutting and splitting.

Hardwoods on the other hand are less common in full-form. Their wood is harder, more dense, and as a result will usually be much heavier. Splitting them tends to be more difficult as well.

When it comes to burning, hardwoods are the best option. For all the extra work they require to process, they will burn longer and hotter than most softwoods. (An oak log can burn 1.5x-2x as long as a similarly sized pine log.) If hardwoods are not available softwoods are still more than adequate and safe for burning in a wood stove, but it should be noted they will burn faster and not as hot. Softwoods also have a tendency to leave a lot of creosote in chimneys, so if you choose to use them make sure to clean your chimney frequently during the season.

Good tools are worth the investment.

No invention has made cutting firewood easier than the chainsaw. If you don’t have one, Echo, Husqvarna, and Stihl are the most popular and reliable brands in my experience. My current saw is an Echo with an 18-inch bar. It is reasonably powerful and has done the job well for the year and change I’ve been using it. I could go into more details about chainsaws and their use but I’ll save that for another day.

While chainsaws take care of the cutting, when it comes to splitting it up there is only so much we can do. While gas powered splitters make the task of splitting wood immensely easier, some of us can’t afford those. If you can’t no worries, but you need to invest in the following:

  1. A full-size ax. A hatchet is useful too but I prefer an ax. If a log doesn’t have a crack, you can use an ax to make one easier than a maul.
  2. A splitting maul. This is the bruiser; a big piece of iron secured to a long handle meant to be swung fast. Short of a gas-powered splitter, this is the best you can get. Remember, weight is not superior to velocity. Mine is 8.5 lbs and is plenty. Make sure you can swing it fastI can’t stress this enough. Use your body-weight. Swing fast.

 

  1. A sledgehammer. If a maul gets stuck or you need to split an extra-large log in half, a sledgehammer comes in handy especially when combined with…….(see next).
  2. Two to four wedges (I like one small, two medium, and one large.) Hit these with the sledgehammer to help crack larger chunks in pieces.
  3. Safety glasses and earplugs! We’re all guilty of skipping out on safety equipment sometimes. For god’s sake though do your best to be safe. You’ve only got one body. Take care of it. If you’re hitting metal-on-metal, wear them!!

 

 

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Wood burns. WATER DOESN’T! (Firewood Storage).

Firewood comes from a living organism and like all organisms on planet Earth, living trees have a huge amount of water in them (this is why green wood is such a pain to burn). Lucky for us that water begins to evaporate and leave dry wood behind as soon as a tree dies. Cutting and splitting firewood speeds the process up even more and helps firewood to ‘season‘. (Dry out enough to burn most effectively.) However wood acts like a sponge and will begin to absorb any water in its immediate vicinity.

After wood has been cut stacking it outside in the sunlight for 4-6 months will not cause an issue. In fact, for those first few months the wind and sunlight on the wood can help it ‘season’ faster. After 6 months though it is important to get firewood off of the ground and (if at all possible) stacked neatly out of the elements. We use a barn to store ours (see below.) Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-12-21,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

 You may hear some claim its okay to store firewood outside. They are right; it is okay if you use it in a timely fashion and are okay with sending valuable time and work out the chimney instead of into your home. Wood is an organic material. If stored outside it will begin to rot (especially the lower layers or any in contact with the ground.) Wet and/or rotten wood does not burn nearly as well as dry, well-seasoned wood.

So store your wood under a roof!  If you can’t do that, store it under a quality tarp and off of the ground.

(Another note: Certain types of wood rot extremely fast. Hickory and Sycamore are two hardwoods you don’t want to store in contact with the ground. Most softwoods also will rot quickly if left to the elements.)

Greater Surface area = Greater Burn-Rate.

I’m not going to elaborate too much here but I think its worth mentioning this: the shape of firewood will be a contributing factor to how long/hot it burns. While you are are somewhat constrained to cutting/splitting pieces of wood to the size of your stove/burner, the more surface area available for the fire to come in contact with(relative to the total amount of wood in the fire) the faster and hotter it will burn.

For example, if you have a large stove and place a single 50 lbs. oak log in it; the fire will (generally) burn longer and cooler than if you put five 10 lbs oak logs in it. The extra airspace and surface area of multiple-logs will increase the burn-temp and time.

It takes a while to get the hang of using this piece of knowledge to economize your wood-use, but its a handy thing to know and over time can help you burn firewood more efficiently (and according to your needs.)


The intense labor required to heat with firewood may discourage some, but for those who still want to use this classic method to heat their homes (or those who have no choice) it is worth every penny and every minute spent. The feeling of relying on nobody but yourself for heat, the self-sufficiency and off-grid ability of a wood-stove, and the sheer romantic/homey atmosphere flickering flames can create in a room combine to make wood-heat hands down the best heat in my opinion.

And its pretty good for nature too. (Seriously, its one of the greenest options out there if you are conscious of your methods.)

Hopefully I didn’t bore you too much and I hope you get some use from this! Thanks for reading and feel free to like, share, and comment!

-Dalton.

 

Chickens and Duckies

Did you know more babies are born in April and May than any other month? Okay, I’m not actually sure if that is true for humans….but it certainly seems true of everything else! Spring is past but just a couple months ago all the wild things in the woods were having babies, and so were some of the less-wild critters we share a home with. In April we were gifted a dozen baby chickens and we now have five more born the last days of May and the first of June; this time Muscovy ducks!

This being only our second year on the property, we have only invested in chickens and ducks for livestock. Up until this April our little flock of chickens was made up of 20 Buff Orpingtons, 3 Rhode Island Reds, and 1 retiree of unknown breed (‘Blondie’). Over the winter we rescued Anna and Draco here, two Muscovy ducks that were nearly freezing to death in somebody’s backyard just south of us. While we fully expected a few of the chickens to go broody (Buffs are terrible about it) we didn’t expect our female duck to try so soon! Sure enough though at the end of April we came out to find she had built up a clutch of eggs and was no longer interested in leaving; she’d gone broody.

 

 

However we ran into a problem: Muscovies take a long time to hatch eggs. A normal chicken takes 21 days to hatch and most ducks 28. Muscovy ducks take anywhere from 35-37 days to hatch little ones. Such a long time on a nest can of course stress any mama, especially during one of the hottest Mays on record. The daytime temperature last month averaged around 85 with several days nearing 100 degrees Fahrenheit. With her nest inside a tin coop there was no escaping the stifling heat and no easy way to increase air-flow. Despite our best efforts the inside temperature still neared 120 on the hottest days, and our worries were amplified when we went out on day 21-22 and found two baby chickens beneath her(a hen snuck in an egg or two). They had just hatched and as far as Anna was concerned, they were hers.

We let her keep the chicks a couple of days while we moved the April-babies to a new section of the adult coop, but we were concerned if we left them much longer she might leave the nest. The April-babies had grown enough to keep warm without a heat lamp so we quickly cleaned out the brooder box we’d made for them and after a bit of a fuss, stole the two chicken-babies from Anna and put them in the brooder box. While she wasn’t happy with us she (thankfully) stayed put on her remaining eggs.

After waiting another 12 days for ducklings we began to worry. We’d lost a good hen to the heat and Anna was starting to look weak when she got up to drink. We finally decided if no babies were seen by June 2nd we were going to take her eggs for her own safety. Thankfully the universe was intent on proving our worries pointless because on June 1st we came out to find our first duckling! Over the next three days we had four more hatch; three on their own and one with human-assistance. The natural-hatchers were strong and healthy and while we got a bit scared for the baby we helped, a night spent in mama’s bra to keep warm found him steadily improving (if you’ve seen our instagram you may know him as Little-Bit).

So here we are at the end of June and baby season is finally over. All the eggs are hatched and all the babies are growing fast. The duckling we assisted hatching imprinted on us and he and the chickens Anna hatched are now best friends. The April-babies are nearly old enough to go in with the adult-birds full time (we are currently in the process of integration), and Anna’s four other ducklings are happy and healthy and learning to explore! There are still a few months of ‘growing pains’ but the hardest part of the year is officially out of the way and while we love the little rascals in all their cuteness…..we are thankful it is over (for now!)

And for one last dollop of cuteness before you go….how’s this? 

 

VI. Ashen Work….

Through the lives of boy and man self and soul distort and tear.

My youthful eyes saw only ‘world’ and so glistened with the pride of kings.

A little lord, I bent to rest but dropped instead my golden crown,

Brought to knees I scraped the hearth in search of what I thought I’d lost,

Forced to bear a peasants work, my soul is what I found….

Shiji Ren

V. The Story of Iron John…

The societies, religions, and histories of mankind are abound with myths and stories ranging from the fantastical tales of Tolkien to the folklore of the Brothers Grimm. Across space and time they make themselves eternally known, from ancient Mesopotamia’s ‘Gilgamesh’ to the latest box-office film in the modern world. Stories are a part of human life, intertwined with the human soul. To imagine a story is to most as natural as taking a breath. 

Often though it is forgotten…..the tales we tell are far more than mere entertainment. They are road-maps to the living of a good life. Within every story are elements of humanity; keys and hints to the understanding of oneself (and thus the world) made easily accessible and kept within reach, if we only take the time to find them. 

The following is one of my favorite stories and (in many ways) a perfect example of a road-map to life. This version is from the Brothers Grimm but there are several other variants found across the world. That being said, enjoy….

The Story of Iron John.

 


 

Once upon a time there was a king who had a great forest near his castle, full of all kinds of wild animals. One day he sent out a huntsman to shoot a deer, but the huntsman did not come back again.

“Perhaps he has had an accident,” said the king, and the following day he sent out two other huntsmen who were to search for him, but they did not return either. Then on the third day, he summoned all his huntsmen, and said, “Search through the whole forest, and do not give up until you have found all three.”

But none of these came home again either, nor were any of the hounds from the pack that they had taken with them ever seen again.

From that time on, no one dared to go into these woods, and they lay there in deep quiet and solitude, and all that one saw from there was an occasional eagle or hawk flying overhead.

This lasted for many years, when an unknown huntsman presented himself to the king seeking a position, and he volunteered to go into the dangerous woods.

The king, however, did not want to give his permission, and said, “It is haunted in there. I am afraid that you will do no better than the others, and that you will never come out again.”

The huntsman answered, “Sir, I will proceed at my own risk. I know nothing of fear.”

The huntsman therefore set forth with his dog into the woods. It was not long before the dog picked up a scent and wanted to follow it, but the dog had run only a few steps when it came to a deep pool, and could go no further. Then a naked arm reached out of the water, seized the dog, and pulled it under.

When the huntsman saw that, he went back and got three men. They returned with buckets and bailed out the water. When they could see to the bottom, there was a wild man lying there. His body was brown like rusty iron, and his hair hung over his face down to his knees. They bound him with cords and led him away to the castle.

Everyone was greatly astonished at the wild man. The king had him put into an iron cage in his courtyard, forbidding, on pain of death, that the cage door be opened. The queen herself was to safeguard the key.

From this time forth everyone could once again go safely into the woods.

The king had a son of eight years. One day he was playing in the courtyard, and during his game his golden ball fell into the cage.

The boy ran to the cage and said, “Give me my ball.”

“Not until you have opened the door for me,” answered the man.

“No,” said the boy, “I will not do that. The king has forbidden it,” and he ran away.

The next day he came again and demanded his ball.

The wild man said, “Open my door,” but the boy would not do so.

On the third day the king had ridden out hunting, and the boy went once more and said, “Even if I wanted to, I could not open the door. I do not have the key.”

Then the wild man said, “It is under your mother’s pillow. You can get it there.”

The boy, who wanted to have his ball back, threw all caution to the wind, and got the key. The door opened with difficulty, and the boy pinched his finger. When it was open, the wild man stepped out, gave him the golden ball, and hurried away.

The boy became afraid. He cried out and called after him, “Oh, wild man, do not go away, or I shall get a beating.”

The wild man turned around, picked him up, set him on his shoulders, and ran into the woods.

When the king came home he noticed the empty cage and asked the queen how it had happened. She knew nothing about it, and looked for the key, but it was gone. She called the boy, but no one answered.

The king sent out people to look for him in the field, but they did not find him. Then he could easily guess what had happened, and great sorrow ruled at the royal court.

After the wild man had once more reached the dark woods, he set the boy down from his shoulders, and said to him, “You will never again see your father and mother, but I will keep you with me, for you have set me free, and I have compassion for you. If you do what I tell you, it will go well with you. I have enough treasures and gold, more than anyone in the world.”

He made a bed of moss for the boy, upon which he fell asleep. The next morning the man took him to a spring and said, “Look, this golden spring is as bright and clear as crystal. You shall sit beside it, and take care that nothing falls into it, otherwise it will be polluted. I shall come every evening to see if you have obeyed my order.”

The boy sat down at the edge of the spring, and saw how sometimes a golden fish and sometimes a golden snake appeared from within, and took care that nothing fell into it. As he was thus sitting there, his finger hurt him so fiercely that he involuntarily put it into the water. He quickly pulled it out again, but saw that it was completely covered with gold. However hard he tried to wipe the gold off again, it was to no avail.

That evening the wild man came back, looked at the boy, and said, “What has happened to the spring?”

“Nothing, nothing,” the boy answered, holding his finger behind his back, so the man would not be able to see it.

But the man said, “You have dipped your finger into the water. This time I will let it go, but be careful that you do not again let anything else fall in.”

Very early the next morning the boy was already sitting by the spring and keeping watch. His finger hurt him again, and he rubbed it across his head. Then unfortunately a hair fell down into the spring. He quickly pulled it out, but it was already completely covered with gold.

The wild man came and already knew what had happened. “You have let a hair fall into the spring,” he said. “I will overlook this once more, but if it happens a third time then the spring will be polluted, and you will no longer be able to stay with me.”

On the third day the boy sat by the spring and did not move his finger, however much it hurt him. But time passed slowly for him, and he looked at the reflection of his face in the water. While doing this he bent down lower and lower, wanting to look straight into his eyes, when his long hair fell from his shoulders down into the water. He quickly straightened himself up, but all the hair on his head was already covered with gold, and glistened like the sun. You can imagine how frightened the poor boy was. He took his handkerchief and tied it around his head, so that the man would not be able to see his hair.

When the man came, he already knew everything, and said, “Untie the handkerchief.”

The golden hair streamed forth, and no excuse that the boy could offer was of any use.

“You have failed the test, and you can stay here no longer. Go out into the world. There you will learn what poverty is. But because you are not bad at heart, and because I mean well by you, I will grant you one thing: If you are ever in need, go into the woods and cry out, ‘Iron John,’ and then I will come and help you. My power is great, greater than you think, and I have more gold and silver than you could imagine.”

Then the prince left the woods, and walked by beaten and unbeaten paths on and on until at last he reached a great city. There he looked for work, but he was not able to find any, because he had not learned a trade by which he could make a living. Finally he went to the castle and asked if they would take him in.

The people at court did not at all know how they would be able to use him, but they took a liking to him, and told him to stay. Finally the cook took him into service, saying that he could carry wood and water, and rake up the ashes.

Once when no one else was at hand, the cook ordered him to carry the food to the royal table. Because he did not want them to see his golden hair, he kept his cap on. Nothing like this had ever before happened to the king, and he said, “When you approach the royal table you must take your hat off.”

“Oh, sir,” he answered, “I cannot. I have an ugly scab on my head.”

Then the king summoned the cook and scolded him, asking him how he could take such a boy into his service. The cook was to send him away at once. However, the cook had pity on him, and let him trade places with gardener’s boy.

Now the boy had to plant and water the garden, hoe and dig, and put up with the wind and bad weather.

Once in summer when he was working alone in the garden, the day was so hot that he took his hat off so that the air would cool him. As the sun shone on his hair it glistened and sparkled. The rays fell into the princess’s bedroom, and she jumped up to see what it was.

She saw the boy and called out to him, “Boy, bring me a bouquet of flowers.”

He quickly put on his cap, picked some wildflowers, and tied them together.

As he was climbing the steps with them, the gardener met him and said, “How can you take the princess a bouquet of such common flowers? Quick! Go and get some other ones, and choose only the most beautiful and the rarest ones.”

“Oh, no,” replied the boy, the wild ones have a stronger scent, and she will like them better.”

When he got into the room, the princess said, “Take your cap off. It is not polite to keep it on in my presence.”

He again responded, “I cannot do that. I have a scabby head.”

She, however, took hold of his cap and pulled it off. His golden hair rolled down onto his shoulders, and it was a magnificent sight. He wanted to run away, but she held him by his arm, and gave him a handful of gold coins. He went away with them, but he did not care about the gold.

He took the gold pieces to the gardener, saying, “I am giving these things to your children for them to play with.”

The next day the princess called to him again, asking him to bring her a bouquet of wildflowers. When he went in with it, she immediately grabbed at his cap, and wanted to take it away from him, but he held it firmly with both hands. She again gave him a handful of gold coins. He did not want to keep them, giving them instead to the gardener for his children to play with. On the third day it was no different. She was not able to take his cap away from him, and he did not want her gold.

Not long afterwards, the country was overrun by war. The king gathered together his people, not knowing whether or not fight back against the enemy, who was more powerful and had a large army.

Then the gardener’s boy said, “I am grown up, and I want to go to war as well. Just give me a horse.”

The others laughed and said, “After we have left, then look for one by yourself. We will leave one behind for you in the stable.”

After they had left, he went into the stable, and led the horse out. It had a lame foot, and it limped higgledy-hop, higgledy-hop.

Nevertheless he mounted it, and rode away into the dark woods. When he came to the edge of the woods, he called “Iron John” three times so loudly that it sounded through the trees.

The wild man appeared immediately, and said, “What do you need?”

“I need a strong steed, for I am going to war.”

“That you shall have, and even more than you are asking for.”

Then the wild man went back into the woods, and before long a stable-boy came out of the woods leading a great war-horse that blew air through its nostrils. Behind them followed a large army of warriors with clothes of iron and their swords flashing in the sun.

The youth left his three-legged horse with the stable-boy, mounted the other horse, and rode at the head of the army. When he approached the battlefield, a large number of the king’s men had already fallen, and it would not be long before they met defeat. Then the youth galloped up with his iron army and attacked the enemies like a storm, beating down all who opposed him. They tried to flee, but the youth was right behind them, and did not stop, until not a single man was left.

However, instead of returning to the king, he led his army on a roundabout way back into the woods, and then called for Iron John.

“What do you need?” asked the wild man.

“Take back your steed and your army, and give me my three-legged horse again.”

It all happened just as he had requested, and he rode home on his three-legged horse.

When the king returned to his castle, his daughter went to meet him, and congratulated him for his victory.

“I am not the one who earned the victory,” he said, “but a strange knight who came to my aid with his army.”

The daughter wanted to hear who the strange knight was, but the king did not know, and said, “He pursued the enemy, and I did not see him again.”

She asked the gardener where his boy was, but he laughed and said, “He has just come home on his three-legged horse. The others have been making fun of him and shouting, ‘Here comes our higgledy-hop back again.’ They also asked him, ‘Under what hedge have you been lying asleep all this time?’ But he said, ‘I did better than anyone else. Without me it would have gone badly.’ And then they laughed at him all the more.”

The king said to his daughter, “I will proclaim a great festival. It shall last for three days, and you shall throw a golden apple. Perhaps the unknown knight will come.”

When the festival was announced, the youth again went out into the woods and called for Iron John.

“What do you need?” he asked.

“I want to catch the princess’s golden apple.”

“It is as good as done,” said Iron John. “And further, you shall have a suit of red armor and ride on a spirited chestnut horse.”

When the day came, the youth galloped up, took his place among the knights, and was recognized by no one. The princess came forward and threw a golden apple to the knights. He was the only one who caught it, and as soon as he had it, he galloped away.

On the second day Iron John outfitted him as a white knight, and had gave him a white horse to ride to the festival. Again he was the youth caught the apple and without lingering an instant, he galloped away with it.

The king grew angry and said, “That is not allowed. He must appear before me and tell me his name.”

He gave the order that if the knight who caught the apple, were to go away again, they should pursue him, and if he would not come back willingly, they were to strike and stab at him.

On the third day, he received from Iron John a suit of black armor and a black horse, and he caught the apple again. But when he was galloping away with it, the king’s men pursued him, and one of them got so close to him that he wounded the youth’s leg with the point of his sword. In spite of this he escaped from them, but his horse jumped so violently that his helmet fell from his head, and they could see that he had golden hair. They rode back and reported everything to the king.

The next day the princess asked the gardener about his boy.

“He is at work in the garden. The strange fellow has been at the festival too. He came home only yesterday evening. And furthermore, he showed my children three golden apples that he had won.”

The king had him summoned, and he appeared, again with his cap on his head. But the princess went up to him and took it off. His golden hair fell down over his shoulders, and he was so handsome that everyone was amazed.

“Are you the knight who came to the festival every day, each time in a different color, and who caught the three golden apples?” asked the king.

“Yes,” he answered, “and here are the apples,” taking them out of his pocket, and returning them to the king. “If you need more proof, you can see the wound that your men gave me when they were chasing me. But I am also the knight who helped you to your victory over your enemies.”

“If you can perform deeds like these then you are not a gardener’s boy. Tell me, who is your father?”

“My father is a powerful king, and I have as much gold as I might need.”

“I can see,” said the king, “that I owe you thanks. Can I do anything for you?”

“Yes,” he answered. “You can indeed. Give me your daughter for my wife.”

The maiden laughed and said, “He does not care much for ceremony, but I already had seen from his golden hair that he was no gardener’s boy,” and then she went and kissed him.

His father and mother came to the wedding, and were filled with joy, for they had given up all hope of ever seeing their dear son again.

While they sitting at the wedding feast, the music suddenly stopped, the doors opened, and a proud king came in with a great retinue. He walked up to the youth, embraced him, and said, “I am Iron John. I had been transformed into a wild man by a magic spell, but you have broken the spell. All the treasures that I possess shall belong to you.”

The End.


Thank you for reading, feel free to let me know what you think as well as what you see in this story.

-Dalton

Kitchen Witchery Tools

What is a Kitchen Witch? My definition would be a practitioner that infuses his or her magic/energy into foods and remedies they craft, anything from baking cookies to making a batch of rose water. This magic is something that I do all the time and there are many who do as well without even knowing. Ever wonder why the phrase “Doesn’t taste like mom used to make it” is said about a certain food? That person didn’t make it, they didn’t infuse their energy into it.

So what tools does a witch need to have in her kitchen? Well the most common tools seen in any Muggle kitchen for one:

  •         The Wooden Spoon

o   Something as simple as this can have great effects. This is what I would call a wand in the kitchen. It directs energy into whatever you’re mixing. I mean what else do you stir your cauldron with?

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I have has this Mortar and Pestle for years, even before knowing I would follow a more magical path.

 

  •         Mortar and Pestle

o   I have had mine for I don’t know how long. I really started using this when we moved to our homestead. For me the magical purpose behind this tool is to help release and infuse the energy of what you’re crushing. I love making my own seasoning blends with a magical touch, like my hubby’s chicken noodle soup spice blend that will make you feel better when you’re feeling under the weather.

  •         The Cauldron

o   Now this can be a traditional cast iron cauldron or even a simple stock pot. Here the marriage of flavors and magic will, well…..bubble and brew!

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We got this cauldron for our Handfasting last October, it’s a whopping 17 gallon one! This picture is from our self retreat we took over Memorial Day Weekend.
  •         The Knife

o   This is important in any kitchen! What else are you going to do all the chopping with? In the magical sense this helps direct the energy in what you’re cooking up.

  •         Spices

o   Every Kitchen Witch needs to have basic spices. Salt, pepper, rosemary, basil, sage and thyme. Now these are the spices I can’t be without and find that they are pretty darn universal. Can’t buy them? No worries! Herbs are easy to plant in pots so just grow your own spice collection over time. Some spices can be pretty pricey or you can grow your own.

  •         Jars

o   You’ll need something to store all those wonderful spice blends in! I love to

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I love this style of jar, I recycled this Christmas gift with a simple wash and dissoluble labels.

reuse jars for my spice blends and other cooking ingredients. Or to use a planters for an indoor herb garden. You can also give your jars a magical touch with the help from sigils.

Remember it’s the intention behind what you’re doing that makes the magic. As well as certain items will tell you what they were meant to be. Every Witch has his or hers own unique style and path and your kitchen tools may be slightly different.

What’s in your Kitchen Tool Kit?

What are your go to spices?

Can’t wait to hear for you! Blessed Be Lovelies!

I. Martial Arts, Philosophy, Life, Practice…

Over two thousand years ago in the Greek city of Athens a man named Plato put forth his Theory of Forms. Within he argued against the common acceptance that the world we see was the true world, instead suggesting a higher truth, one existent outside the realm of the physical. If you’re not familiar with Plato’s Theory of Forms, click here but to summarize, Plato insisted the physical world was not in fact the truest manifestation of reality. Instead he believed it a mere reflection of a more-perfect ‘World of Forms’ and further suggested that man, with his ability to reason and employ logic, could access this world of forms through thought.  

Regardless of your opinions on the validity of Plato’s theory, I think it a valuable exercise to consider the various other observable realities and life-lessons which make such a theory possible (and conversely are made possible by such a theory). While the list of possibilities could go on ad-infinitum, I wish to direct focus instead to a principle on which we can all agree:

>>>A foundation is best when built on solid ground……

If you were tasked with the building of a house, would you begin building your foundation with sand or stone? Stone of course, but have you considered why? Because stone is more solid right? Well stone is more solid than sand, but wood is also quite solid. Why not build it with planks of wood? Many things are solid yet building with them would prove disastrous, so the reason can’t be so simple as this. In order to find the answer which is most true it is necessary to ask what every person-who-creates must ask of their creation; Firstly “What purpose am I seeking to fulfill?” and secondly “How can I best fulfill it?”

In this case, what purpose would we be fulfilling through the building of our foundation and why is stone the best option for fulfilling it? Fortunately for us the definition of foundation provides us with a clue:

Foundation: an underlying base(n.) or support(n.)

From this we can deduce the purpose of our foundation. To do so we must take into account a critical distinction. The definition of foundation as written above likely conjures up thoughts of…..what? A thing right? An object. Perhaps it is brick, or cinder-block, or concrete but nonetheless if I ask you to picture in your mind a foundation you most likely imagine some sort of….object. Yet an object(noun/thing) can not be a purpose(verb/action), so we’ve still not entirely answered the question.

In order to find the purpose, we must abandon the object and instead consider only what it does. In this case (and nearly all others) this is as simple as viewing the words of the definition not as things, but as actions. That in mind, we can reread our definition as such:

Foundation: that which bases(v.) or supports(v.) 

There you go, we finally have it; the purpose of our foundation and therefore the reason we build our foundation with stone. Houses are heavy and fragile, they will crack and break if they move. What better to support such a thing than a foundation of stone? Wood will rot and bow, metal will rust and corrode, and sand shifts out from underneath. Stone is strong, not too brittle, resistant to time and can be shaped if needed. It occurs naturally, does not easily move or warp with climate changes. and temples of stone stand today (albeit somewhat decayed), even after millennia. Therefore stone is the best possible option.

Or as Plato would perhaps put it, “It is the truest physical manifestation of the FORM of [a] foundation” (in this context).

All of this may seem trivial and petty; a waste of time and energy endlessly chasing words and semantics. However this practice of seeing the world as purpose is one quite beneficial in the mastering of any skill-set. To see a beam under a bridge and recognize it for more than the steel it is made of or what it is, but also for the how and why of it, for the purpose it serves is an exercise in understanding and coming to know the world. It forces you to ask questions you might otherwise never consider and thus, reveal ways of thinking you may never have known without.

Whether you take the philosophy of Plato’s FORMS to heart or not one thing is certain; There is always room for improvement.

 


On Martial Arts Regarding the Preceding: 

In any practice there is nothing so important as the basics. A master simplicity will always have an advantage over the layman of the complex as the layman lacks foundation. Considering the purpose discussed previously, it is easy then to reason that if the basics of an art are truly the foundation then they cannot be as simple as they may appear; they may in fact be the most complex and in need of the most consideration. While a jab+cross combination may appear simple, it can be broken down, picked apart, and perfected endlessly.

To understand something is to recognize your ignorance of it. This is why we must ask questions of everything we do.

Plato’s FORMS:

Many of us could likely agree there is such a thing as a ‘perfect punch.” To be considered such it would need to meet certain criteria. It would need to land. It would need to be effective. It would need to be relaxed and effortless and it would need to be harmless to the puncher. Other prerequisites may exist yet show me one punch which could be considered truly ‘perfect’ by even these few definitions. Such a strike has never been thrown and yet….we know the ‘perfect punch’ exists somewhere. The question is where?

As Plato stated it exists in our minds. We know it exists because we can imagine it. We can feel it. While executing it in the physical world may prove impossible, we can continue to strive towards that unattainable perfection through practice and coincidentally…..through forms.

The practice of forms (gung-fu, boxing, dance) [can be] an exercise again in Platonism if one only take the time to ask, ask, ask and ever insist upon making the form being practiced a little closer to the FORM from which it stems.


If you made it through this thank you for reading, let me know what you think down below and I hope it wasn’t too painful for you! 

-Dalton.