the tiny house : part 1

Last fall we started talking about some sort of structure to build on the farm that we could use as a guest house for visitors and rental income as a farmstay + air bnb. Forever ago, when we were young, we talked about buying an old bed + breakfast as a retirement gig. Our plans shifted, but we still loved the idea of creating + sharing some sort of space here on the farm. Initially we considered canvas tents/cabins. The ease of building only a deck and putting up a structure in a few hours sure seemed nice! But, after weighing options and thinking about it more, we decided a cabin was the way to go for our needs.

At the same time we were dreaming about cabins + tiny houses, our oldest daughter was thinking about her post college plans and we encouraged her to take some time off and live in the cabin. She and her partner (and their two cats!) have been here on the farm with us since late May, just after she graduated unceremoniously due to Covid, and the tiny house project started as soon as they arrived.

Joe looked at a whole lot of plans to come up with his own. 144 square feet is the largest structure you can build without a permit, the cabin is 14×10 with a 8×10 loft (loft space isn’t considered into the square footage). It’s a salt box inspired design, and the loft is six feet at the peak. It’s off the grid, but we have some plans for minimal solar power. We scored some really amazing secondhand items from local friends: a composting toilet, a propane heater, and those lovely 80 inch windows. The cabin is a short walk from our house, but is tucked into a private setting that is very hard to see from the road and overlooks the woods, it’s a really sweet little spot! Aside from the hit our savings account took due to lumber prices being at an all time high (thanks Covid), we are pretty excited about this project.

Here are a few pictures of the process over the last six weeks……..

I’ll be back here soon to share some interior photos with you……

~S

tap, tap, tap, is this thing on?

Porch_Steps copyphoto credit, Nekenasoa Wyble of FloraMore Photography

Well, hello.

Some months ago, I tried to start writing again on Shopify’s blog platform. I think they do online storefronts well, blogs though? Not so much.

I missed having a simple way to share a few words and stories. No ads, no clicking through to read posts, just a plain stream of full posts, like the pages of a journal. I wondered if I had the old password to my Typepad account, back when I blogged for a decade about moving around and raising kids and homeschooling and life (under the name Gypsy Forest).

Turns out, I did.

I got a little weepy at old photos of my babies and smiled at all those recipe + sewing + knitting posts. Plus summers in Alaska with the kids, oh Alaska…..

Typepad has aged and I’m not sure what the longevity of that platform is, so I downloaded the decade+ of blog posts I had there and uploaded them to WordPress. There will be some broken links, especially in the older posts, and I’m slowly making my way through them to fix what I can. It will take some time on this  s–l–o–w  satellite internet we have, but it feels worth it to bring our story all back together.

At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt connecting those older, sometimes vulnerable + rambling entries with my current audience now that I run a small business. After some thought though, it just felt right. I found so many kindred spirits in that old blog, I felt supported by other mamas out there figuring out how to do things differently: preserve food, homeschool kids, attachment parenting, growing a garden, knitting, sewing….. that blog taught me that no matter how much of an outcast you feel like you might be, you aren’t. There are folks out there that will believe in you and hold you up and community can be created in all kinds of ways. 

So, the mic is back on. I’ll be here sharing random bits of life here in this fresh space. I hope you swing by once in awhile and it feels like having a cup of tea with a friend.

xo,

Stephinie

new farm baby….

My sister-in-law turned 50 earlier this month. She shares my love for a lot of things. Kids, food, flowers, gardening, and animals. All the good stuff. I spent the two weeks leading up to her birthday searching for a kitten in need of a home.

On the morning of her birthday a friend connected me to someone who had rescued a litter of three super fluffy kitties the night before. The woman said I could have my pick because none were spoken for yet. I popped over to pick one out for my SIL and was greeted with this face….

maine coon kitten

His two siblings were equally as cute and fluffy. What’s better than one kitten for your birthday? Two, of course. So I told her I would take all three. This little guy stayed with us and the other two were met with much excitement as a surprise birthday gift.

kitten
fluffy kitten

The kids named him Neptune. Our tiny, fluffy, King of Sea. He’s making us laugh and everyone is enjoying his snuggly + sweet personality. A wispy 22 ounces when we brought him home, he now weighs just over two pounds. Gosh they grow quickly. In the last week he’s made friends with Elwood, our other male cat who is just barely a year old. They wrestle like you would expect a set of brothers to do and we are grateful they are friends and also grateful Elwood is helping to use up some of that crazy kitten energy!

baby neptune kitty

So now we are a four! cat! house! (oh my) – no more baby animals for a good long while!

Welcome little Neptune, we’re so glad you landed here with us.

xo~

s

august in the garden…..

Last night I was chatting with my mom on the phone. I haven't seen her for over a year. My parents, brother, and nephews all live in Alaska and our summer + fall travel plans have all been put on hold due to the pandemic. As my mom said last night, "It's hard, but it could definitely be much harder." She's right. She hasn't seen the farm since we've moved in, so I was chatting about the garden and how wild it gets this time of year. Kale waist-high, zucchini tripling in size overnight…..

Our garden last year was four raised beds full of mostly medicinal herbs and just a few basic veggies…..

year one, spring garden

year one, late summer

I shared a little in a previous post about how we expanded things this spring, and now I've finally got some photos to share here. Recent happenings include a terraced row of Munstead Lavender along the hill (righthand side of the first photo below) and the second greenhouse is up. I'm a little late planting for winter, but it's mostly things like radishes and greens, so I think we'll be just fine.

year two, late summer

The original four raised beds are what you can see on the left. Joe had the idea to have these curvy sort of organic-looking beds, which add so much to the magical feeling of the garden this year. You can see three new large beds on the right of the photo. There is a long mostly straight bed at the back with flowers + tomatoes + peppers + culinary herbs, a teardrop-shaped bed in the middle, and a curvy bed on the bottom right. Just out of the frame in the first photo, there is one more perennial medicinal herb + flower bed at the base of the hill on the far right. Also not visible are two 20 foot rows of raspberries to the right of the greenhouse and behind that 15 or so blueberry bushes, 3 rhubarb plants, and a nice two-bay compost setup that Joe built this spring.

second year garden permaculture biodynamic

This photo is looking up towards the house, which is just out of view to the right, you can see a strawberry bed at the top right which will probably become a perennial flower garden next year. I plan to move the strawberry bed into the bottom garden and will likely be fencing it off from our flock of 20+ free-range hens who love rearranging my garden mulch!

The medicinal herbs and veggies are all interplanted in what to some might seem like a bit of a mess, and to others a magical weaving of food and medicine that represents our use of these plant friends…. everything connected and together. Admittedly, this looser gardening style is new to me. In the past, I've been a straight-lines-and-specific-categories type of gardener. But a lot of biodynamic + permaculture reading along with Joe's desire for the garden to feel like it sprung up out of the woods has shifted everything. So far it seems to be working out pretty well…

nasturtium swiss chard rain garden

umpqua broccoli permaculture garden

sunflower rain garden

nasturtium kale chard interplanted permaculture biodynamic garden

green bean flower garden biodynamic permaculture

In between baskets full of harvesting and weeding and preserving food – we're making mental and physical notes of what worked and what didn't. What we need less of or more of next year. It's our first year (ever!) having a garden this size and we've learned a lot about the specific pros and cons to growing food + medicine in this space. I suppose every year will bring knowledge with it, but this first year has seemed especially full of it. 

Here we are though, late August, busier than we've ever been and more times than not still in love with it all….. it's a pretty sweet spot all around.

more soon,

s

grow, harvest, dream…….

Harvest season is in full swing here on the farm. Almost every day we come in with a basket full of something that needs to be dried, tinctured, canned, or frozen. 

Some plants, like Tulsi pictured below, give us several harvests before the cold sets in. I have cut this patch back three times now and I'm certain I'll get one last big harvest. I made a double infused tincture, tulsi glycerine, tulsi honey, and the last harvest will be dried for tea. Sitting in a tulsi patch trimming plants is pure magic….

tulsi holy basil farm

Echinacea Purpurea with a spider friend…… I use the leaf + flower + root to make a tincture each year and add it to our Cold + Flu tincture blend. 

echinacea purpurea spider farm

Harvesting is my favorite part of growing food + medicine. Baskets full of herbs + veggies + berries make my heart sing. I almost always harvest solo and it's such a meditative time for me in the garden or woods. Thinking, giving gratitude, moving slowly. These are the times I notice the tiniest spiders on full blooms, pay attention to the birds singing + chipmunks chattering, feeling present + grounded.

Every other day right now, I pick a small quart basket of Calendula. I've made tincture for anti-fungal blends and the rest is dried in small batches, slowly filling half-gallon jars that will be used to infuse oil that will become skin healing salves and body butters.

sweetbrier farm calendula flower

My most recent wild harvest is Monarda fistulosa from our field. I made an infused honey, it's really lovely for sore throats, and a tincture that we'll add to our anti-viral blends. Lastly, I dried a whole gallon this year to experiment with cold + flu tea blends. If it's tasty, our CSA members will get some to try out in their winter shares. 

While out in the field harvesting and lost in thought imagining ways to use Monarda – a very abundant plant in our field – I wandered a bit far from my basket while plucking flowers and turned back to see this image….

field monarda harvest

A whole lot of wild, a little path, and my basket full of medicine. This is the kind of thing I tuck into my heart + soul in the long cold months of winter. It's the sort of thing my dreams are made of…..

Be well friends.

xo

~s

a few recent happenings…..

Spring was a whirlwind of events here on the farm.

Joe's much-anticipated gathering to celebrate his retirement from the Coast Guard was canceled due to the covid19 pandemic. He packed up solo at his apartment in Massachusetts, had a small informal retirement ceremony at work, and left. Four hours later he showed up at the little co-op I work at in his fancy dress uniform. We took photos at home in the yard, and that was the extent of his day. Definitely not what we expected, but memorable none the less I suppose.

Only a few days after Joe's arrival home, our farm-in-a-box arrived from Fedco with over 100+ plants. This spring we planted 20 fruit trees, a dozen blueberries, 3 dozen raspberries, a strawberry patch, a dozen more medicinal perennials, lots of veggies in raised beds near the house, and rows of potatoes and onions in our field. There were also far more shrubs, bushes, flowers, and medicinal herbs than anyone could keep track of. Something like 500 plants minus the veggie garden. And then it didn't rain for about 8 weeks so we (mostly Joe) spent 20+ hours a week watering all these new little plant babies. It was busy, to say the least. The reward is here though, lush green plants and baskets full of food.

We bought two greenhouse kits this spring, only one of which we got up before the planting extravaganza mentioned above. Soph and I started a couple of hundred veggie, herb, and flower seedlings in it. I'm hoping we'll get the second one assembled soon so we can get winter veggies started in early August for greens and such. My friend Bliss has a lovely little greenhouse that she picks salad greens and kale from all winter. Such abundance in January. 

We bought 8 chicks during the first part of social distancing and we just added another 16, plus four baby ducks. Fluffy = stress reduction! By the time this batch is ready to join the flock outside, the two dozen meat birds chicks will be here. This is our first time raising meat birds and we opted for Freedom Rangers which will grow slower and enjoy foraging.

Infrastructure projects included three new garden beds, cattle panel trellising for peas/beans/cucumbers, a chicken coop, and 300+ feet of deer fencing around the new orchard. Joe used a rototiller to till three forty-foot rows for potatoes and onions in the field next door – and then we spent hours picking rocks out of the soil. So. Many. Rocks. Joe installed recessed lighting in our dining room and living room as the first part of a bigger project – finishing the attic space! We're adding two small bedrooms and storage upstairs. The kids will move into the new rooms, Sophie's loft will become a guest space and sewing nook, and Luke's old room will become a much-needed studio space for Sweetbrier Farms Apothecary! All these projects pushed Joe's garage + pottery studio project off until next spring, he definitely took one for the team putting all of our needs before his, he's like that.

I suppose that pretty much has you up to date on the farm. Oh, one last thing. A sneaky photo taken by our kiddo on a recent sunset walk. It really is a little slice of heaven here on the farm…..

Until next time,

~s

community + tramp roaches…..

Our winter farmer’s market slows down quite a bit. The gift of this slower pace – and being in closer quarters indoors – is the chance to shoot the breeze with other vendors. There is a lot of sharing and a lot of joking. Once, a lone brussels sprout was tossed from one side of the building to the other during the slower moments. We joked we should sell tickets at the door for crowd control. Someone would always offer a midday coffee run to get us all through. Our regulars would come visit in any weather though, happy to chat and support their much loved little market.

After our very last market of the season, we gathered at the taproom next door to celebrate with food, local beer, and kombucha. I sat looking at the faces of these hard-hard working folks and laughed at their stories with a humbled heart. After a few months of slinging my wares, I had found community. I was sitting at the ultimate cool kid table.

Among these faces, there was a fleeting one. Cooper. A community farm in Vermont has a whole crew of young fresh-faced interns, just kids really. They show up ten minutes before the market starts and in a flurry unload several crates of beautiful bread and the best hummus you’ve ever had. Over the summer, I rarely saw the same face twice…. but without fail, one usually wandered over to my herbal concoctions and I would offer a trade. Bread and hummus for tinctures and soap.

For the second half of our eight-week winter market session, we had Cooper every week. He was just one table away and we had the chance to get to know him. He’s 21 years young, the same age as our oldest daughter. We talked about farming and traveling and finding your way in the world. My kids have taught me two important things about young people. One, shut up and listen. Two, ask questions, but don’t offer advice. I found out Cooper is the youngest of two boys. He’s traveled quite a bit. There was some crazy story about sleeping with only a tarp for shelter in the desert which involved waking up in a pile of sand after a windstorm. He grew up in Maine. He’s attended some really cool folk schools. He has the most lovely spirit that is half old soul and half something else I can’t quite put my finger on – beginner’s mind, adventurer, I can’t quite find the words. He bought some Christmas gifts for his mom at my table while I joked with him about always being the baby, even when he’s 30 someday. He gave the same half-smile, half-laugh I get from my own kids when I say the same thing to them.

On our last day, at the potluck, he talked about his plans for a quick trip home to see his family for the holidays and then hitting the road. Hitchhiking around the country with a group of friends, some instruments, working at farms along the way to make some money.

I told him to look up John Craigie.

Joe asked him if he had a tramp roach.

No one at our table had ever heard of a tramp roach or Utah Phillips. So, of course, the following story ensued. If you’ve never heard Mess With People, by Utah Phillips, it’s truly worth listening to. I’ll share an excerpt, but it’s worth the time to listen to Utah tell it, it is his story after all……

"I carry things around with me to kind of rag people, um, well let's see. God, well, I wouldn't leave home without my cockroach. I always have my roach with me. There's a rubber cockroach; it's a tramp roach, Frying Pan Jack calls that a tramp roach. He gave that to me. He says, "You know, if you're poor, and you haven't got any money, you're out on the street and you're hungry, you, you go into a restaurant with this, and you put it in the bottom of a bowl of soup, and then you eat down to it and say: 'Eccch! What's that?' and you storm out, and you say, 'I'm not gonna pay for that!' and you leave.”

Save you a lot of money! That little jewel'll save you a lot of money! Little feelers sticking out the side of a sandwich, god, you say, eat half of it, say, "Look at that!" Leave it!

The whole table was laughing at this point, Cooper was loving this story and I was thinking to myself, I think we’re giving this kid advice, and I’m not sure if it’s good!

“You can only use a tramp roach in a real emergency, like if you’re starving!” I say.

“Of course, of course,” he says laughing.

Oh my.

And then it’s time to pack up and part ways. Most of these folks we will see here and there throughout the winter, and regularly once market starts up late next spring. Cooper though? Who knows.

“Can I give you guys a hug?” He asks us.

“Yes,” I say, hugging him, “don’t forget to text your mom.”

“Happy travels man, be safe, have fun,” Joe says hugging him.

Later on that week I listen to Utah’s song/story. In it, he talks about being near Greenwich and Cambridge. He references Connecticut in the song, but when we shared the story with Cooper, we were sitting in a taproom in Cambridge, NY – just a few minutes from Greenwich, NY. I couldn’t help but wonder if it hadn’t really been us giving advice after all, but instead the spirit of another traveler reaching out to the next generation. That might sound a little woo to some of you, but I do believe stories have somewhat of a soul of their own and find their way to the ears that need them.

To Cooper’s mama, you raised a lovely human. We sure enjoyed his company.

To Cooper, happy travels kid. May the road treat you well.

 

More Soon.
 
~s

 

how the farm got a little cabin…..

the road home 

We spent the first year camping and clearing brush on the new land. Watching the sun. Trying to find the perfect spot to build our future home. We walked the logging trail to the back of the lot, through the woods, where one of several rock walls remains. No one builds a stone wall through a forest, these trees were a new growth forest that had sprung up after a pasture was let go. There was a farm here, at least once.

I found plants I knew. My favorite concoction was a jar of tasty late summer edibles – blackberries, monarda, oregano, a wild apple, nettles – topped off with a bit of honey and vodka. When we strained off the liquid come winter, we recognized the smell right away. It was the smell of the field, leaves gently crunching under the tires of the truck, creeping in with the windows down on a warm summer's night after one of our many long drives north….

This smells like home, I remember him saying.

The following December – a year after we had bought the property – the little cabin next door came up for sale. We were surprised to see it - less than 2 years after it sold most recently. We swooned over the pictures and the long winding driveway – but it was a good bit out of our price range and weren't quite ready to leave Massachusetts.

We watched it over the next few months though. Property doesn't move fast up here, and I was hoping it might wait for us. That fall, on one of our visits to the property, the cabin looked empty to me. I coaxed a very reluctant Joe to venture over (he says trespass)

Once we realized it was definitely empty, we peeked in all the windows and wandered around the yard, and took a picture of the sign in the sliding glass window. We found out the owners had to relocate and the house was going up for foreclosure. It could be anywhere from a few months to over a year before it would be available for sale.

Please little house, choose us. If not, please choose good neighbors. I whispered.

I spent the next two and a half months falling asleep every night to the same half dream, half meditation – envisioning myself walking along the driveway, up the three steps to the front door, and into the house. I pulled my senses into this meditation as much as possible. The feeling of my feet on the gravel, the steps, the sound of birds singing, the smell of the forest, the cold doorknob in my hand. While I was strongly leaning towards the house as ours, I held fast to my little mantra. 

Please little house, choose us. If not, please choose good neighbors.

The realtor called the week before Christmas to tell us the house was up for sale. The price and estimated closing costs were just under our budget. Within 72 hours we had driven to NY, visited the house, made an offer, and accepted a counter offer. Woosh. Here we go.

Typing this up now – and being a mama to four – I see the last few years as somewhat of the birth of our dream

Woosh. Here we go.

I look back and am often humbled by the abundance of what I see as magic – divine intervention – whatever you want to call it – at play. A tiny collection of seemingly unconnected bits coming together to be just what we dreamed of. It wasn't exactly the dream we started with, but something about it felt right and we followed. 

Perhaps we weren't two people that found a little old farm…… perhaps a little old farm found us.

We'll see. 

More Soon.
 
~s

 

sore throat tea

Tea-1

Tea3

 

One of my challenges as an herbalist (and mama!) is often getting the herbs into the body that needs them. Some herbs are very lovely tasting and others, well, as my kids would bluntly say: taste terrible.

They are pretty good about taking tinctures – even the "terrible ones". Teas, on the other hand, must be tasty if I want them to be drinking cup after cup – which is exactly the case when they are fighting off some sort of virus.

This is our current throat soothing tea. Rosehips & orange peel offer vitamin C to boost your immunity, cherry bark and marshmallow soothe coughs and inflamed tissue, and we love the earthy spiciness of the ginger + cinnamon + fennel combo! My youngest is prone to respiratory illnesses, so we tend to be super proactive at the first sign of a sniffle in hopes of catching it before it settles into his chest. I've used both slippery elm and marshmallow root in this recipe with wonderful results – I have read that Slippery Elm is endangered, so while I will use up what is in my apothecary, I do not plan to buy more. Marshmallow is a wonderful substitute and easily cultivated. (We grow our own!)

 

Tea2

 

Warm & Spicy Throat Soothe Tea

(adapted from a recipe in Healing Herbal Teas)

 

4 parts rosehips

3 parts cinnamon chips

2 parts wild cherry bark

2 parts marshmallow root

2 parts orange peel

1 part ginger root

1 part fennel

1 part licorice root

 

Use 1 TBSP of the tea blend per 1.5 cups of hot water.

This tea is best as a decoction – where all the herbs are simmered for 15 minutes. We also make it in our little teapot (see above) and let it steep in freshly boiled water for 15-20 minutes. I usually put two batches of hot water through the teapot with the same herbs, as I feel like root based tea blends keep on giving up their flavor.

Also, We mix up a jar at a time so it's ready and waiting when we need it. It's no fun trying to mix up sore throat tea when you're under the weather.

 

Enjoy. 

xo,

s

 

nothing much……

1

2

3

4

 

The last few weeks have been a blur of activity.

Birthdays, visitors, beach trips, fall festivals, apple picking, our oldest moving back to the East Coast…….

(The sweet little girls in this photo turned 15 & 19 – oh my. Plus look at that belly, ha!)

Joe had knee surgery the first of the month and has been home resting. He's just now walking around a little – it was a much tougher recovery than he anticipated. Also, he is a terrible "sitter". For someone who doesn't knit or really enjoy reading…. that pretty much leaves watching tv. I think by the third day he was done with both Netflix and the internet! Uffda.

To add excitement to the chaotic one parent circus – I pulled a muscle in my back attempting to weigh the dog – she's 73 pounds, in case you wondered. Which apparently is a few too many pounds for me to hold and balance on a bathroom scale. Sometimes the decision maker part of my brain fails me, what can I say? So I've been stretching and hanging out with a heating pad. I might be better at sitting than Joe, but I'm a bear when I feel like I "can't" do all the things

We've made quite the pair.

If you can imagine Joe and me walking, both sort of hobbling and laughing, trying to loosen up our stiff muscles – – – that's about the extent of any excitement here. You just have to laugh, it sure beats complaining.

I have had a great deal of guilt-free Pinterest time. So there is that. 

Speaking of Pinterest….. before I killed my back, I made these pumpkin bars, and they were the-bomb-dot-com. (Joe says I can't say this, so I'm saying it ALL the time now.)

I'm off for my hourly mini yoga session to free up these creaky muscles.

xo,

s