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Entries from June 2018

What is the most important tool in your kitchen?

Just the other day, I was chatting with my kids about how much we have minimalised our lives since moving to The Shire. We did this out of necessity because we didn't have the electrical power to power the normal appliances in an average kitchen.

I can remember back in the day when we lived 'on the grid,' and we had an electric mixer, stick mixer, blender, refrigerator, food processor, sandwich toaster, electric tea kettle, waffle iron, microwave, electric oven, all in our Kenyan kitchen. Our electric bill was atrocious. Back in the States, we had even MORE items. We owned a toaster, too! These are only KITCHEN items, not to mention household. Iron, washer, dryer, hot water heaters, what else? Oh, I know, dish washer, curling iron, hair straightener, rollers, to name a few... I can't even REMEMBER what all we had that sucked power from the grid.

There were times I felt as if my kitchen was crowed. I had TOO many things in there that didn't get used often enough. Am I alone in this issue? I thought that you might find it interesting what we ended up keeping out of all of our downsizing... and what we miss, too...

We actually own VERY FEW electric appliances now. In fact, in our kitchen, there are only TWO. The most life changing one is our freezer that runs on solar power. It should be obvious as to why it is important. Before last year, we had NO way of keeping things beyond a few hours. (FYI, I can write a whole other article on items that actually keep longer than you think outside of the fridge and freezer). With this said, we don't have a fridge, YET. So we must eat fresh food. Moving on to item number TWO that we use...

A blender. Yes. THIS is THE ONE item that has been spared the purge. I use a blender for so many things: blending cream until it is whipped or turned into butter, blending bananas into smoothies, blending pizza sauce made from fresh tomatoes, blending herbs in oil for pesto, blending hot sauce, chilies into oil, blending cooked beans into refried beans, cooked pumpkin in to soup. These are just off of the top of my head that I can list...

So a blender has served us to be the most useful tool in our kitchen.

We use a hand crank whisk for whipping things, and our hands for kneading doughs, but I admit, I do miss a stand mixer on occasion. I use a wooden spoon and man power to beat butter and sugar together... But I don't have much clutter in my kitchen, which is nice.

I must say that we do miss a fridge, but that is mostly because we have no way of keeping leftovers for a few days. Freezing them is tedious because if we want to eat them the next day or two, then frozen is time consuming to defrost.

I don't miss a microwave except when I want only ONE cup of coffee. I do miss a toaster from time to time. 

This was kitchen focused, but we also don't have a hair dryer or a vacuum. We don't have a curling ir0n or a washing machine... So you get the idea... There are many items we do without. I miss a hair dryer, honestly, because my hair is wavy and annoying. Still, I have learned to braid it while wet and get waves, at least. I have children and a husband who help significantly in the dish washing department, so I don't really need an appliance for that.

So there ya go! If you wanna throw out all of your kitchen appliances, a blender is the one I'd keep!

Blender breakAnd as life would have it, I actually BROKE mine yesterday and found out it is no longer on the market so a replacement is not possible. So we are down to ONE appliance in our kitchen-- a solar freezer, and it is an awesome freezer at that.

Go hug your fridge, people. Blow dry your hair with a smile. Iron some clothes with a smile and be glad you don't have to press them under the weight of your mattress. Toast some bread and grin and think of me... ok?


Love you all, my peeps!!




We almost didn't keep this one...

In December of 2016, just after Christmas, we inherited TWO loan ponies. Basically, they were an indefinite loan to us, and all we had to do was pay their transport to The Shire. (Transport prices are extreme in Kenya since horse trucks are few. We'd love to own a truck because of this issue, and possibly use it as a sustainability project, but that's a whole different article.) Anyway, $600 later, we got our 'free' ponies to The Shire!

We were told that the grey gelding, Aby (Abyssinian Silver), was a 'toad' and would buck kids off if asked to go faster than a trot. The bay, Jazzy, dumped her 82 year old rider, and she now was not being ridden regularly, but instead, was just keeping another horse company. "She has 'issues,'" they warned.

Once we got the two ponies, we began the process of schooling them. Everyone loved Aby, the sweet, grey, 'bucking' boy. He actually didn't want to move, at all. This was comforting to my new riders who were a bit afraid of going too fast. (We have trained him well over the last year and a half, and he no longer bucks and can canter without being rude. He is very sweet!)

Jazzy, on the other hand, was HOT. She wouldn't let you get near her nor touch her. With the slightest touch, she'd speed off... and she wouldn't allow anyone to get close to her face or ears. She was shy, and she didn't like 'just anyone.' If she didn't like you, she'd try to throw you off with a big shake of her head, or worse- she'd try to scare you off by going FASTER and FASTER until you gave up riding her. When we tried using her for therapy, she'd put her ears back and refuse to let the child on her back. There were times we considered getting rid of Jazzy...

Also in the beginning, Emma Caite was scared to ride her because she was so intimidating. Keep in mind, Emma Caite was only NINE years old and hadn't really ridden a horse up until this point, but for some reason, Jazzy LIKED Emma, and this made Emma extremely glad. Jazzy accepting her was HUGE.

Emma Caite has her own issues that I think caused her to connect to Jazzy and vise versa. She has a difficult time reading, and out of all of my children, she has the most difficult time controlling her emotions. She is an 'all or nothing' type of girl; either all angry or all loving... Well, she used to be before we got the ponies...

When Emma Caite would ride Jazzy, she often would get emotional and just cry because Jazzy was 'scary.' If Jazzy did something Emma Caite didn't like, she would get angry with Jazzy and lose her temper, but she had to control her temper because she knew Jazzy was extremely sensitive. Jazzy didn't need much to make her listen. One touch, and she'd respond, often times dramatically. In fact, we removed her bit and put a 'bitless' hackamore on her. People who knew this pony now think we are nuts. "Surely she'll take off with your daughter?!" We found the opposite to be true. Without the painful piece of metal pulling in her mouth, she actually calmed down a great deal and was able to listen to Emma Caite's body and ques.

Over time... Jazzy and Emma Caite became one.

Emma jazzy 80cm
Now, Jazzy is the one building Emma Caite's confidence. When we ride over jumps, Jazzy is the one who is most brave and the best jumper. She and Emma Caite lead the way over the 'scary jumps' when other horses and people are not able to do them.

I look back to when we first got Jazzy, and because she was so sensitive, touchy, and emotional, I almost decided to give her back. Now, she's the best pony in our yard. Her quirks are what make her perfect and beautiful. Her issues have gone from being weaknesses to being her strengths. Her sensitive soul just needed understanding. Now, her touchy self is easy to teach as she aims to please, responds quickly, and is such a confidence booster for Emma Caite. Sadly, Emma Caite is getting too big for her. Soon, Eowyn, age 8 and very petite, will share in bonding with sweet Jazzy. Still, Jazzy is no longer our least favourite. Now, she is the star. 

So as people, we should try to take the time in this day and age of fast speed everything... to find the quirky people in our lives and get to understand them. You might just find that the people you once didn't want around, are in fact the ones you learn to love the most. They will challenge you, shape you, and in the end, build your confidence.

And if you are quirky, it is my hope that you find people who will take the time to understand you and love you just the way you are. <3

And in case you didn't notice, horses can teach us and mold us into being better people. They help us control our emotions, give us understanding and patience and open our hearts to learning new things... This is one of many reasons why I believe every person should own a pony.

Failing at this mothering thing...

Yesterday I was a terrible mom. Well, at least I felt like a terrible mom.
I was a not-so-great home educator, too. 
I spent my entire day cooking. Remember, we are off grid in Kenya with no fridge nor pre-made foods, so I had to cook lunch which was jacket potatoes and a vegetable stew. (Lots of cutting of vegetables!) Then I started the four hour process of making sour dough bread for the next morning's breakfast and dough for pizza for supper. I had to wait for Johnny to come home from his day long trip into the nearest town with fresh tomatoes so I could make the sauce, and we had to make the three hour fire in the clay oven. I tried to write a few blogs because we need you to know what we are up to, and then I nursed a toddler and helped Makena with her SAT math prep.
Eowyn school horseI finally grabbed a moment to check school work for Éowyn, and I found she was not capitalising the first letter of sentences nor understanding adjectives for the last week, and I got frustrated with her. I failed her because I wasn't really upset with her. I was upset with myself for not checking her work sooner! Keeping up with feeding the kids fresh meals every single meal is work. Andrew used to cook our meals so I could teach.
I felt like a failure for not staying on top of her education and letting her continue on practicing bad habits for a WEEK without it going noticed, but I took out my frustrations on my eight year old by making her do it all over again. And yes, she should do it again, but at some point I made her cry because it was a lot of work.
I was projecting. I was overwhelming her because I was overwhelmed.
So here I lie awake typing at 5 AM because my heart grieves knowing I owe her an apology. 
Writing things down helps. I am sure there are times that my fellow mothers feel like they have failed their children in some way or another, but at the end of the day, I fed my family, and that is a success. I am sure if I sit with Eowyn and share my mistake with her, she may learn that grownups make mistakes, too. Hopefully, she can grow and I can grow, and together, my mistake can be a learning experience for both of us.

Eating at Frog and Toad Canteen

Mid Term.

It is not something my home schoolers do, but our boarding school daughters get a break in the middle of each term where they come home and be with us.

Kids in carThis last week, we have had Edith and BT home for their mid term break. Starlette is over the moon happy to have her older sisters! She loves playing with them, and they enjoy being 'little mommas' to her. Of course, EVERYONE loves having them home because they are our family and are missed when they are gone. Lots of giggles and talking and football playing (soccer) has been going on, horse riding and game playing, too.

Since the girls were home, we took the opportunity to take all of our kiddos to a neighbour's a couple of kilometers away to eat some yummy food at Lemon Valley 'Frog and Toad Canteen.' I will admit, I was impressed with the food! They had everything on the menu, which is not normal in Kenya!

We ordered four pots of hot chai because it was a grey, cold day. We sipped our tea looking at the gorgeous (familiar to us because we live on the same hill) view. We did not order any sodas because.. meh... not good for us nor pleasant. For lunch, we ordered:

Crumbled fish fillet with chips Bt and star
Sausage with chips kid's
Sweet and sour pork and rice
Beef burger with cheese and chips
Tilapia and chips
Beef steak and mushroom sauce with chips
Paneer curry and garlic naan
Fried chicken breast and chips
Everything except the fish was grown or reared on or near the Lemon Valley Farm. In fact, the pork was probably one of our very own pigs because she gets them from us! Since we gave the owner a pig not that long ago, she decided to cut $30 off our bill. And in case you are wondering, our total was a whopping $68.50 for nine people (including Starry who didn't order food). For a meal in Kenya, that seemed a bit expensive, but I must say, everything was so fresh. I ate more purple cabbage salad than ever in my life because it just felt... well... almost LIVING!
SO if you are curious how much it costs to feed our family on a little outing (without Andrew here), well... there ya go! $68.50. And I highly recommend anyone in Kenya visit and eat there. It took a while to get our food, but it all came at the same time and was beautiful and well done. The beef burger was really small, but not much to complain about other than that!
And just to make things clear, we never go out. Seriously. This was the second time in a year that we went out as a family. So six months, two eating out trips... that's not too frivolous!
Thank you for loving our family and helping us provide a bit of normalcy for our kids.

Lone, Blue Kernel

Several years ago, our friends gave us five precious, rare, blue, corn seeds. Johnny insists they were actually purple, but since he can't tell the difference between purple or blue to save his life, I am going to say they were BLUE.

We planted them.

That year, the rains were scarce, and our corn stalks didn't grow to great heights. Knowing they were rather precious, we spared water for them and encouraged them to grow.

Then one day, our calf got out and decided those five little stalks were just the right size for munching! 

CHOMP! (1) Chew... chew... chew..

CHOMP! (2) Chew... chew...

CHOMP! (3) Chew... chew...

CHOMP! (4) Chew... chew... chew... chew... GULP.

All that remained was the LAST tiny, decrepit looking stalk so short, it was actually hidden among some grass.

I was quite upset with the little bull, and he probably got sold not long after, as is customary for our little bull calves born over the years.

Still, I tended to the little stalk only to see it never fully develop. It had one minuscule ear the size of my thumb growing out of a joint in the stalk. It looked rather pathetic so ultimately, we didn't bother with it. When the entire plant was dry and withered, I decided it was time to pull it up for something new.

Out of curiosity, I pulled off the tiny ear... I love dissecting things and seeing how they grow. I gently pulled back the mini husks and fine silk to find on this white, immature cob, there-- staring back at me was a single, dark, rich, blue, lonely kernel. 

I almost chuckled. To imagine that this stalk, with all of our efforts poured into it, grew to produce ONE lonely seed. It seemed almost mockingly funny to me.

 I plucked the seed from the cob and put it on a shelf near our coffee mugs and forgot it there.

This year, after our rains started, I was cleaning the kitchen when I found a blue, hard ball on the kitchen shelf and almost tossed it when I realised it was my corn kernel!

Kate and cornI planted it in the front of the house so we could keep an eye on it. It now is two times taller than I am with several lush ears growing on it!

We recently visited our friends who gave us the seeds. While there, I told them about how our special blue corn got eaten by the calf, and all the rest of the story you just read...

They gasped with excitement telling us that ALL of their seeds were accidentally destroyed by their farm staff who tossed them out as 'garbage!' They have been frantically calling all of the people with whom they shared seeds. Unfortunately, EVERYONE of them ending up fruitless. No one managed to harvest or keep any blue corn seeds due to various strange reasons.

Our lone, blue kernel is ALL that remains! The blue corn of Kenya (as far as our area is concerned) is banking on that one seed!

So my point of all of this is to say that in life, you may feel as if you are alone, you are decrepit, or you may not feel full of life, but you may end up being the hope for the future... YOU may be a drop in a pond that causes a ripple that changes the world. You may be a lone, blue kernel set on a shelf somewhere waiting for your time to be planted so that you can grow into something fruitful!

I believe in you!




It is a good think we practice first!

Not only do we desensitize our horses through interacting with them, riding them, schooling them every day of the week...

Every time we have riders coming to A Future and a Hope, we make sure to get up early and do a 'dress rehearsal.'

We set up the arena, and we practice our planned games like a dance to make sure that everyone knows where they are going, what they are doing, and things flow smoothly. When you have so many autistic children and kids with down syndrome, it is a MUST that things be organised in way that every one is safe and there is no lull or 'dead time.'

We also practice because horses are flight animals. We want the safest, most fun experience for our riders. We are building their trust, and one 'problem' can undo all of our efforts in establishing that trust and getting them to bond, open up, and enjoy being on these giant beasts.

This weekend, we introduced a new game. That game is explained here

I decided to do a walk through of ALL games both old and new... As we did so, we learned something... This is very...

Scary tires
Have a LOOK at our two horses' expressions! They were doing the games just fine, when suddenly, Moonshadow swung his bum around in a spin snorting at something terrifying! The tires weren't usually THERE! We removed them from the arena immediately and walked through our games again. He was calm and happy. 

Our riders arrived, and had a BLAST learning and giggling, and enjoying themselves. You can see the video here.

Letting GO: a lesson learned on horseback

This week's sessions, my goal was to encourage our riders to 'LET GO' of the saddle. Many of our young riders are still not confident in their own balance. They feel the need to HOLD ON and grip the saddle with their hands.

P1350751The importance of letting go is that it encourages them to balance with the horse's movement, and it develops their core strength.

I spent some time thinking of a game that might help correct this issue, build confidence in our riders, and help them LET GO without them even noticing they had done so!

Every child likes to drive. Hand a child a steering wheel, and they can be entertained for a while: Think shopping carts at supermarkets that have car designs.

I created a 'road' with poles and gave the riders a 'steering wheel' to hold on to. This encouraged them to sit tall and DRIVE their horse without realising they had let go causing them to balance on their own in the saddle. It was a huge success!


What it is like living off-grid

Oh, the easy life on The Shire! Off-grid living looks like a breeze. Surely you're eating your own food, you have no bills, and life is pretty carefree...

About that...

It took us the last 4 years to adjust to moving out to the middle of nowhere in a mud barn with no electric connections, no water connections, etc...

Basically, all of the things 'on-grid' people get, we have to MAKE. For example, hot water is made by taking a pot, filling it, and then boiling it on a gas stove or over hot coals. Or, for example, said water must be caught drop by drop first as it falls from the sky... funneled into tanks, pumped uphill, and then gravity pulled into the house...

Butter is made by getting a bucket, boiling hot water, cleaning cow teats with the hot water, and squeezing those teats for a LONG time... (My hands get tired.) I actually have someone help me now with this, but still, the process is the same. Then, the fresh milk from the cow, while still warm is separated manually with a hand crank machine by our daughter Makena. We save the cream over night, then turn on the solar power the next morning, blend the cream, wash the cream, add salt, and then press it into a butter dish. (I do cheat using the only electric kitchen appliance we have! Which leads me to another thing... you want to whip anything? You have to actually whip it by hand. We don't have a mixer, refrigerator, electric kettle, hot water heater, curling iron, blow dryer, clothes dryer, washing machine, or vacuum cleaning capabilities. We don't even have an IRON! Ha! Take that you domestic goddesses out there. We just let the sun do our drying and the wind do our ironing. It doesn't always work, but it does take a lot of physical work hand washing clothes, hanging clothes, etc...

You want tacos on Tuesday? Fab! We will get started on those on Monday. First, we must soak the beans overnight. (Are there beans in tacos?? I don't know! We don't eat tacos because there is no yellow corn meal here.) We actually eat burritos... so let's do burritos, ok?

Beans are soaking overnight. Flour, salt, oil is put in a bowl and mixed for the tortilla dough which is then cut into 30 or more pieces, each rolled and pan cooked. Tomatoes are washed and chopped, onions, too. Cilantro, chilies, lemon, garlic... you get the idea. Yogurt is made the day before, too! Fresh, raw milk is warmed and culture added so by morning, we have yogurt (we use this as a sour cream substitute)... Then beans are cooked in a pressure cooker with onions, garlic and spices... Then we use our trusty blender to make them 'refried'!!! Yay!! Cheese is grated, and hot sauce made from fresh tomatoes, chilies, salt, Worcestershire, and garlic... You get the idea... 

Each meal takes TIME. We can't just buy a bag of tortillas in our area. We also don't have a fridge to store stuff so things must be made meal by meal, moment by moment. 

Every morning, we start our day with facebook (for me), and Johnny gets up to put water on to boil. He makes coffee, pig food, dog food... Usually we feed the dogs a rabbit that we butcher or store bought meat along with a grain mix Johnny cooks. 

That is another thing. We eat (the others eat) fresh pork.... from the farm. But it is not like he just hops onto the plate! Gotta catch him, hit him on the head, and well... you get the idea.

Our day to day takes so much physical energy. The horses are fed 4 times a day. They are schooled 45 minutes to 2 hours in the morning then let to graze in-between feedings which means we have to fetch them and bring them in to eat. The cow must be fed and milked and grazed. The goats, too. The rabbits are over 30 of them now. We must harvest weeds for them... The chickens need feeding as well... dogs, cats, people... they all eat. We spend huge hunks of time pulling weeds to feed to the grazers, and carrying heavy buckets of water up and down the hillside to all of the various animals.

We also have to deal with ALL garbage we produce... there is no garbage collection here...

Our freezer has changed our lives! Now we can store dog food and meat we butcher from the farm as well as excess milk and butter. :)

Let's talk about grocery shopping... Yeah, that. All of the animal feed must be bought, too. It takes a full day to buy the things we need from our nearest town which is an hour or so away. We must go to a butchery for meat, cheese shop for cheese, vet for flea control, super market for produce and flour, feed store for grains... Then, when we arrive home, our car cannot make it up to the house. We must HAUL all of our groceries UP HILL. The kids usually help, of course!

Would you like some tea? Let me harvest some lavender for you and boil you a cup. Would you like some scones? How about creamed tea, which is my favourite? I'll fetch some firewood so we can bake... 

The gardens must be planted and tended to. We have to rotate our livestock so they don't eat our growing food. Of course we have to harvest the food when it is ready, too! The beans don't just pop off the plants and into our mouths.

Our life is organic. Our life is non-toxic. Our life takes a LOT of physical energy.

When we first started this off-grid life, it was so hard to get used to having to WORK so much just to do basic things like take a bath and eat.

Now, we finally have a solar shower so bathing is easy on sunny days IF we have enough water in the tanks. Still, we don't have 'hot water' in any taps other than the bath so we still heat water on the stove for washing things, etc. We still bake with firewood. We keep warm with firewood, too.

But we are extremely grateful for our floor. I tell you, walking on dirt 24/7 was TOUGH. What a life changer. People, be glad you have floors. Floors are so taken for granted! One thing I do miss is the ability to actually clean my floor. Our pavers are just not really moppable, and we don't have enough electricity to vacuum. Which leads me to another thing... I miss having my dogs in the house. With no way to clean the floor, the dogs must stay on the large front veranda or outside. I am trying to find ways to let them be indoor doggies... I miss their cuddles. Muddy paws on a rough floor we cannot wash is not cool... so... I am still working on solving this issue.

Anyway, over the last 4 years, we have come a long ways thanks to help from you guys! We love our organic life on The Shire, but even though we have a freezer and a shower now, it is still a 24/7 job. At the moment we have been so busy working on paperwork stuff, the grass is almost taller than we are in the areas where the cow and horses don't graze! 



A Poem for my Dad for Father's Day

I don't have a gift for you, Dad, so I thought I would write you a poem. I hope it is not too 'cheesy' as I am not very good at poem composing. I was going to turn it into a song, but this will have to do. 

You're not perfect, but you're mine so you're perfect to me.

You're my dad, a genius, you know how things work

Such as mechanics, quantum physics, and dentistry!

Before search engines and internet, you had all the answers to my asking.

We spent bonding hours running errands, swimming in our pool, and midnight sailing.

You are the wind beneath my wings.

When I cry you're quick to answer.

If I'm in trouble, you're always there.

In all of my experience parenting 

I cannot even compare!


You, dad, may not be perfect, but you're mine, and you're perfect to me.

Of all the people in my life,

You have proven you love me so.

You deserve an award for being the best dad,

And this fact everyone knows!

As a little girl, I admired you with childlike innocence,

But now that I'm grown,

I try to make the world make sense.

Even with the blinders of youth left behind,

Still, my feelings haven't changed;

I'm honoured to be yours and proud to call you mine.


We are not perfect, but we are Yours and Mine.

  Dad on boat

Happiest of Father's Day. You have been my rock through the years. You are a hero.

All my love,