If there is one thing that homesteading brings its challenges, sometimes it’s on the farm, and sometimes it’s off the farm, but regardless it’s a learning curve that we endure and sometimes it’s wildy rewarding.
November of 2021 was just that. My second baby boy just came into the world. I was trying to navigate the life of being a new mom of two when I got the phone call that broke my heart one morning; my grandpa had been on the down hill, and he had decided it was his time to go be with the Lord. All the feels hit me at once. He was the man who loved me first, the man who held me first, who kissed my cheeks first and who spoiled me first.
I grieved a grandfather, and a father figure all in one.
We made the decision to drive to Idaho the following week and spend Thanksgiving with my grandma. Keeping her busy with her wonderful home cooked meals, stories about my grandpa, and a house filled with all her grandbabies, she was happy we came.
The drive back was long, and one full of thought. When we finally got home, we were exhausted, physically, emotionally, and mentally. The thought of even having to make supper that night was tiring. So I opened the cupboard to see what I could forage and or clear out of the pantry. That’s when I pulled out some bread past its due date. Thinking it was going to be moldy, I took it out to toss into the garbage. When I opened it up it looked BRAND NEW.
I thought to myself “I bought this in the very beginning of October, it’s nearly 8 weeks old and there’s not a speck of mold on it!” I showed my husband and we were both disgusted and baffled at how perfect this 8 week old bread seemed. Jeremy said “Can you imagine how many preservatives are in there?” Needless to say we were both grossed out and it got tossed into our scrap bucket and we found something else to eat.
December had slowly trudged its way through the days, as the family tried to figure out when my grandpa’s funeral would finally be. During that time I truly was a scattered mess, I so badly wanted to be there, but didn’t want to leave or bring my 3 month old on a plane at the last minute. Ultimately I decided to stay home while the family got to have closure. That day was rough and full of emotion for me, I lacked clear thoughts and motivation for a long time.
The following days my two year old kept asking for PB&J’s and I hadn’t bought bread since the last loaf of non-moldy 8 week old bread (it honestly freaked me out a bit). I was going a bit stir crazy with the Minnesota cold, and my emotional state of loss. I was anxious, irritable, and dissasociating like crazy. I wasn’t present for my babies, or my husband. I desperately needed to connect to something.. So I decided to see about baking a loaf of bread to clear my mind and give my hands something to do.
I called my husband and said “I’m baking bread today!’
“Have you ever even baked bread before?” Jer said.
“Nope, but you won’t know if you don’t try.” I replied. (This is a common phrase in our home)
So I found a recipe and tried it out! I kept adding flour like crazy because I didn’t like the way the dough was so tacky. I placed it in the oven after its second “rise” wondering why it was called a rise when they didn’t rise at all. After the timer went off I pulled out two beautiful…white…….ROCKS. They were hard as a rock I could hardly believe it! I was pretty discouraged, but loved the focus and purpose I felt while doing it, a feeling I desperately needed at that time. So I tried again and again with still no luck. Finally, I called my grandma and told her I’m trying to learn how to bake bread and asked for pointers.
During that phone call she told me the sweetest story of her mom, my great grandma Helen. Helen was a spitfire of a woman who lived off grid a majority of her life.
(Oh man you guys, I wish you could have met this beautiful lady and could have seen her home. I spent many summers at her off grid cabin in the mountains. It’s a lifestyle I’ll never forget.)
Helen was newly married, and living off grid with great grandpa in a part of Idaho that, at the time, the only way in and out was by plane. Great grandpa was off at work for the week and she decided in the midst of her homesteading chores she was going to figure out how to bake bread. So she poured the ingredients and worked the dough with her hands and by the end of it realized the consistency just wasn’t right. So she walked out the back door and tossed the dough over the ridge behind her house, and went right back to it. Finally after many many attempts she made the perfect loaf of bread.
When my great grandpa came home he climbed that very ridge to get to the house, and was amazed at all the “big puffy mushrooms” that were growing along the ridge all of a sudden. He came BURSTING through the door telling Helen to come quick and see what was all over the side of the hill, he’s never seen anything like it!
She ran out the door to check it out with him and laughed and laughed when she realized it was the dough she had been tossing out the door that had risen over time!
When my grandma finished that story I laughed so hard and she gave me some tips to try out. When we hung up I decided to try one last time. At this point kneading was therapeutic and I was getting the hang of things. By the end of the process I made two beautiful loaves of bread that were eaten in a matter of days by everyone.
Jeremy was so proud, and said it was delicious. After that loaf, it got me thinking of all the homesteaders and off grid living people in my family and how they did it all. That’s when I told him, I’m not going to buy bread for a whole year. He chuckled and said “I’ll hold you to it”
Well since then, as I write this, we are on day 310 of not buying bread. I’ve learned the dos and don’ts of dough. I’ve created my own recipe that melts in your mouth when you eat it, and that’s versatile for hamburger and hot dog buns as well. I’ve adventured off into the world of sourdough, cinnamon rolls, ciabatta bread, baguettes, and even tortillas. What’s amazing about this is I started out the year not knowing how to bake anything except cookies. So let this be a testament that you really can learn anything if you’re willing to try and fail a few times.
So that being said, let this be a reminder that from hard times comes many trials, many failures, and many triumphs. Challenges aren’t always on the forefront of the farm but sometimes internal, where grief resides. Yet at the same time, where that grief or that challenge resides, it can be beautiful and full of memories, like fresh baked bread out of the oven and sharing it with your family and your two year old son’s face scrunched into a perfect little smile as he eats his fresh buttered bread.
Hardship is a confusing thing.. Because quite honestly, how would you know what hardship is without the true peace, the true joy, that life can throw at you in the middle of it all. Without those valleys, those trials and errors, how would you ever experience mountaintop highs? How would you ever grow, if you never challenge yourself and if you always stayed in one spot? Bread healed a portion of my being by letting me give gratitude to God, those silent push and pulls of kneading are full of thankfulness to Jesus Christ for what He did, and all He has given us here on the homestead, thanking Him for every little thing, I call it “gratitude bread”. And let me tell you, bread you’ve been saying blessings over, tastes just that much better.