"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

We're Having Authenticity For Dinner (Tepache)

tepache in the garage

We are having a pretty simple supper tonight: pan fried trout, baked potatoes, and braised red cabbage. It smells wonderful in my kitchen right now (even though I haven't fried the trout yet) and I thought I'd put up the recipe for the red cabbage. But when I started to compose it in my mind, I realized that this recipe - and those for the other components of dinner -is actually very involved, and interesting, if I describe it correctly.

It's apple season. I love apples, and I love apple season, but we still, after seven years here, do not have our own apples. I have a beautiful old cider press and every year I go in search of apples to feed it. Two weeks ago, a lovely older couple from church told me they would be happy - nay, grateful - if I would go to their house and pick apples from their six trees. Every year the apples fall all over the yard and they are getting rather elderly and stiff to be picking them all up. My sister and I went together and picked something like three bushels of apples, and spent a few minutes picking up windfalls as a thank-you.

Then I pressed cider with a neighbor, who also brought a few bushels of apples. Fresh cider is wonderful, and we drank as much as we could as fast as we could, but even so, there was a three gallon carboy leftover that fermented gently in the garage. A week after the pressing, the cider in the carboy was fizzy and delicious, lightly alcoholic (probably one-and-a-half percent, so weak that I let the children drink it), and beautiful over ice on a warm September afternoon. Now, two weeks after that, it is edging into apple cider vinegar territory.

It isn't quite vinegar yet. But neither is it cider anymore; what I have now is a couple gallons of tepache. Unless you are Mexican, and a rural Mexican at that, you probably don't know what tepache is. Tepache, along with pulque, is a quintessential rural Mexican beverage served at festivals and rodeos and birthday parties back in the hill country, and out of clay jugs on market days in small towns. It can be made from apples, or peaches, or plums, or various Mexican fruits that don't grow around here, such as ciruelas and tunas. Basically, it is a weak fruit beer. It's impossible to get drunk on tepache, but if you quaff enough of it on a hot Mexican day while watching a parade, you can get a small but pleasant buzz. The tepache in my garage is fairly far over onto the vinegar side of the spectrum. It's still tasty, but I wouldn't want to drink a pint of it. There is still a gallon and half of it, however, and I have to do something with it, fairly quickly.

Today was a gorgeous day, sunny and warm. The garden has been neglected lately, and it was past time to get out there and pick what was left to pick, dig the potatoes (which was a chore, since the plants died back ages ago and the weeds grew over), and do general cleanup. There's not a whole lot left, but I picked a quart of cherry tomatoes and dug a few pounds of potatoes. There are six red cabbage and I picked two, leaving the other four in the ground for later. I ate the last of the overbearing golden raspberries as I worked. The hubbard squashes, which did not do well, have died back already and I brought in the two small blue squash. My chiles dried on the plants ion the greenhouse and I picked them all as well. I am by no means done putting the garden to bed, but at least I made some progress.

Carrying in my potatoes and cabbage, the outlines of dinner came to me. Several weeks ago, my daughter Hope's best friend came over to spend the night, bearing a dozen beautiful little trout she had caught with her grandfather, already cleaned and frozen. I took the trout out to defrost and sliced the potatoes to roast in a shallow pan with olive oil and salt.  I wanted to give the cabbage a German/Eastern European treatment, braised with bacon and spices. I looked up a few recipes, and all of them called for apple cider vinegar. Well, of course I have some apple cider vinegar in the house, but I thought tepache would serve beautifully.

Except for the spices, everything we are eating tonight came from either our own garden or a neighbor. Everything is local to within a few miles. Everything was procured with our own labor and knowledge, or our friend's labor and knowledge, and grown in our own dirt.

Once, years ago, when I wrote a post about the importance of being able to produce my own food, my brother told me he didn't see the difference between producing your own food with your own labor, or using your labor to make money and buy your food. It was kind of an "if you have to ask, you'll never know" moment, but I just thought of an analogy he might get. What's the difference between writing a piano concerto yourself and playing it on a piano yourself, or paying somebody to write and preform a concerto for you?

Braised Red Cabbage

1 medium or two small heads red cabbage, from your garden. 
1 large red onion, ditto
1/2 pound bacon, preferably from your own pig
1 pint homemade tepache
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp black mustard seeds
6 allspice berries
1 tsp black peppercorns, crushed
1/2 tsp salt

In a medium saucepan, fry chopped bacon over medium heat to render fat. Saute sliced onion and sliced red cabbage. When vegetables are beginning to soften, add spices and fry for a few minutes more. Add tepache and bring to a fast simmer. Cover and cook until cabbage is very tender, about 30 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Right On Time (Rain and Decisions)

Today is the Equinox. As I sit here, writing this, the day is fading. It is almost six o'clock; since school started, I wake up at six o'clock, and the sun is just rising. The heavens have balanced themselves for another turn of the earth.

Cool weather arrived last week and yesterday it began to rain. A soft, gentle rain that you can walk around in for a while without really getting wet. Good, northwest rain, at the expected time. After the summer we had, which was dry and surprisingly hot week after week, the ordinariness of late September rain feels like sweet relief. A week and a half ago, I took the kids to the lake to go swimming, and exchanged the same words with half a dozen people:

"Can you believe this, swimming this late in the fall?"

"It's amazing. I love it."

Sunburns in September. But today it is reassuringly grey. The sky has assumed it's customary autumn wet-rag appearance, and the blackberries, although still plump and glossy to the eye, lose all cohesion if you try to pick them. There are mushrooms on the lawn. I saw several leopard slugs in the playroom. I picked the last of the garden tomatoes. Any late-ripeners will just have to fall off and send up volunteers next spring. The final plums have fallen, and the second crop of pears is just about ripe.

We still have a few weeks before the first frost, probably, and I need to take advantage of them. We have been remiss in the hay department, and there are only about thirty-five bales in the barn. That is not nearly enough hay to get us through the winter - we usually go through double that number, and in past years we didn't have a cow. We will have to get another load of hay, but in the meantime, I can supplement the supply by taking the goats out to browse every day. As long the frost holds off, the front yard provides plenty of roughage in the form of blackberries, alder and beech leaves, and thistles. After the frost, the greenery loses most of its nutrient value and hay becomes the staple fodder.

Most of the work that has to get done before winter is done - the hole Poppy kicked in the barn is repaired. The freezer is full of beef and salmon, cider and berries. The goats still need to be bred, but I have a plan in place for that. The propane tank needs to be filled, but that's just a phone call. I feel fairly well prepared and provisioned.

This takes no account, of course, of the major work that needs to be done in the crawlspace. We have not yet decided if we are going to try to get it done this fall, before the worst of winter, or if we will wait until next dry season. If we do it as soon as possible, there will certainly be a few weeks of cold weather during which we cannot use the furnace. We'll have to buy a couple of space heaters and crowd in one bedroom together. If we wait until next year, we can save more money towards the job (inshallah) and theoretically the damage done by one more winter is strictly incremental....

Every time I try to think about the crawlspace my brain rebels and starts to hum old show tunes instead. Chim-chimeree, chim-chimeree, chim-chim cheree...... my luck has run out I've a cracked chim-en-ney....  never mind.  I will think about it tomorrow, for tomorrow is another day.

Crawlspaces are easy places to ignore; they are underground and nobody ever goes there. They are the shadow side, the subconscious of a home. As the world turns its back on the sun and slides darkness on like a hood, it seems perfectly natural to do the same; just close my eyes and let it all hibernate the winter through. The crawlspace and its nasty issues will all still be there come spring, when hopefully my strength will rise with the sap and I will have new energy to tackle major projects.

That's not really my style, though. However tempting it may be to will it away for another year, in truth I am the kind of person who, once a problem has been identified, can't leave it alone until a course of action is decided upon and underway. So I have another phone call to make. A very expensive phone call.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Canning Party (Recipes)

lemon curd

mixing up Ukrainian refrigerator pickles

making dilly beans

Yesterday I invited a couple of girlfriends over to do some communal canning. It was a beautiful fall day and I enjoyed showing my friends around the homestead. After a few drinks and some snacks, we got down to business.

One of my friends was a total canning novice, and she chose dilly beans as a good place to start. I think that's a good choice - easy vinegar based pickle, delicious, pretty. I made lemon curd because I had a serious surplus of organic lemons from the Gleaner's Pantry. Lemon curd is not just yummy, but also very attractive and I'm thinking it will make a good addition to any Christmas packages I send out this year, should I get my shit together and send any.

My other friend is Ukrainian, and was making two of her mother's recipes. I was very excited about this; my mother's family also comes from Ukraine, but a few generations back, and as far as I know no family recipes have survived from that time. The three of us had a great time in the kitchen, and we decided to make it an annual event - the September canning get-together.

Nastia's Refrigerator Pickles

4 kg pickling cucumbers sliced in fourths lengthwise, and halved if long
4 Tbsn minced garlic
1 C. salad oil
1 C. sugar
2 Tbsn mustard powder
2 Tbsn yellow mustard seeds
2 tspn ground black pepper
1 C. 9% white vinegar (available in Russian grocery stores; or 2 C. regular white vinegar

Mix all ingredients in a large non-reactive kettle; let stand 3 hours at room temp. Then pack into large glass jars and refrigerate up to 2 months. 

These pickles are so delicious we couldn't stop eating them immediately, but now, a day later, I can say they are much better than they were even 24 hours ago. Unbelievable. I will be making these every year. 

Nastsia's Eggplant Preserve

3 Kg ripe eggplants (about 8), chopped in large (2") dice
1 Liter tomato juice
1 Tbsn salt
1 C. sugar
1 C. salad oil
1/2 C. 9% vinegar (available in Russian groceries; or 1 C. regular white vinegar)

Salt the eggplant well and leave to sit 1/2 hour in a colander; then rinse well and combine with all the other ingredients. Boil 20 minutes, then ladle into sterilized wide-mouth pint jars and process in a water bath 30 minutes. Cool and make sure jars have sealed. 
NOTE: this is Nastia's mother's recipe. The Blue Book Canning Guide states that eggplant, as a low acid vegetable, MUST be pressure canned. Some sources say that acidizing the eggplant with vinegar makes it safe; other sources DISAGREE. To be totally safe, process in a pressure canner.

Lemon Curd

Juice of 8 large or 12 small lemons; about 1 full cup
6 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
2 C. sugar or more to taste
3 sticks (3/4 lb) butter

in a large sauce pan, mix first three ingredients. Whisk until well blended. Over medium heat, whisk in butter in small pieces until incorporated; keep whisking occasionally until thickened; about 6 or 7 minutes. Ladle into sterilized 1 C. quilted jelly jars and place on sterilized lids. Process in a water bath just to seal; about 5 minutes. The high acid of this conserve makes it safe as long as the jar seals well. Will keep for many months. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

It Never Rains But it Pours (When is Enough Enough?)

We've had a streak of bad luck lately. An expensive streak. In the past two weeks:

- I broke a tooth. A particularly exciting trade had come my way - it's crab season in these parts and apparently it's been a very good year. A friend of mine traded me a couple pounds of goat cheese for three or four big fat dungeoness crabs, already cleaned and cooked. Since in my estimation, dungeoness crab gives king salmon a run for its money as the most delectable native seafood of the Salish Sea, I was understandably excited about this trade. I sat down at the kitchen table with a pair of crackers to extract the meat and have a few nibbles along the way. I spent a very happy hour or so cracking crab legs, partly with the pincers and partly with my teeth, sweet sea-flavored juice dribbling down my shirt front. But when all the crab was gone and I came out of my yummy-food-induced trance, I poked around in my mouth with my tongue and found that one of my molars was missing a big ass chunk.

The good part was that it didn't hurt. The bad part was that my brain instantly began to freak out and insist that my tongue check out the hole every 0.6 seconds for the next eighteen hours. I don't have dental insurance - I have health insurance thanks to the ACA, but not dental - and so I had to wait until the local Interfaith dental clinic opened up on monday morning and wait my turn with all the other poor snaggletooth schlubs. The dentist there told me they could fill it, but that that was only a temporary solution and I really needed a crown. Crowns, I was told by every local dentist I called, run about fifteen hundred dollars.

My husband said, when I told him, that if we didn't spend money on our teeth, what the hell were we saving it for? So I made the appointment and went in, on wednesday I think. A crown is a two appointment procedure, and this first one was the hard one. For two and a half hours I suffered in silence, and then I paid them $750 dollars and drove home with a numb, swollen jaw. When I got there I found that

- Poppy Pony had had an accident. Homero had tried to text me and tell me, but I was head down in a dentist's chair with my mouth full of cotton gauze and pain. It seems he had staked her out to eat the green grass in the front yard. The pasture is pretty brown and bald at the end of this long, dry summer. Poppy had tried to reach some greener grass nearby and had pulled the stake, a T-post, right out of the ground. It hit her in the hocks; she panicked and went charging around the property at top speed with a six foot steel bar thumping and whacking along behind her. Trying to get back into her own enclosure, she went over the top of a cattle panel and crashed into the side of the barn, actually knocking a big hole in it.

"We hath to caw the wet," I said.

When he got there, the vet gave her a sedative, a shot of antibiotics, and an injection of pain medicine. He cleaned up the numerous cuts on all four of her legs. No stitches were needed, but he had to trim off a couple of flaps of skin with scissors. She was limping, but he thought that was just bruising. He gave me anti inflammatory gel to administer for the next ten days and said no riding for three weeks. He also showed me a hideous photo on his cell phone of a horse who had gone over a barbed wire fence that same day. A big sheet of skin and muscle was hanging down off the animal's neck. He said Poppy was very lucky; she could easily have broken a leg or suffered a trauma like the one in the picture. Then he charged me three hundred dollars and drove away.

Later in the week, a man came out to inspect the crawlspace. A couple of years ago, while we were in Mexico, the sump-pump failed and the crawlspace flooded (Bad News from Home). We have only just had the money to address the issue. OR SO I THOUGHT. The man who came out, owner of a very highly regarded company that specializes in crawlspaces and nothing but, went under the house in a haz-mat suit and took about two hundred pictures. When he came back up he said "the sump pump is the least of your problems." Then he showed us the pictures.

I really don't have the heart to go into it. For the first time, I am seriously questioning whether we made the right decision in buying this house. I love this property with all my heart and I firmly believe that by moving here, we have given our children the great gift of a childhood that includes wildness and the possibility of losing themselves in nature. Over the years, I have come to love this house as well - this very 1940's owner-built ranch house, with all its eccentricities and quirks. The many issues we have addressed - the roof, the plumbing, the rot - have been expensive, but I thought we were finally getting on top of it, and even felt pride in slowly restoring an aging but unique farmhouse.

We were not getting on top of it. Underneath it all, there is a hideous story of rot, sinking cement footings, and poorly shimmed pillars. There is unstable earth. There are rats. There is a sixty year legacy of poor workmanship, deception and fraud, and amateurism. Underneath it all, at the very bottom, there is a poorly drained slope to the northeast undermining the foundation.

All of these issues can be addressed, mitigated, though not fully corrected. Even were money no object - which is certainly is - the very best that can be done cannot completely heal the house. To the contractor, after his presentation of misery, I said "for fifty years people have been slapping one cheap fix on top of another to this house. I want that to stop here, with me. I want to leave this house to my children." He nodded, but he didn't say that was a realistic plan.

The truth is, he might be the best contractor in the world, but he can't stop time. I might spend all the money at my disposal, but I can't stop the rain from beating down or the beetles from boring. I had a dream the other night, before all this. A nightmare. I dreamed I was walking with a group of people I didn't know through an office building, a skyscraper. We were all going downstairs at a deliberate pace. Each time we reached a new floor, I lost some power of movement. Suddenly I couldn't move my arms anymore. On the next floor down, I couldn't turn my head. Then I found that I couldn't stop walking, either. I wasn't unduly alarmed; it seemed pretty normal.

I am trying not to be unduly alarmed. We can only do what we can do; we cannot be immortal, nor can we safeguard our homes and properties for eternity. We will do what we can - I plan to hire the contractor and ask him to do everything within my budget to stabilize the house unto the third generation. My hope is that someday in the far future, Homero and I will be able to retire to sunny Oaxaca in good conscience, that I will leave my children a real home, not a pile of rotting wood. I will not stint, and I hope that they will not have cause to reproach me for negligence, penny-pinching, or sloth.

But maybe they will reproach me for wasting their inheritance propping up a lost cause.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Demon Cheese (Homero the Hero)

Our house is old. Most of the essential features - the roof, the septic system - have been upgraded over the years (this sweeping statement covers a whole host of terrifying and - in retrospect - amusing stories, some of which can be found in these posts Mold Monster UpdateA Handy Man is Good to Find...?The Demon of Bad Smell (the Plumber as Hero)) but others have not. One such system is the plumbing, which was, like the rest of the house, originally owner installed and has some - shall we say - quirks.

Some of the issues with the plumbing, however, are entirely my own fault. Over the last several months, the kitchen sink has been chronically slow to drain, and when I do laundry the washing machine water backs up into the utility sink in the laundry room. Such is life with old pipes, we thought, and simply used the heavy-duty plunger to unclog things temporarily. A couple days ago, however, the sink was completely stopped up and plunging did no good. Homero took apart the U bend underneath and it was clear, so the problem was further along, somewhere under the house. Our thirty foot snake couldn't clear the problem, either.

At this point, I was all for calling the roto-rooter man. That's what he's for, right? Unclogging pipes. Homero, on the other hand, will not call in a professional unless he has previously tried and failed at least six times to fix the problem, and sometimes not even then. I'm relatively certain he would rather live with, say, a non-working refrigerator forever than pay somebody else to fix it. As you might imagine, this has been a source of considerable stress for me, but a few years ago I decided I would rather live with a non-working refrigerator than with Homero's injured pride. These days, I make one gentle suggestion that it might be time to call in the pros, and after that I go take a hot bath. Assuming it isn't the hot water heater that is broken, of course.

So Homero went under the house. We have a very tight crawlspace. Two years ago the sump-pump bit the dust and the crawlspace flooded. We have yet to make repairs, so the insulation hangs down in damp curtain-like swaths, and the vapor barrier doesn't adhere tightly to the floor or walls. It's a dank, musty, scary, claustrophobic place. Oh, and the wiring went kablooey so the only light is a flashlight. I wouldn't go down there for all the tea in China. In truth, I probably wouldn't fit.

Homero asked me to stay by the trapdoor in case he needed anything. I lay on the concrete floor of the garage and peered into the dark, listening to Homero grunting softly as he wormed his way over to the space underneath the kitchen sink. He began banging softly on the pipes with a wrench to find the clog. A little later, I heard the sound of his power saw. He was cutting open the pipe. He yelled something back to me that sounds like "cheese."


"They're full of cheese!"



Homero came crawling back with a three foot section of pipe. Sure enough, it was clogged solid with a substance that bore some hellish resemblance to cheese. White, soft, crumbly, and squishy, and unbelievably revolting.

"How did that happen?" I gagged.

"It's from all the whey you pour down the drain," he said. "And the whole pipe is full of it all the way to the sewer line. I'm going to have to replace it all. Help me out of here, I'm going to Home Depot."

For the last four or five years, as long as I've been making cheese, I've been letting the cheese drain in the sink. The whey that drains off varies, but is usually clear or nearly clear, and I didn't think there was any harm in letting it go down the drain. I know that whey is actually useful for all sorts of things and if I were thriftier and less lazy, I would have caught it and used it to water my plants, or polish the silverware, or cure warts or something. Whenever we had a pig during cheese season, the pig would get the whey, but most years we didn't. I felt awful, and not just from the smell.

"I'm so sorry," I said. "I didn't know. What can I do?"

He didn't even dignify that with an answer. He just washed his face and drove away.

Later that afternoon,  Homero returned with a lot of black PVC piping and some clamps and other stuff that I didn't look at too closely and couldn't identify if I did. He asked Hope to come under the house with him and hold the flashlight for him. I was a little alarmed at that - Hope is ten - but I didn't say anything. Hope was totally game. She's a brave girl. I hovered by the hole, trying to see and occasionally yelling "everything okay down there?"

About an hour later Homero sent Hope up.

"He said he doesn't need me anymore," she said.

Homero kept working for another hour or so, and finally came back up through the trapdoor, looking grim and dirty.

"All done?"

"All done," he said. "I'm taking a shower."

"Wouldn't it be nice if somebody paid you $900 to do that?" I asked with a smile, attempting levity.

He shook his head. "I wouldn't do it."

Later, after dinner and after the kids were in bed, Homero told me that he had sent Hope up because he had come upon a nest of pink baby rats. He has a horror of rats, a real phobia - of course, anyone would be afraid of rats in that situation, under the house in the dark, where you can't see them and you can't escape! But he didn't lose his cool, he just told Hope "Okay, that's all, thanks, you've been a big help," and then he squished the baby rats with the handle of his power saw and kept working.

I just can't come up with a response to that kind of bravery and determination. Nothing I could do or say feels like enough. I told him I was so proud of him, and I thanked him over and over again, and I told him he can have whatever he wants for a whole week, no holds barred. I promised to never ever make cheese in the sink again. But really, I'm just speechless. A small part of me would rather he had called a plumber and let somebody else freak out under the house, but most of me is incredibly grateful and admiring. Homero is really something else, he really is. He's macho in the very best sense of the word. No, there's a better word, from my Eastern European Yiddish speaking ancestors: he's a mensch. My husband is 100% mensch.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Beef Roadtrip (the Computer Age)

You may have noticed that the price of meat has risen fairly dramatically over the past couple of years. The forecast is that it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, due to a number of factors including prolonged drought in many parts of the country, a new and nasty pig virus, and increasing demand for meat in China and much of the rest of Asia. Here are a few links for the skeptical, from NR and the New York Times:



Even those of you who buy meat by the half animal, as I do, have probably seen major increases. When we bought our first local half-beef, some six years ago, I think we paid $1.75/lb hanging weight. Even two and a half years ago, when we last bought beef, we paid only $2.00/lb. Granted, that was from a neighbor and a friend, who was charging us quite a bit less than the going rate, which if I remember right was about $2.50.

This year, I spent quite a bit of time searching Craigslist for decently priced grass fed beef (our neighbor and friend only raised enough for his extended family) without luck. The best price I could find was $3/lb, and that only applied if you ordered six months ahead of time and didn't include cut and wrap. Figure that in, and by the time you are done you'll be paying about $5/lb for what you actually put in the freezer. It's not that $5/lb is such an outrageous price (though it is pretty high), but that to buy a half you need to get together some $2,000 all at once.

I really hate buying supermarket meat. I hate participating in the CAFO feedlot system (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation - Wikipedia, the free ...); I hate eating animals that lived in misery eating GMO soy and corn; I hate contributing to the destruction of tropical forests and the displacement of indigenous peoples. But I love eating beef. If it came down to a choice between eating CAFO meat or no meat at all, I know what I'd choose. So, to avoid slathering my burgers with guilt sauce, I decided to look further afield for my grass fed beef.

Washington State is divided between the wet west and, on the other side of the Cascade mountains, the wide open rangeland of the drier east. On the eastside, land is cheaper, hay is cheaper, and as a result, beef is cheaper. Marginally. After searching through all the Craigslist listings for beef in all the little towns of Eastern Washington, I struck gold: USDA prime grass fed black angus beef for $2.85/lb, cut and wrap included. A half weighing a little over 500 lbs was available. Problem is, it was a five hour drive, and comparatively cheap as it was, that half would still cost more than $1,500.

Social media to the rescue: on Facebook, I invited all my friends to go in on it with me. In the end, we bought a quarter for ourselves, and the other quarter was split into two eighths for two other families. I didn't charge the other families anything extra per pound, but I did ask them to contribute something toward the price of gas and dry ice. Dry ice, although pricey, is a necessity when transporting a quarter-ton of raw meat in a hot trunk for five hours. I used google maps to find the closest supplier to our destination, and lucked out: there was one in the same town. I collected cash and coolers from my co-purchasers, and Homero and I set off on a road trip.

The ranch was a lovely place, and the beeves on view were beautiful - vast, sleek, shiny black animals, moving slowly through flank-high grass or cooling themselves in a green pond, on which I saw a blue heron standing quietly among the reeds. The ranch owner, a friendly, tall, middle aged woman, was kind: There was a misunderstanding about the weight and we hadn't brought quite enough money. With no bank within a two hour drive, she simply decided to trust me to send a check when I got home.

It may seem like an awfully long way to go, but the math is convincing. On our quarter, we saved about $300 over local prices. Our diesel Jetta gets 45 miles to the gallon, so the gas cost us only about $30. The dry ice was the biggest expense, at $40, but friends kicked in on those costs. Our share of the travel expenses was about $25, which adds only a negligible amount to the price per pound.

If there's a downside, it's that the meat included an unreasonably high percentage of hamburger. At least 2/3 of the total weight was in burger, which is higher than I am used to. It seems like a shame to grind up that much of an animal that graded out to USDA prime, the very highest category. B ut I'm not complaining. The freezer is full of guilt-free meat and I am happy.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Harvest Time (Buckets Of Spuds)

Yesterday I harvested all the rest of the chiles off my cayenne plants. There were a few green ones hanging on, but most of them were fully dried on the plants. It was the best year for chiles I've ever had - I don't know if that's because I only planted cayennes and cayennes do well, or if there is some other mysterious reason, but in either case I think I am well fixed for heat. 

This picture of a bucket of spuds came off the internet, because I don't have my camera handy, but the bucket of spuds just outside my door looks pretty much the same. I have white potatoes and russets as well as redskins. It's funny - I planted a lot of potatoes this year, but then I totally ignored them and didn't weed at all. The potato patch looks like a jungle of thistles, amaranth, dock, and chicory. The potato plants themselves died back some time ago, and I sadly figured there would be no potatoes under there. 

Today, however, a friend asked me to bring her some lamb's quarter to plant in her garden for her rabbits. I told her to reconsider, I said it was a plague on my land and she'd olive to regret it, but she wants some anyway. So I went out to the potato patch and shoveled up a plant. Along with the lamb's quarter came three or four big, healthy potatoes. 

In the next five minutes, I uncovered a three gallon bucket full of potatoes. I decided I ad better stop. I don't want my lovely, unexpected potato crop to go all wrinkly and flabby in a drawer; we can leave them in the ground and dig them up as needed until the frost. I dug less than a tenth of the whole patch; I think we will be eating a lot of potatoes this fall. 

Other success stories this year (with pictures to follow someday):

- Tomatoes. I bought a whole flat of unmarked tomatoes in May and planted out some twenty plants before I got tired. They all did well, and I am now picking tomatoes every day. Mostly cherries, some Romas. 

- Pickling cucumbers. I've never had luck with cucumbers of any kind before but this year they did pretty well. Four plants provided me with enough cukes to keep my kitchen-table fermenting crock full. I also like to throw in the crock any extra... 

- Green beans. You can never have too many green beans, in my opinion. I planted blue lake (I think?) pole beans and yellow wax bush beans. They both did great and in addition to eating them fresh I canned six pints of hot dilly beans. 

- Red cabbage. I have six big cabbages out there that I probably ought to harvest before the slugs get them. 

Things that didn't do so well this year were the early spring crops - I got barely any peas, radishes, or spinach. Too wet, I think.  had to replant peas twice because they just rotted. Also I planted cantaloupes in the greenhouse and although the vines grew well, they only set two melons which are now about the size of softballs. I don't think anything is going to happen with those.  And my winter squash aren't too good, either. I have a grand total of two butternut squashes et, and two hub bards. If the hub bards get to a good size that will be enough, but who knows if that will happen. 

There is one other amazing plant this year, but it isn't in the garden. It's a volunteer yellow crookneck summer squash that grew out of the compost pile. I have never seen such an amazingly huge squab plant. this one plant has covered an area of about 200 square feet, sprawling all over the compost and out into the field in all directions. It has at least twenty-five squashes on it, and many many dozens of flowers. We have been eating the squash blossoms in quesadillas and soup, but I haven't tried one of the squashes themselves yet.

Overall I would call this one of my more successful gardens. I'm definitely happy with the tomatoes and chiles, and the discovery of such spudly abundance today was a welcome surprise. How about y'all? How is your garden doing?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Pony Update

Sometimes I love the internet. Sic weeks ago I was thinking I was going to have to sell Poppy to someone who would put her to use, and it was tying me up in knots (Poppy (Making Decisions)). Then I thought of reaching out to my local Facebook community. I belong to a group of some 300 people - nominally, it's a farmer's trade network for trading work and produce, but it occurred to me that there were probably lots of horse people on there. Maybe even horse people who don't currently have access to a horse and miss it. Maybe even people who would enjoy training Poppy and be willing to accept what I could pay.

So it proved. I laid out my situation, my budget, and my hopes. I asked for teenagers looking to make a few bucks, maybe? Or people who would accept partial payment in farm goods. And I got a lot of response. I think six people wanted to help, and they weren't all teenagers. For the last several weeks, a really great young lady named J. has been coming out twice a week.

I didn't expect anything more than just spending ten or fifteen minutes riding the pony, but actually, J. has been giving the little girls lessons, as well. She taught them to bridle Poppy and to put on the riding pad (we don't have a saddle). She has taught them the basics of posture and signals. Now, Hope can take the bridle and go out to the field and catch Poppy and bridle her and ride her all by herself. Poppy still doesn't exactly go where she's told one hundred percent of the time, but that will come.

J. says that for a pony who has never been formally trained, we have done a really good job with her. She has basically no bad habits, and she's willing, sweet tempered, and smart. She isn't spooky about anything, and she seems to enjoy being ridden. J. thinks she'll make a fine pony for informal riding around our property with very little work, and with only a little more real training can become a trail pony, which is what I want.

Summer is about over. At the beginning of the season, I had a list of goals, and deciding what to do about Poppy was on it. Check mark - goal completed. We're keeping her.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Hellifino (Perimeter Patrol)

Yesterday, our neighbor with the hotel-sized-house (the HSH) called to tell us our goats were eating his garden. Luckily, we were home, and we ran right over and herded them back in before they did any major damage. It wasn't immediately obvious where they had jumped the fence, but we definitely saw a few saggy spots, so we hitched up the trailer and hurried down to the farm store before they closed to buy cattle panels.

Twelve cattle panels, a couple of hours, and $450 later, we thought we had taken care of the problem. Not so. As the sun was setting, we got another call. The goats were in the garden again.
This time, we rounded them up and put them in the more secure sacrifice area. We know this small area is secure against adult goats because we have been keeping the buck in there, separated from the does, and he tries mightily but fails to escape. The babies, however, might still be able to squeeze through the space been the gate and the hinges. I didn't think they would wander far without their mother, however, and so it proved. In the morning, all goats were still contained.

Perhaps foolishly, we let the goats back into the big pasture to graze. There's absolutely nothing to eat in the sacrifice area except poisonous tansy, and I was afraid they would all eat it and die. We carefully walked the fence line on the HSH's side of the pasture, and finding one more potential low-spot, dragged another cattle panel out and tacked it up. The morning went by; the afternoon was well advanced and still - the goats were causing zero havoc. It looked as though we had solved the problem. Homero left to go to the junkyard and I took the kids and went to my sister's house for dinner.

An hour later, when each of us were an hour away from the house in opposite directions, Homero got the call. The goats were in HSH's garden yet again, for a third time.

Let me pause here to describe the garden a little bit. HSH is a retired Indian gentleman, and his garden is his main occupation and evidently his pride and joy. HSH spends at least two hours a day and often more out in the garden, which is something like 60' x 80' and laid out in beautiful rows, each straight as an arrow and meticulously free of weeds. He grows onions and garlic, collards and spinach and lettuce. He grows potatoes and squash and cilantro and carrots. He grows tomatoes and chickpeas. He has a lovely little hoop house wherein he grows all sorts of colorful chiles. He has a tall stand of corn, just coming into tassel. His family really eats out of the garden, and he is generous with his substantial surplus. It amazes me no end that one elderly gentleman can maintain a garden of such size and splendor, while I, a full twenty years younger, struggle to raise anything that can outcompete the weeds. Anyone would be annoyed to find his neighbor's goats had devastated his garden, but HSH has more to lose than most.

Homero sped home at a breakneck pace, no doubt roundly cursing goats the entire way. When he arrived, HSH had already put our goats back in the pasture. HSH was nowhere to be seen. Most likely, he had retreated into his home so as to avoid the temptation to punch Homero in the face. Taking no chances, Homero decided to hobble the goats. He used twine to tie their front feet together, so each goat could only take tiny little steps and could not possibly jump. He then walked the fence line, searching in vain for any place the goats might have done a Houdini.

When I got home, I decided to do my own perimeter patrol. I had been thinking, and I had come to the conclusion that the goats were not jumping over the fence at all. My does don't jump much, especially Flopsy, who is hugely obese and spends most of her time on her knees. Yet, Flopsy had been out with the others. It seemed to me most likely that the goats were escaping under the fence rather than over.

But when I walked the perimeter, I saw that there was no way they were going under, either. The grass in the pasture does not get mowed or cut, ever, and so it has grown up in a thick mat over the bottom of the fences and more effectively tacked them to the ground than we could ever do. I was pretty much at a loss. Nothing looked mashed down anywhere. Hell if I knew how they were getting out.

But on my second time around, I found it. I can't blame Homero for not seeing it - it was pretty invisible. Along the bottom of the pasture, not on the side facing HSH, right about in the middle, there was a breach. The goats had gone neither over the top nor under the bottom of the fence. They had gone straight through. Right alongside one t-post, the welded field fencing had come unwelded vertically and had a slash in it like a curtain. The top wire was intact, as was the bottom, and so it was not obvious at all. There was simply a slit through which the goats had slipped, single file, and then gone marauding.

I found the breach just after sunset. I only had time to grab some baling twine and tie it closed. Tomorrow we will patch it with a new section of fence or with yet another cattle panel. In the meantime, the goats remain hobbled. Let this be a lesson to me that I must resume perimeter patrol. I used to be in the habit of walking all the fence lines every month or so, but I have slacked off shamefully. This isn't the first time I have found breaches in the fence: they are a pretty regular occurrence. Fences must be constantly maintained, or else periodically repaired.

Just like neighborly relations. I have no idea what to offer HSH, beyond my abject apologies and, come fall, a nice fat leg of goat. I'm thinking a real, handwritten letter with a gift certificate to the farmer's market.

Monday, August 4, 2014

August (Preserving Update)

This will be a short post. I'm just coming up for air between preserving sessions. The pictures above are from the web, because im working on an ipad on the kitchen table and I cant seem to figure out howto post pictures that I have just taken. But it doesn't matter: the first photo is a fair representation of what my kitchen table looks like. 

I've been trading milk and cheese to my neighbor (he of the hotel-sized house) for produce from his really excellent garden. Unofrtunately he, like so many of us, overplanted zucchini and so there is a bag of fifteen healthy sized squash on front of me. I don't think I will plant zucchini at all henceforth. I think, when it comes to zucchini, I can trust the Lord to provide. 

Hotel-sized House neighbor (herinafter HSH) also gives me big bunches of cilantro and slicing cucumbers. From my own garden - which does occasionally cough up something edible - I have green beans, cherry tomatoes, and late-crop golden raspberries. Rowan brought home a gallon-sized ziploc of more green beans and shelling peas. The trade network provided a shopping bag full of transparent apples. And on the way home from my roadtrip on saturday I stopped at a roadside stand and bought a crate of peaches and a few pounds of pickling cucumbers. 

This is without even mentioning the neverending flood of milk, you understand. The milk is a whole 'nother situation. 

Here's what I have accomplished since Saturday: 

- canned five quarts of applesauce, some with blackberries and some without.
- peeled, sliced, and froze six quarts of peaches (we still have a couple dozen peaches to eat out of hand). 
- made cheese twice.
- started a three gallon crock of pickles to ferment on the counter
- canned five pints of spicy dilly beans. 

Left on the agenda for today is to bake and freeze enough zucchini bread to make a dent in the pile of zucchini on the table. I went to the store and bought extra tinfoil and walnuts. The kids are so sick of zucchini bread they won't even eat it anymore no matter how sweet I make it. 

The weather has been unrelentingly hot and dry. We have been finding relief at the lake three times a week or so but even with the generous and repeated application of sunscreen, I am too sunburned to go again for a few days. The pasture grass is all golden brown and seedheaded. The pears are swelling on the antique tree but the little baby trees in the orchard are drying out. The hose doesn't reach that far and I keep meaning to do a bucket brigade with the kids but then I get tired and sweaty and forget about it. We should water after sunset, at about 8:30. 

Summer is crawling to an end. School looms. August is a time when I feel nostaligic for August, even as I wipe the sweat off my brow and fish canning rings out of hot water and turn on all the fans and gripe. I am all too aware of how much I will miss August in just a few short months. I'm doing my best to enjoy it while I can. 

Ha-ha. "While I can." 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Fruitocolypse (Or Pear-mageddon)

This spring, I was all aflutter over the lack of bees during flowering time (What's Wrong With These Pictures?) but the bees must have been there, because the orchard is going crazy. Above is one of my four pear trees, each of which is absolutely loaded with fruit. If I remember right (which I most likely don't) we have a Comice, a Red Bosc, an Anjou, and a Bartlett.

Three of the trees, including this one, are young trees we planted ourselves, but the fourth - the Bartlett - is a hoary old beast some sixty years old. It has on years and off years, and this is definitely an on year. It looks to have some five hundred pears on it. Some of those will drop off immature, of course, and others will be lost to scab or other infirmities, but that leaves plenty of pears for us. And the neighbors. There will be enough pears to feed the Russian Army, as my mother used to say.

Pears make good pie, and pears can be canned as sauce, especially mixed with apples, blueberries, and blackberries. Pears can be dehydrated (though I hate dehydrating stuff) and late ripening pears can be stored wrapped in paper in a cool shed.  Pears can also be fed to livestock (carefully; in moderation) and pears can be given away to friends and neighbors.

Alas, pears cannot be pressed for juice, at least not with the equipment I have. Pears turn to mush and gum up the works. I can throw a few pears in with a batch of apples, but I can't just press pears by themselves.

What else can you do with pears? Have pear fights? Ideas, anybody?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Poppy (Making Decisions)

This is Poppy. She was born on the farm, the unintended consequence of my adopting a rescue shetland who nobody knew was pregnant. We love her. We all love her, but I love her the most. I love her the way I loved my pony Bonnie when I was nine years old, a love that might only exist between a girl and her horse, or a boy and his dog. 

Poppy is a lot sweeter than Bonnie was, however. Having grown up being more or less continuously mauled by little girls, she is a sweetheart. She follows us around and nibbles on us; she greets me with a shrill whinny as soon as I step out the door in the morning; she lets herself be endlessly patted and kissed; she lets the girls sit on her without complaint. 

But she isn't what you'd call trained. Training a horse, even a pony, is a specialist's job - it just isn't something you can pick up out of a book and do on your own. It's not like training a dog - or rather, it IS like training a dog, but not a family pet dog. It's more like training a service dog (a service dog that weighs 700 pounds). There is so much that a serviceable, rideable or drivable pony needs to know beyond basic obedience. This is a wild estimate, but I'm going to say that your average riding horse needs to know some thirty or forty different signals. Not only that, but they have to be STANDARD signals. That is, I can't train my horse to do X task with some signal known only to the two of us, or she will never be rideable by anyone else. 

We have done what we can with Poppy on our own - most of her "ground work." That means she leads well, she can be haltered and saddled and groomed, she stands nicely for the farrier, she has been trailered a few times, etc. What we haven't done, because we can't, is train her for riding. 
The year before last, we were in Mexico. Last year, we mostly missed summer because we weren't moved in back here until mid July, and there was so much to do what with getting the house ready for the Tamagochis and getting them enrolled in school and whatnot, I just didn't have time or energy to think about training Poppy. 

This summer, Poppy turns five years old. It's high time to get some training on her. When I looked into prices for a real trainer, I knew that Homero probably wasn't going to go for it. There was one listing that was considerably cheaper than the others, because it was a girl just starting out her own training business. I met her, I went and saw her facility, and we agreed to send Poppy there for two months worth of five-day-a-week training, ground work and riding both. 

Then things started to go wrong. The girl sent someone to pick up Poppy, but she herself went on a three week vacation. When I finally managed to get ahold of her almost two weeks in and told her I wasn't paying for boarding, I was paying for training she said not to worry, she had other people doing work with Poppy. "She'll get the right number of rides," she assured me. 

But she didn't. Poppy sat around in a stall, getting ignored. I would have taken Poppy home myself, but I don't have a trailer. Then the girl changed her cell phone number and I had no way of getting ahold of her. I visited the facility, hoping to find her, but she was never around. Then one day she called me and told me she was getting evicted from the facility and would bring Poppy home immediately. When I started to discuss getting some of my fee back, she told me she would come to my house to give the rides and give my daughters lessons. Since I have "pushover" written on my forehead, I agreed to that. 

That was a month ago. 

Remembering my mother's adage "you get what you pay for" I realized I had a few options. I could 

A) pay for a real trainer (not likely - real trainers have high hourly fees and demand all sorts of equipment like a round pen and fancy tack that I cannot and will never be able to afford); I could 

B) decide that I like Poppy the way she is and just let her develop into a kind of semi-rideable pasture pet; or I could 

C) sell her. 

Even thinking about selling Poppy is painful. On the other hand, option B seems wasteful - almost immoral. Poppy is young, healthy, smart, willing, and good tempered. She could do almost anything in the right hands. For someone who wanted to put in the time and effort (and money), she could be a wonderful companion and working animal. My girls are not that person - neither one of them has expressed a serious interest in riding. They are much more into gymnastics, and both have made the beginner's team. At a competitive level, gymnastics sucks up too much time and money to allow for a second time-and-money intensive hobby like riding. 

So, when the farrier (who is deeply embedded in local horse-culture) came last week, I asked him if he knew anyone who might be interested in Poppy. I said I hadn't made up my mind, but if the right person came along - someone who wanted a long-term commitment, preferably someone local - I would sell her. He said he'd keep his eyes open. 

But I haven't given up. I had an idea yesterday. There's a Facebook group I'm a part of, a local farmer's group. It has about three hundred members. I succinctly laid out our situation and said I was looking for a reliable person to ride Poppy two or three times a week for a reasonable fee. I figured there had to be some horse people with teenagers looking to make a few bucks or maybe some horse people who were currently without horses who would jump at the chance. 

I wasn't wrong. Quite a few people wrote to me, and one of them, a woman who was highly endorsed by somebody I know, is coming over in an hour or so to meet Poppy and talk about what she can and can't do and for how much. Perhaps Poppy can be a kind of high-level pasture pet - not a show horse, not a real working horse, but a rideable friend. That would be acceptable to me. 

Also, the farrier told me something that makes me feel relieved. I was under the impression that horses need to get their training while they are young, three or four or five years old, and that after that, they became much more difficult to work with. Where I got that idea, I can't remember, but the farrier told me it isn't true. He's routinely broken horses over ten years old. That means there's not the urgency that I thought there was - I can try a few more things and see how it goes. Here's hoping. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Let the Harvest Start (Ingenuity)

Today has been a food preservation frenzy, and it isn't over yet. In the morning, I took five pounds of assorted cheese, a small jar of cajeta,  and three dozen eggs out of the refrigerator and set out on my trading route.

I returned home two hours later with:

- a large bunch of Toscano kale

- a bunch of garlic scapes
- a baggie full of feathery dill
- a fistful of rainbow colored carrots
- a small head of cauliflower
- a bowl of ripe red raspberries
- a few pounds of beautiful yellow Rainier cherries
- three small fillets of freshly caught wild Sockeye salmon

and nine dollars in cash (for the eggs).

I am delighted with the results of this day's trade. To be perfectly frank, we are all getting a little sick of cheese over here. I mean, you can only eat so much cheese before it starts to have consequences. I keep making cheese because, well, the milk keeps flowing, and it's good practice. Tinkering around with my methodology has produced a much superior chèvre this year, for example.

But just as eggs pile up in April, so does cheese accumulate in June. And yogurt, and kefir, and cajeta. Last week I canned twelve cups of cajeta and yesterday I made another quart to take to a party.  My refrigerator has become more or less a solid wall of weird milk products. I am so glad to be able to turn some of them into produce, because as usual my garden is not thriving.

The afternoon has been taken up with processing the bounty. Half the kale was sautéed and stuffed into quesadillas for lunch. The garlic scapes went into the blender along with olive oil, parmesan, and lemon juice to make a pesto which I will freeze in ice cube trays. The cubes can be stored in a ziploc bag in the freezer and used whenever I want a quick and easy sauce for pasta or chicken.

I used the last of my chèvre, the dill, and some parsley and green onions from the Gleaner's Pantry  to make a delicious dip, with which we ate the cauliflower and carrots just now as an afternoon snack.
The cherries will be eaten out of hand. The raspberries went into a ziploc in the freezer, and will be used for smoothies, which is how I use up all the kefir I've been making.

The fish, which was caught in Alaska day before yesterday by a new trade partner who I'll call jelly-man (for his amazingly delicious pepper jelly), is now smoking gently over soaked hickory chips inside of my little Totem brand smoker. I marinated the fillets in a mixture of salt, sugar, paprika, cayenne, and rice vinegar, with a dash of soy and orange juice. They are small and thin, so I think they will smoke in just a few hours.

The smoker has been in the shed since last year, and being a lazy git, I had put it away without scrubbing it. When I took it apart to clean it, there were no wire racks inside. The drip tray and the chip basket were there, but no racks for placing the fish. I searched the shed, but couldn't find them anywhere. I thought I would have to put off smoking the fish until I acquired new racks, and I was annoyed because the fish were already marinated and I didn't know what to do with them instead.

Luckily, my husband is a pack rat who seldom throws anything away. In the shed there is a small, less than half-sized refrigerator which doesn't work. I don't know why he has kept it lo these last five years, but when I opened it up it had a steel rack inside it that looked just about the right size. Almost; I had to trot out to the shop and ask Homero to cut off an inch or so from one side, but when he had done that, the rack slipped neatly into the smoker.

As I sit here, the heavenly smell of smoking salmon is wafting in from the back porch. I can't wait.

Monday, June 23, 2014

High Summer Plans (Adios, Muchachas)

On thursday, my nieces, who have been living with us for the past year, are going home to Oaxaca. It's been a good year, and we have enjoyed having them here. The girls have been sweet and helpful, and have worked hard in school and in their English classes. Hopefully, they are going home with a pretty decent command of the language and with some understanding of life in another culture than their own, and also with stronger bonds with their cousins, our daughters.

As much as I liked having them here, and as privileged as I felt to have been entrusted with their care,  I would be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to them going home. This is nothing to do with the girls themselves, but simply with the fact that it has now been over two years since it's been just us - the nuclear family - in our own house.

The year before last, we were in Oaxaca living with my mother-in-law (see sister blog www.newtomexicanlife.blogspot.com). When we came home, we were in limbo for three months, renters still in our house, living here and there. And once we moved back into our home, it was only a few weeks before the nieces arrived for the most recent school year. During the year that they were here, we also hosted their father for some five weeks, their mother for three, and their grandmother for another three. Somewhere in there, my brother-in-law also came to stay for a few weeks. The number of people living in my house over the past year probably averaged out to about 9.5.

That many people puts a strain on the facilities - the washing machine, the septic system, the hot water heater, the refrigerator - and on the nerves, no matter how delightful they may be as individuals. Doubling the number of children in the house more than doubles the mess, the noise, the dishes, the laundry, and the gasoline spent driving them all hither and yon to double the number of activities. Even for an American, I require rather a lot of privacy and quiet time, and hosting several gregarious Mexican relatives at the same time and over the course of a year took a lot out of me. I wouldn't have it any other way - I married into this crowd and I'm damn glad I did - but I'm also ready for a rest.

Homero feels the same way. This spring, his fortieth birthday coincided with his niece's fifteenth - a major milestone year in Mexico - and I threw a very large party. I hadn't thrown a party like this since Rowan's fifteenth birthday, six years ago. We butchered a goat and I hired Mariachis. The house was scrubbed every day for a week beforehand and three women cooked up a storm for 48 hours straight ahead of time. My friends and relatives came from as far away as Philadelphia and Oaxaca. There were about seventy people, give or take. The party began at four in the afternoon with flowers and white tablecloths and wound down around two in the morning with Corona and kareoke around the ashes of a big bonfire. It was a huge success, but when it was over, Homero said "Amor, don't make any more plans for this summer, okay?"

Both of us would love to have a nice, low-key summer vacation, just hanging out at home with the kids. I hope we can, but already, less than two weeks since school ended, the obligations and plans are piling up. Hope and Paloma have been taking gymnastics at a local gym, and last week they tried out for the competitive team. Both of them made the cut - which means twice weekly practice and monthly meets in Seattle. Additionally, I recently earned my state interpreter's license and have started taking actual jobs and earning actual money - something I would like to do a bit more of in the summer when my farmwife/homemaker duties are on the lighter side. And although I just said that farm duties are lighter right now, this is, of course, cheese season - twice daily milking and cheese making twice or three times a week. Also, there is no forgetting that summer is preserving season - if we are to have berries, tomato sauce, pickles, cajeta, jam, and salmon next winter, I have to make it this July and August.

In addition to all these regular chores, here are some things I'd like to do this summer -

- Training Poppy. This is a whole 'nother post, but Poppy has had some training/breaking recently, and can now be considered "green broke." I have bought the minimum of tack needed - a bridle and a bareback pad - and want to get the kids to ride her around the paddock at least three or four times a week. Training the horse and teaching the kids to ride simultaneously is a complicated and expensive endeavor which deserves elaboration in it's own post, but suffice it to say that this is the summer I decide if it is worth the time and expense to keep a horse.

- Go to Victoria. I love Victoria, and I have never taken the younger girls. Homero and I took Rowan many years ago, but the littler ones don't know it. It's a great weekend trip, a perfect two-nighter. The  Royal Museum ( http://royalbcmuseum.bc.ca ) is one of the coolest museums for kids on the entire North American continent, and that's only one of many wonderful things to do in Victoria (another will be to visit our good friend Andrew).

- Go to the ocean. It's been years since the family went out to the coast - the little girls have never been, I don't think. I myself haven't been in at least three years, and that's just an unacceptable amount of time. We have the use, this summer, of my mom's very nice and comfortable, mechanically sound class A recreational vehicle, and I can think of no higher purpose to put it to than introducing my daughters to the mighty North Pacific.

- Put in a French drain and fix the far bedroom. The list just wouldn't be complete without a major construction project. While my brother-in-law (a contractor) was here, I asked him about the stubborn and recurring patch of mold in the far bedroom and asked if he could find the leak in the roof.

"There's no leak in the roof," he said. "That's water from the backyard. See the slope?"

Our backyard is higher than the house, and given the ridiculous amount of rain we get, there are several metric tons of eater sitting right up against the house foundations for most of the year. We need to take advantage of the dry season (July and August) to put in a French drain and reroute the water around the east side of the house to the ditch. And also to replace the moldy wallboard in the far bedroom, and hope like hell that the beams that sit on top of the foundation are not rotted.

That seems like a summer's worth of stuff, at least. I notice that I've put all the fun stuff first. That is, in fact, how I intend to do it. If I have to spend thousands of dollars and a couple of weeks freaking out about mold and rot, I can at least do it with a nice tan, after I've taken my kids to the beach.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Cow Caper (Good Neighbors)

Yesterday as I was returning home with a car full of girls from their various lessons - gymnastics for some, English for others - I got a call from my next door neighbor with the giant house.

"Your cow, she is on the road," he said.

"Oh no!" I yelled. "I'll be right there, I'm two minutes away!"

For those of you who don't know, the road in question is a state highway that runs from I-5 on one end ten miles west to a major refinery on the other. The speed limit is 50 mph, but in actuality big rigs full of gasoline, propane, and god knows what other fossil fuels careen down the highway at 65 plus, all day long. I thought of one of those trucks hitting my poor stupid cow and smashing her to a paste, then erupting in a giant fireball, or jack-knifing and spilling 10,000 gallons of oil all over the hillside. I pictured a ten car pileup. I visualized the next day's headline: "Imbecilic farmer loses livestock; causes worst tragedy in years."

"Keep your eyes peeled," I told all the girls, but nobody saw the cow during the three minutes it took us to get home.

As I pulled into the driveway, I saw the cow being led back into the paddock (the gate was wide open) with a small crowd of neighbors behind her. I screeched to a halt and began a dance of gratitude, thanking everyone around me abjectly for catching my cow and thereby avoiding a terrifying accident and a lawsuit of hideous proportions.

My good neighbors chuckled and told stories of escaped animals from their youth. They waved away offers of reward. They headed off across the fields home, leaving me standing there feeling foolish and grateful.

I have no idea who left the gate open or when. Statistically speaking, it was probably me.