"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Good Imbolc (Repost)

Welcome February 2nd, a day of many names in many traditions!

In what is probably the very oldest and most universal tradition of all - the solar calendar - February 2nd is one of the cross-quarter days, meaning a day that is exactly halfway between a solstice and an equinox. Believe it or not, ancient astronomers knew the dates of the solticses and equinoxes more than six thousand years ago. Today is halfway between the winter soltice and the spring equinox, and in the Northern hemisphere used to be marked as the first day of Spring. Indeed, only a few days ago, I noticed that the pussy willows were grey. One of my neighbors has a large pussy-willow, and I had to stop and ask her if I might take a few sprigs for my altar. I have them in water, and I'm hoping they will root and I can plant them on my property. It should work - willows are notoriously easy.

Other unmistakable signs of early spring I have noticed are robins (I saw a whole field covered in them the other day, driving home)...

witch-hazel in bloom at my sister's house...

...and the plaintive cry of the killdeer, looking for a nesting site. Killdeer are handsome shore birds who breed in sandy or gravelly uplands within a few miles of the beach - which perfectly describes my property. Their piercing cries in the evening and their swift, low, straight flights across the twilit ground are hallmarks of February and sure signs of the coming nesting season.

In the Celtic, or Pre-Christian European tradition, the first cross-quarter of the year was known as Imbolc, the beginning of the season of "emerging." It marked the time that the first sprouts began to emerge from seeds and bulbs, and especially the time that sheep and goats begin to drop their lambs and kids and to produce milk. It is the time that the world begins to emerge from the long sleep of winter. It is the season of waking. In modern celtic tradition Imbolc is observed with white candles on the altar to celebrate the return of the light to the world.

It is fitting, therefore, that when Ireland became Catholic, February second was commemorated as St Brigid's day. Brigid of Kildare was a real person, a contemporary of St Patrick, but the woman was named for an old Celtic Goddess, Brigid. Brigid the Goddess has always been associated with fertility, and more specifically with lactation and the fruits of the breast. In olden days she was the maiden, the young feminine divine, the nubile virgin ready to be made fruitful by the divine male. Her name, in fact, is the derivation of our word "bride."

In more modern Irish Catholic tradition, St. Brigid is the protectress of dairymaids, of cattle and kids, and the one who blesses the making of butter and cheese. Pregnant women and dairy farmers pray to her to this day, and many people believe that "Brigid" is one of the oldest, original names of the Divine Mother and venerate her as the Creatrix. She wears the youngest of the triple faces of the Great Goddess.

February 2nd is still a sacred day in the Roman Catholic church calendar, known as Candlemas. Indeed I was rather surprised when I asked my Lutheran pastor about Candlemas and learned that she knew nothing about it, at least by that name. Today marks the day that Jesus was presented in the temple, the day that Mary's period of ritual uncleanness after giving birth was over (forty days) and she was permitted and required to present her firstborn son to the priesthood. Since I am a very fledgling Christian I cannot provide gospel verses, but I bet Christians among you can find them. The event of Jesus' presentation to the world - his Christening, if you will - is very appropriate to the old theme of the holiday, the theme of beginnings, of emergence. Christ emerged from his mother's womb and was born to the world of men on this day.

Of course it is inconceivable that such an ancient and deeply rooted holy day as a cross-quarter would be ignored by the Catholic church; no doubt it was consciously appropriated. That doesn't matter to me at all. I am perfectly happy to celebrate Imbolc, Brigid, and the Newborn Babe all at once. I am delighted to have pussy willows and white candles on my alter, along with a few of the first eggs of spring and soon, the first crocuses and perhaps soon, a small vial of the first milk. In a month or so, I will have the cross of the risen Christ.

Right now, my favorite goat, Iris, is within days of giving birth. I see no conflict between the rites of Spring on my farm and the sacred rituals of the Chruch calendar. It may seem strange to others, but it is not strange to me that Iris reminds me of Mary, heavy with child or newly delivered. Mary was, as I am - as Iris is - a female animal, channeling life through her body, guiding a spirit into flesh. We are all of us examples of the ongoing process of creation, most joyfully evident in this season of Imbolc.

Thus is the world renewed, year after year.

This picture above is my favorite icon of the pregnant Mary. It is painted on the ceiling of a church in Huatulco, Mexico, and is advertised as the largest vision of Mary in Mexico - which is saying something. Having been there, I can tell you biggest or not, it is big. And beautiful. In fact I think this is my favorite church among all those I have visited in Mexico, land of a thousand gorgeous churches. This pregnant Mary (see the small blue fetus, floating upside down in her mid-section?) is so serene, so calm. May the spirit of Mary, of Brigid, of Iris enfold you this season, and may you take great delight in the awakening and the emergence of new growth this early spring season!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Salsa Ranchera a la Gleaner's Pantry

Canning in January! This is salsa ranchera. Recipe as follows: put 6 or 8 pint jars and lids to sterilize in boiling water. On a cast iron griddle or in a cast iron pan (dry), put three to four pounds of tomatoes (whole), two onions, quartered, six cloves of peeled garlic, and as many hot chiles of whatever type you like (split and seeded). You will have to work in batches. Turn vegetables as they blacken slightly in spots. Chiles will release fumes as they toast - remove them as soon as they get little toasty spots and open a window! Onions should be well blackened in spots. Remove all vegetables to blender (again with the batches). 
Heat a tablespoon or so neutral oil in a big sauce pan, and sauté a teaspoon of cumin seed, a few cloves and a few allspice berries. Purée vegetables in batches and add to saucepan (it will spatter at first). Add salt to taste. As soon as sauce simmers, add juice of two or three limes. Then place in sterilized jars and process in boiling water until sealed approximately 10-15 minutes. Use sauce later to simmer eggs, or chicken pieces.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Haku and Christmas (Baby Love)

Haku has been allowed to kiss and lick the baby goat since the day she was born - Christmas Eve, hence her name. We are hoping that doing this will teach him that the baby is a member of the family to be protected, not a prey animal to be chased and eaten.

We have been taking Haku with us to do the animal chores every day, twice a day. Once we learned that it is only the sheep that drives him mad and removed her to the horse pasture, the situation improved greatly. Haku ignores the goats almost completely, and even the chickens only distract him momentarily from the delights of roaming around leashless and free. Now the main issue is getting him to come back to us when we are done with chores! We are working on it.

Christmas is shaping up to be a lovely little doeling. We've decided to keep her. I need a new doe - Iris is old and Flopsy is only half a milker, having lost a teat to mastitis years ago. Since we are keeping her, I decided not to bother disbudding her. Her mom, Polly, has horns and they have never been a problem except once or twice when she got stuck in the fence. I fully expect Christmas to get stuck once or twice too before she learns not to stick her head through. That's okay - not only will we save her major trauma by not dehorning, but in the long run she will be better able to defend herself.

Please enjoy this darling video, and try to ignore my annoying baby-talk.

Sunday, December 27, 2015


Today I chose the slippery beam. Apparently both choices are equally awful. Walked back to the house this time with a cold muddy bum. 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

My Mud Nightmare Has Come to Pass

Just went out to do the afternoon feeding, with Haku tied to me via a long leash around my waist. That's my new plan for desensitizing him to the livestock - take him with me every day and make him walk among the animals. It's about 4 o'clock, dim, very cold, and very muddy.

It's been very muddy for weeks. The mud is worse than average this year, because we raised a pig this year. Pigs always root up, dig, and generally soften up the ground wherever they are, and this pig spent a lot of time in the barnyard. Homero laid a couple of wide 2x8 beams across the worst of the yard, and that helped for a while. But now the mud has come up over the beams, and while you can still see where they are, they aren't much help anymore. They're slippery, see.

I have to choose between trying to walk on a slippery beam with a 90 lb. dog tied to my waist - a dog that is tugging manfully - or walking in the mud. I chose the mud. I have good boots. They go up to my knees.

One of my good boots got stuck. Really stuck. I pulled and pulled - I let Haku pull and pull to help me - but no dice. That boot was in almost to the top and it wasn't coming out. After a few minutes of thinking and not coming up with any plans, I gave in to the inevitable.

I slipped my foot out of the boot and set it down in the mud. It sank in right up to my shins - just as cold, squishy, and awful as I had known it would be. Without my foot inside, it was easy to grasp the empty boot and pull it up. Now I had a new dilemma. Should I put my gross muddy foot back inside my boot, or should I carry the boot and keep the inside clean, and walk back to the house half barefoot?

I really didn't want to get the inside of my boot as muddy as the outside. Then I'd have to clean it out with the hose, and it would be wet for days. So I started off towards the house - about 50 yards - squish, squish, squish.

It froze last night. Not hard enough to lock up the mud, obviously, but enough to make the ground very uncomfortable on a bare foot. When I hit the sharp, frozen gravel, I decided to put my boot back on. Now I have one leg wet and filthy to the knee, and two muddy boots - one on the inside as well as the outside.

Haku, as usual, has four legs muddy to the hocks. He doesn't care.

A Goat Named Christmas

On Christmas Eve morning, when Homero went out to feed the animals, he found a baby goat curled up, asleep in the hay. He wasn't sure which of the three does was the mama, so he picked up the baby and put her in the mama barn, chose the mama goat that most resembled the baby (Polly), and came back in to get me. 

When I entered the mama barn a few minutes later, the baby was nursing on Polly, so clearly Homero chose correctly. Polly must have given birth the evening before. The baby was dry and fluffy, nursing like a pro, and Polly looked great. 

I HAVE been checking the mama goat's udders when I go out, because I know that they were probably bred quite early, since we just let the buck run with them year round. Last year (or was it the year before?) we lost two babies because they were born in the middle of a deep freeze in the middle of the night. 

This time we (and the goats of course ) were luckier - it's been very wet but not cold. The barn has plenty of dry straw, and now that we put them in the mama barn, they ought to do just fine. Until I let them out, a few days from now, anyway. I can't imagine how that tiny baby can traverse the lake of deep mud between the door of the barn and the grass of the pasture. I need to get some chips down, pronto. 

A search for another baby - dead or alive - and any sign of placenta turned up negative. It seems this baby was a singleton. And it's a she. She's a doeling.  We named her Christmas. We're going to keep her. It's about time I added a new doe to the herd. It seems that Iris most likely did not get pregnant again this year. That makes two years in a row and I think it is unlikely she will produce again. Flopsy is also getting on, and she only has one teat. Polly is my best goat, and I think a doeling from her would make a good replacement for Iris or Flopsy. 

If, that is, we can raise her to maturity without being killed by Haku. I'm terrified about him killing baby goats. He doesn't bother the adult goats - only the sheep - but the adult goats don't prance and gambol and run around enticingly, which the baby goats most certainly will. Also the babies are perfectly prey sized for Haku. 

In an attempt to avoid that horrible fate, I brought the baby inside and let Haku lick her all over. I even brought Haku out to the mama barn and let him lick the baby all over right in front of her mama. Polly did not like that at all. She was very protective, keeping herself between Haku and the baby, and lowering her horns menacingly. But Haku behaved himself and was very gentle with the baby. 

I'd be perfectly happy if Christmas were the only baby we get this year. I don't need more goats and I don't need more milk than Polly can provide. It's always nice to have a couple of babies to sell, or to eat, so it wouldn't be awful if there were more babies, but they'd be surplus. The only thing I will need to do next year is find a different buck. Hopefully I can find someone in the same position as me who wants to trade bucks straight across. 

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Dog Drama (Faith and Canines)

The farm, like the earth itself, is practically in hibernation right now. I can hardly remember a time when we have had fewer animals. The cow and the pig have both been butchered. The turkeys are gone as well, having been butchered and sold for Thanksgiving. The freezer is full of meat, and the only live animals I have left are the perennials - ponies, goats, and chickens.

The weather has been unrelenting. Except for one quick, two day freeze that brought a half-inch dusting of snow, it's been all mud. The chores are so miserable that I have allowed the unthinkable: chores once a day instead of twice. In my defense, the days are very short - there are barely eight hours of daylight, and that of a dubious, dark grey quality. We feed once, at about 11 am, double rations for everybody. As the animals are all huddled in the barn against the chill and the damp, they are not expending very much energy.

I always take Haku (the new shepherd) with us to do chores - he needs the exercise, but it is a giant pain in the ass. He cannot be trusted off leash, nor can he come into the main paddock with me, even on leash. The mere sight of the sheep sends him into a berserker rage and at 90 pounds, he is quite capable of pulling me off balance and sending me ass-first into the mud. So I put him in the adjacent pasture while I do chores, and he leaps frenetically at the fence and barks himself hoarse while I trudge through the mud.

"Shut up, Haku," I scream, with an armload of hay, the wind whipping half of it out of my arms and into my eyes.

"Shut UP, Haku," I scream, as I dig my naked hands into the ordure and pry the chicken's feed pan loose and carry it over to the hose for cleaning.

"Haku, for the love of all that's holy, SHUT UP!" I yell, as I duck back into the mama barn to scoop up chicken food. After a moment, I realize there is silence - and it is not relief I feel, but dread. I pop out of the barn, and see Haku dragging the sheep around the lower pasture by the scruff of her neck. I don't know how he got from one pasture to the other, but it hardly matters at the moment.

"HAKU!" I scream, and start to run after them. The mudboots I have put on are too small, and I am running with my toes curled under. It hurts.

"HAKU!" I keep screaming. The dog cheerfully ignores me. Even dragging the sheep, he easily outmaneuvers me. Occasionally, the sheep will break free and run for a bit, and Haku seems to enjoy it when she does, for it gives him a chance to chase her around again. The dog and sheep make large circles; I make smaller circles inside their orbit, lunging and stumbling and screaming ineffectually. I wasn't exactly checking my watch, but it felt like a good ten minutes before I managed to step on Haku's leash as he dashed by me and bring him to a jerking halt.

I was so angry at him. This is not the first - nor the second, nor the third - time he has attacked the sheep. He has never actually injured her, I think because her wool is so thick he can drag her around with a mouthful of wool without piercing her skin, but the poor thing is seriously traumatized. Haku has been punished each time, but it makes no impression. I'm going to risk the collective opprobrium of the internet by admitting that when I finally managed to drag Haku off of the poor sheep, I growled at him, flipped him on his back, twisted his ruff savagely, and whacked him across the snout with my bare hand, hard enough to hurt. "NO!" I yelled into his face. "NO!"

I dragged him out of the pasture and tied him to the fence by his leash while I finished my chores. The sheep was cowering in the far corner of the barn, but when I tried to approach her to check her for injuries she nimbly stepped around me and took off. That is, to me, enough evidence that she isn't seriously injured. As the late, great James Herriot said, if you can't catch your patient there probably isn't too much to worry about.

For those of you who might wonder, Haku is enrolled in a professional training course and we take him once a week. We also have a friend who is a professional trainer and she comes quite often to help us. Haku is a challenging dog, to say the least. He is an absolute sweetheart with the family - loving and docile and playful and trustworthy. He is also fine with visitors and people in general - but with animals, be they livestock or other dogs, he is a holy terror.

We are committed to Haku - we knew when we adopted him that he had been given up twice by other families and that we were, practically speaking, his last chance. If we were to take him back to the shelter, he would be deemed unadoptable, and we all know what that means. We will never ever do that - Haku is ours forever, even if he succeeds in his lifelong ambition to kill the sheep. We were warned that he was released the last time for killing chickens. When we decided that we were in love, that we had to adopt him, Homero said (privately) "He can kill all the chickens, I don't care."

Our last dog - my first dog - Ivory , was also challenging as a puppy. There were times I felt I had made a mistake, that she would never be a proverbial "good dog." We had to hang tough for - I'm going to say three years, until she calmed down and became a relaxed family dog, instead of a crazy whirlwind of destruction. She used to lunge at the fence and bark whenever the neighbor came home. The poor girl was only trying to get into her own house, and Ivory made it a trial every day for years. She also used to steal all my daughter's stuffed animals, sneak them out through the dog door, and then tear a small hole in them and run around the backyard, shaking them violently, until all the stuffing came out. She did this over and over until he whole backyard looked like a ski resort.

As it turned out, Ivory did become a "good dog" She lived with us for fourteen years - years which spanned the birth of my children and the growth of my family from a city-dwelling duo to a country farming family of five. She learned to be a farm dog, to herd goats, to chase rabbits through the blackberry bushes, to hunt and kill rats. She accompanied our family to Oaxaca, Mexico, and she provided us her whole life long with affection and protection. She was a real true member of the family, and even now, almost a year after her death from a nasty cancer, I cry every time I remember her. I have ugly tears rolling down my cheeks right now.


It is only because of Ivory that Haku has any grace with us. It is only because of Ivory that I have faith, that I have trust that Haku will one day be a member of our family in the same way she was. I know there will never be another Ivory - no matter how much Haku resembles her. He can't replace Ivory - no dog ever could - but Ivory taught me the worth of a good dog, and gave me the will to keep trying. Now that I know what a dog can be, I have to believe that Haku can be that too. I know that if we can stick it out for another year or two, and persevere with the training, that the payoff will be beyond our wildest dreams. We'll have a loving companion for another fourteen years, God willing. In a very real sense, Haku is alive today because of Ivory.

I'm not sure there can be a better memorial for a good dog.

Te gusta me Nene?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

One Husband, Many Heads (Graphic Pictures)

the giant fish

I am not a squeamish eater. I like liver, and I put the giblets in my gravy. Tacos de lengua are alright with me. As compared to your average American, I think I have a high tolerance for and even appreciation of variety meats. Or "offal" or whatever name you favor for all the bits that aren't straight up muscle meat.

It's true, though, that I like my offal disguised in a creamy pate (I make the best chicken liver pate you ever tasted) or minced into invisibility in a gravy. Like most Americans I know, I don't want to see an identifiable organ on my plate. Ew.

Homero is not American. He's Mexican, and in Mexico, they really do use "everything but the squeal." As they do in most other places around the world. It's pretty much just us rich white folks who can afford to ignore a third of the edible parts on an animal. In fact, most of the world will insist that the parts we refer to as "offal" include the best meat. I'm sure every organ has it's partisans; Homero is partial to the head.

Eyeballs. Cheek meat. Tongue. Brains. Even ears and snouts. It's all yummy to him, and it pretty much doesn't matter what animal you're talking about. Before we were married, the first time we were in Oaxaca together, Homero's sister made sheep's head soup (which was delicious) and Homero made a big show of scooping out the eyeball and eating it.

pig head

When each of our pigs has been butchered, Homero has kept the head and made something with it - this last time it was head tacos. To me, it was a whole lot of gristly, greasy, cartilaginous bits, but to him it was ambrosia. 

Recently a friend gave us an enormous fish - I mean a really gigantic fish, a twenty-five pound denizen of the deep. I believe it was a yellow-eyed Rockfish. The filets, when a neighbor helped us get them off, weighed about six pounds each. They were lovely, snowy white and firm, and they looked like plenty of food to me, but Homero wanted to make soup out of the head, too. To be fair, the head was about one-third of the entire fish, and it did make a delicious broth. But it also made one hell of a mess.

Right now, there is an entire cow's head in our freezer. It takes up a fair amount of the freezer all by itself. It's from our Jersey cow, who was butchered this past autumn. Homero insists that he is going to cook it - how, I haven't the faintest clue. We don't have a fire-proof receptacle capable of holding it - you'd need a medieval cauldron, even though she was a pretty small cow. Maybe he could barbecue it over an open fire outside.

Whatever he does with it, he better do it soon. I'm getting tired of wrestling with that frozen cow head every time I want to get into the freezer and get out some food. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Advent Activity Calendar: So Far

 Day one: make christmas cards

Day two: decorate the altar

Day three was going Christmas shopping (at thrift stores). I made the girls make a list of people they really wanted to give gifts to, and I gave them each $40 and said I expected that to be enough - but that I would help them budget and if they wanted to use the money to buy craft stuff and make presents, I'd help them come up with ideas and then I would help them make stuff. 

Day four was supposed to be going downtown to the christmas tree lighting ceremony, but as it turned out I had the stomach flue and wasn't going anywhere. Luckily it was pretty much a twenty-four hour bug, and I'm feeling much better today.

Day five, today, we went down to the port for the annual holiday port festival and gingerbread house show. There are many things going on, but the gingerbread houses are the star attraction. So much so that the line to see them was a half an hour long. However it wasn't too bad because there was a stage and local groups performing, ranging from high school jazz bands to barbershop quartets, so we had music while we waited. The houses themselves can be submitted by anybody, and they are sorted into categories from "under 5" all the way up to "professional bakery."  The show is also a silent auction, with the benefits going to local charities. Some of them were truly spectacular, and others were - as we say - "sincere." 

By the time we got through the show, I had had quite enough holiday cheer for one day. As large as the space is, there were enough bodies present to make it hot and close, and I've never been good in crowds. I think I may have some lingering effects of the flu - a couple of times I felt near to fainting. I was very glad to get back out into the chilly, rainy fresh air. 

Tomorrow is the one event we never miss, in any year - Pioneer Park Old Fashioned Christmas. It's a truly amazing event - the park itself is wonderful. It's a big field with approximately twelve original old buildings from the pioneer era that were all moved here from various locations around the count. They are mostly houses but also a church, a barn, and a schoolhouse. They date from the 1870's and 1880's. All of them are furnished with original furniture, stoves, quilts, etc, from the time period - in some cases the actual furnishings that were in those houses. In the summertime the Ferndale Historical Society gives tours on weekends. And for one weekend in December every year, they have Christmas. All the houses are decorated with period decorations, and in each building there is a different activity for children - dipping candles, writing christmas cards that will be sent to soldiers overseas, and of course visiting Santa. I love Pioneer Park Christmas! 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Advent Event Calendar (Slaying the a dragon of Christmas)

The advent-event calendar that I was so excited about in the last post is a reality. It only took me one trip to the dollar store and an hour on the computer looking up local events. It's amazing how many free and low cost events there are in our little town. Many of them, it's true, are aimed at children much younger than mine. I keep forgetting that my kids are both in double digits now. 

This afternoon when the girls got home from school we opened the first door. Tomorrow's event is making Christmas cards and ornaments at the library. 

I wasn't able to find events for every single day, of course, but I wasn't trying to. I saved several days for the things we do every year anyway- bringing in the Christmas tree, hanging lights, decorating cookies. In all probability we won't go to all the events on the calendar, but it's fun and exciting just to open the doors every day. 

The advent event calendar is my latest and best idea to date in the ongoing effort to make the holiday season about experiences rather than about stuff. Like most American families, we do not suffer from an acute lack of "stuff." Personally, I feel quite the opposite - I often feel like I am drowning in "stuff" I don't use or need and am constantly trying to get it out the door. 

More and more lately, I am also feeling the press of time; there are so few years left with my children while they are still young enough to enjoy things like cutting snowflakes or Christmas pageants. Thank God for Rowan - at 22 she has been through her evil adolescence and come through the other side a sweet and wonderful young woman. She actually enjoys our family rituals, and she gives me hope that - after a few years of rebellion and snark - my younger children will enjoy them as adults too. 

Festive holiday season to you all. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Idea of the Year! Patent Pending!

A minute ago, I was reading a friend's blog ( The Well Run Dry ) and he was, as most of us do, lamenting the fact that the upcoming Christmas Season encourages blind commercialism and reduces the meaning of the holiday ("Holy Day") to something along the lines of an excel spreadsheet. I don't know a single person who doesn't hate this aspect of the season, yet we are all swept away on a tide of advertising and guilt, spending more than we intend or can afford, year after year on stuff that we don't need and that (in many cases) the recipients don't even want.

I composed a reply, saying that I tried to emphasize experiences over things, and in the middle of typing that sentence,  I had a flash of inspiration.

"I just had a total brain wave. Oh my gosh this is such a good idea! There are in my small town, as in most, I'm sure, a million christmas activities planned - tree lighting ceremonies, public caroling, concerts, card-making for kids at the library, stuff like that. I am going to make AN ADVENT CALENDAR OF EVENTS!!! Am I genius or what? I'll search the local papers and online event calendars, and I have no doubt I can find SOMETHING for almost every day between Dec 1st and Christmas day. Choirs visiting various churches. Craft Bazaars. Showings of Christmas movies at senior centers. I'll make an actual Advent calendar, with little paper doors that open, and behind each door will be that day's event! We won't have to go to all of them, but I bet the kids will LOVE opening the doors and seeing what we could go do."

If there are days for which I don't find any planned events, I can put one of our own traditions, like "make our own wrapping paper with potato stamps" or "cookie decorating party."

I'm so proud of myself right now I can't even tell you.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Slaughter Season (More Meat Math)

This week we made a lot of room on the farm. Most notably, the pig (seen here a couple of months ago) met his fate, at the capable hands of our local mobile butcher, later to appear in his final form as chops and bacon on our table. 

Half of him was sold, on Craigslist, for $3.00/lb. that's on the low end, but most of the pork that is advertised at a higher price has labels like "organic feed only" or "no GMO feed" attached to it, and ours doesn't. 

The hanging weight was 163 lbs, and half that is 81.5, times $3.00/lb and I collected $244.00. Considering that the pig himself cost us $200 originally, and that he was fed almost entirely from the gleaners' pantry (plus a couple bags of conventional feed), I think we did very well. Without figuring it to the penny, our own pork is basically free, not counting labor of course. 

Today I took the turkeys to a neighbor to be processed. I thought Homero would do it, but he asked me to see if I could find someone to do it at a reasonable
price, and I did. I paid $10 per bird, half in cash and half in grass fed beef. 

I'll be picking up two of them tomorrow morning - I needed one tonight for a person who is going out of town early on the morning. That turkey weighed a full 20 pounds, which is $80 at $4/lb. bigger than I expected - and frankly, bigger than the lady wanted. But what can you do? I didn't weigh them live. Suppose I might have. 

If the other two turkeys are the same weight, then I'll make a total of $160 on the turkeys (the third one is for our own table). So many turkeys died this year that I think we are not even breaking even. The chicks cost about $65. We started them on expensive game bird feed - another $20. After that they were also largely fed from the gleaners' pantry, but I know we bought at least four bags of feed, costing altogether about $65. Add that up, it's $150. So, let's say it worked out about the same as the pig - our own meat is free. 

If I could figure out how to keep turkey chicks alive to maturity, they would be very lucrative. We began with 8 this year, and ended up with three. In past years, the survival rate has been better (over 50%) but it's never been really satisfactory. People tell me that turkeys are fussy, hard to raise. I guess so. 

They sure are delicious, though. Thanksgiving is at my house this year. I'm looking forward to hostessing. No matter how costly, it is a real pleasure to offer my family a big traditional centerpiece that we raised ourselves. This will be the third year in a row that we have eaten our own pastured turkey for thanksgiving. It's always wonderful. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Bog of Eternal Stench, The Dog from Hell, and Bad Knees

Once again it is November, number one on the list of months I wish I could fast-forward through, closely followed by February. Torrential rains have turned the barnyard - as always this time of year - into a sucking swamp. There is still a small pile of hog fuel we could spread, but so far we haven't been able to figure out how to do that without the pig charging out of the yard and into the backyard.

The pig has been able to get out of his pen for months now, and he has rooted up huge clumps of the pasture. He is now about 350 pounds, and that's no joke hurtling towards you at high speed and emitting high-pitched screams at the volume of a Van Halen concert, circa 1984.  The pig has a date with destiny, courtesy of our local mobile butcher, in a little over a week, so the problem will work itself out soon enough.

I did make a deal, way back last spring, with a tree service guy to trade cheese all summer in exchange for cedar chips come fall. He has called a couple of times, but we haven't been able to nail down a delivery, and now it is looking more and more doubtful that I will ever receive any chips.  That's the risk of trading for future goods. Meanwhile, the mud threatens to come up over my boot-tops.

Haku, our new German Shepherd puppy, has apparently made it his mission to tear my entire house into bite-sized chunks. I would post a picture of our playroom, if I could figure out how under the new operating system, but that would probably bring FEMA down on our heads. Seriously, it looks like - well, like a German Shepherd puppy has torn apart two queen-sized mattresses and one large sofa, not to mention gnawed an antique Victorian dollhouse to matchsticks and knocked over a shelf full of board games, torn up the boxes and ripped up all the cards, etc,  and evenly distributed all the chewed-up bits. I figure there's no point in cleaning it all up until he's finished - it might keep him occupied enough to leave a few of our furnishings alone. Why he isn't interested in the fifteen chew-toys I've bought for him I have no idea.

Homero has been suffering greatly this fall from a torn meniscus in his right knee. As a mechanic, he spends a lot of time getting up and down onto a concrete floor, sometimes squatting and sometimes kneeling. His knee will freeze up on him and leave him hobbling back to the house, unable to work for the rest of the day. He hates to take medicine of any kind; apparently he prefers to lay about looking pitiful and asking me to bring him stuff.

I know I sound unsympathetic - and maybe I am. He never reads this blog, so I feel free to say that his knee is nowhere near as bad as mine was - MY meniscus had two big "bucket handle" tears and various smaller tears.  My ACL was completely severed (the surgeon who read my MRI report used the word "trashed" to describe the state of my joint). Without health insurance, I had no choice but to live with it for four long years. I did my share of bitching and moaning - I'm not saying I didn't. I'm just saying I know how he feels, and then some. And then some more.

In my case, as soon as the ACA kicked in and we could finally afford health insurance, and the insurance companies couldn't exclude pre-existing conditions, I scheduled surgery and Hallelujah it has been almost a total cure. They had to remove almost all of the meniscus, and I was told that I'd need a total knee replacement sooner or later, but the pain has almost entirely disappeared, and the instability has been reduced by about 75%. The surgery - first surgery I ever had, unless you count wisdom teeth - was a piece of cake. From the time I woke up in the recovery room I was in less pain than I had been the day before. The next day I was walking on the beach.

Homero has been reluctant to schedule surgery. I'm not sure why. He's never had surgery before either - not even wisdom teeth - so maybe he's afraid. I was. But just as everyone told me, the only thing I was sorry about is that I hadn't done it sooner. I guess Homero just had to wait until it got bad enough. He's finally having surgery at the end of this month. I hope it will be as good for him as it was for me.

The first part of December looks to be a nice quiet time. Homero will be recuperating, and I will be taking a break from work. Right now I'm just finishing up a big job that, though it has left me exhausted, will pay enough to ensure a merry christmas and let me take time off to nurse my husband back to health.

Now if it we could just get a nice, hard freeze to lock up all the mud.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Computer Woes and Puppy Happiness

There are all sorts of things I'd like to write about, but I am stymied by my inability to learn the new operating system my husband downloaded last week. Whatever it's called - the Apple of Doom would be my nomination - it crashed our computer repeatedly and forced Homero to spend many hours on the phone to tech support.

Now the basic functions of the computer seem to be up and running - we can, for example, google stuff and use the word processor. The computer is communicating with the printer again which means I can actually go to work. But there are still many areas in which it seems the new operating system is basically incompatible, and one of these is Blogger.

Yes, I am in fact writing a post. I haven't hit "publish" yet so we will see if it works at all. But I can't see what I'm typing (I only know I've made a mistake when autocorrect pops up with a suggestion) and I can't upload photos anymore, because in the new operating system, iPhoto has switched to something just called "photos" and apparently Blogger can't communicate with "Photos."

Which is really a shame because I want to show you all photos of our adorable new dog. When Ivory passed away last spring after 14 wonderful years with us, we were too sad to even think about a new dog. But after some six months, we found ourselves pining for canine companionship. We began searching online for nearby adoptable dogs, but none of them struck our fancy until we saw one who looked so much like Ivory that we collectively gasped. 

We convinced the shelter to let us have him (more on that another time - it wasn't an easy process) and he's been with us for almost two weeks now. During which he has pretty much torn the entire house into bite sized pieces. 

We named him Haku, after the white dragon in Spirited Away. He is ten or eleven months old, seriously hyperactive, and completely innocent of manners. He needs immediate professional training. I have only ever had one dog -Ivory- and she never did become a well trained dog, although luckily after her puppy stage she had a wonderful temperament. 

Haku is going to be a challenging dog for a while. But I feel up to the challenge. I know what the long term payoff is - a wonderful companion and friend for years and years to come. No dog can ever replace Ivory in our hearts, but we can learn to love a new dog as well as we did her. 

And God willing, he won't eat the cat. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Life as a Microbe (The End of the Food-Chain)

It is a maxim of ecology that "wherever there is something to eat, there will be something to eat it." At least I think it is: I may be remembering this line from the excellent novel Dune, uttered by the Imperial Planetologist Dr. Kynes as he lays dying in the deep desert, eyeing the hawks circling above him.  In either case, the principle is sound. Anywhere on Earth, when anything dies and falls to the ground, it will get eaten, if only by microbes.

Just as there a chain of organisms on the production side of the food pyramid, beginning with clorophyll containing plants that convert sunlight into sugar and ending with peak predators like lions and humans, so there is a chain of scavengers that reduces the remains of all that dies back into its constituent molecules. Descending from the apex on what we might call the downslope of the food chain, we have large animals like hyenas and vultures, followed by smaller creatures that live on decaying flesh like crabs and ants, and ultimately the myriad microbes that slowly transform the less digestible bits such as bones and hair back into soil. The chemistry of systemic catabolism is just as fascinating as that of the more highly visible and valued systemic metabolism.

surplus bread soaking in whey leftover from cheesemaking

I feel that I have firmly joined Team Scavenger. I devote a great deal of time to seeking out resources unnoticed or undervalued by others. In fact, my family largely subsides on my local waste stream. That we live so well and so fatly is a measure of just how rich and bountiful that waste stream is.

In this past week alone I have made 5 gallons of apple cider entirely from apples that other people were throwing away. About half the apples came from a neighbor who didn't want them and the other half from the Gleaner's Pantry. If you've ever pressed cider you know how many apples go into 5 gallons of cider and it's a buttload (not really - a buttload is 126 gallons). The apples that I collected from Gleaner's - in one day!- represented a very small percentage of the apples discarded on a daily basis in my small town. 

That same day, I also collected 6 or 7 boxes of surplus bread. Most of it was quite fresh and I saved a little for us to eat ourselves - the rest of it went out to the mama barn and fed my pig, turkeys and chickens for a solid week. Again, this represented only a tiny fraction of what was there for the taking. I would have taken more but I literally didn't have any more room in my car. 

In addition, I also gleaned enough fresh fruits and vegetables - tomatoes, chiles, onions, a couple of pumpkins, cucumbers, oranges and grapes - to feed my family for a week. I canned 8 pints of salsa, and if I weren't so lazy I could easily can 8 more right now, simply from that one glean. 

Today, my good neighbors N. and R. from church called me and asked if I wanted corn stalks. They were cleaning up the garden for the year and thought I might be able to use them for my animals. I said "sure!" and went over to help them collect and stack the stalks in their trailer. I also brought over a loaf of pumpkin bread (made from the pumpkin I got from Gleaners) and some cheese and a quart of apple cider (also a product of Gleaner's). 

Homero with corn stalks

The corn stalks had many cobs still on them, those that had been damaged by crows and weren't fit for human consumption. They sure were fit for pig and goat consumption! My critters went crazy for the corn.

Everybody loves corn

Haboob the Buck eating corn
In the chain of scavengers, I imagine myself and my family as first-level scavengers. We are the hyenas and the ravens. We take the whole, recently discarded (read: recently deceased) product of society and make what use of it we can. This includes not only the food I get from Gleaner's, but also the clothing and furniture that I buy secondhand from Goodwill or the Salvation Army thrift store. We are warm and well-dressed in the castoffs of others.

Any food that we can't use - peels, skins, bones, and the like - or that we end up not eating because there is just too much of it - the lettuce that wilts in the back of my fridge before I can eat it; limp carrots and cucumbers; bread that has gone a little green - we give to our pig and our chickens. They are the second level scavengers, akin to lobsters or beetles.

And when all that refuse has been processed by my animal's digestive systems, we collect it once again and compost it. Enter the microbes. Our compost pile is rich, black, velvety and fragrant. Once a year, in springtime, our next door neighbor comes over in his tractor and collects some of it for his garden beds. Come next summer, some of it will make its way back to us in the form of sweet cilantro, ruby beets, plump squashes.

This time of year, as the world turns towards darkness and winter, I am especially conscious of and especially grateful for the quiet science of recycling that takes place in the sleeping earth. The dark side of the year is the time to contemplate the renewal that happens as we rest, as the dirt rests. So much grace happens in repose, so many vital processes are accomplished only in stillness. We are all of us, at least in this culture, so biased towards the light - toward action, towards growth and vigor, toward Yang, that we are blind to the necessity of decay. The alchemy of decay; of rot, of mold, of the mushroom and the slug. By such humble beings are we sustained, generation after generation.

Hail Yin, hail Kali and Hecate, hail Persephone, Isis, Osiris, Jesus, and all those good Gods and Goddesses who descend into the earth to rise again after three days, or seven, or nine. Hail the seed that goeth into the ground and dies, that it may live.