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.
Sunday, September 14, 2014
Thursday, September 4, 2014
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 Update, A 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," 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
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
Saturday, August 16, 2014
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
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
Posted by Aimee at 11:33 AM
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
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
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
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
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
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.
Saturday, June 7, 2014
The trade network has been pretty much dormant since I got back from Mexico. We made that one great trade last summer - a baby goat for four turkeys ( Turkey Trade )- but nothing the robust networks I had going on a few years ago ( On Trading and Canning, Making Trade Goods (Gratuitous Canning Advice), Recent Trades and a Good Idea).
Then a new trading avenue opened up; I was invited to join a Facebook group of local farmers looking to trade goods and services. So far, it has only resulted in two actual trades - my pork chops for fresh cow's milk, and then my empty canning jars and some fresh cheese for these lovely canned plums, above. Since I have more cheese than I know what to do with, I asked people on the list who might be interested in some of it - as a free gift, from one neighbor to another, NOT for sale, which would be illegal. It's not illegal, however, for you to give me some of your extra snap peas. Not in exchange, you see, but just because you have too many of them. Just as I have too much cheese. Ahem.
Seriously, the legality of trading is so nebulous and cobwebby I don't even want to look into it. I'm sure it's illegal, just like EVERYTHING ELSE I want to do. Especially trading milk products. That probably would get me five to ten in the state pen. Please don't tell.
Please. I'll give you cheese.
I've already written a post about the legality of trading and admitting myself to be a scofflaw and an unrepentant participant in the informal economy (State of the Trade Network 2010 (What's Your Perspective?), so I won't go into it again here. But I am still interested - what do you all think about trading? Do you do it? Do you report it to the IRS? Do you think it ought to be regulated?
Monday, June 2, 2014
In the last two weeks we've gone from four baby goats to only two baby goats. One of them was served at our big party, so that was an expected death (and very delicious he was, too; I'm thinking in the future we may choose to butcher at 4 months instead of seven). However the second death, that of Flopsy's buckling Comet, was a complete mystery.
Comet was one of Flopsy's twins, born in March. The other buckling was sold intact for a very decent price and presumably is doing just fine. Comet was wethered and was marked as a meat animal, but that didn't stop him from being a favorite because he was so cute. Usually we don't name animals we plan on eating, but this little guy's white spots on a black background gave him the name Comet.
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Hope is ten, nearly eleven. She is a tall, graceful, athletic girl; just entering the stormy adolescent years. She is strong from gymnastics, an active and nimble thinker, and like many young girls her age, hotheaded and strong willed. For months she has been lobbying us to get her a BB gun. It seems her best friend has one, and she just has to have one too. She wants to hunt.
Sometime earlier this spring, we decided the time was right, and I bought her a mid-range air rifle - neither a toy nor a high powered weapon. It takes some real muscle to pump up the air pressure, and it is capable of firing BBs at 800 feet/second. We set up a target down in the bottom of the back pasture, and laid down the law about safety and seriousness. She would get exactly no second chances, we said - break the rules, and the gun goes bye bye for a long long time.
For about six weeks, we made her shoot only at that one target, and only when an adult was nearby. Hope grumbled and repeatedly asked when she would be allowed to actually hunt, but she followed the rules. She got pretty good, too: she could sometimes shoot a bottle cap from twenty feet away, and a tin can from twice as far. Yesterday, after chasing several rabbits out of the garden, Homero told her to go ahead and try to shoot one.
Rabbits are a plague around here. When Ivory was younger, they had a healthy respect for her and stayed away. Once in a while, she would catch one, but it takes a young, quick dog to catch a rabbit very often. As she got older, they got bolder, and now that she is twelve, she simply lays in the sun and pricks up her ears as they run past.
No rabbit, however, can run 800 feet per second, and it seems they are no match for Hope's eye, either. Within a half hour of being given permission, Hope came running back to the house yelling that she had killed a rabbit.
"Where is it?" we asked.
"Out here!" she answered, and she went galloping over the grass with Paloma bouncing behind her. I followed slowly, and saw the girls come to a stop, circling and looking down. They bent over, then sprang back up with sharp little cries of alarm, arms flying.
"Is it dead?" I yelled.
"Then pick it up!"
After a few false starts, Hope picked the rabbit up by the back legs and trotted back towards the house. Homero and I bickered briefly over who was going to skin and dress it (I won; he did it) and we praised Hope lavishly.
I didn't really want to eat it (I've had wild rabbit before - The Land Provides, part 1 - and I'm not too crazy about it) but we had talked to Hope before about eating what we kill and killing what we eat, and she would have been rightly appalled at our hypocrisy if we hadn't cooked her first kill. Moreover, she deserved us to make a big deal out of it. It IS a big deal.
I marinated the jointed rabbit (it probably weighed all of a pound, skinned and gutted) and braised it in beer with collards, onions, peppers, and corn kernels. The vegetables were delicious, but the rabbit itself was, as I expected, tough and bland. Maybe next time I will try a pressure cooker.
Oh yes, there will be a next time. Hope went back out and shot another rabbit ten minutes after the first one. I convinced her the second rabbit was too small to eat (it was tiny) and that she shouldn't feel bad tossing it into the tall bushes; if it didn't become food for us, it would surely be food for something. The law of nature, I explained, is that "wherever there is something to eat, there will be something to eat it." If I remember, I got that out of Dune, from the planetary ecologist Kynes.
I really am proud of my middle child. She is beautiful, and growing up, and dangerous. She is at that frightening and lovely age when she is coming into her power, all unaware. She is stunning in her pride, and in her unconscious grace. She has already left her infancy behind, and in another year, or two or three, she will suddenly be a young woman. And in a few years after that, the cares and preoccupations of womanhood will take over, and the last traces of her childhood will be gone.
Artemis, most chaste and perilous Goddess, be with my young huntress. Help her learn to guide her arrows wisely, and lend her your fierceness and your unapologetic pride. Run with her through the trackless woods of adolescence. Protect her, and set your hounds on anyone who would try to cage her or make her doubt herself. Be her wild friend. Light her way with moonbeams, and let your silver laughter ring through her dreams.