Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ringing in the New Year

Many holiday parties later, we are now poised on the edge of 2010. What a year 2009 has been for our family! Sometimes, I go a few days without visiting our new house, and then I go wander through the rooms, and marvel at all we have created. And at the end of this giant push of energy, we still like each other, and have a nice energy going between the three of us. I think that may have something to do with Karl's presence, balancing out our energies. Thanks for helping preserve our marriage, Karl :)

The photo I post today is the output from my new exciting photography tool, Photomatix. I took this photo of Apple Tree Ridge, looking to the north from our property, on a lovely, post-drizzley June evening, when the grasses were in full bloom, the hills were still green, and the scotch broom was blooming bright yellow. I can hardly wait to play with this software some more, if only the rain would let up. (I need to get out and shoot some new photos) Photomatix is software that lets you digitally crunch together multiple exposures, so that you can get landscape photos that have the correct exposure in the shadows, highlights, and midtones. How come no one ever TOLD me about this yet?! This is just a sample of what's to come. This photo is the only series I've yet taken with a tripod, which makes the results a lot better. Expect even more dazzling images in the new year. I can't wait to explore the edges of this!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Solstice-Birthday-New Year

It's been an appropriately moist late December, as we've rolled into the holiday merry-making. We've had a school program, a white elephant party, the Volunteer Fire Department Christmas party, my birthday, and the solstice gathering to come tonight, yet another Christmas party on Wednesday, and tomorrow night, caroling. And we have yet to celebrate Christmas with Drew's family, too. Lots of gathering together.

I've been reflecting on what all this gathering is about. It seems that the solar/pagan holiday of solstice has been divided into several Christian-related celebrations, but really what it's about is reflecting on the year just past, honoring those we appreciate by offering small gifts of appreciation (while simultaneously practicing the spirit of generosity and giving), and considering what we would like to cultivate in the coming year, either in our outward or inward life. I love this meditation! It is extra significant for me, as I celebrate my birthday the day before solstice.

So this year as the light rounds the bend and begins to rise in this sky again, bringing longer days, I am grateful for my family, and all the progress we've made on our house this year. I'm so grateful that I have so many dear friends who support and love me. I've made some great healing work this year, both assisting others, as well as looking inward to move old stuck energy out of the way.

Yesterday on my birthday, while wondering what focus I wanted to choose, I received the answer, "COURAGE". So this year shall be the Year of Courage. As in, a year-long meditation on what it means to choose the path that creates a greater state of balance, even if it feels harder or uglier in the moment. It involves honesty, and choosing personal integrity. No easy thing. But I'm looking forward to it.

So many blessings to you all in this darkest, reflective time of year. May you each find the appropriate path for your year, and feel blessed by all you received this previous year. May we all see each other as our higher selves.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Real Rain

At last, today, we are having a true rain event. There have certainly been bigger and heavier ones before, but take a look at this radar image from the National Weather Service...

All that yellow and red stuff is HEAVY RAIN falling right on top of us!

After a nice drizzle-y morning, things have turned to earnest rain, allowing our fresh road gravel to get watered in, giving the newly MRC-planted fir trees a drink, and I suspect bringing the water in the creek up. It does make yurt living a little loud, but since I'm going to work in a moment, that doesn't bother me so much. Besides, when it's been so long since we've had the real stuff, I admit to a feeling of excitement when that rain pounds the tent roof we dwell under. Here's to running rivers and happy frogs...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Secret Life of Meadow Voles

Today was a beautiful day, high popcorn clouds heralding a coming storm, but mostly sunny and a little warmer. After Ella came home from school, I suggested we go on an "adventure" to see if we could find anything interesting. Sometimes Ella is a little hard to enroll in such an undertaking, but today, it didn't take too much influence.

When she stepped out and noticed the clouds, she insisted we bring an umbrella because "I think it's gonna start to rain soon". I obliged, and we set off down the driveway. I offered that we might head out into the grass, and see what we could find. So we ambled freely for a while, following Ella's whims. We sat for a bit by an old scotch broom plant, where Ella peeled old straw stalks to chew on, like Drew does. Then she was drawn to an area she called a pond, which is really just a depression in our land.

When we arrived there, we found several areas of blond, lying-down grass. They made a nice, soft, comfy carpet of grass, and we laid down and remarked that it was kind of like a bed. Then I began digging down to the dirt, because sometimes, in this way, you can find a whole, tiny universe you weren't aware of before: insects, tiny mushrooms, miniature plants. I parted grass here and there, and found an animal runway, and there were droppings in it. Hmmmm....let's follow this and see where it....ACK! I found a mouse carcass. All that remained were its incisors, its spine, and its tail. Well, now I was really intrigued. Who killed the mouse and ate it in such a fashion? Why was it in this runway? Was it the original inhabitant? Or did it just end up there, deposited by the eater? Or had it died of natural causes, and decomposed? So many questions!

Now that my curiosity was piqued, I began uncovering a vast network of tunnels all throughout the grass. Just like our streets, there were crossroads, where the paths lead off in several directions. I found a hole, with some grass and broom branches sticking out. And I also found some cut grass lying in the pathway.

On researching, I find that I am likely uncovering the runs of the Meadow Vole, a grass eating rodent. So that answers that question, but not the wondering about whether the carcass was a vole, a mouse, and in either case, how did it die and who ate it? I had thought there was a carnivorous small mammal that might eat mice, but I'm not finding reference to it. Maybe it's not a mouse but a vole? Maybe I won't ever know...such is the mystery of natural history.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Snow at Sea Level

On Sunday night, Drew and I were awake in bed talking, while Ella snored away beside us. Being in a yurt, we are privy to each and every nuance of precipitation that passes this way, cringing when the winds pepper the sides with rain, and dozing off when the light, wispy, misty rains fall. In our talking, we didn't notice right away, but a moment after it began, Drew said, "That doesn't sound like rain." I agreed, and Drew said he wanted to have a look. So we grabbed flashlights, descended the creaky ladder, and opened the door of the mudroom out to the north.

AH! Our breath caught in our throats, as we saw with our own eyes that it was, indeed, SNOWING. I suppose it's really not such a big deal. It wasn't really more than a light dusting. We definitely see it on the ridges surrounding our home at least once a year. But it is a little unusual (though not unheard of) to have snow down here at our lowly elevation. It's so unusual that I found myself feeling the thrill of the first snow of the season that I remember when I was a kid. For those of you growing up in many snow-free California locales, this won't mean much for you. But for those of you who lived in snow country, the first snowfall was like magic, speaking of exciting things to come: snowed out school days! sled riding! snowmen! mom making hot cocoa! snow boots! ice skating! and white christmas! Bonus points for that.

We are still in our little cold snap here, with lows in the 20's the last several nights, and daytime highs in the 40s. We've had to keep the water running at night to prevent broken pipes and so we can have kitchen water in the morning before the day thaws. I've had to scrape the car windshield to take Ella to school. The cats are very unhappy. And we've been running the woodstove most of the time. But I have to admit that it feels kind of nice, encouraging a cozying up inside the house, drinking tea and reading a good book. Our mild winters here in California kind of cheat us out of the purpose of winter, to hole up and reflect on the year that has just passed. Normally, it's not nasty enough outside to warrant retreating indoors, and we feel guilty snuggling in slippers and scarves, because there is so much to be done. I mean, what about all the stuff we were too busy to handle in the summer?

So here's to snow and cold, frosty night, and to each of you who will hibernate a little, and enjoy the memories of your past year.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Great Thanks

Once more, I arrive to this day of reflection on giving thanks. I find every year, I have a much longer list than I thought possible. There are certainly things one could focus on that I feel less than thankful for, but more and more, I find that it is important to remove the spotlight from those things, and to focus instead on all that we want and love. Spending time dwelling on the parts we don't like only seems to attract more of what we don't like.

So an abridged list of what I am grateful for:

Drew and Ella, and all the rest of our family
Our good fortune at being given the opportunity to buy our land
Our unbelievable ability to manifest our amazing house.
The plethora of food we grew this year, and will eat throughout the winter.
A community of helpful, loving, and supportive neighbors and friends, close to home and far and wide, who contribute in more ways than they can imagine.
Good health.
Physical ability to pursue the things we love.
Good music.

It's good to be alive...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

On Our Way to Indoor Toilets

Last week, our neighbor-friend-backhoe operator Cedar dug the hole for our septic tank, and we had the tank delivered the next day. The pit seemed quite large, until it was filled with an equally voluminous concrete box. It arrived on a truck, with an intrepid driver who expertly operated the fancy hydraulic arm with great precision, to ease it into the space.

Now this tank can hold a lot of poop. You may ask why we chose such a large tank, especially considering that most of the wastewater from our home will go into a graywater system. The septic will basically handle the three toilets, and the kitchen sink. The answer is not so spectacular. Only that another system was recently installed nearby, and it is the same sized house. Evidently, the tank sizing goes by the number of bedrooms, which stands to reason that it would effect the amount of effluent a household would generate.

At some point, Cedar will return to connect the plumbing, backfill the hole, and dig the leach line trenches so he can install the infiltrator. We are genuinely on the path to becoming a civilized household! Soon, I can invite you over to "do your business" in my flushing toilet. Ahhh, what a day that will be. It's not that I mind the outhouse so much. Well, maybe our roof-less, frigid-seated, insect-infested bucket pooper is kind of a bummer. Outhouses need not be as skanky as ours, but when I consider that I haven't had indoor plumbing to call my own since I moved to the Mattole almost eight years ago, well, let's just say I'm looking forward to not needing to don a polar fleece suit and a headlamp and walk 30 yards if I've got to shit in the middle of the night. It doesn't happen often, but the times it does are enough to remind of the advantages to come.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Larder

I seem to be having difficulty regularly posting here. It's largely due to the new habits of my three-year-old. She no longer naps in the afternoons, leaving me without my mid-day space out, web-surfing moment, in which I have written a lot of my posts. I also used to write a lot after she went to bed, or even in the evening while she was playing with her dad, but the computer is now occupied with her nightly obsession with Angelina Ballerina, or one of her other DVD's, until we are all dead tired at about 9 PM. That pesky time change leads us all to the barn earlier these days.

Anyhow, back on topic, the subject of my post today is the larder, particularly how excited I am to take stock of the wares I've canned, accumulated, dried, grown or otherwise stashed for our family's consumption between now and April and beyond. The weather of winter has fully and completely arrived, meaning very short days, regular cold, cloudy, and rainy days, and cold nights. I've noted over the years here that all growth of plants basically stops, or progresses painfully slowly, during these months. Even though many of our local plants don't die back as in places where it snows, many do, while others simply pause as if mid-sentence, and wait for longer days and warmer nights to begin to stretch again. Even the grass tends to pause.

While the garden and native plants are stuck in winter limbo, we still have plenty to eat, though not as great a quantity of fresh produce as in the summer. Here is a list of what I've canned up to line our (forthcoming) pantry shelves:
2 cases of tomato
6 tomato paste
10 zucchini relish
35 or so jars of jam (apple ginger jelly, blueberry, strawberry, peach, and blackberry)
16 quarts of apple juice
1.5 cases of red tomato salsa
2 cases green tomatillo salsa
~12 tubs of pesto (frozen)
about 30 winter squash
6-8 cups of dried white beans
dried herbs
two frozen chickens whole
a several month supply of cured garlic
about 8 cups of home grown wheat berries
frozen strawberries
locally-grown frozen beef

I still have yet to can/put up:
green tomato chutney

Even though it's winter outside, we're still eating:
fresh cabbage
fresh carrots
fresh broccoli
fresh greens
fresh beets
the dregs of the tomato, eggplant, and peppers

I don't think our garden produce will last through like I always try to manifest, but it will only be a few months where we won't have anything.

Days left until the first spring planting: About 90.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Recent Additions: Interior Walls

Looking down the Hall toward the front door

Kid Bedrooms

Master Bedroom

Kitchen, wall between the kitchen and the master bedroom

Looking down the hall toward the kid bedrooms

I thought I would take a moment to share some photos of the interior walls in the midst of their framing. They've been up for several weeks, but the big rain and roofing project has taken priority, and we are not yet back to framing. However, even at this point, the walls are exciting, because it now allows a visitor (or future occupant) to feel the flow of the rooms, and begin to feel the shape and dimensions of the rooms.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Roof Metal

Maybe I just need to whine a little that it's going slowly to enable a faster rate of progress, because yesterday we made a great push on the metal. We finished the north roof, and most of the carport, and started on the south roof before it got dark last night. Today we are rained out, but we'll get back to it tomorrow. It feels SO great to get so much weathered-in space.

Beyond roof, my house is full of people I love right now, dear friends who come to visit every fall. People are camped out, struggling to stay dry, but we all pile in to the yurt for dinner, collectively cooking, sharing music, laughter, play, and love. I can't wait to have our house available to house everyone under one big embracing roof.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Painful Slowness of Roofs

I realize I haven't written a lot lately. I'm sure you can all forgive me, once you find out that we had our first true storm of the season beginning last Tuesday morning. And guess which day our roof metal arrived. Yep, Monday. There were two holes in our roof that we couldn't cover until we got two particular pieces of metal. The subsequent trim, detail, and plywood in that spot took the better part of a day, and in the dark, Karl and Drew had to resign themselves to the fact that no more metal, nor tarpaper, would get onto the roof until the storm was over.

So we went into the storm without tarpaper on the north sloping roof. Which, though I've come to see wasn't the end of the world, meant that half of the house behaved rather like a sieve. And though the south roof was tarpapered, and therefore mostly dry, the entire house was wet, dripping down the north walls, through the skylights, and between each gap of plywood. It felt rather like an abandoned warehouse, except for a few glorious moisture eddies, where our remaining windows and our brand new woodstove were stored.

And, as luck would have it, Drew was busy with an aikido workshop this week, so work was slowed yet again. And FINALLY, late this past week, we have resumed laying metal. I've had a few moments to drill sling and feel like I am accomplishing something. We laid the tarpaper on the north roof on Thursday, which feels like a huge relief. It's lightly raining today, and the house is dry. We're pushing again, since we're supposed to have more heavy rains Monday. It appears the winter weather has fully arrived. I am looking forward to getting fully weathered in! After the roof is on, then it's clerestory windows, and doors, and then we're completely dry. I hope that can happen this week.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Finishing the Wheat: A Backlog Post

This post has been on my backlog list for some time now. For convenience, I am linking to previous wheat entries: Walls and Wheat, and Eat Your Wheaties.

Way, way back in July, I harvested my long-awaited crop of hard red winter wheat, which was growing in two long beds inside the garden fence all throughout the winter. It took a long time to ripen, since we had a lot of cool, foggy weather in the late spring/early summer. But at last, I harvested it, and dried the bundles in the mudroom and in the open sun.

Now, this process is one of those lost homesteading arts that everyone in the old days knew how to do, but since no one grows wheat anymore, there isn't anyone around who can tell me what to do. I do have the luck of having a written source that describes how to "flail" the wheat, which basically involves beating it with a stick to get the grains loose from the dry seed heads. The ideal flail is a broom handle with a shorter stick attached to the end with a leather "thong", as the literature puts it, so that it can swing freely. You know, you get a little momentum going and it really whacks the stuff.

But since I haven't grown wheat before, nor has anyone I know, I don't have a flail. So I found a stout piece of redwood, left over from another project, with which to beat my wheat. I assumed it wouldn't be so hard, since the grain was pretty dry, but it actually took quite a bit of beating, and thorough beating at that, to get the maximum wheat grain out. Thoroughness normally wouldn't matter, but since I had such a small harvest, every last grain was VERY important to me!

Once the grain was flailed, I then winnowed the chaff from the grain, which involves a very high tech process of slowly pouring the grain between two containers outdoors where there is the right amount of wind. Pour too quickly, and none of the chaff blows away. Pour too slowly, or when the wind is gusting a little, and the hard earned wheat berries dive into the grass, never to be seen until next winter.

Wheat Berries with Chaff, ready for Winnowing

All told, my dear wheat harvest readers, I collected eight precious cups of wheat berries. Not even enough to make one batch of bread. Nor enough to sow the same amount I planted last year. Certainly, I made some gardening mistakes, which I will remedy this year. But still a bit disappointing. I'm aiming for a better turnout next year. Partly, this involves planting the wheat in the area where the chicken run was, hoping that the chicken poop will feed the wheat, will feed the people, will feed the bucket, will feed the fruit trees, will feed the chickens, will feed the wheat, and so on.

I've got some more work to do to finish closing those loops....

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mattole Valley Horse Races

It's taken me a while to get to it, but ten or so days ago, anyone with a cowboy/cowgirl heart gathered at the McWhorter's field for an afternoon of horse and dog sport. Seems like the winners are usually the same folks, the diehard horse people, which I appreciate from the perspective of understanding just how much work it takes to successfully train a horse to do what you want, when you want it. I still hope I will have the time and patience to go there someday, but for now, I honor the experts and enjoy watching their horses run!

There was a spoon-egg race, where you must walk or trot your horse while carrying an egg on a spoon. There was a ribbon race, where you and a partner hold a piece of flagging while riding at top speed side by side. In this race, your horses must be rather evenly matched, or you end up breaking your ribbon and losing. There was a relay race. And an "all-out" race, as in, ride that horse as fast as you can. And a trotting race, which doesn't sound so hard, but convincing your horse to trot is maybe harder than making it run.

You could bet on the horse races. You could also purchase home-baked desserts and bid on silent auction items to support the Mattole School. You could eat hamburgers cooked and sold by the Mattole Grange. And you could buy drinks from small children wheeling Radio Flyer wagons with coolers on board. Bev brought her miniature horse, too, which all the little kids wanted to ride.

There were also two dog races, one for small dogs and one for big dogs. We are pretty convinced that our little cattle dog is the fastest dog in our humble little valley. We trained with her ahead of time, having her run between Karl and Drew here at home, knowing that if she could just maintain her focus, she would win hands down. And she would have, too, if she hadn't gotten confused by Karl standing off to the side. I had asked him to take pictures of the race, so I could release her to Drew. In spite of wavering off course to say hi to Karl, and then completely overcorrecting on her way back to Drew, she still took second place. So WE still know she is the fastest girl around.

Waiting at the Start Line with Acer

She's Off and Running Fast

Now, some people I know from my former city life ask me what I spend my time doing up here in the kuntry. Obviously, they don't realize what fun it is to kick back with friends and watch the horses run.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Chicken Egg Jackpot

A few days ago, Ella and I went out to the chicken run to let them out of their stylish, turquoise horse-trailer coop, and lo and behold, there was an egg lying quietly next to the chicken water dish. Oooo! Ella, Look! So we collected it, and I was SO delighted that our little hens have begun to lay eggs!

For weeks, we've been hearing the characteristic call the chickens make when they have laid an egg, but we haven't yet found any. We would rush out and have a look around the coop and the run, and walk away empty handed. But the best part of the above story is that later in the day, when I went to make a delivery of kitchen scraps to my grateful feathered buddies, I noticed an egg near the back of the trailer, and when I bent down to pick it up, I noticed a whole PILE of eggs under the bumper of the trailer! There were a whole dozen in all, two of which Ella broke before we got them all put away in an egg carton.

So the next morning, I had my first all homegrown breakfast from our land, some fresh tomato cooked into home grown scrambled eggs. Mmmmm. Nothing like it.

Here's to chickens and their fabulous ability to create so much useful resource for us humans.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Big Changes Unfolded This Week

It's been quite a week for our construction project, and some other assorted homestead endeavors...Read on...


The Roof with All its Plywood

The crew finished sheeting the south roof on Tuesday, and the north roof, with the exception of where it joins the garage roof, and the entry way (due to sequencing needs), on Wednesday. It's really different inside the building now, darker. We can now clearly see where the sunlight is traveling, especially with the clerestory windows, and we can track the day across the southern slab.

However, even though the roof now has plywood on the whole thing, we do not yet have our roof metal in hand. It is on order, and we're hoping it will arrive next week sometime. In the meantime, we are hoping we won't have any major rain. Should the weather deteriorate to precipitation, we will likely cover the ply with the roofing felt, as a temporary measure. But that's not going to happen, right?! Here, in Humboldt County in September?


Living Room

Clerestory and Windows in Kid Bedrooms

Office Area and Music Nook, with High East Windows

Windows on the Outside, on the West Wall

On Wednesday, the Valley Lumber truck delivered all of our windows, except the ones we ordered the same day, and the three sliding doors. We're holding off on those until we fill up the house with sheetrock, for ease of delivery. Drew couldn't help himself from installing just one that first day, before he unleashed his full installation prowess on Thursday. He and Aaron installed all the main windows in the house. Today they worked on getting to the clerestory window installation, but had several details to work through, specifically the eave of the clerestory, and the venting at the top of the south roof. All in good time.

Having the windows in dramatically changes how it feels to be inside the house. It just feels so much more INSIDE. Like a real house, even without the doors. I couldn't have anticipated that difference. One thing we are fretting about a little is that the windows we bought have Low-e glass, which basically means it is coated to reduce the amount of infrared heat that can pass through. The windows on the north, west, and east walls all have a super-duper performance coating on them, but we have a reduced coating on the south windows, because we WANT heat to come through our south glass. We're hoping we aren't cutting out too much of our solar gain.


Michael Bringing in a Melanine Form for Windowsills

Today, Michael poured most of our exterior window sills, which are made from concrete, and burnished down to expose the aggregate. The idea is to give the windows a little bit more of a beefy appearance.


Wall Between the Massage Room and the Living Room

Wall Between the Entry and the Main Room, with Three Windows

As if all that wasn't enough, we built some additional interior walls this week. The wall between the entryway and the music area had to get built to finish the roof, because it connects the two levels of roof. This wall provides the main living space of the house with three zen view windows to the east, which will allow morning light into the otherwise south facing living-kitchen-dining room. I like it. Also, Karl continued that wall onto the lower level, which divides the massage room from the living room. When I took the photos this morning, it looked like shown here, but by this afternoon, it was covered in plywood. Karl also built the wall between the entry way and the massage room, and framed in the coat closet in the entry.

Me thinks it was a rather good week!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Roof Roof Roof

There is the roof, going on!

Inside our bedroom, with a ROOF!

Undereave detail, with the rim joist, and cedar tongue and groove, and redwood faux rafters

The patio overhang lattice, all recycled will have clear covering

At last (breathing a sigh-of-relief), we reached the place where we could begin placing plywood on the roof. We have been dramatically slowed the last several weeks by our choices of finish on the outer edges of the roof. There are faux redwood beams/rafters sticking out, and on top of that is tongue and groove cedar wood, and there is a cedar rim joist/fascia board. All these steps had to be completed around our crenulated roof edge before we could begin putting on that sheathing.

But yesterday was the day, and it feels SO good, and exciting. I'm grateful that it's moving forward after so long of a time of it feeling like nothing was happening. Karl thinks that maybe the ply will be done on Monday. Even better, our window order is arriving next week, and pretty soon, we will be building interior walls, and preparing for a sheetrock crew. There's still a lot of other things to do, too, like the septic, and utilities, and a garage slab, and and and and. Well, you get the point. I need to keep reminding myself to take it one step at a time. And breathe! Construction life can get one a little riled up.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Reaping What We Sow

Yesterday was a harvest day, of sorts. It's one of those days when I become present to just what I've done by planting those little tiny seeds in pots back in February, or March. This year, I wondered if I should even do it at all, since we are so busy with our house. I am definitely distracted from our house during my Ella-free time by the need to put food up. But I can't really help myself, because when I contemplate the alternative, eating food that someone far away grew, I just can't quite stomach it. I truly prefer growing my own, and immensely enjoy the satisfaction of watching it emerge, bulge into ripeness, and disappear into my body, my cells becoming the very land we live upon. So no regrets here. Quite the contrary, I feel like dancing a little jig!

I'm glad I did harvest yesterday, because today it is raining and some of my produce would have been set back a little. Once again, my instincts told me to do it. I didn't realize the rain was coming. I was just guided to harvest. I continue to find that those little voices are worth listening to.

Ella and I descended into the garden with cardboard boxes, scissors, and clippers, picking ripe tomatoes, a flat of tomatillos, a bucket full of Bingo beans (like pintos), and about 13 delicata squash. I also canned some zucchini relish, something I've never done before. It's a recipe Deva likes to use. It's basically pickle relish, with zukes instead of cukes. What was so remarkable about the experience for me was that I grew all the produce: the onions, zucchinis, and the peppers. Usually, if I want to make something like that, I need to buy at least the onions. But not this year! It feels like a milestone for me.

There are a lot more tomatoes still to ripen, and more tomatillos than we could possible use or can. In fact yesterday I gave the tomatillo plant the name of "The Giving Tree". It just keeps on giving, and at this point, I'm confident we will never need to plant them in our garden again. I kept thanking the spirit of that generous plant, for giving us material to make salsa and enchilada sauce!

May we all experience the abundance of our own sowing seeds, real or symbolic...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The OTHER Downside of Animal Husbandry when one of your animals didn't get the message about how to treat the other animals. And, especially when this doesn't happen at a convenient moment. This one hen kept getting out of the chicken pen, and this morning, the dog, in trying to herd the bird, mortally wounded it. On my way back from the house site, with Ella in arms, the two of us preparing to go to pre-school, I caught a glimpse of the dog carrying a chicken in her mouth.

Ooooooo, bad dog! She dropped it, and I went to catch the chicken, who had run back to the pen, and when I caught her saw a large flesh wound that wasn't going to heal. So Drew had to quit what he was doing and dispatch her, and butcher her, while I took Ella to school. I guess we'll be having chicken for dinner tonight. Darn it, it was a hen, too.

I guess we'd better figure out how the chickens are getting out.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Downside of Animal Husbandry

When we brought home our chicks last April, we knew some of them would be roosters, but that only one could stay. Too many testosterone-touting red-combed dude chickens are bad news for the ladies of the house. They argue, and take out their frustrations at not being top dog on the hens, trying to prove who's who. And they all crow, which some feel to be a rather endearing and acceptable trait. But when you live 100 feet away in a tent, and one of them wakes up because the moon is full at 2 AM, let alone when ALL of them wake up at the crack of dawn like they're supposed to, the matter takes on a little extra urgency.

So at last, today, our three "extra" roosters met their maker. Neither of us thought it was a good idea to let Ella witness the actual slaughter (though we could have an interesting discussion another day about whether or not this is so), so I took her out visiting, while Drew stayed home to operate the guillotine. Which brings me to the "downside" of animal husbandry. The remaining chickens are terrified of us.

Many people try to intimate that "lower" beings have no feelings, don't think any advanced thoughts, or grieve, etc. There are many variations on this theme. But the mood in the chicken pen this afternoon is decidedly morbid, as though they are mourning for their lost comrades, even though they were a pain in the rear. When I went out with a bucket of kitchen scraps, they all took cover under their trailer. Ordinarily, the moment they see the silver bowl from a long ways off, they come running to the door, eager to see what goodies I have brought. Not today.

The problem, for me, is my ability to empathize with their grief and discomfort. If someone came and mysteriously removed several members of my family, I probably wouldn't feel comfortable either. I might not have an appetite. And yet, we need to eat. I have dabbled in vegetarianism, for many years, and find that my body cannot adequately do what it needs to do without meat. I have been buying chicken from the store, but I would rather grow it here, on our own land, and treat it right until the moment of its death, than buy the meat from a bird that never saw the open sky, even if it was allowed to "free range" shoulder to shoulder with thousands of other chickens in a barn. The obvious choice is to raise the chickens with integrity and love, and offer them an honorable passing.

I've roasted one of the three for our dinner this evening. For me, it always causes a more measured pace and style of eating, to eat what you have known when it was alive. We will surely honor tonight's rooster, in the many ways it has enriched our life, and the ways in which it will allow us to continue to enrich our own lives. I give thanks for the multiple ways in which the land continues to feed us.

Incidentally, as the photos show, when Ella and I returned home, Drew had finished plucking the chickens, but had not yet gutted and cleaned them. I set to work immediately removing pin feathers, while Drew did the butchering. Ella was not in the least bit disturbed by this part of the process, and we had a very real and hands on kind of anatomy study. She asked about why we were eating these, and were these our roosters? And we explained that too many roosters aren't good for the flock. She wanted to try touching the chickens. She wanted to hold the feet. I guess we'll cover the earlier part of the process when she's older.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Canning Moments

Collect jars and pots, large and small;
Slice, pitch, slice, pitch;
De-top, slice, slice, pitch;
Wash jars, squeeze lemon juice,
Consult with Carla Emery.

Wonder if women
Did this work together,
Or if they did it solo, in their own kitchens
As I
Slice, pitch, slice, pitch, slice, pitch.
Wonder how many jars this will fill.
Wonder how many jars my garden will fill.
Think of lasagna in January,
Of white bean and sausage
With canned tomatoes.
Wonder about the sanity of
Homesteading. What does this mean
For us still living between modern and not?
When I run out of tomato jars,
Because I didn't grow enough,
I run to the store,
Filling up on tin cans.
Slice, pitch, slice, pitch, slice, pitch.

Realize that every pizza I've ever eaten
Has contained tomatoes that someone canned
Even if it was a giant machine;
A tomato that grew in the sun somewhere,
And was bottled up, and shipped to the Italian restaurant.

But now I eat my own.
Slice, pitch, slice, pitch.
Stir, squish.
Boil, scoop, cap, ring.
Sputtering pressure canner, steamy house.
Clattering stainless bowls and knives.

Silence in the pantry.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Little Taste of Late Summer

I was thinking last night, as I was cooking a little feast for my family just for the fun of it, that I wish I could bottle up the smells of my summer kitchen to send over the internet to my far away readers. I've been whipping up delicious showcase entrees using the freshest of the fresh veggies from my garden and our CSA farm. It is so very delightful! Here's a few recipes from last night:

Eggplant and Summer Vegetable Gratin

olive oil
2 lbs globe eggplant, preferably on the small size, sliced into 1/2 inch thick rounds
2 large onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 large bell pepper
2-3 large, ripe tomatoes, skinned and seeded and chopped
10 basil leaves, chopped
1 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
sausage or other meat (optional)

Oil the eggplant slices and roast in a 425 oven for about 30 minutes, flipping over halfway through. Remove from oven and salt and pepper. Turn the oven down to 325. Meanwhile, saute the onion in 3 tbsp olive oil until it wilts. Add the garlic, stir for a moment, and add the bell pepper and tomato. Cook for a while, stirring every once in a while, until it forms a jam. Turn off the heat and stir in the basil. Layer the eggplant and tomato sauce in thirds in a 2 1/2 quart casserole dish. Cover and bake at 325 for 45 minutes. Moisten the breadcrumbs in olive oil and mix with the parmesan. Uncover the gratin and add the breadcrumb/cheese mixture and bake uncovered for another 25 minutes.

Pear Almond Pudding

1/4 cup honey
1 1/2 cup milk
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt

4 ripe but firm pears, peeled, cored, and sliced thinly
Crumble topping: 3 tbsp. butter, 1/4 c sugar, 1/2 cup flour, pinch of salt, cinnamon to taste, 1/2 cup chopped almonds, all mixed together.

Mix the first set of ingredients in a blender or with an immersion blender. Place the sliced pears in a 2 quart dish. Pour the pudding liquid mixture over the pears. Top with the crumble. Bake at 325 for approximately 50 minutes, until golden and puffed all over. Serve warm with whipped cream...mmmm.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

My New 55mm/Macro Lens

A few months back, I had the pleasure of test driving a really fun, old-school 55mm macro lens that belongs to my photo-friend Kira. I really enjoyed it, and to my surprise, Drew bought me one! I've had it now for at least a month, but I haven't had a chance to play with it at all, until today. Here's a sampling of this morning's shots at the beach.