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 redwood...it 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

...is 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.