A beautiful day in earliest spring, notwithstanding a stiff, cold breeze and two inches of new snow on the ground when we woke up. Now, in mid-afternoon, the sun is warm and bright and the sky is very blue. The snow was all gone by the time I got home from church. I felt like getting some work done around the place.
First things first. It was clearly past time to take down my winter altar and put up the early spring altar. Ordinarily I would do this around Imbolc, but it so happened this year that there were two feet of snow on the ground at Imbolc, and it did not feel at all like the season of emerging had yet come. I left up my storm trees, and then I sort of forgot about it until today.
I can't put up a new altar until I've cleaned the old altar, and as I was preparing to do that, I looked around and saw how awful the whole house was. Really, a clean altar needs a clean room. And one clean room in a dirty house is just a sham. So I started cleaning. I put on a disc of old time Boogie Woogie piano music and scrubbed and swept and opened all the windows. I can't say the house is actually CLEAN clean, but I got it clean enough lay a new altar. The cool wind blowing in through the open windows did as much or more as I did to freshen the place up.
Then I went out to the barnyard. The goats are due to kid within three weeks or so - I think; I'd better check the blog for when they were bred - and the Mama barn is a mess. Paloma came out with me and we stuffed all the empty feed bags full of trash - empty plastic bags, mainly. I bring home so much bread from the gleaner's pantry that the bags really pile up. Also many many yards of orange plastic baling twine. We've gone through a hundred bales of hay this winter, so there are at least two hundred strings. Paloma is braiding some of them into a string leash for Haku. We will also reuse some of it tying up the cattle panels where they are sagging. But there always seem to be a surplus of orange strings, getting into the compost pile or buried beneath the bedding, sometimes a loop sticking treacherously up to snag a passing ankle. Pulling it out when it is well and deeply embedded in old bedding is a chore.
Taking another empty feed bag with me, I walked the soggy pasture to pick up more trash - more bags that have blown away and gotten strung up on the fences, or entangled in blackberry bushes. Long shards of corrugated plastic that were once part of the roof on the chicken coop, and which were shredded in windstorms and blown away.We re-roofed the chicken coop with corrugated tin, but it, too, has been crumpled and shredded by the wind, and is now curled up in long strips and makes a fearful racket on days like today. I don't know what we will do next for the coop roof. I think it needs an actual framed roof. However, as there are no longer any chickens (except three skinny roosters) it is academic. I don't know if I mentioned that the chickens have all either disappeared or been caught and eaten by our horrible pigs.
The horrible pigs are dead. The butcher came friday. We will keep the meat from the smaller one, and the bigger one has been sold off in halves. I am very very glad they are gone. No more pigs for the foreseeable future.
There is still a great deal of cleanup and repair to do before it gets much later in the season. One of the gateposts to the main pasture rotted through, and half of the gate fell down. We haven't replaced it yet, because its been so wet and awful, and the animals are still eating hay in the sacrifice area anyway. But it needs to be repaired before we can let the animals out to graze, obviously. The calf hutch, which we have had for about eight years, finally - yes, you guessed it - blew away in a windstorm. It had a few cracks in it already, but now it is a twisted wreck washed up against the back fence line. Theres no way I can move it, that will require Homero and another man.
No sign yet of nettles or daffodils. There are some pale green spikes sticking out of the ground near the highway, though. I think I will go take a look at the willow out by Homero's shop and see if there are any pussies (?) on it yet. If so, I will cut a few wands for the altar.
Sunday, February 26, 2017
Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Haku is loving it. He's so happy. He almost disappears into the drifts, but he's having ball.
I like it too, truth be told (and as long as I don't have to do chores in it). It's exciting, and just the tiniest bit scary. But we have a freezer full of food, and a tank full of propane, and a generator, and nothing can hurt us.
Monday, February 6, 2017
It is snowing. It is snowing sideways. It has been snowing sideways for the better part of four days. There is a foot and a half of snow on the ground and more is coming down every minute. Some of the drifts are three feet high. All the sliding glass doors are iced shut. School has been cancelled again, and the children are stir-crazy.
I feel like Gene Wilder in the old version of Charlie and the The Chocolate Factory - just picture me with my hair standing up and my eyes bugging out as I intone, in a voice that slowly rises to a shriek, "It is snowing, snowing, SNOWING... and it shows no sign of SLOWING... there's no earthly way of KNOWING... just how long it will keep GOING...."
I am old as dirt. I am rickety and fat and I have a nasty head cold. My knees sound like a bowl of rice krispies even just walking around indoors. I am getting too old for this shit. I just went out to feed the animals, and what is ordinarily a ten minute job is a half an hour slog, beginning with putting on my socks - not as easy as it used to be - and carefully stepping into one gum boot, and then the other, holding on to the wall because my balance ain't what it used to be either. Then I have to pick up the five gallon bucket full of slops for the pigs (kept inside the playroom so it doesn't freeze) and there's no handle on this bucket so I have to hug it with one arm and try to open the sliding glass door with the other while my giant, idiot dog leaps around me like a deranged jack in the box.
On the sixty-yard walk to the barn, I had to set the bucket down to rest three times. I am more out of breath than usual, due to the aforementioned nasty cold. The snow is heavy and has an icy crust on it. Haku runs lightly over the crust, but I break through and sink up to my knees with every step. I haven't put on a hat and my hair is whipping around, blinding me. The snow hits my face hard enough to sting, flying at me sideways from the north-east. Finally I make it to the field shelter, where Haku is leaping up against the fence, barking at the ram. The ram is charging the fence over and over again. I yell at Haku and he runs off to bother the pigs. I throw the goats and the pony and the ram two loaves of bread and then give the pigs the slop bucket.
There are very few chickens left. The chicken coop came unroofed in the last storm and we haven't been able to fix it yet. The chickens took to roosting in the main barn, but thats where the pigs are - and the pigs caught and ate several chickens. Horrifying. I've never had a pig do that before (although once a pig chased a mama hen off her nest and ate up the day-old chicks). We are down to three chickens. Some of the others have just disappeared. Hopefully, they have found their way over to the neighbors, who has a nice, cozy coop, and integrated themselves into his flock. We are going to have to address the chicken-attrition at some point, but not today.
The hose is frozen, so I am watering with buckets. I can't lift a full five gallon bucket over the fence, so I have to fill it halfway and pour it into the trough over the fence and repeat several times. There is an ice slick around the water pump. On my third or fourth trip I slip on it and crash, landing heavily on my hip and - though I don't notice this until later - cutting my arm on the sharp crust of snow. In my slippery gumboots, it takes me several tries to stand up.
The last job is getting hay for the pony and goats. I grab an armload of hay from the mama barn and trudge towards the field shelter, eyes closed as much as possible to keep out the flying bits of hay. I am in a whirlwind of snow and hay particles. I really ought to go into the sacrifice area and put the hay inside the field shelter, but I can't open the gate because it is stuck inside a frozen drift of snow two feet high. So I heave my armload of snow over the fence and at least a third of it flies right back at me. "Fuck it," I think, "They'll live until tomorrow."
My dog has disappeared. He's white, therefore pretty well camouflaged. I yell for him all the way back to the house, and then stand there yelling until he finally comes prancing through the curtain of snow into visibility. By the time we both make it into the house, I am exhausted.
Days like this I want to give up. I want to just throw my hands up and say "it was a good run, eight years of farming, it's time to retire." But of course I don't really want to do that. The goats are pregnant and in a few months all will be green grass and flowers and baby goats. I'll be milking and making cheese and loving life.
Besides, I can't give up. We need this farm now like never before! Our new commander in chief is determined to start a trade war with Mexico (among other countries) and they provide forty percent of our winter fruits and vegetables. If the Trumpster succeeds in antagonizing all our major trade partners, it won't be long before we all feel the results in the price of food. And that's just the beginning. I think the possibility of something awful happening to economy - like hyperinflation maybe - within the next several years is not out of the question. It could get pretty Mad Max around here before too long. I'm putting in a much bigger garden this year, and planting more fruit trees. Homero has taken his sustainability projects up a notch as well.
So there's no rest on the horizon. I better start taking care of my knees - maybe I can schedule surgery on my other knee while I still have health insurance. Inshallah.
Sunday, January 8, 2017
There was controversy surrounding our christmas tree this year (O (Dead) Christmas Tree); a controversy that resulted in us having two trees - one cut and decorated inside the house, and one live and potted outside the house.
The small live tree that Rowan and I decorated with pine cones (smeared in peanut butter and rolled in birdseed) has provided us with many hours of entertainment watching the birds who came to eat. Homero set it up right outside the kitchen window, where we could see it as we drank our coffee in the mornings. The freezing weather may have brought extra birds to our feeder. It's been very cold and snowy since before Christmas. Quite unusual.
I am not much of a birdwatcher, but Rowan says that among the visitors were spotted towhees and various kinds of chickadees. I can recognize the black capped chickadees. There was a tiny brownish grey bird with a yellow belly. Some sort of finch? It was surprisingly delightful to see the little birds up close, scrabbling with each other and picking at the pinecones. There were several mated pairs, bright males and drab females, who reappeared again and again. You could almost fancy that it was possible to identify individuals.
The cut tree is still in the living room, but we have undecorated it. It really ought to be hauled out for the goats to eat before it gets any drier. The goats need all the food they can get - they are all (presumably) pregnant now, and the cold has been unrelenting and unusually severe. For a week or so, I put fleece vests on them to help keep them warm, while the mercury was hovering in the low teens. We try to keep hay available at all times, but in the severe cold they eat twice as much as usual. And of course, the dairy calf eats as much as three or four goats all by herself.
We are running out of hay. We've already been through eighty bales, which, in a mild winter will carry us through until early spring. Luckily, we still have thirty bales "on hold" with the family who took Poppy pony from us. I didn't ask for any money for Poppy, no "rehoming fee" or anything like that. I was just happy to have found an excellent home for her. But they offered to give us thirty bales of hay in trade, and I didn't say no. They also offered us the use of their Nubian buck for stud this year, and I took them up on that as well. Homero will have to go get the thirty bales pretty quickly - I think we are down to three bales left in the mama barn.
This is a quiet time of year. The goats and the cow huddle up and chew their cud. The chickens stay up in the hayloft for most of the short day. About the only excitement is provided by the occasional escape of the pigs. They are getting big enough to stand uno and put their front feet on top of the barn's half-door, and I think once in a while they slide the catch open more or less by pure chance. Then there's a merry chase to get them back in again.
As for me, I am enjoying the freeze, because it means a respite from the mud.
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Christmas, the 800 pound gorilla of holidays, is once again upon us. Every year, I envy my childless brother, who insouciantly flaunts on his own blog how free he is to blithely ignore Christmas. Oh, he enjoys the vacation time, which allows him to spend his disposable income gallivanting about the globe (most recently Taiwan) instead of spending it on a lot of plastic crap, designed to satisfy the outsized expectations of a bunch of self-absorbed human pupae for exactly six-point-eight minutes.
What? Am I not exhibiting the correct cheerful demeanor?
I do, in fact, enjoy Christmas. I do, in fact, spend a lot of time planning activities that I think my kids would enjoy. I peruse my local paper and jot down the dates of Christmassy events - for the past two years I have made an advent calendar of events, complete with paper doors for them to open every evening and read the event planned for the next day. It might be a local concert or it might be hanging christmas lights at home. My community is very civic minded and there are a goodly number of really cool holiday events - when those are lacking I plan home based activities such as baking gingerbread cookies or making christmas cards to mail out to relatives and friends.
One of the very biggest events in any Christmas season, obviously, is buying and decorating the tree. I'm not going to google at this time of night, but you and I both know that probably 99% of Christmas trees sold in this country are cut trees - read: dead trees. There is an argument to be had about the environmental impact of the christmas tree industry - some people maintain that the carbon sequestered by the growing of all those trees is greater than the carbon released by their harvest. I don't know about that - but I can say for certain that buying and planting a live tree is better than buying a cut tree.
That is what we did every year that I remember, growing up. Never in my memory did my mother buy a cut tree. We were lucky to always live in a private home on a suburban lot that allowed for the planting of at least one tree a year. For many years after we moved away, my mom would take us driving back through old neighborhoods, and point out the trees we had planted years before. She would name the trees as she pointed them out: "Look, there's your brother's blue spruce. That one is your weeping pine."
During the years that I lived in a house on an urban lot on Seattle - from 1992 to 2006- we never had a Christmas tree. Since I didn't have space to plant a live tree, I chose to not have a tree at all. Instead, we made gingerbread houses, or I bought long sheets of green butcher paper and we cut out a simulated tree and taped it to the wall and decorated it with glitter glue and potato stamps. Moving to our current homestead, a windswept 5 acre property that could really use many more trees, was happy for many reasons, but not least for the chance to have a live Christmas tree every year and plant it the following spring. I sited an area on the west side of the property that I planned to fill with Christmas trees, slowly. When my children were grown, if we kept cup the custom, we would have a Christmas tree grove for them to inhabit and imbue with meaning.
We have planted some five Christmas trees since we moved here. Many more fruit trees; but they don't come into this story. We re-used a few Christmas trees because they have become very expensive in recent years. And one of the trees we planted died, covered in blackberry vines and smothered by canary grass. But there are still five live trees, and there is still a lot of space to plant future trees. I have a vision of a lovely, full grown grove of evergreens on the western border of our land, home to native birds and mammals.
The day that the advent calendar said "buy a Christmas tree" was a day that I was working all day long. I asked Homero to please take the girls and get a tree. I told him in simple language to buy a LIVE tree. I didn't think it was terribly important thing to emphasize - after all, we had had live trees in each of the last five years. But knowing that Homero is - how shall i put this? CHEAP - I made it quite clear that I knew a live tree would be expensive, but that that was simply a fact of Christmas.
I'm not entirely certain I have managed to describe how important it is to me not to have a cut tree. Do you, gentle reader, understand? If not, let me fill you in on a few details that my husband was already aware of. As well as attending a Christian church, I consider myself a pagan, a follower of the western and northern European pre-christian traditions. Trees are the very basis of the sacred calendar in this tradition. My oldest daughter, Rowan, was named for the sacred tree that presides over her birth month. She is a practicing witch. Trees - living trees - are the foundation of the knowledge of the Wiccan tradition. Having a dead, cut tree in our home would be, quite literally, sacrilege.
So my husband bought a cut tree. He took the kids, while I was at work, and drove around town, and decided that the live trees were too expensive. By the time he communicated to me what he had done, it was a fait accompli. The dead tree was already installed in our living room.
Oh I was so upset. We were talking by text: I said "I am bringing home a live tree anyway! You just bought the goats lunch!" Rowan and I both felt righteously indignant. We felt that our beliefs had been trampled and slighted. We felt that an atrocity (albeit a small one) had been committed in our name. We felt a burning need to remedy the situation. However, the prospect of dragging the dead tree out of the living room (a prospect I considered) seemed too drastic. That would only make me into a Savonarola, a crazy zealot, an extremist. Much better that I attempt to model flexibility and adaptability.
On my way home, I bought a small live tree. I was driving a volkswagen golf - I had to find something that would fit in the trunk. I ended up with a five foot tall arborvitae. I also bought a bag of large pinecones, and a sack of birdseed. At home, Rowan and I smeared the pinecones with peanut butter, and then rolled them in dishes of birdseed. We tucked the cones into the branches of the small live tree, which Homero set up right outside the kitchen window. That was his gesture of reconciliation, arranging a sturdy base for our live tree. This past week, we have enjoyed watching spotted towhees and black capped chickadees eating the seeds from the tree.
And in the living room, a lovely cut evergreen is decorated with lights and homemade ornaments. I am trying to look at it with appreciation and joy. It will feed the goats, after the twenty-fifth. I hope that those whose say that the tree sequestered more carbon dioxide in its life than it will give up in it's decomposition are right. I hope that during it's life it provided shelter and sustenance to many small creatures. I hope that the life of this tree amounted to something lasting. In the meantime, we will honor it's life by appreciating the beauty of its adorned branches.
Happy Solstice. Merry Christmas.
Monday, December 5, 2016
Monday, November 21, 2016
Forgive me that I haven't written a new blog post in a couple of weeks. I've been too busy reeling around in horror and exploring the limits of my capacity for shock.
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Wednesday, November 2, 2016
Posted by Aimee at 6:40 PM
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
I have a neighbor who raises beef cattle, Mr. B., and we have bought beef from him several times in the past. It's wonderful stuff, he has gorgeous pastures, but we haven't bought any the last few years. Not last year, because we had our own cow butchered (she was a cull from a dairy that couldn't be bred, but she made a decent meat animal), and not the year before because we waited too long to ask him, and he'd already sold it all. He doesn't butcher very many steers in any given year - maybe 12 or 15 - and he told me that usually he sells all of it to extended family. I took that as a hint that I should look for beef elsewhere.
This year, we have Homero's nieces living with us again, which means dinner is for seven every night. We all like beef, and eat it pretty often. The freezer was almost empty. We were down to the last few packages of hamburger from last year's cow, and so I went on the hunt for grass fed beef on Craigslist.
Wow, the price of beef has really gone up in the last several years. I can't remember for sure what the price per pound was the first year I bought beef (2008) but I know it was under $2/lb. I think it was $1.80. This year I couldn't find anything under $3.50/lb hanging weight, which means by the time you pay the cut and wrap and figure in the 20% discard, you are paying around $5/lb for the actual beef you are going to eat.
Not that that is a high price, speaking in absolute terms. Around here, if you can even find local grass fed beef in the grocery store, it starts at $6.00 for the hamburger and goes up from there. The really nice steaks are probably over $20/lb - not that I would know! So don't think I'm complaining! However, it does mean you have to come up with a big chunk of change all at once.
I finally resigned myself to paying the going rate, and spoke with a lady in Lynden. She had a half a Hereford to sell, and she said I could buy the half or just a quarter if I preferred. The meat was already at the butcher's and would be ready in a week or so. She said he was a good sized animal, so I bought a quarter. We'd wait until the butcher called me with the final weight before I paid her.
Then, that Sunday, I went to church and saw my neighbor. Over coffee after the service, he asked me if Homero and I would like some beef this year. He wasn't certain, but he thought he'd probably have a little extra.
"If it turns out I do, would you want it?"
"Yes," I said, instantly deciding it would be a good idea to get back on his list of customers.
"Well, I'll let you know."
Now I had a conundrum. Should I cancel on the lady with the expensive beef? Mr. B.'s price was considerably lower. But what if it turned out Mr. B. didn't have any beef after all? Or what if he only had an eighth? Homero and I talked it over and he said to go ahead and buy the quarter anyway, to be on the safe side. We'd certainly eat it.
When the butcher called me a few days later, however, I was in for a surprise. The final hanging weight was 250 pounds! For those of you who have never bought your beef by the side, let me assure that is a LOT of meat. The steer must have been one gigantic animal. At $3.50/lb, plus the cut and wrap, I would be spending something like $1000 to put it in my fridge. But there was no option - the meat was mine.
Mr. B. spoke to me again at church the next week. He said there was a half for me. I smiled and said "that's wonderful, thank you so much!"
There's no way we could get through THREE QUARTERS OF A COW by ourselves, especially when one of the quarters is nearly as big as an average half. Luckily, my sister said her family would split the half with me. We simply called the butcher and told him we wanted to split it, and each of us gave our cut and wrap orders.
Now the freezer - 18.5 cubic feet; a big freezer! - is packed to the brim with meat. There is so much beef in there that we can't butcher the baby goat because there's simply no place to put him. We had to remove a few gallons of cider and drink it up to make room. There are worse problems to have than a surfeit of high quality beef. So we'll have to eat beef more often this winter than I would have guessed. Oh, Rats!
Monday, October 10, 2016
|Plum wine in the autumn sun|
Thursday, September 29, 2016
KWe have acquired two new pigs. To get a pig or not to get a pig, in any given year, is one of the larger farm-related decisions we make. Pigs can be profitable, and of course they are delicious, but pigs are also expensive and destructive.
Thursday, September 22, 2016
|painting of Persephone I did many years ago|
Help me to see the beauty in the bones, in the deepness, in the decay and the quiet work of winter. Help me to honor necessary rest, to partake in necessary rest, help me to gather and to guard my strength through the long dark, that I might rise renewed as you do, ready and refreshed. Blessed be the sacred season of repose, and thank you for the hospitality of the velvet earth.
Friday, September 16, 2016
Monday, September 5, 2016
Oops, that's a picture of bowls full of cherries. When I selected the thumbprint, I thought it was buckets of apples. Oh well - doesn't matter. I didn't take any pictures of the first - and probably only - cider pressing of the year, because I was too busy pressing cider!
We didn't make any cider at all last year, and I missed it. Cidering is very hard work - even if you can convince other people to bring you apples so you don't have to pick them all yourself. But it is so, so worth it. There's almost nothing as good as that first drink of fresh apple cider after the sweat and the aching back of cidering.
Things that are not as good as fresh apple cider:
- finding a twenty dollar bill in the laundry
- coming home to an unexpectedly clean house
- seeing a movie you thought was going to be dumb but it turned out to be really good after all
- losing five pounds somehow without even really trying
- (average) sex
- a phone call from an old friend
- when you thought you were wrong in an argument but later you read something and find out you were right all along
Things that are almost as good as fresh apple cider:
- getting a handwritten letter in the mail from an old friend
- finding a hundred dollar bill on the sidewalk
- surprise bouquet of your favorite flowers from the husband AND an unexpectedly clean house
- discovering a really, really great new author
- that dream, that one dream, swimming effortlessly underwater like a mermaid in a coral garden
- the hot bath you take after a hard day's work on the farm
- baby goats
Things that are better than fresh apple cider:
- only you know the answer to this one. We each have a different answer and I'm not telling mine.