"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Monday, January 31, 2011

Things That Are Not as Simple as They Seem (Poppy Pony Update)

The blog has been neglected lately, but not because I've had nothing to write about. Quite the opposite, in fact - it's been busy around here, so busy that I haven't had time to write much. After a week or so, it starts to feel very difficult to catch up on the writing, so I keep putting it off. Next thing I know there's such a laundry list of things to write about that I probably can't even remember them all.

This blog has a case of mission-drift. It started out as an online diary, a place to record anecdotes about my new life as a farm girl. I wrote very much as if I were writing letters to friends. Then it slowly morphed into a kind of farm-log, where I tried to record mating records, birth records, vet visits, treatments, garden planning, et cetera. Not being a very good record-keeper, that effort kind of fizzled, but at least I can use the blog as a kind of genealogy, if I tend to forget which goat is related to which other goat and how. And I can page back and find out which garden crops did well in a given year, and where they were planted and what the weather was like. Rather than neat records, what I have here is kind of like an archeological garbage dump, but it's still useful.

Then I began to insert some politics here and there, and to compile interesting articles and bits of theoretically useful information. I linked and crosslinked and put gadgets on the sidebar! The blog was out of control! So I guess the first thing that is not a simple as it would seem is writing a coherent blog. Oh well, I've always been a scatterbrain in the real world, I don't know why I think I would be any different in the blogosphere. It is what it is, and I yam what I yam.

Here's what I've been so busy with: Poppy. She has developed an abscessed foot, most likely secondary to her foundering last month. I thought at first she had sprained something climbing all over the giant mound o' hogfuel, but when her limp became more pronounced I called the vet. He tried to evacuate the abscess with a knife, but was not able to. Instead of a single pocket of pus, which is what usually develops, Poppy had a diffuse infection throughout the hoof. He applied pressure to the bottom of her hoof with large blunt pincers, and showed me how the infected matter (sickening black goo) welled up out of the cracks all around the perimeter of her hoof, in what they call the "white line."

There was no way for him to relieve the pressure under her hoof wall, so all he could do was give her antibiotics and dress her foot with mag-paste (green goop, basically an epsom salt emulsion that draws the infection by osmosis). I was given instructions to dose her twice daily with the powdered antibiotics mixed in a bit of grain; to change her dressing every day, to get a boot for her foot to protect it from mud and poop and stuff; and to give her an oral anti-inflammatory for the pain. As anyone who has ever suffered from an abscess knows, it is exquisitely painful, in this case especially because the infection is contained behind an impermeable, inflexible wall. It's like having an abscess deep under your fingernail.

Keeping up with Poppy's regimen has been a little tiring, especially because she absolutely hates some of her medication and I have to get Homero out to help me hold her head and forcibly cram a tube in her mouth. It's also a bit scary - I almost got the shit kicked out of yesterday. She is also confined to the stall, so there is extra mucking, feeding, and watering to do. Putting a boot on a horse's hoof is one of the things that seems simpler than it actually is. Look at the photo at the top of this post: she is making it look easy. I'm here to tell you, it isn't that easy. However, Poppy is improving and that's the important thing. She's young and healthy, and should recover fully.
Another thing that is not as easy as it seems: building a greenhouse. My brother-in-law Fransisco left here with the greenhouse 95% done. All it needed was a few more pieces of siding to fill in the chinks, and silicon all around. Then, of course, it needed to be stocked with shelves, containers, soil, tools, and all that. When did Fransisco leave - I think three weeks ago now? More, a month. Homero told me he would get the greenhouse finished within a week (just the last of the construction part - the stocking and preparing was up to me). He did finish it a couple of days ago. I told him that even with three sliding glass doors, I still needed some ventilation on the roof, or my plants would fry and die come August. Since all the glass roof panels are already installed, I came up with the neat idea of installing a long piece of siding with hinges, so it can be closed in the spring and then propped open come a summer heat wave. Thank you, thank you, yes, I'm a genius.

Yesterday I found a whole bunch of beautiful wooden planters at a garage sale for $3 apiece, and bought all nine of them (for a discount - $20 for the lot). I dragged a set of old metal shelves into the greenhouse and set up the boxes. Now all I have to do is fill them with compost and potting soil and wait a few weeks, and then I can plant early crops. Yay!



The last task with which I have been busy is pruning the fruit trees. We have a pretty decent orchard going now; three pears, four apples, three cherries, two plums, and four gigantic old blueberry bushes larger than most of the trees. Oh and the hazelnuts. That's just what we've planted ourselves, we also have the enormous old antique pear over by the garage. Some of these trees were planted just last year and don't need pruning yet, but others are in dire need. Pruning is an art I know little about, but unless I want to pay someone a ridiculous sum every year or else let my trees turn into thorn bushes and resign myself to a far less-than-optimal harvest, I need to learn to do it myself. Last year I took my first stab at it (Fear of Pruning and Unseasonable Weather) and didn't do too badly - at least, all the trees I pruned lived and grew, and one of the pears produced a respectable crop. So once again, I took my hoof-trimmer in hand and girded up my loins and went to work.

The smaller trees that we planted are really not all that difficult. Most likely, I am under-pruning out of an abundance of caution rather than over-pruning. Fruit trees can easily stand losing 30% of their bulk to pruning, and will give a better harvest for it, but I can't bring myself to trim more than 15% or so. I just try to take off the suckers (stems growing straight up) and generally clean up the interior a little bit. Overall, I believe I am doing more good than harm and that's about all I can hope for.

The antique pear, however, is a monster that I cannot even begin to cope with. That really does need professional attention, but it is worth it, because the difference in the harvest between a well-pruned and an unpruned tree is amazing. The first year we were here, the old pear tree gave us about a dozen gnarled old pears, and we figured it was nearly dead. But after professional pruning, the next year it gave us a super-abundance of big, sweet pears. Pruning fruit trees is probably not as difficult as it seems, as long as you can climb a ladder without fear, but I am willing to pay somebody to climb that ladder for me.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cattle (Panel) Rustling

One of the larger jobs on my to-do list is to finish fencing the smaller pasture with cattle panels so we can use it as a sacrifice area and get the hoofed animals off the big pasture in the wintertime. Re-fence actually - it is already fenced in field fencing, but the goats just laugh at field fencing (For a re-cap of our fencing woes, see The Forever Fence (Is It a Myth?)... Goats Are Pure Evil...Maybe Goats Should be Allowed to Run Free?... November Blues) I have been slowly acquiring sixteen foot cattle panels, but they are quite pricey ($45 a pop) and at 100 x 120 feet, I need 28 of them to fence the perimeter. That's $1,260, not including tax, delivery fees, or supplemental hardware.

And that's just the smaller pasture - eventually I need better fencing all around. Hundreds of cattle panels.

So, when I found a lady on Craigslist selling some forty cattle panels for $25 each, I jumped all over it. She's sold her house - is already out, in fact - and selling everything she can. The panels were still attached to the fence posts, we'd have to come knock them off with a hammer and load them ourselves, but we could take as many or as few as we wanted. I offered to take all forty of them if she'd drop the price to $20, but she told me she knew that $25 was rock bottom already and she'd had plenty of interest at that price. "I know," I said, "it's a great price. Just thought I'd give it a shot."

The first order of business was finding a way to transport the panels. We don't have a trailer of any kind (have to rectify that one of these days- we constantly need one). Luckily, I thought of Veggie/Oil Man. He's our neighbor with whom we trade goods and services - mostly eggs and cheese for vegetables (he has a sixty acre organic farm), or mechanic work for vegetable oil and the use of equipment. Recently, Homero fixed his car for him and wouldn't take any money, so it was our turn to ask for something. He was very accommodating, and offered us his hay wagon any time. We ran right out to pick it up and then drove to the cattle-panel lady's place to start taking down panels.

It wasn't super easy work - each panel was attached to three posts, by some four U-nails on each post. Each nail had to be removed with the claw end of a hammer, and many of them were stubborn. After being detached, each sixteen-foot panel had to be dragged through a muddy field and hoisted up onto the wagon. The lady was helping us, but even so, it was slow going.

Homero and I were working on panel number twelve or so, when suddenly a middle aged woman came hustling across the neighboring field, flanked by two large Rottweiler-y dogs. "Just what the hell are you doing?" she screamed at me.

"Umm, I'm buying these cattle panels," I said.

"You can't do that!" She yelled. Her dogs were barking, and it occurred to me that I was busily removing the only obstacle between me and them.

"I'm sorry," I said, "are these your cattle panels?" I knew they weren't - they had been nailed to my side of the fence posts, and there was old mashed down field fencing nailed to her side.

She sputtered. "It's my FENCE! Her damn horses ruined my fence..."

"But do the cattle panels belong to you? Did you buy them?" I pressed. If she had claimed ownership, obviously we would have called it quits. But she didn't.

"I'm calling the cops!" she stormed off, and thankfully her dogs followed her. At this point, the Craigslist lady came up, asking "What did she say to you?" I gave her the blow by blow, and she said "I hate that woman, she's half the reason I'm leaving. Seven years, and we've fought with them just about every day. Don't worry, the panels are mine."

So we kept taking down panels and loading them up... but meanwhile, the Craigslist lady was getting more and more nervous. "Oh God, there's her husband. He's an even bigger #$%hole."

Then: "Do you think you have enough? I know you wanted more, but you can always come back tomorrow."

Then: "Here, don't bother, you can tie them down when you get to the gas station. I'm just afraid they might block the driveway..."

Now, we are getting nervous ourselves. "Look here," I ask, "is there going to be gunplay?"

"Oh no, no no... but let's just get out of here."

So we carefully and slowly drive the quarter of a mile to the gas station, and as we are tying down the cattle panels, a sheriff's car pulls in to the parking lot. "Here we go," I think, but the deputy just trolls slowly by, makes a circuit around the gas station, and leaves again. Either they never called the cops at all and this was just part of the deputy's regular route, or they did call and the department decided it wasn't worth bothering about.

I'm pretty sure we didn't do anything illegal - I believe the woman that the panels were hers. Her entire property was fenced in them, not just the side bordering the mean neighbors. The neighbor herself never said they belonged to her. If what Craigslist Lady says is true, those neighbors made a habit of calling the cops every other week over something or other. Who knows - I never met either of them before tonight, so I don't know Jack.

I hope, however, that nothing further comes of this, because now I have enough cattle panels to create my sacrifice area for half of what I thought it would cost - and just in time, too.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Rain, Rain, Go Away (Before I Shoot Myself in the Head)

Complaining about the rain in Western Washington is stupid. The voice in my head (the smart, sarcastic one) says "duh, yeah, of course it's raining. It's late January, that means it's been raining for about two and a half months now, and it's not going to quit for another two and half months. Just suck it up and be happy that the temperature is currently in the high forties and not in the low thirties. You could be trudging out to feed the animals in stinging cold sleet. Enjoy the fact that the rain is at least falling vertically and not flying horizontally at fifty miles an hour."

Then the other voice in my head - the whiny, annoying one - says "But I'm sick of it. I'm sick of being muddy all the time, and of my feet being all wrinkled and white as library paste. I'm sick of wading through liquid poo twice a day. I'm sick of people wrinkling their noses if I get too close. I'm sick of wet clothes and wet shoes and wet hair. I'm sick of this endless cough and the endless phleghm. I can't remember what the sun even looks like - if it comes out for five minutes I hiss like a vampire and cover my eyes. I'm dark-adapted. I'm sure I'm severely vitamin D-deficient."

And the first voice says "oh, dry up."

And the second voice says "Would if I could!"

And it just goes downhill from there.

They say it's a La Nina year, and that accounts for the higher than average precipitation, both as snow and as rain. Okay. I'm not a climatologist, I just want it to quit. It's like Chinese Water torture around here - drip, drip, drip.... I think what I hate most is how there is just no color in the world. The color spectrum ranges from white through charcoal grey (the sky) relieved only by blackish-green (trees) and dark, muddy brown. I've been dressing in flaming red and bright yellow a lot, but it feels hollow.

Yeah, I know, I know - I should get a full spectrum lamp. Maybe I will, before I go on a despair-fueled rampage. It's no wonder to me that the Pacific Northwest has more than it's share of serial killers and suicides. Just gotta hang on until May. We do enjoy the most beautiful summers - can you hear the plaintive note in my voice, the desperate rationalization? Of course, I could go visit my Dad in Tucson. This is the only time I possibly could visit him - I can't take the heat, either. What a delicate blossom I am.

Here's my meditation for today. If we didn't get fifty inches of rain a year, we would have no temperate rainforest. And that would be a tragedy. Maybe instead of visiting Tucson, I should go visit the Hoh.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Mud Patrol (I Heart Hog Fuel)

We have a serious mud problem here. We always have. We live on the broad, flat crest of a high hill, and apparently the earth beneath us is totally impervious. The incessant rain we experience every year from - oh, I'm going to say October 15th to May 1st, on average - puddles up and creates a knee-deep mud situation for some six months of the year.

I am not the only person with a mud problem - mud is a fact of life here in the Pacific Northwest, and everybody has got to deal with it. People with enough money can hire geological engineers to create a slope-map then hire men with large machinery to carry out the blueprint, putting into place a plan whereby all the rain that falls on their property will run off of it and create mud on someone else's adjacent property.

Or, if you don't have any need for pasture, you can hire a different kind of expert (a biologist) to create a different kind of plan for you. You can, if you wish to spend the money and time, create a native wetland or native woodland capable of absorbing a lot of the water that falls. And as useful as that is for protecting native species and for filtering waste water and aesthetically and all of that, it isn't much much good for raising any kind of animal except frogs.

For the rest of us, there's hogfuel. Hogfuel is the by-product of land clearing - the ground up residue of trees and shrubs and stumps. It's wood. And it's absorbent. Yesterday, I had twenty-some yards of mostly cedar hogfuel delivered. It made a pretty large pile. The horses went nuts. They love it - they try to climb the pile like a mountain, they roll in it, they paw at it with their front feet. I don't know what exactly is so attractive about hogfuel, but I'm here to tell you that it is like catnip for equines. I tried to take some good pictures, but I was so absorbed in watching them that by the time I thought to run for my camera, they were about done playing. Here's a couple of pictures I did manage to snap.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Chicken Surprise!

Yesterday, I found the first egg of the year... or what I THOUGHT was the first egg of the year. Most chicken folk I know have been getting eggs for some time now, and so I wondered what was wrong with my hens. I checked them over for signs of egg-readiness (such as a bigger, brighter red comb and a big fluffy bottom) and it seemed to me that were three or four who ought to be laying, by the looks of them. But I found no eggs until yesterday, when I found one in the hayloft.

So today, of course, I decided to go up to the loft and make a search to see if there were any eggs today. As I was poking around, a hen came fluttering out from between bales of hay and flew off with a squawk. Well, I know what that means. Sure enough, when I pulled one bale away from the other, I found a clutch of some twenty eggs. All were nice and toasty warm, which means she's been sitting on them. She's broody.

What now, dang it? Don't these stupid chickens have any idea of the season? Well, to give them credit where credit is due, it is true that we recently had a very hard freeze followed by a dramatic warm-up. In the chicken brain, I guess that equals spring. If I had any way of determining how far along the eggs are, such as a candling setup, I would scare the hen away and then check out the eggs one by one to see if they are still edible or irredeemably fertilized. But then, I'd have to throw away the developing ones, and I just hate to do that.

Oh heck. I'll go out there tomorrow morning and see what's up. Most likely, my disturbance of the nest site has scared away the hen for good and If the eggs are cold in the A.M. then I'll gather them and take my chances.

But if there's a hen sitting on them, or if they are toasty warm, then I'll let them be.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Recipe in Lieu of Post (Dad's Spinach Curry)

I don't have much to write about at the moment. Poppy is much improved and it looks like she will fully recover from her bout with laminitis.

The weather has ben just awful, raining day and night. The river is at flood stage, though that doesn't affect us here. It's supposed to keep raining for another week or so, at least. Not entirely outside of normal for this time of year, but tiresome just the same.

I found the first egg of the year today. I haven't a clue who laid it, but as it was a normal-sized egg and not a pygmy egg, I assume it was an older hen instead of one of the pullets. I expect to be inundated with eggs soon, and I can't wait!

Since there's no news on the farm, I thought I'd share a family recipe. This recipe is one of my Dad's - his most famous and beloved, in fact. He learned it, he says, from some Pakistani students with whom she shared a dorm at the U of WA back in the sixties. Now, back in the sixties, there was a limited supply of traditional Pakistani spices and ingredients, and I can tell from Dad's recipe that the students were severely limited in their choices. However, I am going to give the recipe exactly as he made it when I was growing up, and, indeed, as he still makes it today.

Afterwards, I will give my own modern variation, which reflects the greater availability of international ingredients as well as my own biases for fresh and local products. Either way, it's pretty delicious. My Dad's original recipe might be well suited to cooking from your emergency pantry, whereas my improved recipe might be better suited to cooking from your garden. Both have applications!

Dad in Mexico, 2006

Dad's Spinach Curry

for six people:

2 pounds beef stew meat
canola or other vegetable oil, for sautéing
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
2-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp allspice, ground
1-2 tablespoons hot curry powder
1 large can diced tomatoes
2 large cans spinach
salt and pepper

In a large pot, heat oil and fry meat, stirring to brown on all sides. Add onion, garlic, and spices. Keep turning. When well browned, add canned vegetables and turn heat to medium low. Simmer for two to three hours, until meat is falling apart. Serve over white rice.

Aimee's Variation:

-2 pounds beef stew meat - from a local, grass fed operation, your neighbor if possible.
-canola or other vegetable oil (olive oil might be healthier, but it has a strong flavor and a low smoke point. For Indian food, neutral veggie oil is better)
- 2 yellow onions
- 3-5 cloves garlic (love the garlic)
- 3-5 fresh green chiles, either jalapeno or serrano, sliced
- 5-10 allspice berries, whole, along with 3-5 whole cloves, a small piece of whole cinnamon stick, a pinch whole cumin, and a big pinch black peppercorns. combine in a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle and grind until fairly smooth
- 1/2 tablespoon tumeric powder
- 1 tblspn high quality fresh curry powder - like Madras but Kashmiri is good too (can be eliminated if needed. you have lots of other spices here. Add some dried red chiles)
-2 large cans diced tomatoes (home canned if you got them, or a full pound of vine ripe tomatoes, chopped, if it is the right time of year)
- 2-3 pounds fresh greens - spinach is nice, but also mustard, collards, kale, mizuna, beet greens, radish greens, dandelion, or chard. Tough greens like kale or collards should be blanched and squeezed dry, but soft greens can be left raw.

Heat oil and fry stew meat over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, and spices and turn frequently until fragrant and browned (at least twenty minutes).
Add tomatoes and simmer for a few minutes. Then add greens, handful by handful. As the greens cook down, you may need to add a few cups of water. Keep at a rapid simmer for a couple of hours, until meat is falling apart. Serve over rice - white or brown as your preference dictates. I also like whole wheat tortillas (or chapati - almost the same thing) and some chopped cilantro.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Poppy Update

The farrier was back again yesterday. He removed her big pink shoes and trimmed them a little and then replaced them, adding another layer of big pink foam underneath. He tapped her hooves, testing for pain, and found that she is only very slightly sore. He said she's a 1 on a scale of 4. I asked if he thought X-rays were necessary and he said no, not at this point. His recommendations are to keep her indoors for another day or two, finish the course of anti-inflammatories, and come back in a week to check her feet again. He said most likely at that point she can go barefoot, but if she isn't better then he will have to put wooden and plastic shoes on her.

He also said that I absolutely MUST separate Rosie from Poppy. AT 20 months old, Poppy is still nursing now and then and Rosie totally lets her. The extra calories are doing her no good at all, especially right now. It's time to forcibly wean.

So poor Rosie is all by herself in the sacrifice area, getting rained on, while Poppy and the goats are bundled up warm, and dry in the big barn.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Poppy in Trouble (A Girl and her Pony)

A couple of years ago, I rescued a shetland mare named Rosie. I had stopped in on a whim at a horse sale in my neighborhood and there, among the fine Arabians and Pureblooded Thoroughbreds, was this dumpy little grey pony with a couple of half-grown foals at her side. The woman running the auction could only tell me that her name was Rosie, she was about eight years old, had been born and lived her life in a free-running and free-breeding herd on a large Eastern Washington ranch, that she was halter-broke but no more, and that she was mine for $50. Otherwise she was headed to the local auction, which is more or less a death sentence.

I bought her, on condition that she be delivered, since I don't own a trailer. For some time, I entertained fantasies of turning her into a riding pony (Pony Love), but fairly soon realized that Rosie was far too wild to ever be more than a pasture pet. Nonetheless, I was overjoyed at having a pony again for the first time since I was twelve years old, and at the possibility of giving my children the chance to know equine love.

Nobody told me - because I presume nobody knew - that Rosie was pregnant. The spring after she came to live with us, she gave birth to a beautiful chestnut filly with a wide white blaze whom we christened Poppy. Poppy has been a delight since the day she was born - at first awkward and adorable, and then amazing us with a rate of growth that quickly outstripped her dam and made us wonder just what the hell sort of equine giant Rosie had mated with. I have come to feel blessed by the chance to work with Poppy from her childhood (foal-hood?) and, if I am diligent, to provide my own children with the life-affirming relationship with a horse that I enjoyed as a child. There's a story for another day - but for now, let's just say that my relationship with a pony when I was six to twelve years old was one of the most fulfilling bonds I've ever known - even now I remember that relationship with a tenderness and love that I can't apply to any other relationship in my life.

That might sound odd. If so, substitute "dog" for "pony" and think of popular tales like "Old Yeller." A Boy and his Dog is a theme celebrated in American literature. The theme of a girl and her horse is less celebrated, but I assure you the bond is just as strong. I have plans for Poppy Pony, and those plans involve making available to my children the great love than can exist between a girl and her horse.

Not to mention, Poppy is just a total sweetheart. She has grown into a big strong pony some twelve hands high, sturdy, bright, affectionate, and willing. She is a deep, bright red with a somewhat curly hide; a bright eye, and a muscular body with a deep chest and a strong arched neck. She likes to lick and nibble like a puppy. She stands for the farrier, allows injections, and kets me lift all four of her feet. I personally adore her more than it feels seemly to say.

When the farrier came two weeks ago, he told me that Poppy had been into something: she had blood in all four of her toes and that's a big deal. He trimmed up her feet so as to put the least amount of pressure possible on her toes and told me to be on the lookout for any signs of pain - bobbing her head when she walked, for example, or general stiffness.

Foundering, or laminitis ( Laminitis Page) is caused almost exclusively by an overdose of rich feed like grain or apples. I have no idea how Poppy might have gained access to such rich feed - our goat and chicken food is kept locked securely in a separate barn. The only thing I can think of is that Homero's nieces, who were here for some six weeks and who loved to go visit the horses, may have made a habit of feeding Poppy large amounts of grain. If they did feed her too much, it's entirely my own fault for not laying down the ground rules. Also, the recent hard freeze may have some of the blame - even a healthy horse can acquire similar symptoms by running over hard, uneven ground. If Poppy had some laminitis caused by overfeeding and then spent a lot of time running around over the hard-frozen ground, she could be exhibiting severe symptoms from multiple causes.

Whatever the cause, Poppy now has a medium-severe case of laminitis, and has been visited by the vet and the farrier multiple times over the last few days. They gave her a set of hoof-pads made out of thick pink foam insulation strapped on with duct tape. I will take a picture, I promise. She looks entirely silly. If she is not substantially better (as measured by...?) within a couple of days, then the vet will be back to take X-rays of her hooves. I am giving her anti-inflammatories morning and evening and confining her to the soft-floored barn.

Wish me luck. Horsey people, please give advice. I love this pony beyond words, and I want to relive her suffering and preserve her usefulness both. Thank you -

Sunday, January 9, 2011

With Apologies: Politics Again

I'm not usually overtly political in this forum, but I feel unable to sit quiet regarding the events in Tucson: The attempted assassination of a sitting U.S. congresswoman, presumably for her political beliefs, and the "collateral damage" of six innocent people, including a nine year old girl. Following is the text of a letter I wrote to Joel Connelly, a longtime columnist to the Seattle Times, who wrote a creditable piece on the rise of violent rhetoric in American politics. Editorials | Reject poisonous political rhetoric | Seattle Times Newspaper

My letter:

The scuttling of the the hard right to take cover behind pious words would be funny to watch if it weren't so calculated and disingenuous. They know as well as you and I do that their words are not innocuous. Every genocide of modern times has been preceded by a long period of ramping up of violent rhetoric towards the eventual victims. In Rwanda particularly, radio personalities and talking heads spent many many hours exhorting the public to murder. Not that I think the U.S. is on the brink of a domestic holocaust or anything, but the American people need to be reminded that before atrocities can take place, a climate of hatred and justification of violence must first be created. And the Right is working overtime to create such a climate.

I especially fear the incredibly incendiary language used against undocumented immigrants and their children. Many on the Right have been consciously constructing a culture of dehumanization against them, comparing them to livestock or to dogs (when talking about electrified fences and microchips), and attempting to strip Latino babies of their natural-born citizenship. I hate to admit it, but I can easily see a massive roundup and deportation campaign reminiscent of the Japanese internment camps of WWII. Concentration camps on the American landscape may seem farfetched, but not when you meditate on Sherrif Arapaio's circus in the desert and his staged forced marches of Mexican prisoners through the streets of Phoenix, where they are subject to the revilement and abuse of ordinary Americans. That such things can take place in this country without provoking massive outrage makes me both frightened and sad.

Aimee Day

Friends, I urge you not to remain silent about racism, political extremism, sexism, expressions of hatred or exhortations to violence. Most of us, like myself, have a very small pulpit, but whatever platform you have, be it as humble as the family dinner table, please use it to promote peace. No cause is so exalted as to justify assassination; no righteous ideology demands violence.

Peace be upon you,


Friday, January 7, 2011

Shoulder, Meet Wheel.

Now that things are back to normal - houseguests gone, holidays over, home improvement projects completed - I need to get back to work. Just catching up on the rounds. Making inventory of work that needs to be done and categorizing it.

-Work that can be done now, in the dead of winter, and that which needs to wait for spring.

-Work that requires cash funds and that which doesn't.

-Work I can do by myself, and that which requires masculine muscle.

-Work that has to be hired out.

-Work that requires tools we don't own, and the work of acquiring or renting them.

-Work that is quickly accomplished, and work towards long-term goals.

-Work that is long overdue.

-Work related to livestock or farm equipment and work related to running of the household and the raising of the children.

-Work related to Homero's business.

-Physical work and mental work.

Clearly, there are a lot of different ways to cut up the work-pie. Those categories were written in about twenty-five seconds. And I haven't even begun to talk about prioritizing the work. A few things that spring immediately to mind, in no particular order:

-Preparing the taxes for Homero's business. That always takes me a good month, and although it feels far away, April is right around the corner.

- Finishing the greenhouse. The men left it 85% finished, but it won't be usable until we have sealed it, added the last bits of siding, and caulked all the glass panels. Luckily, we have until March. Also, get some open-sided shelves and potting benches and decide how to organize the space in there. At 10 x 12, the greenhouse is plenty big enough for a single family, if I make good use of the space.

- Put up the cattle panels around the small pasture so I can put the goats in there along with the horses. This should have been done in November, so as to get all hoofed animals off of the back pasture for the wet season, but we didn't have the money to buy panels then. Now that we do, I have bought most of the requisite panels, but haven't done the grunt work of putting them up. So the goats are still hard at work destroying the main pasture, which is their - and our - bread and butter.

- Stock up on basic farm supplies. It looks like the hay we bought from neighbors last fall will last out the winter, but I have been skimping on grain for the pregnant goats, and they are starting to get skinny. Also, there have been no minerals out for them for a couple of months now, and minerals are vital during pregnancy. Otherwise I might get a whole crop of floppy kids come springtime.

- Seed the pasture with grass seed, as soon as I get the goats off of it. I have such trouble with pesky weeds (hemlock, buttercup, thistle, tansy, burdock, oxeye daisy, etc) that I over-seed every year. It certainly doesn't eliminate weeds, but I think it helps give the grass a fighting chance. This can be done anytime between now and mid-April.

- shovel out the deep litter in the main barn. We've been using the deep litter system (keep throwing fresh straw over all the poop, daily) since mid-November. It probably makes sense to leave it until mud season comes to an end in late March, but if we do that, we won't be able to use the resulting compost this year in the garden. Goat and horse poop is fine, but chicken poop needs to be composted for at least a few months before you can plant directly in it. Therefore, it makes sense to get the deep litter out of the barn and onto the compost pile ASAP. That is not something I can do - it needs Homero-sized muscle. And even for him, it's an all-day job.

- order seeds for spring. Do a little research - this year I have a greenhouse, so I will be ordering a slightly different profile of plants than in most years. For the most part, I see the greenhouse as a season extender, but it is awfully tempting to try a few things that would otherwise be impossible, like melons, hot chiles, eggplants, and basil.

Okay, that's a good start. That ought to keep me occupied for a while, dontcha think?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Farm Folks Are Friendly (Home-style Goat Tacos)

Like most other bloggers, I suspect, I have an online community made up of people who read my blog and leave comments and of those whose blogs I read and comment on. As you can see by the blogroll on my sidebar (oh wow, I'm afraid the internet has not, generally speaking, given rise to poetic turns of phrase), my community is mostly made up of other farmer/homesteader types, both nearby and far away. One of the cooler blogs run by a neighbor of mine is the Schoonover Farm blog. D. and her husband run a great little operation in the Skagit valley focused mostly on fiber. Here is a photo of a few of her animals, healthy and sassy in the dead of winter. I especially like the white guy in the right background caught in the middle of a caprine leap.

D. Schoonover contacted me not so long ago, via the blog, and asked me if I'd be interested in a goat of hers as food. She had a particular wether (castrated male) who was very aggressive and they had decided to put him down. They themselves are not fans of goat meat, but she knew that my family is, and did we want to pick him up and make use of him?

Well, hell, we sure did! She may have been inspired to make this generous offer by my incessant whining about how much food it takes to feed eleven people a day when you are accustomed to feeding only five (my in-laws were in town for an extended visit). I think that my duck-hunting neighbor may also have been moved to donate his kill to us after reading my post on how much money I was spending at Costco (Quack Quack Christmas (Shout Out to Zion)). This same neighbor came by New Year's Eve morning with a gigantic turkey - storebought, not hunted - and said that as he and his wife were going out of town on an extended trip, we'd be doing them a favor by accepting the bird. Doubtful though I was about this claim, I nonetheless took the turkey with alacrity and gratitude. It was delicious.

As was D.'s wether. Early New Year's Day, I sent my husband and his brother and sister down to pick up the goat (who had been swiftly and mercifully dispatched by D.). We called on our trusty goat-butchering-buddy, Crecencio, to come and help us and of course to bring his family and feast with us. Homero did not wait for Crecencio to arrive, but began right away to skin and gut the goat. He said he's witnessed at least four slaughters and ought to be able to do it himself by now.
Once again, as with the roadkill deer (New To Farm Life: The Redneck Rubicon (WARNING - GRAPHIC)), we found that a sturdy swingset makes a mighty fine gallows, and a plastic kiddie pool a very serviceable receptacle for guts and such. I made myself scarce, so I can't say much about how the actual butchering went. By eleven o'clock in the morning, the goat was dismembered and firmly ensconced in a truly enormous kettle, along with various Mexican seasonings, and spent the next four hours steaming gently over a wood fire.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, I, Mama, Temy, and Crecencio's wife Maricela went to work cooking the accompaniments. Basically we were making tacos, which means that the only truly necessary sides are a couple of different salsas, finely chopped onion and cilantro, and quartered limes. I have been a guest in Maricela's kitchen a few times now, and her salsas are absolutely divine, so I stood aside and let her go to town in my kitchen. However, I watched extremely closely and can now offer a couple of recipes:

Salsa Verde Cruda - Raw Green Sauce

several tomatillos - about eight - husked and rinsed
1 bunch cilantro, stemmed and rinsed
3-5 serranos (if you like it hot) or jalapenos (if you like it hot but a little less so)
1/2 medium yellow onion, skinned and chopped
juice of one fat lime

combine all ingredients in blender and blend until nearly but not quite smooth.

Salsa Roja Cocida - Cooked Red Sauce

1 oz chile de arbol - small dried red chiles (1 package) or more to taste.
1 lb tomatillos, husked and rinsed
2 cloves garlic
pinch cumin seed

In a shallow pot, simmer whole chiles for 15-20 minutes. Then add tomatillos and continue to simmer another 20-30 minutes. Transfer to blender along with other ingredients. Blend until as smooth as it's going to get. Salt to taste. This salsa is extremely hot - watch out!

I also cooked a pot of black beans as a side dish. Add a tall stack of fresh hot corn tortillas and you are good to go! Some people might like sour cream or avocado slices, or some finely grated cotija cheese, but we are purists. Do not, however, neglect a case of icy cold Corona or Pacifico beer.

Happy New Year to all, and a great shout of thanks to the Schoonover Farm Family, who, I can testify, really know how to raise a goat!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Adios Family (Thankfulness)

My relatives left this afternoon. I feel good about the visit, for all kinds of reasons - my kids have a closer relationship with their Abuelita (Grandma) and Tia (Auntie) and Primas (cousins). They have made a connection with their Mexican heritage that will last, even if they don't recognize it for years to come. They speak better Spanish now - it was wonderful to eavesdrop on the girls playing and hear Hope and Paloma speaking in full sentences, even negotiating and arguing in Spanish. And they just had an old fashioned good time over the holidays, playing in the snow, decorating the Christmas tree, and jumping on the trampoline. My nieces had never seen snow before, and so the six inches we got in the Thanksgiving storm was a real treat for them. It was a blast to watch the girls rolling around in the snow and playing with a delight and exuberance usually seen only in puppies experiencing their first snowfall.

I derived some real benefits as well - for years I have wanted to know my sister-in-law better. Since the first time I met her, I recognized that Temy is an extraordinary person. She is a doctor, having gone through medical school while also semi-raising her four younger brothers. She has an impressive array of talents, able to sew a wedding gown or fix a leaky faucet, able - according to my husband - to work like a man and also to be a tender mother and friend. Last year, Temy and I became Comadres when she agreed to stand as Godmother to Paloma at her baptism. Anglo-Saxons unfamiliar with Latino culture will not understand, but finally becoming a comadre was like entering into the family's inner circle at last (Compadre - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).

This visit was long enough for Temy and I to really enjoy each other's company; to get to know each other in a way we hadn't before, and to exchange life histories and practical skills. She taught me some rudimentary sewing skills; I taught her how to bake real bread and keep a sourdough culture alive. Temy also worked several long days helping Homero finish his shop and pitched in wholeheartedly in the general running of the household. It was a joy to spend time with my comadre and to get to know her lovely children better.

I have already mentioned that I also am gaining a very nice greenhouse, thanks to my brother-in-law and his friend. That will be a very present help come March. But the very best gift from this visit, the most important benefit, is that I hosted six house-guests for six weeks and retained my sanity and my good humor. That is not something I would have predicted. I'm not saying it was always easy - in fact, there were a couple of occasions when I totally broke down in wrenching sobs (thanks sis and mom for being there when I needed you), but on the whole, I bore up much better than I think anyone expected. After all, I was given less than 24 hours notice that I would be sharing my home with six other people for an unspecified amount of time - not a situation that most American girls are raised to anticipate, am I right? And Homero and I have a history, when it comes to family. I'm not going into detail, but let's just say it's a history that would lead him to believe I might not be up to the job of long-term hostess to his family.

Today after they left, my husband turned to me and said "I am so incredibly grateful, Amor, that you were so welcoming and kind and so patient with my family. I know it wasn't easy for you. I'm so proud of you and so happy. They all had a wonderful time. Thank you. You don't know how much your effort means to me."

Maybe not, but I know how much that little speech means to me. Those words were the greatest good that came out of this visit. Thank you, in-laws, for coming here for such a long visit, for putting me to the test and giving me a chance to rise to the occasion. Thank you, for everything you did while you were here - for the help with the house, for the cooking and cleaning and carpentry, for the sweet care of my children, for the friendship offered and the skills taught. But most of all, thank you for the opportunity to show the depth of my love, loyalty, and solidarity to my husband. Thank you for the chance to prove the same to myself.