"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Monday, November 30, 2015

Advent Event Calendar (Slaying the a dragon of Christmas)

The advent-event calendar that I was so excited about in the last post is a reality. It only took me one trip to the dollar store and an hour on the computer looking up local events. It's amazing how many free and low cost events there are in our little town. Many of them, it's true, are aimed at children much younger than mine. I keep forgetting that my kids are both in double digits now. 

This afternoon when the girls got home from school we opened the first door. Tomorrow's event is making Christmas cards and ornaments at the library. 

I wasn't able to find events for every single day, of course, but I wasn't trying to. I saved several days for the things we do every year anyway- bringing in the Christmas tree, hanging lights, decorating cookies. In all probability we won't go to all the events on the calendar, but it's fun and exciting just to open the doors every day. 

The advent event calendar is my latest and best idea to date in the ongoing effort to make the holiday season about experiences rather than about stuff. Like most American families, we do not suffer from an acute lack of "stuff." Personally, I feel quite the opposite - I often feel like I am drowning in "stuff" I don't use or need and am constantly trying to get it out the door. 

More and more lately, I am also feeling the press of time; there are so few years left with my children while they are still young enough to enjoy things like cutting snowflakes or Christmas pageants. Thank God for Rowan - at 22 she has been through her evil adolescence and come through the other side a sweet and wonderful young woman. She actually enjoys our family rituals, and she gives me hope that - after a few years of rebellion and snark - my younger children will enjoy them as adults too. 

Festive holiday season to you all. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Idea of the Year! Patent Pending!

A minute ago, I was reading a friend's blog ( The Well Run Dry ) and he was, as most of us do, lamenting the fact that the upcoming Christmas Season encourages blind commercialism and reduces the meaning of the holiday ("Holy Day") to something along the lines of an excel spreadsheet. I don't know a single person who doesn't hate this aspect of the season, yet we are all swept away on a tide of advertising and guilt, spending more than we intend or can afford, year after year on stuff that we don't need and that (in many cases) the recipients don't even want.

I composed a reply, saying that I tried to emphasize experiences over things, and in the middle of typing that sentence,  I had a flash of inspiration.

"I just had a total brain wave. Oh my gosh this is such a good idea! There are in my small town, as in most, I'm sure, a million christmas activities planned - tree lighting ceremonies, public caroling, concerts, card-making for kids at the library, stuff like that. I am going to make AN ADVENT CALENDAR OF EVENTS!!! Am I genius or what? I'll search the local papers and online event calendars, and I have no doubt I can find SOMETHING for almost every day between Dec 1st and Christmas day. Choirs visiting various churches. Craft Bazaars. Showings of Christmas movies at senior centers. I'll make an actual Advent calendar, with little paper doors that open, and behind each door will be that day's event! We won't have to go to all of them, but I bet the kids will LOVE opening the doors and seeing what we could go do."

If there are days for which I don't find any planned events, I can put one of our own traditions, like "make our own wrapping paper with potato stamps" or "cookie decorating party."

I'm so proud of myself right now I can't even tell you.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Slaughter Season (More Meat Math)

This week we made a lot of room on the farm. Most notably, the pig (seen here a couple of months ago) met his fate, at the capable hands of our local mobile butcher, later to appear in his final form as chops and bacon on our table. 

Half of him was sold, on Craigslist, for $3.00/lb. that's on the low end, but most of the pork that is advertised at a higher price has labels like "organic feed only" or "no GMO feed" attached to it, and ours doesn't. 

The hanging weight was 163 lbs, and half that is 81.5, times $3.00/lb and I collected $244.00. Considering that the pig himself cost us $200 originally, and that he was fed almost entirely from the gleaners' pantry (plus a couple bags of conventional feed), I think we did very well. Without figuring it to the penny, our own pork is basically free, not counting labor of course. 

Today I took the turkeys to a neighbor to be processed. I thought Homero would do it, but he asked me to see if I could find someone to do it at a reasonable
price, and I did. I paid $10 per bird, half in cash and half in grass fed beef. 

I'll be picking up two of them tomorrow morning - I needed one tonight for a person who is going out of town early on the morning. That turkey weighed a full 20 pounds, which is $80 at $4/lb. bigger than I expected - and frankly, bigger than the lady wanted. But what can you do? I didn't weigh them live. Suppose I might have. 

If the other two turkeys are the same weight, then I'll make a total of $160 on the turkeys (the third one is for our own table). So many turkeys died this year that I think we are not even breaking even. The chicks cost about $65. We started them on expensive game bird feed - another $20. After that they were also largely fed from the gleaners' pantry, but I know we bought at least four bags of feed, costing altogether about $65. Add that up, it's $150. So, let's say it worked out about the same as the pig - our own meat is free. 

If I could figure out how to keep turkey chicks alive to maturity, they would be very lucrative. We began with 8 this year, and ended up with three. In past years, the survival rate has been better (over 50%) but it's never been really satisfactory. People tell me that turkeys are fussy, hard to raise. I guess so. 

They sure are delicious, though. Thanksgiving is at my house this year. I'm looking forward to hostessing. No matter how costly, it is a real pleasure to offer my family a big traditional centerpiece that we raised ourselves. This will be the third year in a row that we have eaten our own pastured turkey for thanksgiving. It's always wonderful. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Bog of Eternal Stench, The Dog from Hell, and Bad Knees

Once again it is November, number one on the list of months I wish I could fast-forward through, closely followed by February. Torrential rains have turned the barnyard - as always this time of year - into a sucking swamp. There is still a small pile of hog fuel we could spread, but so far we haven't been able to figure out how to do that without the pig charging out of the yard and into the backyard.

The pig has been able to get out of his pen for months now, and he has rooted up huge clumps of the pasture. He is now about 350 pounds, and that's no joke hurtling towards you at high speed and emitting high-pitched screams at the volume of a Van Halen concert, circa 1984.  The pig has a date with destiny, courtesy of our local mobile butcher, in a little over a week, so the problem will work itself out soon enough.

I did make a deal, way back last spring, with a tree service guy to trade cheese all summer in exchange for cedar chips come fall. He has called a couple of times, but we haven't been able to nail down a delivery, and now it is looking more and more doubtful that I will ever receive any chips.  That's the risk of trading for future goods. Meanwhile, the mud threatens to come up over my boot-tops.

Haku, our new German Shepherd puppy, has apparently made it his mission to tear my entire house into bite-sized chunks. I would post a picture of our playroom, if I could figure out how under the new operating system, but that would probably bring FEMA down on our heads. Seriously, it looks like - well, like a German Shepherd puppy has torn apart two queen-sized mattresses and one large sofa, not to mention gnawed an antique Victorian dollhouse to matchsticks and knocked over a shelf full of board games, torn up the boxes and ripped up all the cards, etc,  and evenly distributed all the chewed-up bits. I figure there's no point in cleaning it all up until he's finished - it might keep him occupied enough to leave a few of our furnishings alone. Why he isn't interested in the fifteen chew-toys I've bought for him I have no idea.

Homero has been suffering greatly this fall from a torn meniscus in his right knee. As a mechanic, he spends a lot of time getting up and down onto a concrete floor, sometimes squatting and sometimes kneeling. His knee will freeze up on him and leave him hobbling back to the house, unable to work for the rest of the day. He hates to take medicine of any kind; apparently he prefers to lay about looking pitiful and asking me to bring him stuff.

I know I sound unsympathetic - and maybe I am. He never reads this blog, so I feel free to say that his knee is nowhere near as bad as mine was - MY meniscus had two big "bucket handle" tears and various smaller tears.  My ACL was completely severed (the surgeon who read my MRI report used the word "trashed" to describe the state of my joint). Without health insurance, I had no choice but to live with it for four long years. I did my share of bitching and moaning - I'm not saying I didn't. I'm just saying I know how he feels, and then some. And then some more.

In my case, as soon as the ACA kicked in and we could finally afford health insurance, and the insurance companies couldn't exclude pre-existing conditions, I scheduled surgery and Hallelujah it has been almost a total cure. They had to remove almost all of the meniscus, and I was told that I'd need a total knee replacement sooner or later, but the pain has almost entirely disappeared, and the instability has been reduced by about 75%. The surgery - first surgery I ever had, unless you count wisdom teeth - was a piece of cake. From the time I woke up in the recovery room I was in less pain than I had been the day before. The next day I was walking on the beach.

Homero has been reluctant to schedule surgery. I'm not sure why. He's never had surgery before either - not even wisdom teeth - so maybe he's afraid. I was. But just as everyone told me, the only thing I was sorry about is that I hadn't done it sooner. I guess Homero just had to wait until it got bad enough. He's finally having surgery at the end of this month. I hope it will be as good for him as it was for me.

The first part of December looks to be a nice quiet time. Homero will be recuperating, and I will be taking a break from work. Right now I'm just finishing up a big job that, though it has left me exhausted, will pay enough to ensure a merry christmas and let me take time off to nurse my husband back to health.

Now if it we could just get a nice, hard freeze to lock up all the mud.