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.
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
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.
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
|My High Summer Altar|
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
In recent days, as I took Haku outside in the evenings to run around in the orchard, I've noticed that a couple of trees in the orchard are so heavily laden with fruit that the branches are actually sitting on the ground. Specifically, the Italian plum and one of the pear trees - the Comice - were so bowed down that I made a mental note to get out and pick some fruit as soon as possible.
Then a couple of days went by. This morning Homero told me that the plum tree had broken nearly in half.
I said "No, the big branch is just sitting on the ground, that's all."
He said "Go take a look."
The biggest branch was indeed broken. It must have happened just that day, because the leaves were still bright green and crisp. I ran for a bucket and with Homero's help, stripped off five gallons of plums from just that one broken branch in five minutes flat. We didn't even get all the plums from that branch - many of them fell on the ground and we didn't even bother to pick them up.
The plums are not quite ripe, but it doesn't matter, because I looked it up and plums ripen beautifully off the tree. In two or three days I will have a bushel (more or less) of ripe plums, not even counting those still on the tree. The still-on-the-tree plums account for at least four fifths of the total. I tried to think of something to do with five gallons of plums. Drying comes to mind, of course, but really - who likes prunes that much? And I am not much of a jam-master. If I'm going to attempt to make jam I will make blackberry jam, which we all like, rather than risking going to all the work of canning jam only to find out that nobody enjoys the end product.
That left wine.
I don't have much experience with making alcohol. Sure; a side effect of fresh cider is tepache (naturally fermented fresh juice) - and I have occasionally expanded upon wild fermentation and ventured into the alchemy of hard cider - with mixed results. But I have never set out deliberately to create "wine" which seems for some reason very serious and highbrow, even when made from an accidental glut of plums instead of fancy pedigreed grapes.
Today I went to our local home-brew store and told them what I was up to and ended up spending something over $50 in tubing, plastic airlocks, yeast, and specialized equipment. Chances are better than even that I will not produce anything drinkable by any but a late-stage alcoholic, but I'm going to try.
The pears are a whole 'nother story.
For one thing, they mostly will not ripen on the tree and demand careful and specific post-harvest handling in order to reach peak perfection. For another thing, the time period between "peak perfection" and "post-perfection" is about fifteen minutes.
Also - The pears arrive in tsunami-sized waves. So when I try to think of something to do with the pears, I am thinking about seventy-five or eighty pears at a time, not six or eight, which would be the perfect number to make into a pie.
With that in mind, I went and bought a dozen wide-mouth quart sized canning jars. I figure I can make a few gallons of pear-sauce; hopefully mixed with blackberry if I can coerce my children into picking a few pints.
I may also try Car-dehydrating. The weather has been unrelentingly hot. It's supposed to hit 90 degrees tomorrow and stay there through the weekend. I have read that in this kind of heat, you can lay our thin slices of fruit on foil-covered trays and put them in your car. The temperature inside will reach 150-175 quite quickly. Basically, if it would kill your dog, it will dehydrate your pears.
But by far the best option is to trade some of my fruit for something else that I want more. I put out the word today over social media and within minutes had received offers to trade plums for locally caught trout; for freshly harvested green beans; and for assorted canning jars. That's neighborliness at its best.
Friday, August 5, 2016
Friday, July 15, 2016
One of the main things I wanted to do during our six weeks in Mexico was take a significant roadtrip to see some Mayan ruins.
Posted by Aimee at 10:45 PM
Tuesday, July 5, 2016
My fears about finding Oaxaca in a state of anarchy were overblown. Yes, the zocalo is covered in tarps and tents, filled with teachers conducting a prolonged sit-in.
Posted by Aimee at 2:50 PM
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
|Fires set by protesters to block the road|
|a truck carrying chickens set ablaze and used to blockade the highway|
|civil unrest in Nochixtlan|
The perennial dispute between the branch of the teacher's union known as section 22 and the federal government has once again flared into violence, as it has been doing every couple of years since at least 2006. This particular exacerbation is probably the worst since that time. Eight protestors have been killed by police, and there are fires and marches and blockades and rocks being thrown and molotov cocktails being tossed and batons swinging all over town.
Blockades are nothing new, and for the most part have been traditionally seen as nothing more than annoyances - inconvenient, yes, but a legitimate tactic nonetheless, like a strike. In fact I would venture to say that most Oaxacans view blockades and strikes with a kind of grudging admiration: "these people have guts" sort of thing. If it weren't for these people putting themselves on the line we'd all be ground under the heel of the imperialist oppressor. At worst, a blockade is met with a resigned shrug.
That changed, however, at least among the people I knew, a few years ago when the teacher's strike dragged on so long that schoolchildren missed almost a half a year of school. Those who could afford to sent their children to private schools. Those who couldn't do that had to miss work to care for kids or else leave them at home alone. Blockaders were so inflexible that a woman died in an ambulance that was not allowed to cross the blockade to the hospital. Tourism shrank away to nothing and many jobs were lost.
This time looks to be pretty bad. But it's so hard to judge without being there. A friend of mine who lives in the city center says that the blockades are so bad that grocery stores are running out of food. He said all he could buy at the local market was potatoes, yams, and cucumbers. Mama, on the other hand, just returned from a trip to Tuxtepec and said her bus had no trouble with blockades and that the stores in her neighborhood are perfectly well-stocked. She and my siblings-in-law are pooh-poohing the situation and say that we ought to come down as planned. In three days.
Here is a case where differing cultural expectations can be glaring. When I expressed concern to Homero that there might be a blockade on the road leading from the airport to the city, so that we might be stuck at the airport with no way to get to mama's house, he waved off my fears.
"The blockades are only stopping vehicles," he said. "you can walk around. It's only a few miles."
Somehow, the idea of attempting to traverse "a few miles" of terrain like that in these photos - a terrain littered with tire-fires, riot police, dead chickens, and rock-throwing youth does not inspire confidence. Especially when I imagine having to do it in 90 degree heat, with young children in tow, dragging all our luggage. I know those Oaxaca highways and even at the best of times they are not suited to those little plastic suitcase wheels.
Thus far we have not been able to contact the airline. My brother suggested that given the situation, the airline would probably waive the change-date fees. Maybe - IF we could get ahold of a human. But really, what good would that do? Who knows when the situation will be any better? Homero spent an hour attempting to contact the customer service department of AreoMexico and only succeeded in soliciting the information (from a computerized voice) that the change-date fee is $250/ticket.
I think we will go. Nothing is ever as bad as it looks on the news.
But I'm bringing a carton of Cliff bars in my carryon.