"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

O (Dead) Christmas Tree

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

Winter Stores (First World Problems)

I feel pretty good about the state of the larder going into winter this year. I had a very successful canning season and as you can see, my indoor pantry is pretty well stocked.

 I think I have about twenty quarts of tomato sauces, half Mexican and half Italian flavors. I use these for all sorts of basic applications - cooking Mexican rice; simmering chicken thighs; dressing pasta. My tomato preserves are part of the hardworking, everyday dinner rotation. If I could can three times as many, I'd use three times as many. 

Other canned goods in the pantry include pickled jalapeños (also a staple); bread and butter pickles (more likely an ingredient or a gift); pepper jelly (Christmas gifts); and blackberry jam (destined for use in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches all school year long). 

There are six or eight small jars of cajeta (goat's milk caramel) left over from 2015. Not sure what to do with those. Maybe send them out as Christmas gifts, or maybe open them and start using as coffee sweetener and pancake topping. 
In the "Christmas gift" category, I still plan to can some small jars of lemon curd , which is delicious and can also be made from ingredients I get from the gleaner's pantry. 

Besides home canned goods, the indoor pantry is pretty well stocked with store bought dry goods. There's a case of canned black beans, ditto garbanzos;
A twenty pound sack of white rice and a ten pound sack of brown rice. Five gallons of dried pinto beans. Ten pounds of lentils. A case of canned tuna. A shelf full of condiments like soy sauce and vinegars and Thai curry paste and mustard. 

The freezer is crammed full. We bought a lot of beef this year, and then there was an amazing bounty of frozen fish from the gleaner's a few weeks ago. The freezer is so full that we have put off butchering the
young wether goat because there is simply no place to put him. Ditto a half a dozen young roosters we were recently gifted. They are alive simply because we don't have the space for their carcasses. 

This is the definition of a first-world problem. "I have so much food that there's no place to store it all!" I don't enjoy just basic food security - I enjoy layers of food security. I have ready to cook food staples in my pantry, AND a bunch of live on-the-hoof protein that I could call on if the need arose. I'm rich beyond the dreams of previous generations. 

Thanks be for all the abundance in my local food-shed. Lady of abundance, help me make the maximum use of all that comes my way and to be generous and open-handed. Let all this abundance serve the greatest number possible. Let it
Inspire me - and all those who have similar abundance - to invite others into their homes and to sit at their tables. Let it be a medium of friendship. Let us all break bread together. Amen.