"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Ill-Timed Harvest (Bowls of Cherries)

The cherry trees are loaded. The cherry harvest is nearly over, in fact - the cherries are early this year, as is all the fruit. We have been picking cherries off the low-hanging branches of our three cherry trees for a week or so. Today, though, it suddenly occurred to my husband that if we didn't pick the cherries - NOW! TODAY! - they would fall on the ground and be wasted while we are in Oaxaca. 

Waste is a cardinal sin in his moral universe, so he marshaled the troops and drove the Case loader into the orchard. He lifted the girls in the loader up to the higher branches and told them to get picking. Within an hour, they had brought some twenty pounds of cherries into the house. These are Rainiers, beautiful yellow cherries with a pink blush. Rainier are the most highly prized local cherry, commanding a premium at the grocery store. Myself, I actually prefer the black cherries like Bings. I think they have a deeper, more intense flavor. 

No matter how much we enjoy them, however, it's unlikely we will be able to eat twenty pounds of fresh cherries by tomorrow night. I haven't got the time to try and process them. I don't even know how to process fresh cherries, other than by pitting them and submerging them in a jar of 100 proof vodka. So I think we will simply eat as many as we can and send the rest to the compost pile. 

When we planned this trip, I knew we would be missing strawberry season and raspberry season, but I assumed we would be home before the blueberry harvest and certainly before the would blackberries were ripe. Now I don't know - the blueberry U-pick farms are open already and the blackberries are already in the hard green stage. We may miss berry season entirely. 

All the more reason to gorge ourselves on cherries right now. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Oaxaca Trip (Bad Timing)

It's been three full years since we returned from our year in Oaxaca (for more about that trip, see my sister blog, www.newtomexicanlife.blogspot.com). Three years is a long time in the girls' lives - they were children of eight and nine when we returned and now they are young ladies of eleven and twelve. Their memories of Oaxaca are hazy - especially Paloma's, who is the youngest - and their fluency in Spanish has taken a few giant leaps backward.
Therefore we were very happy to be able to plan a fairly long trip this summer - six weeks. We are supposed to leave on Friday. Back in February or March, there was a short period of time when airfare was very cheap. It was so cheap that we decided to fly all the way to Oaxaca, instead of flying to Mexico City and going the rest of the way by bus, as we usually do. Mama was ecstatic that we would be bringing her grand babies back to her, and the girls were delighted at the prospect of seeing their cousins. In fact, since they are so grown up now, we thought we would let the girls stay at Tia Temy's house with their cousins, and Homero and I would stay at Mama's house, fifteen minutes away by car. Maybe we'd even be able to get away for a three-or-four day trip, all by ourselves. 

Then this happened:
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Fires set by protesters to block the road

And this: 

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a truck carrying chickens set ablaze and used to blockade the highway

And this:

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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.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Cows and Compromise

One of Homero's clients just traded him a newborn Jersey heifer for a complete engine rebuild on his truck. She's healthy and adorable, and came to us on the day after she was born, after 24 hours on her mom for the colostrum. The first bottle feeding didn't go very well, but she learned quickly and is now able to suck down her twice-daily two liters in about three minutes flat. We are giving her a mixture of milk-replacer and fresh goat's milk - which is something we have too much of at the moment.

Haku is being gentle with the baby. He is very interested, but not frantically exited, the way he was with the baby goats a few months ago. I don't know if he is calming down in general around the livestock or if baby goats are simply more enticing than baby cows (I certainly think so). 

Homero says she weighs about sixty pounds. 

We set her up in the calf hutch, in the small pasture all by herself where she won't get bullied by the goats or the ponies. Just like any bottle baby, she is extremely friendly and runs up to us for attention whenever we come near. I have to admit she is endearing, even though I am not a fan of cows, in general. 

In fact Homero and I have had a few arguments about cows in the past, and I was not in favor of accepting a cow in trade for work. You can read all about my objection to cows and my (very reasonable and valid) arguments in favor of goats as a superior livestock option here: Imaginary Cows. For those who won't click the link, my argument can be boiled down to "we don't have enough land for a cow." 

However, Rowan and Homero are both over the moon about the baby. Rowan has adopted her as her own special pet and taken responsibility for feedings. Homero is already looking forward to milking her. Who am I to stand in the way of such happiness?

As much as I am loath to admit it, I have been pretty selfish about molding the farm in the image I have nurtured in my own mind and not ceding much, if anything, to the imaginings and dreams of others in the family. Homero and I have wrangled about the size of his shop; the amount of land he wanted to devote to a parking area; and how many non-running automobiles ought to be allowed to accumulate thereon. Rowan and I have wrangled about the garden space and the use of the greenhouse, and the species and placement of trees. 

Truly, I don't think of myself as a control-freak; but then again I am comparing myself in my head to my own mother, who is undeniably a control-freak of epic proportions. I suppose it is possible that others in my family might see me as just a tiny bit.... well, inflexible. 

Over the years, Homero has adopted the very effective tactic of, rather than debating with me beforehand,  simply presenting me with a fait accompli. This new cow is the latest example. She was just there one day when I got home from work. 

In my own defense, I will say that I think I have shown adaptability and if not grace, well, then at least resignation when these things happen. I am resigned to the new cow. Her name is Nettles. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Shear Siliness


We cannot afford to hire a professional shearer to shear our lone sheep, nor would one likely agree to come out to the farm for such a small commission. Shearing a few animals, like haying a few acres, is just not a paying proposition. However, the poor sheep needed to be sheared, just for her own comfort. We are going to be gone all summer, and the poor thing can not be left with ten pound s or more of wool on her back. This is what we were able to do with sewing scissors, in about twenty minutes. Most of the wool is off the sheep: although we won't be able to use it for spinning or felting, it did make a great silly wig.