Monday, May 28, 2018
My husband is a fortunate man in many respects. Not the least of which, obviously, is that he’s married to me. But the luck that I am thinking of is that of having his birthday on one of the most reliably beautiful dates of the year.
May 22 is his actual birthday; we tend to celebrate it on the following weekend, which is Memorial Day weekend. His friends and their children have a rare three day weekend, and the weather is almost always amenable, to say the least, and outrageously gorgeous, if we’re lucky.
This year, we were lucky. It has become something of a tradition to invite his best friends from Seattle up for a weekend carne asada. This year, we hosted three families - the best friend’s family, the best friend’s daughter’s family, and the best friend’s best friend’s family. Some of them brought their RV’s and stayed for two nights, and some of them stayed in the house for a night, and some of them just trekked up for a day trip.
Our own children had both been invited, separately, by friend’s families to go camping or sailing, so it was just Homero and I acting as hosts. I made machaca (also known as ropa vieja, or basically shredded pot roast stewed on the stovetop with sliced onions and spices) for tacos and after dinner we decamped to the fire pit on the highest point of the property.
Saturday night was a bit breezy and chilly, but we built a roaring bonfire, wrapped up in wool blankets and serapes, and warmed ourselves with tequila and stories. Nightfall comes late at the end of May, but eventually the sky deepened and a three-quarters full moon rose, attended by Jupiter rising in the east and Venus setting in the west.
Sunday brought hot sun and more people. We were awakened by the arrival of a new family and hurried to make coffee and set out sweetbread. Suddenly there was a swarm of little kids out on the lawn, running in circles and bouncing on the trampoline. After everyone had recuperated from the previous late night, one of the ladies, who is Salvadoreña, decided to help me make pupusas and curtido for lunch.
Pupusas are comida típica from El Salvador, fat little stuffed corn masa cakes. The can be, and are, stuffed with any number of delicious things, but we stuffed ours with mozzarella and served them with a tangy, slightly fermented cabbage slaw called curtido and a mild tomato salsa. They are delightfully crunchy, salty, and melty, topped with the vinegary slaw.
After lunch, some people understandably wanted to lie around in a food coma, but others, when I suggested going out to Birch Bay, took me up on that offer. Birch Bay is just a few miles from our house. There is a beautiful state park, but it costs money to park and the beach is rocky. Further along the shore, by the town, there is a mile-long sandy beach. The water is shallow and warm, with beds of eelgrass and lots of tiny crabs and little grey fish that dart away from your feet. This weekend, there also happened to be a kite festival, and the sky was decorated with dozens of colorful fish, dragons, ribbons, and geometric shapes.
The children, barely more than toddlers, splashed and played in the lukewarm water. The adults rolled up their pantsleeves or tucked up their skirts and waded. We hit the ice cream shop. We hit the farmer’s market. We hit the liquor store. We went home just as the sun was beginning to dip and hunger pangs were beginning to assert themselves in our bellies. I felt the start of a serious sunburn on my forehead and shoulders.
Arriving, we saw that the home contingent had started a fire again. I let the goats out to browse and followed them slowly around the property, a beer in my hand, listening to the laughter of the adults around the fire and the shrieks of the children on the swingset.
After the evening milking, I was ready for a break from the festivities and so I left everyone else to their convivial circle and headed inside to cook some dinner. I had bought a half-halibut a few days before because there was a great sale at my local store, and I had frozen some of it and planned to bake the rest for ourselves, but Homero told me that our guests had decided to spend a second night and so I needed to make three pounds of fish stretch into dinner for sixteen. The only way to do that that I am aware of is fish soup, with lots of vegetables, so that’s what I made, along with a big pot of rice.
Having stayed up late the night before, I was tired and elected to turn in around eleven, long before anyone else. I assume the conversation around the fire went on into the wee hours, until the firewood, the beer, or both ran out, but I wasn’t there to be a part of it. I was dreaming peacefully face down in my down blanket.
This morning I awoke before anyone else, and put on some water for coffee. I surveyed the wreck of the kitchen with a jaundiced eye, pulled a trash bag out from under the sunk, and began cleaning up, not caring too much if the clink and crash of beer bottles breaking as I threw them into the sack was disturbing anyone’s slumber. Eventually, my ragged-faced family and friends appeared in the kitchen, in search of coffee and food to assuage their hangovers.
Originally, we had planned to do a carne asada - grilled meat - but it hadn’t happened, so we had a bunch of pre-marinated, thin-cut flank steak in the fridge. We cooked that on a hot cast iron comal (and disconnected the fire alarm, which didn’t like the resulting smoke and kept blasting out high pitched warnings), along with baby onions and fresh nopales. Add fresh hot corn tortillas, avocado slices, and copious amounts of stingingly hot salsa and you have a breakfast that will kick the shit out of your hangover.
The rest of today, after everyone left, has been relegated to quiet activities - reading, maybe throwing a load of laundry in the machine, wiping down the table. I plan to watch an episode of Westworld in a little while here. That’s about it.
There are leftover pupusas and fish soup for dinner. I’m looking forward to that.
Tuesday, May 15, 2018
This cheese season will be a short one: we are going to Mexico for most of the summer. Over the past three years we have been slowly, by fits and starts, building a house in Oaxaca. The house is finally getting close to “done,” by which I mean the part for which we are paying professionals is nearly done, and we are approaching the parts that we plan to do ourselves.
The professionals (and it should be mentioned here that it pained my husband in the extreme to cede any part of the construction to professionals at all) have completed what in Mexico is called the “obra negra.” That means, more or less, that the floors, walls, ceilings, and roof are in, and the plumbing and wiring is basically finished. But there are no fixtures, no appliances, no lights or sinks or paint or flooring. Choosing and installing all of that, and choosing the furniture, is the “fun part.” We will be doing much of that work this July and August.
It’s been two years since we were in Oaxaca, and I can’t wait to get back. The children are excited too. However, it is beginning to become clear to me that when we elected to raise our children bilingual, binational, and bicultural, it was not an unmixed blessing we were bestowing upon them. I only thought of the benefits of having two homelands; it never occurred to me that being at home and comfortable in two worlds came with the drawback of always being homesick for somewhere.
When we are here, they miss Oaxaca, and their cousins, and the peculiar camaraderie and joie de vivre that life in Mexico affords. When they are in Oaxaca they miss their home, their rooms, their friends, and the American brand of privacy that does not exist in Mexico. I never thought about the fact that being a citizen of two countries means you are always pining for one or the other.
Meanwhile, here on the farm, cheese season has begun. I was lucky to sell all the goats I intended to sell this year - not just this year’s babies but also those from last year that I deemed unsuitable as breeding stock - which was all of them. I think this is the best year I have ever had for selling goats. I sold ten, altogether - seven babies and three adults - for a combined total of fifteen hundred dollars. That is, coincidentally, the exact amount I need as farm income, once every third year at least, to keep my favorable tax status as a working farm.
All of this year’s babies have now been collected, which means that I have three mammas to milk every day. And that means about three gallons of milk a day - a little less. And THAT means I need to be making cheese at least three times a weeks so far, I have made three batches of delicious chèvre, two cheddars, and a couple of queso frescos. My brother in law hooked me up with a woman who owns a fishing boat and sells Alaskan salmon - I am planning to meet with her and trade cheese for salmon sometime this week.
And now I have to go, because it is time to milk, yet again.
Tuesday, May 1, 2018
My Beltane Altar. I don't have any images specifically for Beltane, so I used this sketch of Danae welcoming Zeus in the form of a shower of gold. It's sketch for a larger painting, one of a series I did many years ago, reimagining the Ancient Greek tales rape or seduction as instead images of divine love and passion. In this same series I have Persephone and Hades, Leda and the Swan, and Europa being carried off peacefully asleep on the broad back of Zeus as a bull.
I'm not at all sure how closely my own understanding of Beltane hews to the original meaning - as if anyone can really say. To me, this is the celebration of the yearly renewal of the eternal marriage of heaven and earth. A celebration of the energy and passion that springs from the union of male and female. A celebration of the act of creation that continually remakes the universe.
My husband went to a neighbor's house and cut me an amazing, fifteen foot tall cane of bamboo to make a maypole. We haven't decorated a maypole in a few years, and it's one of my favorite rituals. I have some witchy friends coming over, and my daughter Rowan, and I'm making a Beltane feast and I'm very happy.
Welcome to the divine bridegroom, who comes today to wed the Goddess. Welcome the quickening fire. Welcome the bearer of the flowering rod, the staff that brings forth water in the dry places. Welcome the loving, healing embrace of the Divine Masculine, of which this world is sorely in need.