"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

DQ43 (???) Meat Math 2020

One day blends into another. I can’t believe it’s been over 40 days of quarantine. Insanity. Anyhoo. 

Tomorrow is Paloma’s birthday. She’s turning 15 and it was supposed to be her big fancy quinceañera party but of course that isn’t happening. She is having ONE friend over and we are eating cheeseburgers and carrot cake (her request) out on the lawn where we can socially distance. 

The pigs are meeting their maker tomorrow at 9 am. Since these pigs started out as Paloma’s FFA project, she gets a share of the profit. The catch is, she has to actually figure out the profit (if any) from the following facts:

- two piglets cost $100 each
- we bought 10 bags of pig food at $15 each (give or take)
- we are selling the bigger pig, in halves, and keeping the smaller pig for ourselves. The sale price is $3.50/lb hanging weight. We won’t actually know the exact hanging weight for a few days, but I guess the big pig will weigh in at about 200 lbs. 
- for one of the halves of the big pig, we are accepting in trade a butchered lamb worth $200. The value of the side over and above $200 will be paid in cash. 
- the other half of the big pig will be paid in cash. 
- we are not attempting to place a value on our labor (that’s a fool’s game). 

A little quick estimating tells me two things: a) this particular pork venture was more financially successful than past ventures have been. I feel that we came out ahead this time, very handsomely ahead. And b) Paloma is going to be disappointed in her share. 

I haven’t decided what value to let her put on the pig we are keeping - should it be the same $3.50/lb, even though we are not actually getting any money for it? Or should it be the cost of the same amount of pork if we bought it at the grocery store, even though we never actually would buy that much pork? Or should it be zero, because it just counts as free meat for us? What would an actual bookkeeper say? Any actual bookkeepers out there? 

Paloma wants to know. 

Saturday, April 25, 2020

DQ39 - Today’s Art

Today’s page in my sketchbook. 

Passing the time today making rhubarb gummies (slice rhubarb thinly on the bias, macerate in sugar and vanilla, dehydrate until leathery) and canning tomato sauce. 

Friday, April 24, 2020

DQ38 - Time Flies

There’s not a lot to report. It’s friday, and I’ve been back at work all this week. There hasn’t been much work though. Clinics are empty, because all routine care has been postponed. The only appointments are prenatal appointments, well child appointments for children under two years old, and emergent illnesses and accidents. All the interpreters are competing for the same smaller pool of jobs, and I have to be checking the website every fifteen minutes if I want to get as many as I can.

I did hear on the radio today that Governor Inslee is considering the possibility of allowing elective surgeries to start again. “Elective” surgery is a slippery term; it covers a wide swath of procedures that I think most people would consider extremely important - for example, biopsies and lumpectomies for breast cancer diagnosis. Joint replacements. Today I had an OB client who had intended to have a tubal ligation (sterilization) when her child was born, and was told that she would not be able to have that procedure. They couldn’t say when it would be available again. I really felt for her - in addition to the stress of giving birth in the middle of a pandemic, with all the disruption and uncertainty that entails, she is now being told she can’t get the procedure that would afford her permanent birth control and permanent peace of mind. 

On the home front all is quiet. The pigs are awaiting the butcher this coming week. The goats will not give birth for another couple of weeks. My kids are plugging along valiantly, doing those homework and their chores. Homero
is working, but not getting paid much. Fixed cars are piling up, but not getting picked up, presumably because his clients don’t have the cash to pay him. He has offered all his established clients payment plans. 

The garden is growing. I’ve been sketching. Here’s today’s project - I made an outline and tomorrow I will color it. 

Monday, April 20, 2020

DQ34 - Food and Finances

It’s been two weeks since Paloma broke a fever, and she’s now been totally symptom free for ten days. Nobody else in the house so much as felt a little warm. Who knows what virus she had, but it’s gone now. 

I went back to work today. They are still doing temperature checks at the doors of the clinic, and I am required to wear my mask. Felt good to get out of the house, and to get back to being “useful.”  There are not very many appointments available - clinics are still only seeing acute illnesses, or well child checkups for kids under two years old, or OB appointments. My next check will be slim. Luckily Homero still has some clients, though his business has been down as well. 

Thank goodness for gleaner’s. There’s plenty of food coming in the front door. I even canned a few quarts of salsa last week and a few cups of lemon curd yesterday. This time of year we have an absurd surplus of eggs, and gleaners had provided a couple dozen lemons. Add sugar and butter and presto: lemon curd, one of the most delicious substances in the planet. 

The pigs are scheduled to be butchered sometime this week. We are keeping the smaller pig for ourselves, and I sold the larger one in halves. In exchange for one half we are getting a whole lamb (well, it’s cut and wrapped, but I mean an entire lamb), plus a little cash. The other half is a cash sale, and ought to fetch about $300. 

The goats will give birth in about three weeks, and two weeks after that I can start milking. Then it will be cheese season. 

There have been some ominous noises in the news about disruptions in the food supply chain - some of which are clearly visible through the lens of the gleaner’s pantry - and it would not surprise me one bit to see prices for some foods rise quickly. But here on the farm we are well insulated from worries about food supply. 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

DQ32 - Art in the Garden (R is for Rhubarb)

Trying to make drawing a habit. Pages from my sketchbook over the past two days 

I love rhubarb. I love its ruby buds that are the first bright color of spring. I love its fresh tartness and its celery crunch. It’s so beautiful, and so hardy. Rhubarb is a survivor. It thrives on neglect. It laughs at frost. It is almost absurdly abundant, producing food continuously from April straight through August. Its leaves are lavishly, unecessarily enormous. In the cool shade of those leaves, buried underground, beats a wanton scarlet heart, sending up stalk after crimson stalk like fireworks. Rhubarb is irrepressible. 
If I were to make a garden alphabet, the image for R would be rhubarb, and the text would say “Rhubarb for Resilience.”

Thursday, April 16, 2020

DQ30 - Getting Antsy

It’s day 30 of the stay at home order, and day 3 of organized school at home. Guess which one has been harder? My kids, who had been fine at home when they were totally in charge of their own time, are now unhappy, overwhelmed, and anxious. 

When they made their own schedules, they spent their time reading, writing, exercising, cooking, working in the garden, embroidering and sewing, and doing schoolwork whenever they felt like it. Now they are receiving daily assignments from 6 to 8 teachers a day, each of which is SUPPOSED to take no more than 30 minutes. In fact, though, they are spending five or six hours a day on schoolwork and not being able to complete the workload. I saw one emailed assignment from a teacher that involved reading twenty pages (of dense material), watching two videos, and taking a quiz. There’s no way that’s 30 minutes of work. 

Without access to, you know, actual teaching, they are having a difficult time with some of the material, and I cannot help them with a lot of it. My math skills only go up to 6th grade or so. I’m encouraging them to take lots of breaks, get outside, and don’t sweat it too much. I also emailed that one teacher and asked her if she really considered this assignment to be 30 minutes of work?

The enforced immobility is just getting to everybody. Paloma had a small breakdown over her birthday, which is coming up in a couple of weeks. She’s turning 15, and before all this started we were planning her quince, which, for the non-Latinos, is a huge fancy party that is second only to a wedding in a girl’s life. We’d rented the hall and bought the dress and bought plane tickets for her abuelita and tía to come from Oaxaca. Not only is none of that happening, but she can’t even have a few friends over for a regular birthday party. It’s just another day in quarantine. 

It’s a big deal to her, and I didn’t want to minimize it, but I did spend a little time talking about how many things we actually have to be grateful for right now. We are safe, healthy, together, and have no worries about getting enough to eat or paying the rent. It’s a beautiful spring and we have a beautiful farm to observe and enjoy it. The trees are in blossom and there will be baby goats soon. She has a sister that she actually likes and gets along with. Her papa and mama are both home and available. We got Disney Plus. 

It IS difficult. I’ve only been off work for five days and I’m already going a little stir crazy, and the girls have had a solid month pretty much without leaving the property. We got more bad news, which I haven’t even told Paloma yet. The county health department recommended that festivals and gatherings be cancelled right through the end of August. That would mean, among other things, no county fair. Fair is the apotheosis of teen summer social events, and the only time she gets to see her friends from all over the county. This year she asked if she was old enough to stay until closing and I’d said yes. She’s going to be so upset when she finds out there (most likely) won’t be a fair this year. 

Nothing makes me sadder than seeing my children sad. I’ve got to keep myself cheerful somehow, for their sake as much as my own. 

Monday, April 13, 2020

DQ27 - Starting Up Again

The rosemary in the greenhouse is absolutely stuffed with blossoms. Hummingbirds love it and while I’ve been in here potting up some pepper plants several have visited. I originally thought that the totally green ones and the red-headed ones were two fmdifferent species, but I have been corrected. They are just female and male Anna’s hummingbirds, respectively. 

Make Anna’s hummingbird (from google). If I could figure out I would post a lovely little video of two hummingbirds going at the rosemary blossoms. 

What we do with leftover Easter egg dye. Now we have lovely particolored hounds. In retrospect, perhaps red wasn’t the best choice for Haku. He looks like he just went berserk in a sheepfold. 

Paloma is pretty much all better. Second day without fever. Still no appetite, but apart from that she’s her usual self again. I will observe strict quarantine through the en s of the week, but I told my work I would go ahead and start accepting assignments again starting next week. 

School is back in session - remotely - and the girls were outraged that we decided to start imposing something like a schedule again. We said we would wake them up at 9:30 - four hours later than they get up during regular school -
And you should have heard the wailing and gnashing of teeth. 

This first day back has been frustrating, especially for Paloma who says her teacher’s instructions are unclear, but I told them to relax and take it slow. There will certainly be kinks to be worked out. There’s no giant rush. Grades will be pass/fail for this quarter, so no stress. 

Tonight we have a bucket of oysters and plan to make a fire. 

Saturday, April 11, 2020

DQ25 - Setback

Paloma woke us up at 4 am sick again. The fever was back, and this time accompanied by stomach pain and diarrhea. All day today she’s pretty much been in bed, and hasn’t wanted to eat anything. Still has headache, too. Still no respiratory symptoms. She’s not horribly ill, not even as sick as a regular nasty cold, but she’s not happy either. I’m a bit worried now because apparently this back-and-forth fever thing is typical of Covid. Nothing we can do but wait and see. 

Just finished dying eggs and setting up the altar with Papa and the kids. It feels weird not to have Rowan with us. 

Friday, April 10, 2020

DQ25 - Reaching Out for Easter

First things first - Paloma is much better today. She awoke without a fever, and her headache has much improved. She’s still a bit lethargic and without appetite, but I’d say she’s most of the way back to normal. 

I’m relieved for her sake, of course, but we have to proceed on the assumption that she has Covid19. That’s not just the CDC guidelines, it’s also common sense. Flu season is over. What’s circulating now? Covid. We are in hard lockdown mode for the next 10 days.

Which means that Hope missed attending my sister’s Seder yesterday, and that Rowan will not be able to come share Easter morning with us on Sunday. There has not been a year since my first child was born, 26 years ago now, that I have not dyed eggs with my children. And it’s been many years since we havent  gone to gather for Easter brunch at my mlm’s  house. It will be a diminished Easter celebration this year, but I insist there will at least be colorful eggs and fresh flowers on the altar. Even if our eggs this year will be dyed with household spices (tumeric! Onion skins!) and the chocolate may be Hershey bars from the gas station. 

I am not the only person who will be experiencing a much altered Easter this year. My local church, Zion, has a congregation made up almost exclusively of elderly farmers who are now isolated in their homes. Like a lot of other churches, Zion has made pans for online services. I’m not paying a lot of attention to that because I am wholly computer illiterate - probably more so than most of the aforementioned elderly parishioners. 

So I was thinking about what I could do to participate in Easter celebrations. I decided to make cards, Easter cards, just like Christmas cards. A few weeks ago, before businesses closed, I had sent the girl a to a local craft store to stock up on craft supplies, so we had a set of blank cards and envelopes. I spent a happy couple of hours this morning drawing spring-themed scenes and addressing them to friends from  Zion. They went out in this morning’s mail. Hopefully they will arrive in time to brighten up a few people’s day. 

DQ24 - Fever

Yesterday Paloma woke up with a high fever - 102.4 - and a bad headache. She was hot and lethargic all day. Tylenol and ibuprofen brought the fever down to about 101, but no lower, and didn’t really touch the headache. 

We are being told to assume that any febrile illness might be Covid19 and to behave accordingly. The lack of respiratory symptoms doesn’t mean much in a kid her age - fever is often the only symptom, if indeed they show any symptoms at all. So I called my work and asked them to cancel all my appointments through the end of next week and we decided to step up the level of quarantine to “nobody leaves the house unless it’s absolutely essential.” 

I sent messages to the mothers of each of my daughter’s best friends to let them know. These two kids are the only people Hope or Paloma has had contact with in the past two weeks, and they were ostensibly practicing social distancing the whole time. 

The most likely scenario is that I brought the virus (whichever virus it is) home with me from work. You’d think, that if I had contact first I would show symptoms first, but not necessarily. The incubation period varies. So now we just wait and see if any more of us get sick. Paloma is already better. This morning she woke up without a fever and says her head hurts a lot less. 

Hope and I were supposed to be in Chicago right now, touring the University of Chicago campus. We had a three day weekend planned, which included staying with my cousins who I haven’t seen in many years, seeing the Chicago Field museum, and meeting up with my brother for a very fancy dinner at a very fancy famous restaurant. Instead we are staying home taking our temperatures. Oh well. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

DQ21- Sketches

Pretty ordinary day - two appointments, a little work in the garden, some cooking, and a bit of sketching:

Rosemary in the greenhouse 

Some Beautiful gladioli I got from gleaners 

Monday, April 6, 2020

DQ20 - Feelings About the News

This morning Homero and I were reading the news over our morning coffee, as we do every day, and the girls were just waking up and coming into the kitchen looking for breakfast. I happened to be reading a rather terrifying article about the lack of space in morgues in New York City and the plan to “temporarily” use city parks to bury bodies of Covid19 victims.

I said “Wow” and read part of  the article out loud to Homero. He reminded me of the video he showed me the other day of bodies piling up in the streets of Guayacil, Ecuador, because there was no functioning system to collect them. That made me think of the first time I had heard of something like this happening, about two or three weeks ago in Italy. A man had posted a video to Facebook saying his (mother? Sister?) had died at home two days previously and he couldn’t find anyone to come get her body. At the time, there had been fewer than 100 deaths from Covid19 in Italy, and I wondered how it could be that such a small number of excess deaths could cause a complete breakdown in the death-care industry. I asked my brother - a systems engineer- if he could explain it and he said No. 

Hope broke into this conversation and said in an angry voice that she didn’t believe it, she thought the media were whipping people into a frenzy for ratings and it wasn’t true that bodies were going unburied in New York City. To my shame, I didn’t immediately recognize this as an expression of anxiety, and instead started to argue with her about media literacy and to talk about reliable versus unreliable sources of news. She said  “I choose not to believe it” and I replied “then you choose to be misinformed” and she grabbed a muffin and stormed off to her room. 

I felt remorseful pretty much immediately. After all, I’m shocked by the news and I also struggle with the urge towards denial, and I’m middle aged. It must be absolutely terrifying to be a teenager and to be realizing that here’s a situation that your elders are totally unable to control, that many adults are running around with their hair on fire panic buying toilet paper because that’s all they can think of to do. It must be awful to experience your plans for your future - in Hope’s case, the SATs, college applications, a summer job -
dissolving into uncertainty. 

Speaking of which, we got another piece of bad news this afternoon. The Governor ordered schools to stay closed through the end of the year. Kids will not be going back to school this spring. There will be no commencement, nobody will walk down the aisle and get their diploma and shake the principal’s hand and hear the applause if their relatives and friends. No graduation parties. No prom. 

There’s nothing I can do about that. I AM helpless to change the situation. But at least I am not helpless to provide them with some consistency, some stability, and the going on of ordinary home life. Things really haven’t changed much on the farm. Today has been gorgeous and warmer, sunny and dry. We got a bunch of work done. Homero is shoveling out a winter’s worth of deep litter in the barn. I mowed the front lawn and the orchard. Then the girls and I moved some more dirt and planted some herbs and some carrots. 

Now I’m sitting out on the lawn in a lawn chair next to Homero; he is reading  and I am writing. the dogs are laying in the grass chewing on some bones they found in the back pasture. Paloma is doing cartwheels and Hope is playing with her ferret. Soon I will go inside and start dinner. 

Saturday, April 4, 2020

DQ18 - Accomplishments

The rosemary in full bloom inside the greenhouse. Greenhouse cleaned up and cardboard laid over the ground to stop weeds. 

We borrowed a rototiller from a neighbor, and Homero tilled the compost pile, at least enough of it so that the girls and I could bring over a few wheelbarrows full of dirt to fill some new garden beds. The bathtub in the foreground in a new bed - we discovered it upside down under the pear tree after the tree was pruned and the blackberries cut back two weeks ago. Haven’t decided what to plant in the new tub yet. Might wait until it’s time to plant warner weather crops like beans or tomatoes. 

There are two 4x4 beds in the background, near the lawn chair. They are almost entirely falling apart, but they still have enough cohesiveness to serve as garden beds, as long as we stay on top of the weeding. One is planted with radishes and one is planted with cylindrical beets. 

We also broke down a couple dozen cardboard boxes and laid them down as as a prophylactic against the weeds. It’s ugly, but it’s necessary. 

Harvested nettles yesterday and today made a nettle and Swiss cheese quiche. It looks good but I don’t know how it tastes because el sent it to our neighbor in exchange for the use of her rototiller. Hope they liked it. I have the other half of the nettles blanched as stored in  a ziploc in the fridge. 

Today’s page in my quarantine art diary. I’m going to try and set a good example for my kids - being creative and making art isn’t about the product, it’s about the process. It really doesn’t matter, in the grand scheme of things, if the art I make is “good” or “bad.” What matters is that I enjoyed the time I spent doing it, and that I’m creating a record. My mom managed to instill in me - accidentally, of course - the idea that a thing is only worth doing if one is “good at it,” and that if one isn’t, then any effort expended in the pursuit of a given activity is a waste of time and probably a sin. 

Thats not a message I want to pass on. 

Today was a good day. My shoulders and back ache gently from moving a ton of dirt. The girls helped a lot, they are each stronger than I am now. I’m grubby and tired, but happy. 

Friday, April 3, 2020

QD17- quarantine notes

Fairly ordinary day. Got up early and had two appointments. My job sent an email saying they will (finally) be providing us interpreters with N95 masks. They should arrive in the mail in a few days. That’s good because the CDC has revised their previous advice that asymptomatic people need not wear masks to say that everyone ought to wear a mask in public if possible. The clinics have been offering me a mask for the last couple of days, but I have been reluctant to accept since I know they are in short supply. Now I can wear a mask in good conscious. 

I was home by noon today. I took a nap, because I didn’t sleep well last night. Haku woke me up several times asking to go out. Probably his stitches hurt. Also my shoulders have been hurting me a great deal and they wake me up too. As does my bladder. Basically I’m a wreck of a human being. 

After my nap, I helped Hope and Paloma  make some challah bread to give to a group that is collecting home made goodies for hospital workers. We also made homemade Mac and cheese for lunch, and so between those two projects, homeschool today consisted of cooking lessons. The girls learned a little bit about French mother sauces  - the difference between a roux, a bechemel, and a sauce Mornay (all part of Mac and cheese). We also touched on how gluten works to help bread rise and the delicious Maillard reaction. 

Then I let the goats out to graze, but it’s so cold that I didn’t stay out for long. This has been a super cold spring - in the first three days of April it has snowed twice and hailed once. The pasture grass hasn’t started to grow much, and not even the dandelions are open yet. 

But the nettles are up. In fact, it’s about the end of the nettle harvest. I harvested once about a week ago and made avgolemeno soup, which is what I always do with the first nettles. Today after putting the goats away, I went I to the house for some gloves and a pair of scissors and harvested a full shopping bag. I think tomorrow I will make a quiche. We have so many eggs. 

Another project: I’m starting a quarantine art diary. With a pen. On paper. My last post here was my first entry in my new art diary. Today I made another, and my goal is to draw something every day. I’m calling it “the kitchen witch in quarantine.” 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

DQ15 -Picking Up a Pen


Picked up a pen today and made an attempt at drawing. My first attempt in literally years. I’m not sure why it is so difficult, nor what the nature of the obstruction is, to just laying something that makes a mark onto a piece of paper and moving it around a little bit. 

As far back as I can remember I have been an artist. I used to make art as naturally as I read a book, or wrote a poem (another one of my lost arts). If I lacked paint, I used crayons. If I lacked paintbrushes, I used whatever laid to hand. I have painted with a kitchen sponge, with paper towels, with cotton balls, with tampons. I have painted on paper, canvass, wallboard, plywood, glass....

But I haven’t painted recently. For whatever reason, I got out of the habit. And as time passed the path back to art got steeper and steeper until it seemed insurmountable. It might be a form of writer’s block - the blank space of the canvass gets whiter and whiter, more stark and intimidating. How can I mar it with my clumsy brush? What if I fuck it up? What if I waste a bunch of expensive paint and make something not just ugly but embarrassing? 

Against these idiotic thoughts I try to erect a barricade of reason. So what if I fuck up a cheap pre-stretched canvass from Joann’s craft store? I can always paint over it. So what if I’m embarrassed by the result? Nobody is gong to break into my garage to look at it. Plus, you know, I can always paint over it. Besides, isn’t the process more important than the product? 

I am never going to make “great art.” If that were ever within my potential, which it probably wasn’t, it ain’t anymore. I wasn’t a child prodigy, and I probably won’t be an elderly prodigy like Grandma Moses either. I can’t make art for the ages. But here’s what I can do: get lost in ecstasy.

I can exercise my artist’s eye. I can cultivate my eye for beauty, and train myself to seek it out, to notice and appreciate it everywhere and at every moment. I can strive to imitate it, magnify it, reproduce it, spread it over more space and more time, with my own feeble gestures. I can practice art as a form of worship, as a form of praise, as a form of magick. 

Kurt Vonnegut said: 

Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.

So today, I picked up a pen. And I made my soul grow.