"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Preserving Log (Early Summer Edition)

I’ve fallen behind on my blogging, I’m afraid. Since the stay-at-home order was lifted early last month, I’ve been busier than a one-armed paper-hanger (as my mother used to say). 

Mostly, I’ve been working a lot. All the procedures and routine checkup and vaccination appointments and dentist appointments that were canceled during the lockdown have been rescheduled, and all the doctor’s and dentist’s offices are full. My agency is down by at least three interpreters. Two of them are elderly and not in great health and so are not taking appointments at the moment, and o e of them got stuck in Spain way back in March and hasn’t been able to come home yet. This means there is a ton of work for me, more than I want, really, but if I turn appointments down they often go unfilled.

In my free times, this is what I’ve been doing as far as preserving goes: 

 - several small batches (3-4 quarts at a time) salsa ranchera, as the gleaners pantry gives me the ingredients

- a gallon of kosher fills that is almost gone now. Yesterday I bought more pickling cucumbers and later on today I will gather grape leaves start a new batch

- a gallon ziploc of dried cherry tomatoes. Haven’t done this before and it’s really good. I season them with a little salt and garlic powder and then dry them till they are very leathery or even crisp. Nice for snacking and they add great flavor to a stew or soup.

- froze about a dozen quarts of strawberries. Went to the u-pick with friends when they were up visiting. 

And today I am breaking out the big stockpot to deal with this:

That’s about 25 pounds of mixed stone fruit from gleaner’s. After I separated the fruit that was too far gone and picked out the fruit that was still perfect for eating fresh, I was left with about ten to twelve pounds of slightly overripe fruit. The last hour or so has been devoted to bleaching, peeling, and chopping and my kitchen looked like a couple of murders had taken place (red plums!) but now I have this simmering on the stove:

Spicy stone fruit chutney. It has cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, red pepper flakes, a TINY hint of garlic, brown sugar and apple cider vinegar. It smells like heaven and it ought to be delicious with pork chops, chicken breasts, or maybe a hearty fish like halibut. It’s super pretty, too. 

But man there’s gonna be a lot of it. I think this may be my Christmas present to a few people this year. 

Still sitting out on the front porch: a crate of corn on the cob to be shucked, shaved, and frozen; and about ten pounds of jalapeños to be turned into rajas en escabeche. I might get the peppers done today, but he corn is gonna have to wait. 

Friday, June 5, 2020

Just Cute Goat Pictures

Paloma and Flopsy’s baby boy. I can’t decide who is cuter. 

My goat-totin’ man, totin’ Bitsy and Bootsy, Christmas’ two doelings. 

Hope being tickled by goat kisses from Sweet Pea, Polly’s doeling. 

Me and Bitsy. I think I’m gonna keep this one. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2020


On Friday, the governor announced that Washington state was ending the stay-home order as of Monday morning. All that really means is that we are now officially allowed to leave home for “non-essential” reasons. There are still no gatherings allowed and stores and restaurants have not reopened. Those activities can begin whenever we make it to “phase two,” which depends on a number of variables including number of new cases weekly, hospital capacity, and I did remember what else. Daily life has not really changed, but it’s still a big psychic relief not to be in actual quarantine anymore. 

Today our last baby goat was born. Lilac was the last to pop. She’s our first freshener, the one baby I chose to keep from last year because she was the biggest, healthiest, and cutest. 

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a super easy birth. She had a single big buckling, and one of his legs was back. The kids and I had put her in the mama barn when we went out for afternoon chores and saw she was straining, and then we went inside to eat dinner and watch an episode of cutthroat kitchen, our new favorite show. 

When I went back outside to check on her an hour later, she had a head protruding from her rear, and, after a closer examination, a single foot. Luckily she was quite calm and in no distress, and the baby was alive. I called the vet and asked what to do, since I have never corrected this presentation before. 

“Can you push the baby back in?” he asked. 

“No way.” There was no way in hell I was going to try to push the entire head back into poor Lilac. It was completely out, up to the base of the neck. 

“Ok,” he said, “sometimes you can pull them out with one leg back, if there’s enough room.” 

“How can I tell if there’s enough room?”

“Feel around the baby on all sides and see if you can slip your fingers in between the baby and the bone.” 

I could (Lilac was being extremely cooperative, just standing there eating grain while I felt around in her vagina), so the vet said I could wait for a contraction and just apply some gentle traction - “but stop if she starts to really cry out or struggle, and I’ll come out.” 

It worked. The baby came out a little more and more, until right at the widest part of the shoulders Lilac gave one big bleat - but the baby was on the straw five seconds later. 

What a good mama goat! After her rough delivery, she still took an interest in him right away, and vigorously cleaned him up, talking to him the whole time. The poor little guy took quite some time to stand up. Maybe he was just tired, but for a few minutes I was worried that the poor presentation had caused some nerve damage because he couldn’t seem to support his weight. Eventually I decided to hold him up by the teat and see if he would nurse. He did, and after he got a little milk into him, and rested for a while longer, he was able to stand up on his own. 

I think I made a good choice keeping Lilac. She was bred a little young, but she did great, and having been a bottle baby she’s very friendly and used to being petted and touched. Assuming she becomes a good milker - no reason she shouldn’t - I’ll be very happy with her. 

So that’s all the babies this year. Three does and three bucks. One of the does and one of the bucks are already spoken for; I may keep both of the other does and just sell the buckling. We’ll see. Now begins my favorite time of the year, early summer with baby goats gamboling about outside and lots of milk and cheese making in the kitchen. 

Hopefully it isn’t too late, if Whatcom country progresses through stage two and onto stage three fairly quickly, for a few summer activities that were previously cancelled to be revived. Paloma told me that her theater teacher said that if we reach phase three by the early part of July, they can go ahead with the summer play. Who knows, there might even be Fair in August. 

Saturday, May 30, 2020

DQ74 - Double Surprise

Yesterday Flopsy, our second oldest goat at thirteen, surprised the heck out of us by popping out a single baby buckling, quietly and with no fanfare. 

It’s been a couple of years since Flopsy had a baby. She’s elderly, arthritic, and not in the greatest of health, and I’ve tried to keep her separate from the buck so this wouldn’t happen. I don’t want to tax her system - she’s done yoeman service and doesn’t need to earn her keep any longer. 

Nonetheless, she got pregnant somehow and threw this adorable little buckling. Paloma discovered him yesterday morning when she was going out to bottle feed Polly’s babies. 

Oh yeah - Polly had a rough delivery and developed a fever and went downhill so quickly that I had to call the vet out. I was worried that I’d done her some harm by going in to help deliver the babies but the vet said no - more likely she’d been developing an infection since I noticed the premature string of goo four days before she delivered. Whenever membranes rupture prematurely you have a high risk of infection. Polly has been getting a twice daily regimen of antibiotics, vitamin B, and steroids for the past several days and is much better. However she lost most of her milk and her twins need supplemental feedings twice a day. The vet says she may never regain her milk this year. For a few days we were feeding the babies round the clock, but today whenever we tried to feed them they already had full tummies and were uninterested in the bottle, so it seems Polly has recuperes enough capacity to feed them herself. 

In other news, the governor has finally decided to lift the stay-at-home order as of this coming Monday morning. Yhe actual changes to daily life will be subtle - we are still prohibited to gather in groups larger than 5, and most businesses remain closed. Masks are also required in public indoor spaces, and outdoors where people cannot maintain 6 feet of distance. 

There has been a great deal of controversy on the subject of masks - violence has broken out in some places - but I haven’t seen open conflict here. In my small community, I’d say about half the people I see in public are wearing masks. I wear my mask assiduously, because I work in health care and am at high risk of contracting the virus. Wearing a mask protects me a little, but if I happen to be carrying the virus, it protects those around me a lot. Personally I have a hard time understanding the resistance to this innocuous act, but it seems to have become a political football. 

Now that there is a path forwards towards Opening back up, I have a little bit of hope that some events planned for later in the summer that were Called off - like the fair - might possibly be “called on” again. 

In the meantime, we just keep keeping on. 

Saturday, May 23, 2020

DQ67 am- More Baby Goats

Polly finally gave birth today. I’ve been expecting her to do so for about a week, ever since I saw her kneeling with a long string of amber colored goo depending from her vulva. That’s usually a sign babies will be born the same day. But for whatever reason, she didn’t give birth, and a full week went by. 

Last night I could tell it would be very soon, because her udder had gotten very tight and shiny. That’s really the best indicator. So we locked her up in the mama barn. I fully expected to find babies when we did morning chores, but still nothing. I kept checking every hour or so, and finally at around noon there was a bubble. 

I sat and waited, but nothing appeared; just the bubble of amniotic sack. After another hour or so, I could see two hooves, but no head. More worryingly, I could see flecks of blood and fecal matter in the amniotic fluid inside the sack. I don’t like to interfere if I don’t have to, but it was clearly time to see what the heck was going on.  

Homero helped me get Polly onto the milking stand, and I washed my hands, lubed up, and took a gentle feel inside.  I was worried I would find the head curled back; that’s a common malpresentation and is often hard to correct. But no - I could feel the head easily correctly positioned above the front legs. But it was very high - too high to slip under the  dorsal pelvic bone. I stuck a finger into the baby’s mouth (and promptly got bitten, proving baby was alive), and exerted downward pressure to lower the head enough to let it slip under the dorsal pelvis. After that it was easy. 

The baby was huge. A big, pretty spotted buckling. Another baby appeared quite quickly - another enormous baby, this time a doe. I decided to quickly go in again and check to make sure there wasn’t a third baby - nope, all empty. 

The babies had had a rough time, as had mama. They were stained with meconium (meaning they had pooped inside - not a normal thing to do and indicative of prolonged labor) and took their time standing up. I scrubbed them with a towel, and waited to see they both stood up, but resisted the urge to further interfere. I went inside and left mama and the babies alone. 

Checking back after a couple hours, both babies are dry and fluffy, and I could feel they had a little bit of milk in their tummies. They look like they are all going to be just fine. 

Now we only have Lilac still to go. She’s a first freshener, and so we don’t know yet how it will go with her or what kind of mama she will be. There’s always a risk with first time mamas that they might reject thier babies. But luckily, she’s the last to give birth this year and so has had the benefit of seeing her mother and auntie birth and nurse their babies. My guess is she will do just fine. 

Friday, May 22, 2020

State of the Farm - DQ66

Friday, May 15, 2020

DQ59 - Baby Goats!

Paloma holding Bootsy, one of Christmas’s twin doelings 

Christmas cleans up Bitsy, her other twin doeling.

Christmas was the first to pop, day before yesterday. She did super well, only needed the tiniest bit of help in the form of a little bit of traction on the first baby. She gave birth to two big healthy beautiful spotted doelings, and then, hours later, to a tiny dead one. 

I don’t know what happened to number three, but it had clearly been dead for a long time, and was only about half the size of the others. My best guess is she was killed when our big mean buck butted Christmas in the side. He butts all the ladies, and it’s a problem. A problem for another day, though. 

It looks like Polly is going to give birth today. When I did morning chores I saw the telltale string of goo. So I put her in the mama barn - which meant evicting Christmas and her babies - and I will check on her in an hour or so. Polly is a wonderful mama, and I’m not worried about her. Well - I’m a little worried she might give birth to quads again like she did last year. But if she does, Paloma is ready and waiting with bottles. 

Thursday, May 7, 2020

DQ51 - State of the Farm

The pink dogwood in bloom. 

It’s an absolutely unbelievably gorgeous day. It just could not be more perfect. I think it’s about 72 degrees, the sky is a clear, glass-of-water blue, and the grass is finally long enough to ripple and glint in the gentle breeze. The mountains are out, still snow capped, decorating the horizon to the North and East. 

The girls and I spent an hour cleaning out the mama barn in preparation for the goats’ kidding, which ought to happen within a week to ten days. This year, we have three pregnant goats: Polly, Christmas, and Lilac, who is a first freshener this year. Polly and Christmas have both thrown quadruplets in the past. I hope they don’t do so again, but if they do, Paloma is eager to take over bottle-baby duty. Hopefully Lilac will just have one. It’s always a bit of a gamble with a first freshener, whether she will take to being a mama well or not. The truth his it usually works out better if I stay hands-off and let the mamas figure it out for themselves, but it’s always a challenge to do that. Watching baby goats try to stand up and nurse is probably the single most frustrating thing on the planet, and the urge to interfere is strong. 

The garden is going well. The first salad greens and radishes are just about ready to harvest. It’s almost time to move the chile plants out of the greenhouse, which will make room for tomatoes. Maybe even melons? My cucumber starts have not done well, though, and I don’t know why. I may have to buy a few starts, and if I want to do that, I’d better hurry up because vegetable start season is almost over. 

We are expecting the farm store to call us any day and tell us  the turkey poults we ordered are in. I ordered half a dozen “mixed rare breed” turkeys. I’ve never found raising meat chickens to be worth the expense and mess, but turkeys are both profitable and delicious, if we can keep them safe from coyotes. 

Life feels almost normal - to me, anyway. This is the best time of year on the farm, and the best time of year in the Pacific Northwest. May days like today - sunny, serene, flower-scented - are the reason we suffer through the long, dreary months of November through  February. More than usual, I feel the need to pause, recognize my blessings, and appreciate the ordinary beauty of my corner of the world. 

Hope and I were talking today about the state of the nation, about the disruption and the uncertainty, the fear and the despair for the future we are all feeling. She said “these are shitty times.” I agreed with her and said “yeah, compared with five years ago, these are shitty times indeed. But compared with almost every other time in all of human history, these are wonderful times. Look around you.” 

Look around you. 


Friday, May 1, 2020

DQ45 - Beltane (May Day)

Being in lazy lockdown mode, I have not laid a Beltane altar.  But I can share a virtual altar - the one I laid two years ago. It was one of my favorites. 

Welcome to the divine bridegroom, who arrives 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 embrace of the divine masculine, of which this world is in dire need.

Celebrate as you see fit (winky face). 

My husband is celebrating May Day today too - a newer tradition but an important one is to celebrate International
Worker’s Day on this date. Most years we attend a march as a family, which calls for farmworker and immigrant justice. This year there was no local march, but there was a call for a caravan to Olympia and a drive-by protest to demand the state impose stricter workplace protections for farmworkers. Current standards for housing, transportation, and work in packaging plants does not follow CDC guidelines for social
distancing, nor do farmworkers get sick leave, or usually have access to healthcare. 

As most of you are no doubt aware, the pandemic has played havoc with our nations food supply chains. Farmers are rightly worried about this year’s planting and harvest seasons and they don’t want to lose crops or money. But just as other industries have adapted new rules to protect workers, so must the agricultural industry, even if it hurts the bottom line. They should appeal to the federal government for pandemic relief, and the government - state and federal - should step up with funds, FEMA housing, or whatever is necessary to ensure the safety of these essential workers. 

Rant over! Enjoy the beautiful Beltane evening and eat something sweet. 

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.