"United we bargain, divided we beg."

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. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

DQ14 - Dog Update and Staying Busy



Here is what Haku looked like when he got home from the vet. It’s even worse than this, actually - this picture doesn’t show the third laceration further back on his flank. He has a drain and about fifty stitches, but as far as he is concerned the worst part is that he needs to take four pills twice a day. Haku would rather die a thousand deaths than take a pill. He doesn’t seem much bothered by the actual injuries. He’s supposed to stay inside, or be on a leash, for two weeks, and that’s going to be tough. Every time anyone goes anywhere near the door he jumps up and leaps about as usual. Someone standing on his left side wouldn’t know he’d ever hurt himself at all. 



Hope spent the day out in the shop with Homero. He is fixing her car. I don’t know what all is wrong with it but I know it’s a big job that will take a few days and I heard the word “valves.” Hope is his assistant, and is learning a lot about engines. I told her this totally counts as school and she can write it down in the STEM section of her school journal. 


 
Paloma spent most of the day working out. Here she is doing some floor work with Mercy.  She’s a fitness junkie, and she’s a beast. I did my thirty minute workout alongside her today - 20 minutes of jump rope that doesn’t involve any actual jumping, just stepping over the rope repeatedly - and then an upper body workout with dumbbells. That entire half  hour Paloma was just working on abs. She has an honest to god six pack. 

I also worked two jobs today, did a pickup for gleaners pantry, and made an eggplant Parmesan for dinner. If it ever warms up beyond 40 degrees, I’d like to get some more gardening done. But alas, it’s supposed to rain for the next four days. 



Sunday, March 29, 2020

DQ12 - Making Up


                           An attempt at caramels 



Yesterday was the  laziest day I remember in my adult life. I seriously laid in bed and perused Facebook and played candy crush all day long. I only roused myself to go to the bathroom and to cram food into my maw. I shudder to admit to my sloth and am loath to describe it any further.

Today, I resolved to... well, not to be exactly industrious, but at least not to repeat my day of shame. Here’s what my day looked like today, day 12 of quarantine:

9 am: awake
9-10: make and drink coffee, read news
10-11:30 make breakfast, do dishes, sweep, do minor housekeeping chores
11:30-12:30-  work in the garden

-disaster - around 12:30, Haku was running full speed ahead trying to chase Mercy and misjudged. Rounding the corner of the garden, he ripped his shoulder and flank open on the stiff wires sticking out from the cattle panels. He pulled up short and cried. When I got to him and inspected, I saw that he had two deep lacerations that would both require stitches. Son of a bitch, it’s Sunday. I had to take him to the emergency vet. The emergency vet was swamped, and it was almost two hours before they could even come get him out of the car and admit him (they are not allowing humans into the office; only animals). As of this moment, 8:15 pm, some 8 hours later, Haku has still not been stitched up. However, I returned home after they finally took him inside at about 3 pm.

3-5 pm: keep working in the garden. I managed to fill an entire 4x4 raised bed with dirt and plant a packet of radishes. 

5-6:30 pm: let the goats out to graze and read my excellent  book Lord of Light by Roger Zelazney. 

6:30-7:00: make dinner - pulled pork barbecue sandwiches and coleslaw.

7-8:00- attempt to make caramel candy. Gleaners pantry provided us with - among a lot of other things - a gallon  each of heavy whipping cream. I decided to try and make caramels. My neighbor and friend M. brought us over a few pounds of organic shelled pecans yesterday. in exchange for a couple dozen oysters, so I thought pecan caramels would be a treat. 

Candy making is a precise art. I’m not a precise person. I do have a candy thermometer and I used it. I followed the recipe to the best of my ability but either the recipe was wrong or I was wrong, but the stuff on the stove was not behaving the way the recipe said it ought to behave at the given temperatures. Soft ball. Hard ball. Soft crack. Hard crack. Candy making terminology reads like something out of either a sports manual or fifty shades of grey. I did the best I could. The caramel is sitting out on the porch to cool. 

In any case, whether the candy comes out or not, I still feel like at least I got a few things done today.

And it ain’t over. I still have to go pick up Haku. 

DQ11- Nothing At All.

Literally. Nothing. At. All. 

Friday, March 27, 2020

DQ10 - Shellfish and Salsa



                             Oysters 



I’ve been trying for the past twenty minutes to upload a short video of Homero and I dancing salsa in the kitchen. It seems that the new blogger platform does not support embedded video. More’s the pity - you all are missing out on watching my big bum sway to the salsa rhythm.   

Today was fun. I went to work in the morning - yes, I’m still working - and tried to go to Costco on my way home. The parking lot was less than half full, probably because they closed the border with Canada. Usually, about half the vehicles in the lot near Canadian plates. Nonetheless, there was a line about forty people long stretching out the front door, and this sign was prominently displayed:




I decided to try Fred Meyer instead. It was pretty well stocked, except for toilet paper, cleaning supplies, baking supplies and pet food. Those items were cleaned out. But the produce section looked entirely normal. There’s a rumor that Bellingham is going to temporarily ban all sales of alcohol and guns and ammo. We are fine on ammo, but I did pick up a few bottles of booze. 

Later in the afternoon, Homero got a call from a friend of his who harvests local oysters. He wanted to know did we want some? Homero never says no; he is a fool for fresh oysters. It was too cold out to build a fire and grill them as we usually do, so we simply broiled them in the oven until they cracked open and then ate them with lemon and Valentina sauce. 

Hope, who loves oysters and misses her ballroom dance class, blasted salsa on her speaker as we cracked and ate the oysters, and we all took turns dancing with Papa. Since I can’t seem to figure out how to upload the video, I’ll just give you this link to my favorite salsa song:

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

DQ8 - Hair Cuts and Hair Color


Rowan came over today. She brought hair dye. She is one of those lovely brave people who changes her hair all the time - once she even tried being bald - and I am one of those people who hasn’t changed their hair since high school. 

I let her give me a trim, though, just a badly-needed snip of the split ends. And then I let her color my hair with a color she chose for me. Red, but not too far off my own natural reddish-brown. I like it. Covers my grey streak and feels like the color my hair used to be in September, after a summer of sunshine. She dyed her own hair red too - but she opted for full-on fire engine engine, and henna freckles to match:



This past weekend, before the lockdown, we hired a guy to come prune our fruit trees. Most of them are the small trees we planted ourselves, and weren’t very difficult to do, but the hoary old Bartlett pear by the shed was long overdue. It took him entire day with an electric pruning saw, but he did an excellent job. The only trouble now is that the low hanging branches and all the blackberries are gone, you can see the mess that was previously hidden. 




Rowan also spent some time cleaning up the greenhouse for me, which was very kind of her. The rosemary bush had grown to fill about half the total greenhouse space, as it does every year. It’s in full flower and smells lovely. She cut it back enough so we have enough space for, you know, some actual greenhouse plants. I filled a brown paper shopping bag with branches to dry and reluctantly threw the rest on the compost. There was about a wheelbarrow full, more rosemary than anyone can really use, unless maybe you want to roast a baby goat on a bed of rosemary branches. Too bad I don’t have a baby goat to try it with. 



All in all, a really nice day. So far this quarantine thing is a cinch. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

DQ8 - Alone With the Chores

Since my last post, the governor has increased restrictions, banning all gatherings, public and private, including even weddings and funerals. He has told all non-essential businesses to close and all non-essential workers to stay home. 


The list of essential workers and businesses is long  - long enough to invite skepticism, as did his inclusion of retail marijuana shops and their workers. I don’t know if he included liquor stores. Both Homero and I are considered essential workers. Homero still had work, but all my appointments for the rest of the week have been cancelled. All routine visits and follow-ups have been suspended to save PPE and reduce strain on health care workers. I heard from a nurse at the clinic on my last day in that even cancer treatments have been suspended. I hope that’s not true. 

So I’m at home with no valid way to avoid chores. Today Paloma and I transplanted the snap peas and I tackled this mountain of laundry:






Sunday, March 22, 2020

DQ6 - Visit From Rowan


Our oldest daughter Rowan came by today. She’s been in isolation for ten days already, because she had a cough and a sore throat. No fever though. Chances are it’s her regular seasonal allergies and post-nasal drip, but nobody’s taking any chances these days. 

She and her roommates are also putting in a bigger garden this year, and she called to ask if we had any fencing lying around she could use to keep the dogs out of the garden beds. As does any good farmstead, we have a few rolls of chicken wire kicking around, and I said she was welcome to come get some. 

When she arrived, Hope and I were in the garden laying down cardboard and anchoring it with rocks that Hope and Papa gathered in the pig pasture. That’s where all the rocks are, but we were afraid of the pigs and thought they would bite us if we went in there to gather the rocks. Papa said “I’ll go” and it turned out the pigs weren’t interested in trying to bite anybody. Ten minutes yielded enough rocks to hold down all the cardboard I had brought home from gleaners. Gleaners is a basically unlimited source of cardboard, and I ought to bring home a lot more. 

Rowan looked at the old strawberry bed, which is pretty much just lawn at this point, and suggested we dig up any strawberries we could find and transplant them into the second of the old claw foot bathtubs. We have two, and the first one was planted with spicy salad mix yesterday by Paloma and me. 




Eight clumps of strawberries were rescued and transplanted. There is room in the bathtub for another four or so; I may pick some up at the farm store tomorrow. We also cleaned up another raised bed and prepared it for transplanting our snap peas in a few days. The snap peas are currently germinating on the kitchen table in five egg cartons. As soon as we can prepare enough space, I have radish seeds and beet seeds ready to go. 

Today I also sent out a message over Facebook that if anyone was in need of eggs - I hear they are scarce in the grocery stores - I have five dozen I am happy to donate to families in need. We have thirteen laying hens and this time of year we are drowning in eggs. Three people messaged me and we made arrangement to meet up. 

It’s very odd to go to the grocery store and see empty shelves. That’s never happened in my lifetime. I’m so used to abundance and variety that it seems almost to be a natural American right. Shortages? Long lines? That only happens 
in other places - poor places, “socialist” places - not here. 
Not in AMERICA.  I was at Fred Meyer yesterday. The produce section looked unchanged, thank God, but there were long stretches of bare shelving in the toilet paper aisle, the cleaning products aisle, the pet food aisle, and the liquor aisle. American priorities, amiright? 







Saturday, March 21, 2020

QD5 - Spring Sting (Nettle Soup)




Stayed at home today - as we are all supposed to do - and having not much to do, decided to harvest some nettles and make avgolemeno soup with the remains of the chicken I roasted yesterday. 

Note to self: nitrile gloves are not proof against nettle stings. Right now, six hours later, three fingers on my left hand are still bitching and complaining. Nonetheless, I did manage to harvest half a brown paper shopping bag full of nettle tips. 

Avgolemeno soup is one of my favorite things, and I only make it once a year, just about now, when the nettles are ready. Avgolemeno means “egg and lemon.” It’s Greek. It refers to a delicious, tangy sauce that can be poured over vegetables, or used to thicken and bind broth. 

SPRING AVGOLEMENO SOUP:

take one chicken - or the remains of a roast chicken you ate  the night before - and simmer in plenty of water with salt to make broth. Let cool, and remove bones, reserving flesh.

To the broth, add two stalks chopped celery, two chopped carrots, a teaspoon fennel seed, a tablespoon salt, a couple
Cloves garlic, and a cup of white rice. Simmer gently.

While soup is simmering, go gather your nettles. Use gloves (not nitrile!). Rinse nettles in a colander to clean and remove any grass or extraneous vegetable matter. Add nettles to broth. 

When veggies are tender, make avgolemeno sauce: 

Crack three eggs into a bowl. Squeeze three large lemons and add juice to eggs. Beat well, until smooth. Then use a ladle to slowly add a cup of hot broth to egg mixture, beating all the while. This is called “tempering” the eggs. If you were to add the egg mixture directly to the soup, you’d have scrambled egg soup and it would be gross. Tempering the eggs with the lemon makeS a smooth, beautiful yellow tangy sauce which you can then add in a thin stream to the soup, stirring at the same time. 

Hit the soup with a teaspoon or so of fresh ground black pepper, maybe a bit of cayenne, and serve with crusty bread. 

Other lovely additions to chicken avgolemeno soup might be asparagus, spinach or other tender greens, or cubed cooked potatoes. 

Friday, March 20, 2020

DQ4 - Garden Notes




I haven’t bothered with a garden in years - beyond my perennials; rhubarb, raspberries, fruit trees - because I can get unlimited free produce from the gleaner’s pantry. This year, however, things are so very uncertain that it seems like it can’t be a bad idea to try to plant a few things. So far, gleaner’s is carrying on, but if the governor issues a shelter in place order, as so many others have, then I assume it will have to come to a halt. 

Our old garden space is a mess. The beds are entirely gone - just grass. Homero took a weed eater to the canary grass and Paloma clipped the blackberries. I hauled a few buckets full of compost and topped up one of the bathtubs. Then we planted a couple packs of spicy salad mix. 

A few days ago Paloma and I planted five egg cartons worth of snap peas, and they are germinating in the kitchen table. I’ll have to prepare a bed for them soon. Also sorted through some drawers and found seed packets of years past - most of the seeds will still sprout. I have cylindrical beets, radishes, and green beans. Also nasturtiums. No place to plant those though, until we do a lot more work. 

We have the time. Nothing but time. 

Thursday, March 19, 2020

DQ3 - Fire on the Hill




Life ain’t so bad. Geese are honking overhead. Coyotes are singing in the copse to the west. Venus is burning like a white hot torch in the western sky. Beers are cold and fire is hot. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

State of the Farm: Pandemic Edition



The girls amuse themselves at home with Henna freckles 


DQ2 - day two of “quarantine.” We aren’t officially quarantined, of course, and not even prohibited from going out and visiting. The official prohibitions in Washington are (as of right now) no gatherings of over 50 people (or has it been changed to 10?) and smaller gatherings must abide by strict “social distancing” rules that keep people 6 feet apart. 

Schools are closed at least through 4/27. I started the DQ count from the first day that schools were closed, which was yesterday, hence today is DQ2. Restaurants are closed, though takeout and delivery is allowed. Bars are closed, as are any place where people habitually gather, such as bowling alleys, churches, movie theaters, museums, libraries, barber shops, etc. Grocery stores and pharmacies are open. 

Everyone who can work from home is being told to work from home. I am still working, working more than usual in fact. As a medical interpreter, I spend my days going from one doctor’s office to another, which I suppose makes me high risk for infection. Today, for the first time, there were nurses with thermometers stationed at the entrances of the clinics, taking everyone’s temperature before they were allowed in. I don’t have a fever. 

Homero is still working as well, but he works from home all the time anyway. People still need their cars fixed, even if they are being told to stay home, I guess. I worry a bit about him because he has a few different underlying health conditions (as do I) that could make him a higher risk for complications. At least he wears gloves all the time. 

The girls were initially thrilled about the prospect of a six week spring break, until it was made clear to them that they would not being spending much time hanging out with friends, or indeed outside the house at all. I have let them see a couple friends, one or two at a time, and I’m thinking of getting in touch with the parents of a few of their “best friends” and asking about creating a closed circle of friends so they can all hang out with each other without becoming vectors of disease. 

Nobody knows yet when school will resume. Teachers have been told not to send homework for the time being, since not every child has internet access at home and it wouldn’t be equitable. The district is working on a solution, at least for high schoolers, and I expect sometime in the next week or two that they will probably send home some fat packets. In the meantime, I told the girls this isn’t a vacation, and that they needed to write up a schedule for themselves. It doesn’t have to be a strict schedule, or overly specific, but it has to exist. Here’s what they came up with:




I especially like Paloma’s first line item: “get up by eleven (don’t come for me).” 

Each schedule has to include a two hour block of time for school related work (their teachers can’t assign work that will be collected and graded, but they can post “suggestions” online) and a two hour block of “productive other” time. This second category can be anything from playing piano to drawing to exercising to working in the garden to reading a book. Other than those two categories, and one chore assigned by me or their papa each day, their time is their own. 

Some examples of the chores I intend to make them do, in no particular order:

- walk the pastures and pick up all the pieces of broken plastic, plastic baling twine, or plastic bags and assorted trash they can find. No matter how careful one is, small plastic detritus accumulates over the winter. 

- turn over some of the compost pile

- clean out a drawer or a cabinet 

- harvest nettles

- organize the canning jars (full ones by contents; empty ones by size)

- use the sewing machine to make patches for mending the quilts with holes in them (our dogs have a tendency to get overexcited and tug on the bedclothes)

- clean up the greenhouse 

Like everyone else, I am imagining all the great stuff we will all get done during this enforced down-time, and like everyone else I am probably fooling myself. It’s unlikely I will take up a musical instrument or learn a third language. A more realistic hope is that I will have time and energy to put in a small garden - something I haven’t done for a few years - and read a few extra books. Perhaps do some drawing. Within a month the goats will kid, and soon thereafter it will be cheese season again. 

A good chore for me would be to find, clean, and organize 
my cheese making equipment, and order new cultures and supplies. 

Another good chore for me would be to commit to keeping a blog diary of our lives during this time.  Nobody knows how this is going to play out. Things could stay bad for a long time. Many of my neighbors are elderly and frail and are really not supposed to go out at all. Tomorrow I will talk about local efforts to pull together and provide help and services for folks who are ACTUALLY quarantined, and for folks who have lost their jobs, and those negatively affected in all sorts of ways by this unprecedented situation. 

Stay healthy! 

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Dedicated Cheese



Today I opened up a cheese from last spring, that had been resting, vacuum sealed, in the dedicated fridge in the store room. The “dedicated fridge” is a half-sized refrigerator that I bought last year to store cheese, smoked salmon, and various fermented products such as sauerkraut, kim chee, and so forth.

As of today, there were only three packages of cheese in the dedicated fridge, totaling  perhaps  four pounds. Most of the cheese had been either eaten or traded away months ago. It’s always a gamble opening up a sealed cheese. 

This gamble paid off. The cheese is strong but delightfully rather than offensively so; goaty but pleasantly so; herbal with the scent of caraway seed, but not overpoweringly. A handful of almonds and a few dried figs made a beautiful accompaniment.

Other likely partners include fresh apple slices, sourdough bread, olives, maybe roasted red peppers and artichoke hearts... basically it would be an enhancement to any mezze plate or antipasto plate. 

I’m inordinately proud. I mean seriously. How many people are there, in this day and age, who make their own cheese? And cheese made from the milk of goats who they raised and milked themselves, at that? the cheese I enjoyed tonight is a true artisan farmstead product that few people have the chance to taste.

More’s the pity. if you ever make it out here, there’s cheese in the dedicated fridge. Dedicated for you. 

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Double Dog Update



It’s going so much better than we could have hoped. Looks like we have two dogs now.