Thursday, December 31, 2015


We finally caught this raccoon who has been raiding the dog food - another unwelcome guest!

I just had to unfriend someone after a decade-long friendship.  It was hard.  Our children liked to play together.  She is going through a really hard time in her life, and I felt sorry for her.  We have things in common.  We have both lived here a long time and know a lot of the same people.

All these things made it really, really hard.  And that was the worst part, because she was really, really mean to me.  When I thought about it, I realized she has always been really, really mean to me from the very beginning.  And rude.  And tries to shame me in front of other people.  And she criticizes me constantly, while in the same breath praises herself.  She isn't always like that, which makes it very confusing.  I've had visits with her that were wonderful visits, and I've had other visits that make me swear never to speak to her again, ever.  But then months would go by, and I would run into her again, and she would be nice and flatter me, and I would doubt my previous experience.

That's what made it so hard.  Because she always starts by being nice, and then she would impose on me, start bossing me around and insulting me.  Every little thing was a target for criticism.  And it's never rational or expected: 

I had made fresh tortillas to share out of store-bought Bob's Red Mill masa - not good enough.  She refused to eat it, and explained to her daughter in front of me that she only ate corn that was organic (I even explained that on their website they say their masa is from non-gmo corn.  This is the kind Sally Fallon recommends!). I was totally shocked when, a few months later, we saw them at the springs where she was letting her kids eat concession-stand corndogs!  (I think she was slightly ashamed we caught her at this).  But my tortillas weren't "good" enough for her.

Clothilde got out her BPA-free plastic tea set - PLASTIC!!!  (I actually had the same metal set that she has for her girls, but because my children like to make salt-dough "cookies" to play tea with, they all corroded and rusted away.  I got the plastic because I was worried about their contact with the corroded metal).  I wish I could have gotten a picture of the sneer she made when she saw it.  It was legendary.

I hadn't seen her in over a year when I visited her again last summer.  She was really nice, and flattered me (What does Chaucer say in Chanticleer?  "Never again shall you with your flattery get me to sing with my eyes closed.  For he who closes his eyes when he should watch, God let him never prosper."  Or something like that).  She encouraged us to go along with group fiddle lessons at our house every week.  She was so nice then, I thought it would be fine.  But over the past few months she became meaner and meaner.  She was furious we had to cancel the group fiddle lesson at our house when I was in the ICU after surgery.  It "interfered with her daughter's fiddle education!"

She became more and more demanding, and more and more out-right rude.  I would have a near-panic attack every week on Wednesday morning, trying to get everything clean and neat enough to please her (it never did).  Then I would spend the rest of the week feeling awful about whatever incredibly mean things she had said to me, even if I only spent a few minutes with her before or after the lesson.  I felt locked into this situation - Mirin was happy with the lessons, and was this just my problem?  Maybe I just needed to stick up for myself better.

I found that sticking up for myself resulted in violent consequences - she had a tantrum on my driveway, screamed at me in front of the children, and then sulked.  They still stayed for the lesson, but it made her even more sullen and rude when we saw them.  I started having bad dreams about this.  In my heart, I knew she was being abusive, and that I was inviting her in to abuse me every week, but it seemed impossible to cut off the lessons.

Finally, I realized I HAD to get this person out of my life - for good.  I realized I don't care how many other people think she's a wonderful, kind, generous person - she's abusive to me.  I called Mirin's fiddle teacher and talked with him, and told him we "needed a break" from fiddle. It's such an enormous relief.  But I still am struggling with this.  I alternate between feeling incredibly angry at how she treated me, to feeling very low self-esteem.  I hear the nasty thing she said in my head still.  It's been traumatic.

A friend of mine had a similar (though decidedly worse) incident last year, and I remember thinking that she should just stick up for herself!  Of course she should know that other woman was crazy and not believe in the awful things she did/said!  But now I remember how HARD it can be.  It's not always so clear.  Abusive people always have a flattering side - and they might charm their way into the community so that who they target finds themselves publicly shamed.  They are careful whom they target for their abuse, and they do it privately, so their target is vulnerable (my friend was never abusive while Ethan was around!).

These kinds of things are always complicated.  I kept suppressing my natural anger, because I wanted to "be nice."  I didn't want to be attacked.  I just wanted to get along.  She took advantage of that.  I blamed myself for her behavior.  I thought it must be something I had done or said, and I went way out of my way to try to pacify her.  It finally clicked for me that there was something wrong with HER when I tried to sit down near her one day, and I really felt inside like I wanted to run away screaming.  Something had to be done.  I knew, as soon as I saw them drive away for the last time, my next year is going to be so much better now.

Roots and Rabbits

 Ethan uncovered this adorable little rabbit when he moved the chickens through a thick patch of bidens in the garden.  It tried to run away, but he caught it again easily, and it squeaked loudly.  It had a litter mate that he unfortunately stepped on by accident, before he even realized there were rabbits there.

Clothilde and I walked this little bunny up to the second grazing line.  I didn't want to hurt it, but I also didn't want it in my garden (are THESE the bunnies who were eating my collards and broccoli???).  Clothilde and I held it for a little while, marvelling at all the different colors and beautiful wild markings on it before we let it go.  It hopped away.

A few days later, I was on that line with Clothilde, showing her how to throw the rye, clover and oat seeds up so they scatter nicely on the pasture.  I was looking up at the huge moon above us, and I heard a horrible squeak...

I stepped on that same little bunny!  It was hunkered down in the middle of the field, under a blackberry bush.  It's nose was bleeding, and it was thrashing, and I could tell it was dying.  I felt so bad!  I hadn't seen it, or even expected a little animal there.  I was shocked that it hadn't run away for the denser brush at the edge of the field.  Clothilde didn't notice, and I didn't tell her about it, because I felt so awful.

I am sure there was something not right about those bunnies.  I've never seen little bunnies that were not fast as lightening if there was something big tromping around (as I was).  I thought of the demon-disguised-as-a-deer that unwillingly tricked Rama into leaving Sita, that lay down for him to kill it because it wanted to be released to a new existence.  Ahh...who knows.

Well, despite having baby bunnies in it, the garden is doing well.  I got all my lettuce planted.  It seems to be thriving, and I hope we will have glorious salads soon!  The only time of year we get big bowls of fresh green stuff!

I pulled a bunch of the big radishes and made radish and pumpkin pickles again, as I had last year.  They were so good last year, but the weather was so cool and everything was so sweet.  The radish pickles I made a few weeks ago are very bitter and no one wants to eat them.  I replanted the radish row in hopes we'll get the rains and cool weather in January.

I did a turnip trial this year - I picked four kinds - first my old favorite, purple tops, then another favorite I have grown for years, Scarlet Ohno turnips.  I like their smooth leaves.  I wanted to grow those side-by-side with the other turnips to compare.  The other ones I picked were the Amber Globe and White Egg.  I picked one of each the other day to try them.

The purple tops and the red turnips were the sweetest and had the best flavor.  The white and yellow turnips were strong and spicy.  I am also having problems with root maggots this year, something I have never had happen before.  I suspect the very hot weather is the problem.  The roots are just rotting and turning to mush before I can pick them.  It seems to only be affecting the yellow and white turnips, so it's possible they are susceptible to it, while the purple and red ones I usually grow have always been fine because they are resistant.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Local Dad Finds One Cool Trick For Storing Tons of Back Fat

(Please ignore all the crap on my counter.  I have a very small kitchen/counterspace).

Ethan got out the meat grinder and tons of frozen back fat the other day in an effort to create more freezer space.  It seems to work really well storing the fat like this.  It doesn't get moldy or go rancid the way rendered fat does.  You just chip off what you need and throw it in a pan to render when needed.  It's so much easier than tending a bubbling pot of hot fat, trying to pour the results into a jar without clogging the drain, and burning the cracklings.

Step 1:  Cut back fat into strips.  Cut the skin off by holding the knife down and at an angle, and pulling the strip towards you (I'm sure there are youtube videos on this - it isn't difficult, but is hard to describe).

Step 2:  Run through a meat grinder with the coarsest plate so that it comes out as little cubes.  Have it feed straight into a plastic freezer bag (pre-labeled.  Sharpie doesn't write through lard or tallow).  This reduces the amount of dishes you have to wash afterwards (or actually for your wife to wash, because you probably "forget" about them, too).

BONUS COOL TRICK:  Use plastic bags with the little sliders so you aren't fumbling and trying to seal them with grease-covered hands.

Step 3:  Press air out of bags to make them even smaller.  Then, if available, use toy rolling pin from the kids' handy wooden kitchen you always knock your shins on to form fat-filled bags into stackable shapes.  Presto!  Now you have freezer space again.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Experiments with Fermented Cassava

We stopped by our friend PJ's house the other day while we were on her side of town looking at a chest freezer we found on Craigslist.  She loaded us up with more grapefruits, showed us her chickens and her garden, and insisted we take all the pablano peppers that loaded the five or so bushes she had still going.  They turned out to be fairly sweet.  We stuffed them with homemade chevre and home-brined ham and flamed them under the broiler in the oven.  They were so good!

 There were still so many left, Ethan made an Indian pickle from my "Curries without Worries" cookbook.  It went great with the fried cassava we have been subsisting on in between Christmas dinners (we have several every year due to so much nearby family).

This time I soaked the cassava for several days, changing the water every day.  I've read that is how it is usually prepared.  For the first several days, I could smell the cyanide coming off in the water.  It got less and less bitter and better and better to fry up, until the sixth day or so, when it suddenly got a funky, cheesy smell that I didn't like.  I fried some of it up anyway, but it was too strong-flavored and kind of slimy for me to choke down.  Ethan liked it, but he has had a nose infection that keeps him from really being able to smell.  I changed the water one last time, but the next day the roots were so mushy and smelled so funky, I just put them in the piggie bucket.  I think if I maybe am more careful about changing the water more often, it won't get quite so strong.  It was really good until that point.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Too much


 Christmas was fun.....(and there was too much chocolate)


....and busy.

 The results, naturally, are tiring, and lead to other things:

 All the new stuff we got from extended family gave me a panic attack this morning.  There's no place for it to go.  My kids can't handle what they have already.    Puzzle pieces strewn around and a huge pile of Rose's dress-up stuff blocking the front door didn't help.  Inspired, I went through my closet and found a pile of things for the thrift store.  I went through my book shelf again and set aside a big stack of unread books for the library book sale.

The bags and boxes attracted the big kids, who began freaking out that I was giving anything away.  They began shouting and pulling stuff out, until they realized it was things like "Craft of the Dyer" and "The Tudor Age."  (not bad books, but I don't have enough shelf space for them all, and I have not looked in either of those for over a decade).  Then they calmed down.  I haven't gotten to their room....yet.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

A Christmas Eve Surprise

 On Christmas eve we went out early to do the chores - not very early, after lunch-ish.  There were a few surprises waiting for us - first of all, the pigs HAD gotten through the electric fence (I thought they were behaving themselves very nicely - too nicely), and were in the garden.  Luckily we caught them just in time, and there was hardly any damage.  We had to chase them for a long time, though, to get them safely into the orchard.  They did a great job rooting up the weeds from the old summer garden.  As soon as it looks like it will rain again, I will scatter some cover crop seeds of oats, rye, and clover.  It was HOT on Christmas eve.  I was pouring sweat chasing the pigs.  It felt like August.

There was another surprise, too:

 Geranium had her baby!

She seems to have larger ears than I remember the other calves having, but she is beautiful and healthy.  Geranium let us come close and even pet her a little.
It was decided that she should be named Holly.  And that gave us an idea of what to name Chestnut's one could agree.  Ethan wanted to call it "Spats" for some reason.  Rose wanted it to be called "Proudfoot" after a character in a book.  But I pointed out we should call him Mistletoe - whatever made him his lovely ruddy brown color "missed" his one white toe.  It even has a pun in it, for Ethan's sake.  Mistletoe was so happy to have another calf to play with.  He's been trying to play with Sappho, Ninja, Lichen and the other calves from last year, but they are too grown-up now and aren't very interested.

 On Christmas morning when Ethan went out early to do the chores, Holly was up springing around playfully already:

A wonderful time for a birth!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you a lovely holiday!  Thanks for reading here!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Shopping Trauma with Three-Year-Old

Clothilde jammed herself in the orange safety cone we keep for slowing down traffic when the kids are riding bikes in front of our house.

I had two awful shopping adventures with Clothilde this past week.  I must say first - she is the sweetest, most affectionate of any of my children.  When she sees a younger child or baby, her first reaction is to give them a kiss or help them with something (many small children will push or pick on a smaller child).  And she really does, for the most part, try to be good.

But being in a store sparks off something incredibly devilish in her.  She gets a gleam in her eye and does things I can hardly believe are happening.  We get rushed out of stores.  Once the manager even offered her a free cookie so she would behave.  She's stolen apples whilst in the baby backpack, choked on them, and vomited into my hand in the store (worst shopping day ever).  One time (and only one time) I had the misjudgement to take her into a bead store with the big kids.  I still get a stab of anxiety when I think of that time.  After ravaging the store and getting us all yelled at by the nasty store owner, I strapped her (struggling) into the backpack.  Her response was to kick her foot so that her shoe flew into the middle of the store.

Last week I had to get snacks for Rose's Nutcracker performance.  She had to be eight times on stage during five days - with shows close together, and it was a long time of being stuck at the theatre.  They provided some "snack" for the kids, but I knew it would be something I really didn't want her to eat.  My MIL arranged for us to bring our own snack, but it had to be marked "nut-free" and be packaged.

Mirin stayed at home while Rose, Clothilde and I went questing for such snacks.  We went to Earth Origins and noted how nice their new freezers are (we'll see if they go out again next December, though!).  We started looking at crackers.  I had to find all the ingredients lists, read the tiny print to make sure there wasn't something awful in them, and check to be sure they were marked "nut-free", too.  After a few minutes, Clothilde got that gleam in her eye.  I hadn't been able to find the Ergo backpack - later I discovered it under several archaeological layers on the floor of the truck - so there was no way to restrain her.  She doesn't stay in carts, but climbs all over them in all the ways it shows not to let your kid climb on them, and in several other ways she has figured out, too.

She started running away down the isles and vanishing.  I would leave Rose with the shopping basket and run after her.  I would find her in one of the isles, she would startle, turn around, and shriek with laughter as she ran away and disappeared again.  All the employees were laughing at us.  Rose had to help me corner her and bring her back to the cracker section and try to unsuccessfully pin her down.  I left the store feeling exhausted, humiliated, and shell-shocked.

A couple days ago we went to the local natural pet store to get Christmas treats for Teasel and Belle.  Mirin got dropped off at a friend's house, so it was only me and the girls again.  When we first got there, I got out, opened the doors and fought to get Clo's shoes on her little, kicking feet.  I didn't realize it would take Rose 50,000,000,000 years to put on her shoes with laces, so I unbuckled Clothilde and shut the doors.  Clothilde promptly hopped down and ran with gleeful abandon through the crowded parking lot.  I chased after her, with Rose wailing, "Don't leave me!" from the van.   I knew there would be inconsolable tears, so I tucked Clothilde under my arm and went back to the van.  All the doors were closed and locked, but Rose was still inside.  She unlocked the door, and I opened it from the outside.

This somehow made the van's built-in burglar alarm system believe that it was either was being stolen, or someone was being murdered.  (How I loathe car alarms!).  It started loudly honking, blaring to the world that we were in crisis.  Incredibly embarrassed, I had to hold Clothilde under one arm (while she squirmed) and fumble around in my purse for the key, and then remember how to get it to shut up.  It did, and we made it (finally) into the store....

Once in the store Clothilde was released from my aching arms.  I couldn't help feeling that the lady in the store marked us out as problem customers from the start (but she was very nice to us).  Clothilde immediately sprung away from me, having developed that gleam-in-her-eye while we were still struggling with the car alarm in the parking lot.  She began moving merchandise around, pulling things off the shelves, mixing up the help-yourself dog treats.  When I pounced on her to get her to stop, she squealed horribly and wriggled away, ran over to the piled up bags of dog food they have lying around the store and began climbing and jumping on them.  I tried to get her to help pick out something for Teasel - a catnip toy?  Some treats?  She streaked away and went to harass the shop cats that are always lounging around the store.  Both cats got up indignantly and stalked off.  The lady at the counter said the one really fat tabby hadn't moved all morning, but he moved halfway across the store because of Clothilde.  Eventually we made it out, much to everyone's (including everyone in the store) relief.

After thinking about it, I find I have no desire to go shopping with her again until she's at least five.  It's possible I could arrange that.  I hardly ever go shopping, anyway.  Stores just have that really bad effect on her that I think should not be encouraged, if possible.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Calamondins and Crazed Dogs

Our neighbor gave us a bunch of calamondins - tiny, extremely sour, but very flavorful little citrus fruits (the one in the picture is actually a Satsuma orange - Clothilde had started peeling it.  The calamondins are much smaller and at that point had worked their way into the sour gummies).  Ethan baked a ham that had been clogging up the fridge in the brine bucket for weeks and made a wonderful calamondin glaze for it, and I made a bunch of sour gummies - they are all gone by now.  I can't make enough of them!  I saved the old chocolate advent calendar molds from last year.  Every gummy is different, and they are all different shapes of starts, angels, houses, trees, boots filled with presents.  It's fun.

Mirin has been pet-sitting for our neighbors with a very beloved (absolutely doted on), but very badly behaved dog.  My mom is good friends with them, so she has been going over with Mirin to make sure he does it all right.  They are realizing that when the neighbors would say, "Don't jump," to the dog, they really meant "Don't hump."  It also jumps up and knocks you down and scratches you with its claws because it's part boxer.  They also have chickens and guinea pigs, but of course the hardest part is trying to do everything for the other animals while the crazed, hyper dog is humping their legs.  It's good life experience.

We put six turkeys in the freezer yesterday - I'm still tired.  They weren't very big this year.  We got them at the wrong time before Ethan had finished building all the coops we needed because the hatchery was being shut down due to the big poultry disease outbreak that went on this summer.  They had to share with the chickens for WAY too long, and it wasn't good for either of them.  There are still seven left, but we don't have freezer space for them - or for the beef this year, either.  It's too full of dumpster-dived frozen organic veggies we don't really like.  There's talk of triaging a lot of it to the pigs to make room.  It will be a big relief when all the poultry is gone (except the egg chickens, of course).  I don't know what we will do with the beef, but at least someone is going to borrow Explorer for awhile, so we don't have to feed him hay constantly while we are waiting for more freezer space to appear.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Digging in the garden

Climate change has been on my mind this strange autumn.  Not that I can do much about it.  But it's the time of year when the antlered reindeer fly in the midnight sky - coming to us from the old myths of Cernnunos and Deer Woman - the old ones who lead the sacred hunt in pursuit of those who violate the laws of life, catch them, and bring them the deserved justice of their actions.

I'm feeling optimistic about my garden these days.  Although it got a late start, it's doing quite well.  I was berating myself the other day for getting such a late start - last year we were eating well out of it by October.

The turnips and radishes are finally ready to pull.  It's been so hot they aren't sweet this year.  We've had some very fiery and strong-flavored turnips for dinner.  I like to think I've been somehow in sync with the hot, hot autumn this year.  It's just now getting cold, and I'm just now getting around to the cool-weather garden.

My third round of starts worked out...they are looking very green, happy and optimistic.  Everything is thriving, and it makes me happy.

The girls are delighted with pulling the radishes for kimchi.  We found a really cool mannish radish.  It reminds me of a Roman statue:

The radish tops are so spicy, I've been giving them to the pigs.  You have to look at this picture carefully to see what scale it's at (the two tree trunks in the background are actually Star's muddy legs).

It was very tentative, but we put the four feeder pigs from the spring in the garden to root it up and clear it out.  The rabbits are getting my peas and broccoli again (what is it about peas and broccoli that attracts them so????).  The best and most effective way to deal with them is to clear out all the brush they hide in.  A huge old owl comes and hunts by the garden every night, and as long as she can see them, there's no danger of them making the run over to the garden across along field.  The pigs have been well-behaved (and delighted with the forage) so far, but I am always nervous about them getting out and eating my vegetables.

Friday, December 18, 2015


This week has been full of Nutcracker performances - it's Rose's second year, and she's a soldier again.  It's a fun part, and she has really enjoyed it so far.  Clothilde went to the school show this morning and loved it.  She's been waking up so early this week (before it is even light out).  While exhausting, it has been helpful for getting Rose up and ready for the early shows.  She's not usually such an early riser.

This year for the party last weekend I had offered chocolate chip cookies and homemade chocolate marshmallows for roasting.  I know lots of other people's children can handle chocolate perfectly fine.  Mirin, afraid he wouldn't get enough cookies, and hid a bunch of them before he had finished eating dinner.  We were too busy to really closely supervise Clothilde, and she found his stash and ate enough of it that her breath reeked of chocolate.  The next morning she tump-tumped out of bed with unusual energy and squealing laughter.  That was the beginning of the early mornings this week.

On Tuesday I found the chocolate marshmallows still in the van - they had been forgotten in the back seat Saturday night.  They were fine, just a little stale.  Clothilde saw them and said, "I want to chocolate."

She uses the word as a verb!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Pig Madness


Ethan spent most of Friday and Saturday chained to the pig roast, but otherwise the birthday/holiday celebration went quite well.  Thursday was of course full of scalding, scraping, field-dressing, the crisis of making the ice-and-hay cooler (which worked very well actually), and a very late drive across town to get the extra-large roasting equipment from PJ's dad.

Friday involved Ethan driving out to the farm twice (once to check on the ice level for the pig, and again for the evening chores), and for us at home it was a day of cooking frenzy, which Clothilde and Rose both enjoyed and Mirin shrugged, slunk off, and avoided.  We started with squeezing lemons for lemonade and moved on through sugar plums, ambrosia, carrot salad, and cream cheese frosting to the gingerbread house - it turned out lovely, except when it was assembled on Saturday, the weather was so warm it melted and never turned out into a proper house at all.  Mirin joined in for the gingerbread - it is that popular - and everyone cut shapes from the left-over dough.  Afterwards the table looked like a scene from an I-Spy book and I had to take the raisins away because they were being abused.

By Saturday we were all quite tired - Mirin and Rose had gone off to see the play "Mary Poppins" and spend the night with the grandparents, and Ethan stumbled out to the farm long before it was light to start working on the pig, so Clothilde and I were quite on our own for the rest of it.  She was a good sport and took a trip to the farmer's market with my mom (that's when I actually got everything done).

I missed all the drama involved in getting the pig-roast set up, but I heard it was hairy in some places (sorry, that's a pun, isn't it?). PJ's dad hadn't included some vital piece to help the pole run properly through the pig, so actually getting the pig up required feats of strength, a pointed wooden stake, PJ's dad yelling over the phone, and a miracle.  They started off by using the motor to turn the spit, but the turning mechanism kept getting off track and almost burned up the motor.  Naturally, it didn't have an off-switch, so to rescue it from itself Ethan had to sprint over to the plugs and desperately tug them apart with pig-grease covered hands.  They went to the hand-crank and it got easier.

Clothilde and I were late to arrive, and we had just gotten everything set out when people started showing up.  It was hot - much too hot to be roasting a pig, and the hot plate I had brought to heat the hot mulled cider was never plugged in - we just had cold spiced apple juice instead.  Everyone loved the food, the roasted pig was a hit, and the children wandered in big mobs, laughing and playing.  Clothilde ate so many chocolate chip cookies, she reeked of chocolate (and woke up early with a mad storm of chatter and fast tumping footsteps the next morning).

Ethan spent most of the party trying to get the pig to finish cooking, and then cutting it up and storing it in plastic bags.  He had about an hour and a half of pig-free time, and most of that was taken up with chores.  And I had wanted to just roast a couple of chickens.....just sayin'.

"Never again!" was what he groaned before falling into bed that evening, but we'll see.  He had also at one point promised never to build any more chicken coops with doors that open from the bottom, and we've seen from that example that he can't be trusted on those kinds of things.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Little Big Pig

A blown-up pig's bladder - in other words, a "Colonial foot-ball"

It works!

Yesterday our friend PJ came out and very generously assisted in processing a pig to roast whole for the birthday this weekend.  It was the only remaining boar among the spring piglets, and we also didn't want him to start breeding his sisters.

You know, it's hard to tell how big things are out there.  I'm not sure if this is because of all the distance makes the perspective different, or because we have a mixture of large and small animals.  Out there, Belle appears to be an average-sized dog, but when I brought her into town once for her rabies shots, she towered over all the other dogs there and everyone was commenting on how enormous she was.  She is so small next to the cows.

Bee, the huge mama sow is so big, everything looks tiny in comparison.  Ethan estimated the spring pig was about 55 lbs, and last week when PJ saw them, she said it looked about 55 lbs, too (I had no hand in this, I should add, but they all looked tiny from a distance).

Well, that pig was huge.  He weighed probably 150 lbs, and was as long as Rosie.  Mirin stunned him with the .22, and got a perfect shot.  He went down immediately.  Later, when I was cleaning everything up, I found a 3-foot metal rod that turned out to be the spit to roast the "small" pig that PJ was going to loan looked comic next to the actual pig.  There were more problems with that - because it also didn't fit in the cooler.  We had to make one out of hay, ice, and a scrubbed-out water trough.  And Ethan had to drive a long way to pick up a spit that would actually fit the thing last night.

So...we'll see how it goes.  Theoretically we would need to wake up at 3am just to start the fire....

Friday, December 11, 2015

This Season

Right after Thanksgiving I managed to re-furbish chocolate advent calendars with healthier and less hyper-activity inducing sour gummies, but then got lost in trying to finish up home school for this year and getting my garden going.

Yesterday I finally opened up our holiday's not much.  A collection of unbreakable ornaments, a felt garland we made years ago, a Santa comic I sketched one day that my kids adore, a Matryoshka doll, a roll of candle wick, a book of carols I made, a list of favorite recipes, some wintery children's books.

To my surprise, everyone got SO excited.  The lid of the storage container was literally ripped off.  Old snowflakes littered the floor, and several got tangled in the tape before they were put up on the windows.  New snowflakes were begun.  The angel chimes were assembled after several unsuccessful tries.  Ornaments were held up and cooed at.  The Matryoshka doll was taken down to even the teeniest, tiniest part by Clothilde (and by some miracle was entirely put together again afterwards).  Rose made me put on Nutcracker music.  There were requests for cookies.

This all took me by surprise - usually the holiday spirit is entirely up to me.  I remember last year it was hard to get anyone to sit down and make a snowflake.  This year they were fighting over the paper and scissors.  Either they are finally old enough to carry the traditions along for themselves, or my hesitation this year made them start clamouring for gingerbread.  It's nice to step back and watch the celebrating unfold rather than make it like another home school lesson.  Perhaps that was the problem last year - I have a fault of over-planning things.  I like to be prepared, but then the excitement of the moment can be lost.

I have to say, even with the annual birthday party drawing close, this is by far the least stressful holiday season I can remember.  I credit the trip to France for some of this - it reminded me how little stuff we actually need, and how at a certain point, stuff just gets in your way and weighs you down.  Hardly any presents and an open schedule feel absolutely divine this year.

And it has reminded me how much I love this season!  The turkeys, the candles, the feasting, the singing, the surprises, the tang of pine sap, the smell of good things baking, the oranges and lemons fresh from the trees.  And the weather is the best of all - cool and dry, with blue, blue skies full of sunshine - perfect for building next year's summer garden.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Greediest Goat

We arrived at the farm the other day to see the goats wandering around at the end of the driveway.  Someone had a bucket stuck on their head.  This turned out to be May.  It was quite a desperate drive to get to them, because they can easily reach my little garden starts that are finally thriving.  It is exactly the kind of thing they would gravitate to and messily devour.

They had - by some miracle - not gotten that far yet.

May took some chasing to finally get the bucket off of her - it is obvious who is the greediest goat, I think.  She preferred to wander shamelessly around with it swinging by her neck than be caught and wriggled out of it (I don't think goats feel shame - or if they do, they are very good at hiding it.  I think I saw a flicker of it the one time Cricket played King of the Mountain with Firefly and slipped on the hay and landed most ungracefully on her backside).

An interesting thing about the dumpster dived food - although Rose calls it "cart diving," because most of the food we nabbed before it got to the dumpster.  I can't believe the amount of packaging that goes into it!  And to think that most people eat that kind of food for regular boggles the mind.  No wonder all my neighbors have the largest trash cans on the side of the road on trash day.  There's about a cup of frozen organic berries per plastic bag.  And it costs like $7.  So our twenty blueberry bushes must make hundreds of dollars worth of organic blueberries every year.  And the fact that we freeze them in full gallon bags makes the packaging seem incredibly minimalistic.  Wonderful!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Golden Abundance



 It's been a particularly abundant week this week - not only because there are finally things to eat out of the garden at last (hooray for turnips and radishes!), but also a friend of ours gavee us bagfuls of lemons and grapefruits from her trees.

The girls pulled some daikons from the garden and helped me grate them up and pickle them.  Just plain, salted daikon, nothing else.  It's very good.  Rose was said she could hardly wait until it was ready.  That's what seasonal eating will do for you.  Things you never would have thought fit for cravings become utterly desirable.  I'm thankful I've gotten to experience that - that sense of relief, gratitude, and pleasure in finally getting into a different food group after a long season.

I've realized something recently.  My daily work drags on me rather, especially at the farm.  But since I've been recovering, and haven't felt expected to have a great garden (I'm not sure who is expecting this other than me), it has been much easier to work in it.  It isn't  that I don't want to be doing it - but there is always a sense of discouragement about what I am working on.

It became clear to me when I was at the Morningside cane boil with Ethan and the Barefoot boys (they do the ax-hewing and stuff - this time it was splitting wood for shingles).  I saw their garden and homestead and the few animals they have left - when I went there as a child it was full of different animals - now there's only the cow, chickens, sheep and some really ugly pigs.  The cow looked hungry for green stuff.  I thought about how they could seed some rye on half her paddock, just to give her something fresh.  Or bring weeds to the pigs and sheep from the garden.  Or use the cow manure on the garden.  All kinds of ideas.  I started wishing I had time to volunteer and make it a nice little homestead.  Then I remembered we have our own little homestead to worry about (oh yes, that's why I don't have free time).  Somehow it seemed like it would be funner and easier to work for someone else.

It's like the Buddhist analogy of the road over a chasm is the same as a road across a field - only the mindset of fear makes the one over the chasm more difficult.  I feel it is the same - the mindset of feeling that everything must succeed and be perfect always is rigid and difficult.

I have been trying to change this as I am going about my work.  It seems to give me more energy.  When I feel the drag, I pretend I am not working on my farm at all, I'm volunteering for something.  When the fear of unsuccess is out of my mind, I can work freely and enjoy it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

December Dumpster Dive Tradition

Only two days shy of the anniversary of the last time the freezers at "Earth Origins" corporate natural food store crapped out, they did it again.  We had already had an insanely lucky day - the first part was taken up with a friend-of-a-friend who had demolished an old hay barn and had a barn's worth of lumber and sheet metal we got for a super discount.

And on the way back home I noticed some tiki torches in decent condition set out at the curb in front of the neighbor's house.  Ethan has wanted tiki torches for out at the farm for ages.  He had talked of buying them for awhile, but we never got around to it.  He walked down to grab them while I watched the kids playing in the front yard.  Mirin was wrestling rather roughly with our brutish neighbor kid, and I was giving them advice.  Rose and the brutish neighbor girl were doing cartwheels on the lawn.  Ethan returned shortly, not only with the tiki torches, but also with two bikes in great condition - and one of them fit Rose perfectly.  The neighbors are moving to Delaware, and they were glad to pass them along.

This was a better coincidence than I can say.  In the past year Rose has really taken to riding her bike, but her old bike is too small and recently broke beyond simple repair.   I've had "bike" on her birthday, and then her Christmas list, but wasn't sure how we were going to be able to afford one this year.  But it seems the junk gods have provided.

And not only did they provide the bikes, but they also provided some much-deserved karma.  The brutish neighbor kid, Kollin (yes, spelled with a K, and double L's), who is always teasing and tormenting Mirin because we insist he wear his bike helmet, was given the other bike, since his bike (in his words) was "fixed beyond repair."  Mirin reported that he was walking back to our house from next door when Kollin was riding the new bike around in the dark.  He suggested Kollin get a bike light, and Kollin took the opportunity to rudely make fun of him about having to wear a bike helmet again (he never stops doing this.  It makes me so angry.).  Then he said, "Watch how fast I can go!" and wheeled off down the road and back again very fast.  He tried to brake when he got back to Mirin, but only the front brake worked.....richly deserved.  I'm sure if there were a few brain-cells that didn't survive, it won't make much difference with him, anyway.

My mom was the one to bear the news about the Earth Origins freezer outage.  We wanted a quiet evening that night, but Mirin insisted we go - he thought he might get some ice cream.  He suited up in professional hipster dumpter-diver gear - head lamp, hat (to keep off the hummus, Veganaise and squashed Earthbalace), plaid shirt (long sleeves), jeans, rubber boots.  We were the only ones there at first.  The employees told us the manager had wanted to put poison soap on everything to punish dumpster divers, but the employees managed to talk him out of it.  My mom is a beloved regular customer, and they made allowances for us in that we helped unload the carts into the dumpster and picked through to find what we wanted.  We didn't actually get much out of the dumpster itself.  I couldn't believe how much was being dumped.  Cartload after cartload - most of it yucky vegan processed stuff we don't eat - but other people do.  A couple of vegan shoppers stopped by to see what was going on with the head lamps and the kids running around in the parking lot.  Mirin dug out all the fake soy food we had tossed aside, and they were so excited.

We called everyone we thought would be interested, and finally a bunch of people showed up.  It was quite a party.  Ethan reflected on the best quotes from last year's dumpster dive:

"This is even better than 10% off day!"

And "You know,  I never thought I'd say this, but I think I have enough Earthbalance."

Clothilde had a blast running around and trying to get into disgusting things.  I managed to keep her mostly clean with constant supervision.  They are such lucky children.  How many other kids get to go dumpster diving? 

The best thing we got was a lot of expensive frozen organic fruit.  Almost everything else was microwavable processed frozen food in packages that we would prefer not to eat.  We saved some organic burritos with decent ingredients and had them for breakfast.  We struggled to get the packages off - I think I've forgotten how to do that - and ended up cutting them open with scissors.  They were - blah.  Starchy.  Bland.  Unsatisfying.  I can't believe people pay that much money to eat that.  I much, much prefer the clean, fresh food from the farm, but it's so sad to see it go to waste.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Several Things

We've had a quiet past two weeks...I had a very small hand in Thanksgiving this year.  It was spent with lots of family, mostly Ethan's family.  My brother got stuck talking to Ethan's crazy uncle for a long time ("who was that guy?" he asked my parents later.  "Angie warned us about him," my mom said).

Otherwise we are wrapping up our home schooling for 2015, and holiday plans are coming forward.  Very small holiday plans this year, like getting out the angel chimes and maybe making paper snowflakes - maybe.

I am finally getting around to planning the birthday party (x3...we do one birthday party for all three children).  It will be nice to get so many of our friends together.

We found this little snake stuck in a hole in a gate - he had crawled in and couldn't crawl out again.  It took a lot of fiddling to get him free, and he was very glad to go on his way again.

But the big news....

Star had another litter of piglets!  Ethan was out early on Thanksgiving to do all the chores so we could spend the rest of the day with family.  He called to report that he thought Star was going to have piglets.....and then he discovered they had already been born!

She made a lovely nest for them with pine needles.  They are so sweet with their tiny little ears that flap when they run.  They have been out of the nest now for several days, wandering and rooting around like miniature big pigs.  Now that the weather has (finally) gotten a little cold, I found them stacked up in a little pile yesterday.