Monday, March 31, 2014

Primitive Happiness

Surely this is among the most primeval of feelings...the feeling of happiness -- the happiness of watching weather when you yourself are not out in it.

Since the beginnings of time, our ancestors probably sat in caves, in primitive shelters or under a thick canopy of mighty trees, thinking the equivilent of "boy, it's really coming down out there.  How nice to be dry and warm down/in/under here." 

Nothing like being safely sheltered, preferably under a blanket or in front of a fire, when the weather finally arrives. Perhaps our first and deepest happiness, as human beings.

We are all Noahs

This weekend we took a couple of hours off from trellis-building and egg-gathering and went to the movies.  I go to probably two movies a year, no more than that because it's really difficult to get me to willingly go inside a dark room for two hours and miss whatever's going on in real life.  I'm just not a movie person.

But I went to see the film mainly because 1) Big Ag and Groceries were both keen to see it, and 2) it was a bit chilly outside and the idea of sitting someplace warm with a bowl of popcorn sounded good for a change, even if it did mean sitting in the dark.

So since I'm obviously not much of a film connoisseur, I'm also not a very useful critic, but here's my verdict on the "Noah" biblical extravaganza.  Two thumbs up.

I say that because, at the heart of the film was a great environmental message -- that our position as stewards of the planet comes with responsibilities. Being the dominant species is not a free ticket to do whatever we please with this world we live in.  And sometimes, no question, the battle really does feel like an "us" versus "them" situation, within our own species, where compassion battles selfishness and wisdom attempts to override foolishness.

(As an aside, there was also a point in the film where Noah recites, voiceover-style, the first several verses of Genesis, only as it unfolds on the screen we see it from a Darwinian perspective, with each "day" happening over millions of years as first the planet, then its species, evolve.  That has always made more sense to me than 7 literal 24-hour days, as some Judeo/Christian faith sectors believe. And in this case, it was beautifully illustrated.)  

And I also believe things come down to this:  In some ways, we are all Noahs.  How we live on this planet should be our first concern, ethically.  Specifically, how we treat each other and the other creatures who share the planet with us.  We will all be called upon to do what we think is best in our little corner of the world.  If you believe in God, then you follow what you think He/She wants, and if you don't, then you take the path that agrees with you best morally.

But either way there can be no question that we have an accountability to those who come after us -- to leave them with the kind of world we'd want to live in ourselves. In fact, without a supernatural flood to wash everything clean in order to start again, it becomes even more important to leave a world worth living in.  The old stories in the Bible may or may not be literally true, but they do bring up larger talking points and moral issues we grapple with, even today.

My guess is there will be no worldwide flood to cleanse the earth in this day and age.  Cleansing the earth need not be as hard as all that, if we can just pull consciously pull together as a species in order to care for the world with an eye to its overall health and future.

"Noah" is, to me, a worthwhile film because it's a story with those morals at heart. And besides, who doesn't like hot buttered popcorn on a cold afternoon?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spanish wines and strawberry jam

Last week was a social whirlwind, so this week will be a homesteading one.  

Bodegas "Vaca Rojo." Yum. Just Yum.

We had two parties to attend this last week, the first being a full paella dinner with wine tasting, featuring Spanish varietal wines.  We all bought a wine, no one knowing much about Spanish wine beyond Tempranillo, all of us hoping for the best.  The results were amazing.  From Cava to Mencia to Monastrell, each wine was amazing, complex and delicious, capable of pairing with foods far beyond just Spanish dishes.  We will be buying more, especially since a couple of local wineries actually produce great wines from Spanish vines.

The second was the pick-up party at the winery, where we were again wined and dined and where I get to take off my "employee" hat and put on my "wine club member" one. Lots of friends, lots of wine and great food. 

So as you can imagine, between preparing for parties and working, not much got done on the homesteading front other than planting some lettuce transplants.  This week, I will be hitting the ground running.  I have horticultural vinegar to spray on weeds, chickens to attend to, strawberry jam to make and banana buckwheat pancakes to serve. I even have a container of shea butter so I can make some lotions, to soothe my hands, which have become a little dried out from digging in the dirt. 

I may even make some hot cross buns, because, well, hot cross buns. (They need no other reason.)

Sometimes being out and about actually inspires me to get back to this good and simple work I do here, proving the theory that we're better at whatever we're doing when we take a break and do other things for awhile.

I'm happy to be heading back to the kitchen, the chicken coop and the pasture, full of paella and wine, grateful for spring and the good life on the land we have here.

My inner homesteader's idea of a shopping spree

Thursday, March 27, 2014


Victory. Singular.

I love the days when standing in my kitchen making something from scratch is enough.

I love the days when hanging wash out in the sunshine is enough.

I love the days when cleaning the house is enough.

I'm not sure why I expect so many of my other days to be "Multiple Victory" Days, where I stack achievement upon achievement until I feel validated because I've crossed so many items off a "to do" list. It makes me no better a person.  It puts no more money in the bank.  And the list, which I whittle down day after day, somehow always seems to regenerate itself by tomorrow, like a weed that keeps coming back.

What does it take for you to say, "that's enough" to yourself, and feel like it's been a productive day?  

And if it's more than a few simple things, why are you so hard on yourself?  The list will surely re-invent itself again tomorrow, before you're even out of bed. And every achievement is a sweet one, whether it's a swept floor, warm dinner rolls or just some clean laundry.

I'm sure what you did today was enough, whatever it was.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Gated Community

A gated community.

Last night I attended a wine tasting party at a friend's home, nestled in the hills of the Coast Range.  As Big Ag and I drove through the scenic hillsides, passing several famous wineries as we went, we commented at how spectacular the scenery was.

Eventually we found the iron gates that led to our friend's housing development and went in.

The party was great, and one of the things we discussed was livestock and pets in general.  That's when my friend's mother told me they had just gotten a $150 bill from the area homeowner's association because their dog had gotten out of their property and was found wandering the neighborhood. Apparently there's a rule for that -- if your animals get loose, you get fined.

We in the western U.S. surely love our homeowner's associations -- at least we seem to, since gated communities crop up with increasing regularity all over states like California, Nevada, and Arizona.

At heart, I totally understand the philosophy behind them.  It's a way to keep your neighborhood looking like you want it to.  Through certain rules, regulations and vigilant oversight, it discourages things like meth houses, dog or cock-fighting operations, or personal salvage yards from cropping up next door to you. No one would argue that's a good thing. 

But at what price? (well, a monthly fee plus $150 when your dog gets out, in my friend's case. But I'm talking a larger issue here.) 

Is it worth keeping those bad things out, given that the same homeowner's association may also want to stop you from putting up a clothesline, keeping a couple of goats (even if you live on acreage) or painting your house a certain color?

Our nation has faced a similar predicament since 9/11.  We have enthusiastically given up our rights in order to protect ourselves from a certain kind of evil. A terrible evil, no question. Some of the adjustments are more annoying than anything else.  We can no longer, when flying, bring shampoo in our carry-on luggage, listen to our iPod from take-off to landing, or even expect to be able to keep our shoes on as we pass through airport security. Bummer.

A different type of gated community.

But on a more serious note, whether at home or abroad, we also can no longer expect that our phone calls, text messages and emails are private, and read by no one but their intended recipients. That is the price of being "protected" from the evils that lay just beyond the New Rules.

In short, we may have become a nation which has ended up belonging to one gargantuan homeowner's association.  We have willingly given up our rights to certain things on the promise that, by doing so, we can keep the bad stuff out.  Except in this case, the meth house next door has become Al-Qaeda.

But it seems to me that at a certain point, you have to ask if those rules are keeping the bad things out, or keeping you hemmed in -- with rules that don't make sense, or are too stringent, or too invasive. Homesteading types run afoul of HA's rules often, and often find themselves fighting battles of common sense.  Because keeping a couple of hens and putting up a clothesline never ruined a neighborhood, and never will.

On a larger note we, as individuals, always need to ask whether we've given up too much freedom in order to feel "protected."  It's a delicate balance.

Are you willing to sacrifice small conveniences to assure your safety?  How about your privacy?  The one thing that is important to remember, on both a large and small scale, is who the "homeowner's association" ultimately works for.  In both the homeowner's association of my friend's neighborhood and the much larger "homeowner's association" of the U.S. Government, both are supposed to work for "the people."

In short, we always have to ask if the price of living behind those lovely wrought iron gates is worth it, and if not, asking the tough questions about what needs to be changed so that living behind the gate and its rules makes you feel empowered, rather than imprisoned.

Monday, March 24, 2014

If I had all the money in the world

I've begun to realize that, for me, frugality is in my DNA.  Maybe it's the combination of having a Scottish/Jewish ancestry (two groups stereotypically known for their thriftiness) or perhaps it is just having learned the value of a dollar from growing up lower middle-class.  Either way, the fact is, there is a lot of overpriced stuff in the world today, and I'm not buying it -- both metaphorically and literally.

I was in Chico's the other day, for instance, looking for a blouse/necklace/jeans combo I'd seen in one of their ads.  The ad appealed to me, in the way only good ads can do. "Yes, that is the look I've been searching for.  I must have it."

Not worth it.

So I popped over to the store and priced it out.  The blouse I had wanted was $75.  The jeans were the same.  The necklace was the lowest-priced of the lot, at $49.50.

"Get them, if you want them," Big Ag encouraged (God I love that man).  

But I just couldn't do it.  I just couldn't fork over the $200 American for that one outfit.

Later that week, I hit my other favorite boutiques -- the Goodwill here in town, Kohls, and the outlet store of Coldwater Creek Online.  At Goodwill I found two fitted, button-down shirts of the same style and fabric that the Chico's ones were, but for $4 each.  Kohl's was having a 75% off sale on jewelry, and I found a very similar necklace to the Chico's one, only mine was on sale for $16.  And I bought a pair of ankle jeans in the Coldwater Creek Outlet Store for $25.  The grand total?  About $50 bucks.  

And it all looks just as good, put together, as it did in the Chico's ad.

And so it goes.  We all have things we are willing to pay full price for, and things we refuse to pay the going rate to have. And so I made a little mental list of what I'd probably still bargain-basement hunt for, even if I won the lottery tomorrow and had millions of dollars at my disposal.

If I had all the money in the world, I would probably still shop the Goodwill, Kohl's and Coldwater Creek Outlet store. 

If I had all the money in the world, I would still probably only buy a car only once every 15-20 years or so. Cars last a long time if you take care of them.

If I had all the money in the world, I would still grow my own food, make my own soap, and bake my own bread.
Definitely worth it.

I would, however, pay $800 for a farmhouse sink I liked, buy a solar oven, and probably own more livestock than any sane person should.

We all have our weaknesses and the places we refuse to pay the market rate.  I know homesteaders who, literally, buy nothing new, but I've gotten more use and more pleasure out of my farmhouse sink than any person has a right to, and so, for me, the farmhouse sink was a luxury purchase I feel absolutely no guilt about.  

I guess the trick is to scrimp where you can and splurge where you feel it's necessary. I'm sure our great-grandparents had certain items -- farm equipment, animal housing, good quality shoes -- which they were willing to pay top dollar for (if they could afford to) and other things they would not.

Homesteading does not mean denying yourself everything the modern, material world offers, it just means thinking about the financial, ecological, and personal impact those purchases have, and choosing wisely what you'll pay for new, and what you can buy at a discount, make yourself, barter, or trade for.

Balance in everything, right?

Friday, March 21, 2014


Meet Parsleyzilla.  Speak softly and make no sudden moves, or face death by garnishment.

Last year I had a lot of basil in my one herb bed, which means after the first frost, there was quite a bit of empty space.  The chives looked dead but, much to my surprise, bounced back nicely once winter was over, and my thyme has just kept plugging along, doing fine as well.

But my parsley kept right on growing though the coldest part of winter, and is now threatening to take over the entire bed.  I let it grow, thinking it would die off at any time, but instead has become a monster, overpowering the rest of the bed and trying to become the only plant in there.

I am of the opinion that garnishes should not have their own zip code.  Parsley has its place, for sure, but not as a main course on anyone's table.

With that in mind, I'm going to give it a good pruning (and by that I mean some serious chopping) and see what happens.  The thing is, I love parsley -- but in moderation -- kind of like I enjoy opera, action movies and small children .  The fact is, no one needs this much parsley. 

Why can't I have this problem with olallieberries, or something else I could truly eat buckets of and still want more?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Chick update

At about 2 weeks old, I am enjoying both chicks a lot more.  They seem a little more sturdy and active, and they must surely eat their weight in feed every day because it seems like their food container is always almost empty.

I named them Cleo and Chloe.  Cleo is named for Cleopatra, and she is the lighter of the two ... her Ameraucana breeding shows up in the fact that she looks like she's rocking some serious black eyeliner.

Chloe, the black chick with white markings, is a Plymouth Barred Rock named just because it sounded good with Cleo.  She is a sweet girl, but Cleo is definitely the boss of the two. Cleo and Chloe.  Just a couple of girls growing up on the homestead.

Google Doodle

Today's Google Doodle is pretty cute, honoring the first day of spring (which I understand feels NOTHING like spring for many of you across the US, unfortunately).

However, it does beg the question ... why does a ghost want to plant a garden?  I always assumed disembodied souls did not need physical nourishment to survive.

This goes along with my general confusion regarding "ghost theory" where the spirit of the departed comes back to haunt places.  I've always thought the idea of souls returning to ships, hospitals, battlefields, and office buildings to be quite funny, as if the Afterlife  is so uninteresting and dull we find ourselves getting up and returning to work after we're dead, just as we did in life. Could it be that haunting our old Xerox machine or the 4th Floor Ladies Room is a preferable option to moving into the rest of the Great Beyond?  

At least this little ghost is enjoying some time outdoors, in nature's beauty.  That's the kind of ghost I'd be, if I were going to be one.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The climate calendar

Every climate zone and geographical region has its own calendar, and in my opinion it takes at least one year of living there to figure it out.  Even within what a map will tell you should be one climate zone, there's a difference between what folks in a valley of that area can do, versus those who live on hilltops. It's a totally individual thing, based on your own property, which is why it takes awhile to learn.

Right now, for instance, we are hustling to finish re-fencing a few parts of the property, put in a few additional landscaping plants on the west side of our back yard, and add/remove drip irrigation where it's needed, or not. We are striving to have all this done in the next month or so, because around May, the temperatures can sometimes get too hot to do much except water, and you'd better have your drip system already in place and working by that time or you'll be standing outside in the heat with a hose at least once a day, twice a day if its over 100 degrees.  

It doesn't always happen that way, but it can, so you have to plan your tasks around the climate year and what it's reasonably expected to produce in terms of conditions.

And the "push" here involves getting things done due to physical limits on what you can reasonably do in the heat, more than anything else. In other parts of the country, there's a similar push, but it happens in the finish projects by first snowfall, so you're not out working and trying to complete projects with a couple of inches (or feet) of snow on the ground.

And so we work with our yearly calendar, with dates marked only in our minds, as the time when we know it all needs to be done so we can retire to the shelter of the house.  It's one of the advantages to staying in a homestead for many years, as you learn over time when the winds come, what conditions bring out the aphids, and when to plant tomatoes if you want to start harvesting in July instead of August.

For us, there's a slim window for spring tasks --  a time between when wind has finally dropped but when it's not yet too hot to plant. We're approaching that window soon, and so I expect the next 8 weeks will be busy ones in the garden.

One of the things I love about this life is that our reliance on the calendar is not so much the calendar of days, but the calendar of seasons. Windy season, frost season, heat season.

What about you?  When are your "busy zones" on the calendar of seasons?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Hummingbird Moth

Wikipedia's pic

The last several days I've been watching one of these particular creatures with interest, as he (she?) has been visiting my yard area every day.  It seems to be loving the new native plants I've put in within the last couple of weeks which happen to be in full bloom right now.

At first I thought it was a new species of hummingbird I had not seen in this area until certainly looked like it.  But upon further research, I've realized it's actually a hummingbird moth.

My pic (not quite as good lol)

It has wings, what looks like two eyes, legs and a long nose for sipping nectar.  Fascinating.

What will it turn out to be?

On a possibly related note, I also found this cocoon in one of my flower pots, and it's possible it's another hummingbird moth.  I think it's still alive, so we'll see what happens when it emerges.  I hope I catch it at the right time!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Around the Homestead, Spring 2014

Lettuce is bolting.

Roses are blooming.

New fig tree is growing!

Songbirds are nesting.

Spanish Lavender is flowering.
Baby cottonwood reaches for the sky.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Foolproof tomato seed sprouting

Tomato seeds are probably the easiest vegetables to sprout,using this method I learned years ago.  It takes all the guesswork out of planting seeds, as by the time you plant you already have germination. There's nothing more frustrating than planting a bunch of seeds only to have 50 percent sprout, leaving you with either empty pots or large spaces in your garden.  With this method, you will have a perfect row of tomato seedlings to nurture until they are ready to go outdoors.

First, take several pinches of tomato seeds and place them on a wet paper towel, sitting on a small saucer. Try and space them out as best you can.  Cover with another wet paper towel on top, place the whole thing into a freezer bag, open at one end to provide just a little air circulation.  

Put it in a warm place (I put mine on the stovetop with the range hood light on) and leave for about 5 -7 days. Check often to make sure the paper towels are not drying out; if they are, spritz them with water until they are moist again.

In 7 - 10 days, you should have something that looks like this:

Sprouts, Dude.

That's right, the seeds have sprouted and sent a good-sized main root into the paper towel itself.

Your next step is to cut your seedlings out, being careful not to trim the root as you do.  You will have many more sprouts than you can use, but try and pick what look like the strongest seedlings for transplanting. And yes, you will destroy other seedlings when you pick the strong ones for planting, unless you have really spaced your seedlings well, which I usually do not.

Cut carefully around main root.

Like this.

Once you have freed each seedling and its root, tuck the whole thing -- the seedling and piece of paper towel its attached to -- into some potting soil, and cover lightly. Keep warm and watered and in no time, your seedlings will be ready to transplant into your garden!

Place in soil and cover lightly with more soil.

Voila!  Tomatoes!

This year I planted Mortgage Lifters and Pink Lady Brandywines.  Both are great multi-purpose heirlooms that produce abundantly and are hardy. Some we will eat, most we will can.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Why Daylight Savings Time Is So Difficult

All this week, my litany has been the same.  I'm in the middle of something, look at the clock -- either on the mantel or the dashboard of the car, and exclaim, "Holy ##$#!  It's ___ o'clock already?"

This exclamation only varies slightly with the variance of whatever is holy ("cow" if it's just a mild exclamation, a word for "cow dung" if it's something important), and of course filling in whatever time it happens to be. 

But the feeling is the same, nonetheless.  It feels like I've lost an hour somewhere and am always running behind, trying to catch it.

Now that I work outdoors a lot, if I'm out in the pasture, I don't even get the luxury of seeing a clock, since we have no cell reception on that part of the property and I hate wearing a watch.  I just come inside and find it's an hour later than I thought it was.

For years I raged against this particular machine, because although Daylight Savings Time was actually invented as a way to give farmers longer hours in the fields, I don't know a single farmer who likes it.  That's because most farmers are familiar (even on an unconscious level) with using the sun to determine what time it is. The 3 p.m. sun, for instance, looks different than the 2 p.m. sun, and without even looking at your watch or  phone, you pretty much know how much more time you have before you need to put your equipment away and head for the house.

But urbanites love Daylight Savings Time, because when they emerge from their offices and cubicles, they still have plenty of daylight left to enjoy.  And I get that.  But the fact is that changing the times twice a year accounts for more confusion, lost sleep, and missed appointments than the "extra hour" is worth.  Besides, if we just stayed on Daylight Savings Time year 'round, we could get all of the daylight without all the pain.

I've decided that it isn't the time that's the issue, it's the fact that we change the time twice a year that is the problem.

Our bodies are wise enough to internally calculate the time based on where the sun is, and when we monkey with that, we're in trouble.  Especially since we live in a culture relatively obsessed with time.  You can't show up for a 11a.m. meeting at either 10 a.m. or noon.  11 means 11.  But with a changing clock, our bodies can't be relied on to tell us when we're getting close.

And so, for the next couple of weeks, we will feel confused, out of sorts and a little behind as our brains struggle to adapt to what we've done to the sun/clock relationship.  

But I'm sure Starbucks will make plenty of money off the tired souls loading up on java to compensate for their "time lag."  They are the only ones who will probably see good from all this change.  

The rest of us just have to console ourselves with that extra hour of afternoon light, stolen from one hour ago.   

Monday, March 10, 2014

Last Night

It was a waxing moon, about half-full, so the moon was up but not overly bright.  I had gone to bed about 10 pm, loathing daylight savings time and the fact that I wasn't really tired yet.  About 15 minutes later, I noticed a couple of things:  First, the house seemed to creak in several places at once, although I felt nothing unusual.  Second, every bird in the countryside started singing.  It was the Dawn Chorus at night.  They were so loud, and it was so unusual, that I went and got Big Ag, who had been watching television in another part of the house, and brought him to the back door so he could hear it too.

This went on for an hour or two, and then, just like that, it stopped.  And the night was as quiet as it normally is.

This morning I awoke to see this:,0,1233717.story#axzz2vZNmFWYq

Yes, the shaking apparently started at about 10:15 pm last night. Guess our neighborhood songbirds know more than you'd think.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Morning's Meditation

Since I am blessed with not having a job that starts in the morning, most days I have the luxury of waking up slowly, allowing my body to adjust to think, to pray, to meditate before rising.  It's a gift I don't take lightly.

Usually I am awakened by the mockingbirds who live in our backyard, which is the one slight negative to the whole experience, because to me mockingbirds are the car alarms of the avian world.

In case you are unfamiliar, the mockingbird's song sounds something like this: "Cheep cheep!  Blurt Blurt! Waaooo,Waaaaoooo,Waaoooo,Waaooo!  Reeeeet Reeeeet. Meh! Meh! Meh!"

Car alarms, on the other hand, sound something like this:  "Woo, woo, woo, woo! Meh! Meh! Meh! Wahooo, Wahooo, Wahooo Wahoo! Aaat, aaat, aaat, aaat, aaat!"

You can see the similarities.

But other than the mockingbirds, the Dawn Chorus is a wonderful way to be awakened each morning, and for some reason I was very conscious of that today.  While I was laying in bed thinking, I tried to remember what mornings were like at our last house, the one in the suburbs.

Since we lived 1/4 miles away from an extremely busy rail line, my morning usually began with two or three trains rumbling by, blowing their horns when they reached each intersection.  (This had gone on through the night as well, but that's another story.) Some engineers seemed to like to blow the horns of their trains more than others.  For some, I suspect it was the reason they  lived, breathed, and went faithfully into work each day. It was all about the horn. 

Or maybe an engineer's ex-wife lived in our neighborhood, and he passed the word to his engineer buddies to make sure she never got a good night's sleep again, after breaking his heart. That was actually the preferred working theory of mine, back when I lived there.

Anyway, now it's about 5:00 am in my old neighborhood, which means it's time for the neighbor down the street who always forgot he had a working car alarm to open his car door in his driveway to leave for work, setting the alarm off (see the "car alarm" description above for what this sounded like).

Then usually about 6:15 or so, the neighbors across  the street would leave for work and the day care drop-off at the school.  They would start their car, and immediately the "thump, thump, thump!" of their mega-stereo's bass line would begin, followed by some (usually) obscene rap lyrics.  They would go back into the house and back to the car approximately 50 times in the next 10 minutes, slamming the car doors each time they entered or egressed the vehicle, leaving the engine running and the stereo booming the whole time. They'd finally decide to officially shove off, kids in tow, and would leave for work and school soon after.

And the "De-Boom Boom BOOM" of the bass would trail off as they drove down the street.

Of course if it was a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday morning, I would probably already be awake, because our neighborhood was first in line for trash pick-up, and the garbage/recycling and greenwaste trucks would come by about 5 a.m. to start their rounds....4:30 in summer.

If there were any mockingbirds singing on those mornings, I never heard them, because my fellow man pretty much had the sound meter pegged with humanity's din.

And this particular morning meditation today, as I lay in bed with a few acres in between me and my closest neighbor, made me mindful that the cry of mockingbirds is really,  not such a bad sound to wake up to after all. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

About some sheep

Our town is in a bit of an uproar right now over some sheep.  Some hikers in the local hills recently came upon a flock of sheep where many were laying dead in the field, and quite a few were dying.  They looked emaciated and had recently been shorn, the latter being a big bad because a fairly chilly rainstorm had just pummeled the area with rain and high winds for four days.

The enterprising hikers then proceeded to take our their trusty cell phones and videotape what they saw.  They then handed the video over the the sheriff's department and PETA, asking for an investigation.  The investigation is ongoing.  But the sheep shit hit the fan as soon as the first videos began going viral.

Once again, my fair city finds itself at odds with one another -- the "citiots" versus the "hayseeds."  Town versus country.  Moved-here versus born-here. Cultured versus down-home.  You get the picture.  It's not cut-and-dried down those lines, but close enough.  Debate is heated, to say the least.

Many people are asking what I think are legitimate questions. Why shear your sheep in February, when a major storm is expected to hit? (friends of the livestock owner say the storm was "stronger than expected," but that is just not true.  Strong storms for the end of the month had been predicted for at least 10 - 14 days leading up to the event.)

Then there's the debate about the condition of the sheep. Some were clearly half-starved. Of course they are skinny.  It's the drought!  There's no food in the hills! says one side.
When animals are starving, you either send them to market early or provide supplemental feed, says the other side.

Then the usual volley gets thrown out from the rural side:  "People today just don't understand where their food comes from and how it gets raised." Considering the circumstances, that's possibly the best reason for going vegetarian that I've heard in a long time.  

But the fact is, knowing where your food comes from has nothing to do with this argument. It's like saying, "I tend to vote democratic, because I like the color orange."  Both are facts, but do not relate to each other.

People who do not understand where their food comes from can still recognize that throwing a dying animal into a trailer with dead ones is not practicing humane animal husbandry. You don't have to know how to butcher a hog or grow seeds to understand that shearing sheep in the coldest calendar month of the year is dicey, at best.  

And even city folk understand that when anything is insured for money, the loss of "product" may not be quite the tragedy that you'd think for the owners. For some this might mean not being willing to spend extra money on feed, or not putting a bullet through the head of a suffering animal and instead throwing it on a pile of dying animals so that you can claim it was already dead when you found it. I don't know what happened in this case.  But I have seen it happen elsewhere.

"Knowing where your food comes from" does not mean turning a blind eye to unnecessary, protracted suffering.  It's why fois gras and tiny battery cages for chickens are both illegal here in California. It's why organic foods are becoming more and more popular. It's because we do know where our food comes from, and we're committed to making  it better -- healthier and in the case of animals, more humane. 

And if you don't like that, then there's plenty of cheap land in other states where no such laws exist.  Maybe check that out.

And so, once again, I find myself in the odd position of being a country person agreeing more with PETA than some of my neighbors. (Which I'm loathe to do, because I don't think PETA is a particularly noble organization.) All animals we humans domesticate and keep we need to treat humanely, providing food and doing all we can to keep them moderately comfortable until the time that they go to our dinner table.  And if you can't do that, then bring them to market early and take a loss. It's part of the gamble that comes with ranching and farming and has since time immemorial.

To do anything else is irresponsible farming.  And to defend someone whose husbandry practices have been irresponsible because they're in the "good old boy" network, or because he's a nice guy, or has had financial difficulties, does not help anything.

Our town needs to clearly look at all the facts, and decide if this was the best that could have been done for these sheep.  And if not, lets bring the problems into the light of day so we can all learn from them.  Those sheep died what seems to be a pointless, preventable, and slow death, not only causing them suffering, but taking them out of the food chain where their deaths would at least provided physical nourishment for us or even our pets.  

I think, whether city or country-born, it's a no-brainer that we can -- and should -- do better.

If you want to view the videos, I am posting a link here, however I caution you that they are graphic and not for the faint-of-heart.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Cuteness is in the house!

In tiny, fluffy form.  Meet Cleopatra -- Cleo for short (so named because of the heavy-eyeliner look she's rockin') and Chloe. Cleo is an Araucana and Chloe is a Plymouth Barred Rock.  Both seem to be well and happy, playing in their food, running around, and sleeping.  I could watch them all day. Actually, I probably will watch them all day.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Givin' It Away

As I have spoken of in previous posts, I have a carrot glut this year.  I have made soups, awesome souffles, carrot cake, at this point -- you name it, if its got carrots in it, I've served it. Yet still I have about 30 pounds of carrots I simply have no practical use for.

I am giving most of those pounds to my lovely coworkers at the winery.

I guess if I was really enterprising I could sell them to someone, maybe by putting an ad on Craigslist.  Or I could give them to the Food Bank (although I'm not sure what kind of documentation I'd need to be a food provider there).  But it's easiest to just give them to people I know.

It was the same thing with eggs last year....when the girls were at their height of laying, I had leftover eggs galore, and I also took those in to the winery. Everyone was thrilled to get a dozen or so farm-fresh eggs.  Now that we've experienced our first big winter slowdown of laying, I wish I'd frozen more of them.  Eggs mixed with either a half-teaspoon of sugar (for baking) or salt (for general cooking) freeze great, and there have been times this year when we've run out of eggs.  But with the addition of a couple more hens, by late summer we should have another glut, and I will be able to put some up.

Leftover carrots and table art?

But if you're committed to homesteading, one of the things you're committed to is using what you make, what you grow, and what your animals produce.  How do we justify spending money for feed and water, only to give away our harvests because we've got too much?

The fact is, we don't.  If this were the 1800's, I would put up every carrot we grew, and my family would have to content themselves with eating a lot (and I do mean a lot) of carrots over the next year or so.  But I have a modern family, and about the 5th night in a row I served carrots, you can be sure someone would say something.  We didn't grow up eating what was in storage, we grew up eating what our palate desired. Sheesh, it's hard enough to get people to eat leftovers around here.  A carrotpazooza might be all it takes to drive Big Ag and Groceries into Taco Bell on the way home, after which they'd just feign a mysterious lack of appetite when it came to my Carrot Surprise.

So the best solution seems to be to give those things we have in abundance to friends who will enjoy them.  It's probably not profitable, but it is a good turn, and my friends are thrilled with taking home some farm produce. 

And who knows, maybe sometime down the road it will inspire them to keep a garden or raise a few hens.  If I knew that was the case, I'd be thrilled, because I do believe in this lifestyle as a sustainable way of living, even though it is possible to have too much of a good thing (like eggs and carrots) at times. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Fata Morgana

A Fata Morgana is a rare phenomenon that distorts objects on the horizon.  It is a cousin of the "water mirage" people often see on the highway as they are walking or driving along it in the heat.  It is also the origin of the Flying Dutchman myth, where a mysterious ship was often seen by sailors at sea, floating in the air above the horizon.

It only happens when there is a strong inversion layer, which somehow elevates and/or distorts what is seen on the horizon to look higher or more stretched out than it is.

We are lucky to live at about 1300 feet, which is the exact level of a strong inversion layer a few days a year.

On this day, we got to see a Fata Morgana when we awoke, with the mountain range to the west of us looking completely differently than it normally does.

Normal morning.

Same view with Fata Morgana distortion.
Doesn't really have much to do with homesteading, except that when you're outside working your land on a regular basis, you notice stuff like this.  If I still worked in a classroom or office I wouldn't have ever seen it.  Homesteading doesn't pay particularly well, but does have its advantages I guess.

Rainy Day Tasks

After the storm.

We got a good soaking of rain this last week -- four days of it -- and we're now in the post-rain fog that always seems to come up until the ground dries out a bit.  Right now it's too wet to dig in the ground, so I am left with attending to other tasks.

But as astronomers have books for cloudy nights, surely farmers have tasks for rainy days.

I'm lucky that since spring is here, it's a great time to start this summer's seedlings.  Today I will begin with some spinach and lettuce, and move on to tomatoes later this week. I love to freeze spinach for casseroles, dips and lasagnas, and since last year's crop was destroyed by roly polys and I had to use wild mustard greens in spinach's place, this year I'm determined to get a good, healthy crop into the ground. Which probably means putting them in as transplants, when they're too large for the roly polys to destroy.

 Since I'm going to adhere to the local admonition not to plant my transplanted tomatoes before Mother's Day, my Mortgage Lifters and Brandywines will, likewise, have plenty of time to sprout and get sturdy between now and then in the protected comfort of our solarium.

I can't believe I just said, "in my solarium."  We didn't put it in, people.  It was the lady before us.  And what she used as a lounge area/art studio, we use to store Mason jars, dry fruits and grow seedlings.  Guess we've hillbillied it up a bit, but sometimes usefulness trumps aesthetics.

And as if the news couldn't get any brighter, Wednesday is when Farm Supply gets in a new batch of Bared Rock and Americauna chicks, so we' should be positively springing forth with new life by week's end.

It's funny, no matter how long and how hot summer is, once February is done, I feel done with winter and ready for the inevitable punishment summer usually turns out to be.  I'm sure many of you with harsher winters feel the same way.  I will certainly not turn down any rain we can get at this point, but fast-moving, water-dumping spring rains, not freezing winter storms is what I'm hoping for.