Saturday, February 28, 2015

Look at the color!

Ominous sky.

The color of the sky, that is.  There will be no free-ranging for the girls this afternoon -- this cloudburst is heading our way. On days like today I am happy to have nowhere we need to go, a warm house, and a big pot of albondigas soup on the stove.  It will be a nice evening. I'm also grateful for the fact that last year we put in a BIG chicken coop, with lots of room for the hens to scratch and peck, lay and sleep, in the safety of an indoor area.  They love being outside, but when the rain starts coming down, they do have the sense to head indoors to their mansion and just look out the windows at the weather.

While things are peaceful on the human end of the old homestead, we've had plenty of chicken drama as of recently. Callie, our Silver Wyandotte, is a flyer who has managed to fly up to the very top of this chicken run (about 8 feet high), which is normally our pet pigeon Floyd's domain.  Floyd gets along well with all the girls, but Callie has managed to find her way into Floyd's birdseed and has been eating him out of house and home every day.

Miss Callie
I am tired of having to re-fill Floyd's food container every day, so I tasked Big Ag this morning to build Floyd a small condo inside the chicken coop itself -- a Callie-proof condo where he can eat in peace and his food will be left alone. I hesitate to make life too hard on Callie because she is at the bottom of the pecking order, literally, and so her ability to perch in high places gives her a way to get away from others when she's being bullied. We also never let her free range outside, due to her expert flying ability -- we literally do not have a fence on the property she couldn't make it over if she wanted to, and chasing a skittish chicken across the countryside is something I don't have the time or energy for.

Ah, when you have chickens there is always drama.  There's no getting around it.  But even they, drama queens that they are, will find a way to get along later, as this latest storm rolls in and they head for the warmth and dryness of the coop where they'll huddle together, as if they have never had any chicken compatibility drama or personality issues.  

Even Floyd will find shelter and warmth in there.  And starting today, also his dinner.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Goings On

Three out of four seasons finished.

It's been a busy week here at the homestead.  This has, in many ways, kind of been my ideal week; lots of creative projects, all of which were fairly low-budget.

First off is that the barn quilts are finished and are just waiting for Big Ag and Groceries to hang them.  Correction:  Big Ag and Groceries have been ready to hang them for awhile now, but their days off have unfortunately coincided with rain, so we've waited.  But here's a preview (above) of three out of four of them.  The "fall" quilt was under construction when this photo was taken, but has been completed since that time. They will hang on this wall as a way to remind me of the cycles of the garden -- winter, spring, summer, fall.

The quilts came out so nicely that the owner of the winery where I work commissioned me to do two more for the outbuildings there, which I'm looking forward to doing. It will add a welcoming touch for visitors to see from the road, for me it will be something I can always look at when I drive by and say, "I made that," even after I'm retired. I love where I work, and so this will be a pleasure to do.

Sit down and stay awhile!

The other big project has been the cleaning and reclamation of the former Homestead Room, the glass-walled mystery space and, for us, storage room, where we stored All Things Homestead..that is, until a few weeks ago, when all the homestead accessories moved into the garage, leaving a big glass room with no clear purpose.

I have repurposed it as a quiet retreat for myself, complete with a comfortable futon with a throw blanket and pillows, a nice rug, and of course lots of plants. It will still be a functional greenhouse, growing not only all my spring seedlings but also a dwarf Bearrs Lime Tree and a dwarf Meyer Lemon, plus assorted succulents and other tender or frost-sensitive plants. But it will also be my place of quietude, perfect for when Big Ag wants to watch his crime/war/cheesy nature-reality shows and I want to be outside (but not in the direct sun) watching the birds and wildlife.

We have other news as well, but it will have to wait until it's official in a couple more weeks, so until then my lips are sealed.  But it's something very good. The other good thing is that spinach and snow peas went in the ground yesterday and the lettuce crop is giving us salads each and every night, so we feel very thankful.
My tender babies.

Good news and plenty of creative projects seems to be the key to happy, happy days.  At least it seems that way to me.  I know most of the country is battling a killer winter, and you've been in my thoughts. Wish I could send some sunshine your way.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

How long could we live without imports?

I don't know how much press it's getting back east, but here on the west coast there is a lot of hubbub in the news about the port slow/shutdowns that are going on in Los Angeles as well as other cities.  The shutdowns are part of an ongoing labor dispute between the port workers' unions and the companies which control shipping to and from the ports.

A recent news report said that if the differences are not ironed out soon, that we can expect to see shortages of products on store shelves -- everything from plastic Easter egg baskets to canned fish to bicycles, furniture, clothing, and other stuff we so often refer to as "cheap Asian crap,"  which is at least partially true. And the world can expect to see shortages in the things we export -- stuff like avocados, oranges, and almonds, among other things.

But this led me to wonder how much American families would actually suffer in a prolonged port shutdown.  Once again, with so many other things discussed on this blog and others like it, it all comes down to how you live.

Yet, there are products I know my family uses that we would have to learn to do without.  The first one that comes to mind is the sockeye salmon I love, which I use to keep my cholesterol in check so my doctor doesn't insist I take Lipitor. Yes, my caught-in-the-USA sockeye salmon is, most likely, actually shipped in a refrigerated tanker all the way to China for canning, then shipped back across the Pacific to the USA for sale.  That's a long trip for a live fish, and even crazier for a dead one. 

Many other products are things Americans could certainly live without, but would require a lifestyle change in order to do so.  We'd have to do things like start re-upholstering furniture instead of buying new, keep our electronics going for longer instead of replacing things as they break or as we tire of them, and in general just do more repair and maintenance of things our society now disposes of and replaces with great regularity. Most homesteading families do this already, but the majority of American families do not -- not at this point, anyway.

While it will probably never happen, I can imagine a semi-permanent port slowdown where our country would actually start canning its own fish again, building its own furniture, and more importantly, making better use of what we have already bought and paid good money for. I'm sure the port shutdown will not come to such dire straits, but part of me wishes it would, because I would love to see our nation turn back into a country of production rather than a country of importation.

But I do believe everything you grow yourselves, or make, is one more thing that does not have to traverse the great seas to reach us, which saves a lot  of fuel, and reduces pollution. Maybe we could end up taking over some of the work we currently send to China.  Maybe we could be distributing our avocados and almonds right here in this country (and growing less, since us west coasties are currently in a drought.)

And maybe, instead of shipping a dead salmon 12,000 miles back and forth across the Pacific, we might be able to catch it and can it right here on the Pacific coast, just a few miles from where it was caught. The foodie in me says "yum" to that.

So bring on the shutdown. Let's take back our ingenuity, our industry, and our craftsmanship. It's not nationalistic jabber, it's just common sense. And while I might feel bad for the longshoremen put out of work by such a change, I'll bet there would be great opportunities opening up within the upholstery, bicycle-making, clothing and canning industries as a result.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

It's true.

Heading out to dinner for Valentine's Day.  Clearly, we are mad.

Hope you're doing whatever rocks your world on this holiday weekend.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Boring Blog

So there is another blog I read from time to time, from a conservative columnist living on acreage in Northern Idaho. ( ) While politically we are polar opposites on almost every issue (therefore I usually skip her political posts), I love reading her posts about life in the woods -- their livestock, their weather, their homesteading efforts (which are significant).  

But she posted this morning that someone had complained about her blog, saying something to the effect that writing about broken chest freezers, biscuit recipes and other around-the-house topics was just a big yawn.  And of course instead of just getting lost and reading a different blog, the letter writer felt the need to let this lady know how boring he/she thought that kind of life was.

Which is the total and absolute conundrum about homesteading blogs.  If someone is really homesteading, you are going to see a lot of repetition and unless you are a homesteading fan, it will likely become boring to read about over time. Because, compared to modern life, the simple life of homestead tasks IS boring, by comparison. There are no Tahitian vacations, no outlandish luxury purchases, and very little of what people have come to expect for online entertainment, which is D-R-A-M-A. There are chest freezers breaking down, a little blood spilled here and there, fence issues and animal stories.

There is another blog I used to read (which I will not dignify with the term "homesteading blog" since it is not) which panders more to what your average reality-show consumer desires.  There is always drama, giant, metaphorical wolves at the door interspersed with sticky-sweet, bucolic farm life monologues, lots of self-promotion and advertising, and lots of opportunities for readers to send money to keep it all going and see the drama continued. 

The readers fund the drama in this case, and you donate money to ensure the next "episode" pops up on your blog feed tomorrow or the next day, although the official tagline usually runs something like "your donations keep the farm going." Because as we all know, farms are successful due to online donations, right?

Anyway, this second blog is not a blog about homesteading, although it may look like that on the surface. No, instead, it's actually a soap opera/reality TV show set on a few acres, with the blogger seeking not the simple life, but rather attention and recognition. But, I suppose the complaining letter-writer on the other blog would like it, because it does have a constantly rotating cast of new animals and new purchases, usually followed by lots of crisis and commensurate panic.

I will just say here that I love true homesteading blogs because they inspire me. Honestly, I also love decorating blogs if they inspire me.  In my opinion, if you are a real person doing real and creative things, that is interesting.  If I read a post about making butter, then I want to make some. If I read about planting a spring garden, then I get excited about planning mine. I do try to stay away from serious decorating blogs for this reason...if I see a newly remodeled bathroom, I start wanting one myself.  Better to just make some butter and be content with that. It's a lot cheaper that way.

But regarding the homesteading blogs I do read, I do not expect life on the average, honest homestead to read like an episode of "The Bachelor," with trips, roses and tears in every episode.

Here's to keeping it real on the homestead and the legitimate bloggers who help chronicle it. Let's leave the roses and tears to the drama queens.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Standing (on) your ground

So Big Ag came  home last night and told me there has been a produce company sniffing around his LinkedIn profile recently, hoping to lure him away from his current job.  At his level in the agricultural field, there's no doubt he's a catch -- certified to grow organic crops, ethical, honest, and very true to the land in terms of leaving it in good condition for the next generation.

The new company in question offered him a fairly large pay increase -- raising his salary by a full one third -- in order to relocate about two hours south of here.  Big Ag had first told them no, saying he didn't want to do some of the traveling listed in the original job description, and they immediately removed the travel portion of the job. It was clear they really wanted to get him onboard. Flattering for him, and well-deserved, too.

And so last night we sat and considered what our lives would be like if we relocated.  Considered it for exactly 10 minutes, as a matter of fact, before deciding neither of us wanted to leave this land we currently live on.

Living on a piece of land is not the same as owning a home, unless you built that home with your own two hands to provide shelter for your family.  About three years ago we began the work of turning a rural-yet-suburban-styled property we'd bought into something that would produce food and care for critters, both native and domestic.  The land literally absorbed our blood, our sweat, and sometimes, our tears, both of joy and sadness, through the process. We nourished the land with ourselves and it, in turn, nourishes us.

So while we may not have built the house which shelters us, we did turn the property from a useless pleasure landscape into something with multi-purpose use, not the least of which is feeding ourselves. No matter what remodeling project you take on inside your house, it will still never feed your family the way a piece of land will.  And so it becomes much harder to give it up and move, no matter what the circumstances.

And so the decision to stay put was an easy one.  As it should be.  Just like the trees in our orchard, we sunk our roots deep into this ground when we arrived and now it would be painful and even potentially harmful to try and pull those roots up, no matter what the financial incentive might be.

That's not to say we will never move, but for now, we are staying put, for as long as our bodies allow us to work this hill.

It's a good thing, having land of one's own.  More important than career, more important than money. Your land will always keep you humble, keep you guessing, and keep you working. And in turn it will nourish you in ways you aren't even aware of, as well as a host of other creatures -- wild and domestic -- who now depend on you to keep their home safe for them.

So this is us: standing our ground, on our ground, for as long as fate, luck and the universe allows us to.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Ear Worm

Sometimes I go on food jags, where I eat relatively large amounts of one kind of food, such as when oranges are in season, or lettuce, or peaches. Other times it's a music jag, as in this case. Lately I have been playing this song everywhere -- in the car, on my iPod when I'm pruning trees and vines, and around the house while I work.  If ear worm is a pest, then if I can hear this song all the time I won't bother trying to kill this bug, because I absolutely love it.

I have no idea what any of the words mean, but some music all about what's beyond the words.  Whether you're out in the field, hanging out in the kitchen or working, this is a great song to move to while you work. All work should involve some dancing, in my opinion.

It is sung by the incomparable Miriam Makeba, South Africa's First Lady of Soul. Enjoy. (If it does not load you may have to follow the link below...blogger is kind of weird this way sometimes.)

Monday, February 9, 2015

First Fruits

First lupin.

After our rainy weekend, we are drying out and warming up, which is actually quite nice.  All over the signs of spring are becoming apparent -- the early-blooming trees, and a few flowers and buds on almost everything.  The rain was a much-needed drink for everything and a great softener of the soil, so I spent most of this morning weeding around my trees and vines, by hand.  I love the frogs and toads who sing to me all night long, enough that I am willing to forego spraying anyplace which might provide a habitat for them.  And when the soil is this loose and wet, pulling weeds is honestly just as easy as spraying them.

As I was working this morning, I spied the first wildflowers on the hill, as well as the first lupin blossom.  My own habit is to never take the first fruits of anything from our property -- not flowers, fruits or vegetables -- for ourselves. Instead, I like leaving it, if possible, as an offering to God and the land itself, as recognition that I play only a small part in the cycle of life around this place, and that most of it is not within my power.  Flowers are easy to leave, but since leaving produce on the vine to rot is not always wise, where it's not practical to do so I give it to the field or the chickens, as a way of passing it on instead of taking it for myself.

I realize I'm not the first person to dedicate "first fruits" to the Creator or Mother Nature, so I'm guessing there's something instinctive and hard-wired into this method of honoring the natural world.
Mr. Roadrunner.

As I was working in the sunshine, a large roadrunner sat on one of our fence posts and sang his song to me. The song of the roadrunner is a low, almost mournful kind of "hoo, hoo, hoo," but mournful is in the eye (or ear) of the beholder; I sensed my roadrunner friend was feeling good and looking for a lady friend, so obviously the low hoo-ing is a spring sound, filled with hope and anticipation.

And so, with my seed packets and empty mason jars, I am also filled with hope and anticipation with the start of this new season.  Hoo hoo to the roadrunner and everything else coming back to life in this season of Newness.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Photo Friday

A simmering of red

Turns into an explosion of color with the sunrise

All part of God's twice-daily Art Show In The Sky.

We are also forecast for a huge storm this weekend, with the forecasters telling us to expect power outages and high winds. We have enough of everything to be safe,including plenty of wine. 

But these photos do remind me of the old maritime rhyme: Red sky at morning, sailors take warning. We've been warned. And dire weather or not, we certainly need whatever rain this gully-washer will bring us.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Cold Eggs

I heart eggs.

I am one of those people who always likes to have extras of everything on hand, so that I never run out of anything.  It's partly because we live so far away from town, but lets face it -- even if you live close to town it's annoying and inconvenient to lack that one special ingredient you need to make something and have to stop whatever you're doing in order to go and get it.

Because of this, I freeze eggs for the times when I need a lot and when the hens are not laying.  Last year I broke into my stores around holiday time, when I had a houseful of guests and had run out of fresh-laid eggs. I had made a lot of egg nog but neglected to realize I also needed some for baking and breakfast scrambled eggs, but my frozen egg stash saved the day.

Silicone baking (and freezing!) pan. Makes cute little meat loaves, too.

This also works if you worm your hens once a year; during the period directly after they are wormed, you should not consume their eggs for a couple of weeks.  I have not seen any evidence I need to worm this year, but I did a couple of years ago and, again, my frozen egg stash came in really handy.

Each heart is the equivilent of two eggs.  I beat all the eggs together, add two heaping tablespoons of salt to the mix (to help stabilize it while frozen) and then pour the mixture into my silicone baking sheet.

After a few hours, voila!  Emergency eggs.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Losing our #1 farmhand

This week Groceries will travel to an area military induction center, get a complete physical, swear his oath, and join the Navy -- for four to six years.  He's decided to study nuclear engineering care of the military, and (pending the successful outcome of his physical) they are anxious to have him.

And while that means the start of a great life adventure for him, for us it means not only the final  (assuming we get no rebounds) emptying of our nest, but also the loss of our strongest and most dependable farmhand.

In a rural environment, strength counts.  Right now I'm in the process of moving two cubic yards of enriched soil into our raised beds to bring them back to being full (decomposition and runoff all deplete the soil levels of raised beds and chicken compost alone is not enough to keep them full).  It's not backbreaking labor, which means it's something I can accomplish on my own.  For heavier jobs, I will usually ask Big Ag to take over.

I've got this. But other farm-upkeep tasks are beyond me at my age.

But there are other chores which require two strong men, and in that area we are going to be missing a farmhand once Groceries departs for points unknown.  So right now we are trying to get what we can accomplished.  The barn quilts need to be finished so they can be hung. (They are quite heavy!) The chicken run needs to be moved so I can finish painting the coop wall behind it.  These are not things I am strong enough to be much help with, and so we're figuring out what needs to be done before we no longer have Groceries and his strong arms and back with us.

After this, I'm not sure what we will do when we need an extra pair of hands.  We have neighbors we can ask for help, and there's always the option paying a professional to do the things we can't (something we probably need to get used to doing as we get older).

But there is no question that aging on a farm presents challenges.  Everyone loves the archetypical story of the little old 80 year-old lady who still manages her own property, butchers her own chickens and turns her own garden, but the reason we marvel at stories like it is because it's relatively rare that anyone can really do that.  Especially if you farm, by the time you reach 80 your body has endured a host of injuries as well as just the breakdown of your body from age itself, and so it's not wise to assume how you feel right now is how its always going to be.

And so as we ponder the potential departure of our middle son, we realize we will not only miss him being around the house -- his great sense of humor, his calm and dependable nature and willingness to help out -- but also his strength, his common sense, and his youthful enthusiasm to get a job done.

But nonetheless, I say with a heart full of pride: Anchors away, my son. Anchors away.