Friday, April 30, 2010

That's It, I Can't Stand Any More!

Nagoonberry gave a shout out and a huzzah to a blog posting from someone that I'd never read before, Charlotte McGuinn Freeman’s Living Small Blog.  I read it, and all I gots to say is  ... yay!

A third person, linked to in the Living Small post, called "bullshit" on the idea that we all lead such busy lives that we don’t have time to cook.  He said that we all have the same amount of hours in a day and what causes us to not have enough time is the choices that we make.  We too often put cooking good food too low on the list, after things like TV and spending time on the computer (partly because Big Food has persuaded us that we don't need to think about cooking good food).  Furthermore, he/she says that it does not take much time to put a chicken in the oven and roast it.

I totally agree, and confess that I've pulled the "I'm too busy" excuse out a few times in my life.

These days however, my excuse is that I don't have a working oven.  I cooked my entire Thanksgiving meal in a toaster oven and am here to tell you that yes, it can be done.  Whole turkey breast, stuffing and all.  The toaster oven tends to burn things.  It is, after all, designed to cook toast, not turkey.

I read the Living Small post, looked at the picture of the yummy-looking roasted chicken and said to myself, "That's it! Time to get a new stove!"  One that has sealed burners that mousies can't come through!

I picked this one out almost a year ago, and have been keeping an eye on it.  I looked again today and it's, honestly, $270 cheaper than 3 weeks ago.  Seems like an omen that it's time to buy.

So I bought.  It will be delivered on Sunday.  Soon to be followed by roast birds, bread, and all that other wonderful stuff that people with ovens can make.  If they take the time, that is.


Here's what my house looked like as I drove away this morning.  Desmond on the left and Maggie on the right.

Here's what my desk looks like now. First office flowers of the season.
Here's the work I'm planning to do this weekend.  Plant 5 trees, 2 pear, 2 apricot and 1 apple.
Here's what I'll transplant this weekend: broccoli, rabe and leeks outside. Tomatoes into containers. Then I'll put walls on the goat shed with Sue and Melanie, and get the goat fence up.

Then, I'm planning to spend some time ... here (picture from last summer).  I think I'll try to sleep under the stars Saturday night.  It should be warm enough.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tie-Downs ... and Balance

I know you're wondering how I can possibly get these two things into one blog post, but I think I can do it.  Walk with me...

First, let me start by saying that it's very windy in the Capital region today.  I'll come back to this.

Most days during the week, I use my lunch hour to run errands.  I work closer to civilization than I live, and then I can use precious home time NOT doing errands.  Today, I went to Home Depot to buy siding for the goat shed, because my new friends Melanie and Sue are coming over this weekend to help me put actual walls on the goat shed.  (Grateful doesn't even begin to describe my feelings, but that's another blog post.) 

Home Depot and Lowe's are virtually across the street from each other up here.  Sometimes I go to one, sometimes the other.  Today, I went to Home Depot.  Who did not have what I was looking for, but wasted time up until 1:00 before letting me know for sure (waited for someone from lumber to come help me, answer questions, try to sell me something else, I say OK, then it turns out they don't have enough, etc, etc).  So at 1:00 I told the Home Depot guy that I had to get back to work and left without buying wood.

Then I drove across the street to Lowe's.  They did have what I wanted and I bought 6 sheets of it and was back in the parking lot in about 15 minutes.  (Short aside:  people are really helpful around here.  Every single time I've started to load something big into the truck, someone has offered to help.  No fail.)  We loaded the plywood in, and then I had a vision of the strong wind lifting a piece of plywood off like a sail as I drove down the street.

Out comes the ratcheting tie-down and I spent (no crap) the next 20 minutes trying to get that thing on tight.  I did it wrong twice before I finally paused and took a deep breath and tried again.  (That reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, which goes something like: Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says ..."I'll try again tomorrow.")  I got back to my desk a little before 2.

Which is where balance comes in.  I had a long conversation with my boss this morning because a job was posted that I'm qualified for.  The drawback.  It's at corporate HQ, think suits and being on time and at my desk all day and having to be an example and a leader.  Yuck. 

My boss knows that I'm more interested in a balanced life than a star career and is totally OK with that.  In fact, is willing to build a 20-year progression around it.  He doesn't care where I am at 1:45, just as long as all my projects progress the way they're supposed to.  If I have to have a 40-hour-a-week corporate job while I figure out how to support myself on the 'stead, this is the best possible working situation I could have.

You know how you try something and it's wrong.  Then you do it again and it's wrong again.  You get a little frazzled, and I did, trying to get the tie-downs to work properly.  Thank goodness I didn't have to add the stress of being late from lunch to that frazzle!  I might never have gotten the tie-downs attached!

Some Plant Questions

What is this stuff?  It grows around a big old tree by my front door.  Last year I thought it was a weed and weed-whacked it a bunch of times before I realized that it smells good and the leaves taste good.  It tastes like parsley or celery. (Yes, I've still got snow...)

Below is rhubarb, looking like it's getting ready to flower.  Should I let it flower, or is it better to get rid of these blossoms-to-be?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Today's Mission: Rag Bag

The next time I rush a sickly animal dripping blood and/or guts anywhere, I want to wrap them in a rag, not in something I like, like I did last time.

Good thing Wednesday is half-price day at my favorite store, The Salvation Army.  I spent $5, and got a good foundation of rags and a blanket, for those times when I need something adsorbent or warm for an animal.  Plus, I got the shopping bug out of the way for another week!

Late April Snow

I came home from work yesterday to find Maggie outside the electric fence (again), and Desmond gone.  It seems that when I take the time to play a game with Maggie in the mornings, she stays in the fence, and days like yesterday when I zoom out, so does she.  The game we play is that I make her sit at the end of the driveway, give her a treat, get in the car and drive a few hundred feet, come back, give her a treat at the end of the driveway, repeat one or two more times, driving farther each time before I come back.  The last time, I'll drive about 1/2 mile before I come back and give her a treat.  Every time I do this, she stays inside the invisible fence all day.  I thought I was retraining her to stay in the fence, but I'm guessing she thinks it's a game.

So I dumped Maggie inside, and went driving to look for Desmond, terrified.  Of course, he came trotting up the road just as I turned the corner.  They were probably hanging out at the neighbor's house yesterday.  Maggie ran to meet the car and Desmond slowly started to make his way back home.  It just takes longer for the geezer to make it back.

Here's another beautiful sunset and some snow on the ground last night.  I was too lazy to walk outside to take this picture, so there's a red reflection from my camera in the center of the shot.

Here's what the south yard looked like this morning; sundial, apple tree, raised beds, cherry trees, goat shed.

Here's Desmond modelling this morning's snow, falling thick and fast. Three inches on the ground as I left for work and it was beginning to stick to the road.   One mile away from the house there's nothing on the ground except rain.  And yes, Maggie and I played the game this morning.

I'm percolating something that I'll be ready to write more about shortly (remember what "shortly" means? If you weren't reading this blog when I wrote about "shortly", I've added a handy-dandy search box so you can find that post if you're so inclined.).  It's about the farm family car stickers - I think I'm going to do it!  It's the first time I've had a good idea where nobody else is already doing it and the cost of entry is small.  More later...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Progress - Of a Sort

I whined last week about a long list of things that were unresolved and not moving forward.  I'm happy to report that most of the items have inched forward, at least a bit.  I'm a big fan of progress.

I got 6 gallons of apple cider fermenting on Friday.  It will ferment for about 3 weeks before I put it into another container to go a little longer.

The chicken coop should start the trip to NY from Texas today, almost a month overdue.  I hope I'll be able to put it together this weekend and finally get my long-suffering hens out of their too-small quarters and outside into fresh air. (Then I can clean the chicken poop and smell out of the front porch!)

The logger brought over the shed he promised to bring me.  It's less than I expected, but I suppose it qualifies as a shelter up through fall.  It's 4 x 8 x about 6 feet high, has a roof and a floor, but open walls.  It does have a closing, latching door which is better than I expected.  I'll plan to pick the goats up next weekend, which will give me time to get the fence up and get a feeder and waterer.
Desmond is doing swimmingly.  I was worried for a few days, as someone peed inside and I thought, "Oh great, now he's completely incontinent."  I've been having to get up once or twice most nights to let him out for months now.  Hopefully if I wake up and react quickly enough, he'll make it outside (she says, optimistically).  He's obviously feeling better, bouncing around more and happier than he's been in a while.  But his hips and arthritic back are never going to get better.  He's still a creaky old dog.

And lastly, the book says I can transplant the broccoli, rabe and leeks outside this week, and plant peas outside.  The tomatoes, and peppers are doing well on the upper shelf.  The peppers took a month to start growing.  I'm glad I was patient.
Stores are beginning to sell plants and I almost bought more basil.  I'm beginning to understand that it makes sense to start stuff you can't buy at any store, but a waste of time and energy to start anything you can just buy as a plant. Of course it's supposed to snow tonight and tomorrow in the higher elevations (which is me).  I may even get a few inches, so it looks like I'll postpone planting outside until after the snow melts.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Whole Family

I'd love to have stickers on the back of my car like these:

Except my stickers would be me, then 2 goats, 2 dogs, 2 cats and 5 chickens.  How cool is that?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Sunday in Spring

The poultry swap was fun.
I went with a group of about 5 people and with some people I knew there and they knew there, it was like a little community get-together.  It seems like some of the different facets of my life all seem to know each other, and I think that's pretty cool.  They're not "different" facets at all, it turns out.  They're the same facet.
Birds were bought and rabbits were bought by members of my crew.  There were also goats and sheep there, but I held off out of loyalty to the two goats I'll be picking up in a few weeks, and the fact that I still do not have a goat shed.

I came home and noticed asparagus had magically appeared, in like the last day.  I swear it wasn't there yesterday.  Swear!

I planted 10 roots last year, so hopefully more than one will come up and I'll be able to have more than 3 bites of asparagus.  It'll be the first harvest this year! I've given myself permission to get nothing homestead-y done this weekend, and since it's been cloudy and rainy I've put a major dent in a 1000-page book I've been hankering to read.  It's a good book, and it's nice to relax a bit.

Up Early

It's Sunday morning and I'm up even earlier than the usual 5:30.  Most weekend mornings I have the option of falling back into bed for extra sleep time.  But not today, and not yesterday.

Mr Third Date turned into Mr Fourth Date, but then flaked out majorly on the way to becoming Mr Fifth Date.  I had something to do at 10:30 and he was going to bring me breakfast here on the mountain.  It would have been a major treat, if he would have shown up.  Or called, or texted, or emailed, or anything other than what he did, which is nothing as far as I can tell. Sucks that I skipped out on the extra sleep to primp the house and me for exactly nothing.  Big waste of time and energy.  Later in the day, I thought a bit about vulnerability - how it's easier to put up walls and avoid all this teenage schoolgirl stuff. Not sure I want to do that, but this whole looking for a partner thing had only minor successes in the last year (dated two guys for a few months each) and some crashing pain and loneliness when I completely misread someone last fall. I keep feeling like the next one will be better and that you can't win if you don't play the game (that's the optimist speaking!).  But all I got to show for this work so far is some extra wariness and a bunch of people I have no interest in calling.  There's a quote from a Camera Obscura song I like that feels apt, "I'm determined to protect my feelings' disguise."  I periodically say this, and it's time to reaffirm now - I only want to give my time and energy to things that give back good things to me.  Period.

I spent the day Saturday learning about the middle ages at a "university" that was well-run, informative, and fun.

And now this morning I'm up early because I'm going to my first poultry swap with my new "Women of the Dirt" friends.  Something tells me the rest of the weekend is all uphill from here!  I'll post pictures later.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Goats are on NBC News

I'm sorry I can't say they're my goats!  But if everything goes right, in a few years, that guy in the cowboy hat would be me (except I wouldn't be a guy). 


Losing Feathers

Somebody (or multiple somebodies) in the henhouse - is losing feathers.  Here are two of the many.  All the birds look the same as before, so I can't tell who it is.

Is this normal?  Should I be concerned?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What a Difference ...

Desmond made it through the night well, has eaten and walked outside.  I wonder if he has been in pain for the entire year and a half that I've had him.  Something I really can't think about.  I won't be able to bring him home until tomorrow night.

Chicken Mama posted pictures of her house from last year and from this year - and that has prompted me to do the same. 

The first picture is the south yard in September, 2008, before I bought the house.  The cherry trees are on the edge of this overgrown area. The second picture is from the stone wall at the south end of the yard in May, 2009. You can see the cherry trees in a line to the right of the shot.

It's hard to believe I took the pictures from (virtually) the same place.  The bottom picture is what it looks like now, April 2010.  Sans those 10 trees, and 6 behind me.  Plus 3 raised beds.  It's hard to see the cherry trees (I've pruned them to nothing!) but they're there.

My plan was to use this whole area for an orchard, but now I see that I can put all the fruit trees on the cherry side, and use the left, downhill edge of this area for the goat shed and pen.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Taking a Whack

After trying unsuccessfully to concentrate on work all day today, I came home to the 'stead and took another  "whack" at pruning the cherry trees. Normally I like to listen to the sounds of wildness around me, but today I wanted some noise (and a glass of wine).  So I put one earbud in and left one ear open, took a glass of wine and the clippers out to the cherry trees. It was good to do a little work and let the peace of this place seep through me.
After pruning the cherry trees (again), I started the lawnmower (on the first try!), and ran it around for a few minutes, then took a walk around the yard with Maggie the dog and Pancho the cat.  I have to start putting dates on these beautiful sunset pictures, there are so many.  I felt kinship with the fact that the darkening sky is just about the most beautiful thing ever, but there is one, small black cloud floating there.

Desmond was in surgery until about 9 pm.  He came through fine - no good or bad surprises.  I should be able to bring him home Thursday night.

I've been thinking about how back-and-forth I've been today, questioning my path with Desmond. Wondering to what extent my choices on this have been marked more by what other people believe than what I believe.  I don't have strong, dogmatic feelings either way, so tend to listen to others' opinions more than I would on something I do feel strongly about.  The part where I feel strongly is that I will do my utmost to remove pain from his life, and that is what I believe I have done.  I'm certain that I will have more opportunities to make this decision (or another one) with Desmond in the months and years (hopefully) to come.

My sister sent me a wonderful email on the "what-to-do-at the end of life" question that I'm going to post below in it's entirety:

Back when I was pregnant with [my first], our cat got sick (Picca).  She had always been a vomiter, but was vomiting more and more often.  So I took her to the vet to get a check-up.  As you mentioned, it was one test after another, each one not so expensive, each one promising an answer or a resolution, so at each decision point, I was inclined to proceed one more step to see what the information/result would be.  Because it seemed unreasonable and unfair to not do just one more test/procedure.  We ended up spending something like $5000 on it, and the conclusion was that she had cancer (pancreatic, I believe).  In theory, it could have been operable and she could have gotten chemo, but even the vet said that was not reasonable.  In hindsight, I wish I had just let things take their natural course from the beginning, and I have resolved to never go down that road again.  Even before taking her to the vet the first time, it was clear that she was simply getting old and ill.  She could've had a perfectly fine peaceful and loving resolution to her life without all the human-imposed interventions.  The whole medical journey was driven by my human guilt ("If I can do it for her, how can I not?" etc.) and urge to just 'fix' the problem and the inclination to take just one more small step (to do a test or procedure).  I wonder if being a parent has made part of the difference in my position on this issue; there are so many times in which as a parent you must steel yourself against the most emotional begging and pleading in order to do what is right or required.  I wish now that I had had that resolve to withhold my interventions as my cat died from illness and just love her and comfort her and let what must be, be.  I wish that I had taken her back to the vet to be put to sleep earlier than we did.  I also think, now, that I would feel better about her final weeks/months with us had I been stronger about making the necessary decisions to let things take their natural course

Anyway, we each make our own decisions, and they are difficult.  But I just wanted to put in my two cents that it is not weak, it is just as brave and righteous, to decide not to intervene.

Pins and Needles

You know how some days just seem better than other days? Your life doesn't change, but sometimes it seems good and sometimes it seems bad.  I've had a long stretch of really good days recently, but the tide has turned over recently, and now the glass is half empty instead of half full.

I called yesterday to find out why I hadn't gotten the chicken coop kit I ordered on March 17, over a month ago.  Now I know.  It's because he lost my order.  It will be another week before he can ship it, and who knows how long it will take to get here.  The hens have been impatient to get outside for weeks already.

I dropped off a 6-gallon pail at the orchard two and a half weeks ago to get cider to make hard cider.  They finally filled the bucket and I got the filled bucket back yesterday.  Of course yesterday is the day that I dropped everything so I could run my dog to the vet.  The cider is still sitting outside the house (in the shade at least).  I may get to it tonight, I may not, depending on what happens with Desmond. It's a shame to lose cider I waited so long for, when I had plenty of time in the last 2 weeks to get it fermenting.

A neighbor helpfully pointed out how I got ripped off by the loggers I used.  It doesn't help that the logger hasn't done any of the work that he promised he would do in exchange for paying me.  Which means the woodshed that he was going to rebuild is not rebuilt, and the shed he was going to bring over to house my goats-to-be is not here.  Only a week has passed since I called him, so it may just take more time (and calls).

Maggie has been running through the invisible fence.  I retrained her a bit more this morning and amped up the shock - again.  We'll see how that goes.  I think I should have made obedience training for her more of a priority than I did.

Mr Third Date flakes out over the weekend, then ... not.  He helped me through some of my decisions last night, and then disappeared.  Again.  I'm still curious about the possibilities with him, but less and less curious as time goes on.  As my friend Linda writes in her blog Multilocus, it's pretty clear how to interpret what's going on. I sort of just wish he'd stop texting me and we can both get on with our separate lives.  I keep coming back to the realization that the most supportive relationships I've had in my life have been with ... women friends.

Jon Katz has been writing quite a bit recently about letting dogs die.  He writes that pet owners sometimes make decisions out of guilt that aren't in a pet's best interest, keeping pets alive far longer, sometimes, than the pets would want.  I don't know about that.  But I do know that guilt is very expensive.  Guilt costs as much as a used car.  Guilt takes the place of a new stove and home repairs.  Many of the home plans I had in place for this summer are suddenly financially out the window because my dog is in the hospital.

I'm just whining because it's a glass half-full day, not because things are actually bad. My comfort lies in resolving unresolved things, and right now too many things are unresolved for my comfort.  I don't often have to face mistakes that I've made.  I am not good at things that don't have closure.  The challenge is to allow things outside my control to work themselves out.  To let go.  Control what I should, but let some knots untie by themselves. Unmanaged.

The other challenge is to sit here, at my desk, when everything in me wants to go take care of things that need to be taken care of.  Grrr.

... we will soon return to our previously scheduled upbeat blog postings...

Monday, April 19, 2010

Desmond at the Vet

When I adopted an elderly dog from a rescue agency a year and a half ago, I knew that I'd have to sooner or later make the decisions that I made tonight.  But I managed not to think about them, except to visualize the clarity I would feel, and give myself credit for giving this rescue dog a better life than he had had before.

Of course that's not how it worked at all.  I came home from work to find Maggie outside the invisible fence (for the 3rd time in a row), and Desmond laying in the yard with blood drooling from his mouth and unable to get up.  Of course I rushed Desmond to the vet, where we spent the rest of the evening.  He has a baseball-sized cancerous tumor in his spleen that is bad, a lesion on his liver that may or may not be bad, and some bad teeth that need to come out.

I didn't learn that all at once though.  I learned it in dribs and drabs, one expensive decision and test at a time over several hours. I've left him there for surgery to remove his spleen and the worst tooth tomorrow.  If he makes it through that, we can think about the other teeth.  This is different than I imagined it, but not worse. There was no clarity walking though the decisions that led me to leave him for surgery.  But there is clarity now.  I'm doing the right thing for this member of my family - trying to make him better.

Pruning and Periwinkles

I think two pruning workshops in two weeks turned out to be a very. good. idea.  This is Steve pruning a peach  tree.  He showed us cherry, peach, and apple before it started raining.  One big lesson here is that I won't need to use the entire area I have saved for orchard on the orchard, which is nice.  His dwarf trees are 6 feet apart.

I came home all fired up to prune some more, but the weather was still yukky, alternating snow and rain and hail.  I didn't move any dirt this weekend either.  But I did make significant progress on a few sewing projects I hope to have out of the way before the weather turns warm.

The periwinkles are out!  I was curious about them because they are near a large red pine I had pushed over last summer.  The tree is gone but the flowers survived.  Chives are another plant that still remains strong despite near total removal of their last summer's home.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

My House is a Very, Very Old House

The front of the house faces a road that has not seen traffic for a hundred years, and in fact is no longer a road.  There was a barn here, and a garage.  Both are long gone.  Previous owners have added though, a sun porch, and a woodshed (now falling down).  In the last 15 years, the number of houses on my street has multiplied many-fold.  There are 13 houses now.  My house was the first.  200 years ago, if you believe the seller's disclosure statement.

It's like Washington's axe.  The head has been replaced three times and the handle twice, but it's still Washington's axe.  I think the only original pieces in my house are the stones that make up the basement floor.

I was talking to someone at the fire house yesterday about what's involved with volunteering and he asked me where I live.  I told him the street, and then he asked me how far up the street I live.  I said, "the end."

He immediately knew the house. "Ah, the old farmhouse."

He said the last time he'd been in my house was in the '80s when the Indian chief lived there.  - Huh?

He's not the first old-timer to tell me stories about my house.  It's had an interesting life.  There was the helicopter, and the marijuana bust, and the golden delicious apple tree, and the big open part in the middle of the house, or maybe not.  But the memories are all faded and jumbled and all I get are tantalizing bits. 

I'll bet if I listen quietly, if I listen a lot, I'll be able to put together a story, and in the process put myself in it.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Doors Opening, Doors Closing

The door opening:
My local fire department has a monthly pizza dinner fundraiser that I am happy to participate in by buying a yummy pizza.  Today there was a sign in front of the building, "Members Needed."  I've been considering volunteering with them ever since I moved here, and that sign was enough to push me over the edge. Here's the application.  I don't know what form this volunteering will take, but I'm opening the door to find out.

The door closing:

I didn't completely close the door to Mr Third Date, but it will probably close fairly soon.  Oh well - it had it's moment or two.  He's an interesting fella.

It was a rainy, hail-y, snowy day, so I was surprised by this sunset and glad that the camera was nearby.  I am endlessly thankful to have the opportunity to be aware of the sunrises and the sunsets here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

See, I Can Listen

I'm a good listener!
I followed advice and re-potted the broccoli, rabe and leeks (on the bottom shelf).  One of the bloggers I read, A Posse Ad Esse, showed tomatoes in plastic cups, so I tried it for half of the rabe and broccoli (yes, I punched holes in the bottoms).  On the top shelf are the tomatoes, and I planted basil, lots of basil, and tarragon and sage.  I want lots and lots of basil.  I don't think there's such a thing as too much basil.

I think this red stuff is horseradish coming up.  I'm not sure if the leaf is from the same plant or not.  Last spring I knew exactly zero about this area in front of the house, so like a genius I started digging it all up to plant herbs.  I'm an idiot.  I dug up what I now know are peonies, among other good things.  Anyhow - in my brilliant digging campaign, I dug up a few roots that I thought might be horseradish and ... let them dry out.  Yeah - idiot.  I won't make that mistake this year!  I'm not going to let the horseradish get away from me this time!

The Rule, and Laundry

I've been busy at work (for a change), and I have mixed feelings about that.  It's nice to be engaged in interesting work and work time goes quickly, but it consumes energy, leaving me none for evenings.  Dishes stack up, laundry stacks up.  Everything stacks up.  I finally started collecting the laundry and realized that I have FOUR loads to do.  FYI, it takes a long time for a single person to save up four loads of laundry. 

I could get the laundry done with a concerted effort, but I have a busy weekend planned. A third date on Saturday, and for Sunday some folks I met at the Hoggett event a few weeks ago invited me to see their berry farm in Hudson and attend a pruning workshop.  Even though I just went to a pruning workshop last weekend, this falls under one of my "rules" for starting over in a new place (which I've written about here in the past).  The rule is: If you're invited to something, accept the invitation and go.  No thinking.  No debating.  Just do it.  I am by nature an introverted person, so my tendency is to want to stay home alone.  Using this rule helped me make good friends when I started over in South Carolina, Washington DC, The Hague, and now upstate NY.  I like this rule.  It works.

Here's the rub.  When the rule works, I get a messy house, because I'm not home as much.  When I'm on my deathbed though, I'll likely say I was happy I chose to make friends - even if the hearse driver has to pick my cold, dead body out of stacks of dirty laundry!

The current wisdom is that we are 2 weeks ahead of normal, weatherwise.  I took this shot on May 8th last year, which means that the front yard could look like this next week!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Noobliest of Noob Questions

It's time for some stoopid questions about growing things!

Here's rabe on the left, and broccoli.  They were both flopsy a few weeks ago.  While the broccoli has recovered nicely, the rabe is growing from sideways stems.  That's not actually my question.  Even though it looks like they got kindof a rough start, I'm going to assume they're OK until they outright die on me.

My question is about re-potting.  The handy dandy planting book says I should plant these outside the week of April 26th, but as you can see, they're bustin' out now.

This Industrial Engineer (who is all about optimization) thinks that re-potting for 11 days and then planting in the ground is a little ... inefficient.  Is that really what people do?

Let's just say I don't re-pot them.  What bad things would happen?  Could I kill them?  Would I be more likely to kill them if I DO re-pot them or if I DON'T re-pot them?  Oh, my gosh, this responsibility has me completely tied up in knots!

April Meteor Shower - The Lyrids

 The following post is taken whole from

Meteor Shower Strings in the Night Sky

In the beginning of every year there is little meteor shower activity before April, except for the Quadrantids in January. In April, three meteor showers start and the Lyrids Meteor Shower peaks. The Pi-Puppids will not be as active as the Lyrids and the eta-Aquariids will not peak until May.

I hope you’re as excited as I am, because April means better weather for people in the northern hemisphere and more meteor shower viewing chances. The Lyrids meteor shower is the oldest acknowledged meteor shower, referenced during the Chou dynasty period in 687 B.C. by a Chinese observer, he writes, “at night, fixed stars are invisible, at midnight, stars dropped down like rain…” The shower gets its name from the radiant near the constellation Lyra, an ancient stringed instrument similar to a harp.

So what causes the meteor shower? In 1861, amateur astronomer and professor A.E. Thatcher discovered the comet and source of the Lyrids, Comet Thatcher. None of us reading this in 2010 will be around when the Thatcher Comet returns because it orbits our Sun once every 415 years and will be first visible with the naked eye from Earth in the year 2276. This doesn’t stop the dust particles and meteoroids that remain in the orbital path of this comet from producing this annual meteor shower every April.

Want to see some Lyrid Meteors? They start trickling into the sky on April 16th and will be most active in the morning hours of April 22nd and will end their run on April 25th. I will be posting some more meteor shower facts, in the meantime please join the mailing list, bookmark the site and keep your head up. Meteor Showers are coming!
- Meteor Mark

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Thrill of the Hunt

I was pretty happy after my good review, so used the occasion to celebrate with a shopping trip to the Salvation Army over lunch hour (that, and I frequently shop there anyway on Wednesdays - it's half price day!).

I was just a little more splurg-y than usual.  I tried on these shoes (Nine West, an extremely good brand).  They fit well and were very comfortable - more comfortable than you'd expect from 3-inch heels.  Wearing these shoes I'll be 6 feet tall.

So I splurged and bought them.  Half price, they were $1.50.

Zero Pictures

I have exactly zero pictures to show for all that happened yesterday.  I made sure to charge the battery of my camera because I knew there would be a ton of wonderfullness to capture - and then I left the battery at work (as in, nowhere near the camera in my purse).  So - no pictures.

I'll summarize in words instead.

Over the course of the day - met a ton of wonderful ladies doing the green thing, growing food, growing chickens, goats, cows, shearing fiber, dyeing yarn.  Making customers happy with green products.  Creating more opportunities for customers to access green products.  Helping each other learn new "forgotten" skills in a supportive atmosphere.  I could get into the details, but then it would be a very long post and there still wouldn't be any pictures.  It was a very, very good day.

I know - pictures would have been better!

P.S.  I got a good job evaluation.  I'm a little amazed that the evaluation is as good as it is, but not too surprised that I'm harder on myself than my boss is.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pruning the Macintosh

I'm not positive this tree is a Macintosh, but that's what I'm calling it. This is what it looked like before I made any pruning cuts. 

Lee Reich said that old trees will have long branches that are reaching up to the sky (and apples up there can't be harvested because they're too high).  He said to take one or two of those big, tall pieces down in thinning cuts, to make the tree shorter and open up the center.

After the first branch was removed, the tree looked like this.
After the second branch was removed, it looked like this.
The tree is still too tall, but it's shorter than it was, and more open.

My evaluation at work is tomorrow. I've been a mediocre employee this past year, so I'm expecting a mediocre review.  I hope it's that good.  Of course I'm completely nervous.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Baby Goats

Here they are!

I realized on the way over (an hour's drive) that if I want to start with purebreds, I shouldn't even be going to see these half-breeds. I knew that the moment I saw them it would be all over for me.  And it was.

They're a month old now.  I'll bring them home in another month or so.  Their mom is Alpine (lots of milk) and their dad is Nubian (higher butterfat and protein).  That's mom to the right of the babies.

I'm calling them "the babies" because they don't have names yet.  Whee - I'll get to name them!

Jobs of Addition and Jobs of Subtraction

I visited the baby goats (I'll post later about them), pruned 2 apple trees and 5 cherry trees (post later), and then moved some dirt.  That got me thinking about addition and subtraction.

When I pruned the tree you see behind the raised beds, I cut two fairly big branches off, to lower the canopy and open the inside.  It's still not good, but that's all I'm going to do this year on this tree.  Two cuts made a huge difference in 50 years of growth.  That's a job of subtraction.  A little work goes a long way.

The dirt - that's a job of addition.  When I moved the dirt, I had to move every, single bit of it.  No shortcuts here.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Doors and Windows

It's been said that for every door that closes, a window opens.  Recently I closed a door, and it's looking like windows are opening - it's really weird, but sayings like that don't come from nowhere!

I gave up on someone I thought was going to be a friend (you've read multiple times on this blog about how I'm looking for friends in this new-to-me part of the country).  We spoke for hours on the phone and I thought that meant we'd eventually start to actually "do" things, like haunt antique stores, see movies about local food issues, go to farmer's markets, local food dinners, the woiks.  Things I've enjoyed doing with friends in the past.  It took me far too long, but I finally realized after multiple invitations were passed on, that this person was never going to be the friend I was looking for. The phone conversations had me completely fooled.  (For those of us that have started over multiple times, there's a saying to the effect that after 3 invitations are for naught and not returned, so is that person.)  I don't have enough extra emotional energy to waste it on people that don't give me even a fraction of what I'm looking for, that don't make my life better for having known them.  I can pay for a handyman and talking on the phone just wastes precious evening time I could be doing useful work.  So I closed that door (sound of a door shutting with a final "click").

But some intriguing windows are opening.  On Tuesday, I'm taking the day off work to go with Melanie of Our Wee Farm to run farm errands.  I know, it sounds so much like work.  But this stuff is exactly what I need to learn and Melanie is open to new friends - I'm really excited about that!  I think it's going to be an extremely fun day - at least as much fun as taking chickens to the processor, helping with shearing, delivering yarn and who knows what else can be!  I'm in heaven.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Falling Together

Sometimes things go very slowly and all you can do is prepare and try to be ready when the inevitable big stuff happens - because sometimes things fall together very quickly.  This weekend feels like a "quickly" weekend.

I went to a workshop today, given by Lee Reich on how to prune stuff.  This guy wrote the book on pruning (or at least a book on pruning).  He taught us all we need to know - heading cuts, thinning cuts, equipment - and then showed us how it works on all his stuff.  And he's got a lot of stuff! Mountain laurel, hyacinth, pears, prunes, apples, kiwi, grapes, lilacs, and lowbush and highbush blueberries.

I'd been reading about pruning, and tried it a bit on some of my trees, but didn't feel like I understood it.  I wanted someone to give me a lesson, but so many other things seemed more important last year. 

This guy was exactly what the doctor ordered!  I'm ready to make some big cuts to rejuvenate my old apple trees, the old lilacs and a few of the highbush blueberries.  I'm going to do it tomorrow, after I go look at 2 baby goats, the possible future baby mommas of my dairy herd (or weed-eatin' herd)!  A commenter made a good point (sorry anon - I don't know your name!) about using purebred mommas for dairy, to make it easier to sell the kids.  Tomorrow's goats aren't pure (I'll skip the comment about original sin), but I am emailing with an owner of purebred Nigerian Dwarf  and Nubians who would have some available in the near future.  So either way, this summer is the summer I lose my goat-owning virginity.

This picture is what Lee's highbush blueberries look like, and this is what I gather they are supposed to look like.  They are about half the height of mine, and maybe 20% the size of mine at the ground.  I saw drawings in books, but I just couldn't get  a feel for the scale.  Now I know.  And now I have a feel for how much work it would take to get my 50+ huge blueberry bushes under control.  Not going to happen!  I'll focus on the apple trees and a few of the blueberry bushes this year.  But I am SO excited to have learned this!  Pruning is like a mystery revealed, and something I could actually do.  That and the goats,  - it's all falling together!

Where the Wild Things Are

A hundred years ago there was a barn in this picture, across the street from the house.  I don't know when the barn fell down, but I know that there was only a foundation left in 1990.  The foundation is still there.  This area has grown wild since then.  I mowed a keyhole in between rocks last summer, and that is where there is green grass growing - but other than that, this area is wild. 

Except for the daffodils making their appearance, here at the edge of the wild area.  I see things like this and wonder what it looked like here 100 years ago. When I get goats, they'll clean this all up for me.

Friday, April 9, 2010

When Plans Change

I had plans for company yesterday evening (and was planning on tasting the gouda cheese I made 2 weeks ago).  But the plans fell through, and a second set of plans for last night fell through as well.  So what could I do but use this perfect opportunity to move some dirt?

And so I did.  This desk worker doesn't have the stamina to do this for hours.  Three loads later (total 6 loads so far), one bed is almost full, one bed is half-full, and one bed is almost empty.  And the dirt pile still looks the same as it did almost 2 weeks ago.

Then I brought out the 2 rounds of gouda, washed them in brine and took a small taste of one.  Yum.  I'll let them age longer.  The taste is supposed to smooth out and get softer with time.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Oh My - Goats!

This morning I saw this ad on craiglist:

I contacted the owner and will go visit them on Sunday.

A month - that's enough time to get shelter and fence set up - I hope!

Queen of the Dirt Pile

Miss Maggie, Queen of the Dirt Pile and ruler of all that she surveys.  The dirt pile has, distressingly, not moved itself into the raised beds and I have not helped it much this week.  My original plan B was to move a few loads every evening after work, but somehow the week has gotten away from me.  (Plan A was to move it last weekend, but a flat tire on the trailer nixed plan A.  Onward towards plan C! Good thing it's just dirt.)

When the dirt dude dumped this last week, there was a huge lake along the right edge of this shot.  Something thawed underground, and all at once over the weekend the entire lake disappeared.  I had snow too, under sawdust, up through Sunday.  Never managed to walk the 50 feet with a camera, so it went unrecorded.  It is just snow, after all.  God will make more.

Odysseus is Home

I wrote the other day that I was percolating some thoughts about archetypes and journeys. 

Near the end of my time of living in Washington DC, I was restless, feeling that even though my life was pretty good, it wasn't what I was looking for.  I thought I was looking for worthwhile work outside, so had started the process of applying to the Peace Corps with visions of teaching people how to plant or herd goats or something.  I had no idea.  Of course, the Peace Corps isn't dumb - they wanted to utilize my skillset to help the world, and thought that it was perfectly fine to give me an assignment in Mexico working out of a cubicle helping businesses improve their operations.  Since that was exactly what I was trying to get away from, and another international job came up anyway, I never entered the Peace Corps, and the diffuse sense of wrongness continued to plague me.

Around that time I heard about the concept of archetypes.  The concept (which for those who know more about it than me, I will probably butcher) is that even though we think we are the first to walk our trail, we are not.  There are myths about those that have gone before, that can help us understand ourselves, our journeys and our challenges.

I bought a book by Carol Pearson about this, and the way she described it in 3 broad stages, preparation for a journey, the journey and the return touched a deep chord in me.  She describes our lives as a series of preparations, journeys and returns, starting as an innocent who believes that a perfect future is possible, developing into a seeker or destroyer who leaves the safe harbor and forges into the unknown.  Finally this person returns and creates new structures. Quoting from here is a description of the archetype I identified with then.


The Explorer/Seeker/Wanderer leaves the known to discover and explore the unknown. This inner rugged individual braves loneliness and isolation to seek out new paths. Often oppositional, this iconoclastic archetype helps us discover our uniqueness, our perspectives, and our callings.

I briefly skimmed this book again recently and identify with a different archetype now, still in the Journey phase:


The Creator archetype fosters all imaginative endeavors, from the highest art to the smallest innovation in lifestyle or work. Adverse to stasis, it can cause us to overload our lives with constant new projects; yet, properly channeled, it helps us express ourselves in beautiful ways.

Of course there are elements of other archetypes that fit as well - I feel some parts of the destroyer:


The Outlaw/Destroyer embodies repressed rage about structures that no longer serve life even when these structures still are supported by society or by our conscious choices. Although this archetype can be ruthless, it weeds the garden in ways that allow for new growth.

I discovered a blog about a month ago by a local meat producer: Pasture Raised and Grass Fed on Stony Brook Farm .  Reading it I saw that he is only a few years into this (I would say "too", but I'm not even a few years into this yet!) - I love other new people!  I don't care who he is, I love him anyway!  He wrote a blog entry at the beginning of the year that blew me away, called Odysseus is Home.  (quoting)
I realized — again because I have realized it many times over the past few years — that no matter the circumstances, there is no place I would rather be than farming. After circulating from one idea and grand plan to the next for the better part of twenty years, I have finally found a life that suits me. Sure, it is a difficult life. There is heartache and backache. There are long hours and even the biggest holidays are more or less just another day on the farm. But, it is the most satisfying, purposive, and rewarding thing I have ever done with my life.

I am at home on the farm, where really, objectively speaking after just a few years, I am still very much a stranger, and I am at home in my own skin as a farmer. I no longer feel like I am acting, playing a part, circulating through all of the endless possibilities that are available to people born into material lives as rich as my own.

and later he writes

Odysseus is home. I made it. So many times, I can’t tell you how many, I thought I was a goner, but I made it, I finally, really made it home, safe and sound.

I can't express the feeling any better than that.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Some Things Are Extremely Neat

In the last day or two commenters to this blog have turned me on to a few things that I just have to blog about.  They're extremely neat.

The first is Wordle, from nagoonberry.   It makes word clouds from text.  Just to see it work, I pasted in the text from my blog entry, "Why I'm an Engineer."  I haven't read anything on the site in detail, but I'm assuming that text size has something to do with how often words are used.  Here's the result.

It's a little disturbing to me that "worked" and "wanted" are so big.  I've mentioned before that so much of my life has been marked by wanting and seeking, and that I'd like to be more about being than wanting.  This word picture is like seeing myself in a mirror - and not loving what I see.  It reminds me of some Christmas stories where the hero gets to see how he is viewed by others, or listening to yourself on tape for the first time.  Also disturbing.  I have some thoughts about this and have been percolating a post about archetypes and journeys, but the thoughts aren't complete yet. More later on this.

But back to Wordle.  It's extremely neat.

The next neat thing is a link from Sweet Bee Cottage: .  I could spend hours on this site.  It shows how to make things - and the illustrations make it all look easy.  I looked at the site last night, and almost got right up and pulled out the power tools.  Not really - but the thought crossed my mind!

Also extremely neat.

I'm really loving being stretched in new ways and learning these cool new things!