Monday, August 30, 2010

The Rough part and the Reality Check

So, we have this cow and we have to milk her. We knew that part, just like we knew babies did not sleep through the night. It's not until you're living it that you actually understand all the facts you've gathered.

Really, every morning we have to get up at about the same time and go milk the cow. When we want to sleep in, we go do chores and then take a nap, but we've only done that once. We get up and it's dark, and before long it will be cold. And we go milk the cow. We get up and we're tired or sick or muddle headed, and we go milk the cow. It's just what we do.

And, did you know cows poop? I mean, of course we KNEW cows pooped, but it's no small thing getting the poop out of the barn when she spends the night in there. And in winter, we'll have to move the entire day's worth of poop for two cows. That's alot of poop.

The rough part right now is that it's time to harvest and store everything. It's very late and we have to get up in a few hours, but we're waiting for the tomatoes to finish their 45 minutes of boiling water bath. You see, two different people mentioned late blight to me today, so even though I checked the tomatoes yesterday and they looked fine, I took another peek today. Twelve plants we black with fruit that was splotched. So, even though we have this draggy cold, the children and I pulled all eighty plants out of the garden and we pulled all the tomatoes that looked salvageable. And tonight, while Jason was running back and forth getting hay from friend, I put 20 quarts of tomatoes into a pan, and threw away many many tomatoes that were not actually blight free. Tomorrow, I'll see about the potatoes.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

How's that cow?

Things are pretty quiet these days, and I think we're beginning to be in the "enjoy" part of our cow relationship. Of course, we're also in the "reality striking" phase as well.

In the mornings, it is quite dark and we have to rouse dear Violet to get her chained up to milk. I guess this isn't perfect, but it's actually easier than what we were doing before. It does mean we have to get all the poo out of the barn after she's chained and before I kneel to milk. I have only been reduced to tears one morning as I pondered my poop covered knees in the faint blue glow of the LED tent light we're using in the barn right now. It was the very next morning that we began taking a flashlight with us to help find ALL the poo, even if it had straw thrown over it.

Jason guesses that milking takes me about 15 minutes now. I try not to think about time, but that's contrary to my nature, so I'm glad he's kind of keeping track. One perk is that I have strong forearms now. If you milk a cow 15 minutes every morning, your arms DO change. I will still stop in amazement when I go to scratch a mosquito bite on my arm; I have a flash of, "Is that my arm?"

Clover (known as Chappy to the over 30 set in our house) is getting friendlier. This is nice because that makes us feel more confident that we can handle an emergency should one arise. On the other hand, it will make killing her more difficult. And we are beefing her in the summer or fall of 2012.

Violet understands our routine now and is much easier to handle as she finds us less inscrutable. She walks fairly placidly to her pasture in the morning and fairly trots to the barn in the evening. The pasture is already better, and she grazes happily most of the morning and the early evening. She eats all her hay in the night when she has only limited access to pasture she does not really like. It turns out that cows will mostly not eat the grass in the lanes, the pathways that we use to move them from place to another. And her lane is all that's available at night because she wants to be able to be close to her calf who is locked in a pen in the barn.

We figured out that if we do not let the calf nurse before we walk them to their new pasture in the mornings, Chappy follows along very closely. This makes the morning operation MUCH smoother. Also, Chappy is quite clear on "What we do in the evening", so she makes for the barn and her pen in the evening with an ease we never would have predicted. It's nice to have our routine supporting us.

Right now, Violet is grazing just outside the back door again, and I like glancing up to see her there. She looks hopefully at us if we walk out. Jason has been bringing soft melons and overgrown squashes from work, and Violet thinks we're especially nice if we show up with one for her. I think we're all beginning to enjoy one another.

Monday, August 23, 2010


What are people thinking when they get eggs from one or two companies who send eggs to SEVENTEEN states? Do you think that those chickens are happy? Do you think there is any chance at all that the chickens are genuinely healthy? Do you think unhealthy chickens are going to lay healthy eggs all the time?

Chickens are easy to keep. Eggs are clean and sterile unless poorly handled. There is no reason for us to set ourselves up to fear our food. What do you need to do to secure your food?

I will continue to raise chickens and I will continue to pay a hefty sum for eggs when my chickens are not laying enough to meet our egg demands. Because I'm willing to do that, I can eat homemade mayonnaise and eggs over medium. I can stick my figure in cookie dough and cake batter and let the children lick the bowl. I will not blanch over any recipe that calls for a raw egg in the final product because I know the eggs I'm eating are not from some huge factory with hens stacked on top of each other so that the factory can then send eggs to seventeen states.

Do not let yourself be so far removed from your food source that you cannot know whether or not to trust it.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Daily Delight

I'll start by acknowledging that late winter and early spring can feel VERY long, but it's anticipation and tiny little delights that make even that time difficult.

Starting in May, there is some delight in every month. I've thought for awhile that May was my favorite month in Vermont. You can almost feel Nature stretching languorously and shaking down her hair. Nothing is quite happening, but everything is just percolating and ready for the mad dash of summer weather.

June is sort of the same, except things have begun to happen. By June you can definitely wear shorts most days, and if you don't mind cold water, it's time to swim. I always think of an Elsa Beskow poem that begins, "The sun is warm, the water is mild, Summer has come to the water child."

July means you can swim almost daily, and the kind of craziness of the short growing season is in full swing. There are berries to pick and greens to eat and the weeding to do. The paths through the woods can become impassable by July as the briers fight for every available bit of sunshine.

August is the reason for this post. I have been biased against August, probably because they're having triple degree heat right now in Texas. I always think of August as a month to be endured. However, I am seeing it with new eyes this year. In Vermont, August looks like the peak month; it's the crest of the hill on the seasonal roller coaster. Flowers are in full bloom and garden plants are fruit- laden. It is a lush month with thick greenery. It is also tinged with the coming of fall. A few trees are shimmery with yellow and orange highlights; the nights are cool and we often put on jackets for an hour or two in the morning. Fog is in the back field almost every morning and the crickets are chirping in a very diligent way.

September brings apples and jeans and an earnest longing to be outside every possible second, as the waning light becomes quite obvious.

October is the golden month. Nature is replete and ready for the rest winter brings.

November usually brings the first winter weather, and that is always greatly anticipated at our house.

December brings the thick dark. That dark is magical in its velvety cold. The stars look so crisp and moonlight is so inviting.

January is for a good fire; that's when the weather is usually at it's coldest. It's a fun time to blow bubbles. Have you ever blown bubbles on a 0 degree morning?

February usually brings snow and good skiing. And March does the same. March is also when I begin to really notice how much longer the daylight lasts. It's the time for starting plants.

And back again to April. Thank you Mr. Eliot for stating it so clearly.

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding 
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing 
Memory and desire, stirring 
Dull roots with spring rain. 
Winter kept us warm, covering         5
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding 
A little life with dried tubers.

Friday, August 20, 2010


My cousin sent us a package with a couple of hand-me-downs for Ezra. Included was a pair of Carharrt overalls that will be most excellent for my walking "dust-aster". Naturally, I sent an email letting her know the package had arrived and I thanked her for the overalls.

Now for the creepy part- I have little ads at the top of my inbox for Carharrts. Something or someone looks very hard at everything we do online. Even when I make a deliberate effort to have less online-presence, I'm still followed by the Borg. Do YOU ever get the feeling you're being watched?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Just Eating Bon Bons

I remember this idea when I was little: Women who stay home all day do nothing but sit around, watch soap operas, and eat bon bons. Remember this notion? Heck, maybe people still think this and I just don't know it.

Today, before 10:00 am, this "stay-at-home-do-nothing" was feeling a little resentful that people ever thought this. By 10:00 am, I had mowed with a small mower the equivalent of two small lawns, watered 20 fruit trees, moved a chicken tractor and fence by myself, scratched up two days worth of cow patties (tell you later!), milked a cow, eaten breakfast, started a load of laundry, moved 50 gallons of water, and found canning recipes for pickles and calendula salve. I was feeling some righteous indignation that anyone ever thought women working at home were doing nothing.

Then, I thought of a few friends who really do have very little real to do and yet, they also feel they barely have a minute to call their own. I thought of how nice it was to be outside for the best part of the day and how my shelves would look at the end of the day when we finished putting up pickles. I looked at my contented animals, and I decided to let my grudge slip away from me. I thought of the way many "homemakers" don't actually make anything- they buy. And I felt kind of sad. I saw my own path stretched out behind me where I have tried to become less of a consumer and more of a producer. It was very curvy, and I did not exactly know I getting to this place.

So how I can look at the point another person is at and pass any judgment? Who knows how our paths will curve? Not me.


We never canned in Texas. Somehow, it just did not seem the "thing" to do. In Vermont, it's another story. It seems like everyone cans at least one or two things. So, five years ago, we learned how to can, starting with applesauce.

This year, we've canned blueberries in syrup, peaches in syrup, peach jam, strawberry jam, and tomatoes. I'll do some pickles for the first time today, and we're planning to do kim chi or sauerkraut. There are green beans and blueberries in the freezer, and we hope to add corn to that stash.

Still, with all that, I see what others are doing, and I know I have a long way to go. I should have winter squashes to put in the root cellar, but we'll probably have to buy beets and carrots. I DID plant onions, but it did not work out. I'll plant garlic in a few more weeks for next year, but for this year, I'll have to get it elsewhere. We have yummy cucumbers, but not the kind for pickles. I planted peppers, but only hot ones, not thinking about how useful the unloved sweet peppers are in recipes. I already mentioned my cabbage issues...

It's our first year, our first August, of a big garden, and the adage of "You reap what you sow" plays loudly in my mind. I will reap dried beans, sage, thyme, oregano, basil, tomatoes, potatoes, sunflowers, a few beets, very few carrots, tiny cabbages, a little bit of broccoli, pumpkins, butternut squash, tomatillos, crook neck squash, three kinds of hot peppers, and a few Brussels sprouts. That's not too bad for a first attempt.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What I See

Look! We have a rain barrel. It catches from about ten feet of gutter and it completely filled in a storm. I was able to water the trees and cow and chickens with this and another rain barrel. I got to play with the kids with a siphon.
There are blackberries in the hills, but we've only picked enough to graze on. The canes at the north end of the garden have been a challenge all summer and I'm trying to think of a way to have them that close without them being such a bother.

Ezra made three gallons of bubbles and he has been constructing bubble cities with them. It's amazing to me how long he can spend building something ephemeral.

Elmer and Nico are the best of friends. You might note that Elmer is patiently awake in this picture. Nico is sound asleep.

A view of our kitchen- abundant tomatoes, bread rising, empty jars, cluttered counter, and the doll ever at the ready.

There is now a swing set at our house. We're not convinced of its stability but it's lasted a week. I'm repeatedly surprised about the amount of joy swings can bring to our children's lives. We had agreed that it was time to devote a weekend to a project for them, and I think it was a weekend well-spent.

Here are a few of the flowers blooming around our house right now. These are zinnias, cosmos, and borage. I still do not like how the borage tastes- it's nothing like cucumber. The pink one is bee balm, and it has a tangy smell. The hummingbirds seem to particularly like it and the borage.

The mammoth sunflowers are getting very tall. The shorter varieties have already begun to open. I love the really tall ones because I remember my grandfather growing them. (He also grew blackberries.)

This bed is the most beautiful to me. I think the asparagus and raspberries look very happy, and I like their long, trailing tendencies.

Here are the baby Brussels sprouts. My cabbage crops look pretty bad this year. I'm not sure what I did wrong. I saw a friend's cabbages last night and mine are a tenth of the size of hers. Maybe it'll be better next year. Also, my beets are not looking as good as hers. I think I'll plant beets and carrots in a more traditional way next year.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


“I never saw an oft-transplanted tree, Nor yet an oft-removed family, That throve so well as those that settled be” -Benjamin Franklin

I read this quote recently, and I find it haunts me. 

There are many advantages to this small place we live. We know the names of the majority of people we meet in the grocery or at the library or at the beach. What strikes me is that I have only known their names for about a year, and they have all known one another much longer. 

This is a little hard for me and leaves me like the unsettled, transplanted tree. I am thriving, but I can feel my own foreign-ness. When I am with more than one of my new friends, I can usually sense their longer history and how I am somewhat out of sync. 

I do not think this is a permanent state. I am most comfortable with old friends, and I have not known anyone in our new place long enough to call them that. I have a strong feeling that some will be friends for the rest of my life; they are quite settled and thriving, and we have no intention of moving again.

On the other hand, even in Texas, I had trouble living near "old friends". And unlike our new town, we had trouble finding a place that seemed so promisingly full people who did not find us odd.

So now we've moved three times in five years, and I hope we're done. I hope the friends I'm making now are for life. I hope I am finally in a place where I'll know the same people year after year, with the peppering of new people along the way.