Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Be Grateful?

Sometimes the world is slightly thrown off it's axis. The way we look at things is altered, the things we thought were cohesive, no longer make sense. Ordinary activities seem a little more disjointed, a little pointless. We hug our loved ones closer to us again, are kinder to friends and more patient with strangers.

At others we grow bitter and shake our fists at the sky and hold angry monologues in the living room, because we have been here before. There is an insult to this injury, because it is one of many, part of a pattern that becomes clearer with every new hurt. We scold ourselves for holding out hope, against hope. We shake our heads at our own naiveté.

I'm of, of course, talking about the events of the last two days in the media, about Fergurson, the grand jury's rather unprecedented decision to not indict, about the civil unrest and militarized law enforcement response that followed. The talk of the town, the fodder of news and social media.

I was going to write about something else, about our travels last weekend to a family gathering to celebrate Charlie's grandma's birthday, about our favorite haunts in Port Townsend, a little Victorian city by the sea, full of wooden boat enthusiasts. How we ran into our dear friends in the middle of the street. How we always emerge from the bookstore with more than we can carry.

That all seems more than a little trivial today, but at the same time, I don't really have any words to write about the elephant in the room, its ghostly presence just standing next to all conversations, large, imposing, but hard to make sense of.

I'm still new to this country, still figuring out how this society works, where its traumas and pressure points and fault lines lay. How we deal with things here, what the codes and states of civil discourse are...

All I can say is: in our disbelief over yet another glaring injustice, let's not get use to it. Let's hold onto those unlikely hopes, because it's from those hopes getting dashed time and time again that our outrage stems from. And if we don't feel that outrage, then we'll be truly lost, used to idea that what we know in our gut is right will never come to pass in the world.

And more than that,  beyond continuing to nurse our best hopes for our towns, cities, counties, states and for this country and continuing to be outraged when those hopes are dashed, we each of us need to think of something concrete we can do, to make sure these injuries don't keep compounding to the point where we're completely crippled.

That's what I'd like all of us to do even as we gather around heaping tables and quality time with loved ones: be grateful yes, talk and exchange ideas and acknowledge the myriad of collective hurts that hang over our heads, but also, come up with a plan of action, however small, to expand that gratitude and grace we're supposed to feel around these holidays.

Wishing you all a warm, kind, loving and thoughtful Thanksgiving,

Friday, November 21, 2014

There's A New Moon On The Rise

…and you know what that means.

New Moons are a grand time to start something, to plant something, to let loose all the wild horses and hoary beasts of your imagination. And apparently, New Moon in Sagittarius is all about creative ideas and visions. Correct me if I'm wrong, Astrologer friends.

I'm working hard on lots of things at once and hoping that all my pins and balls stay airborne, or at least land squarely in my hands. In the meantime, I hope to be back soon with good news and more substantive posts. Wish me luck...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Things I Did Not Do

I don't know about you, but one of the many things that occupies real estate in my brain is a running list of "things I didn't do today/ yesterday/ this week/ this month/ this summer/ this year".

It goes something like this: Today, I totally didn't remember to not pick fights. I didn't stack as much firewood as I'd hoped. I didn't take any good pictures. I didn't call back any of the people who called me. I didn't finish my writing piece like I had hoped.

Yesterday, I didn't make dinner and we ate rolls and leftovers for dinner. I didn't remember to soak fava beans for tonight's dinner. I didn't go have dinner with anyone even though I should have.

This week, I didn't finish my editing work and now I have a deadline. I didn't write any of the letters I was going to. I didn't go on a walk with Charlie. I didn't finish my holiday card design.

This month, I haven't finished any of the blogposts I was going to do. I haven't managed to call my sister.  I haven't had dinner with any of the ten people/ families on our list.

This year…nah you get the picture though.

I don't know why it's these lists that keep playing in my head instead of the ones of my accomplishments. It's like every time I do something, learn something, make something, I instantly forget it ever happened, because there's always a thousand other things to do. Only, mostly likely I'm never going to get them done to my satisfaction. And this, my friends, is bullshit.

So instead here's a list of things I have accomplished lately:
Today I stacked firewood and went harvesting craft-materials.
Yesterday I said no to social time in favor of playing dominoes at home with my sweetie. I had a great meeting with a new friend/ collaborator.  I got to share goats and turkeys with a little gal who was stoked.
This week I sent out mail to some of the many people who are important to me. I sewed some pretty cool things and made plans to do sewing with a friend. I had some productive meetings. I made a huge batch of sauerkraut. I read some great books and worked on my website and my short stories. And I made three rather decent soups.

Not looking so shabby after all, now is it? What awesome things have you accomplished lately?

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Little Recipe And Yes, I Am A Witch

…but it has nothing to do with this broomstick.

You may have noticed, I've been in a bit of a hibernation mode lately, as far as this blog is concerned. There's a lot going on and with the ever shorter days it's hard to get it all done. This time of the year, I always take great pains to get enough sleep and make sure I eat well, because I feel like the increasing darkness leaves me vulnerable to colds and other illnesses.

Speaking of which, I often get asked for recipes of things we eat, but frankly, I usually cook in the darker hours of the day and mostly off the cuff, I don't often get around to fulfilling those requests.

Here's a seasonal recipe so simple, I'm almost embarrassed to call it one, but it's perfect for fighting colds and using leftover garlic seed.

I love garlic planting season because it's a promise of summer and spring. You gently separate the bulbs, trying to keep the skins intact (but if you can't this recipe will come in handy!), soak them over-night in vinegar, dig a little trench for them, cover them with that loamy soil and tuck them under some straw. It's like putting your plant babies to bed for the winter.

Garlic is one of those homestead crops that I'm willing to give ample space in my small garden, along with potatoes and beans, because it's easy to grow (knock on wood), abundant, keeps well and is expensive to buy.

It's great medicine against colds, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, supposedly can help lower your cholesterol and fight cancer cells, an all-around wonder-plant. It's also pretty much in every meal we eat.

One of the things I've never seen sold, or been offered, in this country is "Russian Garlic" which is this delicious fermented garlic I loved getting at the "Kauppahalli", an indoor market place in my home town. So I thought myself how to make my own. It was not hard ridiculously easy.

Fermented garlic becomes soft and delicious and much easier to stomach in emergency cold care as it's raw form. Trust me, if you like garlic, you'll love it. If you don't like garlic…I don't know, eat a cracker or something…

Here's how you make it, or any other fermented vegetable for that matter:

You'll need: garlic, salt, water, a vessel. That's it. You can also add pickling spices, but maybe try the plain version first.

-Clean the garlic. If you're ambitious, you can nip off the though bottoms. Can you tell who's not ambitious? Good.
-Make a brine. A rule of thumb is 1-3 tablespoons of salt to a quart of water. Err on the side of too much. Salt is what keeps your concoction from molding. Too much salt, however will keep it from fermenting. If you use coarse salt make sure it emulsifies. You can always mix a little in warm water and dilute.
-Cover cloves fully with liquid
-Leave in a not-too-cold, not-too-warm place. 60-70 degrees is ideal. This is almost never the temperature in my house.
-As you can see I make mine straight into quart jars. If you do the same don't screw the lids on tight. You'll need to make sure some air can escape.
-In a few days you should see bubbling in your brine. If not, maybe you have too much salt and need to dilute with more water.
-If mold starts forming, fear not. Skim it off and add more salt. As long as your veggies are fully submerged you're all good.
-Leave the garlic out for 2-3 weeks and then test. If you like the taste and the consistency refrigerate. I've had my current batch for about a year now. Great as a little side dish, or appetizer.

There's also a pickled version I haven't tried to make yet. Oh and a bonus homestead hack: if you're done drying herbs, fruit, or berries, but want to make sure they don't mold cover your storage container with a cloth instead of a lid. Make sure to lid in a couple of weeks so that they don't get stale.

Now about that broomstick…if you follow me on instagram, you may know already that our resident rooster and I are at odds. Since we came back from our big trip he's taking to attacking me whenever opportunity arose.

Nothing would deter him, not bribery, having a bucket of water thrown at him when he snuck up on me, sweet talk, threats, brandishing sticks, or even being kept at bay by those same sticks. He would not quit. Somehow he was determined that I'm after his ladies and rightful empire. If you've never been attacked by a rooster, you have no idea how wildly they fly at you and kick with their spurs and peck. It's not something you can really withstand day in and day out.

Since I like having a rooster, he's part of the flock, protects the hens, offers the prospect of chicks and is generally a good addition to the homestead, I tried to figure out a way to get him under control without accidentally hurting him (which had almost happened already).

Frankly, I admire his impertinent attitude, as inconvenient as it is. He's wily and obstinate and knows his own worth, which I like. We all him Ukko, or Ukkonen, or Thunder Rooster, because "ukkonen" means thunder in Finnish. "Ukko" means old man, or the main God in the Finnish Pantheon. Yeah, I know, maybe naming your rooster after the king of gods is a bad idea...

There's countless, endless message boards about how to make sure the roosters know you're the boss. Like all message boards, they contain completely contradictory advice, but the consensus seemed to be that you had to show it you meant business. Apparently you had go after him first. For that, I needed a weapon that would intimidate him, but not hurt him if it actually came to blows. Which is where the broom comes in. It's weird, makes a noise and does that amorphous shaking thing that chickens don't like, it's prickly enough, but won't actually hurt him, because it's broad and soft.

I tested this theory about ten days ago, by first pushing him with the broom when he attacked me and then running after him and whacking him on the bum with it. Worked like a charm. A truce was reached, though I would not turn my back to him for extended periods of time and he likes to come to the garden fishnet and scream at me, safe in the knowledge that he's behind the magic forcefield of the net.

All I have to do to ensure my safety is to carry the broom with me at all times and shake it at him occasionally. So, you can expect to see a lot of outfit shots with said broom. "We should really get a picture of this for your Witch Blog…" was the suggestion that prompted these shots.

Besides planting garlic, I've been harvesting surprising goods from the garden. A new, tiny crop of lettuce came up, along with some chickweed that the chickens love, and my beets are still going strong.

I dug up the last of my potatoes, a local variety called "bucket a hill", and brought in my remaining cabbages, which were slug-eaten on the outer leaves, but huge and surprisingly pretty.

I still have leeks, parsley, chard, mint and of course, kale coming, though some stuff may go away in the next few days if the frosts predicted here really come about.

In anticipation, I made a salad for dinner from kale, mint, parsley and nasturtiums, dressed with olive oil, Bragg's and nutritional yeast. Hey that's another recipe! Cooking school! Witch Blog!

I've been wearing my typical home day garden duds: a dump sweater, a dump dress, bloomers made from dump procured fabric. To dress it up and to address the witch-theme, I did wear my favorite pin, given to me many moons ago, by one of my favorite witchy Moon Sisters, Amber.

Storms have been coming and going, moving clouds and felling trees on our path. Charlie had to take a saw to get to work today.

On the marsh, the swans are visiting, another sign of impending winter. As much as it's hard to slow down with so many projects and plans and ideas, I love this season of inwardness and burrowing.

How are your long nights going?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Life And Death On The Old Homestead

A while back, I wrote a little piece about landless homesteading and it's transient joys and sorrows. This being the day of the dead for some folks, the dying time, a season when nature retreats into itself, I keep thinking about the cyclical nature of raising animals and growing plants. 

Last week we said our farewells to Calypso, the little boy goat who's birth we got to witness last spring.   When I say goodbyes, I mean it. The sunday before slaughter day, which I knew I couldn't be at because I had to work, I went over to the goat pen, scratched his ears and thanked him for the good company he's been these past months, for being gentle with the little ones we've brought to visit him, for being sweet and funny and a good goat all around. Of course I told him I loved him. I always tell him that. He's my pal. 
A week later we had him for dinner. 

I know it sounds macabre when you put it like that, but that's the truth of it. It's never done lightly, or carelessly, but some of the animals folks keep, are destined to be eaten. It's the reality of homesteading. I know there are some vegetarians out there who would argue that there's no need to such a destiny and perhaps I will someday take on that conversation, but in the meantime, I think that if one is to be an omnivore, the kindest, most humane thing, is to raise an animal from a kid to slaughter and to do the deed yourself. Something I've personally been too chicken shit to do so far, though raising chickens for meat is in our "plan" for next year.
No matter which way you shake it, animal husbandry and even pet "ownership" means signing up for often  considerable heartache. Animals get injured. Animals die. I realized the other day, as I buried yet another chicken in the garden, that in the five years that I've been keeping chickens for eggs, more than a dozen of them have died from various causes; predators and mystery diseases.
I remember last winter, trying to dig a big enough hole in the frozen earth for five chickens, I doubted the whole point of that endeavor, the wasted resources of food and shelter, only to come home and find that the tiniest hole-gone-unnoticed could undo all of it. This was in February, the hungry month, when predators are the most likely to strike and there's little to eat in the woods, for them, for us, or for the chickens.
Of course, as soon as spring arrived, I came to my senses, patched up the coop with more wire and got thirteen new chicks. Why? 

Because, I suppose, it's worth it. Having eggs from chickens I know are happy scratching in the woods is, to me, worth any potential sadness, or loss of resources, in the event that they die from in spite of all of our precautions. 
It's worth it the same way every other homesteading venture is. Sure you can buy bread and chutney from the store, just as you can buy dried apples and sauerkraut, or smoked salmon, but learning to make things on our own, with ingredients grown at home, or from known sources, somehow seems to make the food more nourishing than its caloric value.
Growing a plant from seed, a chicken from a chick (or egg, if you're lucky!), watching a goat be born, ties you to your food in ways that shopping at the grooviest, most organic market never will. 
You do the dirty work: you knead the dough, you muck up the chicken coop and clean the eggs, carry the buckets of manure and clean the pumpkin seeds for toasting. There is reward in this. Deep, human feelings, slightly beyond words, hovering on the edge of your consciousness. You know they're there, but you don't quite know how to express the satisfaction of them.
The point of animal husbandry, beyond the mere food aspect, seems to be that it too is intrinsic to our nature. Humans have gone to great pains to meet other species in the middle, to alter their behavior to better suit companionship with us.

It's always curious for me to watch the cats, chickens and deer in my yard react to each other. They have their own dynamics and we have our own with each of them. 
Interacting with animals, whether wild, domesticated, or somewhere in between, seems to make us better people. There's acknowledgement there, that other beings exist and have their own mysterious and puzzling ways and though we can never really, truly understand them, we totally exist in the same space with them.  

And though I don't have any large mammals of my own, I feel very lucky to be able to get to know them. There's something humbling about being reminded that docile and domesticated creatures always have personalities of their own, their specific wild and unpredictable natures. 
Being able to milk a cow, or a goat, to rest your head against the flank of a warmblooded mammal who's more than happy with their part of the exchange, feeds that deep sense of belonging that makes homesteading such a joy. 
When I think about it, packing away meat in the freezer, canning vegetables for the winter, starting sourdough, cooking bone broth, or making a new batch of fermented cabbage that stinks up the whole house, I'm always reminded that I want this life, with all it's grievances and slight inconveniences. That it is those very things that remind me of my luck. That sometimes bathing in a basin is so much more satisfying than a long hot shower. That eating plain beets you grew yourself is at once a privilege, but also a universal human right that everyone should have, because the act of growing them should belong to everyone.
And I'm also always reminded of the glorious concept of energy exchange: that if the things that nourish this body of mine while I'm on this earth, the plants, the animal-people, agree to do so, then it is my part of the bargain to feed a whole horde of beings when it's my turn to go. That all this energy I'm consuming never disappears, is never wasted, but simply dispersed in different forms into the world universe. 
Now there's your hippie-dippie thought of the day…

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Hunting Season

This weekend's family outing was a short and sweet one. A walk, a cup of tea, a squall, some sun peeking through the fast moving clouds.

Hunting season is not my favorite around here. I feel weirdly possessive and protective of the deer that pass through our yard in search of pears: the little bucks with their single-prong-horns, this year's fawns grown but still clinging to their mothers, the mares with more than one year's babies in tow. Whenever I come across a deer in the wild, the trailhead crammed with hunter's trucks, I silently hope they make it through this last week of the season.

I'm not against hunting by any means, most of the folks I know hunt. Subsistence hunting from stable populations is a perfectly sound alternative to buying your meat, or even raising your own.

Hunters are some of the most practical environmentalists and naturalists there are. You have to love being in nature, still and observant, to hunt. It's an art in its own way. Of course it's not practiced as such by many, but a lot of hunters have a great understanding of the inner workings of the areas and eco-systems they hunt in. Sports and trophy hunting, of course, make me sick to my stomach, as does the careless, unthoughtful killing of scarce or unstable populations.

However, on a small, densely populated island, the hunters make me uneasy. As much as I'd like to think that most people with guns also have good sense, I've often found the opposite to be true. The public lands designated for hunting here are small and flanked by houses, as well as being well-used by non-hunters for outdoor recreation.

Walking in these familiar woods always makes me nervous in October. And I'm not the only one. People here have absolute horror stories of strangers traipsing through their yards with guns after an animal they've injured.

Our friends and neighbors know the right places, know to ask permission, to proceed with caution. They know to take from the right population, not just any old deer that pops up. They know how to kill efficiently and swiftly, minimizing unnecessary suffering for the animal. Newbies and strangers with guns worry me.

The deer too, seem to know what's going on. You see them in the most random places all of a sudden, well out of their usual way. Sneaking, hiding, but still too comfortable to walk close by people. For their species they are small and tame here and though the folks at Fish and Game seem to think that we have enough of an abundance of them to merit two tags per hunter, instead of the typical one, most locals have a sense that there are really not that many of them around.

You rarely see an old buck for instance. Only these yearlings with new pointy horns.

The two that we saw on our walk seemed to be conspiring to move away from a hunting party in the woods. We made much noise, quickened our steps as though a bear, or cougar had been seen skulking in the trees, but really, humans can be so much more dangerous.

I'll be glad when the season's over, the pantries stocked with "hillside salmon". Hunter Orange is not my color, guys...