Sunday, December 25, 2011

Two Christmas Books

The first Christmas book is one our daughter June gave me. It was 3 years ago, and I was just learning how to bake bread. As I have said before, work was very, very slow, and I needed something to do. Phoebe reminded me I like to bake bread, so I did. 

With help from a great website (http://www.thefreshloaf.com/) I started learning how to make artisan bread. In an inspired moment, my daughter got me a blank sketchbook to use for bread recipes.

And use it I have. Every time I bake I write in the book. I will transcribe recipes into it, note different approaches, and their results. 
I also add other recipes I want to be able to find easily. With information available on the web, in books I own or read, and things others tell me, having one place to store all the info has been really handy. 
I don't bake much in the summer, so when fall rolls around, I can read the last few entries to catch up to what I learned earlier in the year. This may sound fairly elemental, but I am terrible about retaining information. So having a place to put it, and find it, has really been a great thing.

The second book also involves June. When she was 3, and her brother 10, we bought a Christmas book. It is called The Christmas Secret, by David Delamare. He is an illustrator who lives in Portland, and we saw a signed copy of his book in a shop.
We have read the book every Christmas for the 20 years since then. We read it in two parts, starting on Christmas Eve Eve, then finishing the next night.

This year, as you may know, June is in Russia. She is staying there for Christmas, so we are having our first holiday without either our children home. (Her brother Jake has made it home every year until this one.)

But we were not going to let a little thing like a 12 hour time difference and half the globe stand in the way of our tradition. So yesterday morning, her Christmas Eve, we read the first half of the story to her over Skype. I would hold up the photos so she could see them. She knows them so well she would say "Lift it a little higher so I can see the mouse."

This morning we read her the second half. It was very sweet, and makes my Christmas feel a little more Christmasy.

Yesterday after we were done I found an email address for the author. I wrote him a quick note telling him how much the book meant to us and what we were doing this year.

To my surprise he got right back to me. He said he usually gets a note about that book every year. Mine was the first this season. They were very touched and grateful for the story. That, in turn, gave me another high point for my Christmas Eve.

If you have a holiday tradition in your family, tell us about it in the comments. We love hearing about other homestead lives.

I am very grateful for what this year has brought. I humbly hope next year will be as kind to us, and just what you want. Thank you all for sharing it with us.

From all of us at the homestead, Phoebe, myself, the kids and critters, please have a yummy, warm, loving and laughing holiday. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Life here on the homestead is pretty peaceful in general. One thing that is very apparent though is that it is rarely quiet, and there is always something happening around here that would definitely disqualify the Homestead for the "Tranquility" prize.
Perhaps the casual discovery of a headless rabbit in the path to the barn. Or the sudden onslaught of migrating hawks taking down our chicks.  Or maybe that the teenage neighbor has a new dirt bike.
Whatever it is from day to day, it will just be something you learn to take in stride. It's always changing around here. It's usually not worth worrying about it.
This attitude is something I came by naturally from growing up in this place. Buck on the other hand did not. He still worries, for instance, about silly little things like the screaming wind storms we get here in the fall and spring.
After moving back to the Homestead, sleeping in a travel trailer under the trees, it all came back to me in one single sleepless night of 60 mile an hour winds and things flying by the windows like the tornado scene in Wizard of Oz.
After thinking to myself "Oh yeah, the wind really blows here." I settled down for the winter.
It will be fine. No trees have killed anyone yet.
Buck on the other hand had a tougher time sleeping through the "Howlers", as my dad calls them. Buck had the unfortunate burden of a sensible and fact based reality and in this world of gravity and chaos it was only a matter of time before we would be crushed by a tree.

Both of our attitudes are valid. Neither of us really knows what will come next, so we have a right to our own way of looking at it.

What entertains me about these disparate attitudes is how they played out in the face of an event that happened last winter. An event which we have dubbed "The Trailer Stabbing".  We have not mentioned this event because we had to slowly tell our family in the least alarming way we could, so they would not immediately demand we move back to the city. We had to calm everyone with time before we could blab this story to everyone else. But now a year has gone by and it has turned into a favorite funny story to tell at parties.
This story begins with a real Howler one fall evening. We have done the chores, fed ourselves and the dogs and we are ensconced in the fluffy warm world of bed, I am drifting to sleep, Buck is, I am guessing, reciting a circular mantra which goes something like this "Please, Please be over soon. Please, Please don't fall on us."
I on the other hand am in my small world of safety, protected by childhood imaginings of trees that care about me and would therefor, never fall on me.
The fact that we are sleeping in a travel trailer under a mangy tree full of Widow Makers, protected by the trailer world equivalent of basswood sticks and tissue paper does, I admit, disquiet me. I am reciting my own mantra as the trailer jolts and rocks "Please, Please be over soon. Please, Please don't fall on the newly rebuilt barn."
Our ability to remain awake is over powered by exhaustion. We drift off to sleep. We awake to a "GATHUNK" that cannot be good. While Buck lays stock still, no doubt taking an inventory of critical body parts, I jump up to see what we will need to fix tomorrow.
No sign of anything. But the sound was just too close to believe there was no damage, so I put on my boots and coat, pull out the xenon flashlight and brace myself for the wind.
It only took a minute to see what the gathunk was. A 15 foot, 5 inch diameter limb was sticking straight out of the trailer roof.
This is where I have the moment I suspect I am still asleep and dreaming. I go back inside the trailer and look all around, no sign of the limb.
Buck gets up now and asks what it was. But I am speechless. How do you say "There is a huge dead limb buried to the hilt in our roof, but there is no sign of it in here" to a guy whose worst fear is being speared by a tree limb on just such a night as this?
Instead I say "I can't tell and there is nothing we can do about it until morning anyway." and we go back to our bed and our perspective mantras. Oddly, my mantra changes a little.
The next day it turns out we were both right. The tree speared our trailer but it didn't spear us.
But from my way of thinking, the tree sent a message. Move the trailer. And Buck was listening. So we did.
Here is a little film of what we found that morning.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Leaf Job

I grew up in the city. I did chores in the yard and garden, but never chose to spend much time out there. Mowing and some forced weeding was about extent of my childhood farm work.

So when we moved to our first country place, with 1.3 acres, I had a lot to learn. Fortunately, Phoebe had a lot to teach.

Not only did she grow up on the homestead, she is a an avid gardener. So when it comes to plants and animals, she has a lot of experience and interest. I have learned a lot over the years, but still feel like a city boy playing at country. At least I enjoy it.

Here is one of Phoebe's ideas, that I was happy to execute:

We have a big Broadleaf Maple at the other house.
It dumps a ton of leaves in the fall.
Years ago Phoebe started using the leaves to mulch her garden over the winter.
The leaves get raked up and used to help make the garden better for the spring. It has perfect balance; a waste product becoming a asset with no additional effort needed.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

"It's Orange Season" or "Rolls Around My Waist"

We are not growing oranges on the Homestead, but we do have relatives who have neighbors who grow oranges!

Because of their great generosity we scored three shopping bags of homegrown oranges and I did not want to waste a single drop of them so I decided to make Marmalade with them.

I have never really been around marmalade eaters in my life and so I didn't really know what to expect. I do know some people love it and some people hate it. I had never eaten homemade marmalade before, but I suspected it would be worlds better than the store bought stuff.
I looked around on the internets*  and settled on Ina Garten's recipe.
So I commenced to slice and dice a triple batch of Marm without ever having tasted it. Pretty brave, huh?

It was super easy to make. Just dice up a bunch of oranges add sugar and cook.

The recipe also called for a couple lemons and it just so happened there were some lemons in the bags too.

The final word for me is not that I love Marmalade on my toast. Instead I have discovered that if you make a cinnamon roll dough (just a yeasted sweet roll dough), spread Marmalade in place of the sugar/cinnamon and then top the resulting orange rolls with a vanilla cream cheese frosting...
You will think you have died and gone to heaven.
This is the last one and I barely got a photo of it before it was ravenously consumed (by me).

*we like talking wrong for entertainment around here.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Pruning Raspberries And A Word Of Caution

Where do you start when your raspberries look like this?
Get down under them and you can see pretty easily which ones need to go.
It is very clear here, which canes are new and which are old. Green means new, Brown means old.
In the fall I prune my raspberries. When I tell people that, they get very animated about how they don't know what to prune or that they didn't even know raspberries were supposed to be pruned. So I took some pictures this time. It's pretty simple and not too much of a chore especially if you have semi-thorn less berries like our Tulameen variety.
Raspberries at their peak in June.
If you don't want to have your canes fall over when they are heavy with fruit you can also top your canes in the spring at 4.5 to 5 feet. Don't feel bad because it encourages the cane to branch out more which increases the fruit yield .
If you look closely at the dark cane left of center you will see that it has been topped. It compensated by making long side branches for more fruit.
The raspberry bed looks pretty sparse after pruning but it will be very lush by next June.
Raspberries have two types of canes every year. Primocanes, which are the canes that came up as babies while you were picking fruit this summer.
The canes you picked the fruit off of are called floricanes and they have given their raspberries and are now going to turn brown and die.
Next year the primocanes graduate and become floricanes, which bloom (floral) and make berries.
And so on.
You don't have to prune out the old canes but pruning out the old spent canes makes room for sun to come in to the fruiting canes next summer. The more sun they get, the sweeter and yummier the berries are. So to me it's worth it.
If you have everbearing raspberries the process is different. Although I know gardeners who have started mowing down their everbearing varieties in the early spring so they will get one crop in the late summer instead of two small crops in the spring and fall. They would rather have one bearing of fruit than just little dribbles of fruit in the spring and fall.

Now the warning. This is a case of "Do as I say and not as I do" or better, "learn from my mistake".

When you see this:
What do you feel? That's just what I was feeling last summer. So with that gluttonous mood driving me, I dug up several little Tulameen plants from the garden and planted another row near my blueberries. It seemed like the logical place, since the earth was already fluffy, weed free and the drip system was already set up there.

What a  mistake. Don't plant raspberries near blueberries.
They love to send runners all through the sawdust mulch around the blueberries and if you go to pull the raspberry runners out, they rip up the shallow roots of the blueberries. And without completely uprooting the blueberries you can't get all of the raspberry runners out.
What a sad discovery this is for me. I had just gotten my first small crop of blueberries this year and getting rid of the raspberries will surely set the blueberries back a year.
Live and learn.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Turkey Tale Redo

Well, Buck and I had the opportunity to spend TDay with good friends and our son in the big city of SanFran this week. Because a great deal of time has been spent gadding about and very little time has been spent in front of our computers, I am going to, instead of writing a post for this week, bring back the Tale of Gimpy McGimperson for this holiday season.
Enjoy and happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Running of the Chickens

Just in case anyone has been wondering what it is like to have 46 chickens free ranging around the Homestead, I just thought I'd give you little taste of the mild chaos that occurs at dinner time around here. Of course it is not a forever thing since 23 of these chickens are headed for the freezer at the end of November, so I find it funny. Not something I would want to deal with all the time though.
Mr. B adores his new task of herding the Meaty Chicks into their pen for the night.

Mrs. B pretends to not care, but surprisingly just happens to be in the right place at the right time to nudge the odd wayward chicken into the door. She is also much more determined than Mr. B when it comes to getting a chicken out of the thick brush. When Mr. B gives up on a chicken lost in the brush, I implore for Mrs. B's help. She plods into the brush and a minute later out shoots a chicken.

No one who has known Mr. B or Mrs. B all these years, would have ever suspected they had a secret talent for herding chickens. Hurting chickens, Sure! But herding? No way.

 Well, they don't care what ya'll think. Tha'r Farm Dawgs now.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Loafing Shed 1

We put down some stall mats, to control the mud where he eats.
And now it is time to take the next step, the Loafing Shed. Horses like to loaf around. As do I, I must admit.  However, when it is raining at the Homestead, I get to loaf in our cozy warm trailer. The horse gets to stand under a tree.

(OK, not entirely true. There is a paddock for him, but it is not in the pasture, and neither he nor we are big fans of him spending a lot of time in there. Muddy and boring.)

Anyway, we need to create a shelter in the pasture for the horse, soon to be horses. Hence the Loafing Shed.

We are putting the posts on concrete, which needs time to set up before we can put weight on it. Since we won't be working over Thanksgiving, doing the footings now will give them time to set up.
First step was to dig the holes. I cordoned off that part of the pasture, using half of the round pen.  We don't want the very inquisitive mustang getting in there.  The spot is just across from the barn, and at the crest of a small slope: both key considerations in choosing the site.
Digging holes is one of my primary contributions to these projects. (I also specialize in holding things, getting things and being dead weight.)

I got all fancy on the hole digging, using the Pythagorean Theorem to determine where the second row of holes should be dug. I honestly think this is the only instance in which high school algebra has actually served me well. My posts are on 9' centers, so my a2 and b2 are both 81, which makes my c2 162, and its square root 12.72. I tied some baling twine together, and put a knot at 12.72-ish feet and triangulated that with 9' on the tape measure. That told me where to dig my hole at a right angle to the other. (Whew, math!)

Mr B was there as usual, offering moral support.

Holes dug, the next step was to pull Hank off Phoebe's Art Shack project. In addition to being an excellent carpenter and collaborator, he is also a wiz at concrete. He has worked on Bonneville Dam, and on the 7 story refrigerator at the Tillamook Creamery.

So putting in our posts would be no problem.

We started by bending rebar to give the concrete a little more to hold on to.
I sprung for deluxe brackets; the wind can blow pretty good up here, and since we are not burying the posts in the concrete, I wanted the saddles to be really beefy. (Phoebe has long opposed putting posts in concrete, and with a little googlin' I understand why. Check it out if you are curious.)
hank put a pair of 12' 2X4 together to get a nice straight line to center the brackets over the holes, and keep them in place when the concrete is poured and cures.
 He marked the boards where each saddle would hang.
We held the boards in place with stakes, and marked them so we could move the boards and get them back in the right spots.
Why did we have to move the boards? Because I only had one job to do, and I needed to fix it! (Several holes needed a little tweaking once we got really specific about where the brackets would hang. As I knew they would.)

Hank likes to mix a shovel full of Portland Cement into each bag of concrete. Says it sets up stronger and cures faster.
Mixed it in the wheelbarrow, then dumped or shoveled it into the holes.


 A little dressing with a chunk of 2X4...
And voila, nice concrete footing for our saddles. We will let them sit as is for 10 days or so. Then the boards come out, and we are ready to build the structure.
After all that work, it was time for a cup of Phoebe's home roasted coffee.
What's that Mr B?  You want me to throw the chicken again?  Really?  OK, just one more time...
Oh, and one last thing: What a crazy beautiful day for mid-November!  

Friday, November 11, 2011

Notes from the Faraway

It's June here, folks. The girl, not the month.

My folks haven't mentioned it, but I'm not really around the farm anymore. In fact, I'm an ocean and a couple of continents away, in St. Petersburg, Russia, where it looks like this.

What on earth could I possibly say about homesteading? After all, I'm in the middle of a huge city. Well, there just happens to be a wealth of agricultural riches in the Ethnographic Museum here. I took a few pictures just for mom and dad, and they were so enamored that they asked me to show them to you guys!

First, let's meet our hero, the Russian serf. He looked like this:


He lived in a wooden house that was covered in carvings he did himself.


He spent most of his life squeezing a living out of the unforgiving earth of Russia. His greatest helper (besides his wife, who almost never gets mentioned except when she has babies) was a horse, who pulled a plow while wearing these lovely collars.


When he wanted to eat something besides wild berries, rye, and maybe a little milk, he turned to honey from the bees he kept in a stump hive.


He harvested the honey with hand-carved wooden tools.


Farming is dirty, dirty work, and I doubt that little-mentioned wife would be very happy if everyone tromped into the house with ridiculously filthy hands. A nasty bucket of dirty water is not the nicest way to wash your hands, so the ingenious serfs came up with this solution:


No, those aren't teapots. They're handwashers. The genius of them is that you can just hang them up and then tip out water to wash your hands, without having to get muck all over everything or use water that the rest of the household has already scrubbed in. I have a feeling they probably hung them up somewhere warm, as well, though I can't actually prove that.

The most interesting part of the tour was this guy.


The astute among you will notice several things about this guy. First off- and dad noticed this right away, which I'm very proud of him for- he's wearing leather boots. If you remember from the first photo, Mr. Average Serf wore shoes he wove himself out of birchbark. They had to be replaced every couple of weeks and stuffed with rags in the winter. Leather, for a family which usually had one cow if they were lucky, would have been an unbelievable luxury. Also, he's wearing a brass belt with little charms all around it that jingle as he walks, and he carries a tool bag with a little detailed scene on it.

I know it's not super visible in the photo, but that little scene is a horse with a man riding it, a man leading it, and a man watching it. The bag and belt are the signs of his profession: he's a horse healer.

He was just a normal serf, but with special talents for driving away demons, appeasing the local gods, and satisfying the wants of your domestic goblins, all of which were very necessary for the healing of your beloved horse and cow, on which the life of Mr. Serf and all his loved ones depended. After harvest every year he would suit up and travel from village to village, trying to smoke, bleed, or chant away the illnesses that were ruining families.

He had one other duty, too. A very serious one. He was a roaming butcher.

It seems that even the toughest, manliest, bravest serf couldn't always bear to slaughter livestock that he had raised. Those pigs, cows, and horses could be like family, and taking a knife to them was unthinkable. Just as unthinkable, however, was forcing your family to starve through the winter. So, for a small fee, this detached stranger would come and do the deed for you.

I found this very interesting. It seems like today there's stigma in not being able to butcher your own livestock, even though it's not fiscally or morally harmful to pay someone else to do it. My parents use a butcher down the way for their chickens, who is both affordable and humane, and saves them a long, bloody, feathery day. But surely, if they were real farmers, they'd do it themselves?

It seems not. Hundreds of years ago, farmers were still making the mistake of naming their pigs Betsy and scratching their backs. And hundreds of years ago, the manliest of men traveled around, making sure that life could go on- at least for the farmers.