Sunday, July 31, 2011

Why YES, I COULD grow potatoes under those nails...

My manicurist is going to give me That Look again...but this is just how I ROLL...after every fill (nails = fake, in case you couldn't tell...I use them as 'picks' on the harp and having done so for [ohmygah, REALLY?!] 17 years now find it about impossible to play without, otherwise I would SO TOTALLY give them up because they fit the rest of my life about as well as pearls on a pig, but I digress), I SWEAR that henceforth, I will always, ALWAYS!, wear gloves when rooting around (ha! Potatoes! Rooting!) in the garden...and then, within hours, my gloves are annoying me, or getting in my way, or not allowing me to FEEL the difference between a rock and a potato and zip! Off they come, and two seconds later, my hands look like this.

And because I have all the pride of a busted fence slat when it comes to Such Things, I post pictures of them looking like that alllllll over the Internet. Ahem.

But nevermind, and quit looking at my filthy hands anyway - lookit that ADOREABLE potato! Isn't it the cutest thing EVER? And such an was all, "Wait, don't eat me! I can do so much MORE for you! Look! I'm all sprout-y! You should totally plant me instead!"

So I cut its head off and did, the end.

(Aren't these beautiful inside?!?! They're called 'Blue Nile' potatoes, and I love them!)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

This world is so strange a place

This morning, after about two weeks of muttering words like ‘ghetto’ and ‘crap-apples’ and ‘hippie hillbilly white-trash garbage house’, I cleaned up the front planter boxes and surrounding area a bit (it was a tad disheveled)…naturally, this involved shovels and the wheelbarrow because when do I ever do ANYTHING around here that does not?

I pulled out so many weeds that they overfilled the newly-empty tumble composter. Then I realized that a couple of the potato plants in the front box were officially “died back,” and started digging, gently so as to avoid ripping up the other potato plants…digging and digging and digging.

I was finding nothing but little tiny nub-potatoes, not even big enough to be ‘new’ potatoes. And I’d just pretty much given up when suddenly…ah-ha. A couple “full sized” new potatoes. And then a couple more.

And then, four big old full-sized Russet potatoes. Score!

And a half dozen red potatoes. Double score!

The two ‘bonus’ onions (seeds that over-wintered and suddenly were all, “Oh, yeah, knew we forgot something! and became plants) were ready to come out, so I dug those up as well…one beautiful, perfectly round little globe, and one that apparently only developed along half of itself.

Then I gently encouraged the front tomatoes to go up the tower, instead of sprawling like indolent teenagers all over their beds. We have standards around here.

Five zucchini. Two yellow straight-necked squash. Added to a summer squash stockpile that, if properly preserved, will see us through at least five winters and possibly be the solution for world frickin’ hunger because there is no vegetable that will make you feel like a thumping AWESOME gardener like a healthy zucchini bush.

It is a gift that keeps on giving, and giving, and giving, and giving, and…

And then…I picked up Danger Mouse from her Girl Scout garden, because she had a big ‘Can You Dig It’ thing today.

It felt weird, walking up to this community-style garden where (I imagined) clean mothers in clean shoes and mud-free socks were chatting with each other…me, with my jeans already filthy before noon, with potato-digging dirt still under my fingernails in spite of a good hard scrub with the nail brush before I left the house, with my back on fire and my hip already yelping from the shoveling and wheelbarrow-pushing (potato box needed more dirt, and the strip needed wood chips) (I find they are not only good mulch, but excellent cat-pooping deterrents…must feel scratchy on their little behinds, bwa-ha-ha), my forearms turning red and bumpy and itching like the very devil because I touched the tomatoes (only fresh-cut grass makes me itch more than a tomato plant will).

So strange that this “special outing” place is every-day-and-night chores for me.

Strange that for some of these kids, this may be the only real exposure they have to food growing right in front of them. Not as likely out in our area, one hopes…and yet, the world is strange. You can walk less than a quarter mile from my house and be in a corn field; make it a mile, and you’re walking through tomatoes, or rye, or vineyards, or shell beans.

AND YET…there are children living in this place who will never see it. Even if they drive past it every day, twice.

Even if they look right at it, glancing up from their in-car entertainment between soccer and piano lessons at the rippling green stuff outside the window.

They just won’t see it.

Sometimes, I worry that curiosity is dead; when I watch the new kids come into the work place and they just lack that spark, the inquisitive nature, the desire to just know something, for the sake of knowing it. Where did this come from, and how, and why…and they don’t understand why I would want to know. “It is not our bug” or “it comes from the other group” – enough said, enough known.

Yes…but…how? Why? Where did they get it?

And it’s not just there. Where did this apple come from? And how? And why? How does a seed become a plant, how does a plant become food, how does a grain become flour and how does flour become pasta? Who on earth figured out how to make that, and why? (Seriously, why? Pasta is downright fiddly, and wheat isn’t a crop that requires that level of fiddly to be preserved.)

NATURALLY, growing all this food and talking about growing food at the Girl Scout garden and then coming home and sorting food around (my big task for this ‘vacation’ thing is around getting organized, because I am so far from organized right now that it has ceased being funny and has actually moved on to being dangerous), and thinking about food-sourcing and pondering the nature of pasta led me to the decision that I would die if I didn’t order in some pizza.

But I couldn’t find a coupon circular. Apparently, I got overly enthusiastic when disposing of the recycling and ditched it.

So I went online, but they didn’t have the coupon I wanted, the one I knew I’d read in the circular not three days ago, I knew I had, I could recite everything on it, but I didn’t have the code…and the store didn’t know the code, and I was all, I am SO not ordering without that coupon because even addicts have some pride.

And then I saw, on their website, that they have a phone app… ‘get your local area deals,’ the banner said…

…and I thought…oh, no, this can’t be…

So I got the app. And sure enough, the coupon codes that were not on the main corporate website, were available through the app.

I just used my phone to order a pizza…without talking to anybody.

It is a strange, strange world…and sometimes, I feel like a complete stranger in it.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Almost had to happen

Man oh man.

SEE, this is why we don't generally have state of the art *anything*, or artwork, or allow people to park precious whatnots with us.

This evening, Captain Adventure wheedled some cookies from me and settled in to watch TV with his sisters.

He set down his bag of cookies.

And Eldest picked them up.

Here is what I heard from the other room, where I was slicing up peaches and arranging the slices on the dehydrator racks:

"Heyyyyyyyyyy! Gimmie it those back at me!" shouted the Captain.

"They aren't YOURS you know, they're for Everyone!" replied the teen, followed swiftly by the sound of stuff hitting the floor, and this further gem from the big sister: "Hey, don't you hit ME, they AREN'T. ALL. YOURS!!!!!!"

There were then three squeals as I was rinsing peach juice off my hands and reaching for a towel...and then Danger Mouse ran into the kitchen, wide-eyed and said, "Captain is throwing things...he just threw the tape dispenser at the TV!"

For one wild moment, I thought *maybe* it was, you know, one of those light little disposable ones..., sand-bottomed office-style...

...and yeah, the big, expensive flat screen is now useless, shattered, pathetically flashing as it tries to figure put what HAPPENED to it..., crap-apples...!

Sometimes, it seems to me that "good" parenting must perforce be defined very, VERY simply: I did not KILL any of my Denizens today.

I am an effin' GODDESS of maternal awesome, yo.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Friday Roundup

It’s been busy kind of week around the Den; which I know is an awful lot like saying it was a dusty week in the potato fields or a cold week in Antarctica, but still.

It was a busy week.

And I totally caused it, because I said to myself on Sunday night that I was not going to let this week get away from me, and that I was going to control my workflow, and furthermore I was going to do X many household chores every day, without fail!, on account of because I was not going to stay too late at work or stay in front of my computer on a work-from-home day until four hours after the world ended, and a few other arrogant “I seem to think I am in charge or something” statements like that.

SO NATURALLY, we had load issues, server issues, source feed issues, and the annual IPP meeting for Captain Adventure (and he THREW UP during it – awesome) (twice, actually…and then he was fine), plus the sprinklers are leaking again and the new-school-year stuff is starting to lurch into the mailbox, PLUS I have a bunch of pin-action from the meat arriving that I have to deal with (cooking up stuff that didn’t fit in the freezer or that really needed to get used right away anyway).

My bedroom is covered in laundry, clean and otherwise, because the dining room table was still covered in laundry four minutes before our IPP was supposed to start. I was frantically running up and down the stairs unloading basket after basket of stuff onto our bed, trying to clear a space.

And there it has stayed. Because after that, I was in the office. And then today when I was home again, I got busy. Because there was stuff going on.

But yesterday, I had A Moment…because I was looking at my work calendar and going, “Holy Too Many Meetings Next Week, Batman!!” with associated griping about ‘how do they expect me to get anything done when I’m stuck in endless meetings to yak about the work that isn’t getting done…and then I noticed the proximity of the all purple days.

Holy How Did Upcoming Vacation Days Sneak Up On Me Again, Batman!?

On the one hand, I can’t wait. It will be so good not to have to get up at SHRIEK o’clock and sit in front of a computer squinting at counts and not-counts and all like that. And I’ve got an awful lot of stuff in the “pending” folder that I need to deal with during Normal Business Hours™ that I just can’t seem to get to thanks to me and “normal” being barely even nodding acquaintances.

On the other hand, I am finding it increasingly hard to let it go. Which is a little weird for me, but there it is…they’re becoming “my” systems, and I worry about them.

Or more specifically, I worry about my team. There are an awful lot of eyes on us right now, and there’s an awful lot of moving parts involved, and no one person could possibly keep their eyeballs on them all. And I worry that something ugly will go down while I’m organizing my Mason jar lids (oooooo, can’t you just feel the excitement?!), and nobody will catch it.

Which is not to say that I would, mind you…it’s just that an extra set of eyes never hurts.

Sucks working with and for people you like. Because then you care if they get chewed up by an irate boss’s boss’s boss because Something got through our checks and balances. Curses, why couldn’t my team be full of idiots, losers and jerks?!

…um…wait…{mulls that over}…yeah, on reflection, I think I’ll keep what I’ve got, thanks.

Especially since it includes many tokens of appreciation…such as these.

Mah haul!

That’s right. All this, just for me. Because I have the crafty kids.

Dey see mah desk…dey be hatin’.


Monday, July 18, 2011

The cost of the cuts

(This is another one vegetarians or people who get queasy when talking about how meat is made might want to skip.)

There have been a ton of questions about the latest example of how crazy I am bulk-meat purchases; for once, I’m going to try to get around to answering them before so much time has passed that I’m all, wait, WHAT blog post?! and having to contact an archeologist to dig it up for me because it has been buried under three centuries worth of sand.

Not that this has ever happened, mind you. It’s just a hypothetical possibility. (Ahem.)

No matter where you get your whole, half or quarter animal, there are some gotchas along the road; while they aren’t necessarily intentional, they can make something seem like a much better deal than it actually is…like when somebody like me is all, “Ya, so, I bought this 1,000 pound steer for two dollars a pound.”

This naturally leads one to believe that I have brought home 1,000 pounds of beef for $2,000.

Which just ain’t so.

So. If you’re thinking about getting into the by-the-whole-animal game…here’s some of what you might expect expense-and-finished-meat-wise if you buy your animal in this sort of venue, where you’re bidding on a live animal for custom processing.

The first term to throw out is live weight. This is the weight of the living animal, and your bid on auction day is going to be multiplied by this figure; how much that is will vary depending on a variety of factors, from your location to who is doing the selling to what the overall quality of the animals themselves.

On auction day, you’ll get a list of the auctions to be held that will have the auction number, breed, weight of the animal, and seller information on it – unless otherwise noted (some animals like turkeys and rabbits are sold ‘flat rate’ rather than by the pound), whatever bid you put in will be multiplied by this weight and that’s the biggest part of the check you’ll write. There will also probably be a fee or two; at my fair venue, for example, there is a $115 charge for the transportation and slaughtering of a steer.

So let’s say that I’ve picked a 1,050 pound steer (let’s just say), and I’ve bid $2 a pound for him, and by golly won. The check I write at the fair that day will be for $2,215, and the steer goes first to the slaughterhouse, and then to the processor that I selected.

Now, the processor will charge a certain price per pound to turn the carcass into finished meat for your freezer – this charge will be based on the hanging weight, which is the weight of the carcass when it arrives for processing. This is going to be roughly 60% or so of the live weight, because at this point things like the head, hide, offal and other “unusable” bits have already been removed.

So the 1,050 steer arrived as a 619 carcass; at $0.73 a pound, that was a $451 check.

This is also, by the way, one of the “gotchas” when you’re purchasing “a quarter” or “a half” steer from your neighborhood farmer, without going through the live-weight-live-auction drama.

When you ask the seller “how much is a quarter,” the answer will probably be “about 150 pounds.” What they’re quoting you there is this hanging weight, not the final packaged (or cut) weight. That is going to be considerably less than this 150 pound figure, because there’s still an awful lot of stuff that you don’t want or can’t reasonably use in that carcass.

It may feel a bit unfair that you’re paying the processor for pounds you won’t take home and eat…but, well. You’re also not driving home like Wilma Flintstone with a huge beef femur on your roof that you now have to deal with in some way, sooooo…this is a good thing.

So how much meat do you actually get? This will depend on a few things, but the general rule of thumb is to take the live weight and divide it in half – that’s the ballpark figure (or, 525 pounds for my 1,050 steer). That would make the total price per pound $5.08 ($2,215 live weight at auction + $451.14 to processor / 525 pounds finished meat).

Now, I actually took home a bit more than that, about 580 pounds – dropping my price per pound to $4.60. [ed: this is almost a dollar higher per pound than I thought the other day...I'd mistakenly added almost half of the finished lamb to my beef weights. Then I was looking at it again and went, "Wait, wha? That's not possible, I could NOT have ended up with over 600 pounds of finished beef from a 619 pound carcass..."] [for bonus "what the HECK?!" points, I then cheerfully used that finished lamb AGAIN when doing the lamb calculations, because when I get math wrong? I DO IT ALL THE WAY!]

That is an insanely high “finished” weight for that 619 pound hanging weight, and I got that mileage for two main reasons.

One is the steer himself – he was at the very bottom of his weight class, had very little fat to speak of, and was also…well…this sounds weird considering I’m talking about a cow here, but…he was dainty. He had small, fine bones (for a steer) (ahem); that translated to less overall weight loss as he went from carcass to packaged meat.

The other is my own processing preferences. I ask them to leave as much as possible intact – give me fewer small cuts and ground up bits, and more large roasts. Even if they’re ugly. Even if they’re “weird.” Even if they don’t have an easily recognizable name or couldn’t be bought at the supermarket. And go ahead and leave the bone in there, rather than opening up the roast – what I’m looking for is improved freezer life, and these things can add months to the length of time that sucker can be in my freezer before it starts to lose its luster.

Months from now, when I’ve run out of pre-ground ground beef and stew meat but want to do a big cooking day, I can defrost one of those BIG roasts, do my own Processing Lite on it with my big knife and meat grinder (and the occasional cuss word), and there you go – “fresh” ground beef and stew meat, right from my freezer.

(Important Note: After you've defrosted it, do NOT just cut it up and refreeze it. Trust me on this one. Cut it up, COOK IT, and refreeze? Fine. Cut it up, re-wrap and stick it back in there? Beef-flavored mush. Blech.)

I also take more of the stuff that is ordinarily just tossed aside. I go ahead and take the suet (hard fat from around the organs) and other fat-trimmings, to render into tallow for use as cooking oil or soap-fat. I take as many soup bones as we can reasonably get – awkward-shaped, fatty, “too big,” “too small,” I’m not proud. Go ahead and give ‘em to me, and I’ll make gallons of beef stock to can up and put in the pantry. It’s a bunch of huff and bother at the time, sure, but nothing beats it for “quick” meals over the year.

And I’ll just toss this in here, because it’s the second question most commonly asked: The 525 pounds of beef that would be the more-average haul from a 1,050-pound steer would fit – barely – in a 14.8 cubic foot chest-style freezer.

But there will not be room for anything else. Not even a single Otter Pop. Nothing. If a hair falls off your head into that freezer? It will no longer shut right.

I am (almost) not kidding.

I’ll try to talk about inventory management later this week.

Hopefully, I won’t get all distracted and oh look, a squirrel!!!!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Meet the meat

(Vegetarians may want to skip this post. It is meat-heavy.) (Not in a graphic ‘here’s how to butcher a cute little bunny rabbit’ kind of way, but definitely in the ‘so much frozen meat that it makes one a little dizzy’ way.)

ANYWAY…the meat…has arrived.

Holy. Smokes…has it ever arrived.

Our processor this year was Swingle Meat Company, out in Jackson, California. This is a bit of a hoof (ha! meat! hoof!) from our neck of the woods, but, my usual / preferred butcher for some reason had decided not to do beef this year…I have no idea why not, but, it left me in a bit of a pickle, you know? Suddenly I’m confronted by a bunch of different names, most of them places I have little to no knowledge of at all, all of them further out than my usual place…I was walking around like an idiot tugging on the sleeves of other custom-process bidders asking, “Where are you sending your stuff, and why?”

And of the people who actually had an opinion (you know, other than ‘because they’re closest’ or ‘I dunno, I just picked one’), Swingle had the most enthusiastic endorsements.

And man oh man, they are not kidding when they say they are a carnivore’s toy store. Wow. Seven kinds of bacon, venison roasts, buffalo sausage, fish, fowl, pancetta, beef bacon…pretty much anything you could think of (and more than a few things you couldn’t before you saw it there), they have it.

And also, they had my meat.

Minivan Full

…yeah, um, wow. Per my invoice, this is 1,116 pounds of meat, right here; two hogs, one lamb and a steer. And that’s not counting the roughly twenty pound turkey and five pound rabbit that already arrived ‘under separate cover,’ so to speak.

It took me almost two hours to get this all packed away to my satisfaction. Which by the end was a lot less about “perfect order” and more about “getting it put away somehow.”

New chest freezer: Packed to the very rim.

full chest freezer

Upright freezer: Also packed. (There is also still quite a bit in here from last year, plus cheese, bread and a shelf and a half worth of this year’s garden produce.)

Chest freezer

And the freezer of the garage refrigerator:


PLUS ALSO, the kitchen freezer is likewise completely full-up.

Extra packed


This should be about it for meat purchases until September 2012 (our county fair is moving its date from June to September next year…interesting call, but right now I’m rather relieved because honestly, this seems like more meat than we could possibly use in “only” a year).

There is a big old cooler full of things I’m going to be cooking up tomorrow, too – a bunch of soup bones that will become canned beef stock, some of last year’s ham slices that will be made into a couple kinds of soup…sausage and beef stew meat…stuff that really needs to be used up quickly.

As I’m totaling up the costs, I’m reminded again that this is definitely not the cheapest way to get meat. My final out of pocket for each pound of beef is coming out to about $3.70, $5.50 for the lamb, and $3.25 for the pork / bacon / ham / etc.

Mind you it isn’t bad, but could I do better by trolling the loss-leaders at the supermarket and so forth?

Yeah. I totally could. Especially on that pork…sometimes it seems they’re practically giving away anything that isn’t bacon, you know?

But of course…this isn’t just meat for me.

It’s one of those statement-y kind of things. It’s one of my efforts to…I don’t know how to put this exactly. (Yeah, this is hard to express for somebody like me, who isn’t particularly given to Causes or getting all emotional about things.) (But I’ll give it a shot.)

In my view of things, life is a precious, sacred, holy kind of thing.

And children are…well, they are life’s giggles. They are everything we hope and dream for our species. They are our next, our greatest treasures, our gift from and to the world.

And food…ah, food. It is an amazing, marvelous thing; it is a joy and a wonder. It is so basic, so necessary, so every-day, so magical, so varied, so absolutely spectacular.

This way of buying meat brings those things together in a way that is almost unbearably satisfying for me.

When I wander out to the garage to take one of these packages out of the freezer, it’s a kind of worship. It is tinged with sadness and gladness, with pride and sorrow, with sacrifice and gain.

All I have to do is remember that day, as we sat in the heat watching the kids trotting their animals around the ring; remember the tears as the realization sinks in that this is it, the pig is going to slaughter now and there is no reprieve for him…the beaming smile at getting a good price for the lamb…the confident way that little tiny girl held up that big old turkey. The note from our steer-raiser about her college plans and next year’s project.

I get to be a part of all that; I get to be the difference between profit and loss, I get to be the person who will directly appreciate and respect what they’ve produced.

Bacon becomes something a little more than a delicious breakfast treat.

It is a rare and holy gift. A thing to be appreciated and respected – not just eaten hand-over-fist in a mindless, emotionless rush so I can get back to whatever-all else was on my list for the day.

A life was given for this; for my nourishment, for my pleasure, for my family to thrive. A child came of age, learned what it is to be relied upon for everything, learned what it is to love and nurture…and then to let go.

And, now, I can’t really say whether it is really a difference in taste, or if like so many other things, the flavor is influenced by my own beliefs and feelings – but I would swear the dinner this meat makes will simply taste better than the average store-bought roast or rib. It is more tender, more succulent, more flavorful.

It makes hymns of our meals.

Which is, I think, worth a little extra for each pound.

Hallelujah, amen.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Dear Me

Look at you. Just look at you right now. Lying here. On this couch, with a fish-breathed cat shamelessly pestering you for lovings, blogging on your cell phone.

We need to have a chat, Me.

Now, I understand, yesterday got kind of rough on us. After all, we had the usual ‘up at 3:30, out by 4:20, office by 6:30, etc. etc. etc.’ day, and then there was that fun little grass fire in the hills that, in addition to scorching about 400 acres of ranchland, delayed the trains for almost two hours and wreaked havoc on body and mind.

And I understand that you were actually practically winter-wolf-hungry before you even left the office there; but I have to gently remind you, Me, that you could have eaten before you left. Or put something other than just that Thermos of plain water into your bag to eat on the train.

You did not have to be so hungry that the train seat cushions were looking tasty by the time you finally got to the home station, is what I’m trying to say here.

And I understand that you were more than the usual tired, and that everybody else had already eaten random things, and that we knew full well we were headed home to a kitchen that looked like a war zone and nothing ready to eat.



And sweetie…honey…look. I know you ordered the ‘regular’ fries and all, and that you even pointed out that the Super Duper Enormo Bucket’o’Fries they put in our bag was the wrong size and all like that…BUT…when they said ‘that’s OK, you can just keep them, have a nice night!’ and slammed the window in our faces, well.

That did not automatically translate to a moral obligation to actually eat them.

Furthermore – and I say this gently, and as one who loves you – but That Thing you do, where having gone ahead and polished off every.last.fry. before the wheels of the car even hit the edge of the driveway, you then look regretfully at the burger-shaped mass in the little box and say, “Ya, I’d better choke down at least some of this, balance some of that salt and grease with a little protein…”?

Your argument is invalid, dude.

First of all, this is not actually protein. I’m pretty sure it isn’t even meat.

And furthermore, it too is so loaded with salt and fat that it is a miracle we aren’t dead right now.

And you knew this. Your body was trying to tell you that before you even took that first bite of the sandwich. Remember? Remember how we already felt like we’d swallowed a refrigerator? Whole, and still in its shipping box?! Yeah. And then you took that first bite and our stomach did this astonishing triple-gainer and our brain lit up with all these signals that basically translated to, “If you take even one more bite of that, so help us, we will purge this system down to the last cell!!!”

…but ooooooh no. You ate almost half of that thing anyway, for the ‘protein’…

I love you, hon, but you are an idiot.

And you kind of deserve being woken up at 3:00 in the morning on a work-from-home day, and you know what else? You deserve this little unpaid “break” today, too…you’re just lucky we’re not in the middle of some big deploy or something right now.

And I hope that, in future, you will remember – people like us, who no longer have gallbladders to regulate fat-processing, and who furthermore usually eat a rather lean diet, really can’t handle the Bucket’o’Fries. Ever.

OK. Kisses and all that.

And a smack upside the head.

Because you are rather an idiot.



Dear Me,

I would argue with you and possibly point out that there IS still a [very remote] chance that MAYBE it is actually the flu rather than Stupidity Plain And Simple, but, I am dying right now.

{URP!} oooooh, come ON, seriously?! AGAIN?!?!

I took this from the train...the scorching was on either side of the train, and was still flaring up in places as we crawled through it...quite a commute last night!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

DARN the luck!

Today, I learned that it is UNLAWFUL to bring tear gas on the train.

Well, DARN the luck! I was just thinking the other day, "Ya know what I should start lugging around with me? Tear gas."

But seriously...what an odd thing to spell out as being unlawful to carry onto the train...I mean, how many people who are NOT a bit...other-directed...are going to look at that advisory of unlawfulness item and go, "Ohmahgosh...I had NO IDEA the canister of tear gas in my duffel bag was UNLAWFUL! I had better put it in the trunk of my car straight away!"?

Ah, this world I live so frequently bemuses (and amuses) me.

In knitting news, I am almost to the beginning of the last block of the second strip. Which means I have finished (almost) seven of the twelve total blocks in the blanket, or roughly 58% of the total project. (Not counting the assembly and knitted-on border...or possible fabric backing, which I am toying with adding because I am certifiably nuts.)


(Oh yeah. Blankets, afghans...interminable...forgot that little detail...)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Faceplant and thistles

Yesterday was a *rough* one...I was soooooo tired, from the moment I woke up, and I struggled all day long to just...keep on going.

Welcome to summer, huh? Between the Denizens being off school, working, commuting, gardening and OH YEAH, putting up the results of same, which this weekend consisted of 4 quarts of cherries - not ours but farmers market scores - six pints of chili, four pints hickory-syrup baked beans, eighteen ears of corn blanched, vacuum-packed and frozen, and nine zucchini sliced and dried this weekend.

PLUS, two loaves of bread, six dozen waffles, eight dozen pancakes, four pounds of bacon [mmmmm...baaaaaaacon....], a dozen cookies [last of the last frozen cookie dough], and three loaves of apricot-banana bread.

Oh. And, enough plum-sauce glazed grilled chicken, basmati rice, and garlic-butter spinach for three meals right then, and four lunches for 'later.'

OH. And? I have had to hand-water for going on a MONTH now, thanks to a leaking sprinkler valve, which led to trenches, which led to an enthusiastic new project for the husband involving moving lines around, which led to a ridiculous number of setbacks AND the house water having to be turned off for hours at a stretch over and over again which reminds me.....have I mentioned that the toilet in the master bathroom has also been out if commission for almost a month?

Gee...I wonder why I'm so tired?! Mamkes NO sense, does it...

Tomorrow, the new chest freezer arrives...I spent a couple hours Sunday cleaning-no-REALLY-cleaning the garage in honor thereof.

And Saturday, I am taking a (roughly) four hour road trip! To pick up the (ahem) nearly 1,000 (yes...THREE zeros) of finished meat to fill it.

...if you need me, I will be over here in the corner rocking back and forth, sucking my thumb...or, out in the garden admiring the artichoke blossoms. I intentionally let this one go to bloom because I wanted to know what they looked like...and now I do. Cool, huh?!

(My life is SO damned nuts...but it is also full of pretty cool stuff. I think I'll go ahead and keep it. *grin*)

Monday, July 11, 2011

C'mon, Me, keep up with me...

Wow, do I have a case of The Tired today! Not sure was a light weekend (relatively speaking), but, well, there it is.

I am in DREADFUL peril of nodding off this morning.

How bad is it? I decided that in addition to a triple-shot mocha on my way in the door, I also needed a sugar-drizzled scone, which also features a thin layer of jelly in it. That's right, breakfast of champions right here, carbs + sugar + caffeine.

Completely forgot I had a whole loaf of apricot-banana bread in my backpack. {face-palm}

Is it too late to make mine a QUAD, Barista...?

(just a hunch, but, I suspect it may be a very loooong week...)

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Making dirt until the sun shines

We’re entering the time of year out here where the sun is both my best friend, and my nemesis. On the one hand, we get an awful lot of growing-power from those death rays the solar radiation pouring down onto our heat-loving plants…on the other hand…

Sun burn. Heat exhaustion. The need to get stuff done coupled with the knowledge that only an idiot would be out there, in that kind of heat and blazing, unrelenting direct sunlight, trying to actually do it.

Which is why for the next few months, I’ll be making myself get up early(ish) on my weekends, so that I can get on out there before the temperatures hit the triple digits and the sun is blazing directly down on the top of what remains of my brains.

So this weekend, my main goal in the garden is to get my new compost system up and running. Up until now, compost has been a very hit-or-miss proposition for me – and I’m always short of the stuff, and thus am constantly finding myself having to add store-bought fertilizer to bring my tired soil back to life.

That gets pricy in a hurry. While I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to eliminate fertilizer purchases from my life, I’m fairly confident I can at least slow them down by getting organized with my compost methods.

So. The new system is very simple…which is a term which should be pronounced, “Very simple, just add a boatload of sweat and hard work and it will practically make itself.”

But it is very simple.

The husband is building me a four-bin system; these are good-sized individual bins, all right next to each other in a line.

These are bins 1 and 2...they're almost done, but still not particularly photogenic. They will have removable slats on the fronts, to make it easier for me to get stuff in and out of them.

The fourth bin will be the “finished” bin. My hope will be that, about once a month in the summer (when the heat helps considerably with the decomposition process), I’ll be able to shovel out that bin, run it through my sifter, trot whatever didn’t “finish” back to the front of the line, and wheel that good stuff on out into the garden to keep the nutrients coming for the hungry plants.

Which obviously means that the first three bins are increasingly closer to finished product…but actually, the whole process starts even further back…with a worm condo.

Our little beauty has four tiers in it; the top tier generally looks like this:

Raw food

Carrot peels, crushed-up egg shells, bean trimmings – all that stuff your kitchen tends to generate that usually ends up in the trash or the disposal. The worms will tend to live mostly in the top two tiers, because the bottom ones? Look like this:


Hmm. Somebody didn’t smash the eggshells fine enough there. Oh well, no big deal…because next, they’re going out to this:


This is a tumble-style compost bin. The marketing folks will tell you it can produce “finished” compost in “as little as” fourteen days…I have never gotten finished compost that fast. I have gotten “significantly broken down” compost, and even “almost similar to finished” compost…but not finished-finished.

HOWEVER. There is one thing this baby is really good for, and that is helping ever-distractible me have a seriously HOT compost pile going. That kills any unwanted seeds and just kind of gets the party started for me.

So what goes in here? Pretty much everything – the worm castings act as an accelerant, then I’ll add in browns (leaves, small twigs and wood chips), greens (lawn trimmings, weeds, that head of lettuce I forgot about that got kind of…liquefied…), and whites (shredded paper / newspaper), and whatever miscellaneous I’ve got lying around, like coffee grounds, tea bags, all that kind of groovy jazz. Add a little water so that it is moist but not drenched, put the lid back on, and remember to give it a spin every few days and peek at the moisture content.

A month later, I’ve got stuff that is well on its way to being compost – the heat and semi-obsessive maintenance means that I’ve had almost no odors, and between that and the sealed-up bin, I’ve also had no rodents or other curious / hungry varmints.

At that point, it’ll hit that first bin right next to the tumbler – along with coarser materials, wood chips or bark, torn up cardboard (cereal boxes and stuff), more shredded paper and newspaper, again, whatever-all I’ve got lying around that needs to cook for a while.

At this point, though, it’s pretty much a “fix it up and forget it” situation; I’ll water the piles if they need it, but overall they just sit and cook for the rest of the month. The bins will have the standard PVC-pipe aeration stabbed through them, so they’ll still be moderately-hot piles…but I won’t be adding any additional accelerants or turning the piles throughout the month.

But at the end of each month…we’ll have a little parade. The finished stuff will be added to any played-out topsoil I’ve scraped off a bed, stuff that got to the fourth bin without decomposing enough goes back to Bin 1, and we start the whole ride again.

All of which…is an awful lot of work. I put in about three hours on it this morning before it just got too damned hot and I was sweating more liquid than I could take in…not because it’s going to take that long once it’s ready to go, but because right now…I have to deal with what I already have.

The Work Station

Piles of top soil, stump grindings, sand, and finished compost. Not just a little, mind you, but a lot. AND, I need to deal with everything that is on the other side of that shed…you know, the stuff currently in the bins the husband is in the process of building. It ain’t compost, it’s a mash-up of dirt, topsoil, potting soil, semi-rotted leaves and grass clippings, random bits of wood and gosh-only-knows what-all else.

It all needs to be shoveled out, sifted, sorted, and put in its proper place.

And that part? Is all me, baby.

This is my current sifter. The husband is making me a better one, thank gawd, because this one is small and a bit hard to use. Plus it is murder on my gloves.


The top part is the sifter – anything bigger than the mesh, like river rocks, gravel, leaves and certain bugs (yikes), stays in the sifter. Below there, you can see what I end up with…it’s lovely. It’s soft dirt, with only those “right-sized” bits of Other Stuff, like itty-bitty rocks and such, which let plant roots “breathe” and help keep our clay from locking back up into cement around them.

It’s going to be a long, hard weekend…and I’m not actually sure I can get it all done, no matter how much I want to, or how enjoyable I actually find it. Because it is fun work for me, when I’m not two degrees away from heat exhaustion; it’s soothing, and makes me feel like I’m doing something.

Still…I may not like it, but, I have limits. And I’ve crashed into them a few times too many recently. I’m tired, wrung-out, stressed-out, and really need to back down and learn to let things go undone once in a while. (I only do that well when it comes to housework.) (Oh, yeah, believe me, I can ignore housework for weeks on end…just look at my bathrooms!) (…um, actually? don’t look at them…or the hallway…ahem…yes, things have a way of…accumulating out there, and sort of…not…going away…)

So, one foot in front of the other, and not too crazy with my bad self, making dirt only until the sun is shining…so that I can keep seeing things like this right in my own backyard.

Kentucky Wonder pole bean
Kentucky Wonder pole bean, making with the sweet little blossoms…and, FOUR WHOLE BEANS today!!

oooooh, just give ‘em a second…I’ll be screaming uncle with these babies soon enough, I suspect…

Friday, July 01, 2011

Let there be WEEKEND!

Well, it’s only two hours later than I wanted to log off today…but, I had decided that I simply had to finish this one (1) little thing for the husband today.

How hard could it be?!

Uh-huh. Yeah. He’s…not asking me because he already knows what to do and just doesn’t feel like it…he’s asking because the guy who could probably do it while standing on his head whistling Dixie is way too busy to fuss with it, and everybody else has been beating their heads against the problem for a while now without much to show for it as of yet. Except for ‘max recursions exceeded’ errors and ‘how come it’s returning 8,008 rows for an entity that only has 700 in there?!’ issues.

So after I had officially quit for the day (ahem), I started with what they already had, and after I’d acquired a few lumps of my own on my forehead sat back and sent, “Whoa, hang on. Stop stop stop. What was the actual question again?!”

This is one of Those Things I find very helpful in my day to day working life; generally speaking, when I’m writing a query, it’s because I have a question I want to answer (I mean, duh, look at the word itself: query). But it’s easy to get so caught up in the code itself that you kind of forget what you’re actually trying to do…and if you stop and remind yourself what the actual question is, you’ll notice that you’ve written an entire encyclopedia about the wrong danged animal.

So then I threw everything out and started from the beginning, and started running into the same problem but then I went, “OH, for heaven’s sake, why are you messing around with that, IT ISN’T PART OF THE QUESTION!”

Then I stripped out 90% of the point-belaboring that I was trying to make this query do and bang. Got myself a query that returns exactly what we need in 13 seconds on my laptop across VPN against a development server far, far away. Boo-yeah.

And then I started feeling rather clever.

{…cue theme from Jaws playing in the background…}

So I shut down, quick, before the Universe could rear up and bite me on the arse again. Whew. I’m sure I’ll be keenly aware of my shortcomings as a SQL jockey by Tuesday.

But until then…weekend. Weekend, weekend, weekend.

I have a lot of home-related work I want to get done; but apart from the housework bits (blech!), it’s all kind of fun stuff.

Well. If resetting the so-called compost system around here can be called fun. Or fiddling with the semi-manual watering system, which uses a combination of gray and city water to provide drip irritation here and there around the place…it’s completely automatic, after you’ve figured out how to get the water into the storage tanks in the first place, and how to cut and lay the drip lines so that all however-many gallons you just got into the tank don’t just splurt in one glorious (and excessively enthusiastic) slosh into the bed, but, don’t just linger around in the tanks saying, “Here, little mosquitoes! Come breeeeeeeeed in meeeeeeeeee!!” – because that’s gross.

But, it gets me out of doing actual housework, like, say, cleaning my filthy bathrooms or picking up the excessive amounts of debris that have collected in the hallways and stuff, so, I’m excited about it!

Plus…my yard is perilously close to looking like something planned, instead of some kind of Hippies Meet The Clampetts Meet The Hoarders “not really reality because who would actually live like this?!” show set.

Or would be, if the husband hadn’t dug up most of the sprinkler system along the side of the house because one of the valves was leaking up front?


Well, one step at a time. Things are finally actually growing out there, and the weather is heading into those long, dry-hot days when tomatoes and beans stretch out and get busy, when watermelons and squash abound, when you can hear the corn growing if you pause to listen…although actually, I haven’t planted any this year yet…might just get a late planting in this weekend, though, even though I swore I wouldn’t and that I’d use my space for more sensible, nutrient-dense, soil-enhancing-or-at-least-not-sucking-dry food sources.

Yeah. Whatever. Corn, like watermelon, doesn’t exactly make sense for the survivalist…but hey.

I’m not a survivalist.

I’m a thrive-alist.

And sitting on your patio with a slab of good cold watermelon on a languid late-summer evening, after a dinner where sweet corn harvested just hours ago was barely shown the heat and then rubbed with butter and maybe a dust of sea salt before being dropped in the direction of the dinner plates only to be snatched out of thin air by greedy little paws?

That’s thriving, my friends. That is thriving.

Squash blossoms also know how to THRIVE…out LOUD!