Sunday, June 16, 2013

Reverberations, Repercussions and Recoveries

Shortly before the 4H auction this weekend, I dug around in our freezer taking inventory. It didn’t take long for me to realize that there was simply no way I was going to make enough room for another whole anything in there.

There’s room, but not that much of it.

And then I realized that this was yet another unexpected fallout from the (somewhat inexplicable to me still) decision by The Powers That Be for our county fair to shift the fair from June to September last year.

And then back again this year.


I’m not privy to exactly what all the reasoning was there. Immediately after this announcement was made, a howl went up from my little agricultural circle that could be heard in space.

Most of our kids start back to school in mid-August. Putting the fair in September meant that those kids couldn’t show animals.

They couldn’t take care of the animals midweek. They couldn’t attend midweek showmanship competitions. They had returned to having homework and sport-team commitments.

Plus, the weather in September is notoriously hot. A dry, unrelenting heat that beats down on things like metal roofs.

Most livestock don’t like being kept in those conditions.

We also had a fair number of vendors who couldn’t make the shift with the fair – and another group who then couldn’t make the shift back this year.

It was a bit of a ghost town, to be honest. I took a lap around the grounds after the auction and found it…kind of depressing, actually.

Kind of like what it looks like whenever I think I can still “bust a move” on the dance floor, you know? {shudder} Yeah, let’s talk about something ELSE now…

Anyway, having inventoried and reorganized the freezer, I knew I was in a bit of an awkward spot: I didn’t have room to actually buy a whole animal, but I doubt I have a full year’s worth of meat out there – even with my tendency to swap out half the meat for double the veggies in stuff.

So I figured, fine. I’d get a turkey or two and maybe one hog.

Then I got to the fairgrounds and got my buyer’s guide and flipped over to see how much my preferred processor was charging per pound and whaaaaaat?

You know how sometimes you look at something that is sitting there in plain old black and white, and you know what the words say and what they mean but at the same time your brain is just incapable of understanding it?

No. Swine.

My processor, right next to the prices for cut and wrap, had the words no swine.

I couldn’t grok it.

They do some of the best smoking in the history of the smoking. They make a bacon that is so insanely good that people who don’t like bacon like it. They create hams that are rich and lean at the same time. They have some of the best marinades for pork I’ve ever had, and I tell you what: Having the pork flash-frozen in the marinade produces results unlike any other method.

But, no swine. They were not doing any hogs this year?!

I almost whipped out my cell phone to call them up and demand answers. Whyyyyyyyyy? Why would they do this to me?!

So I looked at my other choices, which went like this:

  1. Would be acceptable substitute I guess but they also are not doing swine this year WTH?!
  2. Mediocre, and costs $0.40 more per pound – which when you’re talking about a 200 pound animal adds up
  3. Never heard of them
  4. Ugh, no, last time THEY processed a hog for me the bacon tasted “fishy” and the weights we got made NO sense so I’m pretty sure we got “mostly” our hog but also at least half of somebody ELSE’S, so let’s just say I have TRUST ISSUES there and leave it at that…
  5. Eh, heard of them, but they don’t do any smoking/curing so it would be Tama makes her own damn bacon AND ham and Tama does not have TIME for that because Tama can barely find enough time to shower on a semi-regular basis

Combined with the knowledge that I had storage issues that would mean I’d have to rent a meat locker far, far away from the Den to store the excess – cha-CHING, added monthly expense – I found myself less and less inclined to do much bidding.

Every time I’d put my card up on a hog – which was generally when one of the kids who hadn’t brought a fan club along was anxiously scanning the crowd as the auctioneer was forced to drop the opening bid lower and lower trying to get somebody to wake the @*^&@ up and get the party started on this deal – it would flash through my mind that I had no processor this year. I would have to choose between meh, and dunno, and no-trust.

Fortunately, Les Schwab, Rabobank and Raley’s Supermarket were there for me.

Outbid me every time.

And I just let it go, feeling a little relieved that I didn’t have to worry about storage lockers or which processor to use.

I ended up getting a couple turkeys and calling it a day; a very long, tiring day. Then I took a lap around the fair and felt even more tired – because the vendors all seemed so tired. The crowd was sparse, and not spending much.

Then I remembered that since I had no Denizens with me, I could totally go check out the exhibitions. Without anybody immediately deciding that they were starving or tired or thirsty or booooooored or any of the other things kids come up with when adults want to do something boring like look at another adult’s knitting and mutter things about buttonholes and short rows.

As I was walking through the home crafts building, I heard one of the attendants fretting to the other that there just hadn’t been enough time to finish what she’d wanted to do for that year; the rules state that they have to be produced within one year of the opening date, but of course she had been busy making last year’s project right up until moments before the deadline, so, that really left her a terrible disadvantage…

I stopped and looked at the offerings in the knitting division. I admit that I winced a bit. That I thought to myself, C’mon, really?! as I scanned over the scant handful of items. All of them made with acrylic on what had to be at least #10 needles, with minimal actual pattern-work.

Nothing stranded. Nothing intarsia. No lace. Just blocks of plain stockinette, as if all the experienced knitters in the entire county had suddenly moved to a different state and only left behind their Teach Yourself To Knit In Just Three Days booklets.

And the yarn they didn’t want anymore. And a sticky note that said Knock yourselves out kids, haha!

And then I said to myself, so drily that I immediately had to go and buy myself a lemonade, Ya? So, where’s YOURS, then?

Oooooo, snap! OK, yeah, you got me, Self, mine would be not here at all because I did NOTHING AT ALL on that front.

I chatted with a few vendors on my way out; their own opinions of the run split down the middle between blaming the fair organizers for being lousy at it and swearing that there would be no saving it while THAT gang of yahoos were in charge, and shrugging it off as they can’t ALL be blockbusters, sometimes you just have a bad run, plus there’s still tonight! And tomorrow, so, who knows? Might still be good!

Would they come next year?

No way in HELL / you BETCHA.

I got in the car thinking about how sometimes, things we try don’t work the way we hoped; that our expectations are not met; that something painfully obvious after the fact rears up and slaps our awesome idea right out of the air and then laughs madly at us for ever thinking it could have worked.

And how sometimes, the fallout seems to just keeping coming. As if we’ll never finish paying that piper, as if there will never be an end to the oh, and, also… from the peanut gallery as they keep coming up with yet another reason why whatever it was really never should have been done. Yes, thank you, I got that memo, CAN WE PLEASE MOVE ON NOW.

And how comforting it was to know I’m not the only person who tends to shrug and say, “I still have tonight, and tomorrow! Who knows? This could still be good! And sometimes it’s just off, you know? Doesn’t mean next year won’t be better!”

Maybe next year my favorite processor will be willing to handle our smoking and curing again; meanwhile, I can check into the ones I don’t know at all and see what I think of them.

After I’ve figured out what I want to do that would show all FIVE people who wander through that part of the exhibition hall next year that there are still Knitters in this county.

Knitters who aren’t afraid to use wool. In a couple colors, maybe.

Or maybe wool so thin it causes strangers on trains to make comments such as “Are you knitting with thread?”

That crocheters aren’t the only ones with the capacity to make an afghan or a baby blanket.

And that whimsy can be functional. Sort of.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Thousand-mile journeys and untied shoelaces

Last year was not a banner year for pretty much anything around here. From the garden to household routines, money management to personal hygiene, it can all be summed up in a single non-word: meh.

I have much higher hopes for this year.

Which thus far are not exactly coming to pass. MEH.

The first planting is largely a failure; what the earwigs didn’t eat (well, at least somebody is having spectacular year), a downright bizarre extremely-late frost followed by an equally bizarre “and now, it will be 104 degrees for two days in a row!” took out.

Of 25 strawberry plants, only about five are still struggling to survive. The rest are now little dried out lumps of dead plant matter. The first group of 30 green beans is down to nine survivors, grimly and stubbornly flourishing in the newly-arrived summer-like temperatures.

The spinach is dead. The broccoli came up in spits and spots, produced a couple half-hearted heads and then promptly bolted and set seed pods. Which turned out not to contain any actual seeds, even though they were (allegedly) an heirloom type that should have. But pod after dried-out pod cracked open to reveal…nothing.

It felt a lot like proudly taking that first step in your journey of a thousand miles only to trip over your dumb shoelaces, you know? Argh, forgot to double-knot those things!

Undaunted by such trifles as abject failure, I have begun systematically working my way around the available garden beds. I’m trying to do one or two per weekend in deference to my recently-flaring-up-rather-a-lot back and hip – which are pissing me off big time but that’s another rant for another day.

Weekend before last, I turned my attention to the Found Object Garden. First I pulled out all the onions that were still growing there, surprised to find myself with a few that looked like actual store-bought onions. Yay! It isn’t a complete wipe out there!

And then, I looked at what remained, and sighed heavily to myself.

The problem is what you can’t see in this picture, which is that other than the edges of this – which have been worked each year in order to plant pole-type beans which then vined toward the center to make a sort of teepee in the middle there – the ground was like cement.

Hard, unyielding, full of rocks and large roots, and otherwise needing a lot of work.

Which I dutifully did. And I have the limp to prove it because aaaaaah, my hip! my back! – I stubbornly persist in believing that this exercise is in fact good for my assorted ailments, and in point of fact the evidence does support this as when I go for extended periods without this form of exercise I tend to end up hurting even more in the long run…but sometimes, I wonder if my days of being able to do this level of physical work aren’t…rather numbered.

Also, it takes me for-EV-er these days. Things I used to be able to do in “an hour or two, maybe three at the outside” are now “all weekend affairs,” with hefty doses of ibuprofen or even {shudder} prescription pain medication to get me through it. Sigh. I’m not sure what I’ll do if/when My Beloved Physician tells me I “can’t” or “shouldn’t” keep this up…I know there will be tears and I’m deeply afraid that in the heat of the moment I may even call the nice man really foul names. But, I will burn that bridge when I get to it because until that time, I can turn that into this.

There are Roma tomatoes planted throughout the lattice (which is on the ground to discourage the neighborhood cats from using the newly-amended and beautifully soft ground as their new litter box), the bed is bordered with sweet basil and flanked with zucchini mounds, and there are golden bell pepper seeds in the two containers.

And along the fence, scarlet runner beans. (They’re the ones using the water from the big green thing, which is a combination of “city” water and “reclaimed laundry water”) (remember if you’re going to try this yourself: you can’t just start tossing your laundry gray water onto your garden. Not going to write a fifty page manual on it here, but do your homework if you’re planning to attempt something like this, lest you end up either salting your earth, or inadvertently poisoning yourself.)

Then I turned around and there was this.

Ugh. A great deal of work later, I had this.

The front half of this is planted with a blue “ornamental” corn that makes decent, and kind of fun, popcorn. The larger front bed is tightly-planted kidney beans, and the back bed (which was a bear to dig up and amend appropriately, just sayin’) is sweet potatoes. The big black containers have eggplants, and are flanked on either side by yellow tomatoes and red hybrid cherries. (Behind them, with the black plastic, are the surviving green beans, and the black containers next to those have some striped heirloom tomato plants starting to thrive their way up; there’s also a narrow strip between them planted with some lettuce that appears to be surviving now that the earwig invasion has ebbed a bit.)

BUT WAIT! Is that movement back there in the area where the Enormous Greenhouse Of Doom is supposed to go?! Behind the bed that was recently planted with watermelons that are just beginning to come up?!

Well, I’ll be! It would appear that somebody is starting to build frames and such for an eventual foundation pouring! We have started bandying around the idea of doing some aquaponics in there once it is up – if we don’t talk ourselves out of it, we’d be raising a modest number of Tilapia and/or channel catfish (allegedly more resilient against inevitable newbie mistakes than other fish such as trout or bass), as well as some crawdads (a.k.a., crayfish). Both of us are fascinated by the idea, charmed by the idea of the Denizens being exposed to both how the ecosystem works and how to raise fish in general (poor little things, always being subjected to our off-beat ‘supplemental education’ curriculums), and plus the whole idea…well…it amuses me (uh-oh, we’re doomed…next thing you know it’ll be yet another of our many “well, we raised 3,000 pounds of catfish, 1,800 pounds of Tilapia and 600 pounds of trout in here last year, as well as 32,000 pounds of spinach most of which is still in the freezer because heh heh, funny story, I’m really the ONLY person in the family who likes the stuff at all…?” stories).

Speaking of amusing me…I realized I made a tactical error in my plant selection for the curtains. I chose to grow beans intended to be shell beans. I was thinking at the time that I didn’t want something that might end up being “fiddly” (like peas or pole-type snap beans) because I have enough “have-tos” in my day thank you very much, let’s pick something that doesn’t require every-other-day picking in order to be kept happy and productive.

Yeah, except…once the plants begin to set pods, they tend to slow down in terms of growth.

Soooooo, this may be all the taller they’re going to get for me, since they’ve aggressively set pods and are now focusing most of their energy on making plump little seeds inside same. The bottommost leaves are starting to yellow, and once those pods are dried out most of the plants will die back; so we’re probably already more than halfway through their lifespan at this point.

Oops. Once I realized what was going on with the abrupt growth slowdown, I was a bit annoyed with myself because I did know that would happen; I just didn’t think of it at the time. Oh well. Live and (re)learn – next time, I’ll do something like snap peas or pole-type green beans where you “pick regularly to encourage continual yield” instead. (Or I could also get really crazy and plant something like morning glories, which might not make, you know, food but surely do make beauty like nobody’s business.)

Still. I’m very pleased with how they’re turning out. Even on days when my actual time outside in nature-or-something-like-it is next to none at all, they bathe me in that delicious, lush green glow.

And even on dark, stormy days they smile for me; they remind me that there is more to life than the struggles of the day, that life itself perseveres and repeats, generation to generation.

That the most humble and mundane places can also be made holy, if we choose to view them so; that we don’t have to be hemmed in by the “conventional” or the “normal” or even the “sane.”

We can bloom where we are planted. Even if we are nothing but an “extra” plant that “probably” won’t survive that was given an after-thought netting up the outside of a shower wall – we can jolly well bloom where we are, and to heck with what anybody else expects!

Bloom, unlikely survivor of a runty infancy - bloom!