Monday, February 20, 2012

White and black

What is this white stuff falling down from the sky?  Hmm.  Let me check the reference books.  Why, it's snow!  Huh.  Imagine that!  Snow in February.  Well, that just goes to show, anything can happen when you least expect it.

I've got small trays of onions, leeks, celeriac and asparagus seeds warming themselves by the window.  Yesterday I went down to Garden Goddess and played in their winter greenhouse, mixing soil and planting seeds.  When I finally left that tropical oasis I got into my car, put my hands on the steering wheel, and looked at my fingers.  I saw a black line of caked dirt underneath my nails, and grinned like a Cheshire cat.  In February, black dirt under you fingernails is a rare, good thing.  A very good thing.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I am not insane!

Well, not in this particular instance, at least.

Anybody else out there, born in the late 60's or early 70's, who's been haunted by a vague memory of watching a movie in school about a witch and some magic pancakes?  Perhaps with an old spooky house and colorful dots flashing across the screen?  Well, despair no more!  One day a few weeks ago I happened to mention this nagging brain worm to my husband.  And, being the internet master that he is, he found it!

Now of course, seeing it again and reading the website, I am amazed that this film made such a lasting impression on so many people.  It really is a terrible movie.  And the similarity of the magic pancakes to illegal drugs is so very strong, I can't believe this was actually approved for school viewing.

But, anyway, the brain worm is gone, finally.  Finally!

Monday, February 13, 2012


On the Cache La Poudre River, Colorado  by Worthington Whittredge, 1876

I love this painting.  Love, I tell you.  I have a print of it framed and hanging in my dining room.  I'm normally not a big art aficionado (had to look up that spelling), but every once in awhile I come across something that strikes me.

One of the reasons I hold this picture so dear is that for three years I lived very close to the Cache La Poudre River, in Fort Collins Colorado.  I went to school there for my undergrad, living in a one-bedroom apartment along a bike trail on the west side of town.  Hubby (not yet hubby, then), managed a small movie theater while I went to school full-time.  Fort Collins lies about an hour's drive north of Denver on the edge of the Rocky Mountain range.  The foothills loom large on the west side of town, and the short grass prairie spreads outward to the east.

My favorite getaway, when I needed to get away from my studies, was to get in the car and drive northwest out of the city, through the little town of Laporte (perhaps stopping at Vern's for one of those delectable cinnamon rolls) and up through the Poudre canyon.  I'm not a big mountain fan--driving through mountain passes makes my heart skip several beats, and not in a good way--but I do love myself some foothills.  The Poudre canyon runs through some of the prettiest foothill scenery I have ever seen.  Not that I've seen a tremendous amount, mind you.

But as much as I loved the foothills of Colorado, I loved the prairie even more.  Vast swelling seas of golden grass, dotted with islands of sage and scrub.  The dry wind racing across the land, chased by a blazing sun.  Ribbons of green grass and trees marking rivers and streams, tumbling out of the foothills and weaving a trail across the open plain.

And Colorado was the place I fell in love with cottonwood trees.  The tall, arching, graceful trees that grow along those creeks and riverbeds.  I love their rough grey bark, their trembling leaves, and the white cotton seeds that fall like snow in the springtime.

Springtime in Colorado, in the shade of cottonwood trees, along the Cache La Poudre river.  Not a bad place to spend a few moments on a wintry day.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Black fields

Eight of our fourteen acres are tillable.  For those who don't live in the country, tillable acres are those that have been, or very easily could be, used for growing crops.  Before we moved here nine years ago the tillable acres had been in a corn and bean rotation.  I knew right off the bat that continuing to use herbicides on our land was a no-go, so I started searching around for a farmer who would be willing to do something different.  I found a neighbor willing to put in alfalfa, and I gave him a good deal on the rent as long as he didn't use any chemicals.

We had that alfalfa for eight years.  This is a long time for one planting.  You could tell that we had stretched it--the density was down and weeds were coming in thick along the edges.  One way or another, we had to break it up.  Last summer I found another farmer willing to till it up and plant winter wheat.  One season of wheat, and then we could either put it into alfalfa again or try a pasture mix.

The farmer tilled it up early last September.  August had been pretty dry, and the clay loam clumps lay heavy and dark on the ground.  All we needed was a little rain to soften things up, and then the tractor could go over it again, breaking up the clumps and smoothing out the soil.  Only, we didn't get any rain.  At all.  Nothing in September, and nothing in October.  By that time it was too late to plant anything.

So, we still have a field of black clay surrounding our farmhouse.  With virtually no snow this winter, I shudder to think of the topsoil we are losing.  And we're still in a drought, with no signs of precipitation anytime soon.  The repeated freezing and thawing we've had is just starting to soften the clay--if you really jump hard the clumps will break apart under you feet.

We're still planning on planting wheat or perhaps oats this spring.  No chemicals, though.  Which may mean a weedy crop come harvest time, but the land rent is still cheap so that should make up for a bit of lost production.

I just hope we get some rain or snow sometime soon.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Sorry for the abundance of downer posts. Much like I don't like reading about rainbows and roses every day, I'm sure you don't like reading about whines and rants.  I will try to do better in the future.  I can't guarantee anything, especially during a winter like this one, but I will try.


If only I had more time, I could learn more about photography.  I could be outside at sunrise or sunset to catch the best light, wait quietly in the woods for birds and wildlife, drive around the countryside looking for picturesque old buildings and landscapes. 

I find myself saying that a lot -- not the photography part, the 'more time' part.  I look around at all the cool things other people around me are doing.  Painting, photography, writing, pottery, community work, etc.  In my mind I come up with excuses.  Those people don't have young children at home to care for.  Those people don't have a job they have to go to.  Those people don't have to worry about spending money on non-necessities. 

Yes, I know, I know.  The most important thing I need to be doing right now is raising three little boys.  Growing and feeding them good food, helping with their schoolwork, keeping them healthy and happy, teaching them hundreds of everyday things.  One day, ten or twenty years from now when my boys don't need my help on a hourly basis, I will have lots of free time to devote to whatever I want.  And when that happens, it's likely I will want to give it all back, and be able to play and tickle and snuggle with them again.

But I am still envious.  Just a bit.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Warning: rant ahead

Begin rant<

I can't stand to read blogs and websites where people spend all their time writing about how beautiful their life is.  Lots of pretty pictures and heartwarming stories.  That's all bollocks, that is.  And it doesn't make any of us who don't have perfect lives feel any better.  What I want to see are the ups AND the downs, the smiles and grimaces, the proud victories and sheepish mistakes.  Otherwise it's just like reading a never-ending Hallmark card.

>End rant

Lessons learned

Chickens are easy.  Give 'em a place to roost, a place to lay eggs, a coop and a fenced run and you're good to go.  Some bedding and some grain and some water and a bucket of kitchen scraps and they're happy.  Sure, occasionally you have to deal with a resident o'pposum, or a raccoon/fox/mink/neighbor's dog attack, but once you've made your coop and fence stalag-tight, those problems become fewer and fewer.  We haven't lost a hen in eight months now.  Knock on wood.

Goats, however, are not easy.  At least not angora goats.  You have to deworm them.  Often.  And not just for one type of worm--for several.  You have to delouse them.  Often.  During the summer you have to go out at least four times a week and rescue some dumb beast who's gotten its head stuck in the fence.  You have to trim their hooves, which is sorta like trimming the toenails of a small, angry, kicking caribou.  You have to shear them twice a year.  Which, because I am not a professional shearer with professional shears,  takes me about an hour and a half--for each goat--and consists of lots of swearing, sweating, threats, back pain, numb fingers, and more swearing.

And unless you have a pristine grassy meadow for them to graze in, their fleece won't be worth a dime because it's full of sticks and burrs and seedheads.  Even in winter (see above).  Because unless you are feeding them fine grass hay, whatever prickly stuff that is in their feed will get in their fleece.  Some people compensate by buying or sewing goat coats and keeping them on all year round.  From my experience with chicken saddles (long story), livestock and clothing really don't work out too well.  Besides, if I wanted my animals to wear clothes I would have bought a herd of Scottish Terriers.

I could handle most of this, I think, if I got a bit of love in return.  Alas, however, my goats have no love for me.  They won't let me pet them or hug them or rub their bellies.  At best they will let me pat their backs with one hand if I feed them treats with the other.  As soon as the treats are gone, they are too.

Sigh.  As of now the goats are big, furry, high maintenance, unloving pets.  If I had grassy pastures, and access to better shearing, and better fencing, and more time to spend with them, things might be different.  Mohair and baby goats can be quite a lucrative business.  And I've got good animals here, with good mohair and bloodlines.  But I just don't have the time or the resources to make it pay off.

Sigh.  I never should have let the boys name the kids.  If we do decide to sell them, it will make it all the more difficult.

Gifts and Giving

Giddy as a schoolgirl, I was.  Just ask my husband, who was there when I opened the package.  A few days ago I received my 'pay it forward' gift from the lovely lassie at CowGaels in Tir na Blog.  Isn't she sweet?  I've put her by my potted herbs in the southwest window for now.  I think she likes hangin' with the greenery.

And, in keeping with the tradition, I am hereby offering a homemade gift of my own to the first three folks who post a reply.  Leave your name and email in a comment, and I'll see what I can do to spread some gift-giving love.  The only hitch -- you must share some of your own handmade gifts with other folks, sometime in the future.

Consider it a pyramid scheme for presents.  Normally I don't go in for gimmicky internet stuff, but I couldn't resist when I saw the poppets with their radish balloons.  Sooooo very cute.

And whereas my giftie won't be nearly as sweet-looking, it will definitely be sweet-smelling.  That is, if you like the cherry scent of sweet almond oil...