Sunday, April 30, 2017

I Did a Thing

I have a young adult daughter.  She's one of those "Millennials" people talk about, but I think she's smart and capable and super awesome.  I read articles criticizing Millennials, but honestly, I think they have it more figured out than I did when I was that age. 

Anyway, she's smart enough to take things slow and really try to figure out what it is that SHE wants rather than what society tells her she should want.  My generation didn't do that.  I'm glad hers is.

The title of this post is in deference to her generation who give themselves accolades for "adulting."  When she (or her generation) accomplishes a task for which they felt inadequately prepared - and it turns out good - they say, "I did a thing."  I like that.  My generation never gives ourselves credit for doing things we didn't really think we could do.  I'm glad hers does.

I did a thing.  Actually, I did a few things, of which I am very proud, because we all know I'm not a handy person.   My home improvement attempts usually aren't.

But this week, with spring in the air and the too long waiting for someone else to get 'er done, I decided that the someone had to be me.  Good or bad, I intended to do a few things.

While Precious and Little Fire Faery were painting Precious' new bedroom, I grouted the tile that's needed to be grouted for a long time.  I am very proud of how awesome it looks!  It was both much easier and much more difficult than I expected it to be. 

And while I was in the building spirit, I went outside and sorted through some of the piles of pallets and such that we have, and I made a deck off the back of the house.  We've been here almost twenty years, and we've been planning to do something all of that time.  Now seemed like a good time to finally do it.  I would have loved something bigger or fancier, but I'm very pleased with how it turned out - given that I'm the one who did it.  I have a long narrow planter to the right of the deck.  I'm planning to put some pole beans in that planter (probably scarlet runner beans), and perhaps some smaller planters in the front - although I have to be careful, because the dogs and chickens will probably kill anything I try to grow.  :(

So the deck is in the back, and there's a nice spot in the front that could use a patio.  As luck would have it, we have a billion bricks and broken up pieces of cinderblock.  I started building a patio.  It will be a much longer process than the deck.  I figure if I build one 2' x 2' spot every couple of weeks, by the end of the summer, I'll have something awesome.  Here's the beginning.  It appeals to my quirky aesthetic.  
Since my home renovations have mostly been free because we're using reclaimed materials, I can accept a lot less than the $425 price tag Nordstroms is asking for their "mud-stained" jeans.  I'd take $50 for these, paint stained jeans.   Women's size 12 long.  I'll even wash them with homemade laundry soap and line dry them so that they'll smell real. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Food or Medicine? It's Both!

Many years ago I happened upon a diet theory by this doctor who wrote a book that detailed the perfect diet based on one's blood type.  It makes sense that people with different blood types would have a different body chemistry ... or at least that they would react differently to different foods. 

Whether or not his theory is correct is not my point here.

What is my point is that we all know that what we put into our bodies affects us.  Some people, for instance, can tolerate large amounts of coffee with no discernible ill effects.  I drink a pot ... or two ... per day.  Yep - somewhere in the neighborhood of five cups, usually before noon.  Then, I switch to tea for the rest of the day. 

Don't judge me.

Coffee got a bad rap back in the early part of the 20th Century, thanks to cereal magnate C.W. Post, who lied about coffee so that people would buy his breakfast drink

Thankfully the greedy, fear-mongering, liar was not successful in his bid to rid the world of coffee, and in fact, coffee has been completely redeemed.  There are even studies that show that there are health benefits to drinking coffee.

Post was wrong about coffee, but he wasn't wrong about food, in general.  What we eat can do very good things for our bodies - or very bad things.

The good news is that we have control, even down to, we can grow some of our own food/medicine. 

I love growing perennial herbs.  Usually, I just find the herb, drop it in the ground, and forget about it, until I'm in the kitchen cooking, and I want to add some flavor to my food.   Back when Deus Ex Machina and I first purchased our home and started landscaping our blank canvas, the rule was that the plants had to be either food or medicine.  I was strongly discouraged from planting anything that was just pretty.  What I found was that a lot of really pretty plants (including flowers) are edible, and most herbs are useful in both the medicine cabinet AND the pantry.

Over the years, we've mostly moved our medicine cabinet into the kitchen, because many of our health remedies also end up seasoning our food.

One herb I didn't know much about until recently was oregano, and I discovered the benefits of this herb when I was looking for a remedy for candida.  Dr. Mercola talks about the health benefits of  Oregano.  Like many herbs, oregano has a plethora of positive health effects, but it's also yummy and it smells divine.

In a separate article, Dr. Mercola shares the benefits of peppers, which come in a huge variety of types and sizes.  I LOVE hot peppers, and I eat them on as many things as I can sneak them into, but I usually add them after, because my family doesn't love hot peppers as much as I do.

Gardening season is upon us.  If you're planning your garden, consider adding some plants that are both delicious and medicinal.  Herbs are a simple, easy-to-grow choice for adding both aesthetics and functionality to one's landscape - and many of them are perennial, which is a huge bonus!  Plant once, and enjoy for years.

And if one has some time, annuals, like peppers, can add some interest and zing to one's summer diet, while also imparting some positive health benefits.  I'm planning to put a few pepper plants in the strawbale garden (with the tomatoes), and a little container garden with some herbs is never a bad thing.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

How's the Weather Up There?

The maple sugaring season is over.  For the first time since we started sugaring, we actually missed the season.  Not entirely.  We were able to harvest enough sap for a couple of pints of syrup, but we're too keenly aware that if we depended on maple syrup as our only sweetener for the whole year, it would have been a long, bitter wait for next years' sugaring season. 

Someone told me that the season was in January this year, and we did have a really warm spell, but  then, it started to snow, again, and it snowed, a lot. 

And then, it warmed up and the snow melted, and the season was over.  We ended up procuring (through barter) a couple of quarts from a farmer friend.  Hooray for farmer friends!  As it turns out, I do have something I can trade with a farmer.

So, the snow is mostly melted, except in those few places where it was piled up by the plows in shady spots that the sun can't reach.  The other day, temps were in the 70s, and we took our dogs for a long walk.  We found some snow. 


I was reading this article this morning.  I pulled this quote from it: Virtually every growing environmental and health problem can be traced back to modern food production.

According to the article, in my children's lifetime, we will no longer be able to farm the land.  The topsoil will be sterile or gone.

I have a quarter of an acre, and I know that I don't produce 100% of the food my family eats - not even close. 

But I also don't work full-time (or even part-time) at it.  If my broccoli is overrun by weeds; if I miss the sugaring season, because we're hip-deep in dance competition season; if I drop an egg on my way in from the coop; if a squirrel eats most of my apples; if the birds get most of the hazel nuts; if ... if ... if ... it doesn't matter, because I can go to the grocery store and buy food. 

And I know all of this. 

But I also know that nothing is a given, and I still work at planting a garden and raising chickens and tapping our maple trees so that we have syrup, because I need these skills - just in case. 

And if just in case doesn't happen, so what? 

I planted a whole seed packet of peas and carrots yesterday - in containers, because I'm saving the garden beds for cabbage and broccoli, and the straw bales for potatoes and tomatoes.  The garlic is calf high already and the fruit trees and nut bushes have buds. 

My annual vegetable garden this year is only going to have a very few varieties - things we eat a lot of, that are easy to cook in single pots on the woodstove, and which I can preserve in some way - peas, carrots, cabbage, potatoes and tomatoes. 

The summer is already looking like it will be very busy with lots of traveling for Deus Ex Machina and our girls.  I, on the other hand, plan to spend a lot of time outside, in the garden, growing food.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Signs of Spring

Baby Chicks


Sunny, warm(ish) days spent in work boots and torn jeans

Deus Ex Machina and I were chatting yesterday about weather stuff.  We laughed at how in the fall, when the temps dip into the 50s, we're wondering when we should start lighting the stove, but this time of year, when the temperatures climb into the 50s, we're opening the windows to invite in the warm breeze.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Gift of the Maple

Many years ago, Deus Ex Machina and I were in a hardware store.  I don't remember what we were getting.  There on the counter were maple sugaring spiles.  We knew we had some maple trees on our property.

So, I held the spile up to Deus Ex Machina and asked if he wanted to get some.  He was skeptical, but game.  Not wanting to appear too naïve (i.e. ignorant), we carefully inquired about what else we would need to tap our trees.  The list was pretty short.

**  We'd need one spile per tree we planned to tap. 
**  We'd need a 5/8" drill bit to drill the hole (and we only needed that particular size, because that's the size most commercial spiles are made). 
**  We'd need something to catch the sap in - any food grade bucket or container will work. 
**  We'd probably want to cover the bucket or container to keep out debris and rain. 
**  We'd need a way to attach the container to the spile.

The hardware store employees outfitted us with three spiles with the little hooks for the buckets, one 5/8" drill bit, and three food grade buckets.

And we tapped our trees.

We used plastic bags from the grocery store to cover the buckets. 

That first year, we boiled the sap on our propane grill.  It took a long time, and being an engineer-type, Deus Ex Machina studied the problem.  He told me that to get maximum efficiency during the boil-down phase, it was a surface area to blah-tee, blah, and my eyes glazed over or something.

What he meant, I discovered, was that the sap will boil the best and most efficiently if more of the pan is on the heat surface - shallower, wider pans work best.

A decade later, and we have almost twenty taps with buckets and lids.  We also have two 5" deep pans that are approximately 24" square.  We usually boil outside over a wood fire.  We end up with a really dark, smoky-flavored syrup.  It's good, and we like it.

There's not a very big learning curve for boiling sap to syrup.  Once the tree is tapped and the sap collected, all that's, really, required is a pan to hold the sap while it boils and a heating surface.  We use wood.  Some people use a fancy evaporator.  We've used our propane grill.  We've also used a propane turkey fryer.  My friend boils her sap in her kitchen on her electric stove (she has a direct vent to the outside to keep the steam from soaking her kitchen).

Today, I am boiling sap on my woodstove.  It will also take a turn on the electric stove, but while I have the woodstove hot enough to boil water, I'm using that surface to save on my electric bill. 

It will probably take longer to boil it that way, because I'm using a big, deep kettle, instead of a shallow pan, but it's okay, because I don't have anywhere else that I need to be.  It's a slow, rain-chilled day, perfect for a slow, warming activity, like boiling sap to syrup.

I made a cup of tea earlier, using the hot sap rather than water.  I didn't need to add any extra sugar.  It was sweet enough to be wonderful.

I know that I consume too much sugar. We all do.  I also know that if my family could cut our sugar consumption that with our twenty taps, even in a bad year, we could make enough maple syrup to satisfy our sugar need for the whole year.

There's so much that's possible.  Usually, it's just a matter of deciding that it needs to be done ... and then, just doing it.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

No, It's Not Your Imagination. We Are All Completely Crazy!

I am completely overwhelmed right now.  It's like when I first started hearing about GMOs.  I just knew that I had to do something.  As it turns out my something was completely inadequate, and while I've managed to minimize the GMOs that my family consumes, it doesn't matter.  Most people don't think anything about it. 

We have no idea what the long-term consequences will be of genetically modifying seeds and then planting those seeds outside where they can be open pollinated and the seeds can be allowed to disperse on the summer breezes.  We know what happens when alien species are loosed on fragile environments.  We know about invasive species and the resultant species loss.  You'd think that we'd be more cautious and concerned about these, not only alien, but also unnatural, seeds being allowed free-rein. 

But GMOs are cheaper at the grocery store, and cheaper wins.  Always.  And we're okay with that.

We're okay with that.

The other day I saw this meme on Facebook.  There were two pictures. 

The top picture was titled, "1950s" and showed a woman on the phone speaking in hushed posture.  The caption read, "I don't want to say out loud.  They might be wiretapping my phone." 

The bottom picture was titled, "2016" and showed a woman in her kitchen holding a cellphone.  The caption said, "Hey, wiretap.  Do you have a recipe for (something - I don't recall)?"

If we think about it - I mean REALLY think about it - it's chilling how far we've slid into this kind of apathy when it comes to external control and monitoring of our lives.  Back in the 1950s, the idea of  Big Brother watching our every move was horrifying.  These days, we have a whole TV genre devoted to people living in conditions in which they know their every move is being taped, watched, and scrutinized ... and we're okay with that.

We're okay with that.

There's this BBC television series called Black Mirror.  It's available on Netflix, and a friend told Deus Ex Machina that we should check it out.  It's the most disturbing thing I think I've ever seen. 

It's similar to the Twilight Zone, a television series from back in the 1950s and early 1960s in which, as they describe it, "ordinary people find themselves in extraordinarily astounding situations."  There was the one episode about the guy with the nagging wife.  All he wanted to do was read, and she just nagged, nagged, nagged all of the time.  Then, one day, there was an atomic explosion, and his wife was killed.  He found himself in a library with all the books he could read for the rest of his life.  Then, he leaned over and broke his glasses.

The television show, Black Mirror, is similar-ish, because it takes these situations that are extraordinary, but completely plausible - based on where we are heading as a society.  Many of the episodes we have seen deal with our increasing dependence on technology, especially social media.  In one episode society revolves around one's popularity on social media, and everyone is rated every day based on personal interactions with others.  Rudeness to a server will result in a downgrade.  Smiling kindly at a stranger could result in an uptick.  The goal is to achieve a 4.5 or higher rating, because people in that category receive all sorts of social perks, like discounts on trendy, high end apartments.  People with lower popularity scores find that they are ineligible for certain amenities, like renting a newer model car. 

But it's just like with money in our society.  Those who have it, somehow always find a way to get more of it.  Those who don't have it, struggle every day, just to have enough to get by.  It's a constant battle.

Essentially, it's just exactly what we have in our society right now with regard to economics, but with social media ratings.  People who are lower on the socio-economic ladder have fewer social perks than people who make more money.  And please note that even our word for one's "level" is social-economic, because our social status is very much entwined with our ability to pay.

The law in the United States was specifically written in an attempt to eliminate an aristocracy, but somehow we've still managed to cultivate this, sort of, class society.  Poor people are the lowest class (don't we even call them upper class and lower class?) with the least ability to move freely about society.  The upper class can, essentially, do whatever they want - cheat, steal, destroy, perpetuate violent crimes, even murder, and get away with it, because they have the ability to purchase away their crimes.

The BBC show was a lot like Wall-E - a very blatant criticism of our social structure.

The question is, what are we going to do about it?

People at the top aren't interested in what happens to the people at the bottom, and in fact, will continue to simply live their lives as they have been for centuries - with little regard for others as long as they remain comfortable.  Let them eat cake!  Oh, but then, pass an ordinance that prohibits baking so that they have to purchase the cake that they will eat ... or they have to go hungry. 

The sad, sad fact is that even people at the bottom, as they try climbing that social ladder, will show these same sorts of apathy toward others.  We have all sorts of clichéd statements to describe the phenomenon of stepping on others as we try to increase/improve our own social standing.

The fact is that all of the jobs that we do to maintain our way of life are extremely important.  Don't think so?  Try figuring out what to do when the garbage is overflowing and no one is taking it away.   Why do we think garbage men are less important than CEOs? 

I imagine that in a completely uncivilized life system, the organisms involved don't have these sorts of personal conflicts where their importance is questioned by someone higher on the food chain.  They are all important.  They all do a job that is necessary.  If one organism fails to do his job, everyone suffers.  Even the lowly fly larvae serve a very valuable and necessary function.

I watch these shows, and I'm terrified for us, as a culture.  We're heading down a very slippery slope.  Fiction writers have been warning us against it for decades, and instead of heeding those warnings, we're happily grabbing all of the amenities that our culture is giving us, thinking, "Oh, that makes life BETTER!"

But we're sicker, and we're sadder. 

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Seems we might be a bit insane, as well.