Archive for June, 2010

We break for this Digging In the Dirt interruption.

Well I sure didn’t mean to be gone for so long.  It’s that time of year, right?  When everything is crazy outside and things are neglected inside and some nights are spent with sand between the toes and dirt permanently wedged between the fingernails.  Ah, sweet summer.  I really can’t get over how *smitten* I am this year with all things garden.  Every spare moment I have is spent pulling a weed here, tucking in an irresistible perennial there, realizing that I never once considered how the front walk looks at first approach.  Alarm! There are still seeds to plant, seeds that I bought today in a “OH! WE NEED SOME SUNFLOWERS!” moment.  Disaster narrowly averted with the tossing of no less than five different varieties in the shopping cart.

Remember when I used to sew?  Still do, but just haven’t had a chance to report back.  I just made a fab-o picnic-set-as-wedding-gift that I neglected to photograph, perhaps because we were putting the finishing touches on it minutes before the wedding. And there’s a tour of my freshly-organized studio in the works, but after I clean up the aftermath of the Picnic Blanket construction.  Sewn frantically during the Waking Hours (of the kids, that is) I resorted to making a deal with the devil, as it were, and lowered the standards of how the Boy and the Girl were allowed to amuse themselves in my studio.  The Boy prefers the magnetic pincushion and pins and you know, he’s pretty careful with them, not even poking himself and screaming like I feared.  The Girl is in a big Tying phase right now.  All over the house are caches of ribbons tied around things, tied like leashes or connectors or even as a fishing line, attached to the end of her bed.  If I can find my camera, and if I can manage to take photos without caking the buttons with soil, I will, because you’ve gotta see this.

Not much cooking going on around here.  I bought bread from the store the other day, because homemade bread is best made with forethought and clean hands, which I can’t manage much of these days.  I’m reminded, though, of how wonderful it is to live off homemade bread, so I whipped up another batch of dough.

The chicks are growing and approaching the butchering day shortly.  In the meantime, they’re gobbling up anything that passes through the openings of that chicken wire, well-meaning fingers and ankles not exempted.  I will not shed a tear come butchering day.  Those birds are fierce.

The sheep are well.  Andrew has become their favorite, I think, and picks them up regularly, cradling them like babies.  I told Isadora just tonight that Irene was now Daddy’s best girl.  We giggled.

Long story short, we’re all doing great and drinking up the summer like a pitcher of my new favorite drink – Heineken and Lemonade.  Life on Five Green Acres is rolling along, at that breakneck speed Summer excels at.  I’m not quite ready to come back as your star reporter, though.  Not quite.  I think I need to take another week or so and get all of these ducks (and sheep and chickens and kids) in a row because when I come back, I want the posts to be unfailingly regular.  And balanced, crossing the spectrum of our myriad of interests and activities.  Five Green Acres is not a Mommy blog, or a Craft blog, or a Farm blog, or a Green blog, but all of these things at once and I want to be a bit more balanced on how that all comes through.  For that matter, I’d like to be a bit more balanced in how it all is lived.  So there are a few changes I’m looking to make, and a new time for blogging to carve out of the schedule, but I haven’t quite nailed it all down yet.

I’d love it if you’d come back soon, though, because it promises to be better than ever.


Comments (1) »

Summer Solstice

Father’s Day meant that Sunday’s activities were Daddy’s choice, so he chose for us to spend the whole blessed day at a Solstice celebration in Madison. Still riding high from last year’s Winter Solstice, we were looking for a meaningful way to spend the summer holiday, and I daresay we found it.

It was a whole day of activities – art, music, family.  The afternoon was spent making a mask for the evening’s Procession of the Species parade, a walking art exhibit celebrating biodiversity.  Standing at the ready were the giant masks and costumes already created for the event, like the owl above.  We learned that the weeks preceding the event offered workshops for the general public to create their own costume.

The above deer costume was worn by two or possibly three people, a magnificent assemblage of paper mache and fabric construction.  Sporting a slightly smaller version was this wee deer, bearing a headdress made cooperatively by the whole family.

The Boy took his job as Twig Antler Supervisor very seriously.

When the time came for the procession, we volunteered to march with some already-prepared animals.  Daddio headed up the mammals with The Bison standard, and a Wee Deer at his side.  Momma and Errol held a whimsical blue eyelashed paper mache bird.

Darwin was there – quite the fun-loving guy, that one.

The Procession was led by a drummer and a masked accordion player, and we marched through the park, the procession culminating  around the bonfire pit that was to be lit later in the evening.  Oh – the energy!  The spectacle!  The explosion of color!  It was magical.  It felt like home.

Isadora was a bit star-struck, following Earth Mother around, holding her giant, all-encompassing hand.  With a contented, almost-bursting heart, I looked on with great pride and satisfaction.  We may live in the country now, but Madison will forever be my city.  Gosh I love it here.

The bonfire was a dramatic conclusion befitting the exuberant joy of the day, and roared to the pulse laid down by a legion of drummers.  How deliciously pagan it was, dancing before the Solstice bonfire to the beat of dozens of drums.  To have found a way to celebrate the day was itself so satisfying, but to be able to celebrate within a community of others magnified that joy tenfold.

Those of us that were still awake at night’s end made plans for next years’ celebration, where we will be sporting a family of handmade costumes.

It was a blessed, blessed day.

Comments (7) »

The Harmonica Garden

We hemmed and hawed about putting in a garden this year.  Weren’t we already biting off a lot of responsibility with the addition of those woolen sweeties in our pasture?  At the very least, we decided to do something small, just a few things.  Tomatoes were a must, the very definition of vegetable garden for me.  And I had already gotten some seeds, potatoes, and onion sets, so we should really plant those, too.  Memorial Day weekend was upon us, that weekend where we traditionally break out in a marathon jungle-weed-taming frenzy and plant the entire garden in what may be the longest, back-breakingest day of the year.  We looked at each other, looked at the coffee mugs in our hands, and wordlessly decided not to spend the weekend like that.  The fenced-in area formerly serving as a garden had already been thoroughly annexed by 5 foot high grasses, nettles, and various other opportunists.  Should we suffocate the mess with layers of mulch and plant on top?  That would require adding soil to the top of the lasagna pile, but I just can’t come to grips with buying something I have in sweet abundance, nor would I consider digging it up from elsewhere, at least not as a time-saving, shortcut measure.  Should we rent a tiller?  My goal was for a No-Till garden (the alleged kind without many weeds) yet last year found us tilling to reestablish order; I really didn’t want to be forced to till again.  What lofty intentions I had, to get out early in the spring and prepare the beds before the weed orgy began, but I turned out to be rather preoccupied with getting sheep, didn’t I?

Without the slightest idea of how the garden would materialize, I went to the local farmer’s market anyway, because there still must be tomatoes, even if I tuck them into a flowerbed.  Twelve plants had seemed like a good idea before set out; I bought eighteen.  Heat of the moment.  I arrived back home, cardboard flat teeming with plants bound for more soil, and stood before the garden, hoping to divine a solution, a solution that didn’t involve so much work.

Then I remembered something Andrew had shared from his harmonica class.  His instructor, a man who lives and breathes the harmonica, suggested that his students learn one or two or three songs really, really well.  Play that song, really rock out to that song, giving it your all, and the audience will be left breathless, wanting more.  They’ll have no idea that you’re not actually a rock star, that it’s actually the only song you know.

So I decided to plant the garden one song at a time, using that miracle of modern science, the Garden Claw (also called the Weasel?) to lightly till up the garden one bed at a time, at a leisurely pace.  I’d start with the tomatoes and see where I end up – maybe I’d plant other things, maybe not.  I reconciled myself to the notion that gardening was more of a chore, a responsibility even, than an endeavor of pleasure.  We’ve gotta eat.  We’ve got this land.  We must have a garden.  Or at least tomatoes.

As I twisted my way through the modest-sized weeds, (I chose the least daunting bed to start with) something quite remarkable and entirely unexpected happened.  I started on fire. My heart rate accelerated as I twisted and turned the weeds, shook out their roots, piled them up.  Oxygen filled my lungs, lots of it, as my breathing rate adjusted to accommodate the vigorous movement.  I took my time, carting in 2 year chicken coop compost, carefully laying out the rows.  I took my time gently laying the tomato plants on their sides, tucking them in almost sideways to encourage lots of root growth.  I carefully, methodically, laid out the dripline soaker hoses we’d invested in our first summer at the Acres,  snuggling them up with the plants themselves.  With great satisfaction I pulled the wagon to the Chick Growing / Greenhouse to collect straw from the floor, blessedly enriched with chicken droppings.  It was the icing on my tomato bed cake, mulching the plants, covering the bare earth to keep out weeds, nourishing the soil with the light sprinkling of chicken manure.  All of my reading and dreaming and planning for the garden came to a head.  This was how I wanted to garden – my way – with care and deliberation and calmness.

I had ROCKED that tomato song, with a quickness even, and was starving for more.  I was on fire.

Comments (3) »

Step aside, Macaroni & Cheese.

Imagine this Foodie Momma’s horror at receiving a project back from preschool that listed Macaroni and Cheese as Isadora’s favorite food.  What the…?  Really?  That handful of times having it elsewhere made it YOUR FAVORITE?  Really?!?  Whatever.  Kraft may have won the battle, but I’ve clearly won the war, thanks to the lovely boot-shaped country of Italy and her delicious recipe for Spaghetti Carbonara.  Step aside, you boxed pretend-food poser.  You are no match for Momma’s Carbonara, especially when she can sneak in some asparagus from the garden.  Ka-pow!

The recipe really couldn’t be easier.  In fact, the motions are pretty similar to that of the blue box and its powdered mix, swiftly negating the bogus ‘easier to make’ edge it may have tried to claim.  I learned how to make it through the fabulously-simple instructions from RP’s Pasta – Madison’s own fresh made pasta from scratch.  It’s been on our family’s rotation for years now and has made the prestigious ranks as one of our ‘get out of jail free’ meals when we have no idea what to make for supper.  As long as we have pancetta in the freezer, it’s like money in the bank.  (pancetta being that smokey Italian cousin to bacon.  You could of course substitute traditional bacon, but why not live a little and go for broke with the pancetta? )

Simply put, you boil some salted water for your pasta.  Any shape will do.  If you at the same time put a strainer over this pot of boiling water to steam a veggie to throw in (broccoli, asparagus, green beans) you’ll feel pretty clever with all of your multi-tasking at the stove.  While the water’s boiling, fry your pancetta in a separate skillet.  We find that dicing it while still frozen (or fresh) is easier than chopping it after it’s cooked.  In a separate bowl, whisk 2 whole eggs with 2 egg yolks.  Add a heaping pile of grated hard cheese (parmiggiano, pecorino) to the whisked egg mix.  Whisk it together to combine.  Add the cooked pancetta, combine.  Set steamed veggies aside.  Once the pasta is cooked to perfect al dente, drain and return to the hot pan immediately.  Whatever you do, do not rinse it.  I’ve heard that the pores of pasta just cooked are open, eager recipients of whatever they can suck in.  Would you rather that they absorb cold, tasteless water, or a delicious sauce that you’ve prepared, incorporating the exquisite flavor into the very molecular framework of the pasta?  That’s what I thought.  Also, you want that pasta to remain piping hot, because the next step is to add the egg/pancetta/cheese mixture and to stir it in vigorously.  The beauty of the whole process is that the heat of the pasta cooks the egg in the sauce to perfection, creating with the cheese a creamy, delicious sauce.  Add the veggies, stir to coat, and try to get the whole pot to the table before it’s devoured by your hungry mob of eaters.

Can I just say that I’ve intended to photograph the finished Carbonara about a dozen times now but have always been caught up in the heat of serving and eating, forgetting the camera every time?  So your now-inflamed taste buds will have to paint their own picture of how delicious this looks, because it really is fantastic.  And for the record, it’s triumphantly usurped Mac & Cheese on the Girl’s list of Favorites.

Comments (2) »

The Sandbox

Captain Daddio swooped in this weekend and finished the sandbox project that had been stuck in neutral for quite some time.  He hopped onto the tractor, hooked up the trailer, and made his way back and forth between a big pile of wild sand.  Oh, it is the very best kind of sand, too – rich, pure, soft.  Just the thing for burying chubby little toes or for erecting small castle domains.  Or for getting some laundry hung out on the line without a little one literally hanging on Momma’s shirttails.  Who would have thought that all of this was possible with some logs and a pile of sand?

Comments (4) »

They remain the chicks only in name.

That is to say, we now have a flock of full-fledged chickens on our hands.  And it’s about time I report back on their progress.

This is what their pen looks like.  It is indeed the Salatin-style pasture pen we were shooting for, but we’ve had to make some minor modifications to adapt our version of it to allow it to be moved daily by a single mortal.   Namely me.  (The Salatin original needs only one person to move, but uses a special, custom made dolly to lift up the back end.  Ours is also heavier with the substitution of steel siding we had on hand for the called-for aluminum sheeting he uses.)  That sucker is h-e-a-v-y, but ripping open some PVC pipes and securing them under the front and back bottom edges did the trick, allowing it to slide much easier.  There’s a giant rope, which you can not see in this picture, that I stand within each morning and heave with every ounce of strength I can muster, pulling the whole thing forward in a somewhat jerky, but chicken-paced manner.  There’s a lot of bodybuilder-style grunting involved; to say that I have to put my whole ass into it is a bit of an understatement.  It’s in fact one of the newest fitness classes offered at the Five Green Acres health club, and I’m finding that it suits me well.

The entire pen, save the bottom, is surrounded in chicken wire, with an outer layer of steel siding covering over half of the structure, providing shelter from the elements.  We found that removing the bottom panel in the back gave us the opportunity to make sure that all the chicks were safely marching forward as we moved the pen each day.  The fence you see surrounding the area is one of our portable electric fences that delineate the pasture into sheep paddocks.  We didn’t intend to keep the chicks within the fence; the pen should be secure enough on its own.  Perhaps it was that Saturday night excitement a few weeks ago that inspired the double-protection of the fence, that night when we both jumped out of bed at the sound of raccoons outside, tore out to the pen at a breakneck speed to defend the flock, but found nothing amiss.  Twice.  The pasture is not uniformly level, of course, being pasture and not a bull-dozed parking lot, which encourages occasional gaps underneath the sides here and there and would make the flock vulnerable to predators if they weren’t properly blocked off.  But while the raccoons, etc. may not make it through the electric fence to take advantage of those gaps, don’t think that the chicks have any qualms about escaping through those gullies and walking right through the conveniently-sized spacing of the net fence and parading about.  I had to don my hat and lasso and call in my Best Chick-Wrangling Girl for backup to catch a dozen of those escapees at dusk on Saturday night.  The good thing about chickens, though, is that they’re ‘chicken.’  They’re skittish and fearful and know full-well that they’re the preferred dinner for a whole host of species, so while they may break loose of their pen, they don’t actually go very far.  Dusk also finds them wanting to roost for the night and they would have likely roosted right on top of their pen had we not wrangled them inside, whisking them out of reach of owls and other nighttime predators not deterred by a perimeter fence.  So we take special care now in blocking up any gaps in the pen with whatever we have lying around.  The upturned feed pan is doing just that in the photo above.

Here you can see the edge of the already-traversed pasture.  The tall grass is Before Sheep and Chicks, the completely mowed-down, newly sprouting is After.  It is immensely satisfying to see before our eyes the transformation of pure vegetation into healthy, vibrant chickens and sheep, invigorating the pasture with a healthy pruning and plenty of nutrient-rich manure.  But the real harmony comes in the proximity of the chicks to the sheep.  It just so happens that the chicks are able to keep up with the sheep as we rotate them all through fresh pasture.  The chick pen moves a pen-length a day, closely following the sheep, who eat a 4 or 5 pen-length paddock in about 4 or 5 days.  Sometimes the chicken pen is enclosed within the same paddock as the sheep, making nice company for both, sometimes it is right beside it.  The real beauty, though, is that the sheep lead the way and chew the very tall grass down to a height accessible to the chicks.  Trailing the chicks behind the sheep and their manure also makes for optimal worm and parasite control, allowing the chicks to pick through and harvest larvae before they have a chance to hatch, larvae that they’re not at all susceptible to.  It’s ideal for the sheep, and ideal for the chickens, who thrive on the protein-rich addition to their diet.  It’s such a harmonious and satisfyingly circle-of-life ecosystem that I almost expect a harp melody to play in the background, completing the pastoral idyll.

Some unfinished business:

The Super-Glam top was indeed a crack-smoking pipe dream.  It remains almost at the same level of progress as shown in the last photo.  My crampy wrists are happy for the break and are thinking about resuming at a more leisurely pace.

Comments (3) »

%d bloggers like this: