I wondered when this would happen, knowing it was inevitable. We got too busy to keep up on the blog. So, that is why these last two months of 2014 are crammed together into one post. What has been keeping us so busy, you ask? Well, there were a couple of days in November where freezing temperatures chased us back to the in-law’s house. It’s unusual for the weather to be so cold so early in the year, but it was. I got caught up on making baby food “pucks,” as Aaron calls them. Basically, just pureed veggies frozen into mini-muffin tins. We got some mathematical dimensions calculated for our reciprocal roof. And, we made egg-nog for a wonderful Thanksgiving lunch at Great Grandma’s house.
It never ceases to amaze me, the lessons to be learned in the kitchen. On this one evening alone, we had serious conversations about: reading the temperature on the thermometer, fractions, patience, and microbial life all around us. The eggnog turned out excellent, too! Unfortunately, our chickens did not produce these eggs. The older ones haven’t been producing, and the younger ones are still too young.
However, the guineas are proving to be the most resilient animals on the farm. We have been holding strong at 7 for some time now. They are mature enough now that I can really distinguish their different colors. Their heads are quite ugly, but they have such pretty feathering. We ordered them from The Cackle Hatchery in Missouri as a straight run variety guinea batch. Of the 4 varieties they shipped, currently we have 3 Pearl Grey, 3 Lavender, and 1 Royal Purple. The 2 lighter-colored ones on the left are the Lavender, and the tallest one on the right is one of the Pearl Grey.
Aren’t they just weird-looking birds? I love to watch them scuttling around like tiny animals who’ve taken refuge inside of mobile protective helmets. I’ve decided my favorite is “Grandma.” I call her that because her feathering reminds me of a grandma sweater. She’s the Royal Purple variety. I don’t even know if she’s a girl; even the expert guinea owner has trouble deciphering their sex.
It’s kind of like when we call something cute despite how ugly it is. I think she is just beautiful. Their feet are pretty interesting too. They all extend out from the body as a dark brown color, but closer to the ankle, they have light spots. The colors remind me of African American and Caucasian skin tones. Their claws are sharper than those of the chickens. Did you know they are typically monogamous? I doubt we’ll ever be able to point out couples due to their skiddish-of-humans-nature. I have grown very fond of these birds, despite their boisterous call:
After Thanksgiving, we had some family come out to see our house progress. They came from Wyoming, Colorado, and Northern Oklahoma to visit. It was wonderful to have them come because we haven’t had any visitors in quite some time. They asked lots of relevant questions and Aaron answered them like a professional. I really enjoy having guests come at the early stages of the build so that when they come later on, they can marvel at the progress. It also just makes me feel like we are being supported by family, and that is truly important.
Family also kept us busy in the early and foggy first weeks of December. Aaron’s dad has been transitioning his acreage land to rotational grazing. It was previously in rotation, but he has recently decreased the sizes of the paddocks in which the cows are allowed to graze. In subdividing the paddocks into smaller portions, a water source must be available for the cows. On one section of land, a well-fed watering trough needed to be installed and subdivided sections needed to be fenced with permanent fencing. This would allow the temporary fencing, a poly-line, to attach more readily. So what did we have to do with all of this?
We built the permanent fence. This involved Aaron cutting lengths of pipe with the oxygen-acetylene torch, while I stood watch with the shovel and a bucket of water in case of fire. There was a close call, by the way, which we both handled very well, I might add. The “love-grass” in this particular field was reminiscent of an animal’s fur, like being small and walking on the back of a sheepdog. Large tufts of the grass are knee-deep and highly flammable. Then we used the tractor and its drill attachment to drill holes for the H braces to fit into. Next we made some concrete to pour into and around the pipes in the holes. I perfected the smoothing and downward slope of the concrete piles at the bottom of each pipe. Then, Aaron welded the pieces of metal pipe together to make H braces that the wire would attach to. I got to chip off the welding slag with a chipping hammer and marveled at the artful skill which is required in the welding process. Then, with the help of walkie-talkies, we stretched out long lengths of high tensile electric wire and used the fence stretchers to tighten the lengths. I am always surprised at the tools that are involved in cattle-raising tasks. They make a tool specifically for stretching fence wire, can you believe that? Then we did lots of connecting wires together and using the crimping tool and crimping sleeves to splice many of these wires together. Gates were fashioned from pvc pipes which are insulators, so there is something to grab onto, and then these handy little stretchable handles were added to connect the hot wire on the gates to the fences themselves. Wow, who knew all these tools existed? Well now I do.
All of this took place during the foggiest week of the year. Luckily, there was hardly any wind for this fence-building project. It was like walking through a dreamscape, or a foggy memory, no bushes or grasses were moving, and you could hear the steady chomping of the cows feasting on the grasses around us.
Another item of note that has kept me busy has been a great book. Well, a couple of great books, actually. I finished Michael Pollan’s latest, Cooked, that was a surprise gift from a friend. I enjoyed it immensely. So much history, fact, theories and postulations about the transformations of the foods we eat. It made me furious at our industrial food system, intrigued at the super-nutritious foods we can prepare at home, but have forgotten how to, and most of all, it made me hungry. Not just for food, but for more knowledge about fermentation, cheese-making, beer brewing, and whole-hog barbecue. I will never look at your average bbq joint the same again. I am so excited to start a more romantic relationship with Saccharomyces cerevisiae. I’m going to make you either Google that one, or pick up Pollan’s book. If you enjoy cheese, bread, beer, or barbecue, you should probably add this to your reading list.
The other book I started has more to do with the house construction. It was first mentioned to Aaron in his permaculture certification class as recommended reading for design of buildings, towns, and communities. Then, Michael Pollan reintroduced it to me in his A Place of My Own. Its main author is Christopher Alexander, a practicing architect and builder who is also Emeritus Professor of Architecture at UC Berkeley. Pollan referred to him as the “Charles Darwin of architecture.” In his book, A Pattern Language, Alexander wanted to catalog all the possible patterns of the built environment. 253 of them, actually. Ranging from South Facing Outdoors (105) to Window Place (180) to Waist High Shelf (201). Each pattern has an explanation of the problem that exists time after time in the environment, and a solution for it. It is very simply formatted and each pattern has a photograph or diagram and suggestions for similar patterns. I have been diligently reading through every pattern and writing down the patterns which, hopefully, will become a language by which we can further design our home. One example is The Farmhouse Kitchen (139). It states the problem:
“The isolated kitchen, separate from the family and considered as an efficient but unpleasant factory for food is a hangover from the days of servants; and from the more recent days when women willingly took over the servants’ role.”
And the solution:
“Therefore, make the kitchen bigger than usual, big enough to include the “family room” space, and place it near the center of the commons, not so far back in the house as an ordinary kitchen. Make it large enough to hold a good big table and chairs, some soft and some hard, with counters and stove and sink around the edge of the room; and make it a bright and comfortable room.”
I completely agree. The kitchen should be centrally located, large, and bright. I am actually surprised that Pollan didn’t address this in Cooked. He explored so many of the reasons that modern people of the western world spend less time in the kitchen. Women working outside the home, corporations and their seductive convenience foods, television and other technology, and even intimidation from shows like Top Chef, to name a few. One he didn’t mention though, may be (I’m speculating here) poor home and/or kitchen design. In a home where the kitchen is situated away from the main living area, people tend to gravitate toward that most comfortable and inhabited room. The kitchen is left on the other side of the house, all alone. Who wants to cook in an empty kitchen? I suppose it depends on the person, but I usually prefer a little family company. Dinner prep is a great excuse for spending quality time with my 8 year old, asking him about school, giving lessons on, as mentioned earlier, fractions, chemistry, etc. I love (and appreciate) the time it gives my father-in-law to snuggle with baby. Food is such a basic need, and eating food has always been a communal and ritual act, cooking it should be shared, at least part of the time, with those we love. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and plan to even more, when we get better at growing more of our own foods, so proper kitchen design is vital.
I feel gratified that most of the patterns, the example included, seem very simple, basic, and necessary to a functional and aesthetically pleasing home environment. I can see where some people might find the book drab, as it is essentially a long list of patterns. However, I find myself imagining how each pattern may or may not fit into our home design and the creativity just begins to flow. I have marked some patterns off the list and added others and I may even create my own, as the author suggests. Our home is very unique, of course, and so should probably have some of its own patterns.
And finally, we’ve been busy with baby, who is 6 months old now. My mother-in-law picked up a pack-n-play at a garage sale. It’s made by Graco, but the designer name is Laura Ashley. We joked about how we should write to Graco and recommend that they create a Laura Ingalls design for the frontier baby, complete with mosquito netting and stakes for high prairie wind resistance.
Alexander, Christopher et al. A Pattern Language. 1977. Oxford University Press, New York.
Pollan, Michael. A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder. 2008. Random House, Inc, New York.
Pollan, Michael. Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. 2013. The Penguin Press, New York.