Friday 31 August 2012

Summer Harvest, by Kira

Red Kuri squash ready to eat. I think they will make
a great squash soup!

One more batch of pesto.

Lemon cucumbers. We have been
eating these like apples.

Thai peppers.
Anyone interested in some hot sauce?

Beta grapes.
Apple, grape tarts...mmmmm!

Here is a mix of ground cherries, different heirloom tomatoes,
and a few boy blue peppers.

It's nice to have our fill of fresh veggies.

Now its time to start storing for winter.

Thursday 30 August 2012

The last hatch....for now.

Going back through the blog, it seems that it was May 6th that the incubator was officially fired up and laden with eggs.
It has been running without interruption since then....
....until yesterday.

Now the hatching room is quiet.

No fan running.
No little lights flickering their reassuring messages of good operation.
No more clockwork egg turners sending out an alarm at every turn,

as if you might get backed over if you're not paying attention.

It also means no more fresh chicks for a while.

If I could tell you how many chicks we've hatched, I would.
Unfortunately, I didn't keep track.
Nor have I counted chickens for a while.
That's why it's time to turn off the incubator for a bit.
At least until we get some requests for our birds.
All I have to do is collect a setting, flick the switch, and three weeks later there will be new fuzzy little chicks.
Maybe just one more......

But no.
The yard is crawling with chickens.
There are many different sizes all living together without trouble.
Even little birds that we would never have let out in the past are now all over the place, foraging and playing.
I might estimate there to be almost two-hundred all combined.
The woodshed currently holds the last few batches, while the very last hatch is in the hatching room.

Because of the rooster trouble a while back, there is a wide gene pool of young chickens.
Much of my desire for so many birds was to promote a good selection from which to choose a new breeding flock.
The other big reason is to make sure that we have enough chicken to eat this year.
As long as there are no calamities, the freezer should be well stocked.

When the newest chicks are ready to go outside,
the hatching room will be transformed from a humid and warm chick nursury,
to a cold room intended to accommodate the end of life
rather than the beginning.
The incubator may even be removed permanently to a new location.

Though at night, I'd miss the sounds of little chicks peeping contentedly,
and scratching for a midnight snack.


Wednesday 29 August 2012

Waste Digestion

We have been producing too much garbage lately.
Of course, I always say that when I'm the one taking our waste to the dump.
Most of our kitchen waste goes to the animals.
There is quite a lot of recyclable waste.
But there is an organic component that goes into the garbage,
and that needs to change.

I did build a composter several years ago.
It is still empty.
It's not that we have been throwing all of our compostable waste into the garbage, but that some material is unfit for animal consumption, and also unsuitable for the composter.
The township is coming down hard on the local waste production,
and I am glad they are.
In the meantime, we need to keep all of our organic waste.

So Kira picked up a digester in town today.
It is similar to a composter, but it accepts all organic waste,
including meat and bones.
We should be able to toss anything in there, as long as it will break down.
It also requires less maintenance than a typical compost bin.
We'll see.

The county is encouraging the cottagers to use these since a compost bin attracts bears, and the digesters are not supposed to attract any animals at all, as long as they are working properly.
It's claimed that odour doesn't escape.
Though a bear has a phenomenal sense of smell.
But bears are not my concern.

The problem with the composter I built is that it's too far from the kitchen.
There needed to be a special trip made to empty the pail, and it is often neglected.
The digester is near the bottom of the stairs, so it is a shorter and easier trip.
If you notice the carefully placed rock in the above photo, it has a specific purpose.
Auren has been given a job to call his own.
It's his responsibility to empty the waste pail into the digester.

There is no reason why we can't reduce our total waste no virtually nothing.
In fact, nothing should really be our goal.
Even the recycled goods should be brought to a bare minimum.
The key to waste reduction is preventing wasteful items from coming onto the property in the first place.
That is not so easy, for several reasons.
Organic waste should never leave the property.
It is stored energy after all, and it needn't be wasted.
I'll let you know how this unit works.

In the meantime, I really need to teach the chickens how to dig holes.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Lost Inheritance

I haven't been very forthcoming about the business we are building here.
All of you blog readers really should be the first to know, since you are the people who are genuinely interested in our daily life.
But I am not going to let the whole cat out...
...not just yet.
I'll make it up to you though.

For now, I will say that the focus will be on education.
Originally, we planned to offer primarily outdoor experiences that helped people understand the natural ecology and our role among it.
And though we will still be offering experiences with nature, I am finding that there is just as much interest in the forgotten art of skills.
Yes, that's a pretty broad art, but indeed, skill is something that is degrading in a society that encourages specialization.

It happens so quietly.
From one generation to the next.
We are supposed to be passing down our acquired skill and knowledge to our children.
The accumulation of which improves the capacity for adaptation and survival.
Instead, we have been experiencing the opposite.

A money economy permits us the luxury of transferring one skill into paper money.
I make bricks. I sell bricks for money. I use the money to buy bread.
I don't need to know how to bake.
Therefore, my children will not be taught how to bake bread.
This is a coarse example, but exemplifies the disconnection of skill.

And so individuals concentrate on a narrow band of ability.
Disparity between wages allows disproportionate exchange of work for money.
A higher income means that money will replace skill to a greater degree.
For those of us living in the affluent west, that means we are most vulnerable to a multi-generational loss of skill.
The wealthiest of our culture, the most vulnerable of all.
The irony is obvious.
It seems that even a man-made trade economy embodies elements of natural selection.

This fact has not gone unnoticed.
Especially as houshold finances tighten up.
It's often easier to find relief by providing for yourself than trying to earn the money.
As so it should be.
Anecdotally, I am constantly hearing from people about their frustration at not having skills that were once taken for granted.
In the age of industrialized food, even the ability to prepare and cook food is in doubt.

I met a woman this morning who had been taught how to weld at the age of twelve.
A little unusual, but it shouldn't be.
Her father recognized the importance of skills and passed them to her.
Not only does a skill such as welding give you the ability to repair metal items,
it also empowers you.
It means that the confidence to perform jobs beyond specialization may transfer to other skills.

We are often led to believe that each of us has unique talents.
And while that is true, it doesn't preclude a diverse skill set.
Crammed into pigeon holes does nothing to benefit individuals, culture,
or, despite many opinions, the economy.
Each passing generation is losing the resilience necessary to cope with an abrupt change in our way of life.
Certainly you can't expect everything to carry on as it is forever?

As for Sue, who learned to weld when she was twelve.
Her opinion is resolved.
In twenty or thirty years, it will be the people who have the trades and skills who dominate our culture.
I tend to agree with her.


Monday 27 August 2012

Almond Rochers, by Kira

A recipe from my favourite bakery and cafe.
No, I have never been there. The bakery is in California.
I do have both of their books. The bakery is run by husband and wife,
Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson.
The dessert book I recieved recently, and Chad Robertson's bread book
was given to me by a friend a couple of years ago.
Their menu is seasonal and they work with local organic goods.
When the kids have grown enough to travel, this bakery is on my list of places to visit, along with a few other places in California.

Almond Rochers

Sliced almonds (I used almond meal) 1cup + 2 Tbsp

Large egg whites 2
at room temperature

Confection sugar 1 cup

Salt Pinch

Vanilla extract 1/2 tsp

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with a non stick liner.

Spread the almonds onto the baking sheet and bake until golden brown, 7 to 10 minutes. Let cool completly. If you are using sliced almonds then break up into small peices.
If piping make sure there is no large pieces or it will clog the pastry tip.

Pour water into sauce pan about 2 inches, place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Combine the egg whites, confection sugar and salt in a stainless steel bowl that will rest securely in the rim of the sauce pan, not touching the water. Whisk together and then place over the saucepan and continue to whisk until the whites are hot to the touch (120F), about 5 minutes. Remove the bowl from the heat and whisk vigorusly until the mixture is thick and glossy. Fold in the almonds and vanilla with a rubber spatula.

Scoop the meringue into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch plain tip and pipe onto the prepped baking sheet, forming "kisses" about 1 inch in diameter and spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart. Or you can drop the meringue by tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheet, which we did.

Place baking sheet in the middle of the oven and keep the door ajar with a handle of a wooden spoon to allow the moisture to escape. Bake until the cookies puff slightly, crack along the sides, and feel dry to the touch, 15 to 20 minutes.
They will harden as they cool. Transer to a cooling rack and let cool.
Keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

Sunday 26 August 2012

Quality of Life.

Canadians are supposed to have a high standard of living.
What do they mean by that?
And who are they?

Saturday 25 August 2012

Help Wanted

It's time to start thinking seriously about getting some help.
Those of you who know me are probably saying,
"It's about time!".
But I'm talking about help here on the homestead.

As each year passes, we have been piling on the progress.
We're proud of what we have accomplished.
But the goals are edging further ahead of our capabilites.
The pace is unsustainable.

The daily needs of the animals alone saps a considerable portion of the day.
I have time saving solutions prepared,
but I need some time to get those solutions working.
The days are just too short.

I often wish for two of me,
though most people agree that one is plenty.

There are no real time management issues.
Just goals and deadlines that have evolved from ambitious,
to virtually impossible.

Hiring someone is out of the question,
since the homestead is not generating much income.
But I'm hoping to entice some volunteers.
Folks who would trade labour for experience.

First, there is the WWOOFER program.
Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms.
The program matches workers with farmers,
with the goal of helping the farmers accomplish their work,
while giving much needed experience to aspiring farmers.

The second is HelpX.
It's a similar set of listings that is geared more towards working travellers.
Short term room and board are offered in exchange for labour;
not necessarily farm work.

Another option would be to look for volunteers without the use of a listing service.
Or, high school students who need their community service hours.

We may have pursued this sooner had we some accomodations ready.
Our home is fairly small, with no extra bedrooms.
The plan is to build a bunkie to house guests or workers,
but that too is subject to time restraints.
Plan B is to prepare some campsites with wooden platforms and roofing
for tents.
That too, however, needs to be have the time accounted for,
regardless of the simplicity.

I haven't yet decided if my goals are unreasonable.
It could be impatience.
Now that I am working here full-time,
I figured there would be more than enough time to get everything done.
And though the progress shows,
the list of things to do grows.

The most frustrating part of the day is when I am all geared up to attack a major project,
but before I begin, the basic chores must be done.
The chores are really very simple, and can be meditative,
but I'm chomping at the bit to get working on whatever has been earmarked for the day.

I remember a line in a farming book that was addressing the deep-litter method of animal housing.
It suggested that the system was essentially developed by farmers who just couldn't keep up.
And there I am.
I wonder if I'll invent anything?


Friday 24 August 2012

On Call

We lost several chickens last week.
Over a dozen.
They were murdered while they slept.
It was the young birds.

A raccoon had burrowed under the the door threshold.
It didn't grab a bird and go like the fox does.
Raccoons are known to just hang out and kill several birds,
taking bites from each.
And that is just what happened.

In the past, I have spared the raccoons.
They seem so cute and kind.
But finding dead and mutilated baby chicks all over the place has changed that.
My heart has been hardened.

Like the fox, it's not so easy to dispatch the masked marauders.
Traps are common, but I fear that innocents will be harmed inadvertently.
Ideally, I like to catch them in the act.
Then it's easier to squeeze the trigger.

The chicken feeder is out in the open and tends to be hit first.
If I hear it, then I run out the door,
grabbing what I need on the way out.
Sometimes everything is ready to go.

Most often, my attire is completely inappropriate.
Sometimes, clothing is neglected altogether in favour of a speedy exit.
The predators almost never strike when I'm dressed.
It's because they watch through the windows.

I need to get out quickly enough to figure out where the raccoon is.
It's always dark when they're here, and most time they are quick to hide.
If I can wait in the dark long enough, the bandit will head back for more feed.
That's when I can pinpoint the location.

If I can start a chase, there is the chance that I will catch up.
I always hope that it's a raccoon that I'm chasing and not a bear.
The firearm for the raccoon is unsuitable for bear defense,
should the need arise.

The night is almost dead quiet at this time of year.
If I stay still to listen for movement,
the only sounds are the jaws of wood chewing insects,
and squeaky little mice.

I feel it's bad karma to kill animals without the intent to eat them.
Raccoons are not the cleanest beast,
and so we have never dressed one up for food.
Instead, they are buried among the honeyberries, and eaten indirectly.

Killing them is easier now.
Knowing what they will do and seeing it first hand,
clears the matter up;

We work hard to raise our birds.
I won't part with them so easily.
Seeing them senselessly butchered defies my understanding of the food chain.
Mercy has left the building.

And every night I listen intently.
Many nights I find myself too late getting to the scene.
But some nights of waiting in the dark pays off.
Then the ground grows more fertile around the honeyberries.

Thursday 23 August 2012

Breaking Free

Work is a four letter word.

That's how many people perceive their occupation.
A means to an end.
The nine to five grind.
Everybody's workin' for the weekend.
How did it happen that our role in an organized society became a bitter exchange for two days of rest?

Media plots and stories often characterize the working world as an inevitable prison of disenchantment and relentless repetition.
As children, we are shown archetypes of various jobs available
'when we grow up'.
The expectation is that we will choose to fill a single position.
Whether it be a firefighter or a doctor, the spin is that we may choose whatever we wish to be.
And that may be true for some.

Anecdotally, most people end up working whatever job they can get into order to make a living.
Post-secondary education is traditionally intended to prepare the student
for the job.
More often, the student uncovers the veil of romance and discovers that their chosen profession is not the right fit.
As the need to become financially independant falls on young shoulders,
there is precious little time or resource to change course.
The next thing that comes along must often suffice.

And so it begins.
A lifetime lived having lost the opportunity at a young age to find a true calling.
Work becomes tedious and hateful.
Some people do well; but that is not the usual story.

So why don't we switch jobs around a little?
How about a job exchange?
Under the current arrangment, it's a tricky proposal.
First of all, there is a dangerous difference between wages.
People earning generous salaries become entrenched in a particular lifestyle.
They may hate their job,
but the money keeps them going back to work day after day.
Accumulated debt contributes to an occupational trap;
moving up is preferred, but taking a pay cut can lead to failure at home.
The greater proportion is those people who would like to improve their job
and the pay.
Of course it's clear that better remuneration is the real goal.
Too late does the money driven employee realize that they are walking into a trap.

Education and training is the obvious barrier preventing candidates from achieving job satisfaction.
It takes a considerable amount of investment in both time and money in order to re-train.
Most workers have neither.

Location plays a large role too.
Most of the jobs are in the cities; a volatile spiral into finite urban density.
Interestingly, the suburban sprawl is developing jobs and many commuters head out of the city to work while others still drive out of the suburbs.
That paradox is a symptom of an inefficient culture of work and unsustainable civil engineering.

I don't intend to propose that the solutions are simple.
In fact, I won't suggest any tonight.
(Though you would recognize the theme if I did.)
It's just painful to see so many unhappy people who could thrive if placed into an environment that nurtured their passion.
As far as the economy goes, happy workers are productive workers, and coupled with efficiency could help solve the beleaguered economic balance.

To be fair to the system, the responsibility lays in the hands of the individual.
Social democracy (such as it is) does well to balance the needs of everyone.
Unfortunately, it has a side effect that strips the common man of empowerment.
Not having to fight for basic rights erodes the resolve to fight for a better life.
Each disguntled employee must first acknowledge that change is possible,
and find courage and the will to forge a different path for themselves.

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Thanks to Everyone!

I never used to participate in social media, even as it became popular.
There was this feeling that an electronic relationship simply isn't worth cultivating.
Those times are behind me now, along with many of the opinions I held.
Also in the past is a decade of feeling isolated.

Kira is home from the hospital now.
She has recovered enough to wait at home until her gall bladder is to be removed.
It's a good thing too; I make a lousy wet nurse.
We have been granted some time to prepare for another stay in the hospital.
For that, I am thankful.

I am also thankful for all of the support we received.
Last night, when I had a few moments, I published a blog post about Kira's emergency, as well as making sure some information about Kira's health was posted on Facebook.
Not only could I keep family notified, but it only took a few sentences to inform almost everyone.
What I am most impressed by is the relationships that have been cultivated almost exclusively on-line.
Within only a few hours, we had offers of help and messages of support from so many people.
Some people, we have never even met in-person,
yet they are willing to extend a helpful hand.

It's said that blood is thicker than water, though I question that wisdom.
Those of you who read our blog and keep up with us on Facebook,
are the people who are genuinely interested in our lives and are concerned about our well-being.
Of course, family is almost always around when there is pain and suffering,
but it is equally important to share in the milestones and victories.
The connection is really indivisible.
In this case, all of the people who share our day-to-day trials and tribuations,
were the first people to know that Kira fell ill,
and also the first friends and family to come to our side to help out.
That kind of 'whole' relationship is very important to me.

Today, more than ever, we feel the strength of a vast safety net cast out beneath us should we fall.
And though we pride ourselves on our independence,
we are getting over that.

Thanks so much from Kira and I to everyone who is part of our lives.
And I mean everyone who follows along with us, regardless of how far away you might be.
It may be an electronic realtionship,
but when there is trouble, we can count on each other for real help.
I know that now.
And for that I am thankful.

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Fragile Balance

The family unit is a vulnerable state of being.
Routine and repetition support a lifestyle that exists on a fine line between comfortable and out of control.
Many of us take a stable life for granted,
but you never know when the inevitability of change throws rhythm to the wind.

Kira is in the hospital tonight.
She needs to have her gall bladder out as soon as possible.
She should be alright.
But it's difficult to explain that to the kids.
It's even harder for baby Meer.

Meer is only a little more than nine months old and still nursing.
She has been especially attached to Kira; more so than the others.
But Kira is on medication that prohibits her from breastfeeding.
She is also in enough pain that it would be hard for her to take care of Meer,
though I know she could if she had to.
So Meer is with just me tonight, for the first time.
She's sleeping now, but when she wakes, she'll be looking for something that I don't have.
I can keep her fed, but not with breast milk.
She cried herself to sleep this evening, but it was a different cry than I have ever heard from her.
She can have a very insistent cry, but tonight, she knew Kira wasn't here.
The crying was more forlorn and mournful.

It takes teamwork to run a family and a farm.
We barely get everyone fed on a normal day.
With one less pair of hands, making sure that all of the animals are cared for will be tough.
My Dad lives next door to us and he will take Auren and Fern tomorrow.
I can get a lot done with Meer on my back, so the chores will still be done.

I am not naive enough to believe that life will be predictable and free from sudden changes.
But there is always the hope that tragedy will avoid our lives.
I do firmly believe in Karma, in balance.
That there must be as much give as there is take.
I try not to ask for too much.

I am, however, praying that our life returns to normal within a few days.
Though I expect that there will be some lasting changes.
I serves us well to be reminded of our fragile existence;
so that we may pay closer attention to our loved ones,
and not take anything beloved for granted.


Monday 20 August 2012

Family, at work.

We didn't choose to have children in order to build a small labour force.
Though on the farm, children help make up a family that works together.
And kids come with a built in desire to help.
Sure, they don't want to clean up their room.
Often, they work against you.
But you can be sure that when you are doing something creative with tools,
they want to do the same.

It can be hard to allow them to help when they are young.
Especially when time is short and the task needs to be completed.
We try our best to let them participate, whether it is in the kitchen or in the shop.
And we also allow them to use the tools like knives or saws.
Small cuts or bruises are part of the learning process; for all of us.
In case your worried, we don't let them run the radial arm saw.

Work is a perfect time for teaching other basics.
There is relevance to every motion.
From the physics of a level, to the chemistry of cement,
to the math of a square, to the cutting design of a saw.
Explanations are much easier when there is purpose.
Tactile experiences appeal to the senses,
and children need the whole experience.

This isn't the time to teach the value of diligence and completion.
The attention spans are still very short,
though the desire to spend time together keeps them going.
Some things are best taught by example.
And I need to remind myself of that as I lose patience when the pace slows.

There will come a time when the kids will be a real help.
For now, the goal is to let them try different jobs out.
And though I do watch for strengths to show,
we're not training them as workers to be pigeon-holed for a predestined occupation.
Fortunately for all of us, there is an incredible variety of experience here.
My hope is to not only teach them an array of skills,
but to teach them that they are capable of doing anything they want to.

Sunday 19 August 2012

What kids like most.

Children can be remarkably hard to please sometimes.
Food, clothing, toys, books, crafts, and activities.
You can't always get it right,
and they sure do let you know when you get it wrong.

But there are a few things that never fail to win them over.
Namely, playing together with friends, playing with dirt and sticks,
and cute little animals.

We have the dirt and sticks,
and the cute little animals,
but playmates are harder to find around here.
Fortunately, we have been meeting lots of other families this year,
and it has given our kids a chance to make some friends.
It's even easier to make friends when you have cute little animals to show them.

It all begins with shy little people.
How do you start?
Some show and tell to get the conversation going.
Whether it's ducks or toys, kids like to talk about what they love.
Shyness gives way to natural curiosity,
and before you know it, the projects are underway.
Today's big events were dam and castle building,
as well as some chick catching.

It's especially fun to let kids play in a raw environment.
A raw environment is somewhere that allows them to create the nature of the surroundings.
The more simple the ingredients, the better.
Sand, some sticks, and a bit of running water.
And lots of space to run and hide.
They play best when out from under the watchful gaze of parents.

It doesn't take much to spend an entire day playing when there are friends over.
There is no complaining about being bored or asking for a movie to be put on.
There is less fighting and more cooperation.
And though it's always sad to say goodbye,
there is next time to think about.
And a hard day of play make for some pretty heavy eyelids when bedtime nears.
Played out, and satisfied.