An incoherent jumble

Well, that’s a hell of a photo collection for one post. I’ve been meaning to write here for the last week or two, but every time I started to collect my thoughts, they would turn out to be an incoherent jumble of things I wasn’t quite sure what to do with. Since that seems to be the state of things, it’s a jumbled list sort of post…

  • Today was the most joyful mail day of the year, the day the chirping box of chicks arrives. It feels like the official start of another season of homesteading. I’ve been slow to find my rhythm this spring, but after dashing out between rain showers every couple hours today to make sure the new crew weren’t too cold or out of water or starving for attention, I feel like they are already pulling me into the season.
  • I finished the toddler hoodie nearly a month ago, but never showed you the final photos. It was my first time adding a zipper and ribbon to knitting, and both took time but were easier than I expected. The hand-sewing complemented the knitting well, and I would definitely like to add more ribbon to reinforce sweaters. I was a little concerned the green and white ribbon would look completely out of place, but I think it works, and I love the charm of the vintage French design.
  • We marched for Black Lives Matter in Seattle last weekend and almost felt guilty for how enjoyable it was – walking through the streets of downtown with several thousand friends soaking in the sunshine and standing in solidarity on one of our first truly springlike days. Get out there for Science this weekend if you can!
  • Dean spent a week in Maine so I spent a week here on my own and figuring out what I was going to eat next. I had all sorts of grand plans for how I would fill the expansive hours and space of being having the house all to myself, but then spent about 90% of that energy on feeding myself. So when he left again after less than a week at home (to visit some friends in Oregon for several days), I had a pretty good idea of what I was in for. He did leave me stocked with 3 1/2 bunches of kale raab, though, so I quickly settled in to a routine of kale and eggs three meals a day. Which seems like a decent option, if you’re going to be so repetitive. And just when the kale supply was waning, I went rummaging through the freezer and found a quart of leftover chicken curry from a few months ago. Victory!  So just in case you were worried, I think I’m going to make it through this week without resorting to popcorn or saltines (both of which I stand by as totally legitimate meal options, if employed sparingly).
  • “Make soap” has been on my to-do list approximately every weekend since mid-October, when I thought it would be nice to have a supply for holiday gifts. I am down to the final near-transparent shard of my last bar, so went to buy a bar when I was at the corner store yesterday. After picking up every single (local, handcrafted, beautiful) bar, I couldn’t bring myself to spend money on any of them so I came home and made my own. It took something like 30 minutes, dirtied a handful of dishes, and nothing about it was difficult or smelled bad or was in any way unpleasant, just like I knew all along. Of course there’s still the small fact that it should cure for a month before use, but I made a couple extra small bars that I think will get me through the gap. So there you go, I’ve managed to take care of feeding and bathing myself this week. I don’t know what more you could expect of me.

Direct sunlight

So far in April… I have made and eaten my first batch of nettle pesto. (I expect there to be many more.) I have crawled between my flannel sheets under a full pile of wool blankets without my trusty hot water bottle, twice. I have inhaled charcoal smoke while waiting for my dinner. And today, for approximately ten minutes while I was running, I stripped down to a short-sleeve shirt and my elbows saw direct sunlight for the first time in many months. It felt a little like exhaling a breath I didn’t know I had been holding since October.

Level Up

While I was out at a knitting class this morning, Dean took delivery of our new tractor, which I’m pretty sure means we have leveled up at this homestead thing.

If I’m honest, I have to admit that I can’t look at it yet without a swirl of feelings that I’m still sorting out about spending out for it. But I am also really excited to see what we can accomplish with a tractor to help. There are ideas, some might even venture to call them plans.

March time

March feels like a time warp many years, the light and the season changing so quickly it’s hard to keep up. This year, March feels more like the opposite, the trees seemingly in a state of suspended animation waiting for the spells of sunshine that will give them permission to release their pent-up energy.

Or maybe I’m just projecting, because I feel like I’ve stepped outside time for the past few weeks. I spent ten days at a meditation retreat, just sitting, walking, watching, listening, every day just full of countless moments. From retreat, it was right into five days at the home of friends with a brand new baby, which it turns out it also outside the normal rules of time. Toddler-sitting is all about the right now and right here. Later in the week I was the relief newborn cuddler, which is nothing but the sweetest kind of meditation.

By the time I returned home, it felt a little like I couldn’t remember when I had last been here and a little like nothing had changed while I was away. It’s good to be home, to settle in and notice what has shifted over the last few weeks, both in me and in the natural world around me. It feels like it is time to shift more of my attention outdoors, to dig in the soil, to start growing things. I have this sense that there’s some pent-up energy in me as well as the trees, and I’m hoping to find the rhythm of spring that coaxes it out of all of us at the right pace.

Rendering lard

I took these pictures when we rendered a batch of lard a month or so ago, and then completely forgot until I was transferring some other images the other day. So you get a random bit of homesteadiness today.

I am by no means an expert at rendering lard, but I’ve done a few batches now, and it is pretty simple. This is the bag of fat as it came back from the butcher, in whatever sizes and shapes they trimmed:

The vast majority of the work is just chopping it up. A well-sharpened knife is key, and some patience. We have aimed for about a half-inch cube based on what I read, but I think finer would be better. (I’ve also heard from one person that you can put the fat through a meat grinder to chop it for rendering, which would be a fantastic labor savings. I’m tempted to give that a shot next year.)

Once chopped, add about 1/2 cup of water to the pot and put it over low heat. Stir as needed to avoid sticking; otherwise just let the fat melt. It always feels like it’s going quick at the start, but it takes a good hour or so on the stove to fully render.

The hardest part of the whole process is deciding when to call it “done”. Too early, and you’ll miss collecting all the fat; too late and the finished lard will smell more “piggy”. When I’ve made the call, I just pour it through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into jars.

The remaining solids are your crackling:

And the clear fat will turn white and set as it cools:

That’s it!

I would have never considered stocking lard before we raised our first pigs, but I was quickly converted. It was the only part of the pig that we ran out of between our first and second pigs – and we were empty for a good six months. Our absolute favorite way to use it was making tamales, but it is also my go-to cooking fat for eggs, greens, popcorn… I swear it doesn’t have a taste, but it makes everything tastes better!

According to the butcher here, they nearly always have extra pork fat to sell for cheap if you’re willing to render it yourself. So if you’re the least bit curious or inspired, I encourage you to give it a go.

The making report, February 2017 edition

In rounding up the content for this post, I was rather surprised to find that I’ve made more in recent weeks than I would have guessed. Which makes sense, with this winter hanging on as tenaciously as it has, but it has all been a bit stealth, lots of bits here and there without a feeling of focus and progress on a singular project.

The closest thing I’ve had to that singular project is this hoodie for a certain friend aged 2 1/2 I started way back in November. It got set aside for December while I knit yulekuler, and then approximately every other week when my frustration with superwash wool overwhelmed my interest in getting it done. I still have to install a zipper and wrap up some other finishing details, but the knitting is complete and I’m feeling pretty relieved.

This is my very first garment for a small being, and I was pretty excited about the prospect of combining all the satisfactions of garment knitting with the speed of knitting them in mini. Of course I didn’t really get the “speed” part because I couldn’t help but choose this pattern that was full of details that I loved (and that would double the work). There are toddler-size pockets knit into the sides, that hood, and an i-cord edging around the entire front. But I had all sorts of time so I decided to go for it.

I’m not sure if I would do it again. Definitely not in superwash – somehow the process of making wool washable removes every property I like about wool and leaves you with this slippery, splitty substance that lacks any integrity. And there’s just no joy in knitting with it. I fully understand that parents don’t want to deal with a hand-washable garment for a toddler, but I might have to admit that my potential knitting audience is limited to those that love real wool enough to deal with its care requirements.

All that said, I think this is a pretty sweet little red hoodie. The color was surprising hard to capture, but it’s a classic bright red. (Honestly, this one got left out of previous reports just because the photos of it were always so crap.) Here’s one more attempt, included mostly because it was my first use of the blocking mats I received for Christmas and they made me very happy.

While I was taking breaks from the hoodie, I knit a few hats for my local knitting group’s charity hat drive. I used the opportunity to play with a hat pattern that had a lot of potential but had been a miss on my first attempt. After four goes, I think I’ve got the pattern modifications sorted to my liking. The colorwork still needs some help, but really I just need more contrast. I was knitting entirely from stash, and it turns out that I only ever choose mid-tone shades. So predictable, I am.

And here’s the start of my current project: a cotton baby blanket in a super-simple pattern. I had decided months ago that this baby would be welcomed with hand-knitting but not a blanket and then a few weeks ago I decided that it would maybe need just a little stroller blanket and then I cast on and knit a few inches and it is very much a full-on baby blanket size. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but given this little one is expected in just a few weeks, I should probably think about that while I keep on knitting.

And finally, a little evidence that the wool rug project continues on, ever so slowly, but onward nonetheless.

Glass beach

It is February, which means lots of gray and wet and mud and cold in these parts. My instinct is to avoid it all, which means that I need some good excuses to pull me out. Yesterday, an exploratory walk out to glass beach was a good excuse.

As you can see, it was overwhelmingly gray, but the rain mostly held off and the wind was calm so it was actually a good day for a beach walk. It was our first visit to “glass beach”, despite having heard about it since we moved here nearly a decade ago. I’m fuzzy on the details of the history, but at some point there was trash dump that involved the townspeople tipping their refuse over a large cliff onto the ocean beach below. As a result, today there is a remarkable concentration of glass and such in the beach gravel.

It was both underwhelming and fascinating. On the surface, it looks like any other beach. As you can see from our spoils, we mostly found small bits of clear or brown glass. But they aren’t hard to find – sweeping through the gravel with a hand or stick, more swipes than not uncovered something inorganic. And there was just enough variety to keep me curious about what the next sweep might uncover. My favorite finds were the bits of porcelain with some mark of colorful glaze remaining, the opaque glass, the unusual pink and yellow bits. We spent about 45 minutes treasure hunting and I think I could have continued happily for hours, just to see what else I might uncover.

A bit of beauty, and a few hours of walking next to the ocean. That’s enough to call it a good day.

February

February. The stars are fading quickly when I wake these days, and the afternoon light is stretching well past quitting time at the day job… We’ve also had snow on the ground more days than not so far this month.

Spring is imminent, as evidenced by the tree buds nearly busting out with fresh bright green leaves. But it’s disorienting to notice them while I’m walking the driveway because there is a layer of ice under the snow and it seems wise to park at the bottom of the hill rather than test my traction.

It’s still winter here, but I get the distinct feeling that I’m going to wake up one of these days and it will be gone, overcome by the galloping spring light and cold mud. Maybe I should be doing something to steel myself for that day, but I don’t know what it might be. So mostly, I’m trying to appreciate the spaciousness of these days of calm, watching the light in the grey skies, wrapping my legs up in a cozy wool blanket, and happily puttering on indoor projects before spring pulls all of my attention outside.

Now is the time

Now is the time to know
That all that you do is sacred.

Now, why not consider
A lasting truce with yourself and God?

Now is the time to understand
That all your ideas of right and wrong
Were just a child’s training wheels
To be laid aside
When you can finally live
with veracity and love.

Now is the time for the world to know
That every thought and action is sacred.
That this is the time
For you to compute the impossibility
That there is anything
But Grace.

Now is the season to know
That everything you do
Is Sacred.

-Hafiz, the 14th century Persian poet