Anything but boring

IMG_0768IMG_0751 IMG_0759 IMG_0755 Pigs! Pigpigpig piggers! Here! They arrived Tuesday afternoon, when I left a relaxed husband at 4p for a meeting and returned a few hours later to find a haggard and somewhat disheveled husband and two wary young pigs. And what a shame I missed their actual arrival, because I do love a good epic.

The rough outline is that shortly after getting the pigs moved into their new home, they were accidentally cornered and they bolted through the electric fence. One was tackled about six feet into its life of freedom, but the other made a successful run for it. So Dean and the farmer who delivered them gave chase… up the hill, across the ravine, and through another fence into the neighbor’s (empty) horse pasture. From that point, Dean’s telling involves a lot of wind sprints up and down the hill of that pasture and a few fantastic dives. One of which involved a couple ribs landing on a ground-level rock. Well over an hour later, the two grown men managed to recapture and wrestle 50 pounds of pig back into the fence, but I’m not sure who “won” that contest.

I decided years ago that if we ever raised pigs they would be named “Kevin” and “Bacon”. I’m convinced Kevin is quicker and slightly redder and Bacon is just a bit rounder, because… bacon. But Dean argues that any creature that puts him through that ringer will be named after a tasty meat product.

So day one didn’t go quite as smoothly as we imagined… but day two? I was out early morning, greeted the pigs and fed them. Then Dean went by a couple hours later and couldn’t spy them. I wasn’t worried, their pen is anything but flat and open so hiding places abound, but took the excuse for a quick break to walk down and set our minds at ease. Of course, I walked the whole area and couldn’t rustle them out or hear a whisper of their near-constant grunting commentary. They are still pretty wary of us, so it just didn’t make sense that they didn’t stir. So… Dean and I set out in a wide circle, looking for any sight or sound of escaped pigs. We hiked up to the top of our property, back to the neighbor’s pasture, and through all sorts of brambles. In the rain, of course. After about half an hour, we admitted the futility of it and were passing their pen on our way back to the house. And on cue, Kevin and Bacon sauntered out from the center of a pile of blackberries and snorted at us.

So we’ve been outrun and outwitted. I’m sure it’s only the start. But we make a pretty mean slop, so I think we might have a fighting chance. And the fence has been reinforced.

(If they look a little different than you expected, it’s because they are Tamworths, a heritage breed that has reddish-brown hair. They’re very popular for being great foragers and well-suited to our weather.)

Oh yeah, we also got a box of 33 chirping fluffballs from the post office Monday morning. Best mail day of the year.

IMG_0743The homestead is anything but boring this week.

Lilacs, chapter 2


We got home last night just as the light was fading. So much grew in just a week (two new feet of grass, I swear!). This morning, awake too early from a body in time zone readjustment, the first thing I did was wander outside to breathe in the sweet perfume of the lilacs that had blossomed while we were away. Planted last year on mother’s day, their first flowers cut on that day a year later. Perfect.

I declare: spring!

DSC_2982 DSC_2981DSC_2986It’s official, spring arrived to the homestead today. Sure, the calendar said it arrived a few weeks ago and the weather has felt spring-like for even longer. But we finally got the garden tilled, which makes it spring in my book. Even if it the sky didn’t exactly cooperate. And I brought the first new lives home, which also feels like a certain threshold of spring, even if those lives were of the insect variety.

It was over a month ago that I was feeling behind on the garden and comforting myself with how we didn’t get anything in the ground until April 11 last year, so we had all sorts of time. Well, we’re blazing new ground for future years’ comfort.

I mentioned way back here that our truck suffered some major mechanical issues. So until late yesterday afternoon, we were truckless. For six whole weeks. In spring. We have things to haul, universe! Rented tillers to tow, compost to spread, trash to dispose of, piles of wood to move! Things to do! The last week was excruciating, with daily promises of the hour it would be done only to discover another delay. But it’s home again now and all is forgiven. The bed already smells vaguely of composted chicken poo and the cab is chock full of miscellaneous tools and gloves. You know, the way things are meant to be.

And we got bees! Each year I forget how thrilling it is to nurture other lives along. Today it hit me when I was driving home with the bee package in the back of the truck worrying about jostling them too much on our driveway potholes (as if it could possible matter). It’s been a whole year since we had bees here, and I’m very ready to have them as garden companions once again.

And in less than a month, this place will be full of all sorts of new life when the chickens and pigs arrive. It’s still a little scary to write that sentence (the pig part really, we’re pretty well set on the chicken front). But this week we identified their territory and we’re actively working out the details of fencing, so it’s getting a little more real every day. Pigs! Our own pigs!

Miscellany, in bullets

julyI’ve had a jumble of things I might tell you about in my head the last few days and none of them seem to be forming into a coherent post, so… random bullets it is:

  • Concrete floors + my clumsiness = shattered smartphone. Frankly, I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner. But that might have made the decision about what to do about it simpler. Instead, it bit the dust a month before my current contract (leftover from the prior job) finally expires and right in the middle of me already fretting about what to do. (Side note: I heard a blurb on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me awhile back about how all the cool kids were intentionally cracking their phone screens so I thought I might just use it as is for right now. Turns out that you have to be cool enough to crack it just enough; if you’re just clumsy and shatter it, you’ll end up with tiny shards of glass in your finger and then you’ll be bleeding and uncool.) So… smartphone? revert to dumbphone? Perhaps the more important question is why does this feel like such a momentous decision?
  • The garden is looking good after our recent spell of rain. It’s very much in transition from the “early summer” garden of harvesting peas, broccoli, lettuce, etc. to “high summer”- we’re in the thick of the zucchini and green beans, the first cherry tomatoes are ripe and I’m eyeing up the rest for signs of color. And the first sunflowers opened this week!
  • Best long run ever last weekend. I ran the length of a local rail trail and bribed Dean to meet me at the far end with a promise to buy breakfast. So, 1. no boring out-and-back route, and 2. breakfast motivation! I was somewhat disappointed to discover that a long run doesn’t actually leave you as hungry as you might think (or I might think when ordering) so Dean actually had to help me finish but otherwise… brilliant. I’m already scheming future routes.
  • We leave for the mountains one week from today. I’m ridiculously excited about two. whole. weeks. off. Excitement that is more ridiculous for all of the food prep and shopping and gear sorting that has yet to be done. (Inserts fingers into ears. lalalalala…)

Bits and bobs and bounty

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It snuck up on me this weekend, that certain smug satisfaction that comes from producing useful things. No big projects completed, no big harvests, just a steady trickle of things that came from here…

  • I’ve eaten an arugula salad each of the last five days now. We’re not exactly early to the greens around here, but they are just as delicious. There’s also a bag of young kale in the fridge and some baby spinach made its way into my morning smoothie yesterday.
  • I decanted the first batch of tinctures and mixed up a bottle of bitters: dandelion, yellow dock, fennel, orange peel, and ginger.
  • Rhubarb baking. First another batch of my still-favorite leftover oatmeal muffins with rhubarb and walnuts. Then I branched out and made some bars. It was my first go at my mom’s recipe after eating more than my share for year – they were a care package staple of hers. (I really like rhubarb. She even started sending me raw rhubarb care packages for a few years; it wouldn’t even notice a few days in transit.) Anyway, I finally have a rhubarb supply of my own and her bar recipe is a keeper.
  • I finally processed the beeswax from last year’s honey harvest. Yielded just a couple blocks, but I’m already looking forward to a salve experiment or two.
  • I harvested a bucket of mint from our runaway patch. Didn’t put a dent in the crop but it filled the drier twice and now I have a generous supply of mint tea again as well as a couple pints tincturing for another alchemical project.

All bits and bobs but taken together it feels like a bounty.

The long weekend felt about the same. Knocked some weeds back in the garden, watched the chickens grow, knit a few more rows on the baby blanket. All together, it felt like progress and competence. Both of which I needed sorely to feel. I started a new job about a month and a half ago, and I’ve hit a rough patch. I’m not completely green but I’m not yet fully competent and I’ve been stuck in a vortex of anxiety and self-doubt. I’m confident it will pass but in the meantime it is exhausting to repeatedly calm my frayed nerves, redirect my energy, and refill my reserves so that I can bring my best self to another day. One of these days it will turn for me.

In the meantime, I’ll be sitting quietly and enjoying a bit of smug satisfaction.

Sneak attack

It happened so fast I didn’t even see it coming. It snuck up on me like everything else that seems to be growing visibly every time I look away for a moment… I got hit squarely with an attack of spring panic this week. You know, “ohmygod, there’s so much that needs to be done and it all needs to happen yesterday because if we don’t get ahead of the these things we’ll never catch up and how the hell am I supposed to find time to work or eat or sleep when it all just. keeps. growing.” And I had the brilliant idea that we should go camping this weekend?!

I blame the garden, mostly. You may recall that it was in a sorry state when this spring began. I knew this was coming, that rehabilitation does not happen quickly or easily, and I swear I tried to prepare myself. But then things looked pretty good for a whole couple of weeks. And I may have been lulled into thinking that it was going to be ok, that we were on top of things.

But any illusion of that is well gone this week. It was a two-prong attack, really – the grass that wasn’t knocked out by the tilling shot up and the first wave of weed seeds sprouted a carpet of tiny seedlings. Did I mention that it’s been raining daily? It’s ugly, and there’s a lot of real estate in that garden. And thus the panic.

So what will we be doing this weekend? Car camping. Taking a break from all things homestead to hike on the beach, breathe in campfire smoke, read and knit and study at a picnic table; gaining some perspective on the realistic measures of success for May; and yes, building up some reserves for the battle in the garden.

Springing up

Spring has been good for me this year. Less of the hanging-on-for-dear-life feeling that happens when the light is changing so fast, more days filled with a little of this and a bit of that, joy in all the things springing to life around here and the sun’s long arc across the sky. Here’s an abbreviated list of the signs of spring growth in my world this week:

  • The chickens are noticeably bigger every day. Dean and I are still getting used to having them around again, still waking some days and starting our standard routines until an hour or two later we realize that we forgot about the chickens and beeline out to the coop to refresh their feed and water.
  • The garden seems to be off to a good start. Planted the potatoes and carrots after work yesterday (stew anybody?). The peas are up, along with spinach and arugula and cilantro; the brassicas and onions that got set out as starts are ready for their first weeding already.
  • We planted 7 new fruit trees and a dozen berry bushes in February and all seem to be settling in well. The chipper is back from the repair shop so I’m back on my favorite job of thinning alder saplings and turning them into ramial wood chip mulch. Dean laughs but it’s a seriously gratifying task, I assure you. And the orchard is a gratifying place to be these days with the last of the cherry blossoms hanging on, the currants in bloom, and the apples on the verge. (Those will get pinched but that can wait until we’ve enjoyed the display.)
  • And with a June deadline looming ever closer, I picked up the second baby blanket project again this weekend. Maybe not exactly a sign of spring, but it is green and growing. It’s also the perfect excuse to watch some BBC drama… what better way to spend the inevitable spring showers?

“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything. (Sonnet XCVIII)” ― William Shakespeare

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Clean slate

We tilled the garden this week. By which I mean I suggested it was time to till the garden and Dean rented the machine and ran it for several hours – a real team effort. But I digress.

Prior to tilling, the garden was an eyesore. I felt a little bit of pain and shame passing by it on every coming or going for the last, oh, eight and a half months. Last year was not a good one for our gardening endeavors. I’ll spare you the whole gory list of contributing factors; suffice it to say that by about mid-summer, it became a mental health issue because I would return so disheartened and defeated every time I spent any time tending it. So neglect became the officially adopted policy. A week ago, a trained eye was required to discern it from the surrounding field.

But now, NOW… all sins are erased and all that you can see is possibility. It’s all a lie, of course, like the “clean slate” story always is. But it’s a seductive lie, so… neat and tidy and virtuous.

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Alas, I noticed a few yellow dandelions in one of the furrows today that must have been growing furiously to re-establish themselves. There are plenty more roots and rhizomes and seeds hiding under the surface. Some may be set back, others are thrilled by the new advantage over the competition. Let the battles begin anew.

Luckily, hope springs eternal. For one, the rhubarb is loving this wet spring…

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On the flip side, the neighboring cows appear to be pissed we wasted all that good grass.

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