Monday, January 12, 2015

Monday, Monday

When it comes to winter, there is nothing better than a well-stocked larder and a full cupboard and freezer full of meat and summer vegetables.  Canned goods ready for quick needs, frozen fruits and vegetables from the overflowing vines of summer, and those processed meats from friends/neighbors who are also called farmers and ranchers.  We even have pumpkins still waiting in the wings from autumn; pumpkin soup and pie do not stop suddenly at the end of November, no, sirree!  There are small bags of frozen herbs for our winter soups.  There are larger bags of greens and tomatoes.

Part of this mentality comes from someone who loves to cook.  Another fraction, from someone who used to cook daily for "Party of Five".  And part of it?  That satisfactory, squirreling feeling of having enough to get us through the dark months of winter.

And so, I have a goodly amount of food to take us through the next few months.

This morning our electricity went off for only two minutes or so - just long enough to shut down computers and tare all our LED clocks in the house.  Afterward, I noticed a distinct groan in our old living room.  I did not rightly discern it for over an hour = I thought it was "This Old House" doing its north wind groan.  But finally, I ventured down into the 1887 basement, furtively hoping it was not our heating system.

It was not the heater.  I unplugged a dehumidifier. Not that, either.  I walked further into the dark of the basement...

Ah!  The basement freezer!  It was cycling every 45 seconds or so.  Not at all a good sign.  I unplugged it and went upstairs.  An hour later I returned and plugged it in again.  Still cycling, but no power.  Uh-oh.  I have a winter's worth plus nine more months of food in that elderly, elderly freezer.  We bought it used from an old man, fifteen years ago.  There is a hand-written sign (by me) that tersely states, "If you cannot close the door to this freezer, then do not open it in the first place."  I don't really think any explanation or story needs to go along with that quote.  Just think: Big ol' side of beef.

So here we are Monday...with two lambs, three turkeys, and a pig.  All in my freezer.  My dead freezer.  (They're all processed, so don't be thinking, as my friend Karen did, that these animals were once frolicking in my yard, or as my daughter Claire did, that I had a lamb die out in the barn and I put it in the freezer until I could bury it.  Such was not the case{s}.  I will have to interject here, that daughter Claire was going on what transpired last year when her dear kitty Puzzled opted to leave this world by virtue of crawling under our Christmas Tree and passing, but then the ground was too frozen to dig and bury her, and so I wrapped Puzzle in a special blanket we used to have for the kids, and we kept her out in the bike barn, where she was kept frozen for two weeks. Finally, I buried her amongst some perennial Dianthus.)

Ok: back to the freezer issue.

I have very little interest in my household appliances.  Whatsoever.  I only have two interests:  Washing machine must be Goliath Giant capacity.  And the dishwasher must be Bosch, for quiet Pete's sake.  That is all I ask.

So I sort of asked/delegated to that Spouse o' Mine to go forth and acquire a new freezer post-haste, in view of the two lambs, three turkeys, and pig. I sort of delegated this task in the middle of his Monday workday which is fraught with meetings the likes of which he does not enjoy.  Nor does he like to spend oodles of money.  There is some angst involved the latter.     

I thought this delegation of task would be the end of my worry, but no, evening brought with it the explanation from that Spouse o' Mine that he did not, in fact, purchase a new freezer, even though he had gone to three stores and had also looked online.  His bottom line, he freely admitted, was that he had a problem spending money.

Hell's bells and little fishes.  I have $$$$ of meat and other lying in wait for cooler climes ASAP.  So, while he was out this evening at yet another meeting, I called a local store and talked to Jeremy.  Jeremy and I came to an agreement, and I have a new Maytag freezer being delivered posthaste, at $100 less than the asking floor price, and the poor old limpy-the-lion freezer will be hauled away for free.  This is not a "dis" on that Spouse o' Mine, but just a Push-Comes-To-Shove moment.  And Jeremy heard an earful about my two lambs, three turkeys, and the pig.  As well as the Comet Lovejoy outside in the night sky tonight, and also  my opinion as to why people like he should receive commission.  (Hey: science and compliments never hurt.)

And there is my Monday, from morning to evening.

People have heart attacks on Mondays.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

A New Year: 2015

We've had a rollicking good Christmas season: meeting all the adult kids in Colorado for a week.  We took a whirlwind New Year's trek to visit family in Oklahoma - the vortex included sending out a last-minute email to the extended, local family which read:

"They don't know it yet, but Mom & Dad, or Granny & Grandpa, or Gma & Gpa, or Don & Merlene, are having soup at their house Wednesday evening at 6:30 with Paul and me.  Every one of you is invited to join us!  (They know we're coming; I just didn't tell them the soup and you all are coming, too.)

There will be corn chowder and vegetable barley stew.  And bread.  And shortbread.

I hope we see you Wednesday!
~ Tricia

P.S. ~
Beautiful Soup, so rich so green,
Waiting in a hot tureen
Who for such dainties

Would not stoop.

Soup of the evening
Beautiful Soup,
Soup of the evening,
Beautiful Soup

Beautiful Sou-oop
Beautiful Sou-oop
Soup of the evening Beautiful Sou-oop
Beautiful, Beautiful Soup...

I love Lewis Carroll.  So last night, New Year's Eve, we had four generations of Websters gathered at my parents' house in Oklahoma.  And some of them brought soup as well!  Ages 9 months-86 years old.  That's a good family eve.

And now we are back home, that Spouse o' Mine and I.  It's quiet in the house, and I suppose this would be a good afternoon to commence with my New Year's resolution.  It's a simple scheme, in theory.  There is only one sentence to it, from Pearl S. Buck:

"Order is the shape upon which beauty depends."

That's simple enough, I think, for my 2015.

I'll get back to you on how this shapes my year.  Cheers!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Winter Solstice

Today the temperature never got above the teens.  The wind was busy out of the north, as evidenced by my round, "bass" wind gong.  It's not a chime - when we moved to Kansas, I brought along my wind chimes, and soon thereafter, threw them away.  Too much chiming wind makes one irritable, I found.  My wind gong, a deep single tone, is something I found in San Diego when out visiting daughter Gillian a few years ago.  My San Diego souvenir.  It has been gonging all day in slow, steady tones.  I can handle the wind out of the north now.

Late this afternoon I went out to take care of the animals.  A dog, some cats, some ducks, some fish.  The fish are fairly easy keepers in this season.  Since they are in a fairly torpid state, I just glance at the grotto pond pump occasionally to see if it is still pumping.  The theory is, if there is a bit of thawed ice (thanks to the pump), the fish receive oxygen, even if they are inactive, not eating, and lying on the bottom of the pond.

I made sure our dog had her heated water bucket and a deep layer of fresh hay in the barn stall.  The ducks got a thick layer of shavings to burrow into, plus a heated water bowl.  The kitty cats get to come in on nights like this: forecast to be -2*. MacArthur, our semi-wildcat, refuses to come in until late at night.  He is NOT a housecat by any stretch of the imagination.  I can lure him in, late at night, with a can of food.  Yes, I could leave him out, but on nights like this I feel like he is more vulnerable to the hungry coyotes lying in wait in the pasture.  (How do I know there are hungry coyotes lying in wait?  I can go on a morning/afternoon/evening walk in the pasture and find fresh coyote scat along the boundaries of the fenceline.   And, happily, we have a large dog who barks into the night at these wild canines.)

The birdfeeders are full, and the birdbaths were tipped of ice and replaced with water for the late-searching birds who needed the sustenance.  I am always amazed at how many birds flock to the baths.

Overhead, there were Vs and more Vs of geese, flying to find their shelter for this cold night.

And so the animals are tucked in to the warmth of their hay, and shavings, and human household.  The faucets outdoors are wrapped with old rags and have buckets hung on them.  (Something I learned from a 92-year old woman, years ago.  It works.)  I hear our dog, already barking into the dark, along the pasture fenceline.  There are fresh croissants on the stove, and soon I will start dinner for that Spouse o' Mine and I.

It's a nice winter season. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Two Lambs and a Pig

The holidays, for me, are still at full-tilt as I continue to enjoy my Christmas music, recipes, and visits to friends and family.  Why stop at December 25th?  Let's keep the momentum going, I say!  There are a lot more songs to be sung.

I had a fun thing occur this past week.  I had contacted two of our local farmer-rancher neighbors, and ordered some meat from them.  In the form of...two lambs, and a half-hog.  So the farmer-rancher men took my paid-for animals to the processor to be...butchered, and I got the call this week that my meat had been processed.  And THAT is to say, I now have cuts of meat that I personally requested from the meat processors.  I have ground lamb, legs of lamb, lamb chops, shoulders and shanks.  I have pork chops and bacon, ham roasts and pork ribs.  There are sausages and bratwursts.  Suet for the birds, too!  The chops were personally ordered to a specific width.  And all meats packaged to a specific amount in each package.  Ditto the ribs.  I asked for the lamb shanks to be cracked: they only fit in my pot if they are cut in half.  I am not a chef, but I do love to cook.  And I do love to get my meat from local friends.  Give them our business, know what kind of environment in which the animals were raised, and be able to special-order exactly what and how I want the meat to be processed.

Our hog was an organic-raised hog.  We, that Spouse o' Mine and I, went to the hog farm today to pay up for the pork.  We got to visit the pigs and piggies in their domicile.  It was so interesting.  I was of the assumption that all pigs are mean and vicious.  (If you ever watched Wizard of Oz, you might think the same.  Or if you read anything about modern agribusiness pig farming, you might catch glimpses of pigs in restrictive farrowing crates and such.  And often the pig raisers explain that they are necessary because pigs are vicious.)  Mr. Parks ambled over to the field where pigs and piggies could be seen, and motioned me over the electrical fence.  "It's hot." he explained.  I asked if the sows were mean, and he said "Generally not."  Hmmm...

Omigoodness!  Many baby piglets, not a week old!  Unafraid.  Mama sow could not have cared less if we were there or on Mars.  Little, clean, Wilbur-looking piggies!  None of the 40+ sows showed any interest in us.  At one point, a mama sow ambled over toward me.  I kept my gimlet eye on her. I didn't want to be taken out of this world on Christmas Week by a sow.  As it turns out, the farm cat who followed us around on our tour was the object of curiosity.   The speckled sow followed the black cat around, until the black cat realized it was being followed by a 300-lb mama pig.  The cat made an exit underneath the hotwire.

Ok, here are the organic pig facts as I learned them this afternoon: 
  • Organic pigs are fed organic corn, wheat, and such.  Such is raised by Mr. Parks himself, and if he runs low of a season, he searches out other organic farmers in the state of Kansas.  (They are not just next door...)
  • Sows farrow year-round, when bred. (I always thought them to have spring babies only). 
  • Sows can farrow ~ 16 piglets. 
  • 90% of piglet deaths are in the first 24 hours, from inability to thrive, inattentiveness from mother, etc.
  • Our farmer, Mr. Parks, showed us his insulated farrowing sheds, which he built.  He has fashioned a shelf alongside both sides of each mini-"roundtop", maybe 12" high, which allows the piglets to be birthed and fed by mama sow without being squished by mama sow.  Restrictive farrowing crates do the same job, but perhaps with not as much comfort and well-being and happiness to the mama sow. In my opinion.  
  • Pigs go to market ("To market, to market to buy a fat pig..") at about six months.
  • Mr. Parks has about 3-4 sows farrowing baby piglets every month. That's a whole lot of cuteness.
His organic farm is a anomaly here in rural Kansas.  When I asked him about the organic biz, he explained that it started years ago with an interest his wife took in organic farming. The more they learned, the more they worked to achieve organic farming.  What many people do not realize, especially non-agriculture types, is that organic farming takes a lot of work AND cooperation from the traditional farms surrounding one's property.  The farming neighbors must be considerate of his practices VS their own.  E.G., if the surrounding farms utilize herbicides and pesticides, there is a possibility that those chemicals could, through wind or other, infiltrate the organic farmer's crops.  Mr. Parks explained that he has a strip of border land crops near the neighbor's land, which he farms organically, yet sells as standard crops.  It's his buffer to maintain his organic crops.  I suspect, although Mr. Parks did not allude to such, that it must sometimes be a challenge to maintain his organic certification.     

Tonight, to celebrate a thanksgiving of our full larder, I am making a smoked ham roast, along with a pumpkin puree from our summer garden, in addition to some collard greens from my Autumnal Garden (nobody believes I can grow a garden after October!), and some Christmas chocolate. 

No: I did not grow the cocoa beans.

Happy Holidays, still!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

This is Christmas!

Here it is, Christmas Eve.  For lots of people.  We Armstrongs celebrated Christmas on Sunday, December 21st. Jolly Santa arrived with stockings filled with fun about, say...4:00am Mountain Time?  I thought I heard a tussle the size of a moose out on the new-laden snow (24+ inches!), and supposed in my mid-night stupor that it must surely be St. Nick.  I rolled over and went back to sleep.

Sure enough, that jolly old elf made his way down the chimney and delivered six stockings for six adult children slumbering away up and down the stairs.  There were kites, and balls - the ones that you blow up BIG and then bounce back and forth on your wrist?  What are those called??!, and music for yodeling cowboys, as well as sea chantey music.  And Elvis CDs, as well as Broadway's Best.

After Christmas presents, we headed to church at a local chapel up in the mountains of Breckenridge -  the same chapel where our daughter Claire and our son-in-law Rich were married two years ago.  This Sunday, the church choir and children's choir were singing their Christmas Cantata.  It was very nice.   And the kids did a really nice job - not to mention the Christmas cows (two of them) were really adorable in their Holstein black & white costumes.  ADORABLE.

For many, many, many years, my family back in Oklahoma - Mom, Dad, us five kids, and then us and our spouses, and then us, the spouses, and OUR kids, and so on...would sing our own Christmas Story.  Each year my Dad would pick out the scripture, assign the readings to whoever could read, and interspersed with the scripture, we would all sing various selected hymns.  This has gone on for years and years.  It is like a rite of passage, a badge of honor, once a kid or grandkid or, now, GREAT grandkid can read, or at least recite, the scripture.

This year, we Armstrongs took a meander from family tradition.  Since our three kids and their  - I hate this term: "significant other" - I also hate "partner" - but the girlfriend and the boyfriend of two adult kids, plus the third adult kid and her husband, are on both the West Coast, the East Coast, and in Colorado...we decided to celebrate our own small family Christmas.

Yes: I missed singing The Messiah in its entirety, another Oklahoma Webster family tradition that has been going on for years and years.  Yes: We missed going to Big Family Christmas. (At least 38 of us?  I have lost count.)

The Breckenridge Christmas Cantata on Sunday morning was nice, as it told the Christmas Story just as we Oklahoma Websters do: scripture, and Christmas hymns interspersed. 

And this was a good - no, a really great thing.  Why? Well, to backtrack just a wee bit, let me tell you that I headed for the hills ( the Rocky ones) a day before that Spouse o' Mine and daughter Claire and SIL Rich.  When I got to Breckenridge, I realized that I had not brought a hymnal for the family Christmas Story (to be done just as the Oklahoma Webster Family one.)  I called Claire and told her to run upstairs and grab the hymnal on the coffee table.  And so, she did.

Sort of.

When that trio arrived in Breckenridge, Claire unpacked, and handed me...

The "B" volume of the 1985 World Book Encyclopedia.  Which was also lying on the coffee table.

B.  Not as in Bible, or hymnal.

Old World Book encyclopedia.  Back from their childhood!

We had a good laugh - probably one of a million we had this week. 

Another funny, which I can't post because of technology and family sensitivity, is a video of us Armstrongs plus some Webster kin, all playing children's rhythm instruments and singing "Sleigh Ride!".  I have to say, I don't think I have laughed SO HARD any time this year as I did during this video.   If you are intrigued, go to YouTube and see one of Jimmy Fallon and the Roots and one of their guest stars.  We rivaled them, hand-down.

And so, you who are still lying in wait of Christmas,
Happy Holidays.

And those of you in Australia (Armstrongs) and New Zealand (Websters), let's move on to:
Happy New Year!

~ Tricia, et al.

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