Sudsing it up

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, we decided that an investment we made in a country not our own, when sold, would yield us a small yet tidy profit we could live on and eat with and not have to work all the way until we were 90 or died. Whichever came first. It was a great plan, a beautiful plan, a plan like no other. And since we have been self employed for, like, forever, it was the only plan we had.

As plans go, it worked on paper. It worked in real life. And would have worked swimmingly if it was a plan executed in the United States. Unfortunately it wasn’t. Getting money out of foreign countries can be like getting milk from a bat? Have you ever tried to milk a bat? I haven’t but I assume it would be pretty hard.

And as such, instead of traveling to Italy in August for the gelato festival, we are now living our Plan B. Which is, let’s throw something against the wall and see what sticks.

I have no skills. No, really. I can’t do much. I’m ancillary to the big guy. When everyone is out creating something special, I make the ice tea and chocolate chip cookies. I’ll provide the best lasagna this side of Asti after you are done building goat barns. I’ll bake an Italian cream cupcake that will knock your socks right off your bone weary feet. But doing anything that actually produces something profitable? Just not in my wheelhouse.

So when our does, Luna and Cinnamon, became “with child” we had to decide what to do with the vats of goat milk that we had no room for.

This is Luna. It’s obvious why she’s called what she is. Her registered name is “Fieldhaven Winter Moon.” But Luna is what she is.

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I know, she’s a bit off. Hence the name.

We had a refrigerator so full of milk that we had no room for food. Literally. So I made cheese. Making cheese was fun when you only had a gallon of goat milk. I made loads of ricotta. I made a ton of chevre, all sorts of chevre. Lemon rind, lavender, rosemary, smoked salmon, blueberry. But when you have 20 gallons waiting to be turned into cheese, I just wanted to run into the bedroom, hop in bed and throw the covers over my head. It was too much, all at once, and it was a never ending process. Make one gallon, get two more. There was no getting ahead.

So I came up with the bright idea that I would make goat’s milk soaps. The best part is that if you make soap out of goat milk, you have to freeze the goat’s milk. Problem solved! I didn’t have to hear Brad nag that “we’re running out of space, when do you think you’re going to make more cheese?” All the excess milk could be frozen and I could merrily make soap today, or tomorrow, or even next week.

Soap making was fun. It was a lot of work for a little bit of product (hours to make 10 bars of soap) but I liked it. But then I got bored. I made a nice bar of soap, but I wanted more. I always want more.

So I played with scents. I blended. I played with colors and textures and patterns. And then I took it to the streets. Or in this case, the internet highway and decided to sell online.

Being that I was in marketing for over a decade in my fresh-from-college years, I knew how important presenting the soaps would be. I wasn’t going to just take a photo of a bar of soap. I mean, how plebian would that be? This? Absolutely not:

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Who would buy this plain old thing?

I told Brad I needed to infuse my soaps with the personality they deserved. My soaps needed to have a platform! And I had to shoot on location.  My Ocean Shores scent needed to be taken to ocean shores. Made sense to me.

Cottongrass needed to be shot in cottongrass. Lavender Fields needed to be shot in a lavender field. How else do you promote your exotic, carefully blended pure organic soaps?

Brad was willing to support this one small skill I seemed to acquire. But to a point. “We are not going to drive an hour to the beach for a $5 bar of soap, Susan. We’d spend more in gas.” And of course, if we drove an hour to the beach, I’d demand lunch as well. And he knew that. You can’t take me somewhere and not buy me a meal. Or a gelato. I’m not getting to Italy anytime soon, so I need at least some creature comforts.

I set out to find locations onsite for the soaps. I trekked through our woods, and it seemed to go pretty well I’d say.

But there was only so much grass and ferns and oddities,  and I needed more. I got my marketing juices flowing to create scenes and stories. My soaps deserved no less than a great story.

And the names reflected their stories – Avalon, the mystical island of King Arthur. First Kiss, that sweet second of innocence and romance. Sea and sand, fresh ocean air and sand between your toes. Empress, when being a princess was just not enough.

My girls had arrived.

I became best friends with Michael’s and Home Goods and Hobby Lobby. I needed sparkly things and shiny things and stones in bags and feathers! I’m a woman on a mission. To save the family farm – one bar of soap at a time. And I can do it with props! Lots and Lots of props! Joan of Arc, riding on my horse, soaps in my satchel, fighting off pestilence and famine with the prettiest little bars of soap you could ever hope to find.

The other day Brad asked me “why is there soap propped up against my pillow. And why is there a sleep mask on the soap?”

Silly man. It’s my new Chamomile and Lavender Sweet Dreams soap. And he had the puffiest pillow in the house.

 

The Point System

“You have to do something with all that milk.” That’s what I heard first thing this morning when my husband, Brad, opened the refrigerator door. That’s what I heard before I drank my first cup of coffee, brushed my teeth or even looked in the mirror. Although recently the mirror has not been kind so I’ve skipped that early morning ritual.

To his credit, we DID have a ton of goat milk in the refrigerator. I count 5 gallons of milk in the fridge, and packs of milk in the freezer to make 2600 bars of goat’s milk soap.

“We have too much because YOU are not doing anything with them.” And, before coffee, at times like this, I want to open a gallon and pour it over his head. Again, no coffee, plus reprimands, makes me have serial killer eyes. Unfortunately, the crazy eye look seems to go right over his head. Otherwise, why would he keep asking me questions? Especially when I have a pot of hot coffee in my hands?

So, I’ve decided to allocate points. Based on what we do, and whether we like it.

We have this agreement, Brad and I. He mainly tackles the outside jobs. The stuff I find either taxing or repulsive. I handle the inside jobs, INCLUDING the jobs that I find both taxing and repulsive. He cleans poop outside – all brands and all sizes – goat, rabbit, chicken – and I handle the poop inside – 3 bathrooms, 2 that are used by Air BnB guests and seem to be cleaned almost every other day at times. Neither of us enjoy these jobs. So it’s a wash. HAHA. Yes, literally.

He spends a lot of time on his riding lawnmower/tractor. I know he mows the lawn, but what else he does on his John Deere, I can’t imagine. I know he moves dirt, moves poop, moves compost. He rides it to the neighbors to ostensibly talk about farm stuff.

And please don’t write and tell me this isn’t a John Deere. I know it’s not a John Deere. Reluctant Farmgirl, remember? This is the only picture I have of him on a tractor, and it was his first one. Stop bugging me about it.

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I spend a lot of time in the kitchen cooking and cleaning. He loves to ride the lawnmower, I enjoy cooking, but cleaning? Not so much. So I get one point. Or a half. I do get annoyed that we eat three meals a day. Seems like every time I clean the kitchen, it’s close to time to make yet another meal. When we both worked, breakfast was on the go, lunch was at work, and all I had to really think about was dinner. Now it’s a constant aggravation to think of something for 3 meals a day. With the Air Bnb, I’m also planning guest meals and executing with my usual charm and grace. So yeah, I’ll take the full point on that.

Brad feeds the worms in the worm bin, and distributes his “worm tea” to the different compost areas. Which I find repulsive. But he doesn’t so he doesn’t get the point. I wash the laundry for us and for the guests. I don’t like doing this, so I’ll take the point.

Brad makes stuff. He loves woodworking. I make soap. I love making soap. It’s a win-win for both of us.  However, he does have to help me with a few steps, but he doesn’t hate it so I won’t even mention that. And my soaps are legendary …

He walks the fences and mends when needed. He hates walking the fences. That’s an assumption on my part because Loose Luna, one of our does, seems to always find herself in the boy’s pen. She was in the boys’ field twice this week, prancing around and switching her little tail in front of our buck, Mojo. She really is the slut of the neighborhood. Me, I hate dusting which, with two Air Bnb Rooms, I do every couple of days. And our house is almost 3,000 square feet, so there’s a lot to hate. Another wash.

Brad’s major hate is trimming the goat hooves. And he’s also not fond of going down to milk the goats every morning and evening. He has this nice little milking machine, which I would gladly do, but it needs electricity to work. The goat barn is a quarter mile from the house, so it requires a generator for power. And if my life depended upon it, I could not start that pull start generator. Seriously. If I was down at the barn, solo, and needed power to save myself, I would just sit down and cry. I don’t have the upper body strength or stamina to pull that cord hard enough to make it start. I would be more capable of ripping my own arm out and beating myself with it, than starting that generator. So, if he would replace it with one that maybe starts with a button, I would happily go down and do the milking. He gets the point for that one, but with transgressions.

I do all the marketing, writing, reservations, sales for the farm. I love it. It’s what I am trained to do and what I’ve done my whole life. He readies the garden, I help with the planting and harvesting. And I do the cooking and freezing of stuff, and he does the canning. Mainly because I am scared to death that I’m going to kill someone if left to my own devises. I’ll do it but we both agree I shouldn’t handle a pressure cooker, at least not unsupervised.

So, when he says to me that I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing with the goat milk, which means making more cheese that we could possibly eat, I think to myself, OK. We have enough milk stored up for the next zombie apocalypse. Why don’t we just let the two does dry up? Give them a break. If Loose Luna scored two days ago, in 5 months we’ll be knee deep in milk all over again. That makes sense, right?

Well, I’m sitting here complaining to y’all because in the fridge is the makings of cheese. I’m supposed to be making cheese. I’m supposed to be doing this while Brad is picking up a third doe we purchased last month with the profit from selling the 3 babies that were born in February. Which means if all three does get lucky,  we will have 6 babies to bottle feed, and 3 does to milk and even more milk in the fridge and freezer. If I make cheese out of 5 gallons of milk, and we eat that cheese, my butt will grow so big it will be a gravity defying feat just to stand up.

And if I make the easy cheese – ricotta – then I’ll be tasked with making homemade raviolis. Which are the bomb (do they still say that?). But are a half day’s worth of work. So I’d make them for lunch and hope that Brad eats enough so he doesn’t want dinner. Which, by the way, never happens. He says “oh, I won’t need dinner” and I think “thank God. I don’t have to cook.” But then 7 o’clock rolls around and he says “were you thinking of anything for dinner?”

And you know what I’m thinking? I’m thinking yes. I’m thinking yes, I do have an idea for dinner. Why don’t you take a big glass, fill it with fresh goat’s milk, and get back to me in the morning.DSC_0486

Never Can Say Goodbye

I’m kind of a sucker. I like to talk tough, but when it comes down to it, I have a hard time letting go.

I love my chickens. I do. When we first put them in their outside pen, we set up lawn chairs so we could drink coffee and watch them every morning. Nerdy? Yeah. Did the neighbors think we were a bit mad? Oh, yeah.

So this winter, when they stopped laying, Brad came to me and said “it’s time to get rid of the birds. I refuse to pay for food if they’re not going to produce. You better talk to them.”

My birds? MY birds? Never. I didn’t care whether they were only laying 4 eggs instead of the 12-18 we were normally getting daily. They were MY BIRDS. Every morning I’d head down to their coop, calling “hello ladies, I have breakfast for you” and proudly carry something special from Mom’s kitchen. They crowded around the edge of the pen, little wings clapping in glee, waiting for the shredded zucchini, Mom’s special pasta salad leftovers, maybe some home cooked oatmeal, or sautéed barley flakes or simmered cracked wheat. They loved me.

AA - flock of hens

Brad is a bit more pragmatic. So my girls were sold to a family who would appreciate 4-6 eggs a day. They thought it was quite grand. I, however, was heartbroken.

A week later Brad found a new flock, so away we went to pick up newer, younger, better ladies for my coop. They were unlike my girls, as we didn’t raise them from 4 day old chicks. They were still too young to lay, but in a matter of a few months, they would start producing and we would then, once again, put out our “Farm Fresh Eggs for Sale” sign.

They’re nice. We even inherited a rooster. Which so far as worked out well as he is not free and unfettered in the pasture. And if he starts looking at me funny, I can back out of the pen and slam the door. In theory, all should be right with the world.

It’s not. They don’t get me. My first girls got me. Everything I brought down was manna from heaven. These new ladies don’t seem to understand. They were formerly only fed dried, leftover bread for treats. So you’d think that when I brought down my angel hair pasta with wild mint sauce their eyes would roll around their heads in sheer bliss. No, they look at me with their chicken eyes as like I’d lost too many brain cells. And wait for dried bread bits.

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I’m in mourning. I’m an Italian for crying out loud! I can’t feed dried bread to chickens as if it’s a true treat? How can this relationship mature? They don’t drop when I walk in, and they don’t let me pet them. They actually peck at my fingers when I place their food on their special treat tray. They run away when I try to pick them up and kiss the tops of their little heads. It’s like my idea of the entire species has turned on it’s head.

This morning I walked down to their pens. I unceremoniously plopped some of my legendary cranberry nut muffins, and bits and pieces of fruit from breakfast. Kept walking our driveway, and decided that, since it wasn’t raining, I’d get in steps on my Fitbit. Waved to the goats, hand-fed Henrietta (our senior chicken who hangs with the goats and no longer lays, but is a welcome member of the farm), and took my stroll down the road.

Came back up and stopped. There were the new ladies, all lined up on the side of the pen, waiting for me to return. And – for all that is holy – they ate every bit and piece that I left them. I opened the pen door to get the special treat tray, and they clustered around LIKE THEY LOVED  ME!

And, sure enough, EGGS were in the coop. Beautiful brown eggs. I smiled. The world was no longer tilted on it’s axis. Black was not white. Up was not down. The chickens loved me. I can live to see another day.

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Permaculture … on steroids

When my daughter’s fiancé visited us several years back, he made the proclamation … “what you have here, is permaculture.” Being city girl turned reluctant farmgirl,  I had to Google it to see what exactly it was. Wasn’t sure if he was praising our efforts, or swearing at us.

Turns out, yes, we are a family of permaculturists.  When I take on things, I tend to do it with a passion. Brad, disagrees. He says it’s not passion, it’s a freakish obsession to go overboard. With everything. We started with 10 chickens and now have 80. Two goats became six. Although, in my defense, two pigs became freezer fodder, so there is that. And we added six ducks, but that was the neighbor’s fault. Entirely. She bought the ducklings for us.

So it stands to reason that after Jomar  introduced me to a new concept that I would embrace it wholeheartedly. And really, we are quite magnificent when it comes to creating as little, if not zero, excess waste as humanly possible.

Walk with me, if you will, as I take you through our moderately messy, incredibly efficient, immorally time consuming and slightly perfect piece of recycling nirvana.

A bit of a warning. As I said, I get passionate about things. It started with mild composting. But I tend to have a charming neurosis (small, tiny, miniscule, not-getting-in-the-way-of everyday-living neurosis) that drives me to excel at things and be “one of the best.” Except sports. Not happening. Never. I mean, I am the best “walk and talk for 3 miles every couple of days” person I know. But that’s it.

So … the tour begins in my kitchen which is the heart, and start, of the permaculture process. Under my sink is a big stainless steel bowl which is used for collecting bits and pieces – anything from the sink drain catcher thing, anything that hens or goats or roosters shouldn’t eat. We don’t have a garbage disposal, so anything caught in the strainer goes into the bowl. Once that’s filled, it goes down to the compost pile and becomes rich earth. Coffee grounds, on the other hand, are collected by Brad and, together with newspaper, gets fed to his worms. I don’t go there. Ever. It’s not even in the same country as my wheelhouse.

I also have 2 Tupperware bins that sit on my counter. One is for the meat birds, the other for the active laying hens. Different things go into different bins. For the layers, they get pretty much anything with the exception of onions and garlic. As you can see, they like it. They like everything.

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The second Tupperware is for the meat birds. I’m more picky about that. They don’t get things like cabbage, Brussel sprouts or any strong flavored veggies. They get more mildly flavored treats – apple bits, carrot tops, bread crumbs, leftover oatmeal, mild flavored veggies. We sell both eggs and the meat birds, so we are careful about what might end up flavoring both. Well, I’m careful, Brad not so much. Which is why I’m in charge. And why our meat birds rock.

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If the eggs we collect happen to be cracked, that gets cooked up for the dogs. Egg shells get collected in a bowl and when I have enough, I toss them in the oven to toast them a bit, crumble them and put them in the hens food. It’s a good source of calcium and helps strengthen their egg shells.

Meat, fish, etc  gets divied up between the dogs and chickens. Yes, oddly enough, chickens eat meat. Chickens are not vegetarians. Getting eggs in the store from chickens who are “only fed vegetarian” is stupid. Chickens scratch in the ground for worms and slugs and eat insects. So don’t waste your money. Goats, however, are strictly vegetarian. Go figure.

And now we come to bones. Brad and I went to a naturopath, who prescribed we both drink bone broth. And she explained that it was what Vietnamese Pho was based on. Not able to find any bone broth in our local stores, I did what I do – I researched. Now I’m a bone broth pro. bone-brothThe best bone broth is found at my house. Seriously.  My freezer holds several gallon ziplock freezer bags. In these bags are leftover vegetables – the ends of the onions, the skins, the tops of celery, the stems of cilantro. Anything I don’t use or feed the chickens, I put in there. The other bag holds bones. With the exception of fish bones, every single bone in every single piece of meat I cook is in this bag. When you come for dinner at my house, you won’t be given a chicken thigh or leg to munch on. I’ll be cutting the meat off the bone for you, just like your mamma used to do.

When the bag is full enough, I toss all the bones and veggies in my crock pot. I cook it for at least 2 days, with some bay leaves, kosher salt, some whole spices (whatever I have on hand – peppercorns, fennel seeds, whatever herbs are in the garden or in the freezer). The bones turn very soft during this time, and turns the water into a flavorful broth that I bottle and freeze and use for a soup base, for cooking rice, for flavoring sauces. I always have the shelves in my stand-alone freezer full of bone broth. AND – after the bones are all cooked down and mushy, those go into the compost pile as well.

By the way, the reason I wrote out the bone broth recipe is, for some ungodly reason, Brad seems to think I could be the next Pioneer Woman. He insists I write down everything I cook (mostly because I can’t remember what I did so that I could recreate the meal again). Then he thinks my blog can turn into a blog not only about composting or permaculture, but about recipes, someone will “discover me”, we’ll be rich and not have to worry about our retirement. HAHAHAHA.No.

We collect slugs in the garden and bring them down to the duck pond. Veggie leftovers from the plantation get tossed into the goat’s pen. The big sunflowers feed the wild jays, swallows, yellow finches. And, if you want a goat to follow you till the ends of the earth, you carry a handful in your pocket and dole them out. You’ll have a friend for life.sassy

Some things are not good for animals – like potato skins. You’d think I’d just toss them, but I’m no longer a “tosser.” I cook the potato peelings for the chickens. I cook up raw chicken skins for the dogs. .

The kitchen is obviously the most interesting and vital part of the composting/recycling process. Brad does the other stuff. Leaf mulching and chopping  and burning and spreading ashes. It’s not as cool as a slimy bowl of gummy veggies under my sink, or delicately sautéed potato peels. So I won’t go into graphic detail. But I do invite you up to our farm and dare you to find one scrap that isn’t used for some purpose. Even the goat and chicken poop is meticulously collected. Nothing like a steaming pile of … well, you get the idea.

It’s a circle of life, my friends, a beautiful little circle of life.

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I do not “Heart” Composting

I remember, quite clearly, a day in my 20s. I was driving, windows down, my 20-year-old thick long hair whipping around my head, sitting next to Karen, my best friend in the world as we headed down the 101 – from Hollywood to Malibu on another getaway weekend. We had the radio cranked up to the Golden Oldies, feeling that we would never be anything but the glorious, sparkly, glowing creatures we were at that exact moment.

We swore out loud that we would never, ever settle. I remember saying,”I don’t care what happens, I will always live in the city. I’d rather have a one-room flat in the city, then a mansion in the suburbs.”

Then I married Brad. I’m not going to say that our views were diametrically opposite. I wasn’t Hillary, he wasn’t Donald. But – while I was happily driving on the freeways of life, Brad was looking to take that country road home.

Brad wanted to buy a house. As in, you own it yourself. And all I could say was “Not even on a good day. If you buy a house, and the toilet breaks, you have to fix it yourself!”

You see, to me that is the worst of all possibilities. Your stove breaks? No problem. The baseboards in the bathroom are rotting? No problem. So many ants in the kitchen that they start walking away with the cutlery? Again, no problem. All of which, by the way, have happened in rentals in which I’ve dwelled. But having your toilet break down? That’s a big no, good buddy. And without the ability to march into the manager’s office and demand an immediate fix? Big problem. Not happening.

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Would never happen in a rental!

 

It happened. We bought a house – but it was in the city-proper. And, amazingly enough, the toilet remained intact for the 10 or so years we lived there. But with home ownership came a set of rules. Because, after all, it was ours. And we had to maintain it. No more “I think I’ll move because the windows are dirty and I don’t wash windows.” No more “oh, well, the bird ate the curtains, I guess I won’t get my security deposit back.” I was now tasked with crossing over into adulthood. A step that I was ill prepared to take. But one that Brad relished with gusto. And an enthusiasm I just couldn’t muster.

One day Brad walked in and ceremoniously placed an empty Maxwell House coffee container on the kitchen counter. “What’s that?” I asked. Suspicious, as always. “This is for the compost.” Uh-huh. Well, I knew what compost was, just didn’t really think it applied to me. I have a green thumb when it comes to houseplants, but I have my Miracle-gro. Works great, thanks anyway. I didn’t really care for a coffee can sitting on my fine, imitation wood Formica countertop.

But I gave it the old “one for the gipper.” Unfortunately, Brad’s idea of composting and mine were, in this case, diametrically opposite.

I watched the Food Network. I appreciated that chefs kept a nice big bowl next to them wh

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Compost. Need I say more?

ere their unused food scraps went. So that was okay. As long as it went away. Immediately. Brad’s idea was to ignore the coffee can as it stood on the counter, days on end, until it became a quivering mass of indecipherable glob that, once you opened the lid, induced the immediate gag reflex.

 

Truth be told, I didn’t compost. I said I did, but I didn’t. Brad would say “where’s the compost” and I would cheerfully reply “we don’t waste anymore. I use EVERYTHING for soup!” When in fact, as soon as he left the house, I shoved everything down the garbage disposal.

Since that time we’ve moved on. We created “Foggy Mountain Farm” – aka the Reluctant Farm – and composting has taken a new meaning, because we have a septic system and because of this, there is no handy garbage disposal. So EVERYTHING that isn’t edible becomes compost. And that compost is now a combination of what will decay and provide us with essential nutrients for our garden, and stuff that our totally free-ranged, pasture-raised chickens will inevitably peck through and consume with great relish.

Because I am who I am, a writer/journalist, I research. So I know things. And what I know is that chickens, unlike what Brad wants to believe, will not just “peck through what they want and leave the rest.” I know that avocados, are bad for chickens. I know that garlic, and onions, and Brussel sprouts can make their eggs taste odd. I know you can’t put egg shells in the compost without either cleaning each one out carefully, or popping them in the oven to dry. Because that, my friends, will cause chickens to cannibalize their eggs. Once they taste yolk it’s all over.

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Bad chicken! Bad!

Brad is many things. A former engineer-chiropractor-now farm boy, but never, ever a researcher. Or one who checks things first. Unfortunately that means  he also doesn’t believe me when I tell him – “DON”T put that in the compost. It will make the chickens eggs taste funny then nobody will buy the eggs from us, and we’ll both have to go and get jobs working for someone else. And we both know we are too odd for that. Nobody else can tolerate us for any length of time.” It’s true. We have about a 2 hour use-by time stamp. And people start staring longingly at the door, planning their escape dialog.

Basically, Brad ignores me. He just dumps everything into the compost bowl under the sink, saying “For God sakes, Susan, the chickens will be FINE.” So, like a sleeper agent who’s been activated,  I have to dig through the compost when he’s not looking, to pull out the onion skins, the raw broccoli stems, the tops of the chives, and pick through the rotted salad for specks of cauliflower. Then hide it all under paper towels in the trash so he can’t say I’m being “ridiculous.”

So when I say I don’t love composting, it’s kind of an understatement. I hate it. I hate the smell. I hate the slimy feel. I hate having it sit there, overflowing, growing moss and mold underneath, until I finally have to grab it and put it on the side steps so Brad will either A. step right into it in his socks or B. finally decide it’s time to pick it up, put it in the back of his tractor, and drive it away from my kitchen.

I was the girl who wore cute shoes. Who danced with handsome men at midnight. Who’s greatest skill, aside from writing, was knowing how to find the best restaurants, and innately knew how to order the best thing on the menu. I was That Girl. And now I’m Compost Girl. Picking through trash and sniffing bits of tomato to be sure there’s no speck of avocado clinging to the skins.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen …

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goat Tales…

I’m not afraid of a lot of things. Speaking in public. Stinging things. Something stuck in my clothing. The Angel of Death. Liver. That’s about it. In the past, however, I had an abject fear of goats. Not a good look for a farmgirl, reluctant or not.

It started in second grade. My parents took me to some sort of amusement park that had a petting zoo.I was dressed the way my mother always dressed me – in shiny, squeaky patent leather shoes, anklets with lace on top, the obligatory plaid cotton dress with puffed sleeves and a little white apron thing that buttoned onto the dress. I tried to Google the whole look so I could share it in vivid, Kodak color, but it is so atrocious that Google doesn’t even archive it. And Google archives everything. Including how Venice Beach celebrated the Mardi Gras in the 1930s…mardi-gras-1

Scary. But not as scary as goats to a second grader.

Armed with goat chow, I was unceremoniously shoved into the petting zoo pen, to “play with” the goats. At that time there weren’t many other children in the pen and I seemed to be the one with the biggest cup of chow, because soon my 7 year old self was engulfed in goat faces and hungry goat mouths that probably hadn’t eaten for a few days so that the zoo keeper could entertain the masses and laugh behind children’s backs.

They not only devoured the chow in 10 seconds, chow that I was so diligently trying to hold over my head, they also started to eat the apron right off my body.

Flash forward to college. I was 20 years old and invited by my roommate for a weekend away from the dorm food and the rigors of university life. Lisa’s family lived in a private community and had acreage. Her father didn’t cotton to the job of mowing all that lawn, so he purchased … you got it … nature’s best lawnmower – a goat. Lisa invited me into the pen, and I joined her with trepidation. But, hey, I was a college girl, I would do anything at least once. Kinda. Unless it involved speaking in public, stinging things, stuff crawling around in my clothes, or liver.

As soon as I stepped through the gate and walked to the middle of what seemed to be a 10 acre yard, the goat took chase, jumping on his hind legs, head askew, eyes looking wild and feverous, in an attempt to butt us with his horns. I practically vomited on the spot.

So when my husband said that it’s time to add goats to the reluctant farm, I felt my knees buckle. This was, perhaps, my Waterloo. End of the road. Karma bitting me on my Kardashian. I felt kinda like I did as a Catholic schoolgirl when it was suggested that purgatory may not exist. I was banking on the fact that, while I didn’t think I’d maim or murder someone in my lifetime, I was also sure that I had already passed the “lily white” stage at age 8 and my only hope is that I could set awhile in purgatory. Where all the souls on earth would pray for me to eventually “fly up” to a more desired locale.

But I pulled up my big girl yoga pants and went with Brad to a goat farm. Where we bought a doe and a buck (please don’t call them “nanny” or “billy.” That is so not PC anymore. And yes, I was schooled by goat people). And because goats are social creatures and do not like to be alone, we bought 2 wether companions – one for the buck and one for the doe. A wether is basically a male without his, well, parts intact. One of the “companions” had just recently been “wethered” and he hadn’t quite “weathered” it well. Goat people do this sensitive job by basically wrapping what looks like a very tight rubber band around a male goat’s papayas. But until they fall off (which they eventually will, Brad promised) they have enough of their manliness left to still feel a bit of the mojo.

I was horrified when the two males started doing a savage dance straight out of National Geographic. Rising up and leaping into the air, connecting horn stubs as they jabbed each other on the head, and coming out all bloody and wild eyed. I was sickened. “And this is why we shouldn’t have goats” I yelled at Brad as I stared at the spectacle in horror. It was violent. And it was vile. I would have run away but I was frozen to the spot.

Eventually, as these things go when you are reluctant as I tend to be, I cam to realize that goats have their purpose. They are great at trimming the pasture grass. They have the best personalities – when they aren’t trying to kill each other. And, yeah, I kinda like them. A whole lot.

Now I like them even more. Now that we added two more. Two more that became part of the family 6 days ago. The result of when our doe and buck made hay 150 days ago.

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And now I have 2 kids. A boy and a girl. Two little stuffed toys I can pick up, hold in my lap, kiss on the little nose and totally love them up. I want more. I want a whole passel full of goats!

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I want to buy little pajamas for them, dress them up for the holidays, take them with me on my morning walk. I want them in the house. I want to live my life, forever, with goats.

 

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I want us to breed more and more goats. To have these little lovies roaming around my pasture so I can run down and see their little faces and hear their little goat voices calling to me. And because we can’t very well breed our baby doe to her brother (Ick) or to her father (double ick) because we don’t want crazy eyed babies, I’ve begged Brad to bring me back to the goat farm, so we can get some more “breeding stock.” Because, people, I LOVE GOATS…

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Bugger Off!

I have  issues – insects are but one in long list. I’m intelligent, so I know that they have their place in this world (although with cockroaches, not so much), but I always wish and hope that coexisting doesn’t involve inviting the outside in. Nature Girl, I’m not.

My bug issues go way back  – to when, in second grade, a bee was flying about and I covered my face with my hands so that I wouldn’t get stung, and the bee was actually IN my hand.

Or when a friend told me that a praying mantis would show its “butterfly wings” if you nudged it with your foot. I did, but ended up with a praying mantis attached to my big toe like the jaws of life.

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When I lived in the bush, in Fiji for 14 years, I struggled with coconut beetles …

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Big hairy spiders…
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Bugs that blinked and glowed in the dark, and clung to the mosquito netting around your bed…
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Walking sticks that were the size of your head
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And anything flying or crawling that would appear only in a nightmare. So it was with glee that I noted I survived almost 2 years in Washington state without nary a mosquito bite and no bugs that entered my house. Yes, there is an elk heard, big coyotes that look like wolves, and a resident porcupine, but nothing that I can’t handle. Until now.

My house has 3 Amityville Horror windows in it.

Amityville House

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My house

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Not exact, but close. The top window is our bedroom. In that window, high up, I happened to notice a few spots. I went downstairs to get my glasses – because without them I can see about 6 feet and even that is sketchy. Found out I had some lady bugs (about 3) walking about my window. In my classification of bugs, lady bugs are almost welcome. I do not like bugs, but if I had to choose a bug that invaded my space, a lady bug would definitely be on the top of the list.

So I carried the three to my bedroom patio and wished them well.

A week later and I counted 10 ladybugs. But they were at the top of the window, much too high for me to reach. I didn’t worry, but told Brad to check it out. Not too high for him, but he seemed pretty nonplussed about the whole matter. I remained curious, but unconcerned as I cleared my mind and attempted not to make the Amityville/Susanville connection. But, try as I could to have temporary amnesia, I couldn’t help but remembering when we first moved in. The second upstrairs bedroom (with the OTHER Amityville window) kept collecting flies.  All dead. I’d sweep them up, and two days later, another batch would be laying there.

My sister gave me sage, told me to burn it in the room to get rid of whatever spirits tended to hover. I did, muttered a few “begone with thee” words, felt extra ridiculous,  and that seemed to be the end of the matter. Well, that and, of course, I keep that bedroom door close and never go in. That works best of all.

Now the ladybugs seemed to be moving about more noticeably, and one started its way down the cord to the blinds. On the high window – OK. Moving down to my actually living area – not cool.

Brad said “don’t worry, I’ll vacuum them up in the morning” so I let it go.

And it went … the “morning” turned into a week. At the end of which, I found one in the tub and – Holy Mother of God – on my pillow. So I said what I always say to Brad, the code that tells him he can’t wait for tomorrow because it’s that one last nerve that sends me from zero to lunatic in 60 seconds … “this is NOT working for me.”

He vacuumed. The 10 or so I thought I counted, were more like 40. Ten were visible. The rest were crawling around the high sills. But Brad got them all and proclaimed the room “Clean.”

This was Friday. It is now Monday. I just walked up to the bedroom and … like the Poltergeists – THEY’RE BAACK. I could see 20 – not just on the windows, but crawling on the walls, across the floor, on the window seat and pillows, and I found them crawling INSIDE my bathrobe.

I’m afraid. This is our farm. Our new “forever home” and it’s being invaded. By seemingly innocuous creatures – or so you’d think. Most people thing ladybugs are … cute …
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But, en masse, they become sinister invaders, almost alien-like in their stealthy movements, occasional flappy wings, clustering like a virus in an undulating mass waiting to erupt …

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It’s like a Stephen King novel. Like a 50s horror movie. Like a page out of Edgar Allan Poe.

But I can do this. Wild Reluctant Farm Woman in the Wilderness can handle anything. I’ve braved fish getting stuck in my swimsuit, barracudas leaping out of the water to nab a piece of cracker out of my hand, cyclones that ripped palm trees out of the ground and flung them miles away. I can handle anything.

Except – if birds start slamming into the windows, beds start rising off the ground, or Brad speaks in a scary monster voice, I’m packing my bags and moving to the city. But … I might have to take a chicken or two with me …

 

 

Give the Man a Tractor!

As I’ve said previously, my vision of our home on 16 acres that we purchased last year did not necessarily coincide with what my husband had in mind. I thought, Ok, maybe a 20×20 foot garden would be nice He had different ideas. So, I went with the flow.

And the flow kept flowing. Downhill. Into a big stinking pile.

After a couple of months creating an area that was less garden and more sprawling plantation, Brad says to me “I need a tractor.”

“You need a tractor for some tomatoes and green peppers? Why?”

“Because it will make things so much easier on me and my back.”

I know Brad works hard out there and when he plays the “back” card, I generally acquiesce. I know his back is not always in the best of shape, and if I make too much of a fuss, and it goes totally out, I’d never live with myself. So I made peace with myself that I’ll live with a guy who rides a tractor. And gleefully Brad set forth finding a tractor that would work for him, with a price that would allow us to actually keep the home and property for which the tractor was needed.

Luckily (maybe?) he had a buddy who had the perfect tractor. A buddy like Brad who “needed a tractor” because he was going to move to the South Pacific and wanted to use it on his property. He never moved, and so the tractor stayed in a shipping container, at his California home, for 5 years. Brad got a killer deal, and a payment plan.

All we had to do was pick it up. And for that, we’d need to buy a truck in which to haul it. Because renting a  U-Haul for the job would cost almost a much as the tractor itself. And so it started…

Bait and Switch.

Because we didn’t have the funds for both purchases, we opted for the barter system. We had property we didn’t want in Utah. A Utah man wanted it, and had a truck. The perfect truck.

We did the switch, Brad flew to Salt Lake City, met with a mechanic who gave the truck his gold seal, and the “good Christian man” who traded pink slip for property deed.

20 minutes out of Utah, into bum-flock Idaho, the truck broke down. It had to be hauled to the nearest town (a loose translation) where the mechanic deemed it dead as a doornail. Dead as carrion. Dead as our checking account because it needed a whole new engine.

“But now, really Susan, we have a whole new truck. So it’s not entirely a bad thing.”

Bait and Switch.

Hauling the tractor back from California to Western Washington, Brad basked in the praise he got in every corner outpost we stopped. Someone along the way would inevitably stop and say “wow, that’s a mighty nice tractor you got there. I remember riding one of those in oh 4.” Around the tractor trailer they’d circle, talking the merits of Kabota over John Deere … “you know, Kabota makes their own engines and parts, John Deere doesn’t.” As I’m furiously snapping photos on my phone and sending SOS emails to my friends on Facebook. Get me out of this hell I’ve landed.

I have to admit, as tractors go, this one was pretty. It’s a damn good looking man on a damn good looking tractor…

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So, when we get the tractor unloaded at the house, and Brad’s ready to suit up for his inaugural ride, I ask him, “hey Farm Boy! You gonna plow some fields?” And he says to me “I don’t have a plow.”

Hello?

“What do you mean you don’t have a plow? We’re going to be paying monthly on this beast until the end of times, and it doesn’t plow the fields? What does it do?”

“Well, we got a lawnmower attachment, and a shredder chipper that we didn’t even pay for – it was included in the price.”

Which is a big yippee except that we already had a riding lawnmower that came with the house, AND we had a shredded/chipper that Brad bought from my Dad.

“But these are bigger more powerful. I will be able to cut to cut the lawn so much faster.”

Because, of course, he has those all important corporate meetings to attend. With Neighbor Bob, Neighbor Les, and Neighbor Matt. So they can sit around, drink beer, and talk about tractors.

Bait and Switch

Last week Brad said that we “needed to” rent a rototiller. “But we have a rototiller” I said. “Yes, but it’s not big enough and strong enough for this soil.”

“But what about the tractor?”

“It didn’t come with a rototiller.”

Bait and Switch.

What exactly did we “need” the tractor for? “To move dirt.”

Ahhh. Moving shit. I get it. If you have a pile of shit in one place, are bored and need to move the pile of shit around to another place, you can sit on a tractor and be one of the guys. Makes perfect sense.

So far the tractor has moved chicken shit to the compost pile. It’s moved pig shit to the compost pile. And it’s moved goat shit to the compost pile. AND it’s moved the compost pile to several different locations. It doesn’t plow, it doesn’t dig post holes, it doesn’t till or scrape or do anything but allow movement of shit from one location to the other.

Because of this shit movement, I see my husband only when the sun is down. Because shit moving must be either A. fascinating or B. terribly important and time consuming. Coupled with the grass mowing and the leaf shredding, it’s a full time job. My husband went from gentleman farmer to shit mover.

And the other day he came home from the farm store with black suspenders.

I’m getting scared.

Halloween Confessions

I was born to a clever woman. My mother was crafty and creative. Which unfortunately skipped a generation in me. Every Halloween Mom dragged out the old Singer, and set up to create a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.

Unfortunately, I was a child of the 50s and 60s. Whilst now I appreciate the detail work of her authentic Hungarian gypsy costume (complete with bangles hanging off the skirt and vest), what I really, truly wanted was “normal.” Being not so much, I felt that a costume like “everyone else had” would help to nudge me towards a bit of normalcy. I mean, really, I didn’t want to be a circus rider, I wanted to be a princess. With a plastic mask. And with the prepackaged, cheaply sewn, tacky material came a rhinestone encrusted tiara. Sigh. Halloween Perfection!

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Mind you, I’m the child who was disappointed when my parents were buying their first house, and they didn’t choose a home with a rock roof. The height of modern design in my book. AND – if you added a rock garden, I’d be in 60s heaven …

rock roof

Basically, what I’m saying is that, as a child, I had zero taste. With the exception of wanting to be what everyone else in our white bread neighborhoods deemed to be “normal.”

Fast forward to adulthood. My sisters and my mother embraced the whole Halloween thing. As adults. They’d dress up, drive around town in full regalia. For me, I hated dressing up. I hated adult Halloween. I worked in a creative field (advertising) and every year the agency would have a costume  and pumpkin carving contest. People would go all out. And costumes were “required” to show spirit. Our department (print advertising) was especially competitive. As such, they hated me on Halloween. I’d show up in jeans and a sweatshirt. “Where’s your costume?” they’d ask. “I have it on. I’m Susan On The Weekends.” It didn’t fly.

When I married my first husband, I bought tickets for us to go to a Renaissance Faire. He was so excited, and asked “are we going to dress up?”

Huh?

“No, um, I don’t think so. We going to the faire, not participating in it.” Undeterred, he dragged out a jester’s costume with tights. Tights? My new husband liked to wear tights? OMG what fresh hell had I landed myself in? I told him “you can wear the tights, but you have to walk 10 paces behind me and never reveal that you know me.” He left the tights at home.

The following year he stated that we had to go to the company Halloween party. The company he worked for was NBC. So we HAD to dress up. Out came his tights, and I stared sullenly at my closet, picking a big blousy top, pirate style, that was popular in the 80s. Put on some pants, wore a scarf on my head, and stood by the chips and onion dip for most of the night,

When I had children at home, Halloween was spent taking my kids to houses with the greater chances of having Baby Ruths, Butterfingers and 3 Musketeers bars. My kids? They got the Sweet Tarts.

Back then, the parents stood on the sidewalks while the kids walked up to the houses and rang  the doorbells. The “clever and creative” parents carried bota bags. Nowadays it’s a whole event. If you don’t, as an adult, dress up as the living dead, complete with makeup created to look as if your skin was dripping off your skull, you were an epic fail. Parents with children would have a whole theme going. If you had a storm trooper, as a father you best be chewbaca, and as a Mom you’d best coil your hair in true Princess Leia fashion. It’s all about the theme, baby …

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So I thank the heavens that Brad is just not into donning a fantasy persona every year on the 31st. We have the best of both worlds. We live in the country, in the farmlands of Washington State. We have one neighbor with children. Which means we buy one bag of candy. Give as much to Little Bodie and Baby Carson as they want, then we get to eat the rest, wearing our best “Brad on the Weekend” and “Susan On Her Way To Bed” costumes. And not sweat over how creative and clever we can be.

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But, wouldn’t you know it … here in the Washington farmland lives another Creative Mom. I’m having sweats and flashbacks. And desperately looking through ebay for a plastic princess mask for next year.

The Trouble with Piglets

My refrigerator is full of eggs. Lovely, organic eggs. But really, that’s all we can fit. I have about 18 eggs coming every day. I’ve thought of making quiches and freezing them, but why? I mean, why bother freezing them when I can make several fresh ones daily and not even make a dent. So we’ve just hung a sign outside our drive to hawk our “farm fresh eggs.” Which I guess means I can’t wear my fuzzy lounge pants all day anymore, and I”ll actually have to start brushing my hair in the morning. Otherwise, my husband is afraid I’ll scare potential customers away.

To go with all those lovely eggs, Brad has suggested we get some pigs. Bacon or sausage to go with scrambled or over easy.

So we went to a pig farm, and brought home two piglets. With a stern reprimand from Brad, that these are “meat, not pets.”

He says this because my 20 chickens are egg producing pets. They shall never find their way into my pot. So I am not to develop any kind of relationship with our “meat pigs.” “Do not engage in any kind of pet-based activity Susan. Because these will NEVER be pets.”

“I’m not stupid. I understand. I’m not going to get attached to pigs, for God sakes.”

 But, you know, I HAVE to feed them. Yes, they get grains. But I have to also bring them by snacks. Stuff that is left over. After all, we are sustainable. We don’t waste anything. It’s all about recycling, reducing, reusing. So, with that in mind, I brought down some tomatoes that were on the edge of rotting. I didn’t look the piglets in the eyes. I simply plopped a metal bowl in the pen, brushed off my hands, and said ‘there. Go eat.” And walked smartly away.

This went on for a week. Then I noticed something. The damn things were actually looking forward to my daily visits. They would no longer eat scraps that Brad tossed into their pen. They only wanted food fed to them by me, in their silver bowl.

And, I realized, they were no longer running away from me when I went into the pen. They were walking with me. And I committed a capital offense. I looked them in the eye.

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OMG are they the cutest things ever? They run around like little dogs, so excited to see me. The run in circles, clicking up their little hooves in joy. And they wait for me to put down their almost rotten tomatoes, so gleeful that I’m giving them treats.

So today I made them oatmeal, soaked in a little goat milk, with some chopped apples and a bit of flax seed for omega 3s. I mean, yes, their lives with us is only a short 6 months, but shouldn’t they experience daily joy for those 6 months? Really?

And, then, I pet them. They let me pet them. Between their little twitching ears, as their little piglet curly tails wagged back and forth.

I’m totally, unequivocally screwed. And I don’t know how I”m going to tell Brad