Zillow lies … and other fables

Armed with our RV packed with 2 adults, 2 big labs, and a reams of paper printed from Zillow on the perfect pieces of heaven, we drove off to look for America.

At first I was smitten and wanted to look at all the small towns that dotted north central Washington. The names drew me – Tonasket, Chewalah, Metalline Falls, Oroville, Okanogan, Loomis. They looked adorable. Small and picturesque. Friendly!

I could live here!

I joked with Brad that perhaps the Alaskan Bush Family, who moved there, could help him build his dream log house. And he could be on TV! YAY!

They were small. And far away. From anything. Remembering last year when Brad was butchering chickens and somehow forgot that it was the chickens he was butchering, and not his forearm, which resulted in me tearing down the highway to get him to the nearest hospital for his gazillion stitches, leaving me to bag up 50 warm chickens … AND knowing that the closest large hospital in north central Washington was 3 hours away from these cute small towns, I decided to pass.

And Eastern Washington gets hot. Like really hot. Like hot, desert hot. I don’t do hot. I don’t sweat. So we tossed those Zillow sheets in the trash.

Brad loved Montana. I swore I’d never live in Montana. I pictured myself living amongst survivalist Mountain Men. Guys stashed in shacks with double aught shotguns pointed out a ripped screen of the front window whilst spitting tobacco into a spittoon on the front porch with a banjo playing the sound track from Deliverance in the background.

Howdy, Neighbor! Welcome to Montana!

But, in doing further research, I stumbled upon Missoula Montana. Missoula! Missoula had upscale shops. Missoula had downtown flair. Missoula had a 5 star French restaurant. I can do Montana. I can live amongst the smart and trendy!

With glee, practically rubbing his hands together, Brad put together about 100 properties in Montana. All the while telling me how much he loved me and my adventurous spirit. We could have it all – in Montana.

We spent weeks going through the Zillow sheets. One property topped both of our lists. We knew we had a limited budget and this came in below it. Brad wanted to build, but this one had a building we could comfortably live in while he spent time building his dream log cabin. It had water, power, it was on a river, it had 20 wooded acres. It was PERFECT.

20.17 ACRES OF TIMBERLAND WITH A SEPTIC, POWER, WELL & DOUBLE DETACHED 32′ x 36′ GARAGE. READY TO BUILD YOUR DREAM HOME IN WESTERN, MONTANA. REMOVE A FEW TREES & YOU’LL HAVE FANTASTIC RIVER VIEWS! SEVERAL YARD HYDRANTS & A FEW OUTBUILDINGS FOR MORE STORAGE. GARAGE IS APPROX. 90% INSULATED WITH 220 AMP SERVICE, 10′ DOORS & A WORKBENCH. HOT TUB INCLUDED! “

Our perfect Montana Eden

As we crossed over the border of Montana, I begged Brad to stop, first, to see our dream property. It had everything on our check list! Timber, woods, river, a place to live, and a hot tub to boot!! I wanted to look before someone would swoop that up. It was gorgeous.

Until it wasn’t. As we drove across the small country road that backed the property, we came to the next door neighbors. The neighbors who shared a common chicken wire fence with.

Oh, hello, we are your new neighbors. Can we borrow a cup of sugar?

Something that Zillow neglected to mention – your next door neighbors are hoarders. But it’s OK, just plant some trees and you’ll be fine.

When we arrived, I looked at Brad and said “this can’t be it.” Because, it was not on a river. Or close to a river. And you couldn’t just “cut some trees” to get a river view. Because the trees were not on your property. The river was not on your property. But what WAS on your property was a railroad track. Yeah, the house sit right by a functional railroad track.

Welcome home. Don’t mind the mess. And grab your dinnerware because the train’s a’comin’

To top it off, the 20 acres were not. There were about 2. The rest were up the mountain. Unusable unless you wanted to raise mountain goats. And never wanted to see them again.

“Let’s not be discouraged. Let’s explore Montana. We’re not on a timeline, so let’s just drive around.”

And we did, and I discovered Whitefish. I could live here! These people could be my people! I loved this town! Whitefish is calling to me, and I NEED to live here! It’s at the entrance of my absolute favorite national park. It’s a sign!

Yep. My view, My town.

We tossed through our Zillow sheets and found one (only one) listing that was within our budget. Whitefish is not a budget town. Whitefish is where the rich and famous come to play. So buying the worst house on the best street has GOT to be an investment, right?

Armed with the Zillow stats, we contacted the listing agent and took the drive to our cabin in the woods.

Cute, eh?

Pictures showed a cute wooden cabin. Pictures showed log interior that was cozy and oozing with charm. Pictures lie. Zillow lies.

So the house, on first glance, looked great. But upon entering (which took several tries by the realtor to try to shoulder into the door. Because the concrete foundation had somehow moved from under the house, to over the bottom of the house) the interior was more like this:

Yeah. I think the floor is slightly uneven

Not only could you roll a marble from one end to the other at breakneck speed, but what was equally troubling was the fact that there was a bathtub inside the living room. Inside. The. Living. Room. Is that considered entertainment for guests? Who bathes out in the open in full view of everyone? Oh, wait …

I wanted to go home. Unfortunately, there was no going home. There was no going back. There was only adventures ahead. And I wanted no part in it. And, I’m seriously considering suing Zillow for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Every Day is a Winding Road

So, it done happened again.

One minute we are milking goats, collecting eggs, making soap. The next minute we are loading up boxes and storage containers to move to yet another “forever home.”

Everything was running stunningly. Until it wasn’t. To make a long story shorter and less complicated, our investment and retirement that would not quite allow us to live in the lap of luxury, but would at least allow us to shower daily, fell through. Kaput. Splat. A sale that happened, but on paper only. A change of government that suddenly decided Americans were not their friends. But American money was. Good friends. Such good friends that they would not let the said Americans part with their money. They’d keep it safe. For a long time. Like, forever.

Money? What money?

Goats and rabbits and chickens all found new homes. Our house found a new owner. And we found ourselves on the road in an RV looking for the next great adventure.

Sounds exciting, yes? A 33 foot trailer, towed to bright new horizons. Count me in! On the road again. The road less taken. Take me home, country roads. Down the yellow brick road. We’re hitting the road, Jack. The long and winding road. Why don’t we do it … ok, maybe not that one.

My husband was optimistic. “It will be fun” he said and we loaded up the essentials to get by for a few weeks – enough until we found something that suited both our fancy, and our wallets. Those essentials also included two rather large Labrador retrievers.

Me, the big guy (6’4″ and all beef) and two large animals. As a friend coined it “that’s a heck of a lot of flesh.” In a space that seemed to get more crowded as the days turned to weeks, turned into a month.

Labs are wonderful dogs. Until you spend a month stepping over them, smelling them, trying to keep them quiet in an RV park that has “quiet hours.”

Tui, our chocolate lab, has issues with potty time. He can’t go if he’s on a leash. Or if you are looking at him. Or if the stars are not aligned. So we have to suss out a place where he can run free, but be contained, and be secluded enough so nobody sees him do his business.

You’re not looking at me, are you?

Barley, our yellow lab, has issues with everything else. He barks at whatever sound is “unusual.” He eats anything that’s on the ground. And he has digestive issues that makes the RV smell like bad salami and rotted vegetables.

Yes, I’m stinky. But I’m your stinky.

All in all, life is not a highway, and as it turns out, I have no desire to ride it all night long. I wasn’t born a ramblin’ man. And, shameful as it may seem, I wasn’t even born to be wild.

Officially, we are out of the evergreen state. We thought, for a New York minute, that we’d settle in the central/northeastern part of the state. Towns are too small, land too dry, in no close proximity of anything I was looking for, and I was sure I saw the Alaska Bush People howling on the side of the road.

So east we go, to the Big Sky Country, which has been one of Brad’s dreams for as long as we’ve been married. We’ve got at least 30 possibles from Zillow, about 10 cans of my homemade pasta sauce, 4 old, dusty CDs in case the radio doesn’t work, a bag of salt and vinegar chips and a Keurig in the RV. What possibly could go wrong?

Thanksgiving Leftovers

Today is the day after the “day of gluttonous feasting.” The day after – when dishes are done, leftovers are conveniently stored in the fridge so that if you happen to get hungry today, you can grab a turkey drumstick on your way to whatever Black Friday special you simply MUST HAVE.

So I thought I’d take time to offer some insight into a home cook’s Thanksgiving reflections.

  1. Timing:
    When you tell your guests that Thanksgiving will be ready at 4 p.m. that kinda means dinner will be ready at 4 p.m. If you show up at 5, and don’t alert us beforehand, you can come in and maybe get some dessert if you are lucky. If you show up at 2 and I’m in the kitchen cooking, I’m probably going to throw a hot sweet potato at you.

    kanye

  2. Dietary Restrictions:
    Here’s the thing. If I ask you “do you have any allergies or dietary restrictions I need to know about” what I really mean is “I don’t give a shit.” I DO want to know if you have a shellfish allergy and I’m serving shrimp on Thanksgiving, for some reason, so I don’t kill you. But that’s the extent of it. I don’t really care that you are “trying to eat vegetarian.” I make my Italian sausage cornbread stuffing. You don’t want the sausage, spit it out. Likewise if you are “putting your body into ketosis” that’s your problem. You don’t want the cornbread part of the stuffing? Spit it on the vegetarian’s plate and you can have her sausage.

    Back when we were kids, we got Thanksgiving dinner. Nobody asked us what we liked. We ate it. We gave thanks, damn it, even if we didn’t like the sweet potato casserole thing that Mom made. We were thankful that on Thanksgiving the napkins were big enough to hide that casserole underneath. Nobody cared if you were “cutting carbs” or “avoiding animal fats.” Do it on your own time. But don’t bore me with your laundry list of things you can and can’t eat. And please don’t ask me to “pull aside” something before adding whatever. What I will pull aside is a wooden spoon and chase you out of the kitchen.
    italian grandma

  3. Etiquette While Dining:
    Dialog and conversation is allowed. As long as the dialog and conversation mainly revolves around the food. Take note on this: the person who cooked the fabulous meal that sits in front of you, most likely started at 3 in the morning (yes, yes I did). And worked until 4 p.m. when the last bit of gravy is poured (and after a few glasses of chianti). So when you are tucking into my succulent turkey cooked in the Cordon Bleu technique, the sweet potatoes with meringue topping straight out of the most recent Cooking Light magazine, brussels with warm, whole grain mustard vinaigrette, or fresh cranberry orange relish; you must (and there are no exceptions) exclaim loudly with each bite “this is the most delicious and amazing food that has ever passed my lips.” You may then (and only then) continue with whatever conversational topic you choose, and if it’s political,  I have to agree with you. My house, my kitchen, my wooden spoons.
  4. Leftovers:
    There are none. Pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain shoving everything into the fridge. It’s a mirage. Sleight of hand. Because for a home cook who was cooking and prepping for 13 hours, leftovers are the artesian springs in the middle of the arid desert. Mecca. Because leftover means that, for at least the next 3 days, my husband won’t ask “what’s for dinner?” or even “what are we having for lunch?” My clever sister Jen even incorporated stuffing into scrambled eggs. Genius!

    Leftovers? I’m owed it, and if I see you abscond with as much as a turkey wing, I will run you down and tackle you in my front lawn.

tackle

In Summary, I hope you all had a blessed and wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, full of amazing food, tantalizing desserts, family, friends and joy. Ours was peaceful and quiet, just the big guy and me, and right now I’m looking forward to a turkey and stuffing sandwich. As well as a massage and foot rub and lots of chocolate. Which I won’t get, but I’ll settle for the sandwich.

 

Covering Comforters?

Lately I’ve been inundated with the mad, crazy information that millennials no longer use top sheets. Oh, the horror! No top sheet? GROSS!!!

My millennial son informs me that no, there is no need, as they all use duvets with covers. The covers then zip off, get tossed in the wash, and back on they go. No need for a top sheet. Clean and easy.

I can’t fathom not having that tucked in top sheet, but decided for my Air BnB guests, I would use a top sheet, but also get a duvet cover so as to guarantee no skin cells but their own will ever touch their skin.

Yesterday my first Amazon ordered duet cover arrived. So I dragged it upstairs, on the road to becoming the cleanest Air BnB this side of the Mississippi.

20 minutes later and I don’t care. I don’t care if it’s clean or dirty. I don’t care if nobody wants to book my rooms. I just don’t care. Here’s the process I went through, from “I’m excited to have a crisp and clean bedroom for guests,” to “I really don’t give a shit.”

  1. Find the zipper. I’m not being stupid. Literally I laid out the cover and rotated it over and over and over again. No zipper. Went downstairs to find the packaging to be sure I didn’t just get two queen sheet that were sewed together. Nope. It said clearly “City Lights Comforter Cover.” Finally, looking closely at each corner, I found the zipper tucked away in a seam.
  2. Unzip. Carefully. Every few inches it gets caught up in all that material. So the process is slow, and if you have the patience and attention span that I do, you’ll end up swearing and jiggling the zipper until you are this close to yanking it so hard you’ll rip the whole damn thing.
  3. Lay out your comforter and start stuffing. This is the part that set me over the edge. It sounds so easy. 15 minutes later I’m still shoving. This is the thing – it doesn’t just lay flat. It doesn’t fit nicely in the cover. It bunches. It bunches up a lot. I started on one side, got the bottom edge nice and smooth, worked my way up to the top and smoothed that out. Then I went to put the other bottom side down, only to discover the other bottom that was smooth, was bunched up and turned under. And I have to tell you, My arms do not reach far enough down on a queen sized duvet to pull it flat. I had to basically crawl on top of the bed, shake the duvet and crawl partway into it to unbunch the edge. All the while threatening to beat the comforter to a bloody pulp.

    scream face

This went on for 20 minutes. Unbunching, cussing, unbunching. The corners would           not lay flat. Not now, not ever. But in 20 minutes I did manager to get all of the                     comforter into the cover.  And if I punched the bunchy bits REALLY HARD and                    slapped it around a bit (for my own benefit) they seemed to flatten out.

4. Go downstairs, pour a glass of wine, contemplate your achievements, glare at the elliptical and think murderous thoughts about your son, who talked you into the whole comforter cover thing. And ignore the one in the king bedroom until more wine is consumed.

I’m in an Air BnB host forum. European Air BnB owners never use topsheets. They use duvet covers. American Air BnB owners use top sheets AND duvet covers. “Oh yes,” they said on the forum. “And we launder them with every check out.

My son also said he launders his with the rest of his bedding. And I have this to say …

LIARS. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. OF. YOU

jack

Because there is no way in HELL that you are all washing these damn things every day or two. Because like me, Air BnB owners typically get a lot of one and two night stays. And I cannot believe that they battle the stuffing process every day or two. No way. No how.

So here’s what I think. Millennials are either dirty, or dirty liars. Plus, here’s my Baby Boomer philosophy.  Want clean? Buy a second top sheet. There are three benefits. 1. It’s cheaper to buy another top sheet than buy a duvet cover. 2. Just as clean – one top sheet on the skin side, lay the comforter on top of the first top sheet, and top with the second top sheet. Done. and 3. There is no fighting. No cussing, No battling the cover, no stuffing, no zipping, no cussing, no punching or slapping.

“Susan. You insisted we needed to buy comforter covers. You’ve already laundered them and used them. We can’t return them, so we’re stuck with them. But i’ll help.” That’s Brad. My husband. Thinking that him climbing on the bed with me as I’m shrieking will help to heal all wounds. And make the whole process easy. Silly Man. He really doesn’t know me at all.

nicholas cage vid

 

Life’s a Beach

The rain has settled in on the great Pacific Northwest. I’m looking out my office-slash-bedroom window and the drizzle of autumn has replaced the “bluest skies you’ve ever seen” that is summer in Washington State.

And all of a sudden I’m assaulted with those beach memes … and I’m sure you’ve seen them all …

 

Basically – I hate the beach. There. I’ve said it. Nobody I know would ever admit to it, but I have the sneaking suspicion that there are more of us out there.

When I was just a baby and not even walking yet, my mother took me to Jones Beach – our preferred spot on New York shores. She tells me that she put me on the sand and I immediately crawled towards the water whilst my mother ran to save me from the massive waves that often crest in the Atlantic – which, of course, is never unless you are running towards an 8 month old baby and everything is a threat.

And I’ve been like that ever since.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the “look” of the beach. I love the thought of the beach. Kind of how I love the thought of sleeping outside under the stars. Sailing around the world. Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Running a marathon. They all sound so romantic. But the reality is far grimmer. It’s the whole activity of “beaching” that I just can’t tolerate.

When I was in college in Southern California, I was a quick 30 minute drive to the ocean. I’d pack in with my dorm mates and head “to the beach.” Making sure you had no classes on Fridays was a necessity and if you were clever enough to work magic on your schedule, you were assured a three day weekend every single week. And that treasured Friday off was mostly reserved for the beach.

I’d sit on my towel with my girlfriends, all who had the required-at-the-time crocheted bikini, bouncing around, bored, sandy, and waiting for the first one to get up, run to the water and jump in. Nobody would ever make a move. As they once told me “we’ve never gotten our suits wet.” Wait – you go to the beach and don’t go into the water? And they looked at me in horror and said “you actually go IN the water?”  And there you have it. Not a beach person. Water, definitely. Beach, no.

For 14 years we lived on an island. And like all islands, it was covered on all sides by beach. I never laid out on the beach. Not once. Not once in 14 years. Don’t get me wrong. My surroundings were gorgeous and beaches are beautiful to look at …

IMG_0773 (3)

Yes, this was what I used to put myself through every single morning

But it is the “being on the beach”  that annoys me. It’s all that sand. I used to exercise by taking long walks on the beach, but in my tennis shoes. Barefoot? Gross. The sand underneath my toenails and clinging to my feet? Not happening. And you can NEVER get all of it off. You rinse one foot, which is great, then you have to put it down to rinse the other one, and the first foot gets sandy again. It’s a never ending story. So you are stuck with gritty feet and sand in your toes and you have to climb in your car and drive with that squeaky, grainy sand all the way home, and I’d have to practice out-of-body experience to stop myself from screaming on the whole drive.

Yeah. I never made mud pies as a child either. Dirt under my fingernails? Not in my wheelhouse.

When we lived on the island, for 10 of the years we lived on the beach. Directly on the sand. 20 steps to the water. I’d swim and snorkel a lot in the warm South Pacific seas. But it was a constant attack of beach. It got everywhere. It clung to your bathing suit, your shoes, your entire body. As much as I swept and showered and vacuumed there were still small particles between our bedsheets. For the entire decade I was uncomfortable in bed. Every night I’d sit at the side of the bed and brush the bottoms of my feet together, hoping upon hope that this one night would be a night of sparkling clean and sand-free sheets. And every night I could feel the grains of sand attaching themselves to my legs and ankles.

I also never could understand all the “beach people” who would sit on a lawn chair or repose on a towel “sunning” or “tanning” as if it were an activity in and of itself. And reading.

Do I love to read? Yes! But not on the beach. If I’m going to tuck into a great novel, I want to be settled into  a cushy armchair. I don’t want to have to stop and swat at things crawling on me. I don’t want to constantly dust the sand that’s getting on my person or sneaking into the binding of my book. I don’t want a sun glare on the pages. Or on my Kindle screen. I don’t want to lie on a lumpy patch of sand. Or a stiff lawn chair. I don’t want to scratch my head and get grit under my fingernails. I shudder at the thought.

My favorite time on the beach is winter. In the Pacific Northwest. Why? Because nobody expects you to baste yourself in oil and place yourself in nature’s rotisserie, turning every 15 minutes so you’re broiled on all sides. Or sit under an umbrella in a sunhat, and do nothing but plop. Or doze. Or, worst of all, have a picnic. On sand. So now it’s on your feet, your hands AND your food. Yum.

The beach in winter is a marvelous thing. You don’t take your shoes off. Nobody is around and if they are, they have a sense of purpose – clamming, oyster hunting, fishing. You wear coats and gloves and boots and all that outerwear comes off when you get into your nice heated car. It’s magical – a match made in heaven – a perfect blend of sand that stays where it should, foggy skies, mist on your face, air that is almost cold enough to hurt your nose, but not really, the scent of the sea AND – as an added bonus, we have the LONGEST BEACH on the west coast, and the longest driveable beach in the nation – right here in Washington.

 

So, when I see all the inevitable “Who wants to shut off their phones and head to the beach?”memes, I am tempted to reply “not me.” But then it’s like saying you don’t like John Wayne (he can’t act) or  bacon (it’s ok but really? On cupcakes? Or ice cream?) or the Walking Dead (zombies are stupid) or Titanic (omg barf) or cute kitty videos (not so much) or shoes (I don’t get the allure). It’s kind of like you become “that person.” The one who doesn’t like “normal stuff.” Un-American. Weird. Contrary.

And I am “that person.” I spend my day in men’s sweats. I talk to the TV when I’m alone. Or the dogs. Or the food processor if it pisses me off. I got angry at a key lime pie once and threw it at my husband (ok, it was my husband I was mad at. But the pie annoyed me as well). I like gelato better than ice cream, and fish better than steak. I’d rather buy kitchen stuff than a new pair of shoes. I have tennis shoes, ugg boots for the winter and 2 pairs of sandals for the summer. Anything else is excess. I prefer rain to sunshine. Winter to summer. Snowy days to blue skies.

And, I don’t like the beach.

bad beach

The Great Goat Roundup of 2018

Today I was called upon to assist in moving our goats. My husband, Brad, built some beautiful new goat barns, and since they were nearing completion, it was time to move the goats to their new homes.

The barns were built for several reasons. The primary one was to provide more separation between the boys and the girls. Last month we caught Mojo, our buck, breeding with crazy Luna, our fast and loose doe, through the fence. Yeah, that’s right. Through. He didn’t even bother to try and jump the fence, he just cozied up to it, found a suitable space, and no matter how many apples Brad hurled at him, he remained unfazed. I, on the other hand, was scarred for life. But that’s a whole other story.

So three barns were built – one complete and the other two will be within a day or two.

IMAG3419

Building crew. Brad and son James. We don’t have a lot of friends.

The first one for the girls, the second one for the babies and to store feed, and the third one for the boys. This gives a buffer zone so that we don’t have accidental breedings like this one, which now means that babies will be born in the dead of winter instead of spring.

Since Mojo has hit every single one of our three does, Brad took down the fencing between all in order to create the new barn and pastures. So they all lived together in one big happy mess – being that they couldn’t do any more damage than they already had. And today was the day that the entire herd of 6  would have to be convinced to move, en masse, out of their pasture, into the barn, out of the barn, up the driveway, across the side road and into an unfamiliar pasture and barn. And Brad was sure the two of us could do it if we tempted them with grain.

baby ruth

Yes, Baby Ruth, I know. I had the same look when Brad told me it would be easy.

I know I’ve mentioned it before. Goats go where goats go. They are not like cows. They are not like horses. They are not like dogs. They are entities unto themselves. And unless you plan on physically picking them up and carrying them, they are moving only when they want to move and only where.

When the barn door opened and we unlocked the pens, it seemed easy. They all ambled out, looking a bit dazed. First off, two of the 6, Cinnamon and Pepper, were born right there in that same barn. Three of the others – Mojo, Buddy and Luna, were there since they were just past toddler stage. And Baby Ruth (don’t make fun of her name – her Mom was Reese’s and her Dad was Skittles) arrived 6 months ago as a baby. So this was home for as long as they could remember.

Out from the pasture, into the barn, out of the barn – that part went smoothly. Brad had a bucket of grain, I was to lead the way, open the gate to the pasture, and when he went in, I’d close the gate after him. Done and done.

Not done.

I was trying to walk fast, with purpose, but had goats running behind me trying to get their heads in the scoop of grain. Whilst I was determined to get them all into the pasture as quickly as possible, I also knew that if I did anything foolish, like run, I would inevitably step in a hole, twist my ankle, and end up with 24 full grown hooves on top of my body, breaking something important that I would probably need sometime in the future.

We did, finally, get them in. I was tasked with “keeping them occupied” while Brad filled up their water basins. Keep them occupied? How? Did they want a song? A story? No, Brad handed me both the grain bins. Ok. Picture with me, a 5’5″ woman balancing 2 grain buckets with goats that, if standing on their hind legs would reach over Brad, who’s 6’4″. And you can’t just move out of the way. Noooo. They are shoving and butting and trying to grab the buckets out of my hand. I ended up throwing them over the fence and scooting out the gate before they noticed.

Then Brad and I realized – 5 goats in, 1 still out. Crazy Luna.

DSC_0484

Me, move? Not happening.

If goats are stubborn, Luna is unyielding. And she decided she’d rather not. Not do anything like anyone else. Buck Mojo was getting anxious, as his main squeeze was not with the herd. Everyone was a bit tense, and I just wanted to get back to the house to eat the pizza we made for lunch.

Brad’s plan was for me to be inside the gate, wait until he coaxed Luna right up to the gate, at which point I’d open it, he’d shove her in, and all would be right with the world.

He coaxed Luna, I stood by the door, unlocked it and Mojo made a mad dash for the opening. I tried to grab him, but he’s big and buff and while I had a hand on him, he bumped me to the side, I stumbled, and grabbed the fence. The electric fence

electrified

A jolt  went from my hand, down my back, up my neck, through my other arm, to my hand and right onto Mojo’s back. He jumped, I screamed, he ran, Brad shoved. He slammed the gate, turned to me and I waited to see his concerned look, for I was sure he was awash in worry about  my well being.

He looked at me and said, “well, at least we know the fence works.”

pitchfork murder

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.

luna

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.

 

Dirt Cheap

You’d think by now I would not be surprised by anything my husband could come up with. I mean, it’s been 32 years together. There’s not much we don’t know about each other. Yet, he continually amazes me with the great lengths he will go to, to find a bargain.

We’ve driven an hour just to pick up an old table. Granted, it was free, and granted, with that one table (and 4 matching chairs) he managed to make a farmhouse style clock, a coffee bar and a living room coffee table. Not to mention a new dining room table (with new top).

But for the better part of the week, he’s driven back and forth every day, most of the day, picking up dirt. “But, it’s free!” he said.  And I’m thinking, dirt? It’s free? And that’s a revelation?

We have dirt here. We have 16 acres of dirt. Some is under grass, some is under trees, some is just sitting there. We now have additional mounds of dirt, to add to the mounds of dirt he has when he had the pond dug. I’m not sure what all this new dirt means to me, or what it is supposed to magically do, that the old dirt hasn’t done in the past four years.

The exciting part (I guess) is that today the “free man” gave Brad the use of his trailer thing. This was met with great joy, and so I had to surreptitiously sneak out of the house to photograph this stunning achievement:

It was definitely a Kodak moment. The piles of dirt have made their way from down the bottom of the driveway, to within throwing distance of the front door.

“It’s fill dirt” Brad said, with that look that says “why can’t she see the obvious?”

And I admit. I can’t. See the obvious, that is. All I see are mounds of things. There are mounds of sawdust waiting to become something, I’m sure. There are mounds of compost. There are mounds of poop, categorized by type. Yesterday I had to look at a mound to admire all the worms.

I took on chickens. I took on ducks. I took on goats and even pigs. The mounds, however, confound me. Brad has promised these mounds will accomplish great things. I am to anticipate a joyous event when I see these mounds turn into barns and driveways and landscape art. Yes, it shall be monumental. Behold what I shall do with a week’s worth of mound transportation.

I think I’ll make myself my own mound. Of chocolate chip cookies. Those, I’m sure, I can figure out how to move. And it won’t take a week, or a trailer, to do it.

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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.

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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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