Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Debi: Puddle Wonderful

It was supposed to snow here today, but it didn't. We're on our second day of rain, and it's ok...because my hyacinths are blooming.

Stori and I discovered a while back that we both love the poetry of e.e. cummings, and so I present my dramatic interpretation of e.e. cummings' serenade to April showers.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Stori: like the old saying goes...

The only constant in life is change. This is the truest sentence that has have been spoken.
My little family had ourselves a pretty busy day and it's only 10 am.

The decision has been finalized that my oldest daughter, Paige, is going to be home schooled starting 6th grade. She will finish her 5th grade year in public school since there is only a month left in the year. We are none too pleased with the way society and kids' views on the world has come about. It's time to bring her back to the right path and hopefully get her pointed back in the right direction.

My youngest daughter, 18 month old Sunni Sue, sat on the potty for the first time this morning. Right after I put her in the bath, she decided she needed to start making business faces at me. Although nothing productive came from it, atop the big potty she went. This is the first step in the long walk of toilet training. My last one in diapers is on her way out of them. I have some mixed feelings about this one.

In the hog farrowing house, the black sow is having her babies right this minute. She is up to 9, and as a first year gilt, we doubt she'll do too many more than that. We have just the last white sow to go for babies this year. This litter is also pretty fun colored, quite a few little black pigs with white feet. I wonder how many my kids will try to name "Socks"?

In the pen next door to the farrowing house, 2 sows will be reaching the end of their lives this morning. My Dad and husband are over there setting up the killing pen as I type this. We will slaughter today, and butcher and process tomorrow. One half of a hog will stay ours, one half is going to a friend for a hog roast being held this summer, and a whole hog will be going to some friends of ours for their yearly supply. After the deed is done, we'll be going over to my brother's place to pick up the weaner pigs we have been holding over there till we had a pen free up. Tomorrow will largely be spent in the shop cutting and wrapping meat. Paige's school teacher requested the hearts to be dissected in class so we'll put storing them in rubbing alcohol till Monday. The hide, heads, and guts will be put into buckets to be saved for Marc's friend to use for bear baiting.

I just have to wonder what the rest of the day will bring us.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Stori: the world through his eyes

My son Colt is a little over 3 1/2 years old. He's a big, strapping, strong kid, which is completely surprising considering his slow start in life. With a stubborn personality and a quick wit, he is NEVER boring to be around. The other day we were snuggling in my chair watching cartoons and visiting when I started really listening to what he was saying. His little deep thoughts and big ideas crack me up and make me proud everyday. I thought I would share a few of his philosophies.

Toddler Life Science:

Poodles vs. Puddles~ Poodles are big huge dogs that live in the city with their fancy city hair. Puddles are gross and fun and tadpoles live in them.

"What do tadpoles turn into?"

Tadpoles are little fish that live in puddles. They get bigger and turn into grasshoppers. When they are all growed up, they turn into frogs. That's why frogs are such big jumpers, because they learned how when they were grasshoppers.

~(When I was picking up a dead squirrel I had just shot) "Mom, why are squirrels so stupid?"

"Why do you think squirrels are stupid Colt?" "Well cuz when they are dead, they just lay there and let you pick them up!"

~(Overheard when feeding some carrots and apples to the horses by himself like a big boy) "You guys are really good eaters! Your gonna be really strong eating so many foods! You guys are a guy's best friend."

~(After me telling him to be careful feeding the horse and don't let himself get bit) "I won't Mom! I throw the apple on the ground cuz their teeth are bigger than their eyes and my hand is really small"

~(After riding his trike too far for the 1st time) "Mom, I need to take a break. My shoulders are too hungry to keep going."

Toddler Philosophies:

~(After being told no for something) "Mom, I'm gonna be the mom today and boss you around!"

"Are you gonna cook supper tonight too Colt?"

"No, I"m not tall nuff, you can do that and I'll just tell you your wrong."

~"Colt, keep your hands off the window."

"But Mom! My fingers want to look outside too!"

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Stori: No lambs here!

Spring does not creep into Alaska on padded cat feet. It's arrival is about as delicate as a fat man doing a cannon ball into a public pool. This is a land of extremes. There are few smooth transitions from one season into the next. We can have a week of -20 below temperatures turn into 40 above in a day, and only get warmer from there. The subtle pale pinks and blues of winter change first into the completely welcome browns of beautiful dirt and mud, then explode into green the day the trees leaf out. This short one to two weeks of Spring is called Breakup. Folks place bets on what day the ice will leave the rivers. You can wake up to bare trees in the morning, and that evening go to bed with the trees in full leaf, that day is called Green up. Snow slides off the roof with the sound of thunder. My little feeder fed birds have gone. The squirrels show up in force, breeding season in full swing. The livestock shed their winter coats in sheets. By the looks of my horse pen, a person would think I have a completely naked pony hidden somewhere.

Out of all these small signs pointing to better days, there are 2 that are my absolute favorite. I got one of this morning. Geese. Alaska is the summer nesting grounds of the Canada Goose. These smart birds only show up when snow is for sure on it's way out. They are our absolute guarantee that Winter is done with for a while. They are the first summer tourist to get here. They are quickly followed by Sand hill Cranes, which are amazing, beautiful birds, but not first in line. I caught site of a thieving squirrel running out of my front lawn this morning. While I was outside "disposing" of the little insulation snatcher, I heard them. Flying overhead was a small flock of geese, honking their arrival. It put me in such a good mood, it would be hard to spoil my day afterwards. The second spring time flag is pussy willows. Those soft furry buds of the willow. Willows are more than abundant. They are the favorite food for moose and snowshoe hares love the bark. They make the best hot dog roasting sticks for open fires, and are the 1st tree to show it's leaf buds. I have already seen a patch along the highway heading into Fairbanks, but none yet on my road. I'll have to take the little ones on an expedition this afternoon. See if we can't pick me a pussy willow bouquet for my kitchen table.

Haul out those sexy rubber boots ladies, Breakup is on the way!

Debi: Rebirth in the City

Spring comes slowly everywhere, I think. Depending on how frustrated you've been with the weather -- and probably none this year more so than Stori! -- the baby steps that bring in spring weather can be excruciating. Here in Evanston, we've had several days over sixty degrees that were then followed with snow, or a week of sub-freezing weather. The slow striptease of green here is enough to fill my back foyer with mountains of clothes. A week's weather can require rain gear one day, light jackets another, then winter coats and mittens, and then back to the light jackets for another day. Never do we check the weather report more often than in March and April.

The nice thing about it is that our walk to school is now conducted at least partially with our heads down, searching for those first signs of flowers. That photo on top is of some fiesty tulips pushing their way through the dead grasses and leaves from last fall. I'm a fits-and-starts gardener, and while I was diligent about raking and pruning for some of the fall, eventually I got so far behind that I just decided to call the fruits of my laziness "compost." The tulips clearly didn't suffer. Our back yard is a beautiful garden left to me by the former owners of our house, who lovingly shaped it, only to leave it to someone who fought yardwork her whole childhood, only grudgingly raking or digging when absolutely ordered to do so.

Now the garden belongs to me, and I feel more inspired by it. I've managed to discover some wonderful herbs growing there -- peppermint, spearmint, anise hyssop, oregano, and chives -- and last summer added basil, thyme, dill, and two ill-fated rosemary plants. I've asked my family to dedicate a day on Mother's Day weekend to planting our annuals, which I mostly put in pots that hang around the fences and porch railings. For now, we're enjoying all the buds, including these that we lovingly admired this weekend as I raked what I ignored last fall:
Our neighbors have beautiful things happening too, but they come and go with the cold. These flowers were glorious on our walk to school one day, but closed up and huddled against the cold on our way home:

It's going to get spectacular around here any day now...I can feel it!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Stori: little girl lost

When Marc and I were in the planning stages of building our cabin, we went to go look at a logging and milling operation at a place called Drycreek. It's a small faith based community about 40 miles south of Delta Junction which is about 70 miles south of us. Talk about self sufficient! It's a group of around 84 people that made the choice to live off the grid, they farm and log their land, raise livestock, gardens, hay, and horses. The use all draft horse teams for chores and are a wonderful group of people. While being faith based, they are NOT pushy about religion at all. In fact you wouldn't even know what the community was about unless you directly asked them. So we take our first trip down to meet with them so Marc could work up plans for house logs, I was barely pregnant with my son and Paige was around 6 years old. I got out of the truck that day and stepped into Stori heaven. All the animals and horses that I could handle. Paige and were walking down the alley way toward a stallion pen, and passing little pens full of new horsey mommas and their babies when I heard Paige giggling. I turned around to see this 5 month old foal just licking the grump right off of Paige's face. She was scraggly, and knobby, and had all this crazy unruly hair sticking out, but I was totally and completely head over heels in love. Marc knew at that point that he was about to spend some money he wasn't planning on. That little ugly filly ended up being my Heidi. One of the best friends I have ever had. We brought her home when she was two weeks shy of her 1st birthday, I was 6 months pregnant with Colt and had no business messing with an unruly yearling. But there we were. I have always believed you can't choose who you fall in love with and she proved it. That was 4 years ago. Heidi will be turning 5 on May 12th and it the epitome of the ugly duckling story. People will stop and stare as we walk by. She is quite possibly one of the most beautiful horses I have ever laid eyes on, and I would say that even if I didn't love her so.

About 2 years into Heidi's and my relationship, I knew I wanted another one just like her. I spoke to Tony, the horse guy at Drycreek and told him my idea. He was planning on breeding Heidi's mom, Sadie, again to Heidi's sire, Rocky. Before conception I laid my money on the table. I told him I didn't care what it was, girl or boy, ugly or dumb, that baby was MINE. Horses are pregnant anywhere from 9 to 11 months. I waited and waited, but no word from Tony. Finally one day we were in Delta Junction picking up grain when I couldn't stand the suspense anymore. I had Marc drive us the additional 40 miles to Drycreek so I could see for myself if Sadie had foaled. Down the maternity aisle I go just to run smack dab into the next love of my life. There she was at Sadie's side. A tiny Heidi replica. She looked just like Heidi did, same markings, same knobby knees, just a little lighter in color. She was a total brat. I tried to touch her and she gives me a little squeal and a kick. I love her. She had been born on June 2nd and was only 2 weeks old. That was June of 08'. I had another year to wait before I could bring her home. I thought about her, planned for her, showed anybody that would stand still the little picture of her I had snapped with my cell phone.

March comes this year and I call Tony again, is she ready yet?? He tells me she has been ready and weaned for several weeks. We were in the middle of a cold snap though and it would be unsafe to try to haul her, had to wait some more. Finally the weather breaks, it's in the 20's - 30's during the day. We make our plans to go down on April 4th. We get down there and I pick her out in the yearling pen immediately. I would know her anywhere. 10 months old, gangly, messy hair, crooked blaze across her face. I have referred to her as "Sister" for so long, it ends up being her name. We load her into the trailer and she is a little bit nervous. Has never been in a horse trailer before. We get going but have to stop for a second, she panics, starts wrestling around, slips and falls. We can't get her back up. She's just a baby, she's a little tiny bit sore, but totally scared and confused. Never fights us. Lays her head in my lap at one point for comfort. We decide to haul her laying down. Very unconventional, but our only choice. We get her home and have to drag her out of the trailer, she won't stand up. Have to end up using a come along to hoist her into a standing position. She can stand and walk! It must just hurt to get from the ground to standing. We walk her into the pen we have ready for her, under the canopy shed. She walks around, slips and falls down again. Can't get up on her own. We rig up a sling that will semi-suspend her from the ceiling of the shed. A front sling behind her front legs and a back one in front of her back legs. The sling doesn't hold her up, it's slack, but is there in case she falls. A horse after a certain size cannot lay down for too long or they end up suffocating themselves with their own body weight. Since she is a very big girl for her age, it would be too dangerous to just let her recuperate laying on the ground. We set her feed, water, and grain up in front of her. She's happy. She's eating, which with a horse, if they are eating, they are fine. She's a totally trusting friendly little fart. Never fights us, or struggles againest the ropes. Let's us do what we need to help her. This is about 7 in the evening. We figure she has just pulled a muscle somewhere and the Vet confirms this diagnosis later. Nobody dies of a pulled muscle. We go out at least every 2 hours and check on her. She whinnies at us when she sees us walk towards her, she whinnies again when we leave. She loves people. Hard to work around her because she forces her head into your arms and lays it there for you to cradle. A snugly little regular baby that just happens to be 500 pounds. The calmness in her is the draft part of her heritage. Her momma, Sadie was Quarter Horse/ Thoroughbred cross. Her daddy, Rocky was Clydesdale/Percheron cross which is all draft horse breed. They Clydesdale is the breed of horse that Budweiser beer uses to pull their wagons in the commercials. Drafts are very calm and kind. We check on her the last time at about 3 am, my Mom checks on her again at 5 am and finds her laying on the ground. The hooks holding her slings slipped and she's on the ground. Not fighting, but very cold. The temperature is only -5 below zero. Dad doesn't think she's going to make it, we cover her in layers of blankets and pillow her head on some rugs to try to bring her body temp up. I sit on the ground beside her and she scrunches over to lay her head in my lap. We stay that way for a couple hours, I stroke her face and talk to her, saying my goodbyes. Dad comes in and tells me to go relieve Marc with the kids so Marc could come help him winch her back. We gotta to see if she past the point of saving in case we have to put her out of her misery. Several hours later, Marc comes in to tell me she's fine! They have her back up on her feet in the sling, she's eating, drinking, pooping....all the things a horse needs to do. We can't believe it! I spend the day with her mostly, making sure she is comfortable, keeping her calm. If I'm not there, she starts shaking. I go in that evening and check with the Vet on his ideas. Yes, a pulled muscle he says. Let's get her on some steroidal anti-inflammatory and some pain meds. Get the swelling down and she'll be just fine. He sees no reason at all she won't pull through this in just a couple days with no lasting effects. Marc races into town to the Vet's office on the other side of Fairbanks, about 50 miles away. We get the meds into her. She seems stronger immediately. Finally starts showing some signs of fight in her. She's walks side to side, strains againest the slings, this is a great sign. She's not weak at all! My dad checks her at about 2 am, my Mom checks her again at around 5 am. I go out at 5:30 to give her her pain meds before Marc has to go to work and I have no one to watch the kids. I find her fighting, covered in frost from sweating. She had fallen asleep at some point and her feet went out from under her. She couldn't get herself to a standing position, her little hooves are turned under. She is stressed and scared and hurting. Has a bloody nose from smacking her face into the hay manger trying to stand up. She's shaking like a leaf. I holler for Marc to come help and luckily he was standing on the porch so he hears me. I go to her head and try to start winching her up higher to lift her up so she can get her feet under her. She's knocking me around trying to put her head in my arms. I grab her face and hug it to my chest to comfort her. She stops fighting the ropes, takes a deep breath and dies in my arms. She was gone by the time Marc gets there.

Horses are very delicate when it comes to stress and pain. They can die from non life threatening injuries because they give in to the stress. She had a pulled muscle and it killed her. I'm so sad, I can't stop crying. How did this happen? What could I have done differently? Such a waste of a beautiful life. So many could have beens gone. My hands are blistered and stiff from straining againest ropes holding her up, my muscles ache from the strain of maneuvering a 500 pound filly around, my feet are sore from the hundred trips back and forth to the barn, my heart is broke from losing this amazing creature. I grieve for this little lost girl in a way that I can't even understand.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Debi: Baby Steps

I have a long, long, LONG way to go before I could even approach Stori's family's ability to be self-sustaining, but among the people around me, I'm definitely on the more hippy-dippy end of things. That photo over there is of my little crock-pot, which I didn't even know was little until I saw someone else's giant slow cooker and they told me theirs was standard size. This one holds about a gallon of liquid, which is just perfect for making vegetable broth.

And vegetable broth, if you didn't know this already, is just perfect for making a house smell amazing.

Backing up a few steps here, I've been a vegetarian for twenty years now. I was a teenager when I decided to stop eating meat, and while there are a whole ton of reasons why I think it's a good idea to stop eating meat, I am NOT an evangelical vegetarian. If you want to know all my reasons, please feel free to ask me when we are not at the table with you and your burger, or my husband and his chicken sandwich, or my in-laws and their ribs. We can talk for hours about it. In the end, it's a choice I defend as strongly as I defend someone's right to think I'm nuts while they eat bacon-wrapped bacon. Eat meat or don't eat meat, it's not my business.

That said, because we are a vegetarian family (David eats meat outside the house), we eat a lot of vegetables. Now don't go saying "duh" to me; lots of vegetarians live on bread and cheese. We, however, eat lots of broccoli and green beans and greens and peas and corn and celery and leeks and potatoes and yams and cook with tons of onions and garlic. And we use lots of fresh and dried herbs from our summer garden or from the farm box we get from Angelic Organics for 20 weeks of the year.

Have you ever looked at a kitchen at the end of preparing a vegetable-based meal? It's a mess. Nubs of things here, skins of things there, shavings and ends and shnibbles and pieces all over the place. If I didn't live on an alley with rodent issues, maybe I'd compost all that stuff, but I can't do that and let my kids play in the yard. For years and years, I threw it all away...until the last year. I read a post on one of my favorite bulletin boards about making your own vegetable broth. Apparently, all I needed to do was save all those shnibbles from my chopping, store them in a bag in my freezer, and when I had enough, dump them in the crock-pot with a bunch of water. Simmer them for a good 24 hours, and you have a wonderful, flavorful broth!

I was skeptical. Onion skins? Potato peels? Broccoli stalks? Eyew. But I was spending lots of money and using lots of fossil fuels on buying canned vegetable broth for our soups, and thought it couldn't hurt to try. After one batch, I was hooked. The broth was delicious -- rich and lovely and dark golden in color, and it freezes perfectly to use later. The house smelled like my mom had been there for a week of someone's cold, making the chicken soup I remembered from my childhood. It turns out that what I loved about chicken soup was the vegetables...the earthy smells of celery, onion, potato.

In fact, the house smells so good that, weeks after our first batch when I was making my second batch, I did have a cold, and the smell that crept through the house as I slept peppered my dreams with memories of soups past. Deep in my sinuses, the feelings of WARM and LOVE and HEALING penetrated, and I smiled in my half-sleep. We may not be able to milk our own cow or plant enough food for a year, but right now my basement freezer has about 4 gallons of broth in it...just enough for a few serious viruses. And that shnibbles bag in the freezer is getting full again!