Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Stori ~ just checking in....

So once again, the frantic Alaskan summer has over ran my blogging. I figure I would do a little multi-tasking and jot down some updates while I eat a quick (read pathetic and easy) supper.

My mare Heidi is coming along quite nicely this summer. Although not completely dog broke, she still gives the occasional buck, she is catching on to her lessons beautifully. At the beginning of the year, I had grandiose plans of shooting off of her in competition by now, reality took over and I'm able to be happy with what we have so far. This past weekend, my son Colt rode her in his first gymkhana. He rode in the lead line class of course, but that was also perfect for her. She's at her best when she has me on the ground leading her way. She did have a little episode of excitement in the second game of clover leaf barrels. She gave a small buck which did end up causing Colt to fall off. It was her first competition and his first buck off. Although it scared him a little bit, he was a little cowboy and climbed right back on (after a juice box of course). This picture caught her buck in action.
A couple weeks ago we had the opportunity to visit an old -and still running- gold mine up in Livengood Alaska. We have a friend who used to mine up there with her then husband who has since passed away. There was
very old buildings that were falling down that she allowed us to dig around in. One of the buildings was an old blacksmith shop that had collapsed and filled with treasures for Marc. It was a really neat trip up there. My dad also came along with Marc and I as well as the kids. Such stories surround places like that.

Twice a week we have been going to mounted shooting practice. It's a great experience for Heidi and my oldest daughter Paige has started riding and competing again. Since she is just 11, she rides in the wrangler division which does not allow her to use guns. She runs the course on her horse for time and pattern accuracy only. A friend of ours has offered Paige the use of their retired shooting horse, Baron. Baron and Paige are a great match. He's 25 years old and such an old hand at most all things. Apart from being afraid of cows (only in Alaska would a horse have the chance of being afraid of the scary unknown cow!) he is an amazing babysitter. He's been helping Paige gain time in the saddle and her confidence back. I have rode a friend's horse, Ace, in the competitions that last couple times and am having a blast at it! The only horse I had the chance to ever shoot off of was my appy Jake, and he fought me the whole way. It sure is a lot funner to shoot off a horse that isn't trying to kill you along the way. I have been riding Heidi at the practices.

We have had an absolute beautiful summer so far. Very dry and extremely hot! Last summer we were plagued by heavy rains all summer and a couple years prior, heavy smoke from large wild fires. Although Alaska has several big fires going on now, we have only had a couple days of smoke bad enough to keep us inside. With temperatures in the mid to upper 80's, the heat has been pretty extreme for us. I don't know if I could handle the real heat in the lower 48 anymore.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Debi: Local Produce

Last summer, our family (well, ok, since I do all the grocery shopping, it was mostly me) decided to limit our produce purchases to local produce during the natural growing season in the midwest. I start this adventure for us in June, when we start receiving weekly boxes of produce from our CSA, Angelic Organics, and I end it after we've used up most of the produce from the last box, usually sometime in November. It's a short chunk of the year, relatively speaking, and we don't have the setup Stori does to preserve food during the winter, but I feel good about doing at least what we do.

Our commitment is very simple: if we can get local produce, we don't buy produce from, say, California. That means summer is a time without bananas and mangoes, and that asparagus, which grows in the spring, doesn't grace our grill in August. Our sources are abundant: the CSA box arrives on Wednesday, with vegetables only, usually enough to last the week and some items into the next; there is a small farmers' market on Wednesday evenings, two blocks from our house, where we buy fruit; and there is a HUGE farmers' market on Saturday mornings in downtown Evanston, another place to buy fruit and things like honey, preserves, fresh bread, flowers, etc. Most of the time, we don't need to buy any produce in between.

Until, of course, the berry monsters invade the house and eat up all the berries in one day.

My daughters are fruit FREAKS. They can eat more fruit than anything else, will absolutely gorge themselves on it. I've seen them polish off half a canteloup in one sitting. Berries are no exception, but I was sure that four pints would get us through the week. No such luck. On Wednesday, we bought a pint of blueberries and a pint of cherries. The blueberries were gone by mid-morning on Thursday. On Saturday, we bought a pint of blueberries and a pint of raspberries. The raspberries were gone by nightfall and the blueberries were gone by mid-day on Sunday. We currently have six cherries in a sad bowl in the fridge. Today's harvest from our one raspberry bush and four little strawberry plants can be seen in the picture to the right.

No farmers' markets until Wednesday.

In dismay, I ran into the local Dominicks grocery store (a Safeway chain here in the Chicago area), hoping they might have berries from Michigan (which is where our local farmers' markets get their berries anyway -- it's only a couple of hours away). I was thrilled to see a huge sign that said "LOCALLY GROWN!" In fact, that sign was on half a dozen large displays of produce. However, when I grabbed for the beautiful carton of strawberries, I recognized the Driscoll's Farm label. Driscoll's is a California company.

I urgently reached for another product under the "LOCALLY GROWN!!!" signage. Blueberries -- also grown in California. Same with watermelon, raspberries, blackberries, and cherries. I found a store employee and asked him about it, and he pointed to a sign with a map of the country, explaining to me that the "LOCALLY GEOWN!!!" signs were only meant to alert customers to the fact that the produce department did sell some items that were locally grown. It was not meant to indicate that the items underneath the sign were locally grown. This week, according to the map, the locally grown products were the blueberries and the scallions.

Except, of course, I noticed that the blueberries were from California. I pointed this out to the employee, and he offered to get his manager. I agreed. The manager came out and explained to me that the corporate headquarters of Safeway requires him to put the "LOCALLY GROWN!!!" signs up, and that the real test of whether something is actually locally grown is to look for the white and green signs above the produce that say, in small letters, "local." He pointed this out on the sign above the scallions. I looked, and it did indeed say "local," except right below it, it also said, "a product of Mexico."

I said, "Define local, please."

The manager stammered, apologized, said it was mislabeled, and that he agreed that the signs were perhaps misleading. He suggested I fill out a comment card that could be sent to corporate HQ in California.

I thought I'd do him one better. Does anyone else out there shop at Safeway stores that label their produce this way? Does anyone else find this demeaning, misleading, annoying, and just plain wrong? I understand that, in economies of scale, produce currently has to be shipped around the country. I just don't want to shop that way when I have an alternative, and being misled by the store about this makes me wonder if I am being misled about other things. Is the "ORGANIC" produce really organic? Is the "LOWFAT" muffin really lowfat? Is the "LETTUCE" really lettuce?

Please visit your local Safeway store and check your produce (unless you live in California, in which case everything is probably local -- though if you see Michigan blueberries, don't tell me; I might scream). If it says "LOCAL" but it isn't -- talk to the manager. Ask about it. Let it become an issue. Let other people overhear you. Hey, Safeway, don't sell local produce; that's your right -- but don't lie about it to your customers. That's your wrong.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Stori ~ baby ducks and tear jerking reunions

I cried over a duck family on Sunday. If you ask my husband if I'm generally a bawl baby, he would tell you I (usually but there are exceptions) only cry over two things. 1. If I'm really really mad. 2. stupid sappy movies. I found an exception this weekend.
On Saturday evening my sister in law brought us over a baby wild duck in a bucket. The duckling was maybe a couple days old and we're pretty sure her cat snatched it either off the slough bank, or on while the duck family was grazing on grass. Heather wasn't sure what to do with the duck and she knew we had several duck families in our neck of the slough as well as a chick box. We have 6 baby turkeys and 1 baby chick in a heated chick box in the barn. With a chick feeder and waterer and a warm light bulb, it's baby bird heaven. Hoping, but with no luck, that the momma duck was in the slough, we decided to just put the duckling in the chick box. We could keep it there till we found an adopted duck family or just raise it to adult hood and figure out what after then.

That weekend just happened to be the same day as our big hog roast/bbq we were holding on Sunday. Since we were roasting a whole hog in a rotisserie roaster Marc made, we were both up and busy at 3 a.m. since it takes a long time to cook an entire pig. Well there I was getting ready checking on the progress of the pork, when I look over and see not one, but two duck mommas and babies! One group was a mallard momma, but the other lady was a Wigeon. Wigeons are tiny little birds that sound like barking dogs when they quack. Wigeon momma's babies looked just like our little sleep over guest in the barn. Not really sure what to do, I asked my Dad his opinion on the matter. I was afraid it would be the wrong mother and after I tossed the baby in the water, she would reject him and the baby would ultimately die. Dad told me he thought it would be fine and go ahead.
Off I go running across the yard with a newborn wild duck tucked firmly in my underarm to keep him warm, hoping to catch up with the mother but not to scare her off. I go about 80 feet up stream from her and quietly plop the baby into the water hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. That momma had seen me and had her little brood heading away from me at top baby duck speed. As soon as baby hit the water, he started peeping his little head off. At the first peep, momma duck hit her webbed brakes and spun around. I could almost see the little disbelief on her beaked face. That baby started peeping and swimming towards her and ol momma duck started hauling water towards that baby as fast as she could, gwaaking the whole time. It was a scene from a classic movie. I could almost hear them saying words as they swam to each other. Each baby peep was "Momma!" and each momma gwaak was "Baby!" It was the right mother after all. Once they reached eachother they rushed up and touched beaks, still peeping and gwaaking to one another. The mother frantically checking her baby and all his little body inventory. Baby excitingly telling his tale of an over night sleep over with some strange little yellow turkeys in a warm cave. About this time, all the little brothers and sisters caught up with their mother in this reunion. All in a little group, they surround Lost Baby and all start their own peeping questions. Softly touching beaks and bumping fuzzy chests together in greeting. After a little while, momma gwaaked a calm order and all babies lined up in a row. Momma in the lead and babies following along, off the newly reunited happy family go down the slough. Back on schedule for the day with the eating of bugs and the learning of little duck lessons. It was perfect.

After everything calmed down, I was able to run to the house and get my camera to snap some pics of the happy Wigeon family getting on with their lives after such a horrific event.