Sunday, November 19, 2017

Week 1 of the No Spend Challenge: Eating like Kings!

Well, the first week of our No Spend Challenge is over and as JC said last night, "What is this here? Oh, sweet potatoes! Man, we are eating like Kings." I'm not sure that royalty would get all excited about having sweet potatoes in their black bean/corn/quinoa chili, but we sure did. 


Some things I noticed this week. Breakfast is my least favorite meal of the day because of two things. One, I simply don't feel much like eating in the mornings and two, my choices are limited (no gluten, low histamine, etc.). I really noticed breakfast, it seemed the most limited...I could have cereal, oatmeal, or eggs(which we will talk about in a bit).This challenge reminded me that there are things in the freezer and I re-discovered fruit smoothies. WOOT! WOOT! (Too bad I really think of smoothies as summer food). We have big bags of blueberries and mango from Costco and I canned grape juice from wild grapes. There are also blackberries from our garden, but those seem a little too "precious" to use for smoothies (more on that "precious" word later). 

Oddly enough, the fridge actually started out kind of empty even though I bought a lot of food a week ago Friday. Most of it was dry goods or winter squash and potatoes. As always I'm very grateful that we have our own source of milk, especially since we can also make cheese. We had some cheddar and gouda from Veldhuizen, which is mostly gone, but the mozzarella I make each week lasts all week. The fresh cheese generally is the backbone of my lunch and I tend to nibble on a slice or two if I'm feeling like a snack.




We didn't harvest much from the garden except greens...the above are beet and Swiss chard that we chopped for scrambled eggs for dinner. Which brings me to the next important thing. This time of year the hens are (because of the short days) not very productive. We've gotten three eggs this week, but I used 7. I only have 10 and I am acutely aware of that number. Eggs are PRECIOUS, y'all. Who knew? We are accustomed to having eggs at least once a week for dinner and I boil some each week for lunch and have eggs for breakfast sometimes too. 

The lack of eggs isn't the only thing that this very first week has made me aware of....carrots and lettuce! Oh, how I love my carrots and nothing is better than a salad in the middle of winter because even though we do salad we eat more seasonally than most folks and that little bit of fresh is awesome in Winter when we are eating lots of greens and roots and storage veg. It was only Day 3 when I started to think about eggs, carrots, and lettuce...okay, actually I started to fret a bit. I don't want to do without, but part of this challenge is to test the kitchen/pantry and garden.

With that niggely fretful feeling at the back of my head I got motivated to make sure we would have more in the coming months from the garden. Since we are having a weirdly warm November I headed out to the garden with my box of seeds to plant all the things I had just neglected to get in earlier...all I had were some old ones from last year, but I seeded carrots, parsnips, beets, radishes, lettuce, and spinach. All are up, but the parsnips (and I actually don't know what the seedlings look like so maybe they are up and I just don't know it). 

WEEKLY SUMMARY:
Breakfast: cereal milk/boiled eggs/smoothies/oatmeal

Lunch components: roasted red pepper and tomato soup (add rice or pasta), cream cheese/mozzarella and rice crackers, tuna salad, pickles, potato chips, apples, JC had at least one grilled cheese

Dinners: tomato soup with rice and salad, scrambled eggs with greens, onions, peppers and tomatoes and oven fries, salmon cakes, delicata squash and herby rice, leftover tomato soup, pizza and salad, black bean/corn/quinoa chili with tortilla chips and cheddar cheese.
Desserts: Pumpkin pie with whipped cream and banana bread.

MONEY SUMMARY:
Gas (exempt per my rules): $49.34
Feed order (exempt, money saved out of Sept paycheck): $800
Drinks/restroom "rental": $6.08 (I have a hard and fast rule that you have to make a purchase to use a restroom. Plus, roadtrip OCD rules...must stop here, must get tea because I always do).
Household (flue cleaning tools): $9.59
JC muck boots (on the list for weeks, got a coupon, so exempt): $14.40
cat food (exempt per my rules): $10.61

Total: $890. 02
Exempt: $874.35
Total expenditures NON-EXEMPT: $15.67
(I also co-op my feed and I sold two bags....money coming in, not out!)






Monday, November 13, 2017

Day 3 of the No Spend Challenge

Filtering the morning milk.

Almost every Monday, I make cheese for the coming week. During the wait times (and there are several) I generally just waste time surfing facebook or Pinterest. Today, I decided that I needed to be productive as it is occurring to me that I will need to be a little more organized in the coming weeks in order to feed us well without shopping. Also this is a rare week when my husband will be home all seven nights, so I can't just have cereal or popcorn for dinner (not that I do that or anything!).

I want to be as transparent as possible here. I decided to do this challenge AFTER my big monthly shopping trip to the city. I spent $323 dollars on Friday. So, we are starting this challenge with the maximum amount of food that we might have in a month. With that said, we are looking at this as a test of pantry and freezer for any "What If "scenarios. This year of hurricanes, earthquakes, and fires has made us more aware of our "What Ifs." We want to test the pantry/freezer/farm/garden in a simulation of "disaster, fires, floods, [or] killer bees" (Faith No More, anyone?? google it).(Sorry, but my brain works in song lyrics more often than not).

Anyway, being transparent. The pantry is full, two freezers are full, but the fridge is surprisingly empty. I bought a lot of apples, potatoes, onions, winter squash, and pumpkins. Of course, we have milk, eggs, and cheese. I did buy lettuce and it occurs to me that we will be very sad when that runs out. We do like to have something fresh in winter. When this occurred to me I rummaged around and found some old seed packets from last year and got seeds in the soil in the coldframes....fingers crossed for germination. It won't help us in the next 50 days, but thinking about doing without got the fire lit under my ass (lettuce should have been seeded a while back). 

This week's menus weren't much of a challenge because we do have so much stored. I'll do a recap at the end of the week, but I don't see that we are going to have any issues pulling together good meals for the next 7 days. 

I also surveyed the garden for potentials...we currently have: turnip/collard/beet greens (I suppose if we were starving we could eat the beets and  turnips, but they were planted in Spring and left until now for their greens only). I also have Swiss Chard, parsley, cilantro, garlic chives, rosemary, oregano, thyme, sage, spearmint and cat mint that can be harvested now. I've planted parsnips, carrots, more beets, radishes, and spinach in addition to the lettuce. None of that has germinated yet (again, I was late getting them in...maybe this warm weather will work to my advantage). 





Saturday, November 11, 2017

Beginning of Winter and a No Spend Challenge

Although we are still over a month from the Winter Solstice, this year more than any other time I am feeling like Winter has begun. It is not a matter of us experiencing Winter weather (today was overcast and 70 degrees), but a feeling that it is indeed a time to slow down and rest.

Yesterday Mom and I spent the entire day in the city. Our stops in order were: Petsmart, Joann Fabrics, Half-Price Books, Central Market, Whole Foods, Costco. While all the cashiers we encountered were friendly, the general public was not. Traffic was ridiculous and in several stores we were assaulted by fake cinnamon fragrance and aisle after aisle of christmas decor. It felt crowded and it made me edgy. Too many people, buying too much shit. Even with the grumpy hordes and the stink of cinnamon the day was just fine until I got to the local HEB store to pick up cat food. Normally they play music that I can sing along to...I actually like going there and that is one of the reasons...it feels welcoming with its classic rock piped in. But christmas music isn't welcoming, especially not this early. Looking back over the day I realized that there was christmas crap everywhere and a push to buy more and more and more and more.

I have of late become aware of my profligate spending, my lazy habits, my food ruts, and my general grumpiness about humanity. I was so grumpy that last night after mulling it over I came up with a plan.

JC and I had talked about doing a Eat from the Pantry challenge in January. By last night I was convinced that not only did we need to Eat from the Pantry we also needed a No Spend challenge. (I was inspired by Erica at nwedible.com)

Winter Squash

I thought that this might be a good time, as we transition into the dormant season, to test my mantra of "Work hard all Summer, so you can rest all Winter." By the Pagan calendar November 1st marked the beginning of this season of Winter rest. 

So, from today until January 1st, for the next 50 days I'm vowing to Eat/Cook from the freezer/pantry/garden/farm and Spend NO MONEY! 

My motivations: 
1. Test the pantry and use what we have (no waste).
2. Save money.
3. Stop running around (errands kill a whole day every week).
4. Break my routine food ruts
5. Break my Amazon habit.
6. Cultivate gratitude and appreciation for what we have now, not what we think we need.

Some exceptions:
1. Obviously, regular household bills get paid.
2. Gas is exempt.
3. Cat food is exempt. (we do not stock up on this).
4. Solstice gifts are exempt (though I'm brainstorming some handmade things).
5. My current credit card gets paid, but is now dormant until January 1. (I will not dictate to JC about his credit card, he can do what he wants. This is a household challenge).
6. We keep a running list, so if we get a coupon or a reward "check" for a list item we will not waste the discount/reward (think, Staples ink rewards for recycling).
7. My Coyote Creek Feed order is exempt because I saved out the payment in September.
8. Seeds and seed starting is exempt because I begin starting seeds on January 1 and I don't want to start late.

I'm going to try to hold myself accountable here and practice good record keeping (which is already a New Year's Resolution for 2018, because I suck at keeping track of things).



Monday, November 6, 2017

OWL TREE FARM HANDMADE SOAP SHIPPING SPECIAL.

OWL TREE FARM Handmade
Shipping Special! (Through December 15th, then I’m taking a long Winter’s nap!)

I hate shipping…but, I’m willing to do it if it is SIMPLE. So, I’m using a Small Flat Rate Box from USPS that ships for $6.25. Spend a minimum of $18.00 up to $30.00 and I’ll ship for $3.00. Over $30 I’ll ship for FREE, but there is a catch…I can only cram so much into that little box. 

Here are the combinations:

3 bars of soap (your choice: plain, buttermilk, lavender, or cinnamon/oatmeal): $18.00 + 3.00
4 bars of soap (your choice)     : $24.00 + 3.00
2 bars of soap, one washcloth, and one soap deck (What a nice gift!)      : $23.00 + 3.00
4 soap decks (not sure why you would want decks but no soap, but…)           : $20.00 + 3.00
2 bars of soap and 2 soap decks     : $22.00 + 3.00

FREE SHIPPING
5 bars of soap (your choice)       : $30.00 + $0 
6 bars of soap (your choice)       : $36.00 + $0

Please note that these will not be cute bundles ready for gifting…the box is SMALL and I’ll have to pack carefully to get these combinations to fit. 

Locals, even though the special is for shipping I’ll offer one special for you: 
1 bar of soap, 1 washcloth, and 1 soap deck for $15.00 (but you have to pick it up at the farm)


There are only 9 washcloths available: 3 white, 2 orange, 2 purple, 1 gray, and 1 aqua.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Late Fall

Farm lunch: Fresh mozzarella, Roma tomato, Genovese basil (dried last summer).



Today I made cheese, like almost every other week of the year. I tend toward fresh cheeses: chèvre, mozzarella, ricotta, paneer and the occasional feta. Fast, but fresh. This year we didn’t have enough milk to even consider making hard cheeses and that was okay with me. We don’t need much, just a little something fresh each week. It has become routine and ritual for me the making of the weekly cheese. It is an integral act in my role as farmer and cook and maker. 
A few years ago I took a cheesemaking class and was confronted with another goat raiser who was setting up a commercial dairy. She was a bit of a know-it-all and we clashed almost from the beginning. She refuted practically everything I said and the class would have been so much better for me if I hadn’t had been so on edge and hadn’t had to begin censoring myself. I’m not much for confrontation, so when she would refute me I would just shake it off, but…I know my shit y’all. I read incessantly. I buy books just for reference. I read articles. I ask questions. I take notes. In other words, I have an insatiable curiosity and am well-educated.   
One of the things she picked apart was a statement I made about the differences I see between my Spring milk, the Summer milk, and then the Fall/Winter milk. I was hoping to learn something or to confirm my theories. Instead, she made me angry and uncomfortable. I made the mistake of attempting to defend this statement that my milk was indeed different depending on season…I started with, “Well, in the Spring and Summer the girls are on feed and browsing, no hay.” I had a few more things to say, but she cut me off and insisted, and I do mean INSISTED that I could not possibly be raising goats without feeding hay year round. She implied both that I was full of shit regarding the differences in milk throughout the season AND that I was neglecting my girls. Just remembering this is pissing me off again, but on that day I just shut up. Shut. Up. 
Here’s the thing. I hand milk. I shepherd my goats to browse for about four months each Summer. I manage my pastures and forest carefully. I understand seasonal and the seasons on this land. I know this Place. I understand terroir (which I can’t say to save my life). I KNOW that my girls are healthy. I KNOW my milk is different from season to season. I KNOW this, because I am connected so very closely with, not just the goats, but with the earth, the seasons, the light, the dark.
I also understand that folks (like her) who are producing cheese in a more commercial capacity use feed and hay to keep the milk as consistent as possible. That is what people want, right? Most folks want to buy the same cheese week after week. No surprises. Nothing strange, or off, or unfamiliar. Nothing wrong with that. I also know that she was likely working in huge vats of milk….I work with 2 gallons at a time. I work with my hands in the curd. I stretch the cheese by hand. I am hyper aware of the changes from week to week and frankly, from goat to goat. (Ruby makes creamy milk, Fanny does not).
For us, we want to find the balance between feeding goats and letting goats feed themselves. We want the strange and unfamiliar because it means that we are tapped in to the seasonal aspect of milk and cheese. I relish the changing of the seasons and I mark those changes not just by shorter days or cooler mornings, but by less milk that makes more cheese. By mozzarella that stretches “weird”. By lazy girls curled in cuddle puddles. By frozen hands on warm teats. 
Milk and fresh cheese are seasonal. We force the girls to keep producing through the Winter, but it isn’t necessarily natural. I worry about these things. I ponder them. Making cheese is a contemplative time for me. It is a “hurry up and wait” and watch the thermometer activity. Today’s lunch of fresh cheese, one of the season’s last Roma tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with dried basil was confirmation that I’m doing this the right way for us, for now (which might not be the right way for someone else).

(Thanks for reading....reminder. These posts are mostly in their Rough Draft stage.)

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Gentle, but Sure

Harry Who


I remember the first time we had to dispatch an injured chicken. The details of how the injury happened are, as most of my memories, hazy. I think Mesa (the one we call The Brown Dog) attacked her; I know her crop was torn. Irreparable. My husband’s stroke with the knife wasn’t sure. The knife’s edge wasn’t sharp. The minutes that followed made me fell useless, and sad, and ashamed. I was a party to causing prolonged suffering when I had intended to release her from a long slow death. We later watched a video of a woman harvesting a hen from the soup pot. She was calm, her voice soothing, her hands gentle but sure. This was the way.
Years have passed since then. The last rooster I dispatched had a heat stroke. I found him down, the fire ants feasting on his eyes, but still alive. Without a knife to hand I plunged him into a bucket of water head first. I held him there until he calmed—mere seconds, though it felt like longer. Writing this now, I know it sounds cruel, to drown him. But I knew then, as I know now that he was almost gone when I found him and the fire ants…the agony that must have been. I acted with haste because of the ants. I knew going to the house to fetch a knife and coming back would take longer than the time it would take to get the ants off, for the last breath to come. Now I carry a pocket knife, rarely used, always sharp. It was that silver Buck knife, one stroke of the blade, I used today.
Harry Who had been sick for more than two weeks and down (unable to walk) for most of it. He was eating and drinking, but not improving. JC and I had discussed it last night and I awoke this morning at 5:30 (an hour earlier than usual) knowing I had a grim job to do today. I did not vary my routine; I did not hurry. Instead I prepared myself and my space. I made time just for this task knowing the burden of taking life and the import of doing it right. 
With my pocket knife in my pocket, I tied on an apron (not to protect my clothes, but to swaddle Harry). I picked the place for his planting, moved a chair into the space, then went to the barn.
I took Harry out into the morning sun, made sure he was clean of poop, fed him tiny chopped bits of pumpkin and halves of pear tomatoes. I talked with him and held him and when I felt that he was calm and I was calm and ready, I cradled him and walked him to the garden. Harry had not, before he went down, ever been touched by us. He was aloof and regal, the protector of his flock, not a pet. It was during this walk to the garden that I knew he was ready because he was in my arms as if he had always been cradled and carried instead of this being the first time.
When I sat down with him tucked between my thighs, his head hanging down between my knees, I wrapped him in the apron. He was peaceful, there was no panic, no struggle. I grasped his head gently in my left hand and committed to easing him out of this world, no rush. When it was time, my stroke was sure, my knife sharp.

I gave him and his blood back to the earth.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Daily Writing Challenge: Day 2: The Treehouse

I've challenged myself to sit down and write EVERY DAY...it won't all end up here as I'm old school and using a journal for the daily writing, but I do think that I need to make myself publicly accountable even though no one is likely to read this. (This is a second draft of my second day's writing)


I’ve been daydreaming about treehouses lately—though treehouse might be inaccurate as I don’t want to hurt a free with anchors, impose myself on the tree’s space, or get in its way. Perhaps I could call it an elevated shack or a sky lodge or some other silly thing—I just want to be as tall as a tree and while away the time.
This morning as I walked the dog in the forest I envisioned a stilted house (or should that be a house on stilts?) all wood and windows with a tin roof and a tiny balcony, the better for being in the trees. My little house on legs would blend right in, the trees would accept us as one of their own. There would be a swing under it, on rough hemp rope and hopefully it will develop a squeak because all the best swings have squeaks in my memory. 
Inside I will have soft rugs and a stuffed chair and my childhood wrought iron bed layered with quilts and pillows perfect for nesting. There would of course be a teapot and books. Many, many books. There would be an old-fashioned mailbox by the front door to put your phone in and a welcome mat on which to leave your shoes. 
I would hang the walls with paintings of owls and birds and starry nights. There would be shelves for the books and the collections of things the forest gives me like feathers and special rocks, all my hagstones would hang in the windows with stars made of stained glass and wispy curtain made of dreams. There would be no chores or lists of things to do there…it would be a place to read, or write, or draw, or think. A quiet place away…just away. Away from chores, and phones, and screens, and lists.
It’s the lists that keep me down, that bind me to the burden. I cannot say that the list is always on actual paper because it is more of a continuous awareness that everywhere my eyes rest there is work to be done. One thing is no sooner done  (or fixed) than something else insists it needs attention. This farm cries for attention, the house needs TLC, the dogs, the goats, the chickens, the garden; something is always demanded of me and somewhere along the way I forgot that I need attention, and TLC, and time, and space, too.
If I neglect the goats or the garden the consequences are dire—that’s how I think of it—something or someone will die. But I need to remember that the consequences of neglecting myself are dire too. I forget to eat. I forget how to sleep. I forget to dream. I forget to live.

So my little daydream shack in the sky is a form of self-care—maybe someday I’ll build it, but for now I go there in my mind.