Category Archives: family

What a Difference a [Year] Makes

Holy crap, it’s been forever since I posted. I miss it so much. Quick synopsis of the past ten months:

  • In January, chef left his job of six years because it was unsustainable from a “putting up with shitbags” standpoint,
  • We lived off our preps and in limbo for the next four months while chef looked for a bigger, better gig.
  • We wasted a month in Post, TX. Never go to Post, TX. Result: Psychopaths learn your phone number. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
  • Battled long and hard with unemployment and ultimately lost.
  • Several promising interviews later, we decided upon Klamath Falls, OR, where he’s Executive Chef/Food & Beverage Manager for the Running Y Ranch
  • We’ve kept the farm! It is experiencing the worst drought since 2011, which was the worst Texas drought in a hundred years.
  • My husband lost his mom to cancer a few weeks ago; it happened pretty quickly and we’re still a little shell-shocked.
  • In July, we moved a household across six states in a UHaul truck with a car-hauler attached. Four cats in the back of the truck. The dogs rode in the pickup on a trailer. Never.never again. Five days.

It has been a HARD (almost) ten months. I didn’t get a garden in because we couldn’t afford it. No farming. My gander flew away right before the goose laid her 18 eggs, and her being abandoned and an inexperienced layer meant a freeze killed all the eggs. We ended up selling all the chickens because we couldn’t move them across country, and adopted out the goose to a good home. That was hard. I killed a copperhead with a shovel, on a day where my husband had been gone at the new job for three weeks already, the ignition shot craps in the truck, and it was 106 degrees. That was a special day. We struggled with money to the point where my awesome neighbor actually showed up with groceries because he was so worried about us. Unannounced, unasked for or even hinted at by us, he just showed up. It still makes me tear up with humbleness and gratitude. We found out A’s mom had cancer, and it was so advanced that the future looked grim. That proved true.

We kept pretty quiet about it all, which is mostly why I haven’t been blogging. Waking up worried four months in a row in a hot house with two depressed adults and a bunch of heat-struggling animals isn’t something to share.

But! When A landed this gig, we also scored the most awesome house ever, and the ability to still own the farmhouse. He loves his job. We’re living on an amazing 52,000 acre ranch with landlords who have turned into VERY good friends. We’re laying in stores for the winter, are making plans for the future, and could.not.be.happier. The view from our front door is breathtaking. We are 45 minutes from Crater Lake. I got what I call my Freedom Mobile.

Image

Image

Image

My depression about having no farm this spring turned into a blessing. The drought would have killed it and me. My worries about the future have turned around so much that I am thoroughly excited about our futures. The husband is healthy and happy, as are my friends and family. We are sad that A’s mom is lost, but believe that she is at peace.

We live in what we call Little House in the Big Piney. We meet interesting people every day. I’ve got 15 pullets in the garage, waiting to be moved into a coop that I’m constructing this week. The dogs are being trained on a wireless electric fence, because if they keep chasing the cattle, they’ll be shot (hey, that’s how it rolls on a working cattle ranch). We are preparing for winter, and are completely stoked about having a fireplace in the living room.

We are endeavoring to be better children/friends/partners to our loved ones. We’re excited about our one/three/five years plans. And know now, thoroughly, that planning only takes you so far.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , ,

Year In Review

A year has passed since we got the farm. One whole year. We celebrated by hosting the chef’s parents for Thanksgiving, and eating off some 1930’s English china* we found at our local antique store, while watching the Texans almost lose to the Detroit Lions.

403509_10151479648333368_192777949_n

(*Total freaking score, btw. Alfred Meakin service for six, with six serving pieces for $60.)

One year. I’ve dealt with deaths, large and small. I’ve made some important friendships, and lost a few relationships I thought were important. I’ve learned that I’m tougher than I thought, and to take better care of myself by standing up for myself. I’ve realized that it’s a lot better for me to drop poisonous people than to put up with their bullshit and let it leak onto me.

I’ve learned a LOT about organic gardening and sustainability this year, just by doing. I’ve learned that books are only a pathway to the reality out here, and I’m thankful for our inventiveness and outside-the-box thinking. I’ve learned to can, and how to do household, yard, and pool maintenance. I’ve gotten to be a much better shot.

I’ve learned to not dream so big and to manage my expectations, for myself, my husband, this farm, my friends, my family. For every minus here, there seem to be pluses.

My plans for the big, bad-ass garden were too ambitious, and I could not keep up. My dreams of a huge flock of chickens didn’t work400197_10151483437318368_1546550247_n out, because they just kept dying this summer. One of my geese literally flew away and never came back. But two have stayed, a mated pair that will give us eggs and babies  this spring. We got four more pullets, and we’ll have six layers by spring.

Despite all the set-backs our first spring and summer, we managed to produce so much veg that we have an over-filled freezer and about 40 jars of product.  The greenhouse didn’t happen because the winds blew the covering off and mangled the frame, but we’ll try it again in the spring. We’re doing two beefsteak tomato plants in our indoor greenhouse, so winter tomatoes!!

The pool never seemed to get quite right until the very end of the season, when we finally figured out the necessary chemical brew. We still haven’t had the money to buy a lawn mower, but it’s kind of okay, because we learned that our neighbor is a super-nice guy and brings his tractor over to drag the grass and keep it looking tight. We had two trees felled that didn’t make it through last year’s drought. Pine tree for the burn pile, and pecan tree for the smoker. (Oh yeah, we got a smoker!) I’ve learned to deal with scorpions and coyotes, and last evening while putting up the chickens for the night, a rattlesnake struck my boot. I’ve learned that I can run pretty fucking fast.

We’re installing raised beds in 2013, and that will help with the manageability for me. The beds will be closer to the house, closer to a water source, and we’ll be installing irrigation. I won’t have to deal with constant weeding, and the Bermuda grass can have its way with the big garden area, where we’re getting many ducks and geese to eat it.

IMG_1915We adopted a puppy (Mongo) and found a Siamese kitten (Mr. Peabody). I went through my first-ever dog-in-heat experience (she’s since been fixed). Doggy diapers = nobody wins. Total count: five male cats, two dogs. We’re stopping there.

This is my birthday week, and we’ll be going next weekend to cut down our Christmas tree and put it up in the great room. It looks magical when it’s all lit up, set against the backdrop of this 1930 Texas farmhouse. We’ve fixed up the house so it’s comfortable and nice for us and anyone who visits, and 2013 will see some painting and power-washing, to get it even nicer.

We got married here, and it was a magical day. I can’t imagine doing this with anybody else in the world. We’ve been able to share this place with friends and family, and that’s pretty freaking sweet. A few parties, a pig buried and eaten, our first deep-fried turkey (kick-ass, btw), music, dancing, laughter, tears.

Can’t wait to see what the next year here brings.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Double Down

We’ve had a rough few days at El Rancho Loco. First, on Saturday morning early (like 5:00 a.m.), we both woke up to start the day. Nice start to our weekend, yay! I reached to the floor, in the dark, for my kick-ass Dickie’s camo shorts and SHABBAP, got hit by a scorpion. I screamed on the top of my lungs, “Motherfuckingshitballsfuckingscorpion *breathe* AAAAAHHHHHFUCKYOU!!!!” The only scorpion in the entire house was sitting right where my thumb reached. We know because we spent the next 15 minutes looking around the carpet with a blacklight. What are the fucking odds? Why my bedroom? There’s no water there, there is only certain death. I think my friends and family are safe from scorpions though, because every one of those pieces of shit will come for me while my loved ones run away.

When Lovelace was the biggest lady in the yard.

So I iced my thumb and put NeoSporin with lidocaine on it and went out to let out the chickens/geese. I noticed my favorite (she’s my favorite now, despite this post where I called her Bitchface #2) is looking a little funky. She usually stands in front of the geese right at the door, waiting to be let out (she’s the alpha). That morning, she was on the ground, and when she got up, she was limping. Then I noticed that she had a little eye funk and was wheezing a little. So I did some research in my books and online, and we got some VetRX to help with possible respiratory infection and cider vinegar to add to the water, to help with her overall malaise and possible parasites. I spent Saturday and Sunday cleaning her butt and rubbing her with medicine and watering her. I put her in the jumbo cat carrier to isolate her. She spent the next two days sliding downhill.

Yesterday, I called a chicken pro who told me it might be Marek’s, might be CRD and to get Tylan or LS-50 to inject her with. I spent all day yesterday feeding her little sips of water with apple cider vinegar, and rubbing her head and talking to her. She fell asleep in my arms a few times. We’re a one-car family, so I waited till the chef got home to take me to Tractor Supply. I watched a couple of videos to see how to inject her. I went and checked on her before we went. We got home, I loaded up the syringe, took it out to the coop and she had died. Ants were already covering her face. I started bawling and brushing ants off her face while Allan went and got a garbage bag.

I know it’s stupid and it’s not really my fault, but I feel like a failure. I know it’s stupid to have gotten so attached after I said I wouldn’t, but I did anyway. I know it’s stupid to take this personally, but I am.

Body count since March:

3 dead goslings (pecked to death by Seka and Lovelace)
1 dead Cuckoo Maran (pecked to death by Seka and Lovelace)
1 dead Plymouth Barred Rock (Seka) decapitated by owl
1 dead sex-link (unknown reasons)
1 dead Gold-Laced Wyandotte (Lovelace) and I don’t know why

We have three geese left, plus one sex-link, a Rhode Island Red, and two Cuckoo Marans, only one of whom is laying because the other one has a failure-to-thrive syndrome where she has not properly developed her comb or wattle, and doesn’t have a proper vent size for laying. So at least we still have three layers.

More proof that I suck.

We talked to some friends and we’re going to keep doing it, even though I feel like the worst Mom ever. (Ursa got bit by what we’re afraid might be a brown recluse or a black widow spider. We have to keep an eye on it for necrosis. Researching how to treat it at home in the meantime. This picture looks like she’s in pain or is lethargic. This is actually her relaxing after tearing around the yard after toads, rabbits, grasshoppers, the wind, like she does every day, rain or shine.)

We’re going to get more chickens and a rooster, so I can start brooding chicks. We decided that the rate of attrition in a free-range Texas chicken yard is always going to be a little high, so let’s double-down on this effort.

I’m going to spend today and maybe part of tomorrow feeling like I’ve let the team down, then snap out of it and start looking at new hens.

They will not get names.

Here are some good things from the past few days…

Mr. Peabody. Scourge of all other animals in this house.

Surprise flowers. Lilies? Ideas? I didn’t plant them.

Seeds up: Broccoli, thyme, tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, cilantro, Swiss chard.

Pool looks awesome.

Chef’s awesome.

My mom came through a cataract surgery totally great.

My dad’s still kickin’ it in his La-Z-Boy.

Weather’s getting cooler.

Getting my car fixed next month.

Party on October 6th.

Still breathing.

Big p.s.: Awesome friends and family. Thanks for making me feel a little better, y’all. Big love from me and Allan.

UPDATE: Ursa has histiocytosis, a common benign growth on her nose that is apparently kind of like a wart that will go away on its own. So, Huzzah! to both our vet, who didn’t charge anything, and to life, for not handing us another shit bouquet.

Also, those red flowers are Oxblood Lilies.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Good Day

I don’t normally write in the evenings; it’s just not my brain’s creative time. I’m usually tapped, mentally, by 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. Anyway, today is different because today was pretty freaking great. And nothing really happened.

Not mine, but close enough. So sad…

The heat has been bumming me out for a few reasons, mostly because it was hastening what I thought was the demise of all the garden vegetable plants. They’ve looked miserable and stopped producing.  I tried watering consistently (even doubled the schedule for about a month), Neem oil/baking soda/vinegar for potential disease and insects, compost side-dressing for nutrients. Then, I tore out a few dead tomatoes and kind of gave up on the rest of the gardens. Brown, sad, non-producing, cat-faced tomatoes, no fertility. I thought it was blight, but nope. It’s just been so fucking hot and dry that they were giving up. The  squash was dying; the green beans gave up weeks ago. Pepper plants looking droopy and sad, with no fruit or flowers. The only thing thriving is the watermelons. Nothing can stop them. They’re aliens.

Well, a few good rains and cloudy days last week changed everything. Real rain is simply unbeatable. The plants perked up and more miraculously, started coming back. The tomatoes and peppers have new blooms on them, they’ve set well, and we’ll be getting new tomatoes in a month. The squash (“”Prolific”…I can’t recommend this squash enough) has gone crazy again, after slowing down for a few weeks.

What happened today is I finally had enough of neglecting the gardens we worked so hard to establish, so I got to work outside. I started weeding at 7:00 a.m. I worked on and off all over our gardens and yard for almost six hours, with frequent breaks. I deadheaded flowers, Neemed everything, composted, hoed the beds, tore out big grass around the pool by hand, blew out the pool filter system, battled wolf spiders, put away tools that had been left out, cut down the spent sunflowers to harvest the seeds tomorrow, found the laying hen’s new hidden nest, stood down the geese when they charged me this morning.

It was a normal day on the farm. One I’ve not experienced in months, and haven’t even really wanted to, because the second effect of the heat for me is that it kind of saps my will to live. I get depressed, and that’s a fact. Lost interest in normal activities, fits of extreme fatigue, loss of appetite, erratic sleep, intermittent bouts of sadness, and even inappropriate anger. Money worries, sick and dying family, frustration over a couple of stalled projects…

This summer has been hard, but for unexpected reasons. I anticipated the bugs and heat and physical exertion to get the better of me, sooner rather than later. What has actually happened is my heart gave out, figuratively speaking. Texas summer tried to suck away my will and spirit. So I’m going to keep an eye on this tendency towards lethargy when faced with Texas douchebaggery. It’s a stupid cycle, and nobody I know or love deserves to be around it, least of all me.

So, suck it summer. You are not the boss of me.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Pigs and Pools

That freaking hole took us 2-1/2 hours to dig (heavy clay…SO MUCH FUN. *sigh*).

The pig bury was a success (and thank God, because that would have been a $150 mistake we can’t afford right now)! See, we didn’t actually know what we were doing. I’ve only ever attended other peoples’ pig buries (in Hawaii), and the chef has only ever read about it/seen videos.

Opera gloves and a hula skirt. It’s a party, y’all.

So we said, “Fuck it, let’s do it anyway cuz it’s awesome,” and dug a hole, got the completely wrong kind of rocks, a 35 lb. pig, and blisters on our hands.

We started digging the hole at 6:30 a.m. on Friday. Then at 2:00 p.m., Allan started burning pecan wood in the hole. Then he kept burning wood. For six more hours. Then he poured the lava rocks over and DOUSED THE COALS accidentally. Then he burned more wood for two hours. At 10:00 p.m., we put in the banana leaf-/burlap-/chicken wire-wrapped piggy in the ground, covered it with dirt, a tarp, more dirt, and prayers that we weren’t going to disappoint our friends and family with pig that had to be finished in the oven.

BUT HUZZAH, when we pulled that bad boy out at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, mothahfuckah turned out porkalicious and nobody got trichinosis! (I tamed down the photo carnage for the faint of heart with my mad Paint skills. You’re welcome.)

We swam, we sweated, we ate, we blew stuff up. It was 98 degrees until we were finally (three months of waiting!!!) blessed with some rain. Friends and family brought booze and food and chairs and it was alllll good.

Next time, bigger pig!

Tagged ,

Not There. Here, Now

So, where am I not right now? On a scheduled flight to Chicago. One flight got cancelled today by Southwest Airlines, and it was mine. No other flights today than one that gets in at 9:45 p.m., and no flights available tomorrow that don’t land smack-dab in the middle of the funeral (or after, which is pointless). So thanks a pant-load, Southwest. My heart is broken. But one cousin (my cousins are AWESOME, btw) said, “Uncle Don knows you tried” and another said, “You must have to stay home for some reason or this would not have happened.” So, maybe it’s okay.

I think I’m going to do some art today. I’ve been wanting to do a series of rough pen & ink drawings of farm stuff, like chickens, trees, outbuildings, all from our farm. Way less intensive than the work I normally do, which is pointillism (one of my pieces, below).

Monet’s Lilies

Maybe the Universe is telling me to get out of my own head and make something this weekend. I just found out someone I care about has cancer. I’m going to send good energy her way, do something creative, and maybe can some more tomatoes. Maybe vacuum. Play with the kitten. Talk to the family by phone. Hug my husband when he gets home. Nesting and creativity seem to be the order of the day.

I made breakfast this morning (3 small pullet eggs, scrambled; flour tortilla; 2 Roma tomatoes) and realized that two of the three things on my plate were made on this farm, with help from me and my husband. That made me feel good.

And then I cried for my own selfish reasons, because I can’t see my family this weekend.

Suck it up, you big baby. Uncle Don would say the same thing.

Tagged , , ,

Heat and Funerals

This super-informative piece on Mother Earth News says (page 3), “…remember that it’s unwise to do hard outdoor work when both the temperature and the humidity are high. When the two numbers added together equal more than 160, stay indoors during the middle of the day.”

I would edit that to add, “If you live in south central Texas, however, it is technically ALWAYS the middle of the day. Plan on building robots to do your gardening, because those two numbers will equal greater than 160 for the next four months.”

I just got in from an hour’s-worth of harvesting tomatoes, feeding and watering the chickens and geese, and watering the gardens. After standing in front of the window A/C, I’m at least not dripping sweat from every pore; only my hair is still soaked. The cats lasted about 10 minutes out there, and the dog looks at me like I’m slow in the head whenever I open the door to let her out.

The plants are all suffering. This year’s averages are already 10 degrees above normal and everything is browning. I water in the mornings and we’ll be constructing some shade dealies next week (when the chef’s on vacation…YAY!) to help at least the tomatoes. We’ll also be filling the indoor greenhouse with starts to go in next month. The only thing really thriving outside right now is a super-tall volunteer sunflower in the potager. (Not my garden; it’s too freaking hot and I’m too cooked to go out with a camera right now. Thanks, random blogger, Cheryl.)

While the husband’s home, we have a ton of outdoor chores to attend to for our party July 7th*. It’s going to be a blast! However, pool needs fixing up, gardens need cleaning, pit needs digging, lighting needs putting up, grass needs mowing, food and supplies need getting boughted. (Okay, that last one got away from me.)

Here’s an actual photo from our garden from Tuesday, June 26, 2012, or as I like to call it, “Family Shit Day.” Go ahead, click on the photo. It’s a black widow and her boyfriend, right under one of the tomato plants. I pulled back a big clump of stems to get at some ripe tomatoes underneath and THERE IT WAS. Oh, I ain’t proud to say I Sevin’d the shit out of her, but, I SEVIN’D THE SHIT OUT OF HER. Then that wasn’t enough, so I scootched her and her boyfriend out and smashed them under my rubber boot toe into the dirt until they were a whole mess of splat and legs.

Also on the “getting boughted” list for the party: Outdoor and indoor foggers, tiki torches, personal bodyguards, spider mace**.

*Send me an email if you’re local and come on out! (You’ll be required to answer a series of questions allowing me to judge whether or not you are a dangerous ax murderer, Obama supporter, or Romney supporter.)

**Is there such a thing? Because if there isn’t, I’m going to invent it and be a gajillionaire.

*************************
Friday a.m: Off to Chicago to attend a service for my uncle, and see my large family for the first time in a while. Way too long a while for some of them. Funeral Saturday. I’m looking forward to a lot of laughing and hugs and some cathartic tears. I know Uncle Don would be pissed if we didn’t laugh as much as we can at this thing.
Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

My Uncle

My mom’s little brother.

This isn’t about farming or gardening. It’s not about being angry or smart-assed. It’s about saying good-bye to one of my heroes, my Uncle Donny. He passed last night unexpectedly, after a few hard years of health trouble.

I remember you from when I was a little girl in Florida. You came down to our house to clear trees, because you were a “Tree Surgeon.” I thought that meant you were a) a real doctor, and b) why would a real doctor be cutting down trees instead of healing them? You were like a spider monkey, climbing the trees with your spiked shoes and big ropes, brandishing a chain saw like you were a pine tree pirate. You had the first tattoo I ever saw. I thought you were the coolest person ever.

I remember visiting your little white farmhouse in Illinois. We Downer kids thought you were rich because you had a two-story house. We were also pretty sure you were from another country because your Chicago accent was so strong.  I remember you had an earthworm farm in the basement, and it was exciting and scary as hell to go down there and smell those worms and creep along in the near-dark.

I remember you taking me to your neighbor’s house who had horses, because you knew I was obsessed and you wanted me to learn to ride, and shut up about it already. I didn’t want to walk home through the woods by myself, and I remember you telling me to “Toughen up and just do it,” and so I did.

I remember you and my other uncles getting shit-faced drunk at Uncle Chuck’s, and throwing bean bags and then punches. Then all of you laughing like idiots until all us cousins fell asleep when it got dark.

I remember you and the other Uncles and Grandma yelling at each other and then hugging. All cousins (and kids) were convinced you all were crazy.

I remember you and Uncle Chuck teaching me to throw elbows in a fight, “Because you got a big mouth and girl fists. You’d get your ass beat.” (And I never told you how many times that trick came in handy.)

I remember when my parents got divorced and you drove down to Florida with Uncle Chuck to bring me, Mom, and my brothers up to Chicago to live. You came in a U-Haul truck, and bitched and bitched about the heat and all the stuff we had. Then you drove us to our new home and helped us get settled in our new lives.

I remember opening day White Sox games and how OFFENDED you always were that I am a Cubbies fan. I remember you taking us to the press box at the old Blackhawks Stadium, and how regular seats at a Blackhawks game always sucked because they weren’t above center ice…

I remember what seemed like 40 Gabouer kid weddings, and you and Aunt Geri being dressed to the nines…

I remember you yelling, “Stell-Adele!” every time you saw my mom, and would hurry up to give us all hugs.

I remember the first time I saw your lake house in Indiana and how cool I thought you and Aunt Geri were, and that you’d finally “made it.”

I remember you asking me to ghost-write your autobiography, and how honored I was that you would ask me, knowing that I love to write. I remember how embarrassed you were over some of the stories, thinking I’d be offended, and then realizing that that’s pretty freaking hard to do with me.

I remember you and Uncle Chuck coming to our little lake house in Polo a few years ago, and how you two were like little kids about wanting cookies after dinner, and leaving me money on the toilet tank because never in the history of ever had two people filled up a septic tank so fast. I remember you being so proud of the fact that you used the ladies room at our local gas station, because, “AY! When you gotta go, you gotta go!”

I remember (three years ago) you taking me and my brother out on your boat at Lake Shafer, and me sitting all the way up front and you banging the waves so I’d fly around and scream and laugh until tears were streaming from my eyes.  And when I screamed, “AGAIN! AGAIN!” like a two year-old, you obliged.

I remember your “Come to Jesus” meetings on the deck at Lake Shafer, when all they really were was a venue for telling more stories.

I remember talking to you for the first time in years when you were diagnosed with cancer, and we never really stopped the calls every month or two. I remember you taking time in the recent years to reach out to me through phone calls, whether to congratulate me on my engagement and wedding, or to yell at me for saying “fuck” so much on Facebook.

I remember you never stopped talking. From the early morning till you went to sleep, you always had a story. We could tell you over and over again that we’d heard it before, but that didn’t stop you. You’d plow right through, undaunted by our groans or rolling eyes.

Uncle Don, I’d give anything to hear one more of your stupid stories.