The mountains are greening (and I must go…)

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Paraphasing the oft-quoted John Muir. Just learned this week that he was born in Scotland and basically founded what we know today as the Sierra Club. Thank you, NYTNow.

We got a serious amount of rain in March, and April has been more of the same, so I don’t know why I’m surprised by the sudden beauty filling in the blanks all around me, like some kid grabbed every green Crayola in the box and went to town on our mountains. The dogwoods, apple, and crabapple are stretching their arms out in showy pink and white, the red maples are doing their thing, and everywhere else is filling in greeeeeeeeen. It’s waking me up inside.

Chalk it up to this only being my 3rd year back in seasons. I also blame it on apartment living, a lack of green space to call my own, so I note that it’s mud season, and I crave a pair of muck boots for it, but know I don’t actually need them yet. Gotta hate when frugality and an attempt to scale back on hedonism results in depriving oneself of shoe shopping. I’ll make up for it with a new pair of hiking shoes in a couple of weeks.

When it’s not raining, the weather’s so dang beautiful it makes me ache and want to go climb said mountains, even though I’m still in winter shape and it would seriously kick my ass. As soon as the brace comes in for my iliotibial pain (it’s not just a runner’s problem, it’s a “fat chicks who overexert themselves” problem), I’m working my quads on a hill somewhere.

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What I learned at this year’s Mother Earth News Fair continues to sink in slowly, and sadly, it’s the American food industry helping push my motivations away from itself. I touched on this over at Melanie’s Gym, but the upshot is that what started as a small voluntary recall by Blue Bell, has snowballed my desire for greenhouses, a milk cow, and much more food independence than we currently have. I’m so glad I bought The Nourishing Homestead, and I look forward to tucking into that when time allows in the coming weeks.

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01f8623ea4126ebab66ff58f649df2d38c585bd978We haven’t even started seeds yet, mostly because of logistics. Ansel turned 1 yesterday, and a couple of weeks back it dawned on me that last year’s setup of an electric blanket and seedlings spread out on the guest room bed wasn’t going to fly at. all. because he’s a climber and uses that bed frequently. So I’m thinking I’ll start them on the kitchen table and just stagger it as space allows. Since we’re only doing herbs to start, there’s less concern about timing. We bought 2 mints and a comfrey at the tailgate market last week, and damn, that felt good, so I’m definitely ready to get my hands in the dirt. Just gotta find the time.

Mother Earth News Fair

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I’ve attended 3 of these fairs now, so the effects are more gradual. Saturday was overwhelming as usual, all the walking, all the things to see. There’s more free time once you’ve been to a couple of these, and it was nice to not feel so rushed to take everything in. And in true Murphy’s Law fashion, some of the workshops you do want to attend hit at the same time, but that’s a hard complaint to have when there’s so much good there.

For the uninformed, Mother Earth News Fair is a “hands-on sustainable lifestyle event” of workshops, lectures, demonstrations, and vendors focused on the tenets espoused in the Mother Earth publications. If you are a farmer, gardener, wannabe, or granola, it’s a 2- to 3-day love-in.

This is Asheville’s 2nd year, and I pray their numbers are good enough to go for a third; because I really do love this fair and the next closest one is 8 hours from here. Even though it felt initially like we had more free time, more workshops to blow off because we had already attended them at previous fairs, I find myself still processing everything I learned this year and wishing I could have attended X, Y, and Z. Sunday definitely isn’t as populated as Saturday, hence my concern about the numbers.

I have turned into a seriously easygoing adult, so I don’t understand people who go to these things and then spend their time complaining. I can only guess that they’re exhausted from being parents, and I’m childless. I’d like to see more animals and some fresh workshops, but by and large I go, expecting to have a blast, and it has yet to disappoint.

The food truck sitch was MUCH better this year, lots of options; and Sierra Nevada brewery just opened a facility next door to Asheville in Mills River, so they had a beer garden this year. Props to them for several things: the hydrogen and solar powered trailer serving icy cold beer with 100% of the proceeds being donated to the Organic Growers School. Great promotion! I indulged on Sunday and it hit the spot nicely.

Les and I both seem to learn something new, take away something that engages us, gets us excited to learn more. This year, it was mushrooms for him and butchering for me. I learned about charcuterie, butchering a hog, processing and butchering chickens, and a smattering of gardening.

The above images are all courtesy of Mother Earth News, because the one drawback to the fair being held at the WNC Ag Center is that it’s an impressive cell phone suck zone. It’s located directly across from the airport, which I’m guessing is the reason texting is a joke, cell reception is sketchy, and your phone battery literally seems to drain faster than normal. As a result you forget to take pictures because your phone becomes a source of frustration.

There’s plenty more I’ll be talking about later, about the delightful Meredith Leigh and her butchering expertise, about how fascinating the chicken processing was, how Joel’s talk did not disappoint, but WordPress is being difficult, and I’ve got pesky sites waiting to be edited.

Nutshell: if you suffer from Barnheart, get thee to the Mother Earth News Fair! Totally worth your money and time!

An Ill West Wind in Upstate NY

I don’t post often enough here these days, and I hope to change that soon, especially as the world starts to wake back up from winter. But this week and topic have struck a chord, and I hope if you feel so moved, you will help Josh and his family if you can.

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I dream of my little patch of land, and the dream gets closer. It will have a copse of woods for us to draw our heat from (and replenish as we go), and hopefully a small water source. There will be a well on the property, and some pasture for at least chickens and pigs. The house will be a fixer-upper with good bones, and the land will hopefully have a barn that may be described the same way. We will live off this land, and share our wealth where we can.

Anyone with this dream educates themselves. Even before watching Food Inc., I had heard the stories of “Monsanto’s Men in Black” coming to accuse the smaller farmers of stealing their seed (because it had blown quite literally onto their land by nature); of a seemingly well-meaning animal lover calling the cops on Jenna when her farm was in its infancy (because that neighbor had zero clue about the positive points of deep bedding, or that a farm could be ::gasp!:: muddy around the edges); about farmers hosting farm to table dinners on their land in the great outdoors, only to be told they can’t serve said food because it hasn’t passed inspection to be served to the public…food that was grown without pesticides, on the premises, transparently!

The stories are infuriating in the face of what the USDA and the American Food Industry think passes for food nowadays. It’s why the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund exists, and I pray, thrives as people clue into the fact that the “food” on grocery store shelves cannot be allowed to enter our bodies if we want to live long lives.

Yea, I digress. If you read Jenna, or Jon Katz, or keep your ear to the ground on Facebook, you’ve already heard the story of West Wind Acres, a farm in West Charlton/Amsterdam, New York, that raises chickens, pigs, and cows on a transparent, rotational grazing ala Salatin system. They also have horses and dogs on the property, or did, until the local authorities responded to complaints about the animals being kept outside (not true) and raided their home and property. The horses were seized and taken to a local rescue, in spite of not one, but two local veterinarians certifying that the animals were in good health. If you read between the lines, you have to wonder if the authorities planned their visit mid-afternoon because they knew things would “look” lax since enough time had passed since morning chores. Their animals were not being neglected, but still Josh was charged with 13 counts ranging from animal cruelty to unsanitary conditions.

Yes, upstate New York has had a hard winter, but the animal loving freaks who call the cops anonymously on people like Josh simply don’t understand enough about animals, the conditions that they live in, and the conditions they can withstand. There’s a reason people build shelters instead of barns in a pinch. These animals, be it sheep, horses, cows, or pigs, lived outside for centuries. Their shelters, barns, and mangers barely kept out the cold, did not have heat, and still these creatures survived, because their coats and central nervous systems evolved to do so.

I’ve already said too much, and can feel the animal lovers going “what about chickens getting frostbitten combs! what about the water buckets freezing!” My point is a responsible farmer takes all the “what if’s” into account, and judging a farm book by its cover is what’s irresponsible. This ignorance is, in fact, painfully detrimental to the small farmer, just trying to earn a living doing what they love, giving back to the land and its people.

I was so glad to see that the gofundme account set up to help Josh and his family with their legal expenses was up to 78%! Because if you ask me, that goal is on the low side, considering what his family will have to endure in the coming months to get their animals back, get the charges cleared up, and try to repair the damage this has done to their business, their livelihood. If you are able to give, please do. I gave, and y’all know how tight-fisted I am. But I don’t have to clap eyes on their farm to know that an injustice is being done, and I pray their story only strengthens the resolve of all the other dreamers like me out there, just waiting for the pieces to fall into place on their own little patches of land.

Almost Back

I know, it’s been ages since I’ve posted. Believe me, it feels like it, and with Spring around the corner, my mind starts to itch with plans. What will we plant this year? How to keep the GD neighbor’s dog from pissing all over everything? Yea, the weather’s ever-so-slowly starting to turn, but patience is key in the WNC…put stuff out before May 15 and you’re asking for lost crops, no matter how small…and I really want this year to be about smaller batches with bigger yields.

February was a frenetic month of snow and electronic failures. My laptop went into a networking coma about 3 weeks ago…plain stopped being able to access the internet at all. I took a 2-week forced vacation, binge-watched West Wing, and nearly went out of my gourd from the lack of real computer access. Still processing the lessons that come with that…..I bought a zafu and zabaton, and I’m exercising more.

We procured funds from our last safety net (don’t get me started about how that feels, or how it’s forcing serious budgeting like never before) and sent the laptop to a local repair shop, where thanks to snow days and the flu, it’s been languishing a bit … I’m calling them Monday. We purchased a laptop for Les, which has been a long time coming, as he’s an unpaid producer for an internet radio show and has been doing all manner of administrative tasks from his iPhone 5 for like, 6 months now. I ordered a nice desktop model, but it needed some custom building and is only now on its way to us. I’ve been working from Les’s new laptop for a week now, and I ache for my own system back, any system to call my own. The end of this coming week, the desktop and a new office chair should arrive, and late Christmas will fall in Melanie’s world.

I’m behind on my computer class and my book proposals, and there’s nothing to do but wait just a little longer. I’ll start work on the taxes tomorrow, and knock them out fully next weekend. 2013 is paid off, thanks to that safety net, and I’m starting to think that the big chunk I was hoping to put toward a future house payment needs to go to the 2014 taxes, and we’ll just have to save for the house payment the old fashioned way…because there’s not much point in only paying off half the 2014 year and then trying to save for both at the same time, not with the hideous penalties and fees the IRS tacks onto every month.

To all you wannabe freelancers out there, the concept is doable and wonderful and amazingly freeing, but for the love of all the gods, do your homework first! I figured this out the hard way, and this makes me look stupid, but I bring it up here to illustrate how important it is to read the fine print. When I called the IRS to negotiate an installment payment plan, they were wonderfully flexible…the agent told me that since I was negotiating a payment plan, I would not incur additional penalties. That was a bold-faced lie. The second key point was their flexibility about how much I could pay…I wasn’t budgeting well at the time and told them I could really only afford $50 a month to start. They said no problem, and I did just that for about 6 months…and recently looked at the statements they sent me and discovered that thanks to those additional penalties and late fees, I was making virtually no headway on my debt…in fact, I was owing a couple bucks more per each month!

So. I’m back to pulling X amount from each check to go toward quarterlies. I actually started that when I first went independent back in 2013, but when you don’t budget properly for everything else, that concept quickly takes a backseat. I’m over that nonsense. Momma wants a house!

Figaro’s dealt with fleas this winter. She and Ansel both got fat, so we’re regulating their food (no more silo!) and she’s lost weight. Ansel’s been a little slower to drop the pooch, as he eats compulsively when he’s bored or gets admonished. But the little guy’s not yet a year old, so I’m determined to get him back to fighting weight.

New Year, New Look

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I renew the URL for this blog in February, and with it usually comes an antsyness, a desire to look a little different. Don’t know if I’ll keep this template, but I’ve been itching to get writing here again, so we’re going with that for now.

January came and went without too much fanfare. Winter came in like a lion here in November, shocking us with that fast and early snowfall, and we’ve had little more than 24-hour flurries ever since. I have trouble empathizing with the folks who are sick of winter, and have to remind myself that if I was stuck daily with the tasks of shoveling out different routes through 4 feet of snow, I’d likely be singing a different tune. I really wonder how much of the crazy weather New England’s been getting this month can be at least partially blamed on human-induced climate change. Scary thought.

Every time I step outside to cold temperatures and low humidity, it pulls my time in Florida further away in my memory, and I heal a little more. I really hated it there, and this place is a balm for my soul.

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I made a much better living here last year than the first year. I have a lot of fear about finances, about keeping the roof over our heads and the wolf at the door, but seeing those numbers on the 1099 have helped me gain some serious perspective and see where budgeting needs to change.

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This winter, the pressure canner’s been getting a workout. We freeze the leftover turkey at Thanksgiving, and recently it finally became soup. It was a helpful reminder of how much better homemade tastes than your average can of Progresso. I followed that up this past weekend with Beef & Barley, and since I do enjoy the Progresso Chicken Vegetable Rotini, I’m planning to reincarnate that in homemade fashion next.

Jam season should arrive on the heels of all that soup making. I’m focusing on strawberry and blueberry jams only this year, as it’s becoming clearer what gets eaten around here. I should add peach jam to that list too though, because the Hubs loves it, even though we still have plenty in the pantry.

They maintain an indoor tailgate market around here in the winter, but it lacks some of our key favorite farms, and we’ve been busy/money’s been tight coming off the holidays. We’re both already looking ahead to farmer’s market season though, getting fresh local veggies back in the fridge. I’m going to be experimenting with more veggie-focused recipes this year, as I work to lose weight/get healthier.

Yule and the New Year

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My husband’s family had a lovely tradition when the kids were growing up. Every year, the kids got a new ornament to hang on the tree. Some got lost or broken along the way, but the end result is a nice supply of ornaments with sentimental value, which go to the child once they reach adulthood-ish. OK, in our case, we didn’t take them off Mom’s hands until last year; but that was more of an organizational issue, stuff getting packed away all willy-nilly each year, than a not-wanting issue.

It took us an extra weekend to get the dang tree up, but I’m so glad we did finally, for several reasons. Maybe at the top of that list is that the tree lights are drawing our big cat out of the master bedroom finally. She went quite sedentary when the kitten came on the scene, because we separated them quite a bit while they got used to each other. But it did not do her any favors, and she gained weight. We finally moved the litter box out of the bedroom, and that got her moving a bit, but by and large, she was hanging out with Hubs in the master bedroom all. the. time. She’s coming out into the living room a LOT more now, sleeping on the big chair next to the tree; and she and Ansel have been getting along quite a bit better. They still wrestle quite a bit…Ansel’s only 8 months today, and definitely more energetic…but they also sleep next to each other now without incident, and there’s some co-bathing going on.

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By some Yule miracle, the cats are not interested in climbing said tree. Ansel pulls ornaments off occasionally, but once we started putting gifts around it, he stopped screwing with the bottom ornaments for the most part, and he’s never jumped into it, thank goodness.

The tree itself is your basic artificial model, 6 feet, already strung with lights. Les is allergic to pine, but I’m still pondering testing that theory and putting some branches up around the house. Living in the country has its advantages. Having Les’s childhood ornaments on there feels so right, and I find myself wanting to make some of my own.

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We opened presents on Sunday morning (Yule/Winter Solstice). Made a nice brunch and dinner, and puttered mostly otherwise. I was locked out of my work system all weekend (see Ember Madrone for my rantings about that), and it was just the break I needed from the autopilot mode I’ve been sporting lately.

Thursday/Christmas morning, we’ll travel down to Aiken to visit Les’s family for the day. That work outage means we can’t afford to take more than one night, but that’s a blessing we were planning on anyway, to avoid family tensions. My sis and mom will visit this weekend.

Lil Bro is still marooned in Florida. We don’t usually exchange gifts, both out of laziness and poverty on both our parts, and that’s fine…it’s kind of an unspoken permission we give ourselves, thanks to Dad’s ingrained aversion for the holidays…it somehow makes it not bad to not gift. What a concept. We know we love each other, even if we don’t talk much. Nuf said.

Still, the gifts are nice when you can do it, and I find myself adding a bit of myself more and more. Whether it’s a pound cake, homemade granola, or a regift, maybe something I bought myself that someone else will use and appreciate more…I see no problem with that. The holiday spirit eluded me this year, for the most part, so much so that I find myself wanting to maybe plan out things to do to prepare for the season throughout the year, kind of like how the Yarn Harlot knits a pair of socks a month so that at least she’ll have those handy for gifts come Christmas. I don’t see that happening here, but maybe the concept can be put to use. I have a new planner coming in the mail in the next week or so.

Wishing you all Happy Holidays and a Merry New Year!

Perspective

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It’s been a while, so prepare for a ramble.

I’m looking outside at the grey cold. Actually, only the sky is grey; the back hill is flush with pine tree teenagers still boasting their green needles. The upstairs neighbor has the heat on, and his new unit goes louder before it shuts down; it sits outside the 2nd bedroom window. The quiet when it shuts down is lovely. Les doesn’t leave the TV on much anymore, as he’s glued to his phone (radio shows, podcasts, etc.), and I welcome the quiet. We’ll probably cancel cable after the holidays.

I’m simultaneously bummed and glad the snow’s holding off til evening, because we haven’t been to the grocery store yet this paycheck. The weekend got away from us and likely, I’ll send Hubs off to the EBBS* by himself later, because I need to work. But my focus is fleeting a bit today, hence this post. I just read Jenna’s latest, and it was wonderful…like, print-that-sucker-out-and-post-it-on-the-fridge-for-motivation-wonderful. Just a basic “day in the life” post, but for those of us who don’t have our farms yet, it sings with anticipation.

I put the new lease in the mail this week with a sigh of relief, a bit of sadness, and a healthy dose of determination. Things need to change this coming year, but for now, there’s still a roof over our heads and food on the table.

I woke up this morning as I have been lately, around 7:20 a.m. because the kitten climbs over my head and on my hair to get to the bedroom window. He hops up from the bed to the top of the short bookcase and just looks and looks, tail wagging like a dog. I’ve gotten enough sleep, but the awakening is startling and makes me grumpy, and thus it takes me longer to get my motor running. There’s no animals to walk or wood stove to tend, so I make a cup of coffee and try to settle in at the laptop. Check email, play on FB, do a site. Unfortunately, that’s a bit of a theme during the week for me though, which makes me fall behind quickly and work more Saturdays than I’d like. For someone who has 3 other living creatures counting on her, I could really use some more self-discipline.

I think about looking for office work after the holidays. I don’t know if this will actually happen, or if I’ll budget us differently and soldier on. I know deep-down that I’d rather do the latter, but I’m also uncertain about the intelligence of that scenario.

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The holidays are sneaking up on us. We’ll put the tree up this week, and spend the next 3 weeks disciplining the kitten probably. I’m quite devoid of spirit this year, so I’m hoping the tree will give me a morale boost in that area. It’s going to be a very thin holiday, but that’s probably a good thing. I tend to let my hedonism go bonkers this time of year, but between new insurance, new glasses, and a host of other bills, it’s plain not possible right now.

We don’t want to travel, but we will, hopefully just for an overnight at his mom’s. His mom’s house is not a healthy environment, but she’s only almost-3 years widowed and needs the family support around the holidays.

Thanksgiving was a bit of a puzzlement, and the cause of my lack of holiday spirit, I think. I usually kick off the season that day with Macy’s on the tube and a hearty meal, and we did just that. His mom visited, and we bought a local bird. But I made way too much food this time around, and the week coincided with an offer for more money at work, so I was chained to my laptop when I wasn’t listening to his mom sigh and feel sorry for herself. That sounds cold, but it’s a situation that’s been going on for years, long before Les’s dad passed, and the parties in question are in some serious denial as to how to change things for the better, so all we can do is listen and advise (and then get frustrated when our advise falls on deaf ears). I was out of sorts for 3 full days after she left, needing naps and chocolate, and my moods swung wildly.

Not coincidentally, I dove into Buddhism last week, attending several sessions at the local sangha in downtown AVL to see if it’s my cup of tea. It both is and isn’t, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to investigate that for myself. I’m too shy lately to desire much community. I dropped in on Ashley at Malaprop’s the other day for a hug and a chat, and got overwhelmed toward the end. Such a silly thing to have happen when you’re just chatting with an acquaintance, but it happens. So I’m recognizing that I need to meditate more, that it feels terrific to do so; but I’m steering clear of individual sangha activities until I know more about what area of Buddhism speaks to me the most. I respect the religion too much to interlope without more knowledge.

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The kitten chirps himself awake, turns around once, and curls back up to sleep, next to me on the guest room bed. He’s my anam cara, and the lap time he sometimes affords me in the evenings is a balm. My cyclothymia was kicking my ass on Sunday, but when he hopped in my lap for a spell that evening, his presence filled in some of my cracked spots. The juxtaposition of barely keeping the wolf at the door while noting how incredibly lucky we are to live how we do is not lost on me, and I find myself more grateful and humbled this time of year. The key is keeping up that mindset year-round.

* EBBS = Evil Big-Box Store, in our case, Walmart