Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Day of Reckoning

Today's the day. The day we take the lambs to the abattoir. Also the day that I have to give the Processing Instructions. This is custom butchering, which means we decide how we want the various parts of the animal cut up. This makes me nervous, as my experience with such things is limited.

For those of you who have never brought a whole animal in for processing (and I'm assuming this is almost all of you, because really, who does that? Oh, right. Us.) , let me explain how this works.

We bring the lambs to the processing place. This is basically a sheet metal warehouse building in the middle of nowhere. We go into the warehouse. There is no neat, organized office or customer service area at these places. We walk right into the processing area to talk to the butcher, which means that we're likely to see a whole cow glide by on hooks suspended from the ceiling while we're giving our instructions. It's very pleasant.

Anyway, we stand there while the butcher gets out his checklist/order form based on what kind of animal we've brought. And then he starts asking questions. One after the other, no pauses. Roasts, steaks or chops? How do you want the chops cut up? How thick? How many to a package? How much sausage? How much stew meat? Do you want the kidneys/brains/liver? These dudes are not exactly friendly. They're not exactly unfriendly either, but they're busy, and really, they kill animals for a living. How cheery could they be?

It's intimidating, is what I'm saying. There's a lot to be decided and they expect you to know what you want. I have trouble with this in the best of times, much less when a dead cow is swinging 10 feet from me and a butcher covered in blood is staring at me impatiently, waiting for my answer.

Last time we did this, for a pig we had bought, I did a lot of standing there with my mouth open saying, "Um . . ." and "What do you recommend?" I'm pretty sure I looked like a complete ass.

This time, I'm prepared. Because I begged for help from an expert in lambs, who very kindly sent me the list her own customers use for processing specifications, as well as what she herself usually requests and even how each cut can be cooked. Thank God for REAL farmgirls.

Thanks to Susan, I'm hoping I won't look like an ass this time. Well, at least not as big of an ass. Baby steps, people. Baby steps.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Kristin Gets Krafty

I started ripping things out of the garden yesterday. It was strangely satisfying. That might be because I pulled up two blighted tomato plants, making me feel like I'm gaining some measure of control over the tomatoes. Clearly, I've become delusional, because The Dish Pan is still sitting on the counter, jeering at me.

BUT ANYWAY. One of the things I tore out of the ground was the freakish corn. It occurred to me while I was performing this task last year that the garden center sells bundles of corn stalks for decorating, and here I had my own supply. I made my own bundle, tied it to the fencepost by the road, added some pumpkins, and TA DA! My annual Fabulous Fall Fence Decoration was born.

Be impressed, dammit.

Okay, it's really just a bundle of corn stalks and some pumpkins. It's not as if I tied it all up with cute little ribbons and carved the pumpkins or anything. That's because I am SO not a decorator. My eyes glaze over when people start talking about color schemes and complementary textures. I'm going with the nature-not-nurture theory on this one, because my sister and I had the same upbringing, and yet she is the Craft Queen and I am . . . not.

Are you the crafty sort? Or would you rather commit hari kari than enter a Michael's store? Do tell.

That's MS. MacGyver To You, Buddy

Yesterday was all about the animals. Today, we're back to our regularly scheduled programming. Which means, it's all about ME.

My car is a 1997 Nissan Altima. I've been driving it for almost ten years now, and it's starting to fall apart a little. In the last five years, I've had a lot of trouble with the battery connections. I don't know why, but they keep getting loose. This leaves me sitting in a parking lot somewhere, futilely turning the key over and over, hearing nothing but a very unhappy silence. Broken only by my cussing.

The first time I had this problem, my dad was with me. He figured out what was wrong, jammed a little nail in the loose connection to complete the circuit, and we were on our merry way. And of course, I drove around with that nail for weeks, because what's to fix? The nail works! What more do I need? Perhaps something that wouldn't fall out. Like the nail did. Leaving me sitting in the parking lot at the dentist's office, cussing.

Luckily, we only had one car at the time and a very small apartment, so my trunk was the storage space for all of A.'s fishing crap. This usually ticked me off, especially when I was trying to load groceries in the trunk and had to wedge them in next to the stinky waders and tackle boxes. But those tackle boxes came in handy when I began the search for a small metal item that could be jammed in the battery. I used a fish hook.

TOLD you I'm Ms. MacGyver.

Then yesterday, I came out of the Salvation Army (yup, I shop at thrift stores--wanna make somethin' of it?), turned the key, and was greeted by that ominous silence. I knew what had happened, and sure enough, when I popped the hood, the battery connection was loose. There was a guy in a pick-up truck next to me who watched me pop the hood and asked if I needed any help. I told him all I needed was a paper clip. He smiled at me with a condescending, pitying smile, and laughed. Then he watched me go back into the store to get my paper clip, jam the paper clip into the connector, snip off the top of the paper clip with the wire cutters I had fortuitously just purchased at the farm store, start my car, and zoom away. HA HA HA. Take that, you condescending MAN, you.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Let's Get Animal*

So, who's getting bored with me? Yeah, me too. So today, how about we take a break from the narcissistic bitch-fest this blog has become, and focus on something more pleasant. Because we have a lot of animals around here, and they're much more photogenic than me. To say nothing of less bitter.

Look who's all free and independent now . . .

Playing King of the Mountain

Every morning, I open their little chicken door so they can roam free, eating small bugs and indulging in dust baths. That's a good time, chicken-style. And every night, I close and latch the door to keep out the bad things. But we can't always protect our little chicks when they become big chickens and strike out on their own. Hence, one chicken has disappeared, leaving us with five chickens. It's a hard knock life.

And look who's very interested in the free and independent chickens . . .

Come to Mama, chickies.

She does not take a motherly interest in them. I believe she also sees them as a chicken dinner on legs. The dogs have not been absolved of blame in the Case of the Missing Chicken.

And now for a lesson in sheep breeds. Remember when A. bought three Merino ewes a couple of months ago? Perhaps I failed to mention that they are, in fact, Merinos. They're much smaller, quieter, and altogether more pleasant than the two gigantic Cotswold ewes we also have. This is what Merinos look like . . .

Kiss our woolly, dung-smeared butts, crazy camera lady.

HAHAHAHAHA. Oh my God, I am SO CLEVER. Okay, okay. This is what their faces look like. But it's not as funny.

I am cute, yes? You gimme corn?

And here's Don Juan the ram (I named him--clever, like I said), hanging around the fence, gazing longingly in at his unreachable harem.

Don Juan loves the ladies.

His services are not required for another couple of months, so he has to keep his pizzle to himself for awhile yet.

Not pictured are the Cotswold ewes, because they were too busy stuffing their faces full of grass to come close enough for a photo op, and Lambchop 1, 2, and 3, because I don't want you to get attached. They're, ahem, going to their reward on Saturday. Although, it's not so much a reward for them as it is a reward for us in the form of numerous legs of lamb. Yum.

And on that cheery note, I wish you a good day.

* From that 80s classic, "Let's Get Physical." What a filthy song. Olivia should be ashamed of herself for singing such words. To say nothing of appearing in a video full of shiny spandex, leg warmers, and headbands.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


A couple of weeks ago, I introduced you to the wood pile.

Last weekend, I ranted about how I couldn't get wood for the woodstove*, because of the high demand this year.

On Sunday, A. did this:

High fashion, woodchuck-style: cut-offs and work boots.

And then, just yesterday, The New York Times published this article. In case you're one of those people who never clicks on links, the title of the article is, "As Oil and Gas Prices Rise, Wood Stoves Gain Converts." Let me just take this opportunity to say . . .


* I finally got through to the guy. But he can't deliver the wood for another month. Because he's so busy. Bah.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Ike's Leftovers

OH MY GOD, I'M LATE POSTING. The world is going to end. You all know I'm not late. Ever. For anything. And I know that all of you log on at the crack of dawn, ready for another installment of life on the funny farm. I'm sure you've been frantically hitting "refresh" since 7 a.m., biting your nails and worrying that something catastrophic has befallen me. Have no fear, duckies. It was just that bastard Ike.

The last blustery remnants of the hurricane blew through here last night. It actually blew for hours, taking down some fairly large tree limbs and knocking out the power. It sounded like a freight train. And A. slept right through it. But there was no serious damage. I spent the first part of the morning outside, picking up branches and walnuts, waiting for the power to come back on. Which it did. And now here I am! No cause for worry at all!

Oddly, nothing in the garden was knocked down by the winds. Not even the 7-foot bean poles or any of the overly-laden, precariously leaning tomato plants. Which means there should be plenty more tomatoes for me to pick for canning today. What a relief. I was worried for a minute there that Ike would result in a tomato shortage. HAHAHAHAHAHA! I should have known Ike was no match for the tomatoes.

And yes, all you get today is a post about why I'm late posting. Blame Ike. And tune in tomorrow for a real post.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Bandwagon Is Full

I'm getting increasingly irritated by the fact that I can't find canning supplies when I want them. Last week, I went to no fewer than four places in an attempt to find regular-sized lids for my jars. And not in the package with the bands. I don't need any more bands. I have enough damned bands to can the entire produce department of a Super Walmart. I DON'T WANT THE BANDS. But every place I went was either sold out entirely, or else only had the lids-with-bands kind.

I'm having a similar problem getting wide-mouthed quart jars. Or ANY quart jars, for that matter. Everywhere is sold out. EVERYWHERE. Even the big Mennonite store that has a whole section devoted to canning supplies. Even they had no quart jars. None. Not even the ones with the regular-sized mouths. Though I did manage to find my regular-sized lids there.

In addition to the canning supplies, I'm having trouble getting our wood for the woodstove. I can't get the guy who normally supplies it to us to call me back. I don't know if he's away for awhile, or, more likely, is so busy delivering wood to all the people who want it that he can't spare time for a phone call.

This leads me to the conclusion that the things that have always been the accepted way of life here at Blackrock--gardening, canning, wood heat--are becoming more and more popular. So popular that the merchants weren't prepared. So popular that there are no more dusty boxes of jar lids languishing on the hardware store's shelves. So popular that I can't get my damn wood for winter. Everyone is jumping on the self-sufficiency bandwagon now that prices are going up for food and fuel.

I find it amusing that I finally got old enough to discover what I really like to do, something that's not cool or popular (like gardening), only to find myself in the middle of a fad.

Maybe it's not a fad. Maybe all these people really will continue gardening, preserving food, and using wood heat even if prices go down for food and oil. Or maybe they'll give up when they discover how much more work it is. But it won't be this fall, and that means I'm going to have to continue the hunt for my canning supplies and wood. Failure is not an option, because without those things, it's going to be a cold, hungry winter at Blackrock.

Well, maybe not really on the hungry part. But definitely cold.