Tuesday
Jun062017

The Pig Borg

Pigs are very social animals. They like to be with each other and they like to be with humans. There is nothing sadder than a lone pig in a pasture (or a barn). 

The husband and I were out weeding the potato patch the other night when the pigs found us. All six of them came rustling through the tall grass—we couldn't see them, but we saw the grass moving—and greeted us with a lot of grunting. This is pretty typical for our pigs. If they know we are out working in the garden, they will come and hang out by us. 

Can you find the pig?

The husband refers to this group as the "pig Borg" because they travel as a unit. (If you don't know what the Borg is/are, Google it; it's a Star Trek reference.) At night, they sleep all piled on top of each other. 

I made significant progress in the strawberry bed yesterday afternoon. Once the pigs discovered I was out there, they applied themselves to digging a hole to China on their side of the fence:

This little guy was being particularly industrious:

(That wire is the electric fence. We still hear occasional squeals when someone forgets the wire is there.)

People will often put pigs in an area where they want the soil dug up for later farming because they are such efficient plowers. 

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Things are coming along in the garden. The potatoes look good. The husband put up the trellises for the peas last night because they are already about 6" high. I need to start cutting rhubarb. So far, the cabbages have been safe from marauding ground squirrels. Let's hope it stays that way. 

One of the hens laid a freakishly large egg yesterday:

That makes my pelvis hurt, especially when you consider that the normal-sized eggs are not small. I am sure it has a double yolk. 

I delivered the Ritzville quilt to Margaret Sunday at church. She'll get started on it soon. I am glad to have that crossed off my to-do list. I am free to sew what I want to now, which is probably going to be canvas grocery bags for a while. I might mess around with some other bag patterns, too, but as soon as the ballistic nylon arrives from Seattle Fabrics, I need to get started on a cover for the controls on our boom truck. This will be my first project with flat-felled seams. I even have a special felling foot for the industrial. We shall see what happens. 

Sunday
Jun042017

Everybody Up

I am not a hot-weather person, but I do like this time of year for the simple fact that it gets light so early. I love that I can lie in bed at 4:30 a.m. and watch the sun rise over the tops of the mountains. The rooster is up and crowing as soon as he thinks he can get away with it. If we don't let him out of the coop into the chicken yard immediately, he stands in the window where we can see him and crows. And crows and crows and crows. 

This is our rooster in charge:

I caught him mid-crow. The chickens have an established roosting order. Only the oldest chickens and the rooster in charge are allowed to sleep on this nesting bar. Everyone else is relegated to the roosting bars lower down or to the tops of the nesting boxes. When the leghorns are gone—we're down to only eight and will probably butcher in the fall—the Black Australorps will get to roost up here at night. This is an ongoing pattern. It doesn't change. 

We have two roosters. They have a hierarchy just like the hens do. Their disagreements consist mostly of the big rooster chasing the smaller rooster off the hens. This morning, just as I was closing up the smaller part of the coop after letting the chicks out, the big rooster came tearing around the corner after one of the hens and ran into my leg. He fluffed himself up indignantly and huffed back out into the chicken yard. 

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I went out early (about 6 a.m.) yesterday to weed the strawberry bed. I made some progress, but it's going to be an ongoing project. There are a couple of bare spots where we lost plants in a hard frost a few years ago. I moved some of the runners over to those places and dug up as much quackgrass as I could. At one point, I could feel something staring at me. I turned around and found the neighbor's dog standing on the other side of the fence. She barked and ran away. Her name is Rosie. She's a funny-looking little mutt of a dog and she likes to come over to our house and visit Lila and Rusty. I do not, as a rule, appreciate other peoples' dogs in my yard—especially when they harass the chickens—but I make exceptions for Griswold (our renters' dog) and Rosie. 

A little bit later, I felt something staring at me and turned around to find Rosie standing behind me in the strawberry bed. The husband had come out to feed the piglets and left the gate to the garden open. I tried to get Rosie to come over so I could pet her but she just barked and ran away. 

The strawberry bed is way at the back of the garden where our property backs up against the neighbor's horse pasture. The horse wasn't out yesterday morning, but there was a big tom turkey trying to impress a couple of ladies. When I finished with the strawberries, I weeded the potatoes for a bit, then trimmed up the grapevines. I also picked a bunch of lettuce in anticipation of a salad for dinner. Sometimes I'll get out a ham and make a big salad with pieces of ham and hard-boiled eggs and that will be our dinner. That was what we had last night. We will chip away at the ham all week and then I'll cook down the bone and make red beans and rice. Yum. 

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Last week when I was in Spokane, I spent some time wandering around Wal-Mart. I don't usually shop there, for a variety of reasons, but it is the only store open at 7 a.m. when I am up and ready to go. I like to check out the ethnic food sections—grocery stores in big cities tend to carry all sorts of stuff we cannot get here in Podunk, Montana. I also looked at the bags they were selling. I joined the Creative Bag Making list on Facebook a few weeks ago. It's a great group, very supportive of newbie bag makers, and the amount of creativity is just astounding. Interestingly, the styles of bags in stores tend to track pretty closely with the styles of bags that are currently popular among bag makers. I am not sure whether that is because the bag makers buy stuff at the retail stores and take it apart and reverse engineer it or whether the big box stores are cannibalizing the designs put out by bag makers. I suspect that tends to flow both ways. In any case, I was pretty horrified at the awful quality of the materials in the bags that Wal-Mart was selling. Cheap cheap cheap. How did we, as a society, allow ourselves to think that this kind of stuff is acceptable? 

I finished cutting up all the ladybug fabric last night. The first batch of squares I left at church has already come back as finished bags. The Ritzville quilt is packed up—along with the fabric for the backing—to turn over to Margaret this morning. I also hemmed another half-dozen cloth napkins and cut out some more grocery bags (it's just as easy to production-line 10 as it is to do 3). If it doesn't rain this afternoon, I might try to get some more weeding in, but then I am going to sew. 

Friday
Jun022017

Fair Beans

A few years ago, I made an apple pie for the husband that turned out so asthetically pleasing that he dubbed it a "fair pie." It looked so nice, I could have entered it in the county fair. (Those of you who know me well know that I do not like to bake, so that truly was an accomplishment.) Since then, any time something turns out particularly well, it gets the "fair" adjective put in front of it. 

Yesterday, I did 18 pints of "fair beans":

These could not have turned out any better. The beans plumped up perfectly, the jars sealed with no liquid loss, and now we have enough beans on hand for a few weeks' worth of meals. I'll probably do a batch of white beans next. 

[I used some blue canning jars that I had on hand; they are pretty, but food looks kind of funny in blue jars (you can see the one front and center). I think I'll stick with the clear ones.]

It's ridiculously easy to get these done while I am working. I put everything on the stove to heat up, including the pressure canner with about 3" of water in the bottom of it, and by the time I get the jars filled and the lids and rings put on, the water in the canner is just about boiling. I load up the canner, close it, wait for it to exhaust, then put the weighted gauge on and work until the pressure builds up. (That takes about 20 minutes or so and my office is right off the kitchen, so it's easy to check on things.) Once the pressure reaches 15 pounds, I turn the timer on for 90 minutes and work while the beans are processing. Easy peasy. 

My canner holds 19 pints. Two 2-pound bags of black turtle beans makes 18 pints. 

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It's been a fabric cutting marathon this week. I have DD#2's room set up as the cutting room. She still comes home fairly often and wants it to look the same as when she left, so I couldn't completely revamp it into a sewing room. (She's here now, as a matter of fact. The cutting table got moved back into DD#1's room for a few days.) Before I went to Spokane last weekend, I was cutting up a bolt of this:

It's an Ann Kelle Urban Zoologie print For Robert Kaufman fabrics. My friend Cathy, who died in April, was the executive director of a nonprofit in Kalispell that supports families and small children. A few weeks ago, the acting executive director, Kalie, (also a friend of Cathy's) approached my friend Twila (Cathy's sister-in-law) and asked her if the church ladies could make some simple drawstring bags. The center gives new moms a bag of diapers and wipes. They have been using one-gallon Ziplock bags but they thought it would be a nice remembrance of Cathy to use fabric bags, instead, for a while. They chose the ladybug fabric because Cathy was particularly fond of ladybugs. 

Twila and I consulted with Margaret about the size of the bags, and I offered to cut the bags out as I keep my cutting table set up all the time. A bolt of fabric typically has 15 yards on it. I got about half the fabric cut before I left for Spokane, and I have just a bit left to do this weekend. The church ladies will sew them into bags and put the drawstrings in. 

I picked up some more canvas remnants in Spokane last weekend. Grocery bag-making continues and I have pieces cut out for another half-dozen. I do love sewing on that industrial Necchi. It's just so smooth and goes through that canvas like butter. When I got that machine, it was pretty stiff and seized up, and now it just takes a light touch on the handwheel to get it moving. I have a good selection of presser feet now and plenty of needles and thread. Have I mentioned that I love that machine? 

Thursday
Jun012017

Lazy Farmers

We are pretty adamant about our garden being as organic and natural as possible. The only fertilizer we use is aged manure and a couple of bags of agricultural sulfur in the fall. We use no chemical pesticides. Judging by the number of ladybugs, snakes, bees, and other animals that take up residence there every year, I think we do a good job. We also tend to leave a lot of the plant matter there to break down over the winter. I am not one of those gardeners who needs to have a neat and clean garden. Things go to seed and spread all over and I am mostly okay with that (although the dill got a little obnoxious). 

Last year, the husband planted two rows of lettuce. One was a green variety called "Freckles" that showed up as a bonus packet in a seed order and the other was a red radicchio-type variety whose name I do not remember. I am kind of picky about my lettuce. My favorite is a variety called Ruby, and we try to plant some of that every year. These other two varieties did really well, though. The husband particularly liked the Freckles lettuce. When it bolted mid-summer, I let it go to seed instead of pulling it all up for the chickens, and this is what happened:

We now have this enormous bonus patch of lettuce, about 4' wide by 30' long. It's mostly Freckles but there is some of the red one mixed in, too. (I already weeded the bed once; it needs weeded again.) I picked several bunches for a salad last night. All winter, we've been eating the lettuce that comes in the big plastic containers from Costco. It's good, but I took that first bite of salad made with our lettuce and almost fell off my chair. There really is no comparison. I said to the husband that I would happily eat just lettuce with a bit of dressing. That's how flavorful this is. 

[Unfortunately, the ground squirrels have also been in there, because I found a few leaves with ground squirrel mouth-shaped chunks taken out.]

The grapes survived the winter:

It remains to be seen what the crop will be like. They are a solid month behind last year. 

A line of thunderstorms came up from the south last night. It blew for a while and rained pretty hard, and the husband had to go out on a couple of fire calls for downed trees and power lines. Everything is cool and fresh now. 

I am going to run another canner load of black beans today. I bought a few more bags at Natural Grocers and put them to soak and they look much better than the last batch. I've been looking really closely at my diet and how it relates to this MTHFR gene mutation that I carry. The biggest side effect from that mutation is that my body does not process folate properly. Supplemental folic acid is actually bad for me because most of what is added to foods to "enrich" them is synthetic folic acid and it competes with the folate that I get from food. (That is another reason I don't eat wheat and wheat products anymore.) If I were not married to Conan the Barbarian—who requires a substantial amount of red meat and potatoes in his diet—I would likely eat mostly green vegetables (hello, Brussels sprouts) and beans, because those are the things I crave. Interestingly, both green veggies and beans are excellent sources of folate. 

[The husband likes everything I cook and does not complain in the least if we have bean dishes several nights a week, but the longer we are together, the more I notice the stark differences in our food preferences.]

I've got a few more things I'd like to can up. I could use a dozen pints or so of BBQ sauce (the husband's grandmother's secret recipe). I would also like to do some beef broth, but I called one of the local meat processors yesterday and they said they can hardly keep beef bones available because apparently bone broth (Google it) is the latest trendy health food. I'll keep my comments about that to myself for now. 

Wednesday
May312017

Quilting and Gardening and Knitting

Margaret gets back from a trip in a couple of days. I want to be able to give her the quilt top and backing on Sunday at church. I am pretty pleased with how this year's Ritzville quilt top turned out. There were a lot of pieces. Looking over it last night, I would say that about 85% of my points were perfect and the rest were pretty darn close. I can live with that. I remember once, several years ago, when we had some quilts hanging in our fellowship hall at church. One was a very intricate Lone Star pattern that had been pieced and quilted by an Amish woman. I was standing there gaping at it after church one day and Margaret walked over and said to me, "That probably wasn't her first quilt." I have thought about that day many times since. I don't think Margaret knows how encouraging it was to hear her say that. I might even be ready to tackle my own intricate Lone Star quilt soon. 

You'll have to wait until the Ritzville quilt is quilted and bound for the big reveal. 

I gave my friend Anna a set of canvas grocery bags last week. She was so excited that you would have thought I had given her a winning lottery ticket. Her husband, Billy, saw them and asked me if I would be willing to mend and alter some of their ski gear before next winter. I said that I would be happy to take a look at it. I did mention that he would have to get in line behind the husband, because I still owe him some seat covers and other items.  I've got parts for another couple of grocery bags cut out. Ali needs a set, too. Also, it has been hot here (anything above 80 is hot by my definition) and the industrial is down in the blessedly cool basement. It's a nice place to work in the afternoon.

I discovered yesterday that we're not the only ones having ground squirrel problems. Ali has one that is snacking on the seedlings in her garden. I also happened to be reading an article on one of the news station websites about a grizzly bear that had to be relocated because it was eating piles of dead ground squirrels shot by some property owners. (That was about 60 miles northwest of here.) The little pests seem to be particularly thick this year. I spent an hour yesterday afternoon waiting for the dogs to tire themselves out so I could get them in the house. They had cornered (yet another) ground squirrel underneath our old gardening shed. Eventually, it ran out from under the shed and hid underneath one of the piles of concrete forms. I wouldn't care except that they bark loudly and incessantly when they are chasing something down and it drives me nuts. I finally got them inside to calm down, which gave the ground squirrel time to go somewhere else. 

We don't see much of the piglets during the day. They spend a lot of time out in the pasture being pigs. They are still tiny and the grass out there is pretty high. Just about everything except the basil has been put out in the garden. I need to start cutting rhubarb soon. The peas and potatoes are up. My grapes finally leafed out. My task this weekend is to clean up the strawberry bed. We wage a constant war against quackgrass encroaching on the garden. The best way to get rid of it is to overturn a clump of soil and pull all the roots out. It's effective but time-consuming. 

Both girls seem to be settled in their new residences and at their new jobs. DD#2 is working 30 hours a week in the archives at Gonzaga, where she worked during the school year. They were thrilled to have her continue. DD#1 started her first fieldwork session at a rehab facility. She said she loves working with the patients, who tend to be people who are transitioning from the hospital to home after having a hip or knee replacement. I'm hoping to get down to Missoula to see her in a week or so. I haven't been to Missoula in quite a while. 

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I got something very special in the mail yesterday:

 

Yes, I know that I don't knit much anymore, but this book was written—and self-published—by Carson Demers, who took some knitting classes from me many years ago when I was still teaching. Carson is a physical therapist and dedicated knitter and all-around nice guy, so when JC Briar told me in January that he had a book coming out on the ergonomics of knitting, I went straight to his website and pre-ordered it. This is a phenomenal book. It is hardcover, almost an inch thick, and beautifully laid out. Carson hit a home run with this one. I could easily see it being used as a textbook in a physical therapy class. In fact, I am going to share it with DD#1 in case she runs across any knitters in rehab who could benefit from some of the information. I am sure, too, that there will be useful tidbits in it for me to apply to my transcription work and quilting and sewing. I am thrilled for Carson and I hope this book brings him the recognition he deserves.