Monday, March 30, 2009
I haven’t done the chores with Ed for a week. And man, five minutes into it I was getting sore. Farming is hard work. And I kept forgetting the cleaning routine. But it was good. We are starting to think that we like the goats the best. The little pygmy’s are really cute. We’ve started using the goats and sheep as lawn mowers by moving them to different areas of the pasture everyday. We are going to tie them up by the blackberry bushes soon, let them eat their way through that. Back in the barn, Ed and I cleaned up the stalls, throwing all the manure and used hay into the wheel barrel.
We decided that it was time to turn the compost again. We have been throwing daily barn waste on top of the two piles for three weeks, but the piles never seemed to get any larger. Both piles had heated up to about 130° over the past couple weeks, but were beginning to decrease in temperature, so we figured we’d turn them.
It’s hard work! A square yard of finished compost weighs about a thousand pounds. We have probably 2 or 2 1/2 square yards, but it’s not finished breaking down. It took us about three hours to move all the compost out of the bins and rearrange them. But within a few hours of turning the compost the second pile was up to 140°! Ed is very excited about this. The compost is his baby, he goes over to look at it a few times everyday, just wondering what microbial bacteria activity is going on in there.
Second and third minor farming activities that we accomplished this weekend: We transplanted the starter tomatoes from egg cartons to Dixie cups. It was fun and dirty, and Ed and I kept claiming that we each had the better way of transplanting the tomato seedlings. And we built deer nets around our apple trees, so they don’t eat the little buds, that are growing bigger and bigger everyday.
By the end of all this, we were both brain dead and body tired. It was really good to be doing the chores with Ed.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Like any 40-hour work week at a new job, this entry will be long, unfocused, slightly overwhelming, and occasionally boring.
First, a morning routine: Wake up, get out of bed, oh that’s the hard part, it’s still dark outside, and the bed is so soft and Ed is warm. There is no shower in the Ellie Mae, so we have to sneak into the house, all quiet-like because Grant and Carol are still asleep, get ready and cook breakfast. Juggling all the way.
Depending on the item, we either keep our possessions in the Airstream, the house, or boxed up in the barn. Our farm clothes, kitchen items and books are in the trailer, our business clothes and tomato seedlings are in the house, everything else is in the barn. So we have a little wicker basket to carry everything into the house, which we pile up with our toothbrushes and our eggs, and it’s cold in the morning, but we’re getting used to it. Ed makes coffee while I shower.
Business clothes are different than farm clothes, but I like wearing them. Although by the end of the day, I’m glad to take them off. Farm clothes are the same two pair of jeans that are covered in mud, but business clothes are lined trousers and pressed cotton button-ups. Different costumes for my different lives, but both me.
I didn’t have a good business wardrobe. My company in Beverly Hills was small, and we did not have heavy walk-in traffic, the dress was “business casual”. My clothes were okay, but they would not be acceptable at my new office, which is “business professional”. There is a lot of client interaction at my new job and I’m the receptionist. So we bowed to the inevitable and went shopping. I’m not a big shopper, I say it’s because I was never taught how to shop, it is an art. Well, with the assistance of Robbin, the Outlets, and a killer one day sale, I was able to get a very solid foundation of business attire which I can build on.
Ed is so funny, he’s the dreamer in our marriage, I’m the practical one, one minute I’m hearing him whisk my career off, moving rapidly up the rungs of the corporation, till I’m running the show and rolling in the dough. The next breath he’s painting the picture of us walking our goats out to the pasture, weeding our garden, carving our living out of the jam and salsa we will sell. We decided that our ultimate goal is to have a lot of small streams of revenue. That way if you lose one, which we learned first hand can happen, it will not be as detrimental. The other sources of income we’ve discussed, would be me providing personal bookkeeping services to individuals, and eventually me publishing a book.
The flaws in the current monetary based system we as a society operate on, and the excitement of seeing how much food we can produce for ourselves, which will decrease our need for money, are ideas that are always in our conversations, I think I’ve touched on those subjects before, which doesn’t mean that I won’t again. In the end, the existentialist in me say’s, “thems’ are the policies and procedures of our society, and all of the philosophy doesn’t change the reality”. Reality being that while this property has a lot of potential and infrastructure, it also has a mortgage.
Where was I? Getting ready for work. I kiss my husband goodbye and jump into the car. Ed has to open the gate for me so I can exit the property. The drive into town is amazing, I have a seven mile drive over half forest, half pasture and hills on county lanes. And the sun is just coming up, heating the low clouds and fog out of the little valleys. And then I walk into the office.
Completely different story real quick, I drove around the country by myself after graduating U of A, (2 months, 11,000 miles). When I was driving through South Dakota, this place called Wall Drug was recommended to me as the oldest most interesting road side drug store in the state. So I marked it on my map, and I spent the first part of the day driving out of the Black Hills, taking the back way to the Badlands, where I wandered around as the only soul in sight. Only to leave the serenity of nature for an over-crowded, cluttered, noisy, campy souvenir shop and café, with screaming children and overweight adults pushing their way down the aisles. Well, this is similar to the loss of tranquility I experience when I leave the solitude of my car and walk into an office, where I don’t know where anything is, or how to do anything. But more on that point later. (the story of my travels is the premise of another book I hope to one day write).
How long does it take to become accustomed? Can we create an equation, where the variable is what one is being accustomed to? Although I resisted it at first, and I didn’t really notice the transformation, I’ve become accustomed to our routine around here. Taking care of the animals, being with my husband, playing in the compost, planting trees, and planning ahead, and spending time with Ed. We’d been spoiled, and now I’m going through withdrawls. From my desk at work I can see the sun breaking upon a rugged green slope and I wonder how the tomatoes and Ed are doing. How long will it take for me to become accustomed to my new environment in the office?
First I have to learn the routine, become familiar with the company and the office dynamics. My new company, which we will call ‘The Corp’, was a large entity bought by a big national corporation, which was then bought by an even larger national corporation. So all of the office protocol and computer applications, and paperwork policies had just changed about a month before I started, and ‘The Corp” has received notice that in about a year the merger with the bigger national corporation will start, and everything will change again. Because the poor co-worker trying to train me just had everything changed on her a month ago, half the time she’s not sure what the correct procedures are.
I began to ponder about the merging of companies and assets, and it’s a lot more work than just simply proclaiming, “hey, we are one big company now”, or “hey, we own you now.” There is redundancy and wrinkles that need to be ironed out. There is also computer systems and databases that need to be combined or eliminated, new training for employees, or the termination of other team members. It takes a long time.
I’ve never worked for a large corporation before. I’ve worked for the state government, (Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind) and I’ve worked for small business owners. The company I worked for in Beverly Hills was a 3 person operation. We weren’t bogged down in policy and procedure. We called the shots and rolled with the punches. In fact, I was alone in the office 40% of the time, on my toes, bouncing around, getting shit done. And I liked it! I like having so much work to do that you think there is no way you will ever be able to finish it all. I like being challenged and facing each new problem head on. Except when it comes to filing, I don’t care for filing that much.
Well, at ‘The Corp’ we have to fax every decision we make, before we make it to corporate headquarters somewhere in Iowa, so the person at the other end of the fax machine can stamp approval on it and fax it back. This wastes a lot of time and a lot of paper. Much of the work that I will be doing requires me to navigate their computer programs, so I must sit through hours of computer training. Because of the corporate system I must take all this training under my login ID, which for the first half of the week was not being recognized by the system. So I was shipped a new computer which I could log onto, but once logged on I did not have access to half of the needed applications, and none of the training programs. The few applications I do have access to have a different ID code, that you have to enter to complete an order, and of course I have not received this ID code. Finally, my computer is not on the printer network, so I can’t even print out address labels.
So I stare at a computer screen that won’t allow me to do anything, or I stare out the window, thinking what a nice day outside, and thinking about what needs to be done around the farm. It’s my first week of work, and I’m bored. That’s bad, it’s bad for my mental health and it’s bad for my work performance. I’m going to grin and bare it, and I hope it gets better and the pace picks up, because I need to earn $$, But what is the trade off? We are always trading one thing for something else, and usually it is our time, or our own better judgment.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Hmmm, these past few weeks and all the time being on the farm with Ed are starting to look a little idyllic. And I’m kind of jealous that he will be doing the bulk of the farm work. I mean, we love our compost piles and we check the temperature everyday, (we got a thermometer) and the piles are sitting at about 110°. We have a system now where we take the animal water buckets (we have to change their water every other day or so) to use for watering the apple trees, (they are looking great and are starting to bud) and the grapes, (four out of the six transplants look like they survived) and once we get it going, the garden. But now Ed is going to have to do the work all on his own. Except for the weekends, when I’ll help. There will be plenty of daylight hours once I get home to work on the garden. But Ed is going to have more time with it, and that makes me jealous.
At least until Ed gets a job, which he is still looking for.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
My friend, Alicia, recommended a book for me, and I’m always up for good book recommendations. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. I’m only twenty pages into the book but I’m loving it. First, she comes from Tuscon, Az., just like me! And her family’s goal was to live for one year on their farm in southwest Virginia on what they could grow and produce themselves, or obtain locally.
There is an entire thought process organically growing (pardon the pun) amongst the population, that global agri-business is not the way we should be getting our nourishment. Buying packaged goods that in no way resemble the calories that make them up. I was walking through the grocery store the other day, and was looking at all the canned tomato products, sliced and diced and sauced and pasted. I’m going to grow tomatoes this year, I hope, if my seeds ever germinate, and I’m worried about them. Why couldn’t I make all these products for myself? My mom always cans every summer when my dad’s garden is pumping out 40 pounds of tomatoes every day. She makes wonderful salsa. Alicia cans, and she said she would help me. Tomatoes, that could be all my sauces for the year. Tomatoes. Then I walked past the tortillas, I eat a lot of tortillas. I bet I could make them myself, right? I’ll let my corn dry on the cob, then grind it and fry it up. Pastas and breads, well I can’t grow wheat here, but I could still try to make my own. And I’m starting to think I could grow rice here, if I made a rice paddy and kept it covered with water. The more I can grow and make myself the less I have to buy, and I’d like to walk out of the grocery store without dropping $150.
I’ve always had this dream of cooking out of a fifty pound bag of flour and rice. And walking into the kitchen and throwing the flour up against the wall, and coming out with a four course meal.
All I really lack is the know-how and the elbow room, but I want to learn, so I think I will.
On a different note, Ed and I enjoyed the last of the national media attention in the form of a “News To Me” segment that aired on Headline News this past weekend. Unfortunately, the show has been cancelled and I think we were the last broadcast.
Ed and I debated for a while about whether I should post the link, or whether that was too much self-promotion. But then again, what is self-promotion and is it a bad thing? Well we came to the conclusion that for the sake of the blog, and archiving reasons, that I would post the link. Also, this is our favorite interview, we think that it’s well rounded and an honest depiction of our living situation.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Thursday, March 12, 2009
The area size is 20’ x 60’, but the ten feet at the back is where the compost is, so we have 20’ x 50’ for planting room. This breaks down to twenty rows of 8 feet by about two feet, and having a walking or watering row on either side of the planting row.
Also, as I mentioned, Ed and I bought three apple trees. And we planted them. Digging in the dirt is physically taxing but immensely satisfying work. Here we go:
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Here is a opinion piece about that piece of legislation my friend Robbin was telling me about. It's a national ID program for livestock. Which I suppose would include our goats and sheep, even though they are just pets. This would aid in locating any food posioning outbreaks. at least that is their justification.
I don't like it, It smells funny. I mean, my compost pile doesn't smell that bad, and it's full of manure. Ed and I are really liking our compost pile, since reading about it and turning it, we go look at it everyday, but that is not the point.
It's right up there with patenting fruit trees. It's wrong. One of the basic rights of being a human on this planet, is the ability, if one has the inclination, to produce thier own food, and barter their extra production with their neighborhood. The nice couple down the street, who are trying to supplement their income by selling firewood and baking pies, would have to register their cow.
Again, I'm still processing all of this information, and I'm not sure what to do with it.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
I’ve known Alicia for 12 years, we were both Rotary exchange students to Finland. Her family came over to visit her there one time, and I showed them around Turku (the town I lived by) for the day. This is how they all remember me, the girl from Turku.
We pull up to the deli, and outside is a Girl Scout selling cookies. This was an omen that we’d be having a good day. I’ve been saying for a month, that it’s Girl Scout cookie time, and I want some Thin Mints. I only bought two boxes, which was not enough, and I had to threaten Ed with divorce if he ate any.
Over some wonderful sandwiches, Alicia shows up at the deli, and says, “hey come check out my house.” A little background on Alicia, she got her degree (cum laude) in Botany from Oregon State University. I remember coming to visit her once, just before she graduated, and she would pull pictures of fungal DNA strands out of her pocket and start telling me about them. DNA was never my strong area (I had to study human DNA in Anthropology) and I would soon be left behind in a trail of words. Well, she is currently applying for grad school at OSU, has already been acccepted into the Soil Sciences department, but is hoping for the Botany department. She took us around her house, showing us her compost pile, her soon to be chicken coop, her garden area, and her cellar full of canned goods where she pressed plum jam, kiwi jam and sweet pepper relish on us. All very good.
Alicia started to tell us about the project she might work on which examines parasitic plants, whose root system attacks the root systems of other plants, causing major crop failure in Africa. I am paraphrasing here, and using a fungus to combat the parasitic plant. At least that’s what I understood her to say. Then she started to tell me about how to grow potatoes, which are one of the plants I’m most looking forward to growing. She had a starter potato, as she went seed shopping the day before, and calmly explained how you would cut the starter potato in three places, let it sit in a paper bag so the exposed flesh could scab over, and then bury it. Alicia also threw me a few books to read. One of them was Let It Rot! By Stu Campbell, a book all about composting. I devoured it and learned that we’re not really doing it right, but that we’re not really doing it wrong. Two main features Mr. Campbell said were very important; the moisture level, that of a wrung out sponge, and it should smell like grass.
We hadn’t paid much attention to our compost pile since we started it, but reading this book really made me want to go play in it. I realized that our piles weren’t tall enough, they should be about 4’x 4’x 4’, so that the pile will be big enough to hold heat, but no too big so oxygen can’t reach the center. We had three piles of about 3 and ½ feet to 2 feet tall. We also had gotten some new pallets lately and wanted to extend the compost system. So we built two more compost containers (pallets tied together) and mixed up all three compost piles to build two taller, better mixed piles. For the most part our pile had the consistency of a wrung out sponge, expect some areas were really wet, and some were dry. And it smelled like sweet grass, except one corner that smelled of horse dung. I mean, we use horse dung in the pile, but still. When we first started the compost pile, I had trimmed back all the grapes and blackberries with Carol, and had thrown all the clippings on the compost pile, without running them through a chipper, which we don’t have access to. (It’s on my wish list, along with a compost thermometer). So there were a lot of big twigs in the pile, we decided were not a good idea, so we pulled as many of them out as we could.
As strange as it sounds, Ed and I had such a good time with each other, climbing through the shit, pitch-forking it back and forth, as we rearranged the piles. To see how much they are already shrunk since we started them two months ago, and to see the little bit of steam that would rise as we shoveled into it. We were getting so excited! That we are able to help give something back to the earth, in thanks for all it gives us. That we are creating this natural substance that will enrich our soil. There is a seamless beauty to this cycle, and I am a part of it. A sense of purpose and reason for being here overtook Ed and I in our toils, and once again, as when we saw the Milky Way by the fire that night, for a moment I think we understood.
Monday, March 9, 2009
So I’m learning, as I look into creating my garden, that some seeds need to be re-purchased every year. There is a company, Monsanto, which creates seed that has been genetically modified so that the seeds it produces cannot grow a viable crop. Trying to control our food, all under the auspices of “public food safety.” Well, this interrupts nature, which in turn can cause dependency on the provider, those who have the next year’s seeds. I should be able harvest seeds from my crops that I can plant for my next year’s crop. Genetically modified crops? Streamlining, making all the plants genetically the same? Not a good idea. Do we think we have mastered nature? Diversity is strength. Taking away options is a loss of freedom. You can’t patent life! We don’t own life, we just borrow from it.
Then Robbin started to tell me about a bill jumping around various committees on the Hill, that every ‘small farm’ would have to register all of their livestock. Every chicken, horse and pig. In a country that prides itself on small business, it tries to strangle the small farm. I’m not sure what all this means, but my intuition says, wait a minute.
It was all very nerve-racking, and it also makes me feel really small. What is one person going to do in the face of multi-million dollar, multi-national corporations, and a long list of Washington law makers? Go Local. I once heard that the only ‘real’ power the little guy has, is that of his ballot and consumer power. Go Local. I have an ex-vegan friend say that she would rather eat a local chicken than a corporate made soy-bean. And isn’t that part of the American dream? The self-supported community. To know the farmer who milked the cow, and the mom and pop who run the store. I think we need to learn how to trade again. One can provide fruit, and another can provide meat, and we can share our skills/wares, and help our neighbors.
I’m still learning, and you may say I’m a dreamer. But through the back of my head runs “Sixteen Tons”, Saint Peter don’t you call my cause I can’t go; I owe my soul to the company store.
The next morning, we had coffee, and went and hung out with the Alpacas. Robbin raises them. They are so cute, and their fiber is so soft. And she loves her pacas. Their barn sits on a little hill from which you can see the rolling greens and the trees. It’s amazing what beauty there is on earth.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
As I have said in this blog before, there are three natural measurements of time: the day, the month, and the year. All other measurements: weeks, hours and minutes are man made arbitrary constructs. There is going to be the exact same amount of daylight on the same day of every year, depending on one’s latitude, regardless of what ‘hour’ it is. So what does it matter that yesterday it was six when the sun set and today it’s seven?
Beyond this, I’ve been thinking, while the amount of daylight we have wanes and waxes at the same yearly rate, we do have less daylight in the winter than we do in the summer. Yes,yes. That’s a no-brainer. The sun is the giver of all life to this planet. I think we, as a species, should live more in tune with our natural environment. Why can’t we just work shorter days in the winter, longer days in the summer? A type of pseudo-hibernation, while the daylight hours are short and the earth is in its dormant phase. Like other plant and animal species that behave seasonally. In the summer, with longer daylight hours, thus more natural growth, is when we should be working longer hours. Use this time to harness energy and save enough for the long cold winter hibernation.
Okay, that’s all. That and it’s snowing.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
“Thanks,” I say as I move the ten over, pondering the red seven under it.
“You’ll never win,” says Barbie, “Cause I stole the 9 of hearts.”
I looked at her closely and noticed that her nose had turned into the 9 of hearts. She stands there staring into my face, those big round eyes with narrow slits. What is she thinking behind those eyes? I walk away, but she stays at my side. Not speaking, just staying right there, at my left hip, walking with me. I stop and she trys to start eating the buttons off my shirt, all while gazing up at me. I walk a little further down, towards the stream, Barbie with me every step of the way. But once I start jumping from rock to rock across the stream, Barbie stops. “I wouldn’t cross the river if I were you!” I look back at her and her sad face, and wonder what haunts her. But goats are scared of everything, I figure, and I’m a big strong person. I am not afraid.
I continue to tell myself this as the wind howls and the tress grow thicker. But after the rain comes the rainbow and the pot of gold, if you can convince the leprechauns to let you take it.
“So you want me pot of gold?”
“It’d be nice”, I say.
And wouldn’t it?
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Monday, March 2, 2009
Also, Welden, the male miniature horse, lately has been attacking Kenny, the male Nubian goat. Twice in the last week Welden has pinned Kenny up against the barn while biting his neck. Once Welden chased Kenny the whole way across the pasture, trying to take him down, and finally succeeded. Poor Kenny cries and cries, and the cries of a Nubian goat are not a pleasant sound. And Welden has some massive teeth and could probably do some damage. I ran into the pasture yelling at him to let Kenny go, which he finally did as I got close. I was half afraid that Welden would turn on me, but I figured I could take down a miniature horse. When I told Carol and Grant, they didn’t seem to care. Grant just laughed that Welden does that sometimes, and that Kenny usually gets away. He said it’s because Cha Cha (the filly) is in heat, and Welden gets protective of her, and jealous. But why a horse is jealous of a goat is beyond me.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Once we moved up to Oregon, I was surfing around on CNN one day, and decided to publish an I-report. Why did I do this? Boredom? Shits and giggles? Nothing else to loose? All of the above. Reaching out I guess, maybe someone out there would find some solace in my story. We understand that we are by no means alone in our hardship, and we also fully appreciate how lucky we are to have family willing to take us in and help us out. It is more than some have.
Well, within about 12 hours of me posting my I-report I received a call from two CNN producers, saying “hey, we like your story and would like do a further report on you.”
My first thought was, what a validation of my writing that it hooked a CNN producer enough to want to follow up with us. My second thought was why not? We don’t have much to do, and if only for our own entertainment… So we drove up to Portland, did a sit down interview and spent the rest of the day with a good friend.
Maybe we should have never taken this step, maybe we did not fully consider what the results might entail. But it was done, and we watched with anticipation when it would air. Then it was over, and we were back to cleaning up after the little ones. But another call came, “we’re interested in your story and would like to conduct an interview.” Again, why not? The first one was gravy, and we were having fun. Am I some narcissist and do I feel I deserve national media attention? No. I like being one of the anonymous masses. And I felt, and still do feel, that with the fickle nature of the media, who would remember this in a month? But maybe Ed and I could somehow meet some good people and maybe land a job as a result of all this madness.
No job offers yet, but we are still hoping.
In light of some of the comments I have received, both on my blog, and on the I-report page, I feel I should clarify myself in some respects. But as a disclaimer, I would like to state that the overwhelming majority of the comments have been ones of support and encouragement, and I would like to thank all those who are sending good energy our way.
First, Ed has been self employed for the past seven years, in multiple partnerships. As anyone who is self-employed knows, it takes the first few years just to get into the black (if you EVER get into the black), and everything you make goes back into the company. He employed people, and paid heavy taxes and contributed to growth in the economy. The partners in his second start-up, royally and illegally screwed him, taking the portfolio (life insurance) that he helped build, and moved it into an entity that did not bare his name, thus their reason for denying him his share of the profits. We are attempting to retain counsel against them, for his rightful share.
I’m 28, having graduated from the University of Arizona when I was 25, so I am essentially at the beginning of my potential career earnings. And I put myself through school, working full time, up until my last year when I took a part time job. So anyone who says: “I don’t understand how you couldn’t have had much savings, you must have made some stupid decisions, and that’s what you get for living beyond your means”, why don't you go jump off a bridge and do us all a favor.
Second, maybe I should clarify my tone. I realize that most of the people reading this do not know me personally, and although I always want to write like I talk, there is no possibility for inflection on the page, no facial expressions or hand gestures. So let me say, I wrote my original post (the one that ended up on the I-report) as part sarcasm, part social commentary, and part hopeful for the future and excited for what we could accomplish in our new environment. We were not country clubbers; we worked and associated with them. We were not spending our full paychecks on clothes and dinners. We did manage to treat ourselves to the Opera from time to time. And while we went into a little debt for our wedding and honeymoon, it was nothing we would not have been able to work ourselves out of in a year’s time; if Ed had not been so unceremoniously ousted from his company. Then our further plans, which entailed saving money and joining the peace corps, and having enough so that we could in turn aid other artists, we hoped (and still hope) that we could help build a better world for all. It might not have been read this way, but I can’t control how people interpret my words, all I can do is put them out there.
If some of my words have been interpreted as complaining or condescending, again, I can only say they were not meant that way. We have endless appreciation for the natural beauty and the kind souls around us. And while that is a fact, the stress of the move, the culture shock, and the pressure of financial worries are also a reality. And I challenge anyone who lives in rural America to move to Los Angeles, and see how you can handle it. People come there everyday from all over America and crash and burn and then end up going back home. Every dreamer in the world seems to want to make it happen in Hollywood.
Lastly, I would like to say to those people who have commented that Oregon doesn’t need us, and we should move back to California, that last time I checked, Oregon is a state in this Union and we are American citizens. And if we want to move anywhere in this glorious nation, as citizens and as taxpayers, that is our right.
Thank you and have a nice day.