Wednesday, February 23, 2011

We Live in Town

Yes, in town.  Our 1908 farm house is on a 1/4 acre in town

We'd never lived in town before moving here.
As someone who's from out there, in the end-of-the-long-road-conspiracy-theorizing part of the world, it is sometimes difficult to tell people that I live in town.

It's town after all!

People live there!

They just show up at your place *poof* and you don't even have a chance to slip off to avoid the religious zealots that swing by.

I am from the places where if you see a vehicle you know who it is, where they're headed, how long they've lived/worked/eaten/hunted there, who their kids are and what they want if they're headed to your place.  Conversations revolve around seasons and cows, children and fencelines.

Town is different.

We're learning it's enjoyable with the right attitude though.  It can be absolutely stifling if you don't have the right outlook.  This is a work-in-progress for me.  I'm better.  I don't want to talk about it lol.

But after moving not only our things (of which we brought way too many), our 1 year old daughter, my mother, 4 horses, a heifer (Ruby), 4 dogs, 5 cats (I paid to have them spayed, therefore they were not getting left behind - OK, Crazy Lucy was welcome and my mothers two were quite near-and-dear to her) 1,000 miles in November to Montana...

we were ready to live in a house.

Any house that was warm and had a fair-sized lot.

And was cheap.  The trip cost a penny or two.

Part of the rush was that I got pregnant our first week here and we were all (darling husband, sweet daughter, myself and my mother) living in a travel trailer.

I was vomiting.

In November/December.

In Montana.

It was a touch cool.

Cabin fever was hard core.  More like cabin plague or gangrene.

We were for the most part nice to each other.

In the preceding six months, we had looked online at homes listed in the area, and kept coming back to the one we ended up buying in the end.  It just seemed like we were meant to be there.  The mortgage would be lower than the average rent in the area, and no one would complain about our living habits adjusting to town besides possibly our neighbors.

You may be confused here; as in, "What's to adjust?"

Let me introduce my husband:

He has been known to run a chainsaw at 10 PM.  In town. [insert me frowning and hollering at him town at 10 PM]

He has NO problem with multiple dead vehicles/our two trailers - one of which is bright yellow - parked on premises (doesn't happen anymore, he's adjusted to the town thing in this respect).

We used floodlights, near midnight, to harvest tomatoes and tomatillos frantically before a hard frost last fall.  The kids were asleep, and it'd been a wild week.  You work when you can around here.

These are just what pops to mind, but we ultimately have most definitely had an adjustment period.  Now that it has been just over two years we're settled into the routine of it pretty well.  Our trash can even makes it out when it's supposed to and the kids sleep right through the truck when it "BEEEEEP BEEEEEP BEEEEEPs" out their window.

We have several planting beds:
a 5'x60'
two 5'x20'
four 1'x20' aka "strip beds"

these are built with cast-off wood from the local mill (the bark pieces: flat on one side, bark on the other).

We have a cold frame made from boards hoarded from a nearby feedlot torn down and $40 worth of clear 6mm plastic.  We replace it yearly, convinced it's cheaper since we won't be in town long enough to justify a greenhouse.  Right?

Eventually, we'll move out of town.  But for now, this space works well...except the whole milk cow being 3 miles away bit.  It will be nice when she is "on site."  We're still working on acquiring a leased bit of land, but are certain it will be at least another year before we can sell our home and move out of town again.

Until then, we are forever thankful for our kind neighbors with thick walls and a sense of humor.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Graining The Girls w/ Wild Kids

There is something more to be said about nice cows:

Most of my previous experience with cattle has not been with pets or milk cows or even cows that are fed hay/grain by humans.  I was previously accustomed to cows that would run from or over a person.  The last thing they would be doing was hanging out, looking for a handout.  Steep, nasty country breeds some wild types...and some fun/occasionally frustrating riding.

Our older two (Ruby & Carrara) live with 75-100 Angus/beef cows.   The gentleman that owns and cares for these cows is a kind man - he gives grain to the pheasant, rabbits, and deer on his farm/ranch through the winter so that they don't have such a hard time - and I have found that he only keeps kind cattle.  What a blessing, because our 1 1/2 year old son has no respect for cows.  He thinks it's hilarious to run - squealing in laughter - right at them. 

This is NOT on my list of "it's cool, go ahead" things for him to do with his time. 

However, these beef mamas may startle, trot off, and in general stare at him like he's a tiny crazy man (which he is) but they have never acted aggressively towards him. 

He's only gotten out-of-grasp to do this twice.  Usually I trap the kids in the suburban with the windows rolled down most of the way, so they can watch and look but are not any worry for me. 

I do this because while graining our 2 cows, anywhere between 5 and 30 girls show up looking for their feed tubs.  They stare.  I feel like a heel.  They pace.  I really really feel like a heel.  They sneak in close, I try to touch them, they dance out of reach and pace some more.  Maybe I am a heel, but I love to get one of them to let me touch her.  And I have grain, that gives me an edge.

Today, my friend Christina and her boys came along with us, and it was so fun seeing them experience cows up close.  I was so proud of Ruby, letting all four small children pet her while I am shoo-ing the other cows away.  She did occasionally give me the "this-is-a-lot-of-tolerance-I-should-get-extra-grain" look though.

Poor kid. 

The things a cow has to do to get the good stuff around here. 

I am so thankful that I spent time with Ruby so that now she is safe and kind, especially with the kids.

When she kicks me later this year (probably right after she's calved and her teats are tender), remind me that she was the most wonderful cow ever in February.

I'll forgive her. 

Sore teats are the pits.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Dear Friend and Macaroni & Cheese

We have this wonderful friend, Becca, who lives nearby and walks/bikes by on her way to work.  Sometimes, I snag her off the sidewalk - her all scarves, sweaters, gloves and fuzzy boots - for a warming cup of tea.

I'd like to make a note here that, in being a "walker" here in Montana, you have to be OK with being cold.  Occasionally very cold.  She never complains; I love this gal.  She has fortitude.

Anyways, today her walk turned into being accosted with a dark chocolate truffle (which I thought would surely make her walk more enjoyable), then helping fill a wheelbarrow with wood, then tea, then playing with wild tiny children, helping with dinner and dishes and OH, she's wonderful.  Lovely guest.

We had homemade mac 'n cheese and homegrown & pickled beets.

You don't eat pickled beets with noodles?


Maybe it's a "my grandma" thing.  Which is fine, I love family-specific traditions.

When I was growing up, my grandma lived with us for nearly eleven years.  She taught me how to make many things from scratch, starting at three or four years old.  I miss my grandma.  With her I ate many things, but my favorite (other than homemade, single-apple-spoil-your-granddaughter-sauce on hot, buttered, homemade toast) was when we'd eat this mac 'n cheese with pickled beets on the side.  I don't know how this got started, but I do know that she raised three children through the Great Depression, alone (she was widowed in 1928) I'm betting it was cheap dinner.

We make it by first making a rue, adding milk, then a pile of white sharp cheddar cheese, then a teaspoon of horseradish sauce (trust me, it does good things; this is from a different grandma - picked up along the way), then salt and pepper to taste.

Try it, it really is simple and tasty.

Back to the beets, they are slightly sweet, acid, and refreshing with the thick, gooey-ness of the noodles.  Plus, these were canned by my mama last fall, after we pulled their fat little selves from our beds in a frenzy (the soil would freeze soon).  Bulls Blood Beets.  They're so sweet and lovely to eat, plus their greens have excellent flavor and can be harvested as the root grows.

I am learning that some of my favorite times surround sharing food with family and friends.  Having people in the kitchen, all chipping in here and there, talking, learning,'s good stuff.  I'm considering making a point in having people over at least once a month, just to share food and community.

Note about tea:  It amazes me how many people accept a cup and a chat if you offer.  I am now carrying several blends.  I don't even own a tea pot, but they come, they sit and relax a bit.  It must be the steam and warm hands...or maybe there are more people waiting for me to reach out to them kindly than I realized.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Making Laundry Soap - The "Pictoral"

What you'll need for a double-batch.  Why yes, that IS my cheese grater...I used it to do this:
 Grated soap makes me happy.  It's fluffy and smells nice.
 Add 1 cup of washing soda
We are a high dirt/grease/motor oil/food stain family; I use heaping cups of the scrubber ingredients.

1 cup of Borax
 Heaping.  I almost always spill - powders get me every time.
It's going to look very full, just pop the lid on and shake it like crazy.
Use one tablespoon per load, two for heavy loads.  

Something about this (pretty sure it's the borax) makes my clothes very soft, I no longer use softener.  If you'd like it to smell pretty, just add a couple drops of your favorite essential oil and shake the snot out of it so it gets through to everything.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Plan & Design

Seed catalogs are quite possibly the most stimulating and ultimately depressing thing we get in the mail.  For me anyways, for Rick it's a tool catalog or maybe a bull semen catalog (he fantasizes about having Charlois cattle).  I simultaneously think almost everything would be fun to grow, then "where would we put it all, could I start that many seeds, *bah* it only grows in Arizona?!  Well those are some big, beautiful, will-get-shredded-by-summer-hail leaves after all."  This is usually followed by a frown and a recalculation of some sort. 
My mom is a landscape architect and also a horticulture major.  Yep, eight years of plants under the lady's belt.  Most of my life I took our beautiful, fun, simple gardens for granted.  I now realize that having plants, flowers, vegetables, and fruit is the exception - not the rule.  I learned to plant for textures and colors and smells.  I've loved that there was always something with fuzzy leaves to touch, for tiny hands to explore.  Planting a garden for people - not just children - to enjoy and really experience is my ultimate goal.
Now, I understand that not everyone will understand this "experience" theory.  A garden that is strictly roses, or one of only trimmed hedges and lawn with maybe a few pansies sprinkled in, isn't super-interesting.  When you have edible plants scattered throughout your beds, very short and very tall things, different scents, hidden bowls of water or leaves that catch moisture, leaves of all shapes and sizes and textures...these are the things that make me excited about working and visiting a garden.  As a child these spaces can be ones of imagination gone wild, spaces that encourage them to live outside as much as possible - not to run in to watch TV.
There are very few pleasures that rank as highly as casually picking something ripe and eating it,  incarnate liquid sunshine, whole and dribbling.  It's right up there with eating home-raised meat, eggs, and milk. 
And this, my friends, is the end of nap-time and therefore blogging be continued!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Homemade Laundry Soap & A Calf Lost

Our Carrara heifer has lost her calf.  Big bummer.  A couple months ago she spotted, but didn't miscarry.  Her belly continued to swell, but has smooth, straight sides now. 

Our cows live with a herd (not ours), so we do not know exactly when or what happened.  This is one of those times I'd really like to have them out our door so that they could be micro-managed.  But, she may have just needed more time to grow, and now she has it!  The scary bit is that he thinks that Ruby may have lost her calf also.  This would really make us assess our current management, and really be a downer because we love a baby and the milk we sneak.  It would mean no cheese, butter, milk... *wahhh*

Ever onwards.

Today's very exciting news: I made laundry detergent!


No, it's easy.  Shopping for the ingredients is much more time consuming than making it.
Here's what you use:

1 bar soap (unscented, dye-free) like Ivory, grated
1/2 c Borax (available at most grocery stores)
1/2 c Washing soda (purchased at my Ace Hardware store)
Optional: Couple drops of essential oil if you've got it

Mix it.  Use it.
1 tbsp for normal loads
2 tbsp for filthy loads (ooooooh do we have these!!)

Here's the thing, this stuff works way better on my husbands nasty, oily, grimy, greasy, dirty pants than the products from the store.  I feel like I need to say it twice; way better!  Please give it a try, you'll be doing loads of laundry for pennies and they'll be just as clean - or cleaner - than before.  PLUS, my clothes are softer now, the Borax helps with softening the water.  I am still using a tablespoon of fabric softener, but only because I don't have any essential oils at this point.  Also, I like to use what I've got rather than throw it away.

My hair is still liking the "shampoo-free" method, but is now very much in the midst of the "adjustment period," which will last anywhere from three weeks to three months.  Have to get all my natural oil production balanced out, then the hair oiled naturally.  It's probably going to take a while.  I've got a lot of hair, and luckily, a few braiding skills. 

It feels very, very good to make these little things myself.  Knowing I'm saving a bit of money helps, and knowing that it is better for my family is wonderful.  My favorite part though, is that it was made here, in our home, by me!  No adding it to the shopping list!