Monday, August 23, 2010

In the fullness of time...

The time has come to bring to public knowledge a little secret Janelle has been carrying around for about ten weeks now. That is to say, March 26 is the due date of our third child, and we welcome you to share our joy!

I imagine Janelle has, in public, maintained her usual energetic and capable demeanor sufficiently that suspicion has not yet been universally aroused. But if you happen to have noticed her leaving meals half-eaten or nodding off in meetings, now you know why! Of the three pregnancies Janelle has experienced, my judgment is that this one has had her feeling the crummiest. I'm doing my best to support her as we push through the summer harvest season, but I'm afraid she's still needing to keep longer and harder hours than her body would prefer. I'll admit I find it pretty cute when she hits one of her sleepy patches and the allure of the futon is too hard to resist, or when she gets really hungry for, say, cherry tomatoes, only to find that by the time the bowl is set in front of her they seem appallingly disgusting. My job is to help her carve out space for rest, assist her in the negotiation of the nutrition/nausea balance, and work steadily to help keep her task list manageable, not to mention stroking her hair and smiling to myself after she crashes on the couch.

Of course this time brings many thoughts of our precious Nora, and we miss her like always. But to our relief we have not been plagued by anxiety as we wait for the time to come when we'll get some indication of whether Petty Syndrome (a.k.a Petty Laxova Weideman Syndrome) has recurred in this child, though I suppose it is to be considered a good sign that Janelle is feeling so gross, since it is my understanding that there is a tendency for pregnancies involving a genetic disorder to cause less physical symptoms than "normal" pregnancies.

It is unclear whether Petty Syndrome is the result of spontaneous mutation or, rather, a matter of an extremely rare recessive trait carried by both Janelle and I, plus a few other far-flung individuals. If we didn't suspect the former scenario (which would mean that this child has no greater chance of Petty Syndrome than any other), the decision to try for pregnancy would have been far more nerve-wracking, and it's hard for me to think we'd have been ready yet, if ever, to try for pregnancy. As it was, we wrestled substantially with the questions and issues, and have now made this choice. So far, we are enjoying the results thoroughly, and cherishing our dreams for this little one.

As I write this evening, there is a canner doing its thing on each of our two stoves. It seems like nearly every evening of this month there is a minor canning project going on, but this evening I am wrapping up a few loose ends from what I would consider to be a major canning project. Nine adults and one freshly minted seven-year-old worked for a handful of hours this afternoon to put about 85 pints of salsa and a few odd quarts of diced tomatoes and tomato broth (canned effluent from the draining of diced tomatoes in preparation for salsa making) into canning jars.

For the record, a bushel of Roma tomatoes amounts to the main ingredient for roughly 30 or 35 pints of salsa. Also worthy of note is the fact that a wire egg-collecting basket makes a pretty good tomato-scalding insert in a black enamel canner. Simply bring a suitable amount of water in the canner to a boil, load up the basket with the appropriate quantity of cored tomatoes with bad spots removed, set the tomato-laden basket in the canner for an even minute, remove the basket and carefully dump your scalded tomatoes in an appropriate receptacle (a roasting pan worked well today) for cooling before peeling. If the tomatoes are ripe and healthy, the skin often more or less slips right off.

Speaking of freshly minted seven-year-olds, it has come to my attention that we have thus far failed to report the highlights from Kali's "Chreaster" birthday party. This is a kid with a lively and formidable mind, let me tell you! She had decided that we needed a new holiday in the year (she loves holidays), I suppose to spice up the long, holiday-poor summer months. Her notion was to extract the greatest hits from both Christmas and Easter, leaving out the boring stuff like the baby born in the stable and the sunrise service, but including such highlights as candy canes and egg hunts. In other words, she seems to favor the vestiges of the pagan celebrations the Christian holidays were meant by their creators to supplant.

We were not eager for another holiday to plan for, but during the family meeting in which we were discussing this idea Janelle got a hunch and a brainstorm to check on where Kali's birthday might fall in the year, relative to Christmas and Easter. Sure enough, Kali's birthday this year was smack dab in the middle (to the day!). Naturally, we then began to plan for a "Chreaster" birthday party.

I must say, it was a rockin' party. A few kids were able to make it, and they and their adult escorts enjoyed themselves quite well as we cut out snowflakes, decorated cookies and boiled eggs, hid and hunted for candy and other treats in the yard, tried out Kali's new tire swing (a Chreaster gift from her parents), and watched her open her stocking stuffers and other gifts while relaxing around the blazing fire ring. I can only speak for myself, but it sure seemed to me that good-hearted fun carried the day.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Kali's first posting!

Hi there I am writing this Bye By kali

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Eating my words

Perhaps our exceedingly faithful readers with acute memories will recall an incident a year or two ago when an attempt was made to generate applesauce from one of our trees. It was a tree I believe to be sprouted from seed, and therefore an undocumented variety, new to agriculture.

The applesauce was a complete failure.

At the time I asserted that the tree was probably not useful to humanity, and I almost cut it down. But I was just not totally convinced that I had fully understood the tree, and for that reason decided to give it another try before annihilating it.

Enter Permaculture class this winter and spring, with Dave Jacke's helpful instruction in the design process wherein he presented to us some practical benefits to be gained by withholding judgment until the relevant patterns emerge to our minds and we can confidently draw reasonable conclusions.

So this year when the apple-ripening cycle came about, I was better equipped to allow the patterns inherent to that particular tree's seasonal cycle to play themselves out, intervening only when it was apparent to me that the time had come for it.

Folks, I just finished one of those apples for a midnight snack, as wedges dipped in peanut butter. My friends, I must eat my words, for though the flavor of the apple lacked complexity and the sauce still wouldn't be likely to win any awards, it was truly sweet and not at all bad.

What is the difference between that last experience and this one? I must humbly admit that it is mostly a matter of waiting until they are ripe to pick them. Also, the age-old practice of pruning and thinning makes for yummier apples. Lesson learned, I hope!

The "Honey Cider" tree, which is slowly succumbing to fire blight, still produces very weird apples, not at all yummy for fresh eating, but quite sweet. THAT one is still a head-scratcher, I must say.

In other news, I am pleased to report that our thirteen Roma tomato plants have satisfactorily inundated us with tomato matter, from which we are happily, if somewhat exhaustedly, manufacturing salsa, sauce, and diced tomatoes, all preserved in mason jars. Today I picked just over a bushel of Romas, and four days ago my sister and I picked a bushel and a half from those same plants. By the time the season is up, each of the plants may have produced between a third and a half of a bushel of the pointy, pasty little fruits. I don't know if that's a good amount according to professional production standards, but I am mighty o.k. with it.

I intend to plant at least that amount next year, with the possible exception that I may dedicate a portion of the space to a variety of tomato called "Mariana", which produces largish, egg-shaped fruits that are extra firm and dry; an excellent salsa base, I believe. Also, they ripen later than the Romas, so their timing would coincide better with the ripening of the peppers. But would they be as productive as the Romas? I do not know. They certainly are loaded with fruit, but I'm not sure it's any half-bushel per plant. I may have to find a way to plant even more of the garden to tomatoes. This may be a simple matter, as I am planning to eliminate the grass paths in the garden, which will free up 50% more productive space (and reduce weed pressure and mowing chores).

Perhaps I am crazy to increase production, but I admit that having "too many tomatoes" is the kind of punishment for which I am happily gluttonous. If nothing else, there is no harm in having extra to give away, and I am gratified by the few opportunities we've had this season to give a handful or two of produce to neighbors and friends whose generosity has so often benefited us in the past. It's not about paying back (I'm under no illusions that that would be possible), it's just that the time came around that we had something they needed.

The alternating tidal motion of generosity between gardening friends is among the many rhythms that have been coming to my attention over the past few weeks. The seasonal pulses of produce, the planting/tending/waiting/harvesting cycle, the emergence and re-emergence of genetic traits in the march of the generations, predator/prey balance, the looping patterns of our traffic to and from the gardens and chickens and compost pile, the elaborate dance of food processing workers avoiding collision and providing mutual support in a kitchen...these things inspire and humble me, and encourage the expansion of my sense of gratitude for this land, this family, and this community which together form the matrix from which my life is--tenderly, I hope--painstakingly and lovingly extracted.

Friday, August 6, 2010

My day today...

...included canning pickles...chopping, chopping, chopping and then canning salsa...more chopping and canning diced tomatoes...making several large batches of pesto...baking lamb's quarter rolls (that were thoroughly enjoyed with the fresh pesto)...a little more chopping and canning green beans...and not to forget making fresh mint tea. It must be August and we must have a garden fence keeping the critters from taking a percentage of the food!!

And miraculously enough, Kali and I found time to take a walk this evening as the sun was starting to go down and the outdoors was cooling off a lot faster than the inside of our home. A good day!

Most days right now the canner is occupied with one thing or another. New food processing things this year included making dilly beans this week for the first time, apple butter and red raspberry jam.

Changes continue outside with the construction project moving forward, though we are in a bit of a lull because of rain/mud. It is a relief that Jason and I are not in charge of keeping things moving, because we both have our hands full right now!!