Thursday, November 17, 2016

Family night, post-election musings, and more

So let's kick this blog off with something hopeful: Terah being helpful! It seems our world needs a lot of hope and help right now. In our little corner of the world, we all got a kick out of how much Terah was enjoying building one of the first fires in the wood stove the other evening. I don't think her carting piece after piece to Jason had much to do with her being cold at all. But it was mighty cute!

Yesterday afternoon, Jason and the girls picked me up at work a few hours early so we could get in part of our family night before dark. I think we are all for family nights starting at 3 p.m. more often. We got to fit in a lot of fun before bedtime rolled around! It was Kali's turn to plan our time together and she had chosen picking up dinner at Chipotle and taking it to the arboretum for a picnic. We padded those two activities with a bunch of other things: a trip to Rocking R for some supplies and a little Christmas shopping at the request of one of our girls (no asking questions around Christmas!), a stop at the Friendly City Food Co-op for a few things to make wild WV cranberry sauce to take to the Benner Thanksgiving and a little more Christmas shopping (yes, our two older girls are very excited about Christmas already and it warms my heart to see how much they enjoy thinking about each other and their family and picking things they know will delight the people they love). We stocked up on books at the library and also went out for ice cream before heading home via the place we pick up our milk (this week we left all empty jars except for one filled with lard as a small thank you to them for helping to feed our pigs!).

I don't know the last time we went out for ice cream as a family, and we tried a new little place on the square downtown called Dream Cones. We were all fans - it's a narrow little shop, only staffed when the bell rings noting you have entered, and is cute and comfortable. They had little tables with coloring supplies for kids and were playing pleasant music. They serve hard serve ice cream, which is our preference if eating ice cream. All of those positive things would likely still not have gotten our family in the door; after all, Jason doesn't like ice cream and we are trying to avoid sugar and commercial dairy. But, it was very worth it! We went at our neighbor Robert Mast's request - in his obituary he asked that in lieu of doing anything else in his memory we go out for ice cream with our loved ones. So we did, and we remembered him together. Terah enjoyed the little chairs and dancing to the music and I'll admit that I'm thrilled she didn't even take note that the rest of us were eating colorful creamy stuff. Some could say we are depriving her. I'd say we are giving her a chance at a better foundation on which to build her own plan for how she wants to interact with what sustains her! And since she couldn't connect with the sentimental reasons for the outing we just enjoyed watching her play and work on some dance moves!

Terah also didn't pay much attention to our Chipotle burritos. I think it was partly that her appetite is messed up by the cold she has just landed and also that the pond at the arboretum had dozens of ducks swimming around in it. We sat by the pond and enjoyed our meal as the sun started to go down and the chill entered the air. Then the older girls got some good swinging bridge time while I walked Terah until she sacked out for a pick-me-up npa and then we went for a little hike all together.

That's when I had my little "post-election reflection time." I've had lots of night-time anxiety sessions alone, many too many minutes spent on facebook, and some positive and deep connections with people of various viewpoints. My emotions continue to be all over the map and I am mostly not too interested in using this forum as a place for airing them. I'm eager for real conversations with real people and open to having those in variety of forums. In this space, I wanted to share a few thoughts that came to me on our brief hike.

Kali wanted to see if we could get to the labyrinth and back before dark. I was eager to try as well. As we neared it, I invited my family to join me in each choosing something/someone that we each wanted to dedicate the good energy of our family time and our walk around the labyrinth to. It was something we had done in the Circle Processes class I took the weekend before the elections that I found really meaningful. My musings aren't directly related to that, but I think having that intention as I walked had the labyrinth take on more meaning for me this time. Two things felt kind of  profound about this particular walking of it.

First, as we were walking I realized how often it can feel in a labyrinth that I'm going the wrong way; that I'm going away from the center which is my final destination. Of course doing this before I know it turns out ok. But when if you haven't done it before? Or no one can assure it's going to be ok? How do you trust the process that if you stay the course you will get to where you want/you need (or we need) to go? It seems like we have made some strides in our country in the direction I'd like to see the world go (towards embracing the diversity in our world, celebrating and protecting it), to what feels like a big turn in the wrong direction. Can I believe that if I continue walking the path that connects my gifts and passions with the world's needs, we'll get where we need to go?

Then as we wound our way around and out, I noted that when walking the labyrinth with other people it often appears that you are walking in the opposite direction. The divisions around me are stark and sad and painful. It often feels like we aren't all on the same journey at all. Can I push myself to believe that some of those that appear to walking in different directions from me are actually headed towards the same goal?

Even these brief musings are difficult to put out there. I feel like about anything can be twisted right now with tensions running high, or lead someone to be inclined to put me in one particular camp or another. What I'm working really hard to do is to be open to listening, to working at managing my own anxiety so that I am not debilitated from being the person I want to be for the world (and maybe most importantly my family and local community), and to embracing the anger, sadness, disappointment, and fear while looking for any and all signs of hope.

So here's a tiny ray of hope to end this reflection on! We adopted our road several years ago (via the department of transportation for trash pick up). The first number of times we did it, we lugged huge heavy bags of trash and recycling home. Up until this year I think we always got at least a full bag of each. We did our third pick up of the year this past week with my parents and came home with such a paltry amount I would have said it wasn't worth it, except we got to enjoy a lovely walk together on a beautiful fall day! Thankfully I'm beyond having the irrational thought that we aren't successful at our job if we don't find a lot. It's the kind of job that it would be great if we lost for lack of anything to do! Of course we hope that the reason for the decrease in trash is that folks noticed the road being cleaner (might I boldly claim "more beautiful") and decided to join our efforts and not only litter less but also use less stuff in the first place and not some other reason (like those that littered the most moved somewhere else). I'll choose to believe the former!
Now it's about time to get the finishing touches on dinner and enjoy the fact that Emily and Ivy have joined us at Tangly Woods for most of today. It's about all I can do to keep my hands off this sweet baby - but none of us want to be the one to pass our minor sniffles along to her! Not right before her big trip to the Benner home place for Thanksgiving. So we are admiring her from a distance and I know our older girls are feeling thrilled to have some Aunt Emily time while Terah gets a much needed nap and I get some work done. A nap would also have been nice since I haven't gotten any good stretches the last two nights - our kiddos are so dramatic at night when even the slightest bit sick, and then seem more or less ok during the day. The good days help me endure the nights but I sure was enjoying a bit more sleep at night. It will come...

Monday, November 7, 2016

Blood drive in honor of Nora and Robert!

We just landed home from another blood drive! I'll finish putting things away later and make the most of the few minutes that Jason has the youngest gal otherwise occupied! I'll admit that I don't get much time to reflect at these drives - on Nora and her time with us or about much else for that matter. It's more or less a complete zoo most of the time that we are there - since we have as large a cheering squad as we have blood donors. So it's more when I download pictures and reflect on the evening that I carve out a little space to feel gratitude for the time gathered and for how meaningful it continues to be for me to join with others to do something positive in her memory. It really does feel like a happy party!

I've started to build relationships with some of the staff there. I like that they seem to like when we come. I sometimes worry that our crowd is a little high on the chaos for a place like that but one of the longer term staff members was talking to the new person about our crew this evening. He noted to her how much they like when we come; that we are always positive and enjoying chatting and generally low key. I didn't consider us very "low key" but he said some groups come in and are very high strung and want them to get them in and out of there as quick as possible. Since folks are happy to see each other at ours, they often linger long after being done (or just come to hang out and eat good snacks!).

For the actual stats on tonight I think our totals were:

10 whole blood donations
2 platelet donations
5 last minute cancellations or persons not able to give but still hung out!
1 reschedule for next week
5 snack donors
13 little people cheerleaders
6 big people cheerleaders

We are grateful for all of those present in any way! Each person made the evening what it was and for that we are thankful.

As I was reflecting on the evening I found myself thinking again of the poem by Dawna Markova that became so meaningful to my mom during her journey with cancer. I think of it too when I think about Nora's short life with us and as we grieve our neighbor Robert's death. Tonight's blood drive for me was as much about honoring his life, ended so recently (and from our vantage point, too early). Neither of them died an unlived life and both of their lives continue to bear fruit.

I will not die an unlived life 
I will not live in fear 
of falling or catching fire. 
I choose to inhabit my days, 
to allow my living to open me, 
to make me less afraid, 
more accessible, 
to loosen my heart 
until it becomes a wing, 
a torch, a promise. 
I choose to risk my significance; 
to live so that which came to me as seed 
goes to the next as blossom 
and that which came to me as blossom, 
goes on as fruit. 

Obviously Robert's death feels much fresher on our minds and hearts than losing Nora. I'm still finding it hard at this point to grasp that he won't be in the circle in our home tomorrow when we host our neighborhood potluck. There will be plenty of reminders of him in our home and lives. He gifted us with his interest and knowledge in many areas - from mushrooms to amaryllis to kiwi to computers. But most of all, I feel like talking with him and observing his life I got to witness someone living fully without regrets and without bitterness or resentment towards life dealing him the cards he got. He would often says things like, "I've had a good life and when it's time to die I'm ready." I hope I get there before my time...

I was very happy tonight to be able to again give successfully at a blood drive (I've come a few times with other friends not on drive nights and have had one good donation and one rocky one that I just squeaked by). It had been awhile since I decided to add donating to watching kiddos, visiting with folks, taking pictures and trying to be a good host/resource person. For some reason I felt more calm and less nervous tonight - maybe the baker's dozen of little cheerleaders was a very successful distraction! It was also that I asked to have the woman stick me who had done it the first time I was successful following Terah's birth. She was just as good tonight as she was the first time! AND I learned in talking with her tonight that she shares Nora's birthday of October 30th. I think that's sweet!

So time to give the family some attention. I took a Circle Processes class this weekend so don't feel like I've had much time at home with Jason and the girls. I'm glad for a day at home tomorrow, which will start with jogging to our polling location to vote with Jason. Here's hoping that some of the good energy in Virginia Blood Services tonight will permeate all corners of our country tomorrow.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

November book report by Jason

At Janelle's suggestion, my November book has been Paul Kalanithi's When Breath Becomes Air. This being November 6, a person might raise eyebrows at the pace of this read-through.  Quite simply, it is the kind of book the reader is likely to have trouble putting down, and sticks in one's mind at other times, drawing the reader back in whatever spare moments can be found.  It is also not a tremendously long book, and though well-written is not so especially dense as to require concentrated perusal or paragraph re-reads in order to make meaningful sense of it.  In fact, that is a testament to how well it is written: its important message is articulated clearly and simply even in its nuance.

Dr. Kalanithi was a freshly minted neurosurgeon when he died of lung cancer in his late thirties.  This is the memoir of his life and illness.

The basic story line (kid grows up, pursues ambitions, falls in love, almost realizes ambitions, dies of cancer), while as gripping as all tragedies are, would not be that interesting in a lasting, universal sense but for Dr. Kalanithi's history as Paul, the intellectual, fun-loving livewire of a child who seemed to live the essence of a youth trying to understand his situation on this planet.  What does it mean to exist?  It may be impossible, he seems to hint, to ever really know, but the attempt to know will not be fruitless.  He followed each sign to the next.  In academia and on his own time he voraciously romped through philosophy and literature, eventually almost begrudgingly admitting that the signs he responded to most authentically were pointing him to science, particularly the science of the human brain.  Where better to explore conscious existence than in the seat of consciousness?

And why a doctor?  It was not exactly a desire to "help" or "heal" people.  It was more theatrical for him: he craved the theater of encounter with existence, the coming face to face with personhood, and the decision-making surrounding it.  How could he understand existence without engaging it fully, and how to engage it fully without being in situations where it was in jeopardy?  He dearly wanted to be an agent of understanding for self and others, and eventually found himself pulled in two directions:  to become a doctor and to pursue writing.

His plan for his career had been straightforward enough (if punishingly challenging):  spend twenty years as a doctor and researcher of the highest skill and attention, learning all he could about human encounters with the gaining, the losing, the regaining, the holding on to, the giving up of life, consciousness, and death, and making sense of those processes, then spend the next twenty writing about it.  We all stood to gain much from that plan, and I for one am sorry to see it cut short.

Or perhaps compressed.  Because in a way his deadly encounter with lung cancer brought him arguably closer to his goal of understanding existence and its loss than those twenty years of clinical and research work ever could have, and the urgency he felt in facing a shortened lifespan prodded him to put words together for us in the form of this book.  He does not talk about himself as courageous or selfless, but both of those character traits are obvious; he has left us in his debt.

Part of the reason this was a timely read for me was because of events in our neighborhood.  Two neighbors have been contending with cancers, both of them valued friends of ours.  I picked this book up to read as we were waiting for news as to whether one of them was going to make it out of the ICU after his encounter with an experimental treatment at the National Institutes of Health.  The treatment, intended to assault his cancer probably had that effect.  But the side effects were so severe that he experienced compromises to all his major organ functions, including his brain, and had to be hooked up to life support for immediate survival.  Even if he did wake back up, it was unclear whether the severe damage would be reversible.  He did make it back to consciousness, and by all reports he was lucid and coherent when he requested that all treatments be stopped, and that he be returned to his home to await death with his family.  This was consistent with his stated priorities and values dating from the time of his diagnosis, so the doctors and his family honored his request.  A few days ago he came home.  Early this morning he died.  We are lucky to have known him and to have been his friends and neighbors; our minds will be partly used in thinking of his family for the next while.

So the issues of existence and consciousness that were raised in When Breath Becomes Air have been pretty close to home, in all senses.  What was it like for our neighbor to know so clearly that the end of his life was so clear and so near?  How did it feel to risk an experimental treatment, knowing it could kill him or cure him (that's what he or the other), then be woken up to find that he was living in exactly that third option he most wanted to avoid?  What did he most need in the days and hours living up to that fateful choice, and did he get it?  How were we or were we not the friends to him that he needed us to be; how could we have been better at it?

These questions are not the garden-variety self reflection after loss of a friend; the other neighbor is likely to be in some kind of similar straits sometime in the next several years, though cancers and their progress are so variable and treatments are evolving so fast right now that time estimates are not all that helpful.  I have been at a bit of a loss for how to talk about his illness with him.  In those few times I have been able to visit with him, I have simply attempted to let him take the lead; if he wants to talk about tough decisions, encounters with doctors, existential issues, what have you...I have been operating as if he will bring them up.  Certainly I have no wish to bring things to the forefront of his mind that he might not want to dwell on.  But I worry a bit that a timely, gentle question, well placed and worded, could be just what he might need to open a window that needs opening, and that I might lose my chance to make that needed connection if I don't take it soon.  Do I lack the courage?  I hope not, but I do lack the questions.  Perhaps what would make the most sense would be for me to ask, next time we are together, whether there is anything he would like to talk about, and let him know that I am available to him if so, and there is nothing I am too afraid to talk about with him.  It feels lame to ask the person how I can help them...we all love those stories of the people who seem to automatically know, and who swoop in at just the right moment with just the right words or intervention.  I am not that person.

And I am not Paul Kalanithi.  I do not feel that same existential drive to help people interpret conscious existence (and am not nearly so qualified to help them do so), though I, in my own way, have devoted a considerable chunk of my life to trying to reckon my place in the world, and love to help people ponder theirs.  Perhaps the most disquieting element of the book was when he, the accomplished scientist who has taken time to delve into realms I never will, concludes the same thing I do: "Science may provide the most useful way to organize empirical, reproducible data, but its power to do so is predicated on its inability to grasp the most central aspects of human life:  hope, fear, love, hate, beauty, envy, honor, weakness, striving, suffering, virtue.  Between these core passions and scientific theory, there will always be a gap" (Page 170).

In other words, science cannot save us from ourselves.  If life is going to have meaning, it is up to us to make it for and with ourselves and each other.  Good courage to us all in the making of it, and gratitude to the likes of Dr. Paul Kalanithi and our neighbor, R, for demonstrating it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Kali's tree

So I couldn't help but devote a post to what feels like a monumental occasion! After we got married our first apartment was on Hamlet drive in Harrisonburg. We were in a 2 bedroom basement apartment with a little front porch and a short walk out to a parking area. Beside the walk was a large tree that would drop its fruit on the walkway. All we knew was that it was some kind of Chinese date tree (and that the fruits were interesting and yummy). When we bought our first home and moved from that apartment we were pregnant with Kali. We took a little start of the tree and when we held a little blessing for Kali at our new home, we planted that tree with her. Then just two years later when we bought our Fruit Farm Lane home, we dug up Kali's tree and brought it with us. It had a temporary home until the time was right to plant it along our front walk - it seemed right for it to drop its fruits there, like it had done at our first home. We've waited a number of years now for it to grow and start bearing and this year there are some tasty fruits for us to try! Very special!

And, speaking of things growing, we all got to enjoy a visit with baby Ivy (and her Mommy!) today. She shared some funny faces with me, and just a few squawks when she was ready to eat and was in my arms and not her Mommy's. She's only getting bigger and cuter. Yesterday she was wearing the little pumpkin onesie that Terah wore for Halloween last year. My what changes can happen in a year! On the home front, Jason had a broody hen recently and decided to let her sit on eggs. So we've got 5 very cute fuzz balls that I finally got my eyes on today. Last time I checked she was keeping them all snug and warm tucked under her! Never tire of seeing a mama hen clucking around her chicks. Ok, enough for today - time to get back to work while the baby naps...

October family book report (and butchering overview) by Jason

Perhaps it can be a source of gratification for us that the traditional harvest season—early autumn—is now becoming almost as busy for us as spring planting and the summer garden harvest, since it could be an indication that our lives are coming in line with nature’s rhythms.  Maybe this winter as we reflect on it it will be so.  Currently, we are simply trying not to live in a slow, lingering state of panic.

Since we guessed it would be like this, and since we had scheduled our first ever hog butchering for the end of October, we decided to keep the reading for this month simple and practical.  I borrowed a few butchering guides from a friend and former neighbor familiar with the process and with a penchant for ferreting out reliable information. It was a good idea.  I read mostly only the hog sections of the three butchering guides he loaned me, and it still took me most of the month to find the gaps in the action to accomplish that.  Mostly I read while Terah napped in my arms.  I would have preferred to also be napping, but there will be time for that.

Especially beneficial was the notion of reading three different sets of recommendations.  In that way, a person could take severe advice given in one guide less seriously when it was contradicted or toned down by the next.  The net result was a relatively complete sense of the generalities of what to expect come butchering day.

Of course nothing can truly prepare a person for the palpable reality of a hog being shot and stuck before one’s eyes, or of the wonder of opening up and parting out the body of a new kind of organism for the first time.  I am so grateful for the help and guidance of the aforementioned friend, as well as another experienced neighbor, as we navigated this process for the first time.

In the end, accomplishing the killing and preparing of our two American Guinea Hogs took significant parts of five days.

Day one was Tuesday the 25th of October.  On that day I arranged the scalding tank (borrowed) on top of two rows of concrete blocks (borrowed), and then set up four perpendicular rows of blocks a course and a half higher, upon which laid a rough-lumber platform (borrowed).  I then filled the tank and added wood ashes (ours!) to the water to plug the cracks and holes and make the hogs’ bristles stickier, which makes them easier to scrape off.  Then the neighbor that supplied nearly all the butchering equipment helped me lug the kettles and other sundry to the butchering ground.

Day two was Thursday the 27th.  I rose at 5 to accomplish chores and breakfast before daybreak.  At dawn the aforementioned guides and I converged on the hog pen and got to work.  The girls got up just in time to say their farewells (the homestead life has its discomforts) to the hogs, soon after which the first shot was fired.  I wish I could say they were both clean and perfect kills (if there is such a thing).  The fact is both pigs were deeply “stunned” and mostly immobilized by the bullets, but neither dropped silently.  The second required two shots, which is hard on my conscience.  I did not do the shooting, but it seemed that maybe the short stature of these hogs caused the shooter—accustomed to hogs in the 300lb range—to fire at a more acute angle than usual, such that the bullet entered the skull just forward of the brain or perhaps striking the brain but too peripherally.  This left the “sticker” (the person assigned to using a knife to sever the large, deep blood vessels of the neck) a tough job, but he did it very well, and all told it was over quickly.  I always comfort myself when the killing is messy that wild predators usually kill much less mercifully, yet the universe doesn’t begrudge them their food; that doesn’t obviate the need to find the best system we can contrive to minimize pain and anxiety in our food animals at all stages of their lives and deaths.  Or so think I.

Anyhow, once that stage was past it was time to set to the work of making use of them.  We used a tractor bucket to tote them up the hill to the scalding tank, which was already hot and waiting thanks to the good help of a third neighbor who had volunteered to light and tend the fire starting at 5 a.m.  By the time we got there at quarter of 8 he was gone.  It was a bit overheated, so we added cold water until the temperature got close to 150 degrees F.  Then the three of us plus a fourth neighbor (golly, what great help we had!) managed a chain-based dipping/swishing process that can’t be described easily in prose.  The result was a few minutes in the tank on each side, and once the hair was pulling easily the hog was rolled out onto the platform and descended upon by all four of us with “bell scrapers”, which are specialized hog scraping tools and look like tiny barbells with a cymbal on each end, one smaller and one larger.  I had read about this procedure, but nobody had mentioned that it was a frenzy, with the idea being that we needed to beat the clock before the hair started sticking in the rind (hide) again.  Having been scraped clean, each was then returned to the tractor bucket and transported to tripod hangers for hanging by the rear legs.

Evisceration and head removal were accomplished in the hanging position (liver and heart saved and set aside), then the carcasses were split in two with a very handy process involving a confident and knowledgeable person with a stout, sharp knife and a hatchet.  In the bargain, the backbone was removed and set aside for processing with the rest of the carcass the next day.  One person set to removing edible portions from the head for jowl bacon and “ponhoss” meat.  The others carried halves to hang in the walk-in cooler.  Things were cleaned up, and we were done in time for lunch. 

In the afternoon I took down and put away the scalding setup.

Day three (Friday the 28th) was taken with breaking down the halves into customary cuts such as bacons and hams, accumulating bits for sausage grinding, cubing fat for lard rendering, then the rendering and pressing of lard and the making of ponhoss (a southeastern specialty, as I understand).  The lard was rendered by heating cubed pork fat in a large cast iron open-topped kettle until all the moisture was out of it and the “cracklings” (leftover shrunken cubes of empty fat tissue) yielded all their lard upon squeezing against the kettle side and were beginning to get crispy around the edges.  Ponhoss is a meat/broth/milled grain mixture made by cooking pork bones and scrap meats in a kettle until the meat is falling off the bone, then straining the broth, sorting out the usable meat from the rest, grinding it and returning it to the broth, then adding cornmeal or a cornmeal/wheat flour mixture to the kettle in enough quantity to make a thickish, pudding-like slurry.  Spiced with salt and plenty of pepper, it is then poured into loaf pans to cool and solidify.  Typically it is eaten sliced and pan-fried with breakfast.  Pennsylvanians may think I am describing “scrapple”, but ponhoss is usually a lot less dense and with less emphasis on the inclusion of organ meats.  In our case, we innovated (use what you have, we say!) by replacing the flour and cornmeal with polenta-grind hand-ground popcorn.  Our neighbors had never heard of such a thing but they were willing to try it and enjoyed the new experience.  They even liked it, though I don’t think they were converts.

Both Janelle and I were surprised by how appealing this day’s processes were.  Finishing up as the sun faded in the west and people sat around the kettle fires felt like a taste of what community actually means.  Not too surprisingly, nobody was thinking or talking about it that way at the time.  We look forward to helping with the big hog butchering in February.

Day four (Saturday) involved a late start, since I coached Alida’s soccer game in the morning.  It took me from just before noon until five to double-grind 68 pounds of sausage, then clean up and put away all the equipment.  Maybe it would have been shorter if I hadn’t been nursing a back tweak from two days of heavy lifting.

Day five (Sunday and Nora’s birthday) was a few hours of bagging sausage and salting hams and bacons, before heading out on the family hike mentioned in Janelle's previous post.  I think it is better advice to apply cure to meat cuts as soon after cutting as possible, but I couldn’t make it happen.  I think it will be fine, but I am eager to check them tomorrow and re-apply salt.  All the meat to be cured (four sides of bacon, two jowls, and two twenty-pound hams…the rest went to others or to sausage) were left with skin on to the extent possible.  I applied salt to the exposed tissues, packing it on as thick as I could get it to stick, and in places where gravity allowed I left a ¼ to ½ inch layer.  My neighbors didn’t think I would have to coat the skins (they never do), but I tried to get some to stick just in case, since I had read that advice.  I left the meats to cure in the walk-in cooler, set to 38 degrees F.  Each piece is laying on a tilted rack, so that meat juices drawn to the surface by the osmotic effect of the salt can drain away into the pans positioned below.  We did not use any nitrate, nitrite, sugar, honey, or maple syrup in our cure.  Just salt.  “Should work,” the neighbors shrugged.  They usually use some brown sugar, mostly to get the salt to stick, they say, but they avoid nitrates/nitrites, too.

We have not yet decided about smoking the bacons and hams, but we are tempted.

A word about Guinea hogs:  maybe it was the diet of milk and vegetables with a few grains here and there (restaurant kitchen waste), or maybe it was the breed.  In any case, all initial reports are that this is some scrumptious pork!  That is the reputation, anyway, for the Guinea.

We knew they are “an old-fashioned lard breed” but I am not sure we knew the extent of that definition.  These guys had at least a three-inch layer of fat on their backs, and plenty on the sides, on the belly, and inside.  All told, the back fat alone from these two seven-month-old barrow hogs yielded seven gallons of rendered lard!  Each half weighed 80 pounds, so a dressed weight of 160 each, or a bit more.  I will bet around half of that was fat, because the hams and bacons are not lean, and the sausage we ate with sweet potatoes for supper needed no grease to fry in the skillet.  If you think of lard from pigs on a natural, low-grain, pastured and otherwise elemental diet as a healthy source of dietary fat (as we are inclined to), this is a boon.  But if a person were looking for lean pork, this would be a tremendous disappointment.  Such a person would want to seek out a more modern show- or production-type hog.  Over all, our experience with Guinea hogs was excellent.  We liked their ability to deal with rough feeds, and their attitudes were perfect.  Except when they laid down for naps in the middle of a move one day (I just had to come back later) they were so very easy to handle.  Great for a first experience.  One can easily see how this breed emerged on the small homesteads of this continent over the past two hundred years; a niche was available for a versatile, easily managed, resourceful source of readily storable meat and cooking fat and the Guinea Hog evolved to fill that niche.  Thankfully they were not driven to extinction by modern notions of efficiency and productivity that owe their underpinnings to the illusory assumption of fossil fuels.  I think we’ll get two more in the spring!