Sunday, May 26, 2013

Coping strategies, blooming roses, and a call for help

When we got little piglets several weeks ago, we had no idea they would be so personable and fun. The kids like to go into their pasture and play tag and hide and seek with them. The piggies love the attention and games!  They were especially fascinated by Eva's fairy dress, the same one she has worn every day for three weeks. Eva got a little scared when the pigs investigated her purple taffeta and tried to take a bite out of it, but her brothers came to her rescue.

The little guys (I am talking about the pigs, not my kids) are thriving on the whey I feed them from cheese making. Whenever they see me coming with the bucket, they scramble over each other to reach me first. When I mix the whey with their organic barley, they squeal and squeak with joy. Whoever came up with the term “eating like a pig” got it down right. They make a lot of noises and get incredibly messy when they attack their feed bucket.  And they get to dine with a view of this - fine dining at its best:

I spent this week being very overwhelmed, sad and grateful at the same time.  Between my friend being killed in a car accident and the Skagit River bridge collapsing, I am painfully aware of how suddenly life can end.  I am trying to be rational and not get a panic attack be calm every time Steve gets in the car, and I am trying to be optimistic driving over the many bridges one has to drive over in this watery state of ours without fearing that the minivan with my kids in it will plunge into the icy water.
So in these times of stress, how do I cope? Chocolate is the first survival strategy, of course.  Since I am still trying to eat very healthfully, I am eating 85% chocolate, which feels like medicine.  None of my other family members is allowed to touch this medicine at all cost.
Knitting is another trick in the bag for my mental health .  I have been cranking out lots of socks lately, just can't get enough of making them.  What an incredibly useful and pragmatic coping strategy, don't you think?

Another way to stay sane is gardening, weeding, and smelling the roses - literally.  June is a glorious month in my garden, because my roses start blooming now.  I have lots of Old English roses, not the fussy hybrid ones, and they smell intoxicatingly heavenly.  Eva is my little gardening helper, and she and I like to wander around the flowers, smelling them.

For my Type A German workaholic personality, getting stuff done also helps my mental state.  The other day, I made some of my luscious goat milk soap.  Kai helped me cut it up after its initial hardening period, and now it will sit quietly for a month to cure.  Can you guess how much soap we go through as a farming, living-in-the dirt, scratching-pigs'-backs kind of family?

One more quick thing?  Can I share something I posted on my Facebook page, and you read through it and do what you think you can?  Here we go:

Dear friends, some of you read my blog post about my friend who died tragically in a car accident. His wife Deborah Richmond Hallenbeck just received a bill from the towing company, who towed the wrecked car her husband was killed in. They are charging $900 to this grieving woman, who also faces funeral costs and many other expenses. 

It feels weird to do this here, but I want to help out as much as I can, and so I am wondering if people feel moved to do so, they would donate money to this cause. My friend Michelle Rogers and I are collecting donations through our paypal accounts. So far, we have raised $310 by selling goats. My paypal account is I am going to the memorial today at 2pm, maybe I will see some of you there. 

Thank you, and hug your loved ones today!

Friday, May 24, 2013


This week has been filled with shock and disbelief.  The first tragedy: A few days ago, my friend and distant neighbor Scott died tragically, slamming into a tree in his car just a mile from our house.  I met him years ago because of goats - he and his wife bought some of my goats, and since then, we've been through some pretty intense experiences together.  I've helped him with difficult goat births and also disbudded his baby goats with him.  His humor in these difficult situations always lightened the mood and made things easier.  Just the other day, he came over to my house to show me some cheese he had made after taking one of my cheese making classes.  It had been aged over two years, and it was outstanding.  He was so proud of it, and so he should be.

Our family drove by the accident a couple of hours after the accident had happend, but we didn't know it was Scott who had died.  I found out the next morning, when his wife Deborah contacted me with the news and asked me if I could help her sell their goats, since she can't keep animals without Scott, and because she wants to raise money for the funeral.  Scott was 54, and I can't stop thinking about him and his wife.  I've been sick to my stomach ever receiving this devastating news.

So I am trying to do my small part in helping her.  I loaded up their goats this morning, and they got shuttled them to my friend Michelle's property, where there is more space than on our little homestead, and where the goats will live until they are sold - hopefully for a good price to help Deborah with all the expenses she is faced with.  Will you help me and do your part and pass this blog entry on to any people you know who might be interested in goats?

There are four wethered males, all one year old, sweet as can be, and really pretty.  They don't have to sold together, so if someone just wants to take some of them, that's great.  There are also two six week old babies.  One of them is from my goat Gracie.  Wethers are incredibly sweet pets, not stinky at all, and can also be trained to be superior pack animals. They are wonderful brush clearers and don't need much maintenance at all.  My kids love, love, love playing with the babies.

The other shocking news this week was yesterday's Skagit River bridge collapse.  It made national news, so some of our friends and family knew about it before we did.  It's a bridge that we drive over all the time on our way to go shopping.  Steve had driven over it just a few hours before it collapsed, and so did several of our friends.

These two tragedies freak me out and spike my anxiety, but also make me really, really grateful to be alive.  This week, I have held my kids a little closer, kissed Steve a little more thoroughly before he drives off to work, and picked up the phone to tell my friends I love them.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The best news of the year for our family, and what's blooming?

Before I tell you the best, mind blowing news we received all year, I want to show you around my garden to get you in the mood to receive good news.  There are california poppies, scented geraniums, columbines, apple blossoms, sweet cecile, watermelon and squash starts growing in the greenhouse, bleeding hearts, bachelor buttons, and more color popping up every day...

Allright, are you ready for our mind blowing, great news?
We went to Seattle Children's Hospital on Monday for Lukas' yearly echo cardiogram.  Since his brush with Kawasaki disease, he has needed regular monitoring of his heart aneurysm.  This week, the doctor said it might have gotten a tiny little bit smaller (one millimeter).  He wants Lukas to do a Cat Scan to get a better idea of the situation, and then we could possibly, possibly talk about eliminating his blood thinning medication.  This is an amazing prospect, because previously, the doctors thought he would be on the medicine for life.
The meds have always freaked me out.  They make his blood thin, so it won't clot and cause a heart attack.  That means when he gets a cut, he bleeds freely and it takes more effort to stop the blood flow.  It also means that he is prone to internal bleeding, which can be very serious (or worse).  Say he falls off a tree and hits his head, or he bangs into someone on the trampoline, or he falls off his bike... the possibilites in an anxious mother's mind are endless and agonizing.

Can you imagine how elated Steve and I are?  This is all not a sure thing yet, but just the possibility of such an improvement gets us giddy.  Ahhhhh, this week has thrown some grace our way.  It feels good to exhale.

On the way to Seattle, Steve let me stop by one of my favorite knitting stores (Weaving Works), and I picked up two pounds of spinning fiber.  It's a bag spilling over with merino and silk goodness, and it speeds up my heart rate just looking at it.

But first, I have to spin up my own handpainted roving.  Below is my newest skein of yarn.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Time away

My sweet, dear husband gave me two days off this week.  In the past, I didn't think I deserved time off, or I thought I was a bad mother when I started feeling sick of my children, or when I felt utmost despair of doing one more load of laundry, or when I disolved in tears at the thought of cooking dinner after a busy day.  Over time, I have learned that every mother needs time off to rejuvenate and get perspective on her life.  So when I told Steve that I needed some time off (meaning I wanted a two hour slot alone to go for a walk, or sit stupidly without talking for an hour) he told me to take two whole days off.  Two days!  So I went to Whidbey island for a mini retreat.

The first day, I bicycled around Camano Island.  I felt high on the exercise and the smell of lilacs, and the thrill of being all by myself, not having to take care of anyone else but myself.  The first 20 miles were awesome.  The next ten miles, my nether regions started hurting, not being used to hours on the saddle.  The last ten miles, my legs were burning, and I was starving.  At the end of the 40 plus miles, even my voice had suffered.  I had been chased by two gigantic dogs, and I yelled at them with all I had, instead of trying to outrun them, knowing my muscles couldn't take it.
In short: I was blissed out.  I headed to Steve and my favorite restaurant "Adrift" in Anacortes, where they serve locally sourced food, prepared in a heavenly manner, and I fell upon my salmon tacos like a starving woman who had biked her ass off.
The next day, I headed to the local knitting store, of course, where I bought yarn to make a sun hat.  I can't wait to start on this project!
Next: Washington Park, which is such a lovely, quiet spot to hike and relax.  I walked, sat, knitted, walked, sat, knitted, walked, sat, knitted, for hours.

Perspective is good.  After a little time away from my normal life, I am so very ready to return to it.  I miss my family when we are apart, and I don't feel whole.  I notice other people's children, and sometimes I tear up when I watch a mother and her little child, hunting for rocks at the beach, missing my own children so badly it hurts.  But then, when I call Steve at home and hear all the chaos and the children's screams in the background, I gratefully hang up the phone, returning to whatever quiet, refreshing, rejuvenating thing I have been doing, and I sigh a little bit with the pleasure of knowing that I still have some hours left to be away from them.

The temperatures this week have been in the high 80's!  That's even hotter than summer!  The kids and I have been taking breaks from the hot gardening work at the neighbor's pond, jumping into the cold, cold water, paddling on it with a surfboard, catching frogs, digging in the sand, and enjoying the luxury of having a pond a minute's walk away from our house.

In the meantime, the pigs are watching us, since they live in the pasture next to the pond.  Don't worry, there is no manure run off.  We have to return one of the piglets because of the hernia, so we'll switch it out for a "new" one on Sunday.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Cheese making fame, drama goat queens, and happy seedlings

If you feel adventurous and spontaneous, I want to invite you to come to my cheese making class this Saturday, May 4. I know it is Friday already, but I'm just saying. Plus, I'm kind of famous this week, since I got featured in the popular New England Cheese Making Supply Company blog.  My ears are burning, and my Ego has inflated even more than usual. You can read about it here if you want.

Famous or not, the pigs still need to be fed, the goats need to be milked, and the seedlings transplanted into the garden. Mucking around in manure keeps me humble. Watching the pigs has been a lot of fun this week. I swear we can see them grow, and no wonder – every day, they are getting a gallon of milk or fresh whey from cheese making. They are so used to us already that they let us sit with them while they eat, and we scratch their backs for them.

Unfortunately, one of them (named Porky) has what I believe to be an umbilical hernia, so we have to return her and switch her out for another piggy. It's strange how much we already feel bonded with all three of them, so letting one go seems sad.

It feels like summer here this week! We are gardening in shorts and T-shirts, and the kids jumped into the (cold) pond yesterday. I have been transplanting all the beautiful little seedlings I raised in the greenhouse, and now they live in the garden, where hopefully, they will be spared by slugs, flea beetles, and other assorted monsters. Asparagus stalks are shooting out of the earth, surrounded by their friends the Jonny Jump Ups. It's not a bad way to live, surrounded by flowers, I think. Eva loves swinging in her swing underneath the dogwood tree. It's not a bad way to live, swinging under a blooming dogwood tree, no?  The goats get walked to fresh pasture every day.  Not a bad way for them to live, either...  The problem is that Quasar, the new goat, hates to walk on the leash, so I often end up pulling and pushing her.  Sometimes, she flops herself dramatically on the ground and refuses to go on.  Doesn't she realize this is the way to lush, green, sweet grass?

In this photo, only two of my goats are present.  Quasar pissed me off too much doing her drama queen show, so she had to stay in the barn.
Many people envy my yearly onion crop. “How do you DO it?”, they ask, and I don't really know if I am doing anything special, but I will show you step-by-step how I grow mine, so you can try it.
In the middle of February, I sow onion seeds (Walla Walla and Copra from Territorial Seeds) into 4 inch containers in the greenhouse. Two and a half months later, they are ready for their new home in the garden. I give them a little hair cut first if they are flopping over. Then I take them out of their containers and put the whole block of soil into a bucket of water, so the soil gets washed away gently. When there are only roots left, I gently tease apart one plant at a time, and then place it into the earth. I fertilize with manure made from my goats, and organic fertilizer. Voila! Nothin' to it.

Kai rescued a humming bird from our living room.  See it in his hands?

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