Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday, thank heavens.

Overheard at work:
Man with the Mickey Mouse voice: “Oh Look! I found some spaghetti in my checkbook.” Shows me the piece of dried-up sauce-covered spaghetti.
Lady on the phone: “Is there a phone number I can call to make payments by phone?”
Us: “Yes. It’s xxx-xxx-xxxx”
Lady on the phone: “Oh. You mean I have to call them. Never mind.”

Old man on the phone: “Can you come get my payment? The roads are too bad for me to drive it down.”

Pretty much everybody: “My car blowed up.” Really? ‘Blowed up, huh?’ Was anyone injured in the explosion?
Also pretty much anyone: “My insurance collapsed.”
Or: “I’ve got this bill here. Do I have to pay it?”
Or: “I never open my mail.”

Afternoon phone call: “I’ll have my husband put his pants on and come down to the office.”
Please don’t.

Stopped in the office to pay: “Smells like dog shit in here!” No, it doesn’t.

Us, all the time: “You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps.”

Annette says it's black & white everywhere. I was kind of noticing the same thing. My theory about the seasonal affective disorder is that it's not just the lack of sunlight, it's the lack of color. Including in my complexion/ghostly pallor.

So here was a little antidote last night. Color!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Why I love my kids' school

We're in our 7th year of schooling in our school district, and so far I really can't complain. I think, though I'm certainly no expert, that they really do right by the children. The kids are all doing well and they have been very fond of pretty much every teacher they've had so far. I also think it's cool that their great-grandma used to teach there way back when. I never would have guessed my own kids would attend there. Just like I never would have guessed they'd be living in the house their great-grandfather was born in. Neat-o.

Anyway, it's got the small town benefit (yes, benefit) of lots of people already knowing you and your business. I like that when I call (which isn't often) I barely have to explain whose mom I am before they know me. And that they just know stuff about my kids. Like when I stopped in to pick up Sam's science project or he wouldn't get to keep it because he couldn't bring it home on the bus, everyone in the office was discussing where they thought he left it, who his partner was, etc. and they took multiple trips through the school to find it. Maybe that's normal, but I was impressed.

So when I emailed the school nurse to let her know that I wasn't blowing off my obligation to report our vaccinations to the school, the first part of her reply was this:

"Regarding the weather, I'm about ready to take the bridge; if we hadn't had school today, they'd have found me under the bed sucking my thumb!!! I like my days off in the warm weather when I can get out and work in my garden."

I laughed my butt off, because my letter was all 'Dear Mrs. Nurse, Blahblahblah.' Plus she told me to stop apologizing for not having it in to her already and that I was most definitely not on her list of 'slacker moms.' She'll never know what a soothing balm those words of affirmation were to me. Plus I love the fact that on the few occasions the kids have had to go to the nurse, she's the perfect blend of caring but not overreacting.

Go Rangers!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Now, Here's What We Gonna Did.

One of the beefs got butchered Saturday. (Man, am I sick of that word already: 'butchered')
Mark was in charge, of course. Our neighbor's 16 year old son J., Mark's aunt, and memyselfandI were his humble minions.

Mark does the cuts, J. helped with boning, Aunt scraped, trimmed, and usually plastic wrapped, & I mainly did freezer paper.
The big cuts are done either with a hand meat saw or the band saw. The steaks and roasts are also cut with the band saw.Whatever's not cut into steaks and roasts, etc. is boned out and made into ground meat. It's run through the grinder twice.
It took us about 6 hours to do one beef. I believe that was approximately 600+ lbs of hanging meat.
See that scale he's using? I have to check my facts with him, but as I recall, his great-grandfather, the blacksmith, made this scale. I'll correct that if I'm wrong.
It's a pretty non-stop process, so I didn't get as many photos as I wanted. And Mark was too busy to get any photos of my fantastic paper wrapping. The goal with the freezer paper wrapping is to make it as neat and tight as possible with only a minimal amount of tape required to keep it together. It's like origami with meat inside.
So that's one down, one to go.

Wanna See Somethin' Gross?

No, not this:

These aren't gross.

This is Proud Poppa and his baby girl Jill. These are her furs. They haven't got to hunt much due to too cold weather, full moons, and dog fertility issues.
Well, that damned Steelers head band might be a little gross. We'll save Mark's hat history for another day.
Mark, Pops, and Uncle Delbert all took the trip up to the fur buyers. Mark said they laughed continuously and had a great time. Well, Pops said he's never going again. But that's because Mark wouldn't turn the heat on in the truck. In fact, turned on the air conditioning just to drive him crazy. This kind of stuff is non-stop around here.
So here's proof I wasn't making this stuff up. Pardon Mark's photography. So you can see the fine proprietess of the shop. Mark says she's just a real nice lady.
That's some kind of inside out animal she's handling. See? Gross.
This is her employee fleshing a raccoon hide.
This is Pops. Here's Mr. Fur Buyer showing some furs to Uncle Delbert.
Here are some raccoon and fox furs on stretchers.
Here's our pile of deer hides. They were salted after they were removed from the deer.
And here's an entire shed full of deer hides. And back here at home we have ducks visiting. We started with 5 pairs & we've had as many as 9 pairs.
I'm trying to end on a cute note.

Back Story-because I'm fancy

We did some butchering this weekend, but before I note any of that I have to tell an old butchering story, so it gets it's own post.

2005 February. The time of year when we butcher cattle because we don't have a cooler yet at the 'butcher shop.' The 'butcher shop' is where all our equipment is located: meat saw, giant grinder, stainless steel tables, plastic wrapper, knives, gambrels, hooks, etc. It's also Mark's grandparents' garage. I realize that probably doesn't sound sanitary, but I believe that it's at least as sanitary as any other butcher shop with all the scalding water, bleach, and detergent we use to clean it. Cleanliness is a huge issue. Kind of anal about the cleanliness. And for as many years as we've been butchering there, no one has balked at it's location, and lots of folks have been repeat customers.
So it's February, the weather is right for hanging meat. This year Mark had the neighbor bring down his ridiculously giant tractor with a front end loader to hoist the steer up in the air to be skinned and quartered. Back in '05, Mark had fabricated a giant tripod, probably 20 plus feet tall, out of heavy metal pipe. The legs were not fixed, they were moveable on a bolt that held them together.
It's still fascinating to me how all the neighbors around here help one another. It doesn't matter when or what. If someone asks for help, you help. If you ask for help, they help. Doesn't matter how crappy a job it's going to be or how inconvenient, folks just help. So Mark's friend Mike came down to help hoist this beef.
Mike lives up the road and is sort of distantly related to Mark. He's strong as an ox and his hands and fingers are probably four times the size of mine. Perfect help.
So they erect the tripod, climb a ladder to attach a come-along to the top, and attach the other end of the come-along to the beef so Mark can skin and quarter it. Mike then climbs the ladder and starts ratcheting up the beef. Hundreds of pounds of animal. Many, many cranks of the handle. Not entirely stable tripod. Mike on a ladder propped against it. Doing some quick calculations, I'm pretty sure that equals disaster. Life Flight-type disaster.
The higher the beef is cranked, the more precarious Mike's balance becomes until all hell breaks loose. The beef, tripod, and ladder all go ass over teakettle. Mike goes down to the ground and right into the path of one of the heavy metal legs of the tripod. It strikes him in the back of the head and sends him to his knees. Mark saw him rise once, grab his head with both hands, and then fall. Nightmare.
Mark kept him as comfortable as he could while they waited for the ambulance and life flight helicopter. Miraculously, he never lost consciousness. Even more miraculously, he had no serious or permanent injuries. Craziness.
Mark spent a lot of time at the hospital during his recovery. They watched the Super Bowl together there. And fortunately all turned out well. Come to think of it, I think that tripod is still laying discarded over the hill, pretty much where it fell.

Back Story-Part Two

Back in the day, whenever we butchered, Mark would call Bo. Bo is a Laotian with a large Laotian family and he was always happy for whatever 'byproducts' we had left over. He didn't have to eat 'byproducts' by any means, but he liked to, and we were happy they went to good use. I'm not fooling with the intestines. I don't have the patience or expertise, and sausage casings can be bought without the poop in them. I believe Mark said that he took the penis, too. He pickled it in homemade moonshine. No lie.
So Bo was present for the huge tripod catastrophe. He was working on some intestines at the time, and he was still working on intestines when everyone sped off to the hospital.
While everyone was gone, Bo asked Mark's grandpap a question. Pops thought it was something to do with the beef, but he really couldn't understand Bo, who sometimes spoke perfect English and sometimes didn't. But there was smiling and nodding and 'Sure! Go ahead!' And that was the end of it.
Until Mark was finally able to return to take care of the beef.
Bo had taken the entire filet out of one of the sides of beef. Carved out the filet. Stole it. Ruined all those steaks. We were sick and dumbfounded.
Mark did call him and ask him about it and he finally offered to pay for it, but we just wrote it off as an expensive lesson learned. Needless to say, we haven't invited him back. Shame really. All those guts going to waste now.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Death as an afterthought

I meant to make note earlier of my grandfather dying last week. He was my biological grandfather. He lived halfway across the country. He moved there with my grandmother, who was his wife, and my mom and uncle. And then somewhere in the timeline that same year I think, my grandmother and her kids moved back here, and he stayed out there and married someone else. I think I've visited with him about a dozen times when he had some reason to come back to PA. He gave me a little stuffed animal dog which I loved and passed on to Sam. It sleeps on his bed. He also gave me a King James bible. I think that's about it. He was a nice enough sort. From his obituary I gathered that he was pretty successful and active.

In another obituary two columns over was our friend Larry's brother. Larry has probably the craziest story out of everyone Mark's introduced me to. Something along the lines of Bonnie & Clyde, only it was him and his brother, and in their armed robbery of banks I don't believe they hurt a soul. So Larry has some incredible stories of police chases and prison life. He shows up at the house on random occasions. Sometimes he brings a girlfriend and he wants to show her the animals. If we're eating Mark always tries to make him eat something, though he's just as likely to drink or smoke his meal, if you catch my drift. He takes care of his elderly mother. He's always polite and kind to me. I remember coming home from work one Summer when Lily was just a toddler, and there was Larry reading her stories under the tree in the back yard.
So one of his brothers passed away and what caught me in the obituary was that they made sure to mention that he enjoyed 'hot rods and small puppies.' And I wasn't really sure why that was significant to me, but then I realized that I was sort of touched more by this stranger's obituary than my own 'grandfather's.'
So, that's all. Just wanted to make a note.

Cap'n's Log- Stardate: Saturday. And Sunday.

Sweet Outsidey Goodness. I didn't care if it was 8 degrees. I needed to go outside. Badly. So I bundled up in my cold weather get-up and out I went. Firstly I brought the horses into the barn to give them the once over. Made sure they were still in one piece, coat was clean & fluffy, and picked their feet. I can tell Mark's been giving them extra grain for the cold because they were pretty juicy. Admiral was steaming up my camera lense and insisting that I take photos of him only. Nikki was getting in to everything. Mark makes fun of me for my patented Eyeball Shot:
Eh. Eyeballs say a lot. I read their eyeballs and they read mine. That's what I love about hanging out with them. Non-verbal communication. Everything is facial expressions, body posture. Just knowing that they can read the tension or lack thereof in my entire being helps me to relax. Relaxes me just thinking about it.
Anyway. Satisfied that they were doing quite well in the cold, I turned them out with a flake of the nice green hay from the barn as a treat. Next I turned my attention to Jill. She seems to be doing well in spite of the weather as well. At an given time of the day you can look out the window and see her hopping around, attacking her water bucket, and leaping from the top of her house for fun. I had a seat in the snow and bundled her up in my lap like a baby. Funny that a dog capable of frenzied tree climbs can be so calm and cuddly. I also discovered that she's in heat. Great.
Next order of business: make Jill a place to stay in the barn, locked away from prowling male dogs. This meant I had to take our one rickety box stall and try to make it escape proof. More importantly, I had to keep my barn cats out of it for their own safety. It turns out I have a natural master craftmanship ability to jerry-build with chicken wire. And catch my clothes on it. And get splinters. And assume incorrectly that the dog can't jump over the 4 foot door. Ya, she stayed in that stall for about 2 minutes. I guess Mark decided we'd just have to take our chances that no male dog in his right mind is horny enough to go out in this recent cold snap. So Jill's back outside in her house. She made sure to take a giant crap in the middle of the barn floor first though.
Enough playing with the dog. I checked on the chickens and chiseled 2 inches of ice out of their water. It freezes so fast! A couple of eggs had frozen in the nest and they'd been pecking at them little little egg popsicles. This is the messiest flock we've ever had, in my opinion, but at least the rooster doesn't flog.
I noticed the horses were up playing in the pasture and I ran through the snow trying to catch photos of them running and bucking and chasing the cows, but the damn camera batteries kept pooping out and I didn't get much. I sat out in the field watching them and snapping photos exactly one instant after they did something. It was still a beautiful day to sit out in the snow in the winter sunshine. I also tested out the ice on the pond to report back to my brother and sister, but I really don't think it's ever going to be frozen enough for skating. They blame me for this. That's how bad they want to go skating. The pond is too frozen however to allow me to push the Christmas tree in to the far end. Mark insists we have to put a couple evergreen trees in there as a hiding place for our fish babies. The nursery guy said so. I just hate the thought of brushing up against it when I'm swimming. Yuck.
Next it was time for the whole fam to bundle up to go cut firewood. We didn't have to all go, but I said we would. I also said that the girls needed to get out of the house since Lily hadn't put pants on all day. Time to get dressed. This load of firewood wasn't for us, it was to sell. Do we have to cut firewood for money? I guess not. But Mark and I both like to do it, we have all the equipment, the wood, and the able bodies to do it, so go for it! And we can certainly always find a use for the money as well. Like after we'd delivered the wood, after the fellow watched from the living room window as I chucked wood off the back of the truck grinning like a maniac ('Come on, Sam! It's a race!",) we ended up blowing most of it on broasted chicken and beers at Breezy Heights. We looked like a bunch of lunatics in our lumberjack clothes. I had my giant blaze orange hunting coat & bloody (literally, deer blood from deer season) carrhart overalls. The camera hanging around my neck was an extra confusing touch, I'm sure. The kids had every kind of mismatched gear we could pull together. We got a lot of bewildered stares, but the children were well behaved (they've always been a pleasure to take out) so that was all I could ask for. We had a fun supper together after our hard work in the cold. Public spectacle and all.
Sunday. Nesting. Susie Homemaker, at your service. While the kids played out in the snow, I baked 3 pies; 2 pumpkin, 1 black raspberry. Cooked and make stock from 2 chickens; 1 for the kids, 1 for the dog. Sad but true! Mark's been supplementing Jill's feed with twice daily additions of warm broth and she was all out of the pork broth. Plus I had to feed the kids. Broth and skin for the dog, meat and soup with homemade dumplings for the kids. And finally, our own homegrown pork spareribs with homemade sauce. Pie and pork: Mark must have told me he loved me 50 times that day! This family can do some serious damage to some pie.
Before:After:Uncle D. and his ladyfriend did have a couple small slices when they stopped by, too.
Tomorrow Mark, Pops, and Uncle D. will take the raccoon furs and deer hides from all the deer Mark butchered to the fur buyer. Probably Buddy's & CalfLac's too, to be honest. I've never been to this one, but Mark says it's quite an experience. It's run by a mountain woman who'll serve you coffee in a styrofoam cup with what is probably coon fat floating on top. She also complimented Mark on his fleshing & stretching technique (on the furs: scraping all the fat & flesh off and then putting them on metal stretchers. A gross job that he chose not to do this time. You get less for your furs this way however.), so he may have a little crush on her. Ha! I have orders from him to do a photo portrait of his coon dog and 'her furs.' I'm thinking I may send the camera with him to the fur shop in exchange for my services.
In other news, I'm not sure if it's the dry winter air or what, but my hair is doing this awful angora rabbit thing lately. Naturally curly had become soft and fuzzy. My sister said she wanted to take a nap in it. Not a good look. Not for me anyway.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Nice to see you could make it.

Finally. So glad you could take time out of your busy schedule to actually show up for work, Tooth Fairy. On the first night, no less.
No, I won't bring up all the times you've failed to make it. The times you've left your little fairy-sized notes of apology. Times you've shown up three days after the fact.
Not sure how much easier we could make it for you. We've given up on leaving teeth under pillows. Now we leave them under a spotlight in the middle of the kitchen table to save you the trouble of waiting for the children to fall asleep or stumbling over hard plastic toys in the dark.

I'm trying to help you out here. I realize you have a day job too.

Realize that you came home from work yesterday and the first thing you did was change into those faded green long johns and curl up in ball on the sofa. I understand that you sat there twirling that same lock of hair and stared blankly at the tv for most of the night. I know you never moved from that spot til you had your supper of dry Chocolately Delight Special K and hot toddy.

So kudos to you for noticing this:

And I hope you'll hang in there just a bit longer. We only have a couple more teeth to go before you can retire.

Friday, January 9, 2009

House Talk

I was talking to myself on the way to work this morning, and I realized just how much my inner dialogue is riddled with our 'house talk.'

These are the words and phrases and pet names we use amongst the five of us. Our lingo.

I'm not even sure what I was talking to myself about, but I know I was thinking that I wasn't ready to 'pull a trigger' on whatever it was. I could have alternately said that I wasn't ready to 'drop the hammer' on it. I wasn't ready to do it, or commit, in other words.

Someone can also be 'The Hammer.' Usually I'm The Hammer or just Hammer or even Ham, for no definite reason. It's generally a good thing. When Mark calls me at work, he doesn't say 'how are you, Sara,' he says 'Where you goin', Ham?' in sort of a good-natured studio wrestler/John Wayne cowboy voice. He's also been know to ask me if I'm 'juicy.'

A thing or person can also be 'Local' or 'Fresh' or 'Homegrown' in addition to 'juicy.' I'd say these are all good things to be, but it's not along the lines of 'great' or 'awesome,' they're all usually put to you in the form of a question to determine how you're doing. And then anything outside that is just Mark talking to himself or inanimate objects, as in 'Oh, it's so fresh and local' as he takes out the trash. Or 'So Homegrown!' when he puts a steak under the broiler or turns the tractor on or splits a piece of firewood. Depending on the audience he may really go into some serious theatrics.

And then there are the pseudo-Native American-Japanese? names for the kids. Aggie is Mashinko, or just Shinko. Sam is Tumasaki Mungawi Mozingo or some shortened version thereof. We can't seem to remember if Lily was christened with a house name or not. I'll have to keep thinking. It's been bugging me all day.

Let's see, what else. One of my personal favorites 'Prisoner Exchange.' This describes when you switch the laundry from the washer to the dryer. As in 'Can I get a prisoner exchange?' or 'Sam, do a prisoner exchange.'

There's 'J-Hole.' It is 10 degrees worse than an 'A-Hole,' in theory, because it's the 10th letter of the alphabet, but it's actually a pretty mild insult.

Courtesy of Uncle Delbert we have 'Put a piece of cheese on it.' For example, you're building something and you're planning your next course of action, you always make your final step to 'put a piece of cheese on it.' e.g. We'll put the post in this hole here and I'll hold it while you pour the concrete then we'll put a piece of cheese on it.

There's more I'm sure of it. Add to that the random movie quotes, obscure country music lyrics, and straight-faced nonsense, and most folks never know what the hell we're talking about.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Huzzah for 2009

I have a vague optimism about 2009.

Given the start we've had so far I could just as easily be sad, I guess. New Years day meant the end of the line for our 2 remaining hogs. But I didn't really hang out with them that much, so we weren't exactly close. Some of the breeding hogs we've had have been like big, coarse-haired, stinky dogs. They talked to you and loved to be scratched.

So the pig pen is currently empty.

And much sadder yet, my Buddy is gone. CalfLac, too.

I've known this was the outcome all along of course. I've been through it before with BoBo and Seven and others. I've had their entire lives to prepare myself for the end result. But I still cried. Mainly because Buddy didn't just drop quietly like CalfLac. I didn't have to watch any of it, but I did. There's that intimacy of death, just like birth, and I did it out of respect, if that makes any sense. We don't take the stewardship of our animals lightly. Family functions, vacations, even trips to town all revolve around feeding times. Every day is mindful of their shelter, fresh water, good food, safety, and health.

And we love them.

So I cried a little. I stopped crying in front of Mark because I know he loved them, too, and I didn't want to make him feel worse. He had a job to do.

Later that day when I went out to feed it was just plain lonely. I find comfort in numbers when it comes to the barnyard. So I had to bury my face in Admiral's fluffy winter coat to keep from crying again. He hugged me with his neck and made funny little nickering noises. Then I hopped up on his back and let him wander around with me as his parasite until I was feeling better.

And life goes on.

We took a ride down to Deep Creek Lake in Maryland on Sunday. One last hurrah before the kids returned to school. There's a decent family-friendly hiking trail and we did an approximate 5 to 6 mile circuit.
It was colder than I'd expected, probably in the 30's, with a pea-soup misty rain. Warm enough for the snow and ice to be melting off the trees and dripping on our heads though.

The scenery was pretty in spite of it's winter barrenness. It looked an awful lot like home and Reas' Rocks. I'm not sure why I was expecting it to look different.

We've never really gone on a formal hike as a family and I was apprehensive about Lily. I was pretty certain she'd be griping at some point and she exceeded my expectations. It only took her about 200 yards before she started sitting down on every stump or rock she could find, complaining that she was tired, asking when we were going to 'get there.' She asked me why we couldn't drive the car to where we were going. Was it because it was too icy or because we might run over an animal? She couldn't comprehend why we would be walking. With our own two feet. Why? I think I was finally able to explain that the purpose of the hike was exercise and being together and enjoying nature. I think I may have also convinced her that the same energy she uses to run across the kitchen and launch herself over the arm of the sofa could be used to hike up the hill. Once she got warmed up and quit purposely lagging behind she kept up a good pace. Oh, and we saw some black bear tracks. And one squirrel.
On the way home we stopped for ice cream cones. It was 'research' for our addition of a small ice cream dipping cabinet to the fruit stand. I'm already spoiled by having the market right next to the house. I can walk out at any time of day or night to get whatever I need. Milk, an onion, head of lettuce, and soon ice cream. That can't be good! I'll be 'researching' all the flavors until I have to wear sweat pants all the time. Going to have to do a lot more hiking.