Archive for the ‘Building projects’ Category

That would be…. Me. It’s true. I chose to be one today. It was so preferable over my other choice – doing the exact same tasks while whining about it. Might as well embrace it enthusiastically! Yes?

So while Randy went to work (BLM) for a quick check in, and then to the mill for more lumber, I began my day of devahood. First I showered (with Isla) and dressed (while Isla sat on the floor of the shower, water trickling between her shoulder blades, scrubbing the bottoms of her little feet). Then I dressed the reluctant 2 yr old as well. Next I washed the pile of dishes (from last night’s dinner) and cleaned the counter tops (while Isla alternately became either a goat named Gwendolyn or a girl named Gwendolyn). Then I began the prep for the potato leek soup.

First, I sliced and washed the leeks, then Isla helped me scrub the last of our purple potatoes from the fall harvest. I peeled their nobbly, old surfaces, revealing the violet and lavender meat beneath. Isla walked a large potato around the counter tops on it’s dark purple sprout feet. Taters chopped, I sauteed the leeks in olive oil, added garlic, caraway seeds and pepper, and finally the taters.

I love the spring colors of chopped leeks.

Fresh ground pepper, celtic sea salt, caraway seeds, and garlic.

When I say "the last" of the purple potatoes, I really mean it as we are not planning on planting any purple varieties this spring.

Broth from boiling down some very mean roosters.

All was covered in defrosted rooster broth, salted, and brought to a boil, very slowly. Very, VERY slowly, as there are only 2 working units on our old stove top and both are of the most tiniest variety. I think on the high setting, the big soup pot, reserved for group rafting trips, MIGHT have felt a slight… tickle on it’s nether regions. But it gave me plenty of time to deal with the bread.

No-knead bread dough after the first rise.

I pulled the bowl of dough out of the fridge and stretched the sticky batch into 2 hunks. This is my favorite recipe for artisan bread – 4 ingredients and no-knead. But I kneaded each hunk a few times anyway just because I like to. After rolling the logs in some seeds  and cutting some sexy diagonal slices in the bulging mounds, I placed them on the baker’s peel with a sprinkling of cornmeal between. They rose for the second time beneath a clean towel while I went back to the soup. Then Randy arrived with the lumber.

Who can resist a little kneading?

Rising on the baker's peel.

Next was the kale. RG, here to add more time to his work barter, pulled into the driveway, and pushed through the gate with toolbelt slung over his shoulder. I tore chunks of kale off the stems and swished the pile in a sink of cold water, remembering to chop the stems up for the chickens. The soup was FINALLY at a boil, so I piled the kale on top and stirred it in. Yummmm. I love kale. Have you ever had kale chips? I made an entire dehydrator full last summer and they did not even last 24 hrs. Absolutely addictive!

Ripped kale.

Chickens get all the decent scraps - never just "compost" which goes in another container - and always organic.

“Mama? Can you read this to me?” It was the 3rd book from “elsewhere” that I had passed her to keep her from under foot. She was being extremely wonderful in occupying herself so her request gave me a pang of Mama guilt. I had a moment between the next boil (possibly hours with the stove top handicap) and when the bread would go in the oven. So we sat together in our reading nook and read some Aesop’s Fables.

The percussive waves of rhythmic hammering reached my chest. “I’ve got to get back to the cooking sweetie.” “No, my name is Gwendolyn Mama, not Sweetie, said Gwendolyn.” I have no idea how she developed this 3rd person narrative style of talking, but as it’s been in use for a few months now, we are getting used to it. “Yes… ah, Gwendolyn.” The oven was pre-heated enough (about an hour). I slid the 2 loaves from the peel to the pizza stone and filled the tray on the top rack with hot water. Steam issued from the oven as I slammed the door shut! “OK. Where was I?” I said aloud. Set the table, fill the water glasses, and peek periodically out the window as the siding went up, one board at a time. It was looking more and more like a barn every minute. MY barn. I heaved a happy sigh.

Working on the facia board for the upper clerestory roof.

As I washed dishes a second time, I thought back to my email volley with Elana, from whom I was buying our goats. She had decided that the kid “cousin” I could take, in addition to Fiona and her mom Hazelnut, would be Buckbeak. “Bucky” was 1 of 2 goatlings born in the most recent, and final kidding of the spring at the Pieper’s farm. He was actually 1 of triplets, but the second buckling had been stillborn. Bucky and his sister Prim had had a rough start, confused with the bottle and struggling with sucking from the nipple. They had not been sure Bucky would make it at all, even though he was massive for a newborn. But the siblings had made a strong recovery and were reported to be feeding voraciously as of today. Buckbeak also had an impressive overbite which made his appearance rather… dorky, but also quite lovable. As the castration process would begin in another day or so via the rubber band method (I saw that grimace, boys!), his poor confirmation would never pass to another generation. He would, in fact, be passing through our lives for a short year only…. on his way to our freezer. I had hoped for Hazelnut and 2 doelings, as well as a meat buckling. But in all honesty, it could have sent me deep into overwhelm. I have two hands that can hold two bottles. Two kids to bottlefeed makes the most sense. I ran my sudsy hand through my hair absentmindedly, leaving some decidedly goat-like horns behind. Yes. I think I would take Buckbeak. Fiona needs a play mate. And I don’t need more than 2 milking does next year.

Hot from the stone - delicious!

The oven timer said 5 minutes until blastoff. I opened the porch door, which immediately tried to deck me with a blast of warm, springlike wind. I gave one of my famous, piercing whistles and signaled with a double-handed welcoming wave to the boys. Lunch was almost ready. Isla streaked through the dining room, leaving a bubble of wild cackling in her path. “Honey – I mean Gwendolyn! Put your clothes back on please. We’re about to eat.” I glance back out at the 2 Randys, laughing together as one climbed down from the ladder and the other unclipped his tool belt. It made me smile to see my husband and my X-boyfriend in such camaraderie. They were terrifically good friends and had a connection like no other. I was most definitely aware of how lucky I was to have them both in my life.

As the wind blew in the stubbly, dusty, joking men, I ladled out the steaming soup and plopped a dollop of sour cream on top of each helping. I sawed off hot slices of bread and slathered butter on each. The boys wiped their noses and beamed at their bowls. I tied a towel around the neck of my still naked child, sat daintily on my chair (well, I can try at least), and scooped a steaming, purple potato onto my spoon. Being a Domestic Diva really wasn’t so bad after all.

It might look like dishwater and chicken scraps in this photo, but it is actually divine!

And for a finish to the repast, 77% cacao chocolate, fresh strawberries and coffee.

No rest for the weary. After slacking over lunch, the men are back at it as our next winter storm rolls in. Here, the purlins are being set for the southern roof.


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The winter sun cracked a beam over the top of our eastern hills as I squeaked down the trail through the new fallen snow. Molly, our 80 lb Pyrenees, did her best to pull my arm out of it’s socket. She may be small for a Pyr, but she still does an impressive impersonation of a sled dog, with me as her sled. It was 9 degrees and still, the NM sky a pale, early-dawn blue, the color of Easter baskets. I took in a deep, lung searing breath of crisp, desert morning. Then my mind turned back to it’s mastications….

Randy will go to the mill and get the siding… 1×8’s and 1×4’s….what lengths? I think 8′ and 10’ers…. I need to pick the meat off the rooster for the stew…. chop the veggies and get things simmering…. hope we have enough avocado… will anyone even show up on such a cold morning? Could my friends love me THIS much? I bet no one shows…. I’ll just freeze the rest of the tortilla soup….

Well, apparently they DID love me, evidenced by cars pulling into our muddy cul-de-sac just after 10. RG and Donna arrived first, hefting tools and tool belts out of the hatch. Randy returning next with the lumber, then Jim and Ray, then Jeremy…. I was a bit overwhelmed by this incredible display of support! It had been years since I had thrown a work party. While building our straw bale home, there had been several BIG work parties: the slab pouring, the wall raising (stacking of the in-fill bales), and 2 exterior mudding parties. The loft pony walls still show the slight wobble of a keg tapped a few hours too early. Damn those days were fun! But this time our dear friends were not arriving to help build OUR home, they were here to build a home for our goats.

My other friend was late to pick up Isla and I was trying to figure out what to do with her while the assembled crew told bad jokes and floated their teeth with hot coffee. The ironic thing was Kiersten, who would be taking my 2 yr old to support the work party efforts, was late because she was at the farm where our goats were! Why? She was midwifing out the last of the herd’s kids, along with the farm owners and their 3 collective teenage girls. Kiersten had also caught OUR two babies (the human ones), as midwifery is her full time job! So as I had a quick goat check-in with the Pieper’s to see how our goats, and the laboring mama, were doing this morning, they filled me in that Kiersten was there assisting. And when Kiersten arrived at our farm, covered in goat poop and afterbirth, she filled me in on our goats and the final kidding of the spring at the Pieper’s farm. Sadly, one of the triplets was stillborn. She had even tried to resuscitate the little buckling but he had remained slimy and still.

I felt bumbling and odd clipping on my old, stiff tool belt. It had been a while – full time mommys don’t get much time to hammer nails. Then Donna, designer/builder extraordinaire, my mentor and clone, said the dreaded words…. “Hey Mac! Where are the plans?” Plans? Ha! PLANS? Hee! What was wrong? Couldn’t she see them all neatly there in my mind? I had been planning and redesigning this barn, in my mind, for a couple of years! “Well, uh, ya see, Ranger D…. I was stressing out about that just the other night I was! Where are those plans? And, ya know, after YOU (I turned an accusatory eye at innocent RG) wiped our laptop for us and loaded those recovery disks, well, I just haven’t gotten around to reloading ACAD. And then I had an epiphany, in those wee hours of the night. And a voice said to me….. it said… ‘IT’S AN F’ING GOAT SHED FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! STOP DESIGNING AND START BUILDING!’ And so… we are!” I turned away from 6 blank faces, cleared my throat, and bent to pick up some 1×4’s, groaning as I stood back up. Fortunately, I heard a few chuckles in my wake, and the design challenges were successfully worked out in the field. As I had planned, all along… in my head.

I felt guilty as I tiptoed off through the sage brush to the back porch and scraped the 5 lbs of adobe mud from my rubber boots. I should be out there with everyone screwing, hammering and sawing…. laughing and joking…. telling stories while passing a handful of fence staples to a good friend. But then who would make lunch? Back to the kitchen with you wench! Well OK. I’ll chop these veggies and stir this soup and set this table, but don’t forget I built my own house! (Many, many, many aches and pains and years ago) Well, I did build the chicken coop two years ago! (Please don’t look too closely though.) I think one of the sweetest things I heard all day (other than car tires crunching up the driveway), was Randy, at the end of the long successful day, who lovingly said, “Honey, I know you wanted to be out there with us, but what you did – preparing the meal, getting Isla out the door, getting her down for nap when she returned, and washing dishes while she slept, was equally as important. This day would not have happened without your efforts either.” That man is a keeper. I brushed away a little tear and kissed him on his stubbly cheek (his beard always grows super fast when he uses a chainsaw… which he had).

And by the end of the day the house was an impressive disaster, with an inch of mud on the saltillo tiles and a leaning tower of bowls on the soup smeared counter. But outside, oh my! It was beautiful! About a 1/3 of the stock panel fence was attached to deeply sunk cedar posts, pole barn roof structure was in place, rafters on the south roof, and board and batten siding on 1/4 of the walls. The freshly milled, green wood shone in the setting sun. It had been a very good weekend.

One more weekend like this and I think Hazelnut, Fiona and her cousin or 2 can come home for good. I can almost taste the goat cheese!

After setting 4 posts by hand the previous weekend with RG, THIS weekend Randy rented a working auger! Here are the 6 poles for the first module of the barn.

Digging bars are essential once the layer of caliche is hit. Fortunately the auger sliced through it with ease, although adjusting the location of the hole was often done by hand.

This digging auger was a life and back saver! Here Randy and RG dig their umpteenth pole hole (I think there were 19 posts total for barn and pen, but they actually DUG about 25 holes due to misunderstandings and changed minds).

Here I am giving the auger a try. Niiiice!

Randy and Ray help plumb the post for Jim.

I am trying hard to ignore the mud and debris on Isla's hand wash only wool mittens....I succeeded.

Day 2 of the 3-day project weekend. Beautiful but frustrating. Randy took advantage of the down day by hauling home more lumber, hardware and stock panels in preparation for the following day of clear weather.

Donna, Jeremy and I discuss the lack of lag screws. Fortunately the can of old pole barn nails from our strawbale house building days sufficed.

Randy lops off the post tops with the chain saw. The round of wood he is standing on is part of the goat playground. They also work great as step ladders.

Donna and Jeremy rockin' on the siding. They made a great team! And just to prevent any gossip - they met that morning, Donna is happily married to another lucky fella, and is actually old enough to be Jeremy's mother!

Here is the floor BEFORE lunch... thanks to an escape Pyrenees I know....

Randy gives Jim and Ray a hand on the facia board while Donna steadies the ladder.

Whether goats or humans, I am a mama first.

Love these guys! Jeremy and Donna...

Randy and RG working on the pen fence. For goats, you need nothing short of a fortress. This 16'x50" stock panel is 6 gauge. We will also dig down 12 or more inches to bury more fencing (I haven't yet decided what kind), wire 36" of 18 gauge stucco netting to the bottom of the panels, and string several runs of plain wire above the panels. In my opinion I should not have goats unless I can keep them in their enclosure and keep predators out.

The goat gang, mid afternoon on the second work day. From left to right: Ray Baker, Jim Watson, Randy Roch, Jeremy Jette, Randy Grubiss (RG), Donna Lefurgey, Isla Roch, MacLaren Scott.

The morning after at quiet sunrise..... the first of the 5 modules, so near to completion. The clerestory will bring light and solar gain into the double 6'x8' stall at the back of the barn. The front 6'x8' "lounging porch" will have double barn doors in case of bad weather and space for the milking stand. It might be small, but by god, it IS a barn!

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Her long, ash-gray ears felt like velvet to the pads of my fingers. I could not stop stroking them, or tracing a line along the jet black ridge of her spine, surrounded on both sides by a sea of dark chocolate. She was the most beautiful animal I had ever seen, so small, so vulnerable, so perfect…. and she had been so close to death just a few hours before.

Here Fiona is 3 or 4 hrs old. Amazing that such a tiny creature can elicit such fierce, unconditional love from so many.

Hazelnut gave birth earlier than expected, in the wee hours of dawn amidst a driving blizzard. While she labored through the storm, both inside and out, I had one of my worst nights of insomnia on record. Up for 5 straight hours, I thought incessantly and obsessively about baby goats and goats being born. I can only imagine I was in some sort of spiritual link with my future goat. When Chris, Hazelnut’s human papa, bundled again the snow and tromped off to the barn to check on the three expectant caprine mothers, it was already too late for the little buckling. Hazelnut had been pushed away from the heat lamp by the herd matriarch, and the buckling had froze while his sister was being born. This tragic news gave me more insight into my “labor bond” with Hazelnut. I too, had lost my son at birth. Fiona, as I named her, was on Death’s door. But Death did not have the firm grip on her that took her brother. The Pieper family acted fast, stoking the wood stove and dragging out the radiant heat lamp. Someone milked Hazelnut and the warm colostrum was dribbled down Fiona’s throat with a dropper, as she was still too weak to swallow. When Isla and I arrived, and I held the tiny doeling in my lap, she was still shivering from her frigid entry into our harsh world. But 3 hrs later, when we said a reluctant farewell, she was already struggling to stand…

and I was hopelessly in love.

The morning of Fiona's birth

Elana Pieper nursing Fiona back to life

Isla and I get our chance... and that was that. We were hooked.

Gwendolyn Pieper lets Hazelnut have some time with her down-wrapped baby.

We returned to the Pieper’s farm the following day. After a nice visit with the family, and Hazelnut, who would soon be OUR herd matriarch, we packed up a mason jar of colostrum, and a clean beer bottle with rubber nipple. And with Fiona in my lap, and Isla in her car seat, I drove slowly home. The wee lassies slept soundly for the 30 minute drive. We made our doeling a comfy bed in the corner of the kitchen and nursed her every couple of hours. We held her as much as we possibly could – attachment parenting will always be my choice with a human baby, and when needed, with an animal one too. That night I snuggled our furry newborn daughter in bed beside me, getting up 3 times in the night to bottle feed and let her pee. Not much sleep was had for me, but I didn’t really care. All my newborn/second child mothering urges were being exquisitely fulfilled with this big act of love between me and a 5 lb. lump of fur, warmth and trust. I was in groggy heaven.

Fiona checking out the goat on our rug while sporting an old pair of Isla's pull ups.

Isla introduces each of her many friends to her new caprine sibling.

"And you and Hazelnut will come live with us as soon the your house is finished! We'll be sisters!"

After returning Fiona to Hazelnut and the Piepers, Isla and I each gave a heavy sigh and trudged back to the car. It was wonderful to see mama and baby bonding the way Nature intended and that sight gave me joy… but also a strange pang of jealousy. I have so badly wanted a second child, and Fiona is already satiating so much of that primal, and sometimes painful desire. And Isla is already accepting her as the little sibling she has been asking for, human or not. But the hardest thing was the unexpected separation over the following days as I immediately came down with a nasty cold and could not come visit the goats again for 4 long days. After the intimate bond created from sleeping with Fiona, this was pure torture for me. It gave me some insight into how Hazelnut must feel being separated from her baby! BOTH her babies!

But today Fiona is a week old and sleeping safely in the barn with her animal mama. She is running, jumping and playing – still wobbly but so very much more sure hoofed! Her recovery has been a miracle in my eyes. And this morning’s sunrise brought her 2 new cousins born into the herd from her half sister, Wren. The role call is not yet over either. Mamacita is expecting certainly triplets, and possibly quadruplets! We hope to bring home one of the bucklings as well.

Last night we helped celebrate Chris Pieper’s 45th birthday and I ate an excellent home cooked meal with little Fiona in my arms. I shared her with the other guests too… reluctantly. Many wanted to hold the little fuzzy nugget and kiss her knobbly head, on the snow white patch, just between her little horn buds. With all the preparation for the coming weekend work party to finish the goat shed and fence, I do not know when my next visit to the girls will be and that leaves me with a certain anxiousness in my gut. But I also need to remember my human daughter. She loves the goats too, but doesn’t fancy the competition for Mama’s love and focus. Tonight she insisted on pulling out her old baby bottle and having me feed her. “I’m a little goat, Mama, and my name is Fiona. I can’t hold my bottle. YOU have to feed me. Make sure I stretch my neck out nice and long, OK?” This is more humorous than one might think as Isla would NEVER take a bottle in all her infancy! She was solely breast fed!

My token "breaking ground" photo taken just before the storm, and Fiona, arrived.

10 stock panels for the pen - 50" high by 16' long.

Returning home with cedar posts for both pole barn and pen.

The two Randy's trying to look tough next to their first sunk posts. Unfortunately the post hole auger failed to work.

I have wanted goats for decades and felt a strange, comfortable and curious bond with them. Randy and I have always been interested in gardening, but as our food supply has become less and less safe and predictable, we have turned more toward a deep desire for some level of homesteading. Nowadays, it is the only true way to know what you are ingesting. When I was pregnant with Isla, we discussed what my “job” would be once she was born. We both heartily agreed that we did not want for me to take on a paying job, just to afford to pay someone else to raise our child! I had closed the doors on my sustainable house design business a year or so prior and had welcomed the ease of drafting land survey plats for my friend and his thriving survey business. It was such a stress relief to leave my work at the office (someone else’s office) and not stay awake at night working out a design challenge for a demanding client. But CAD work would not be compatible with raising a newborn in a Waldorf inspired home. So it was decided. I would be the stay-at-home mommy and manage a little farm… an urban homestead… basically the life I had dreamed of for many, many years. Not only would I nurture the mind of my long awaited daughter, but I would nurture the bodies of my partner, my child, and myself. It was the ultimate mothering job. Really? Me? I could do this?

We bought a house on a little piece of land at the outskirts of town and found a tenant for our existing home. We were tired of the isolation and barren lands of our mesa living and were ready for community. It wasn’t much – 1.7 acres. But it had a well which was HUGE for us, having live in a our owner-built, off-grid, strawbale house for years. There, we collected rainwater or hauled it from a spring. The closest aquifer was 1300′ straight down and no one in the neighborhood could even consider drilling! A well sounded like pure decadence to us leather-skinned mesa rats.

We moved into our new home in Oct of ’09, little Isla at 5 months old, strapped to my body as we unpacked boxes. We talked and planned through the winter, ordered seeds and researched bees and chickens. Randy took on the majority of the garden, and me the animals and insects. By the end of the first year we had a flock of 12 chickens (2 of which were laying), 1 bee hive, 8 fruit trees planted, and a good sized garden with fencing. But no goats. By the end of the 2nd year we were pulling in our second honey harvest, had expanded the garden, built raised beds and added drip irrigation. The orchard had a total of 18 trees – all on drip, and the chicken flock had been increased to 15 by natural means of broody birds (tallied after the loss of 3 laying hens and 4 peeps to a predator, and the 3 mean roosters we’d relegated to the freezer). But no goats.

But THIS year….. oh my! I am getting my goats I am! No more buying local, raw, goat and cow milk to keep kefir, yogurt and cheese in my family’s bellies. We’ll raise the buckling for meat, right along side Fiona. She’ll have a playmate during her kid months, and we will know our dinner was loved, cared for, raised organically in comfortable, healthy conditions, and was killed with reverence and respect. After shelving my dream for years, I am mere weeks away! Soon I’ll be milking Hazelnut, steps away from my back porch, and drinking her milk, warm and fresh, mild and creamy, as only a Nubian’s is.

And when I lead Hazelnut, Fiona, and her buckling cousin into their new pen and shed, I think I will finally be able to call myself a mother AND a true urban homesteader! Damn it is going to feel good!!!

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“The squishy bugs are dy-ing, the squashy bugs are dy-ing, squishing the squashy bugs, squashing the squi…”

I blinked, realizing with shock that the monotone mumblings reaching my ears were issuing from my own mouth. “Wow. Guess this is what parenthood does to you,” I said out loud. “Ah HA! Got you you skittering varmit!” And I added another stain of squash bug inners to the fingertips of my new leather gloves. With my favorite red handled scissors, I snipped two more dry, brittle squash leaves from their stalks and crushed them enthusiastically in my fist. “Hee hee. Take THAT!” Leaf dust and bug parts rained down on the hot adobe dirt by my shoe. The late August sun was cooking my inner ankle. I shifted position onto my knees and straightened my creaky back.

It was a rare occurrence to be alone in the garden. Randy’s parents were visiting for the week and Isla couldn’t get enough of her PapaJim and Gigi. I was taking full advantage of this situation, as well as the lessening of my start-of-school cold, by burying myself in our garden jungle. I wiped my nose on my glove and watched a honey bee explore the inner sanctum of a mango colored squash blossom. Watching bees always makes me smile. I assumed this hard working insect was one of my own, or so I like to say. A second bee hovered near the opening, back legs laden with pollen grains, awaiting it’s turn within. It was so burdened with it’s protein load that I bet it would return to the hive after this last stop. I looked instinctively through the 10ft high sunflowers, the corn stalks almost ready to pick, the drying pole bean vines, in the general direction of my bee hive, and felt a pang of guilt. “Geez. I am SUCH a negligent mom,” I thought shamefully. If there was such a thing as an Apis Protective Services I would surely be reported and my hive taken away!

I first got into keeping bees some 13 years ago when I discovered a good friend was interested in the same. He had a large apple orchard and a year round stream – I had the time. The first year we harvested a gallon each of liquid gold. The second year the bears did the harvesting for us, leaving our 2 hives in splinters. Although my interest never wavered, it wasn’t until 2 springs ago that I felt ready to take on the responsibility once more. We had bought the land and house specifically for creating an urban homestead, and bees are the no-brainer first addition. Thank god they can mostly take care of themselves as, once again, I find I have filled my plate too full. I am still in awe that they have not swarmed in search of a more attentive mother – yet.

I have a curious relationship with bees. I respect them immensely and marvel at the social organization of their hive. They are energetic, untiring laborers, and the best team players I have ever known. I feel something akin to love when I watch them zip in and out of their hive entrance – a motherly affection for sure. And they also scare the bejezzus out of me! One of my original bee mentors was a Mormon man who had spent his missionary time in Paraguay tending hives of killer bees. They used the old basket skeps that one might recognize from the Highway signs along the roadways of Utah. One day while tending a hive, he was stung on his chest. He said his over shirt had come unbuttoned and the bee had stung through his inner shirt. Within a nanosecond, the chemical signal was out and the hive swarmed him, all stinging viciously in the same area on his body. He ran like hell to a nearby pond and plunged under the scum, holding his breath for all he was worth. He counted 40 stings in all. He could have easily died from the shock of that much venom.

As I assembled and painted the first hive in my new apiary, I felt excited to be a beekeeper again.

When I picked up the screen cage of 3000 worker bees and a queen from the hands of the shaking Postal worker, I felt nervous. And when I emptied the rolling, buzzing, bee ball over the frames of the first hive box, I felt…. terror.

Unfortunately, my shot of courage, in the form of a bottle of Cuervo and a wedge of lime, did not help one iota. With trembling hands I attached the queen cage strap to the top of a frame, already dreading when I would remove it in a few days. By then The Mother Superior should have eaten through the candy plug and released herself into her mass of waiting devotees. And that hive would attend her loyally and royally for the rest of her several year life.

With a soft bristled bee brush I encouraged the wee ones to begin exploring their new home. It took little effort – they were already crawling between the frames and getting down to the serious business of drawing comb. They have a strong instinctual programming and waste no time. I pushed the Bordman feeder, an inverted jar full of sugar water set in a special tray, into the entrance. They would need food and water immediately after their 3 day journey, and it would speed up the comb production if they did not have to venture far. The inner cover was next, careful to avoid squishing anyone in the process, then the telescoping outer cover. I stepped back, took a deep breath, and heaved a sigh of relief. I was nursing a serious oxygen debt from holding my breath. Gathering my hive tools, I leaned the mostly empty shipping cage against the landing board, and walked tall back to the house. By the time I pushed open the courtyard gate, I had gained full composure and was feeling rather cool. “Yep Isla, that was your mom out there in the Outback, battling vicious, woman-eating insects. But it’s OK dear, I took care of EVERYTHING. The world is, once again, safe.” I had a great desire to grab my crotch and readjust… something. Instead I chuckled with forced confidence. I imagined Mary Elizabeth Gallagher, the awkward Catholic school girl of Saturday Night Live fame, shoving her hands into her arm pits and then sniffing deeply of her pungent fingers. I could relate. I was feeling a primal male energy rising up past my insignificant ovaries. The long crotch length of my one-piece bee suit helped me along with my developing swagger. I grabbed my hive tool and spun it briskly on my finger like a six-shooter, and shoved it smartly back into my pocket. It missed it’s mark and fell unceremoniously to the sod with a wump.

My next opportunity to feel cool was bringing home the bacon of my labors (or lack there of). The one box I had gotten around to adding was chocked full of honey and very heavy. I hauled it back from the apiary, my bee veil hiding an ear to ear grin. Randy and Isla waited with anticipation on the back porch. The honey super banged down on the porch table. I slowly lifted a frame from the box and waited for my due appreciation. “Look at that! Yeah? Yeah? That was ALL me. ALL honey! ALL for us!” Applause. I felt only mild discomfort from stealing credit from the bees. It takes balls to be a bee keeper!

We hauled the box into the kitchen and set about cutting comb from frame. It was a deliciously sticky job that we performed with relish! We cut up hunks of comb and dropped them into pint jars, then crushed the remaining in a colander with a potato masher. Some days later we filled the jars to the brim with golden liquid, the chunk of comb barely visible within. And after boiling down the wax scraps, I had enough beeswax to make a lovely Solstice candle with Isla. It felt extremely satisfying.

As spring approached once more, fired up with thoughts of MORE gold, I ordered the parts for a second bee hive…. while simultaneous expanding the garden and doubling our chicken flock. My brain must be the size of an insect’s. As you may have guessed, I have not even opened the shipping crates. It’s been all I could do to get a honey super on last years solo hive. I have been painting the succeeding honey boxes (3) for the past month and I am only talking about 2 coats of paint here – not the Mona Lisa. Of course, Isla’s participation doesn’t exactly help the process along.

I should have had at least 3 or 4 honey supers stacked above the brood chamber boxes, mostly full of honey by now. It is 3 days away from September and still there is only one – a sad waste of a potential crop. Perhaps with the Grands here for a few more days I can get the second coat on and assemble the 30 frames… or at least 10 more for one additional box. I am running out of time, as are the bees. We hoped to include small jars of honey in our annual Solstice gift bags, nestled against the homemade truffles and our Better Not Pout Oatmeal Stout. But the math is clear – I only get out what I put in. Thank god my several thousand children are forgiving ones. Thank god they haven’t swarmed for greener pastures. If they do, there will be much abuzz about nothing.

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I said that at the rate I was proceeding, I would certainly have the tomato trellis finished by January. So what was this miracle that contradicted my prediction, granting me a finished trellis a mere 24 hrs later? Well, the clue here is Isla and I were not a part of it, or not directly at least.

This summer, a local Taoseno started an incredible site on Facebook: The Taos Barter Bank. It is similar to a time bank (which was also launched in Taos this summer), but it is only between two people, and your time is only one of countless things you can barter with and for. It has the same sort of goal as Freecycle: Let’s do what we can to keep our crap out of the landfill and save money in the process. Reuse first. Last weekend I bartered a bag of veggies, eggs and a local, grass-fed, organic roast for a Mad River canoe (we pack our freezer with a 1/4 cow each fall). Granted, it needs some serious renovation, but nothing out of the scope of what we can handle. I got rid of a massive, butt-ugly dog house that had been dumped off on me before I knew what it really looked like. I didn’t need anything in trade for that eye sore – just the fact my friend came and picked it up was a gift. This week I am trading kale and eggs for 4 used ammo boxes (indispensable for raft trips). And 2 weeks ago I traded beets for buckets.

There is another amazing barter system available which is worldwide. It is called WWOOF, which stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. The only set agreement is that workers trade a 1/2 day of work for each day of room and board. Everything else with the barter is between the worker and the farm. I signed up on the WWOOF-USA site, registering our farm as ready to host a WWOOFer for the month of August. Unfortunately, I received no responses as I had only discovered this treasure at the end of July. But through the Taos Barter Bank, and Randy’s network at the BLM recreation area he manages, I did find a young college student and 2 retired couples who have done various work trades on our farm for a CSA-type bag of produce after each stint. Some days it’s just a pile-o-veggies, and other days we add frozen beef, homemade beer, eggs, honey (last year’s), crock made sauerkraut, fresh made bread, frozen fresh basil pesto, frozen salsa verde made from last year’s garden, pickled mixed veggies, etc.

The college student was a hard worker and she spent 3 or 4 mornings picking up broken glass and rusted metal around our property. We live at the dead end of a subdivision on one of the historical lands grants divvied out by the King of Spain generations ago. We have found old midden piles of refuse that seem to date back to the 40’s – pre-landfill days. And we have also found midden piles that are much older – those of the Native Americans that first settled this desert valley, the Taos Pueblo Indians. I must admit, the multi-colored pot shards evoke much more excitement for me than the rusted metal.  I feared for the little feet of our daughter, pets and future goats and was having a hard time getting to the mundane task myself. Big thanks to Heidi for donning her Ipod earplugs and getting down to it.

The two retired couples are volunteer camp ground hosts in my husband’s rec area. Over the years, as they’ve returned again and again to this magical stretch of the Rio Grande Gorge, they have become our extended family. Jim and Tesa are avid gardeners from Georgia, and Ray and Melinda are originally from Ohio, although I more think of them as locals now. They live in their RVs along the river bank, or at the single apartment at the Rio Grande Gorge Visitor’s Center. Ray is a retired contractor and Jim is a excellent carpenter himself. They enjoy each other’s company and bang away at projects while Tesa weeds and harvests and Melinda teaches Isla old nursery rhymes and children’s songs that I never would have been able to dredge up myself. So far Ray and Jim have built a “latilla” (aspen sapling) wind fence on the windward side of the garden area (we get unbelievable spring winds in our desert that can decimate and desiccate our spring transplants in one afternoon), a beautiful step stool for Isla to access the “big potty”, and now our tomato trellis. It’s amazing what a couple of old farts can accomplish in a couple of hours. Next in line is a tool shed with attached, covered, garden work bench and sink. One more small step towards my goal of “a place for everything and everything in it’s place”.

But the biggest gift they give me is a relief from my torturous “project fever” that can keep me awake at night scheming and designing. Of course, I would prefer EVERYTHING I envision to be accomplished at lightening speed (whip in hand), but this pace, 2-3 hrs a week, is a good exercise in character and patience building. It reminds me to breath and be present, here, now, every moment of the waking day. It’s so easy to get sucked into living in the future when my focus is always on visions and dreams. Today, instead, I will look backwards at how far we have come…. how much we have accomplished…. how much promise is tucked in the depths of this approaching thunder cloud…

Everything in it’s own time.

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Fortunately, I am no stranger to power tools. After designing and building most of my first house, an off-grid strawbale, I have been pretty comfortable with all but finish carpentry. But there are 2 obstacles that stand in the way of my construction prowess these days: 1) Our pathetic lack of tool organization which has been cause to invent many a new 4-letter word, and 2)…. oh…. what was the other thing? Oh right! My TWO YEAR OLD. Sigh.

Our day began fairly normal – cooked farm breakfast of turkey sausage, yellow zucchini and baby turnips sauteed in local raw butter, all thrown over fresh salad greens with the required side of sauerkraut. As usual, Isla resisted my attempts to dress her and brush her teeth, which resulted in me making good my threat of going outside without her. I could hear her crying through the bathroom window as I measured the length and width of the tomato bed, carefully avoiding the groping, fruit-covered branches that stretched into the pathway threatening to trip me. Our tomato plants have become frightening – a surprising occurrence in the high desert of New Mexico. And our pole beans have wound dense, twisting ropes with their searching vines. It’s time to get serious.

After settling the little one and wiping her tears we loaded into the 4-Runner bound for the hardware store. Isla navigated the tight aisles with expert ease, maneuvering her little cart around the corners and displays. “Here’s the Neem oil Honey.” “Neem oil.” she repeated as she settled her cargo with a look of great responsibility. “Hide-a-key…. so we won’t lock ourselves out of the car anymore, huh?” I smiled sideways. “Mama got in trouble when we went to the river and Uncle Tim had to go and meet Papa to get the other key and….” “Yes dear, come along.” “Mineral oil.” I passed her the bottle. “For mama’s orange hair?” asked Isla, referring to my recent henna disaster. “Mmmm.” “Come. Help me count out these rafter ties. We need 9.” Etc. We strapped the 2x4x8s and bamboo poles onto our cargo cage and drove slowly home. Now it was 10:45.

Snack time. Toasted homemade bread and cold plums sounds like a quick affair, but… It was 11:15 before we gained the back porch. Finding tools around here is a graying experience. Of my hair that is… explaining the henna disaster… and… never mind. I scratched my (orange) head trying to remember the last place I saw the things I would need, while Molly, our Pyrenees, plastered me against the wall with her love and bulk. I had so nicely filed the paint can for the bee boxes, and hammer, etc. on our livingroom rug – perfectly organized. But then Isla’s teacher came for a home visit and we… cleaned up. I tried the tool shed first seeing as the name fit the item. Ducking under the hornets’ 3rd successful attempt at homemaking, I began the treasure hunt. But I won’t bore you with the details. By 12 noon I had invented 3 new curse words and left Randy (my husband) 2 phone messages. But I also had 2 saw horses situated beside the garden fence laden with 16 2x4x8s and a dishwashing tub teetering to the brim with lagscrews, 8 penny nails, hammer, Dewalt cordless screw gun and circular saw, rafter ties, speed square, sharpened pencil…

“Mama. I need to go pee pee.” Breathe. I slowly put down the speed square and pencil, whipped down Isla’s pants and undies, lifted her with her back against my thighs and my hands under her knees, and waited for her to water a dessicated tumbleweed. “Not here, THERE!” “Here?” “No, THERE!” After countless minute adjustments of position, she finally relieved her bladder. I began marking cut lines to bevel the top edges of the upright supports for the tomato trellis. Six uprights were marked and I had my finger on the safety button of the saw…

“Mama. I need to poop.” “You DID poo or you need to poop?” Once inside I discovered it was a bit of a combination. We cleaned up the butt, changed the undies, emptied and cleaned the little potty, washed hands, re attached the sun bonnets, and I recommenced with sawing corners. But it was 12:30 and time for lunch or nap, whichever came first. Isla swore she was tired so we brushed off our work clothes, lay down to read Pipi Longstocking, and I tried to convince my stubborn, yawning Taurus to sleep.

2 hours later, at about 3:00, we awoke groggy and hungry and set about making lunch. I checked a few emails, and now Isla is in the bath. Papa will be home soon from work, and the day is almost done. I made a total of 12 corner cuts on 6 boards. At this rate I should certainly get the trellis finished by January.

This constant struggle of trying to “get something done” is a hair-pulling but important reminder to me. It’s not about what gets done (I remind myself), it’s about HOW it gets done – or not. It’s about giving Isla the license and my confidence to scrape her way around the hardware store feeling helpful and independent. It’s about taking time to let her count slowly to 9 as she places each individual rafter tie carefully in her cart. It’s about showing her the marks on the board and how a speed square works. Or letting her pick ripe strawberries on one side of the fence while I cut wood on the other. And demonstrating by example that building projects are not gender specific.

I strive constantly to live a simple, grounded life and teach my child the same values. We have no TV and Isla does not watch videos. Her “video game” is sitting quietly on the back porch watching our resident rufous dive bomb a gentle black chin, or walking our dog in the early morning. She revels in feeding our pond fish, and eating her way down our long row of sweet peas. Her toys are mostly made from natural materials and they number few. Her play room is simple. She spends long periods “cooking” elaborate dishes for me in her little wooden kitchen with her pots, pans, and wooden fruit and veggies. I’m not saying I don’t battle with extreme frustration at times, for I most certainly do. When I feel a need to accomplish a project, I am overcome with a sort of fervor which transmogrifies into anger when I must contend with obstacles in my path… 2 yr old obstacles. The world we live in is hardly supportive. Parents chauffeur their kids from activity to activity at a frenzied rate, picking up greasy fast food along the way. The media leaves us wallowing in keep-up-with-the-Jones’ anxiety attacks. Raising a child in a quiet, simple way is like waging a full scaled war.

Recently I’ve been making an effort to express my anger in a more productive, appropriate way. I am a passionate, fiery Scot-Irish woman and am disposed to “Mommy rage”. The worst part is Isla has been parroting my own displays of anger – a shameful mirror shoved in my face. So we talked, and discussed (she is quite good at discussing things at her young age), and agreed to do the following: Stomp each foot hard on the floor with legs about shoulder width and take a deep breath. Then imagine pushing roots out of the bottoms of our feet, deep down into the soil, past the worms and the rocks, embraced by Mother Earth’s body. Then we ask Mother Earth to take our anger and frustration and slurp it out through our roots, and push in peace and joy in it’s place. I was proud I remembered to try it today at the umpteenth interruption, and by god, it worked! Mother Earth granted me my request.

So today I am grateful for my daily obstacle course on my path of accomplishing. I am grateful for my 2 year old mirror into the dark crevices of my soul. I am grateful for a garden that needs a trellis. I am grateful I know how to build. I am grateful for the many reminders of what is TRULY important. Today….. I choose to be grateful for my REAL life.

Our tomatoes need some serious assistance

As do our pole beans....

Try to "get something done"

Our lucious strawberry patch has done well this summer.

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