Monday, February 20, 2012

Embracing the Freegan Ethic

  Awhile back The Manimal's friend started a little restaurant on the town square.  You would think one more restaurant is the last thing this town would need, but this one is doing well.  It is a soup restaurant, they have several freshly made soups each day, along with hearty breads. They've cleverly located their shop smack in the middle of downtown where a lot of people work and where most all the restaurants are spendy out-to-dinner places. Working people are happy to get a hearty lunch at a reasonable price, or a warm and comforting supper before they make the long trek home.
    Straight away The Manimal thought making all those large pots of soup each day with all fresh ingredients would result in a certain amount of onion skins, potato peels, carrot root ends and such.
    Knowing his friend lived in town and had no place to keep a compost bin, and knowing the two of us don't produce much veg waste, and knowing our large and ever-increasing garden could happily absorb as much compost as we can produce or procure for it, The Manimal offered to carry away the restaurant's veg scraps as an ongoing project.  The friend happily agreed. In our hippified college town anyone who does not compost at least has the good grace to feel guilty about it. The chefs were actually delighted to have us take on composting their trimmings.

    We have come to call it his SoupWalla job.  We supply clean five-gallon buckets with tight lids. Each day on his return from work The Manimal stops by the restaurant to give them clean buckets and carry away the full ones. On a slow day this will be a bucket not quite full of scraps. On a busy day it has generally been 2 completely full buckets, often it is 3. Fifteen gallons.
     Our compost bin quickly filled up. Then a second compost bin. We now need to build larger bins. Much Larger.  Our laying hens have benefitted from especially good bits in the buckets. They don't care for onions, garlic, or mushrooms, but they're pretty keen on carrot tops, kale, lettuces, and they just love tomatoes.

     It could not long escape our notice that the buckets we haul home contain food as fresh and clean as we would get at the supermarket.  This is not garbage folks, it is not plate scrapings or the stuff from the sink strainer.  This is lovely, colorful, fresh food.  Occasionally it seems a potato or tomato will roll off the countertop and land in the bucket as well, I can think of no other explanation for the random appearance of whole unblemished vegetables in the buckets. They're a welcome find.

     The chefs at the restaurant are in a hurry. Rather than spend a lot of time scrubbing they lop off the lower 3-4 inches or so of  the root end of celery where the grit would collect.  They also lop off about 5 inches of the tops where the leafy branchy bits are. This means their soups have the straightest most easily rinsed center of the celery, which makes lovely uniform slices.
     It also means our buckets receive nearly half of every stalk of celery. Not being a chef, and not being in a hurry, it is no problem for me to trim the root end and rinse the good old fashioned garden dirt off the celery.  We like the leafy and branchy tips in our soups and stir-frys as well.
    The chefs cut off the tips and root ends of the carrots in a similarly generous manner.  I would say wasteful, but since we're benefitting from it I'd be foolish to suggest the chefs trim more carefully wouldn't I?
    Onions. They use huge onions, bigger than my fist. They seem to prefer the center third, perhaps to make rings of a uniform size? We get an inch or more from both tapered rounded ends of each and every onion.  They use only the green leaves of scallions so we get the bulbs. 

 Last night the Manimal planted some, having read they'll take root and grow more greens. The rest I put in the stockpot. We've realized it's a sin to waste food this fresh by just chucking it on the compost heap. Both of us love soup, and we make it at least weekly, sometimes more often. So when we brought our buckets home last night I sorted and trimmed veg and put two big stockpots on the woodstove to slowly simmer.  The smell is heavenly.
     Often I've read of the old-fashioned tradition of keeping a stockpot on the back of the stove and tossing the odd bits of veg into it, producing an ongoing ever-ready flavorful base for soups and stews. I never thought I'd be rich enough in vegetables to have such a thing.

   Not far from the soup restaurant is a grocery store we call Ghetto Kroger. This is to differentiate it from Fancy Kroger on the South side of town, Very Fancy Kroger on the far West side, and La-Di-Da Kroger on the East side. Ghetto Kroger is the oldest of the four by many years and is in my old neighborhood downtown (which is not a ghetto, but is an old neighborhood where residents must survive the stringencies of only one bathroom per house and no garages). Many poor grad students live there.
   The best thing about Ghetto Kroger is the dumpster out back. Unlike other grocery stores in town the dunpster behind Ghetto Kroger  is not fenced in. The grocers there hate waste, and they are well aware of the bin diving contingency of this town.  They do have health law mandated rules they must abide by, but they are user friendly.  If an orange is bruised or punctured in a bag of oranges law forbids the grocer from opening the bag and removing the damaged fruit. The whole bag must be thrown out. If even a single  berry in a box of berries has gone bad the whole box must be tossed out. If a watermelon gets dented it is illegal to do anything other than throw it away.   Although it is not said aloud, (for reasons of insurance I suspect) the persons in charge of taking things out to the dumpster do it with panache. Loaves of day old bread are stacked neatly beside the cooking oil receptical. Dented bakery items will be laid carefully on the lid in plain sight.  Boxes and bags of fruit and veg are often stacked rather than just dumped in. The Ghetto Kroger dumpster is a grand source of swag.

This weekend the Ghetto Kroger swag involved huge apple boxes filled with many bags of clememtines, one bruised or damaged fruit per bag, And also nine or ten bags of limes, and an more avacados than we've ever had in the house at one time before.


The hens turn their grain, the veg we bring them and the bugs and things they scratch up  while free-ranging into the most lovely eggs with wonderful flavor and deep orange yolks.  They make grocery-store boughten eggs look insipid.

 It is the oddest thing that the more I search for a job, the more I study the enmployment ads, and update my resume and send out job applications, the more things present themself for The Manimal and myself  to do
that prosper us and benefit us (and others) that Do NOT involve me having a jobby job in town.  The more I fret that I'm not doing my part around here because I'm not bringing in cash money the more ways I am blessed with to save us money, to make the homestead better, and so on. Perhaps I need to dislodge from my head the idea that Making A Living = Making Dollars and Cents, and re-aquaint myself with the nearly pre-historic concept of spending time making a life,rather than spending money trying to buy a life.

I'm not willing to claim that it is The Mandate of Heaven that I remain forever unemployed for some etherial Higher Purpose.  But I am beginning to suspect  that the agenda my education so thoroughly drummed into me is perhaps not the agenda that matters in the greater scheme of things.

I came into this life just a bit to late for the Back To The Land Movement of the 60's.  But I'm back here now, and trying to learn what to make of it. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Precious Tender Angelic Belligerent Ballsy Pixie-Child with Fangs

Today is the Birthday of Smallest Child.
 She is the last of the litter, and she hit the ground running.  I believe she was born believing she could catch up with her older siblings no matter how much of a head start they had gotten by being born 2, 6 and 7 years sooner than herself.

 Here are a few of my favorite things about the Lovely Mrs. S.

1-She does pretty things with her hair. Unlike many redheads who think "my hair is red, therefore it is pretty, lucky me" and leave it at that, Smallest Child has taught herself to expertly coif her hair with twists and braids, unusual wedding-cake layering of curls, clips and jewels and bows. Pretty, pretty.

2-She cooks. And bakes. She loves good food, rejoices in the bounty of the harvest season and has a proper and grateful respect for a well supplied pantry and a nicely turned out dinner table. Her family is in no danger starving or of suffering the dreaded diseases caused by a fast-food lifestyle.

3-She's the most hard-working person I know. She was a relatively slovenly child and a messy pre-teen, but somehow she grew up to have an amazing work ethic. This was not the result of maternal nagging, I am far too lazy to nag. Those who employ Mrs. S are fortunate indeed.

4-She's pretty on the outside, but she is not vain about it, is well aware of her "flaws" as she calls them, and is prettiest of all on the inside where it counts the most.

5-She's smart enough and ballsy enough not to let people push her around.  This includes drunk idiots in the French Quarter during Mardi Gras and other people's spoiled children who believe grown-ups are to be disobeyed and ignored.  I need never worry that she will put herself  in serious danger anywhere in the world.  I need never worry that she'll give me a fat lot of rotten, ill-bred,  ill-behaved grandchildren. Mrs. S steps up to the plate and handles things.

6-She has excellent taste in men and her husband is an absolutely ideal match for herself.  Even better she has wedded her way into the most terrific family imagineable. And they think they're lucky to get her ; ) 

7-She's funny and good natured. I gave my kids a rather bohemian upbringing. She's been met with  more challenges, odd decisions and ruts in the road of life than many her age, but she laughs in the face of disaster and smiles her way through whatever fate chooses to present itself, perpetually using her vivid imagination and nimble fingers to spin straw into gold.

Happy Birthday Smallest Child-it's been a lovely quarter of a century!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Stitching and Digressions

     More mending to do today. It's still snowy out, with a promise of rain this afternoon which will lead to seventeen acres of winter mud, so being in the loft with my hand sewing where I can see the weather but not feel it is lovely. The view out my windows is entirely sky and treetops, so it is a bit like working in a treehouse. The wood fire in the stove downstairs keeps it cozy up here, there is good natural light from the windows but lamps aplenty if I need them. and obviously the wireless laptop works up here as well, or you would not be reading this.
  The dogs, the rabbits and the cats are all draped around the furniture napping. (Except the rabbits, who are actually snugged away in their secret corner and I have no idea what it looks like back there because I respect the privacy of their hutch-space. No doubt when we build their outdoor hutch and I clear out that back corner I shall be appalled.)
   In the kitchen below me there's citrus peel gently simmering for a batch of mixed citrus marmalade. The warm summery smell is coming up to me between the floor boards.  
      One of the things I love best about this loft is the floor.
      The Manimal  built this house twenty-some years ago and slapped a quick "temporary" coat of protective paint on the upstairs floors.  Somehow "proper" flooring never got to the top of the priority list or fit into the household budget. No carpet, no linoleum, no tile or parquet flooring. None of the things he and his then-wife dreamed of doing. All we have up here in my big room that was once the two family bedrooms is the long boards original to the build.  They have a 20 year old coat of paint on them, plus everything that has happened up here floor-wise in two decades, so they look like this:
Two different colors of paint and the jucture where the common wall and the doorway between the rooms used to be.

    This is truly my favorite floor of all the floors in all the twenty-some places I have lived. I love the fact that is is just what it is. I love that there's nothing about it I am likely to hurt with my sometimes messy artistic endeavors.  Deep in my deepest heart of hearts I do not much care for fancy things. I prefer things to be simple and straightforward. Which may be two words come to think of it.
   When I first moved to the valley there were boxes and boxes of parquet flooring tiles in the loft closet and more in a storage unit in town. Beautiful hardwood flooring, if you are into that kind of thing. Expensive too. The parquet flooring was the idea (insistence might be a better word).of The Previous Girlfriend, whom I think of uncharitably as Girlzilla.  NICE flooring was part of her endless and ever-increasing list of requirements to make this house Good Enough for her highness to deign to reside in. (Note that before she came along it was quite good enough to raise three kids in.) 
     What can I say? Women who require a man to remake his entire life to suit them have a tendency to fade away, and rugged life in the hinterland is unsuited to ersatz royalty. Girlzilla did not reside here after all. When she faded away the ton of parquet flooring remained in her wake.  Ok, not a ton. I am probably exaggerating for dramatic effect. Let's see......oh, it's more like 2400 pounds. Sixty pounds a box. Oy.

      It was a very happy day for me when I was able to (after muuuuuuuch discussion) convince The Manimal that rather than install the flooring up here (which would have been a hideous amount of work) and begin the long process of turning this space into a fancy room it would be better to let his oldest son  (the Wild One) take the 40 boxes of floor tiles to his land in the next county for a house he was rennovating.  I was happy to see the flooring go. Happy not to have the loft turn into a place with shiny polished floors that need "taking care of".

     I've been mending The Manimal's jeans. Happy work, this.  They start out very stiff and very black, gradually become softer black, then dark grey, then dark grey with worn spots. Eventually they are medium grey with holes.  They have never gotten to light grey, they fall apart long before that. When the holes start to appear  I add patches and reinforcing stitches here and there as needed. When we get to where all his trousers are patched it is time for a new pair. I think the next time he gets new jeans I'll embroider the date inside the waistband  so I can see how long they actually last. I'm curious.

    Having grown up in the hippie era The Manimal is both allergic to formal clothing and quite fond of patches, so I don't have to try to find matching bits of cloth or exact matches of thread for the hundred grey tones the fabric devolves into with time.  In fact his color preference for patches is "the more the merrier, but no pink."
       This is a pleasant thing for me as I was raised by a large matriarchal tribe of stitching women, and nothing pleases me more than a bit of freespirited darning and patchworking.
    I do not remember ever visiting any of my aunties houses without there being some bit of sewing going on, whether it was pillowcases being embroidered for a church bazaar or a wedding present (it was always His and Hers in those days), a dress being made, a blouse yoke being  crocheted or a pair of dungarees being mended.  At Mamaw's house most often it was a quilt top being patchworked or appliqued or else the quilt frame was up and a half dozen women were gathered for a quilting bee.

     This matriarchy of my grandmothers, mother, aunties and adult cousins were mostly married with children. They loved their menfolk dearly, but it was quite clear to me that the men were not the center of anyone's existence. Despite the theoretical patriarchal structure of our churches the women and men lived in separate but slightly overlapping worlds, and regardless of physical geography the women's realm was the larger one.  As a child and most especially a girl child, I was part of the women's world.
     Men allegedly ran the world in those days I am told, but they weren't running the world I lived in. There were Big Men In Washington who did something or other. Men In Town did important things too, although important is a very subjective term and cousin Charlie the candy-maker in town had a far more elevated place in my child mind than the mayor, the president of the country or the bishop of the church.
     My uncles and grown-men cousins were variously sailors and truck drivers who were at home sometimes but often gone. My Papaw was retired from the coal mines and was usually outside, tending the garden and orchard, building things, teaching my brother and boy cousins.
       Papaw had built the house itself a long time ago, and added on rooms as the children were born. One by one as his daughters married he built houses for them on his land. I beleive there was not one level floor in any of the houses. They did however have charm. 
   The whole unpaved road in front of Mamaw's house led uphill past aunties' houses straight to my cousin Pattycake, who aside from flaming red hair and an adventurous spirit had the added virtue of being my age.  
By 'my age' I mean just younger than me.
      The cousins older than me were sort of lumped together in a groups, as we'd all managed to be born in something almost like litters. When I was four or so there was a batch of cousins all grown up and moved to town or further, several more of high school age, a handful of not yet teens and a handful of gradeschoolers. Since there was a 4 year gap between me and my brother I qualified as "little".  Those my brother's age saw me primarily as a little pest to be avoided.  Being OLDER is a big deal in childhood, although not for any good reason that I could see. My parents were both the youngest children of large families, so as their baby I was forever destined to be one of  "the little cousins".
      There were three of us, all girls. Me-the Chatterbox with my lank sandy dishwater hair, Pattycake who was named after my red-haired mama, and Merrycat with her thick dark tresses who was the youngest (I think) and also very much the prettiest. We three were the end of the cousin line.  Younger than us there would be no more first cousins, only second and third cousins, which is something else indeed. You could marry second and third cousins, although I could not see why anyone would want to.

  (Let us take a moment here to ponder the myseries of genetics. My mother was a redhead as were two of her older sisters. The rest of her sisters and all her brothers had black hair.  My father's hair was black, like most of his siblings, one of his sisters was a redhead, all his nieces and nephews had black hair.
My brother and I, with our ash-blonde hair looked suspiciously like we'd been heisted from a passing baby carriage. Why did we not get red hair or black? I have no explanation for this. Life is a mystery. My black-haired father had been born white-blonde but as he grew his hair slowly darkened.  I waited hopefully for years for my hair to darken to glossy black like his. I am still waiting.)

   My Uncle Dick had a garage across the lane from Mamaw and Papaw's house where he fixed big trucks. He would stop in to see if Mamaw needed anything, so he was the most present and most 'real' of my uncles. 
    Daddy was the glass tank specialist in town, where they made liquid glass from sand then poured it out and cooled it and cut it into windows. He liked to tell stories to us children, and when he was with us at Mamaw's house cousins would pile on the couch around him to listen to the stories he made up about us. They were impromptu serial stories, our favorite themes being The Deep Dark Jungle, Homesteading in Alaska, Meanwhile Back on the Ranch, and Outer Space.  The cast of characters would be whichever of the cousins were present for the telling, and the themes overlapped so that Pattycake might be landing her spaceship to visit Merrycat and Chatterbox on their ranch, and she would bring strange and delicious exotic foods from far off worlds.   
    It occurs to me that the one thing all the men of my family had in common was an extraordinary fondness for children. As young couples they double-dated with their young wives and brought their babies along just to add to the fun. Truly, what could be more fun than taking the whole extended family to the Frost-Top for hot dogs and root beer? What could make the evening memorable more than a slightly feverish baby projectile hurling up his rootbeer in an arc across all those lucky enough to be sitting in the back seat with him?
    In our era parents did not waft about throwing out "I Love You"s like they do now, but they were present and attentive parents, happy to have us about, pleased to teach us about life, and we knew without a doubt that we were loved.  There were no "career oriented" adults in my family. I don't remember even hearing the term. People we knew did not work to prove they were special, or to be wealthy, or to change the world. They worked to make a living so that they could have a home and children and grandchildren. Family was the point of life, and what we little cousins wanted from life was to grow up and have more family. 
    In this day and age I suppose that sounds really odd. Back then it just sounded happy and fun.

    Somewhere in my addled little brain I think I thought my life would be much like Mamaw's.  I'd have a house full of children, and they would have lots of babies.  They would all live around me, and we'd visit back and forth and have huge Sunday dinners together.  As it happened I got four dandy offspring (one ash blonde like me and three redheads if you're wondering) and 75% of them live far away. The Manimal and I get periodic visits from my Oldest child, who lives closest and has 1.3 children,. 
We have occasional visits from my others, Middle Child in particular can be counted on to stop by as she and her Honeylamb move back and forth across the country.  We love these visits.  The Manimal's three bachelor sons stop in now and then, usually unexpectedly and on the fly. They are busy conquering the world. Our home is not (not yet?) the scene of huge family dinners as we have not (yet?) a huge family.
   Which is ok.
 Life is what it is, and I'm not complaining.
  If I, like my Mamaw, had 35 grandchildren constantly dropping by, when would I find the time to mend The Manimal's jeans?
Or blog?
Or design my own fabric and make a bunny?

1-Rapunzel likes grey-haired men who build their own houses and who incline towards pack-rattery.
2-Rapunzel prefers unpaved roads. They keep the riff-raff away.
3-Rapunzel is NOT genetically predisposed to becoming house-proud.
4-Rapunzel loves black hair and does not understand why she did not get it. She thinks people who think blue-eyed blonde girls are the prettiest must be at least half-blind.
5-Rapunzel does not much worry her pretty head about What Men Do All Day. She knows if they want to they will tell her, but she's not going to pry it out of them.
6-Blogs with less text and more pictures are more fun to look at, but blogs with more text are more fun to write.  This may be partly because when one's head is going-on 56 years old  not everything in it is available to be photographed.

Ze Life, she iss Good.

P.S.    My other grand accomplishment of the past few days has been to entirely organize and file neatly ALL of The Manimal's household and business bills, receipts and bank statements by month and by category.

Because The Manimal is the sort to cram things higglety pigglety into his many pockets all the day long the receipts looked ghastly and were hard to read. So in a cheery effort to be a good helpmeet I got out my iron and pressed them into tidy smoothness. I suggest you do  not try this at home.

Actually I only pressed three of them. When I flipped them over they had turned entirely black. Apparently receipts are now being made of something other than real paper. Sheesh!  Of course I did not proceed with the several hundred remaining receipts in the pile, I just smoothed them as well as I could with my fingers and called it good enough.

This annual ritual of paperwork took approximately forever, or in real time two whole  days.   He is now prepared to do his taxes, should such an odd thought occur to him, which it probably won't this soon as the deadline is not until April 15th..   The following day I did my taxes, which took less than a whole day, and I'm happily awaiting my tax return. He's a last possible moment guy and I'm a file early girl. Opposites attract. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

According to the internet this is a Columbian Lithograph.  I could not find a date for it, but it is like the one that hung in my  Mamaw's front room just above Uncle Charlo's chair. As Uncle Charlo was blind  I assumed he did not know it was there.  It was Uncle Charlo who nicknamed me Chatterbox, after what was to him my most notable characteristic. By notable I mean the thing that made me stand out from my 35 cousins.  If he had not lost his eyesight in a coal mine explosion long before I was born, he could have just as easily dubbed me Bruisy or Bedhead or Stickyface. 
    When I was a chattery little mite I firmly believed this little girl in the litho was a photograph of my mama as a child.  This in spite of the fact that I had seen actual bona fide photographs of my mama as a child, her extremely curly hair was never longer than her earlobes and certainly not long enough to braid, and the phoptographs were all in black and white while this child is clearly rendered in some old-timey semblence of living color.      Logic was never my strong suit.          In her later years Mama and I got on the subject of Mamaw's house one day, and she told me, "There was a little picture of a girl watching a bird, which hung on the wall over Uncle Charlo's chair. I imagine it was cut out of a magazine, but when I was little I always thought it was me, and Uncle Charlo said of course it was, look at that red hair!" 

From this story we may surmise that:
 1-Chatterbox  had no grasp of the historical development of the art of photography or lithography.  
 2-Chatterbox and her Mama both fancied themselves the center of the known universe.    
3-Great Uncles tell charming fibs to little children.
4-Our Irish ancestry lives on in the form of flaming hair generation after generation.
5-Clearly someone had told Uncle Charlo there was a picture of a little girl hanging above him and he felt no objection to this because either he felt very secure in his manhood or he didn't give a flying fig about cutesy-poo baby art.

Discuss this amongst  yourselves.

(I love saying amongst.)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Poor Neglected Blog

Dear Little Neglected Blog,
  I apologize for being too sick to blog, then too tired to blog, then too bored with my isolated and uneventful life to blog. Lest you think I've done nothing nothing for 3 weeks but sit in my ivory tower by the window wishing I were anywhere but here I will show you a bit of what I've been working on. (Apart from animal care and hauling firewood that is.)