Monday, December 28, 2009
December 28th and we returned from an overnighter in Seattle to a hot and stuffy house. The mist and fog of the morning had burned off completely and the pale December sun was streaming into the living room.
Too warm to keep things shut up, the front door was open the rest of the afternoon - a first for this day, this month, I'm sure. In fact, I've seen more clear dry days this December than I can ever remember for any previous winter month. We're enjoying the warmth and light but, honestly, so many days of the stuff is more than a little disconcerting for us moldy Pacific Northwesterners. Used to the pressure of making each rain-free hour count, days on end without the stuff leaves us eventually finding ourselves at loose ends.
Santa was good to our family this year, and we tried to be good to each other as well. Choosing nice over naughty for everyone's sake. 2009 has been a bit of a rollercoaster and I think most of us are ready to ring in 2010.
I hope your family's New Year dawns bright and beautiful...with maybe just a little bit of mist.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Millions of words have been written on the bittersweet emotions that mothers lug along as they watch their sons grow into young men. It's impossible to be original on this topic, I fear, but perhaps it's worth repeating from the front row.
Maybe the single thing I'm most grateful for in my life - and there's so much - is the close relationship I've been fortunate to share with my son, from day one. He's my only child, yes, but he's also such a fine and interesting person - it's a pleasure, really, to be in his company.
And, I've been doubly-blessed to have a supportive spouse and a life that has supported my spending a chunk of Dylan's childhood right at his side. The costs for such privilege can sometimes be high - in ways that are difficult to foresee at the outset - but I would do it just the same again if asked.
The good news, the great news really, is that now Mark gets the chance to really, full-on be there at Dylan's side as well. Some time out from earning a living, he's there to pick Dylan up for swimming, home to grab the band-aid when the cut starts to bleed, around the dinner table to check on homework and struggle through the tough math.
Mark deserves it. Dylan deserves it. And, as Dylan stands at the precipice of adolescence, the timing feels almost cosmically orchestrated. The joy that emanates from the two of them as they build, or ski, or strum, or solve is palpable.
So, now it's time for Mom to step back and let go the reins a bit, place the "primary caregiver" badge on the bookshelf with the Curious George books and the Wiggle DVDs from Australia that never would work in our player anyway. Time to rediscover what I loved before I loved this child. Time to awaken deeply slumbering parts of my mind and soul.
A time of renewal for all of us, a time of sharing and space and engagement and disengagement. Humbling and cherished.
And very, very hard.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
It doesn't freeze here very often, but when it does islanders instinctively know to gravitate toward Fisher Pond. In deep shade all but the middle of the day this time of year, Fisher Pond is only a few feet deep and rewards our deepest winter yearnings with good solid ice as soon as the temperature stays below freezing for even a couple days.
Better yet, old time islander Gary Peterson and his Minnesota-born wife raised their 3 kids on skates and somehow, over time, decided to hold onto every size as the kids went through 'em. Years passed and folks came to know what to do with their old skates - send them over Peterson's way. Today, this fine and generous couple of grandparents have boxes and boxes of skates they store in their attic for occasions such as this, when they load their pickup full of boxes of skates, head down to Fisher Pond, and give them out to any and all who'd like to take a turn on the ice.
This week the Petersons have been at Fisher Pond almost every morning and every afternoon after school, fitting folks to boots and making good conversation. Gary told me yesterday that Fisher Pond used to be a cow pasture - it was an earthquake in the forties that shifted things around and raised the outlet for Shinglemill Creek just enough to create this 6-acre pond. And islanders have been showing up, hopeful and bundled up whenever the pond freezes, ever since.
Thanks to Mr. Fisher for donating his fine pond and forest to the folks of Vashon about a decade ago. And, thanks Mr. and Mrs Peterson - I think we had way more fun than the cows ever did.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
A November drizzle that makes everyone's hair frizzle.
Cooking by myself on a dark Saturday night while the season's first storm rages outside and a wonderful movie about food and family plays on my laptop.
That my dog refuses to go outside until I get out of bed and come downstairs.
Watching my son and husband work out Math Olympiad problems snuggled on the couch (until they start fighting).
Giant maples leaves scattered across the road to town, slowly disappearing into the landscape.
That our potatoes, squash, pumpkin, chard, and lamb still sustain us deep into fall.
Bunches of this summer's dried lavender gently perfuming the house.
Coming home to a candlelit home, a glass of wine, and a smiling husband.
Little surprises from my loving and generous friends.
Halloween on Vashon.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
We're deep into fall now and here in the Pacific Northwest, that means mushrooms. Strangely, the hunting bug didn't really hit me until just last year when it was revealed to me that the coveted chanterelle, the golden queen of all things 'shroom, actually grows right here on our little rock...if you know where to look.
As Michael Pollan hilariously details in the final section of his Omnivore's Dilemma, the elusive chanterelle is a master of hiding, and those that hunt it are equally masterful at keeping its dark secrets hidden. Up against deadline for his book, he begged seasoned foragers in vain to take him - even blindfolded - on a mushroom hunt, any mushroom hunt.
As fun as foraging for the ultimate seasonal treat can be, however, more generalized hunting for interesting fungi can be great adventure as well. Armed with our trusty guide, gloves - very important because many varieties are highly toxic - and a bag for carrying any discovered golden loot, we set off into trails spongy with decaying leaves and wet from recent rains.
Few things are more fun to do with your kid. Mushroom hunting gets you out into nature, provides the thrill of a treasure hunt, and turns out to be educational for everyone in the bargain. Sleuthing for mushrooms in the recesses of a damp woods, earthy and primal, in mist or dappled sun or even pouring rain when the scents seem almost overpowering - it's the original northwest playground.
Hunt for chanterelles and other fungi in wooded areas with lots of native vegetation and some, but not much, natural light. Away from the beaten trail and just after a rain are your best bets. Bring along a good guide with lots of photographs and detailed descriptions. Don't eat anything you cannot absolutely, positively identify - this is another reason chanterelles are uniquely exciting to find. They are not only delicious, but extremely distinctive, making them a safe choice for sauteing once you get home.
If you find a chanterelle hideout, check it every autumn, and don't tell anyone. Except maybe me.
Monday, October 19, 2009
It's no secret that autumn is my favorite season. While long languid days of summer feel luxurious, and spring's eternal birth miracles always inspire, and winter's comforting rituals connect us to our past, it's autumn's color, clarity, moisture, and, yes, even entombing darkness that seems to remind us to turn inward, toward our loved ones and self-reflection, to appreciate hearth and home, and even to elevate the importance of sustenance in our lives.
This fall on our island has been virtually unprecedented in its beauty and classic autumn weather. Crisp days and chilly nights feel like precious gifts before the mists of November roll across our mornings.
The crockpot is hoisted out of the pantry more often. Tealights illuminate our family together space in the evenings. The light has gone on in the chicken coop to coax the hens to continue their egg-laying ways. Soon, mud will dominate our little landscape.
These weeks between late summer and early winter always feel a little like a breath held. This fall, I try to enjoy the leaves, turn my face toward the last rays of sun, embrace the change I know is coming, and get ready for the tasks of family, farm, livelihood, and life that this particular season brings.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Well, we did it - I had my doubts (fueled by 3 previous years), but we managed to do the things we knew needed doing - before the rain set in and made us find that spot in our heart where regret lives and remorse gnaws on our best intentions. We battened down the hatches that needed it, albeit moments before the first drops started splattering the dust.
Every year we get a little more done before the farm becomes a sea of mud, and this year, we're actually truly, really ready. Sheared the sheep (Mark), built a shed for hay and bikes (also Mark) - and actually got it painted (both of us). Hooves are trimmed and tarps grace all that needs tarping. Now it's time to get working on the spartan....
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
As if on cue, the winds swept in and the clouds descended on our little Puget Sound island a day and a half after the last of our fall events. Sunday dawned bright and beautiful for cider-pressing with our pal David and cleaning up the debris still left from the farm tour. Then Monday brought the fall weather we're more familiar with.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
A huge shout out to the veritable army of friends and family that all but guaranteed Stop Sign Farm's successful debut on King County's Harvest Celebration Tour! We had pals meeting and greeting, cooking up mouth-watering dishes, pressing the first real apple juice a lot of folks had ever tasted, directing and answering questions, shearing sheep, answering questions about baby chicks and even playing fiddle! Wow.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
SSF is on King County's 2009 Harvest Celebration Tour this Saturday, and we couldn't be more excited (or nervous). Dylan reminded me this morning on the drive to school that we've been talking about being one of "those farms" ever since we first purchased our land.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
One of the biggest life lessons, or failures, depending upon your point of view, of farming is living with near-constant chaos.
Most people complain of chaos in their lives - their inability to reconcile their iPhone calendar with their old-fashioned wall version, the weeds that take over their garden the second they turn their back, the social, academic, and athletic commitments that seem to truly dominate their lives.
But, let's take a baby step into farm life to truly appreciate life among entropy and the coping skills each family member is required to develop in order to refrain from killing any other members of the clan:
Back in a previous life, I had a house twice this size and a yard about 1/10 this size. Things had a place and I even had for a while, no kidding, a landscapey type person who showed up once a month to prune and trim with his crew b/c I was so afraid to touch the carefully choreographed landscaping gently laid down some 40 years previous.
This all seems vaguely hilarious now.
Tonight I write this with 50 baby chicks peeping atop spectacularly soiled newspapers in my 4X6 laundry room, which, as fate would have it, also holds my laundry facilities. My 2 cats and 1 Australian Shepherd keep watch, all, strangely, apparently concerned for the well-being of these chirpers.
Keeping count? That's 53 animals in my 1500 SF house - but we've forgotten the rabbit, which is perched in a cage at the bottom of the stairs and not quite in the dining space or kitchen. 54.
Outside, my lovingly built up and partitioned and peppled up front yard is assaulted daily by, we think, about 30 hens and 1 admittedly very fine and unusually genteel rooster.
Keeping count? That's 85.
Meanwhile, down in the pasture, the baaing is near incessant. We have fat and happy Icelandic sheep wondering when exactly we'll be showing up with the next bucket of grain to lure them to this evening pasture or today's Lazy Man dinner - a few flakes of platinum-priced Timothy hay. Right now, between lambing and harvest, our sheep count 14.
Keeping count? We're butting up awefully close to 100.
So. What does 100 animals or thereabouts look like? It's easy to focus on what it looks like outside - animals about, landscape under attack, the need to build and move fences.
But, that's only half the story.
100 animals looks a lot like livng with total chaotic meltdown up there in the "big house."
Can't do laundry, the house smells like chicks, the entire contents of the laundry room have been emptied into the den (the 10X12 den) and elsewhere. When you live in a small house already, moving a whole room out for a few weeks to accommodate newcomers looks like bedlam. Dog fur roams freely, it's tough to vacuum, let's not even discuss what the dust holds. And we're dumping cloudy chick water into the toilet each night. What passes for normal...not so much.
Still, turning your house inside out can be frustrating to be sure, but it can also be illustrative. Tempers run hot. Fuses are short. It's not just Mom who gets irritable when the house is upside down - although she may be the most honest about the cause. But, here's a weird thing I've learned: chaos, as much as I hate it and always will, has a place. It breaks down normalcy, it pushes limits. It forces the frustration and the grievances that a perfectly tidy house, and life, can sweep so easily under the area rug.
Don't be afraid to get messy. Sometimes chaos is the only way to sanity.
Monday, September 7, 2009
The chicks are almost one and a half weeks old and the pin feathers are popping out. Laundry has taken something of a backseat here at SSF, and we're discovering the joys of wearing clothes a little longer and digging out long-forgotten items to don for the day. Thrilled with their progress, I remain hopeful that we'll be relocating these lovely little ladies to their insulated outdoor abode soon. Very soon.
So far, so good. 50 again? Not sure....
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Every August, sleepy Vashon comes alive with the rumble and roar of hundreds and hundreds of vintage and unusual motorcycles. The Vintage Motorcycle Enthusiast club, or VME, holds their annual ride here, and if you get up early you're in for quite a treat.
This year, finally, I didn't forget. I got up at 7:30, kissed my party-pooper family bye, and headed to the dock to capture the sight of a 300 foot ferry filled to the brim with hogs. The crystal clear morning down at our farm on the south end of the island became mistier and mistier as I drove north, finally socked in completely at the dock.
I wasn't disappointed as I parked my car where it didn't belong and bought a long tall coffee from Wanda. The dock was almost eery with fog and birds and near silence. I couldn't help but shudder at the cool quiet solitude I knew was preceding an imminent deafening storm.
Soon enough, the boat was unveiled between the misty curtains of Puget Sound, and there they were - hundreds of hogs lined up to invade our peaceful rock.
I took photos then, almost getting hit in the process, then headed to town to witness the traditional line-up of these beauties down both sides of our main street. Amazing. Bikes from the 50s, from the 70s, experimental contraptions that almost never see the light of day, sidecars. It's all there.
Estimates preliminarily say over 3000 bikes drove onto Vashon that day. A slam-dunk record by far. I believe it. It was hard to to capture and remains hard to describe...
Estimates preliminarily say over 3000 bikes drove onto Vashon that day. A slam-dunk record by far. I believe it. It was hard to to capture and remains hard to describe...
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Is that a thing of beauty or what???
Just a heads-up for those in the area that our farm will be among 26 others in King County and 6 others on Vashon to be featured on the annual King County Harvest Celebration Tour. This September 26th event spotlights local organic and sustainable farms and gives urbanites a chance to meet area farmers and check out the local foodshed. And it's just this side of Disneyland for young kids.
It's the end of August, so that means one thing for sure: there are baby chicks scurrying around under a heat lamp 'round our place. They arrived yesterday. This year, we've taken the leap to 50. 50 chicks in our mud room in our 1500 SF house. 50 day-old chicks don't take up much space...but wait a week. There's a world of size between 1 day old chicks and 7 day old chicks. Needless to say, we get them out as soon as we can.
Monday, August 24, 2009
It was dark when I emerged from my 2nd viewing of Julie & Julia tonight (too good to wait to share it w/Mark - had to go back with him in tow. Wait, is blogging about Julie & Julia just too ironic?). 9:30 seems a respectable time for darkness, but oh such a world away from just a month ago!
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Living in a small community can sometimes feel suffocating, like when you can't behave badly anywhere - cut someone off at the intersection, act rude at a party, dislike someone's child - without severe and immediate consequences.
Mark and his singing partner Robyn Landis played a wonderful, harmony-filled set of mostly original tunes at last night's local folk festival. What a great event! An afternoon and evening of acoustic music, resting on blankets in an ancient apple orchard, a bottle of Ron's latest white resting on our picnic duffle.
I had an old friend request my favorite Fall quiche recipe on Facebook, but as a total newbie, I managed to write the whole thing and immediately lose it into the internets, so let's give this another try closer to my comfort zone.
Friday, August 21, 2009
August is high harvest time in the Pacific Northwest and we at SSF are no exception. If you're in the area and are partial to the following produce and products, stop on by the stand and indulge in fresh food from the farm!
If you live elsewhere in the upper left corner of the USA, consider this post an appetite-whetting reminder of what could very well lurk around the corner at your local farm or farmers market.
Fresh and available right now at SSF:
Fingerling potatoes - the creamiest, yummiest potatoes on earth. No kidding. The less you do to them, the better they taste.
Assorted sweet tomatoes - from the garden candy Sungolds to sauce toms, we package them in delicious 1 lb units for snacking, slicing, and canning.
Dark, green vibrant Italian parsley - not your grocer's variety! Excellent for chopping fresh now and the best variety for over-winter drying.
Zucchini - of course! And, a boutique but definitely NOT petite variety of squash known as the Blue Hubbard. Huge and ugly, these beauties weigh in at 12-15 lbs or more and are best opened by dropping them! Brilliant orange flesh bakes up beautifully into pies and soups. Butternuts are coming soon...
And, from our hands to yours - fresh baked artisan breads every M-W-F, Mark's famous hummus - a favorite of our neighbors and our most requested item - assorted color truly free range eggs, and extra-virgin Italian olive oil infused with knock-your-socks-off chile or heavenly herbes des provence and then aged. Nirvana with, well, fresh artisan bread. ;-)
Enjoy the season's luscious offerings - here or in your own backyard.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
About a year ago, someone unknown with a bottomless sense of humor subscribed me to Forbes Magazine. The reasons that this is incredibly ironic are many and go way back. But, I must say, that each month the cover, on its direct route to the recycle bin, provides my family with much mirth.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
I have to take a minute to blather on once again about the simple but surreal satisfaction that comes from walking a few steps out the door and selecting items for dinner. It is so basic and yet so powerful, this growing of food to eat and share.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Well, it was touch and go, but we had the amazing Herb hauling Her Majesty up from Oregon.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Behold the newest member of the SSF family, just 48 hours, hopefully, from landing on our little island. A 1953 Spartan Spartanette Imperial.
Saturday, August 1, 2009
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
That's why we live here.
Here in the Puget Sound region, we are admittedly weather wimps. We are truly pathetic when it comes to, well, really any temperature outside the 65' - 75' range. We whine about how much it rains, but the minute it stops, our brows furrow.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
I've just joined the legions of local "subject matter experts" on the Seattle version of Examiner.com as the Tacoma Healthy Food Examiner. I'll be writing 4-5 brief posts each week on food, farming, the Tacoma culinary scene, and delicious ways to use what's fresh at your local farmers market now.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
At the height of summer, when it's really rockin', your local FM feels like a summer picnic where the best foods and all your friends come together and bask in sun and goodness...