Monday, August 23, 2010

To Skallywag or Not to Skallywag...... That Is The Question...

And the answer? SKALLYWAG, my dears......... ALWAYS skallywag!

I found out recently two very interesting facts about myself. The first is that, it turns out, I am considered a dual citizen. A citizen of both Cuba and the United States. Now don't get me wrong, I've always thought it might be cool to be a dual national........ but.... well............ golly man........ Cuba. Wow. ( more about all that in posts to come )

The second thing I've come to discover is that, in certain cities of this country , I am a criminal. Yes..... me. I commit a particular crime on a very regular basis. Who knew! And here is a picture of me in broad daylight in the very act itself:

And another..........

and another......

Yes, the word is out. I'm a D-Diver................ a Binner.........a Skipper .......... a Skallywagging Re-user who quite frequently shops at D-Mart. Call me what you like. I know who I am. What's more... I have been at it for years and have no intention of changing anytime soon. As a matter of fact, in my home we devote an entire season to back stroking in the waste stream of America. We call it Hippie Christmas.... and, aside from the fall garden harvest, it's our favorite time of year! Hippie Christmas is the magical time of year when young college students make a mass exodus from their campuses for the summer and leave behind literal cubic tons of perfectly marvelous, sometimes never-before-opened stuff. One year, we even sang a hippie christmas carol and had a hippie christmas eve feast of foraged food to kick the whole thing off. We have our fun.......... Brazen!

There are countless goodies to be had from your local dumpster. At hippie christmas and other times I've found CDs, books, alarm clocks, original art, jewelry, a personal DVD player, bookshelves, teapots, paper lanterns, cute bedding, office supplies, movies, gift cards, roller skates, coffee tables, kids toys, picture frames, organizers, party supplies, sound systems, skateboards, an antique milk glass lamp, sports gear, costumes, mountains of designer clothes and even pocket change. Yes.... cash. As a matter of fact, there are very few things I have not been able to find on a curb or in a bin. Any item one could find in a store window, is easily found in an alleyway or dumpster a few weeks later. Some of my favorite outfits have come from the trash too. Silk skirts and new shoes still in the box and hand made jewelry. Nice things. It's all.......... CRAZY! There is just so much of it! It is wild to me that all of these wonderfully usable things, these things that people just had to have, these things that people sacrificed dozens, even hundreds of work hours to pay for, these things that took time to find and purchase, clean, upkeep and display, these things that may have burned up precious natural resources or caused countless work hours and possibly even suffering in their manufacture................ that they are all bound for the landfill to sit and rot and off gas for maybe as many as a thousand useless years. Forget about diamonds.......... A LANDFILL IS FOREVER. There are much better alternatives.

(Resource sharing, neighborhood free boxes, regifting parties/ stuff swaps, conscious shopping, simple repairs and choosing to live with what you really need all come to mind as good ideas.)

Here are a few items we intercepted by way of bin and sent back into the local scene:

Everything I'm wearing in this picture came from the trash can where I found this American flag ball, wall sign, TV, mini fridge, space heater, storage boxes and desk lamps.

On the first day of hippie christmas the trash can gave to me .... one Tato Head and a promise of more bin spreeez....
(or so the song goes)

Can I just say now that college students REALLY like their novelty toys! My son, Kai, tries out all the huge sunglasses, hats, wigs and wands he can find in our garage full of dumpster found objects, furnishings and what-nottery. Yes, that huge wooden bed frame was found by an apartment dumpster with an original price tag of $1595 still glued on the back. It was missing one bolt which took us about ten minutes to replace.

More goodies to add to the heap of hippie christmas TVs, bike helmets, and Mardi Gras beads in the garage. We haven't eaten anything from the trash to date, but still felt the need to rescue these helpless little peeps. 

What to do with all this stuff! Car loads of usable goods add up fast.

Last year we decided to keep our favorite things and then have a garage sale to recirculate the rest of the mound back into the local economy. We polished the stuff up and sold most items for $2 or less. Some things we sold for 10cents. We made nearly $1000.

Our yard sales line a good portion of the driveway. We hold regular sales now to keep good stuff flowing through the homes that use it. I thought we'd start to see a slow in our community's waste with the economic downturn. We haven't.

More than just furniture and designer clothing is being wasted at warp speed in our country. We live in a disposable culture. We throw away food, kleenex, soil, water, free time, store bought goods and even people all the time. Things didn't use to be this way. There was a time, not too long ago when resourcefulness was a national value. Not because it was bohemian chic or because there was such a thing as global warming, but because taking care of your current and future needs is what humanity has always done to ensure it's survival. Until recently it was exceedingly impractical to import daily items (and luxury items) from hundreds or thousands of miles away just to bore of them and send them off to be buried in a hole in the ground somewhere " away" from you. We use to belong to a place for a long period of time, maybe even our whole lives and therefor we had a sense of accountability to the place and the people in it. Modern living has changed a great many aspects of our connectivity. We don't see where our trash goes anymore. We don't see who makes our things. We don't even see what our things are made of. We don't see the place where all the ingredients/ materials came from and how it was treated. Disconnects abound.

There are many groups and organizations working to reconnect us with a true sense of our stuff. To reawaken our collective sanity. Groups like A Taste of Freedom, or Food Not Bombs are turning the immense global food waste into meals and awareness. While movements like Voluntary Simplicity and Freeganism are bringing us into closer alignment with our relationship to things, to stuff. Books like Affluenza, Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, Your Money or Your Life, The Paradox of Choice, Food Not Lawns, and Cradle to Cradle and movies like Dive, What Would Jesus Buy and The Story of  Stuff are helping us think about just what the heck kind of auto pilot we have set for ourselves as a nation and as individuals. The very best teacher of course is a good dive itself. I've learned a ton about my community, our times, the industrial machine, commerce and marketing, greed, gluttony, the politics of stuff and my own habits through just rolling up my sleeves, slapping on  a pair of latex gloves and jumping in with a friend or two. Yes, my criminal ways have started to influence others.

Here's my hub, James, pulling arm loads of perfectly good things from the bin. We invited my brother, Seth, along so he could document some of what goes on, on a dive and to get his new place set up with housekeeping. He left that day, with a TV, some plastic organizer drawers, a broom, a Swiffer, and a vacuum cleaner among other things. Our crime ring is expanding. We bring and make friends by the curbside now. More people are doing this than you'd think.

I don't want you to worry about  me by the way. There's nothing a good bit of soap can't clean. And as far as breaking the law is concerned..... well I'm only really a criminal in Long Beach. They have some pretty silly by-laws there. In most states, counties and cities of the US it is perfectly legal to re purpose discarded goods found at the curbside or in alleyways. The real question of legality comes in trespassing laws and in city municipal codes. California versus Greenwood was a Supreme Court ruling that essentially names curbed  trash as  free game. It  has always seemed to me that the real crime is in seeing the huge problem of waste and doing nothing about it. Let's make this perfectly clear..... I choose to do this. I don't have to. You'd choose this too if you'd seen what I have seen.

In permaculture, there is no such thing as waste. Waste is considered food or fuel for something else. This is what nature does. It recycles waste and creates more life with it. Like how nature takes your kitchen scraps and transforms it into rich, life giving compost. Good waste systems are designed this way. For me, dumpster diving is just the first step in learning to function the way nature does. I'm still observing things up close and thinking. I wonder how humans can integrate our needs and wastes into the needs of other life forms? A friend of mine recently pointed out that if we as a culture get our stuff together as it pertains to .....well..... stuff, that my lifestyle, the skallywagging lifestyle is actually UNSUSTAINABLE.  She's right of course and I for one welcome it. And as for swimming around in the deep waste stream of a modern dumpster in the meanwhile..... all I can say to you is........ come on in, the water's great!

Peace, Love and Reclamation,

Aleli Jolicoeur

Monday, August 16, 2010

gone skallywagging...

gone skallywagging for the end of summer.......................... i'll be back soon!

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Bit Of Earth

I can remember my favorite park slide from my younger years as a wide eyed, scrappy girl growing up in New York. It held for me both the promise of free-form, wiggly fingered exhilaration, like that of a bird, swooping and plunging below water to catch a fish... and a generous dose of pure terror, as in, you just may die when you reach the bottom. I loved it! Chances were good that I would lose a layer or two of skin off the back of my legs on the way down the hot metallic monster........ a small price to pay, I thought, for really living. All the life force in me rushed to the very surface of my skin in those few wild moments of descent. Sometimes my ears would flush with blood to the point where, just for the moment, I could hear nothing else but my own pulse beating in my head. I'd leap off the death slide and race to the shrubs nearby to watch the bees tap dance across a flower top, or I'd press my face into the blissful perfumes rising up to swirl all around and through my head. I'd find a broken stick and use it as a shovel to inspect the layers of dirt, grass and life beneath my feet. It seemed all the world was mine.... there was no do-not-cross sign anywhere on the horizon. I could breathe.

Lately I don't see that same wild exploration or dirt covered abandon out on the playground.

Over the years I've watched the average child's world change little by little. At the playgrounds the slides turned to plastic, then shortened. Even the earth below the slide went from wood chips or sand to a weird rubber nugget pool of mildly bouncy smelliness. The plastic structures slowly became bigger, squishier and more bubble like with numbers, letters and other "educational" doohickeys molded into them. There were no more zip lines, no well oiled spinney things and no rope climbing nets....... no pickable flower bed along the edge, no place to make filthy amazing dirt pies and sometimes..... no trees. Kind of sterile. Kind of ....... boring. I'd head indoors too if I were a kid these days. And most modern kids have!

While inside, anyone of us, whether child or adult,  has a multitude of technologies at our disposal. We can plug into our favorite electronic nanny and zone out over a super sized bag of anything. It's safe with a capital S.  It's ... clean. Right? 

Wait........... WHAT HAPPENED?!! Who stole all the mud pies? Since when is safe and clean more important than broadening and alive? What happened to exploring natural curiosity and making layered connections? Are convenience and germaphobia really more precious to us than this?

I have a bunch of totally feasible theories and ideas as to how we all got here. The main thing is .... we are here as a culture.....the whole country....... locked indoors. Trapped in a beautiful suffocating box. Beautiful trappings. Even our food is sometimes trapped in a beautiful box. We already know these things through our own senses, experience and intuition. I won't bother with statistics for the moment. 

Something about all this reminds me of the book, The Secret Garden, where the main character, a pale forgotten orphan named Mary Lennox, is sent to live in the child un-friendly manor of her deformed, widower uncle. Day after day, she is locked inside a beautiful tomb of a bedroom by the housekeeper. Through a series of quiet events she sneaks her way out of doors and discovers an abandoned, secret  garden..... quite forgotten, like herself. While discussing boarding school with her uncle one evening she asks instead to stay at the manor and if she could have " a bit of earth" of her own... to plant things. She is granted the earth, and told she may take it from anywhere so long as it was not wanted and that she should not expect anything to grow from it. As she nurtures and tends to the garden, more than just flowers begin to bloom and open up. Her world, relationships, her heart and mind heals. She states that before she got into the garden even her hair was scrawny. She changes her world.

So many people I know are without a bit of earth to call their own. They long for a connection to the outdoor world.... to bath in the air, the light, music and aromas of the splendid, limitless complex life web. To feel things between fingers and toes and to feel things in their deeper nature. So when my daughter, Eden asked if she could have some seed packets and a place just for herself to plant them in.... I responded with a great big YES! I share with you now just one of the escape doors we've found to sneak out of the manor and back into the garden.

Yes, it's Eden that started it all. Young girls have such wonderful, free spirited ideas!  But before we knew it, everyone wanted to be let out of the great big indoor box and feel the breeze on their face in their very own al fresco sanctuary. So we found some scrap wood by the garage and each child went about painting a sign for themselves so they could claim some land as their own. 

We enjoyed an afternoon of creative expression, kid style, as paint was spread, splattered, and brushed into one of a kind wooden signs. Kai requested paint in every color of the rainbow (above right ) for his sign to reflect all the joy ahead in his garden. I was a bit more hands on with little Julian's sign.... he made the big blue moon and splashy bits, then I gave it a border and worked out the lettering for him.

Before we knew it the signs were complete and ready to install.
"I claim this land in the name of Keoni!"
Keoni gets a few pointers on how to use power tools and he's off and away!

Digging about amongst the birds in the trees with the sun on your back is totally hypnotic. Keoni soaks in the peaceful surroundings as he begins to break ground in his own land.

Keoni's garden is starting to take off! Fig, strawberry, fern and passion fruit all twist and play in the evening light as they climb to meet the sky. I think that an okra plant sprouted there yesterday. The banana tree he planted a couple of weeks ago was entirely too delicious for a rotten little gopher to pass up. Plink! It's gone! From Keoni's corner of the world you can see the mountains in the distance, the front of the house, older brother Kai's space and younger sister Eden's beautiful garden. Above (right) is the sign design Eden finally decided on after a revision or two.

Eden has painted a rather lovely collection of earthen pots and garden rocks and gathered them all nicely in one little corner of her outdoor haven. She's planted a wild profusion of flowers, including this zinnia that just blossomed, pictured above right. She is a big believer in what I call seed magic and plants every seed she can get her hands on..... which is good since all modern soils need a real infusion of seed fertility so nature can start selecting for itself from a generous offering of biodiversity.

Eden loves spending time in the garden! When deciding where to plant her seeds she knew she wanted a spot that was close to the house so she could see it from the breakfast table and on her way to school. So that's where we put it. She's not the only one that visits it often. The chickens flock there most days since it is the location of one of their favorite dust baths. There have been bunnies, squirrels, an opossum, hummingbirds, butterflies, songbirds, lizards, beetles and bees.... and the occasional nibbled leaf.  Eden has said all friendly animals are welcome there and she gladly shares all her, fruits, seeds and leaves with the wildlife. I think she deeply gets what makes a garden beautiful.

Kai edged his plot of land, laid out in the shape of a big Pac-Man, with a few wheel barrows full of medium sized stones he found on our site. For a while he entertained the idea of making a second adjoining garden bed in the shape of a ghost, linked by square stepping stones. 

A fourteen year old can grow some really healthy strawberries ( above left ) if given the chance! Kai's garden has expanded to a second bed ( above right ) complete with a scrap wood tepee he made with Papa J to help train his newly planted raspberries. ( it's not, however, ghost shaped ). Kai is basically growing the world's greatest smoothie garden. Thimble berries, strawberries, stevia, watermelon, raspberries.... all right next to the passion fruit vine arbor.............. smart kid!

Julian aka "Jujubee", the youngest of our bunch, got an early start on his garden, planting a bio diverse array of veggie, fruit, flower and herb seeds over a weeks time with big sister, Eden, by his side.
 Something new and interesting sprouts every day!

It's down the rabbit hole for Julian ....... for Julian's water hose that is, as he discovers a bunny burrow under a big rock in Jujubee Way. Juju has not only done all the planting of his little patch of earth, but he insists on doing the watering. It may be his favorite part of the day.

A three year old's eye view of some of the things he's grown in his own garden (above ). Some of his plantings are now taller than him. " They're getting so BIG ", he says as he digs and waters.

I watch my children in the garden and I think, "this is as it should be". Even when they are " making a mess" I relax because there is value in cleaning it up too.What impressions must all of these interactions leave on their minds? The interactions of seed, soil, sun, air, fungi, birds, rocks, tastes, seasons, shapes, sticks, bugs, colors, rhythms, fragrances, plays of light, textures and their own skin. It differs so greatly from the barrage of television and commercial images people ingest so fully these days. How might a thousand different garden images and sensory experiences inform their desire as opposed to a thousand different commercial images? I wonder...... and I watch.

I am sure of this.........I am sure that we protect what we love. And we cannot love what we do not ( or cannot ) connect with. It's time to let our children, and our own inner child, find the key and get back out into the garden again to scratch, explore, taste, discover and unfold. And maybe, just maybe make a gorgeous, muddy mess while they're at it!

Peace, love and good sweet dirt,


Sunday, August 1, 2010

For the love of cheese! ............ goat cheese

There are a great many things that a modern family can do with their spare time. There are countless television shows to watch til you're sufficiently numb, video games to tackle round by round, all manner of high tech gadgets to mesmerize the senses, or one could drag their clan through the nearest mall and mindlessly shop shop shop til they drop. As for our growing brood, we prefer time spent together in the great outdoors, especially if we have the opportunity to try our hands at a little something new. So when a friend of a friend of ours invited us to visit a small herd of dairy goats at their home in Altadena we found it hard to resist. We have been entertaining thoughts of perhaps raising some dairy goats here at Pomello ( although beekeeping is next on our list )  for the last several months and this was a welcomed opportunity to ask all of our most burning goat rearing questions to someone with a bit of experience..... and of course to play.

(photo courtesy of Gloria Putnam)

This is Pipi the goat. She is one of the eight GORGEOUS Nubian goats at Zane Grey Estates. Pulling up to the driveway I suddenly realized I was not properly prepared for the grandeur of the place. Before heading out of town we were only told about there being a band of goats, that the place was "cool" and to get the full tour. I had no idea that it was a historic mansion whose grounds were now being converted into a fully edible estate with raised veggie beds in the front yard, a series of small vineyards sprinkled throughout the grounds, occasional cheese making classes, and a new brooder of tiny baby chicks. The shear size of the place was hard to fathom, but I was instantly set at ease by the groupings of grapevines in black plastic pots waiting to be planted and the eye high stack of straw bales by the entry door......... because as we all know.......nothing says mellow earthy mansion like straw bales.

Gloria, a statuesque and energetic lady in straw hat and jeans greeted us by the goat yard  under the eucalyptus trees. Gloria and I met by phone weeks before this visit and chatted about raising our own food in the suburbs, various "sustainability" related issues and, of course, about all things goat. Her knowledge and enthusiasm flowed like nectar from a honeysuckle as she encouraged me to dive a bit deeper into this part of the local food world. It was nice to finally put a face to the voice as we stood face to face at the milking stall by the gate. We easily jumped right into more questions and answers, Gloria filling a wheelbarrow with used bedding all the while. And the goats came to flirt.

A goat, as it turns out, is a gentle, highly intelligent, adventurous, friendly and simply gorgeous creature. There are all sorts of reasons people choose to raise goats. There are special breeds one might select for each purpose : dairy,  meat, draft & pack,  and even fiber ( for spinning and weaving ) are among the strengths to consider.  After spending some time with this lovable herd mammal though I can say that their companionship alone is an equally good reason to raise a goat. It is easy to see why they are one of the most popular domestic animals in the world. They are heart crushingly cute, easily as friendly as a puppy and even more beneficial to the urban homestead with their fantastic enriched bedding to be used as the ultimate mulch and fertilizer. However, it would be cruel to raise just one goat since they are herd animals and cannot live a truly healthy, natural existence in isolation. To consider raising a goat is to consider raising at least two goats or more. So many breeds to choose from too: there are Nubians, La Manchas, Alpines, Oberhoslis, Angoras, Boers, Toggenburgs, African Pigmies, Saanens, Cashmere goats and more, but each breed is raised among a herd, each goat needs at least one goat friend to express their innate goatiness. They are the social butterflies of farm animals and hardcore snuggle bugs at that!

Keoni, Kai and Eden settled quickly around their new furry friends as they offered up a bite of local forage. We found out that a good percentage of the worlds goats are milked by children. As a matter of fact, some goats will only let a child milk them. It might have to do with the smallness and gentleness of their little hands.
I could definitely see from our visit that kids and goats do get along swimmingly!

Gloria and Steve, the two individuals tending to the herd at Zane Grey Estates, are unusual in their approach to goat rearing.They are unusual in a most wonderful way. Their eight goats are given the spacious and shaded outdoor playground that would be a generous allotment for twenty five full size goats. These goats have REAL ESTATE! I am all for free range and so a wide smile danced across my face as I watched these does leap, climb, graze and visit each other with plenty of room to do their ruminant thing. Their caretakers are also breeding them much less intensively to give each milking mother a chance to regain her strength, and therefor her life force, between each birth and lactation. The utmost care and consideration has been given this little goat society; from the organic feed and supplement that is offered to the holistic health care measures that they have on hand in the case of any emergency or special need. This is a thoughtful inter species exchange and one I hope to see repeated as more and more homes return to the common sense lifestyle of raising some of their own food.

That brings things right back home. I mentioned earlier that we've been thinking of raising milk goats here at Pomello. I adore goat cheese. I don't use the word ADORE lightly here since cheese is really one of those foods that repeatedly has made it quite impossible for me to ever become vegan. I've tried........ but goat cheese is my lover....... I'm working on it. In the meanwhile, I've done a bit of reading and talked to a few people who have raised or are raising dairy goats themselves. I love the idea of  tending goats here and inviting their gentle dispositions into our growing family of fun pets, the miraculous fertilizer they make naturally, for the opportunity to make cheeses, butters, fresh raw milk, ice creams, goat milk soaps and for the chance to learn something old that feels new.  We certainly have the space to give them what they need and then some. And I'm totally cool with the fact that for ten months of the year it would mean milking some goats every twelve hours ( read twice a day, everyday ). Local food is always worth the effort. Something about this charming animal feels comfortingly familiar, accessible and irresistible. On the other hand, here's the real sticky wicket for me: Milk is not just milk. Raising a goat, sheep or cow for milk also means breeding that female regularly so that she will give birth so that she will give milk. Some breeding methods are more unsavory than others. Once a "kid" is born the baby gets some milk and you, as the herder, take some milk. How much milk to take is left to your individual discretion. Then there is the question of the offspring. The ethics, rather, of what to do with the offspring..... the babies. Girl goat babies, like girl chickens for eggs, are of course welcomed with open arms. Boy goat babies are another matter all together.  A boy goat, or buck, as they are called, is typically used for breeding (where he is then called the "stud buck" ) or for..... (gulp) meat. And to keep a buck near a nursing female goat, or doe, is to taint the flavor of her milk. So removing a buck from surrounding does in milk is usually the course of action. A complicated set of agreements. And all for the love of goat cheese!

I do LOVE cashmere ( I literally sleep in it in the winter months! you can find decent second hand cashmere separates at the Goodwill for under five bucks if you're observant. ). Man, maybe it's just easier to raise a Cashmere or an Angora goat!

This decision of if, how and when to introduce goats into our garden home is ongoing and, given the various philosophies and sensibilities in our home, complex in nature. The more solid information, experience and input we get from our community the better. I've learned as I've ventured back into remembering the old ways, that many things about securing one's own food are not just a given. There is some debate as to whether we humans are omnivores or herbivores.... and even the "ethics" and philosophies of that are intricate. To secure a simple tomato for the herbivore a gopher or locust or mole may have to die..... making that one carnivorous tomato that the oblivious herbivore chomps down without the least bit of conscience. And I've learned one thing with crystal clarity............ death happens in the garden. Death is a part of life. Just ask a mushroom. The plants and the animals eat each other. And the animals , bugs and animals eat each other! The reality that a goat, whose average life span is about 10 to 12 years, will possibly die sooner than "natural" and become someone or something else's meal is quite simply not a popular modern thought. We have fancy, privileged class problems to sort out with our food in this country at this point in human history. I could write a book on this alone. But I'm more curious to find out what you think. Share your thoughts by leaving a comment on this posting and the discussion can continue.

All this said, after our visit with the goats, Steve and Gloria invited us to a cheese making class, had me sample a fig jam and goat cheese morsel that was scrumptious and prepared a delectable package of goodies for us to take home. There were two kinds of goat cheese and a liter bottle of rich, creamy fresh raw goats milk. It was penetratingly white and sooo good that Julian, our three year old, guzzled half the clear glass bottle full all by himself like he had been waiting his whole life for it! That answered our question as to whether or not the kids liked goats milk! The other five of us had to split the remainder of the tasty milk at our picnic at Travel Town in Griffith Park about 10 minutes later. There are all sorts of health advantages to choosing goats milk over cows milk. A quick google search will produce a landslide of info on the subject.
Healthy whole food.... just another mark on the pros list for bringing goats to Pomello.

I never did get the full tour of the mansion by the way, maybe next time. I think I prefer that my impression of the place was that of true wealth anyway. True wealth involves creating and enjoying something of deep value. The value of sustaining one's self by securing your own food source even though you don't " have to " is priceless. These people have the means to purchase all their own high end food ...... import it actually....if they want to. But they choose instead to show value for things that matter. There is something much bigger than money here that is changing things all over the country. It is changing the landscape of our cities, suburbs, and countrysides. Local, organic and ethical are here now. They are happening in many forms. It is the sunrise of the era that I call The Great Remembering. Everyone, from the super wealthy to the super humble participates. Things are getting interesting.

(borrowed photo)

So pictured here is the breed that we have narrowed in on if we ultimately participate in milk making..... the Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Goat. I mean, come on! This is excessive cuteness here! Captivatingly sweet natures, good feed to milk ratio, bright blue eyes, supremely kid friendly and utterly, manageably pint sized. Seriously.... look at them. An adult Nigerian Dwarf at full size is between 16" to 22" tall. Yes, they are under two feet tall. No bigger than a medium sized family dog. But your dog could never do what a goat does ( nor, dare I say, would you want it to! ). They play well with others....... forming bonds and symbiotic relationships with chickens, people and all types of pets. Did I mention the cute factor? Flippin' cute. Period. Not making it any easier with this abundant squooshy cute element.

So we volley back and forth on the topic of goats. We'll take our time, read, watch, ask and listen. And when the time is right we'll put it all together and do what feels right for us. For now, pull up a chair, sit a spell and share your thoughts..... I'd love to know what you think!

Peace, carrots and goat cheese....... maybe,


A warm thank you to Gloria and Steve for this generosity of time, knowledge and food! Next time I'll bring more than just a packet of quinoa seeds as a thank you!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

What Are You.... Chicken?


My mother grew up on a farm, a cattle ranch actually, in Wyoming. I think that's where she learned it. It was there in the modest farmhouse surrounded by cows, vast sky and dancing, endless fields that she must have picked up the skill of how to make one of my most enduring comfort foods.

How does she do it?..... I still wonder. What magic ingredient or secret flick of the wrist kitchen trick does she do that consistently fries the perfect egg? I didn't really even know that a fried egg was a comfort food of mine until I left home, had a few heartbreaks and starting moving in the grown world. That's when we all find out what we are made of I guess. But, no matter what wild adventure I have come out of or what  rite of passage I have, um.... passed since then, there has been this exquisitely simple, deeply satisfying offering of perfect mother nurture gently pressed in front of me on a plate. And if it's not, I ask for it by name. Strange..... I'm not that much of a "comfort food" kind of girl. Yet, there it is. My little secret. Mom's tasty fried egg.

In all the many places I've lived over the last decade and a half,  I've typically grown a good selection of heirloom food crops, culinary herbs and other edibles in my yard. Even when I've only had a tiny patio at my disposal, I have packed it with yummy eats in clay pots or in patches of dirt along the borders. So one would think that by now I would have thought to include the cultivation of that magical orb, the humble egg, in my little garden world. But not so. What was I..... chicken?..... to raise.... well, CHICKEN? What has taken me so stinkin' long to actually bring daily fresh eggs and their fluffy friends along with them into my backyard?

A few years ago I chicken sat for one of my brothers in the Valley over a couple of months while he was away in India learning earth building techniques. It was fun to watch the energized flock of chickens run about in the yard and hunt for grubs and other treasures in the compost pile. They were well fed and beautiful birds. Something about keeping one's own chickens just seemed soo right. To be completely honest though, part of his chicken set up kind of freaked me out. His little flock of Rumpless Araucanas was mostly made up of roosters and they just never let that one poor hen rest. She was popular! It wasn't anything intentional on the part of my brother. He incubated a batch of fertile eggs and he got what he got. BOYS. ... and lots of them. So he was left with the unfortunate issue of what to do with these.... um.... undesirables. The whole raising chickens thing suddenly seemed like a bit of a mixed bag to me. They were entertaining and lovable on the one hand, and sex crazed  bouncers who would have to become tomorrows soup on the other hand. I figured that if and when I ever did get around to raising my own chickens that I would raise them for their ability to naturally fertilize the garden, for their wonderfully useful habit of eating bugs in the veggie plot and for their gorgeous eggs and feathers only. I still had to move a couple more times to a couple different homes before the idea of tending to a flock of my own really entered my mind again.

In this last year, we had done enough reading up on the subject to satisfy our minds that our birds would be well looked after and so it was just time to do it. The kids were excited about the prospect of pets that could feed you once you've fed them and we went about collecting various supplies. It really is surprising how little a chicken needs to get by. So we brought the birds home:

There is NOTHING so soft in all the world as a day old chick! Here we are in the spring.

Our little punk rock chick, "Blondie" got her name due to the green dye that the hatchery dabbed on her head to help differentiate her rare breed ( a Delaware ) from a similar looking bird. This is her, just two days old,  in her first few moments playing in the clover on her first day home.

The black bird under the red light is our Barred Plymouth Rock, named "Tweeds", checking out her temporary digs in the brooder on her first day at our place. And the eye lined beauty stretching her wings in the garden is our Ameraucana, "Cleopatra",  at just one week old.... they grow so fast ( she is the teeny day old chick pictured on the skateboard in the opening pic of this blog entry ).

"Tweeds" and "Scarlet" ( our Rhode Island Red ) curl up in my knit wool scarf on a cool day at just a few days old.

James built and I painted the chicken's coop and run out of mostly salvaged materials. This is the coop when it was under construction. I still marvel at how James just pieced it together without plans. He is amazing to me! Pre-made housing would have been a lot easier but we had a bunch of salvaged wood, wire, bolts and other stuff just begging for a second life. Re-using stuff is always an eco chic first resort around here.

Julian's very own chicken is a sweet natured Buff Orpington named "Peaches". One day, Julian remembered that there was a picture of her breed in a book on our shelves. He scouted it out, found the page and showed "Peaches"........ peaches! " Peaches ... it's you!", he chimed. Juju is convinced his chicken is famous!

Many days, Peaches can be found hanging out on Juju's shoulder or forearm..... kind of like a pirate's parrot. She has even taken a ride in Julian's car seat to pick up the kids after school! But here, they just soak up the sun best buddy style on the patio.

A young scarlet is the first of the flock to figure out that a dust bath in the sun is a very good thing.

Just two weeks old and hunting around under the tree swing on a late spring day for any tasty thing they can find.

Fast forward to today. Here is Scarlet and Cleopatra this afternoon hanging out under the nectarine tree.

Tweeds seeks out some fruit in the branches above only to discover that we already chowed down that particular harvest a couple of weeks ago.

Blondie finds a good vantage point as the sun starts to set against the foothills

Scarlet struts the stone wall looking for a treat to eat amongst the sunflowers and quinoa.

The girls pick up seeds and grain with total precision as they scratch and coo.

"Buttercup", our other Delaware, ventures into Julian's garden ( dubbed Jujubee Way ) in the quest for fat juicy bugs to munch on.

Our girls leap on and off the wall between garden beds as they express their chickeness. Free range is a beautiful thing!

The ladies follow their natural instincts to roost up high as they head back in to the coop for the night while the light shifts to darkness. And I get one last snuggle from the affectionate and curious Tweeds before saying goodnight.

"Nefertiti", our chicken of questionable breed ( we think she may be a Welsummer, but her white earlobes keep throwing us off. she was sold to us as an Ameraucana.....but...... um...... no.... don't think so.), gives the garden a final look before heading in. You can almost hear a happy chicken sigh as she clucks " to scratch, to graze to roll in the dirt........hey that was a great day!"

So seriously why didn't we do this sooner!?!?!!!

We love these wacky birds! They've quickly become a part of our life here. Up to this point they have just been fantastic and affordable pets ( a day old chick literally costs less than a latte!). We are expecting their first eggs in a couple more weeks and everyone is excited at the thought of the daily egg hunt. Local organic, free range lovingly raised eggs... here we come. Now if I could just get Mom to fly in to my kitchen to fry them every morning the experience would be complete!