Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fair Frenzy

My life, well at least those precious spare moments of it, has been consumed by preparing for the county fair.  As I stated earlier, I'm attempting to be crowned the Dominatrix of Domesticity, aka Homemaker of the Year.  It's not faring well, no pun intended.

Friday I noticed one of the rabbits we were delighted to be showing had a rather large bald spot on the back of his neck.  If he sits as normal, its undetectable.  If he bends his head to munch a pinecone, his pretty pink skin calls to you.  I opened my e-mail to send a heads up to the lady in charge of the rabbits...

...Only to discover an e-mail from the lady in charge of the baked goods.  Apparently the recipes were due with the entry form, not with the items themselves as I thought.  Whoops.  Thankfully she was gracious and allowed me to submit them via e-mail, noting that I was a complete newby.  She commented that I was rather brave having never submitted anything before and now going for Homemaker of the Year.

That should have been my first clue that I was out of my league.

Yesterday, I checked in all my items.  42 of them to be exact.  I had spent a couple hours at least making up pretty little tags to put on everything, noting what was homegrown, grown from saved seed, an heirloom recipe, homegrown honey, soap ingredients, etc, a couple times mentioning the four kids in hopes of pity points.  But I also had my name on those tags.  So, yep, every single tag got ripped off.  I never thought I couldn't have my name showing.

So, that aside, I'm still glad to be attempting this.  I never did really expect to win.  It would be nice, obviously, but the challenge is the fun of it.  As crazy as this sounds, I need things like this to keep me sane.  When my life spins out of control and advice is fired at me to ditch the goats, mow the garden and for goodness sake, BUY a loaf of bread, most can't fathom that I need these little projects to set my world right again.  Nothing calms me like repotting plants.  My favorite sleepless night activity is prayer-knitting.  I don't pray well sitting still.  I need brainless motion, like knitting or running.  The chaos seems to settle when I hang I newly sewn garment in the closet.

With that said, here's my list of entries and what I personally think of them.  Mostly for my own record keeping purposes... because I most likely will be doing this again next year.

Baked Goods
1.  100% Whole Grain Bread- not very flashy, but any serious breadmaker will know this is a hard thing to do.  Well, hard IF you don't use freshly milled flour.  So, yes, this is great bread, if I do say so, but the rarity of it may not be fully appreciated. Blue Ribbon!
2. Peanut Butter Candy- Really nothing spectacular here.  I did them in turtle and heart molds so they look like fancy Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.  And that's about it.  Blue Ribbon!
3.  Carrot Cake- I make very yummy carrot cake.  Two special ingredients make it different: coconut oil in the cake part and homemade soft yogurt cheese in place of cream cheese for the icing.  I decorated this one with crushed walnuts using a pumpkin and a leaf cookie cutters as molds.  It lacked sharpness though.  I should have outlined it with dyed icing, but I neglected to submit that as part of the recipe so couldn't do so.  Blue Ribbon!
4. Apple Pie- An American favorite.  Using Mother Earth News' recipe for pie crust (BEST recipe EVER!) and granny smith apples a friend brought me from Georgia, I made an awesome pie!  I braided some dough and wrapped it around the lattice work for a fancy crust.  Some of the juice oozed over the crust so its not perfect looking, but I guarantee those bits will taste better!  BEST IN SHOW!
5. Chocolate Chip Cookies- No originality here.  Not even a unique recipe.  Only thing going for them is classic goodness.  And coconut oil.  Coconut oil makes everything better. Blue Ribbon!

I won't complain but the results of this makes no sense at all.  The easiest items got blue ribbons yet the by far more complicated pattern and accessory only got a white?  They must weigh originality very high over actual skill.
6. Size 7 girl's nightgown and matching Laura Ingalls dust cap.  This came out pretty good.  No complaints as far as my critique can go. White Ribbon
7. Size 5 boy's pajama pants and matching embellished t-shirt.  Using the same fabric as the nightgown, the pants are classic, EASY pajama pants.  Nothing fancy.  But the shirt, though I didn't sew the t-shirt, it's my own unique idea for embellishing.  Not sure a judge will care though.  It has a rabbit (my son's choice) with a 3D floppy ear and fuzzy tail. Blue Ribbon!
8. Size 3 pajama set- It was supposed to be footed pajamas, but the wee lad didn't want "baby pajamas."  So I made those same super easy pants (out of the same fabric) and put a puppy on the shirt (with 3D ear) and made a set of matching slippers too. Blue Ribbon!

Open Agriculture
These results are about what I expected.  Except for the chives.  I thought those deserved better.  But I didn't expect a best in show either!
9. Borage- grown from seed.  Just starting to bloom, but a few leaves show some insect munching.  I'm not going to suddenly use pesticides to spare a bug a snack, especially when the bees love the borage so much.  Points off for that though. White Ribbon
10. Chives- grown from splits off my established patch.  Not very dense yet but still looks good.  Can't really hurt chives. White Ribbon
11. Mallow- grown from 2nd generation seed.  Was a nice sized plant before a rogue goat munched it down.  Trimmed up and just starting to flower.  Red Ribbon.
12. Roselle- also 2nd generation seed.  Also starting to flower.  Not as big as the mallow.  Has a few leaves with some discoloration.  Probably tired of the pot. Red Ribbon.
13.  Bok choy- looks good.  Will be ready to eat in 2 weeks or so. Completely missing from display!
14. Mint- taken from cuttings of my established plant.  Still recuperating from the summer heat.  Not as full and lush as I'd like, but all my mints tend to be a little long and stringy with small leaves right now.  Not very impressive at all though. White Ribbon
15.  Eggs- I only saved the pretty ones so this should do well for me. BEST IN SHOW!

16. Calendula- grown from seed.  Plant is smaller than I had hoped, but there are a few buds that should open this week.  Once again, a little signs of bug snacking. Red Ribbon.
17. Petunia- you know my petunia story.  It looks healthy.  The purple bloom is gone, but two more should open this week.  Long and thin, but healthy. White Ribbon
18. Sunflower- grown from seed. It didn't branch out (mexican torch, multi-bloom variety), but is flowering, tall and thin.  Hurricane Sandy's winds whipped off the older leaves so its on a tall bare stalk.  Not impressive, but healthy.White Ribbon
19. Zinnia- like the sunflower, these are tall and skinny.  I put 3 in one pot and literally braided the stalks together and tied a ribbon around them.  The blooms are dying so honestly, they look pretty sad.  Oh well.White Ribbon

This section has me completely baffled.  First of all, the soap... why would one bar take a blue ribbon and the others essentially get a "thanks for showing up"?  That's a mighty big swing.  I can only figure its that someone happened to like the fancy mold and didn't even consider what went in to making the soap themselves.  Sad about the state of my wreath and a little disappointed that the cupcake hat didn't do better, but it is a small item and they prefer full baby sets to be entered, not just a single hat.
20. Cupcake baby hat- hand knit.  No complaints from me. White Ribbon
21. Lavender soap in a goat milk mold- couldn't say it was cold process and not some cheater glycerin, melt and pour soap.  Hope they can figure that out. Blue Ribbon!
22- African Rain loofa bar (the oval one in the picture)- Home grown loofa with cold process soap poured around it.  Scent isn't as strong as I would have liked. Honorable Mention
23. Laundry soap- again, not sure anyone will know what they're looking at, but its basically homemade Fels Naptha. Honorable Mention
24. Chamomile Shampoo Soap- This is a soft soap on account of it being so conditioning and good for hair.  So it doesn't mold well.  It got some pock marks in it and is easily marred.  No way to explain why its so soft.  Again, I hope its a soap expert judging. Honorable Mention
25. Cabled Christmas Stocking- my first time doing cables.  It was fun.  I think it came out fine. Red Ribbon.
26. Super Dad Cape- all the kids have capes so Dad should too!  I had a rough sketch to go on for a pattern and unfortunately, it's not totally symmetrical. White Ribbon
27. Grapevine Wreath- all from stuff grown right here on our property.  Decorated with dried flowers.  I love the way it came out.  And then as soon as it left my hands someone dealt roughly with it.  Not sure what it will look like by the time judging comes along. No ribbon- and looking significantly more worn than when I submitted it.

Canning and preserving
I can't tell what jars are what from the distance they're at, and I submitted 15 items and can only locate 14, but of those 14 I have FIVE blue ribbons, EIGHT red ribbons, and ONE white ribbon.
28. Apple Butter- nothing notable good or bad. white
29. Apple sauce- has some black flecks from me catching it just as it was about to burn. red
30. Elderberry syrup- from wild elderberries. blue
31. Muscadine marmalade- best tasting jelly I've ever made.  From home grown muscadines. red
32. Spiced muscadine skins- 100 yr old recipe.  Pretty tasty, but I'm not sure anyone will know what to make of them. red
33. Zucchini pickles- heirloom recipe from homegrown zucchini. blue
34. Watermelon Rind Pickles- I'm not a fan, but they look pretty. red
35.  Watermelon rind jam- Yummy stuff. From a homegrown watermelon I picked too early. red
36. Roselle jam- tricky stuff to make on account you use the pectin in the seed pods to thicken it.  Finally made a good batch.  Very yummy.  Not sure anyone will know what roselle is let alone know what it should taste like. blue
37. Spiced honey- from homegrown honey. Oh boy is this good.  But how can you screw up honey? blue
38. Tarragon vinegar- from homegrown tarragon.  It looks pretty.  Don't know the stuff well enough to be a judge. blue 
39.  Rosemary vinegar- from homegrown herbs except garlic.  It tastes good to me, but again, I don't know much. red
40. Ground rabbit jerky- from homegrown rabbit.  Yummy!  Nice easy snack.  The kids love it.  Had to smack hands away to have enough for the fair. red
41. Dried ginger candies- Husbandman's favorite.  And they are good, if you like ginger. blue
42. Dried rosemary- part of it is from homegrown herbs.  But I ran out and had to buy another rosemary plant to fill the jar.  Nice vivid green even though its dry. red

*I also got a special merit award for canning, but no one could tell me what it was for.  One thought it was for some pickles, but the watermelon pickles only got a red and the zucchini pickles weren't tasted so I don't think I'd get an award for something purely based on looks. 

Today we turn in the rabbits.  We're supposed to turn in 3 but the one is molting so badly (but I did confirm that it is MOLTING and not some problem) that I really can't take him in.  The one that's important is also showing some molting signs, but not nearly so severe.  Farm girl has been practicing with this rabbit and it's so calm and forgiving that it's the only one she could manage in the show ring, I'm sure.  They're not exactly little rabbits and my girl, though 6, is a little peanut.  At 4 months old, its all she can lift.  As well as showmanship, she'll also be competing in the costume contest.  A medieval princess and Sir Hops-a-lot.  The rabbit (though a doe... she'll be a cross-dresser) has a knight costume and the girl has a medieval dress, both homemade.  I did a good trim and file job on the rabbit's claws because the dress is made from flimsy cheap material and can't take much.

I'll update with results as I know them.  Now that the preparation is done, let the fun begin!

The young 4-month old silver fox got a blue ribbon.  Our big, beautiful breeding buck got a red.  I can only figure that they discounted a lot for his fur lacking a lot of silvering and being bleached out by the sun in some spots.  Then the showmanship event was complete chaos.  Suffice to say we ended up sitting around the show ring for SEVEN hours... with pre-school aged three boys.  Very poorly planned and poorly run event.  No one knew what was going on.  Then when the girl was finally able to show her stuff, the rabbit was done.  She bit her twice and was very difficult to control.  The girl did well though.  I'm proud of her.  Now my complaints on the judges: they asked her ridiculous questions like "How many feet does a rabbit have?"  Of course she answered well.  But no questions so that she could really show what she knew- like things about eye infections, ear mites, abscesses, fur condition, conformation for meat production.  Then they ask if she can FLIP the rabbit!  NO!  A little six year old girl CANNOT flip an 8-pound rabbit!  Her trying, worst case scenario, can break the rabbit's back!  She did her best, did not flip, the rabbit was able to get away, but she brought her back and regained control.  This may be our last year with rabbits.  If they can do better than this, we'll go to showing goats and chickens.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

My Petunia Miracle

Its been a rough few weeks.  I'm unable to give details, but suffice to say parenting isn't for sissies.  I've been short on patience, shorter on grace and often ready with a double-barreled, fully-loaded tongue ready to fire my furious frustrations out at anyone who happens to step in my path.

And all I could think is that I just can't go on like this.  I can't.  I can't do it.  I can't parent this child.  I don't have a clue what to do and everything I do appears to be the wrong thing.  I'm tired.  I'm burned out and I'm ready to just give up.

Now change gears with me.

I'm in the running for an award at the county fair called "Homemaker of the Year."  There are 5 different categories that I must enter something in and points are awarded for each item, depending on their quality.  The contestant with the most points wins.  So, true to my competitive nature, I decide to max out every single category so I have as many opportunities for point accumulation as possible.  Four ornamental plants are permitted for entry so on my entry form (which was due at the end of August, but I submitted in July to be sure my place was secure) I listed petunias.  You must have a plant for 5 months or propagate it yourself to be eligible.  No worries.  I can have petunias from seed by October, right?

I submit my form and THEN check my seed stash.  I know, cart before the horse... story of my life.  I had NO petunia seeds.  So I look in every local seed source for petunias.  Nothing.

I didn't spend much time fretting over it.  I didn't have time.  It was now or nothing and the "nothing" was apparently chosen for me.  Oh well.  That's a few points I'll miss out on.  I don't exactly expect to win anyway.

This morning was a pretty bad morning.  Literally, it was pretty crappy if I may be so crass.  My husband was taking one for the team and allowing me time outside to myself while he wrangled the young-uns.  I began setting aside plants that I'd chosen for the fair: repotting, pruning, selecting, fertilizing, etc.  A few weeks ago I noticed a rogue plant growing among some lettuce.  I didn't pull it out because it didn't look like one of my common weeds.  And the kids help me plant seeds so to have a bok choy among the dill or a calendula among the mustard greens is really no rare thing.  I just let this plant grow and figured soon enough it would show its true colors.

Never did I expect those colors to be those of a deep purple petunia.

So this morning, when I was taking my frustrations out on my weeds, tears streaming down my face, I find this petunia.

Now, travel through time with me.  The last time I planted petunias would have been a year ago.  I recycle the dirt in my seed boxes, but it always gets mixed up, added to, turned around, shuffled here and there.  This dirt must have grown 15-20 different types of seedlings by now and has remained continuously warm and moist.  Petunias don't survive our summers.  Petunia seed should definitely not. Yet, NOW, 10 days before I submit all my entries, I have a blooming petunia.

And then my God, my precious, sweet, always loving, always understanding Father spoke so clearly.

What you thought you didn't have and couldn't find I have always provided for you. Trust me.

If I will look through the weeds, I'll find the seed of patience.  If I'll hold fast, I'll find ever-blooming love.  He doesn't wipe away the problems, He doesn't say it's going to be easy.  He says, "We do hard things.  Its who we are.  But you can do it.  I'm with you.  Now come on.  Let's go love a child."

A year ago, He knew I was going to need a petunia.  And not for the fair.  Right now I don't give two cents for the fair.  If I did, I'd be sewing, not recording this precious memory.  But if it weren't for the fair, I never would have paid much attention to my lack of petunias and the miracle this one is.  He knew, a year ago, that I'd need to know right now that He had traveled this road ahead of me.

And what a beautiful way to communicate it to me.  I do believe the petunia has become my favorite flower. The question is will I ever be able to look at one without crying?

I wonder what seeds He's storing for me this year.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The End of an Era- Redneck Style

We had a time of sentimentality this weekend.  Time passes and it almost is like bidding a dear friend goodbye forever.

When we first moved to this house and started raising food on our single acre, we had no children but the one in my womb.  We also didn't have 2 nickles to rub together.  Money was so tight that if it wasn't redneck and hillbilly, it just wasn't.  

We got goats when I was pregnant with #2.  We put grain in a barrel in the porch (where the chicken grain was stored) and square bales of hay sat on pallets in the garage.  One, maybe 2 bales of hay was all that could be stored at a time or else Husbandman's car (who's was the only one short enough to fit at all in front of the hay) was left outside until the goats worked their way through the hay.

This all changed when we acquired a new shed.  We bought the property with two metal sheds, or shall I say two rust sheds.  One is inside the pasture and cumbersome to get to.  The other stores lawnmowers, the rototiller and other items.  So this new acquisition could be considered our barn.  First of all, its a much higher quality shed and thus has a floor and no rusty holes for mice and rats and snakes to use as private entrances.  Secondly, its spacious.  We had decided to purchase a shed and , for frugality sake, measured how small it could be and still hold all the things we wanted to store in it.  Then friends who were moving sold us their shed, which happened to be double the space for less than we had anticipated spending for the bare minimum.  So the next trip to the feed store was a big trip, with the trailer, buying 6-8 weeks worth of feed.  Previously we hauled out to the feed store every 7 to 10 days.  Its a 25 minute drive one way and I couldn't go and have room for a bale of hay with all 4 kids.  Husbandman couldn't go after work and still bring home the one child who attends preschool as he usually does.  So doing fewer trips with a trailer and storing large quantities is a very welcomed change.

But that meant disassembling the pallet rack we made for the hay.  And sweeping all the hay, for the last time, out of the garage.  And rearranging that whole area to hold bikes and kid toys.  And it was incredibly nostalgic, though you may call me nuts.

I don't think it would have affected me so much if it had only been the final removal of all things livestock from the garage.  But we also made the decision to abandon our small garden.  This was the very first garden we put it.  We had 2 very young children, the youngest just 3 months old.  We were reading a Mother Earth News to each other one May morning and came across an article about laying newspaper down right on top of grass and weeds, compost on top of that and planting straight into the compost.  We had a pile of left over pennysavers from our paper route and we had friends with horses who had offered us all the compost we wanted.  We started that very day.  I still remember the little guy sleeping in his baby bucket in the shade of a tree and our daughter using her shovel to spread compost and handing me papers to lay on the grass.

And since, like I said, we had no room in the budget for actual fencing, but had rabbits and turtles and lots of other creatures who would love to eat this garden, we had to find a fence.  So pallets again.  My husband came home with load after load of pallets from a company next door to his office.  Slowly the pallet fence grew until it stretched the entire perimeter.  But that wasn't the end of the pallets.  They kept coming and soon I had tables for planting seeds.  You see, if I plant seeds directly in the garden, ants and squirrels make off with them.  So I put them in pots which cannot be left on the ground or they suffer the same fate as well as getting poked and dumped by little hands.  My seedlings had to be elevated to have any hope of survival. So beside that garden were my stacks of pallets that acted as seed tables.  And things grew and we ate.  And we wanted more space so the very next year we did the same thing to an area more than double the size.  I kept both going and life was good.

Then this summer happened.  Appointments and busy-ness and a rogue goat wiped out that garden.  Nothing was growing in it but roselle and weeds.  The weeds were so thick I couldn't see the scrap tile pieces I used as my walkways.  I finally decided I needed to mow it.  By this time the pallet fence had fallen down and we had enough money to buy 2' fencing and enough step-in posts to keep the critters out.  So I took down the wire fencing, which was more like pulling it out with how entangled it was with weeds, and went at it with a lawnmower.  I then covered the entire thing with plastic, still planning to use this as a garden in the fall.

And about a year ago my seed tables were replaced by nice stainless steel tables a friend bought from a restaurant going out of business.  She had her husband were going to be slaughtering a few chickens at our house and were less than impressed by our set-up... which was an overturned Rubbermaid tote with a plastic bag taped to it... found these tables and bought them for permanent storage here.  I put my seed pots on them and when we slaughter something, the seed pots get set on the ground, the surface gets scrubbed and we have a beautiful processing area.  Those tables were kept in front of the little garden, right along the drive way.  And had a tendency to get just as weedy as the garden.

It got to be that when I'd drive up to the house and look at it objectively, as I sometimes do to see the biggest eye-sores, these tables with the weeds and the pots and buckets and, well, junk, they really were quite a pimple on the face of our property.  So we moved these tables to alongside the new shed which helped it blend in a little better too.

But this weekend, while looking at the little garden, and thinking about building raised beds around the perimeter as a weed-proof wall, and the 2 pecan trees, 1 citrus tree, 2 pomegranate trees a host of persimmon trees and a loquat tree we'd like to find places for, I simply pulled up the plastic, dug out the tiles and decided to let it go.  The established grapevines are here as well as the roselle which I'm not sure will be a perennial or what so its not like the land is carved from the face of the earth and left as an empty pit.  I'll decide what trees will occupy this site and how, along with pineapples, strawberries and that thorny dragon fruit,but it will no longer hold garden beds.

Don't get me wrong, I'm sure the neighbors will still have opportunities to groan and our necks will be as red as ever, but for us, for now, it feels like things have really changed.  Having extra income to buy supplies to be able to do something properly has made a huge difference.  I like the difference, don't get me wrong, but the memories are sweet.  So very sweet.  My life is so rich I could live it over and over and over and never grow tired of it.  Rich or poor, enough or in want, we have always had such precious memories.  May this be the case forever.