Saturday, December 31, 2011

All I want for Christmas…

The holidays came whether we wanted them to or not. In fact, our real present – our first child, a baby girl - wasn’t scheduled to arrive until after New Years, so for us, December was pretty much just a countdown of the last 4 weeks of the past 9 months. We heard a lot of “better enjoy it while you can” and “your whole life is gonna change” during this time, but the reality was, we knew all that and had returned home from our 5 month honeymoon in Mexico and Central America ready to have a child and build a natural and healthy environment to raise her in.


We were in Chiapas in Southern Mexico last February when our good friends Richard and Alix had their son. We returned to San Francisco from Panama just in time for the arrival of Jim and Laura’s first child in April. And since then, we’ve been involved in more conversations about seedy mustard diapers and mastitis than most soon-to-be parents. Still, we felt it would be a good idea to take a newborn care class. After 8 hours in a room with 50 other couples and a labor and delivery nurse, we left with some solid real world tips on how to be the parents we wanted to be.


Back home, in addition to taking advantage of our ability to sleep in and to watch movie after uninterrupted movie on the couch, we also channeled our energies into stocking our freezer with easy meals for the first weeks with a new baby. The turkey carcasses from our Thanksgiving party - one laced with tequila and hot sauce before being fried and one rubbed with salt and rosemary and roasted - were used to make stock; lasagnas were layered with kale from our winter garden and grass fed beef from a local farm and slid into the oven; and Ann and I took turns filling our largest pot with soups that would be doled out into two-serving containers and stacked up in the freezer for quick access.




While a bit preoccupied, we still went through the motions of Christmas, getting a tree from the same country farm where my family has been buying them for years. Of course, in previous years, it took us about an hour to get there; Now, we live two miles away. I warned Ann that once we have our own little family, I might just make us all walk there pulling a wagon and some twine to bring the tree home. In the meantime, I scratched my “homesteady itch” by wrapping all our presents in leftover feed sacks that had been filled with organic swine feed. Note the proudly displayed logo of the nearly 100-year-old local grain mill and feed supplier. Sorry about the fine corn dust on all your presents everyone.



An ornament from a friend we met in town, also pregnant, set the mood for the year.


When my mom recently moved from the house I grew up in, my brothers and I chided her for packing box after box marked “Craft Supplies.” But when I realized that Ann didn’t have a Christmas stocking, I was glad she knew exactly which of those boxes contained reams of multi-colored felt and her trusty glue gun. I drove down to her new house one afternoon and put together a stocking I thought would represent our new lifestyle.


Even the Christmas gifts seemed to have a bit of a theme. Hey at least I didn’t give her a vacuum, and don’t worry, there was also a warm thing and a sparkly thing.


With family in the mountains until New Years and friends occupied with their own holidays, we were left on our own to countdown the days. Fortunately, the chickens decided to keep us company, following Gorilla through a low point under the fence and finding their way into the shade garden and to the deck outside our sliding glass door.





This Barred Rock was one of the second batch of chickens we got from the feed store at about 3 weeks old. By now, she’s far outgrown the older chickens as well as the other Barred Rock. We call her “Mongo.” These days, she’s frequently seen peering in through the sliding glass door into the dining room, and if she happens to find it open, she’ll happily walk right in. It’s strange to be doing dishes in the kitchen and suddenly hear a casual, “bok bok, bok bok” at your feet. If she can’t find her way in, she’s content to hop up on the BBQ for better view of the action inside.


With eggs appearing in the nesting boxes everyday at this point, we decided to really compare these minutes-old farm fresh eggs to their supermarket competition. Okay, we were just trying to stay busy. It was also an excuse to use the antique egg scale Ann got me for Christmas. Though I should be able to deduce the units indicated by the dial with numbers ranging from 18 to 30 – if it was grams, it would go from 50 to 70 or so and if it was ounces, more like 1.5 to 2 -for now, I was content with the scratched markings that said “small,” “medium” and “large.” Our girls are producing squarely in the “medium” range.


The vibrant orange color of the yokes and cohesive whites in the fresh eggs were easy to differentiate.



And in other distractions, we’ve been going out to check on the animals regularly as the weather reports have called for frequent frosts. When I went out one morning, the ice-sheathed grass in the pasture crunching underneath my muck boots, the large Suffolk female sheep approached me, sniffing my hands for the corn, oats and barley mix we let our friends’ kids feed them. I looked her over and searched her eyes for signs of the trauma of being left out in the cold all night. She seemed calm and her fleece, now thickening nicely 6 months after shearing, looked a little wet, but when I reached out to touch her, was warm and dry beneath the surface. For a second, I actually had the thought, “They should make jackets out of this stuff.”

Before I could make an equally oblivious observation about the down-covered chickens, I started to look around for Petunia. Just then, I heard a grunt, and the grass at my feet began to stir. For the past few weeks, Pedro had been cutting back the tall decorative grasses in the sun garden and throwing the spent blades over the fence. Though she had the option of curling up in the sheep shed, Petunia had taken to burrowing deep into the pile of grass, completely covering herself.




The Petunia-shaped hole left when she emerges each morning.


One afternoon I was out in the pasture and witnessed her intricate and systematic process for assembling her shelter. Watch below…

With all this anticipation of the baby and focus on the other animals, I’m starting to think Gorilla might  be a little starved for our attention.