Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Not Entirely Zen

I don't exactly know what this word means beyond having actually read the definition. So from that perspective then, I do know what it means. But I've never experienced "zen" for myself. If you know me then you won't question the veracity of the statement. I'm just not, well, "zen." However, ahem, I now have a few tricks up my sleeve to divert my attention away from the nagging thoughts that nag me. Particularly when it comes to the house situation. Allowing myself to truly think about the situation is a slippery slope. It can lead to all sorts of nastiness that's not worth mentioning here but typically results in tears and overeating. See? Not zen.

A few things have been working to help divert my attention from these nagging thoughts. The new, scatter-shot approach we've now taken towards the Great Home Financing Search 2010-20? (basically we just complete every bank loan app we can get our hands on without regard to the bank's terms and conditions because hey, at this point, who cares?!) is somehow comforting. To me, this brilliant approach says "Jenna. You are in control of this situation." It's similar to throwing spaghetti on the wall to see if it sticks. If it sticks, it's done. If we get enough apps out there, one of 'em will take. There's logic in there somewhere, I just know it!

But a few images also help calm the nerves and the nagging. First there's this:

Picnic lunch at the land while the animals graze. It works almost every time. But when it fails, then I rely on these new, and fool proof images:

Amidst a pile of baby goats, or the memory of said pile, is the closest to zen I may ever be.


Roll the Windows Down

On Saturday, friends were coming over for a bbq in the evening so I jumped in the car for a quick drive down the road where the gas station stocks some fresh produce along with three-day old Krispy Kreme. It's not the most compelling assortment of offerings, but that place will do if it's after 5pm and the local general store (The Golden Rooster) is closed. So there it was, a steamy summer evening right at the beginning of spring. The sun had pinked up my face badly and sweat from the day had gone through my hat and shirt. It's a pretty picture I'm painting, no? Luckily, no one looks twice if you stroll into the gas station (or The Golden Rooster), hair plastered down with sweat, your face streaked with mud (manure?) and some stray cedar chips, wearing a pair of rubber boots and maybe a leather glove sticking out of your back pocket. People around here work on the weekends, son. So I paid no attention to my appearance and neither did anyone else while I loaded up with the essentials for a last minute bbq dinner.

As I opened the car door to leave, I realized the crickets were already out singing. I climbed up into the seat and rolled the windows all the way down while I pulled on out of the parking lot. I sped back to the land with those windows down, the colors of early spring flying by on all sides, and the heavy air whirling around the car. The radio was on loud but I couldn't really hear it with all the wind, and the crickets, and the green grass smell. And I'll be damned if driving a little too fast with windows down on a country road in springtime isn't one of the best ways to remember what needs reminding. Something about the blaring white noise of all that wind and the empty road; that above all else you're free, and it's so very good.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Third Time's a Charm

Right? Sure hope so. Tonight we start the loan process anew as in "again," or "for the third freaking time," or "howwerewesostupidtobuythisland??"

Please don't wait with bated breath because I promise you won't make it that long. The good news is that I've totally lost all optimism and have readjusted my expectations to zero. The good news also is that the appraisal worked out last time and this only DIDN'T work out because we got a bum lender. If you'd like a more comprehensive breakdown on said lender, I'll tell you over a beer. But you're buying.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Simon - the Somewhat Fearless - Cat

So, there's good news and bad news

What do you want first?

Ok, we'll go with good. Today we picked up and brought home the last tub needed for the house. I got a great deal on a 1918 claw foot complete with hardware, tub surround; the whole she-bang. This feat would not have been possible without Jer and his friend Joe who will be rewarded with feta cheese. That I made in my cheese class. Did I mention my cheese class?

In fact, things were really looking up with the house about a week ago - SO "up" that we finally had the builder come out and stake out the footprint of the house; something we put off until we felt positive things were moving forward.

Of course this clearly caused us to jinx the entire situation, as such things tend to do (remember when I mentioned the lovely weather and then a blizzard struck Texas two days later?).

Which leads to the bad news. Still interested?

On Friday we were forced to have "words" with the lender and tomorrow we find out if this means we have to start from scratch - again - with a new broker or bank, new appraisal. Everything. As much as I would like to indulge my catty side by naming names and giving gory details - I shall refrain to demonstrate the depth of my maturity. And also because Jer won't let me.

So there it is, if you were wondering. The party continues.


I still haven't fully recovered from this weekend. The reality of Sunday night is slowly washing over me. Tomorrow it's back to..well...everything most of us return to on Monday mornings. I'm fighting off those gnawing week-day feelings of stress and anxiety and just trying to focus on the memory of happy goats in pasture, fresh milk (delicious), and the art of cheese-making. There will be some more description later but just more pictures for now. And this time, it's cheese, baby.
Feta curds!! Who knew?

The cheese plant.

The beginning of brie. It's exciting, right?

"Ashing" the cheese. I think anyone else in the class can probably tell you what "ashing" cheese means. It remains a mystery to me since, at about this moment, something excited the goats and 50 of them went trotting past the window. Goats still take precedence over cheese, for me at least.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Goat and Cheese Workshop: Day 1

More pictures than words today. Most of them speak for themselves. The rest will be explained later. But to summarize: Goats, cheese, wine, hill country, heaven.

This is baby # B73
My mother and I are stealing her.

One hour old babies.

You gotta start somewhere.

Shocking display of goat udders and goat bottoms.


More to come..

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Today Rooney was "processed," which is the politically correct way of saying slaughtered. I've been using the term "processed" for several weeks since it took the edge off the entire situation for no one other than myself. It has taken quite some time to make this decision. I've weighed options, considered alternatives, and finally accepted the fact that my perceptions have changed - drastically - in the 2+ years we've had the land and animals. For better or worse, I've changed a lot, too.

The decision to process Rooney represents a distinct line in the sand between the past and the future for me. There was definitely a time (like, oh, the past 30 years) in my life when I viewed slaughtering one's own animal for food as absolutely horrific - deplorable - inexcusable. To me that was only acceptable in an apocalyptic type of scenario in which absolutely no sustenance remains on earth except the family pet. Then and only then would such a thing be justifiable. To say Rooney was a pet, however, is quite a stretch. Was he given a name? Yes. Was he treated with great care? Of course. Was his purpose in our life to serve as a pasture ornament? Never.

So what's it take to go from animal rights activist to small farmer who "processes" her own backyard cattle? Not that much, as it turns out. In fact, I must pose the question, what's the difference between an animal rights activist and a small farmer who "processes" her own backyard cattle? Not that much, as it turns out.

I've never been a vegetarian. Never in my life has it crossed my mind to become one. My entire universe, at least my daily schedule, revolves around food. I love, crave, and live for a good meal (and apparently I'm not embarrassed to admit it). All meals - even those containing meat. It never occurred to me to feel outrage about the meat industry in this country, most likely because I knew how deeply disturbed I would become and how helpless I would feel. Did I really want to go down that road? Aside from choosing not to eat meat, what could I do, and really, what systemic impact would that make?

Just about the time we bought the land the locavore movement exploded, and our community became better connected with a variety of local, humanely raised meat products. Around that time I also began reading those books critical to the movement; The Omnivore's Dilemma, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - to name a few. With these books in hand I tentatively climbed atop my soap box and touted the virtues of local, pastured meats. In fact, now we had our own little spot to raise some food; those with roots and those with feet. Could I practice what I preached?

Not really. It took - it takes - a lot of time to remedy these types of internal disagreements. And beyond all of the issues I dealt with in the process, the underlying struggle had to do with the exertion of power. Choosing to end life feels a little like playing God. But it's exactly in that feeling that I found acceptance with Rooney's life cycle. Hadn't I been "playing God" all along? Every time I bought plastic wrapped meat at the grocery store or ordered a burger for dinner - wasn't I choosing to support the death of something, somewhere? And wasn't that life and that death treated with unbearable disregard? As a person who cares deeply about the welfare of animal lives that I can control, wasn't this the opportunity to support the cause of humane and careful treatment of our food (and, therefore, of animals)?

Maybe the argument isn't linear; it certainly isn't simple. And it's incredibly personal. But the point is that we should all spend more time getting personal about our food and considering the actual, and distinct, impact of our food choices. My acceptance of Rooney's fate is a significant demonstration to myself about how I can support the humane treatment of animals. Every meal created from my backyard represents fewer dollars in the pockets of national meat "manufacturers." For me, that's a powerful statement.

Sunday I said goodbye quietly in the pasture. Thanked him for the meals he would provide our families and friends. Told him I hoped he'd had a very nice life and felt completely confident that he had. I bowed out of the opportunity to actually participate in the event itself but made sure the entire process, from pasture to slaughter, would be incredibly brief to reduce stress as much as possible.

Today I'm filled with lots of small gratitudes. I'm grateful for Jeremy's urging this be done and for my father-in-law who helped enough that I didn't need to be present. I'm grateful this state (one of the few) has enough tiny slaughterhouses to ensure that small-scale farmers can process their animals quickly without long and stressful transport or waiting periods. I'm grateful for the land where food can be raised in good health and with respect. And finally, I'm so grateful to Rooney, for all of the obvious reasons.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Blue Moon Rising

That title's only halfway about the beer I've been drinking this fine spring evening. And before I go on, can we all just stop for a moment and give thanks for so many things: the time changed and the sun stays out past 6 p.m. as God intended, it's warmish-chilly (my favorite temperature), there's full-blown leaves on trees in that early lime shade before turning deep green, and beer.

Lots of stuff is moving in these parts. As always, it's too soon to share, and my superstition keeps me from it anyhow. No point in celebrating until things are signed on dotted lines, but there's reason to be hopeful, nonetheless. Most importantly, there's a goat cheese-making class in the hill country this weekend with my mother and nice people who like goats. I mean come on, does it get better?

Jer confessed his plan to take advantage of my absence this weekend, haul a mobile home to the property and place baby goats in the front of it with ribbons around their necks. His intentions were good; let's just wrap up this housing question once and for all while simultaneously distracting Jenna with goats. Sneaky, sneaky. Of course, he was too honest (and too excited about a possible house build) to go through with the plan.

Maybe by Friday there will be some news. In the meantime there's a weekend of baby goats, great cheese, warmer weather, clear nights, longer days, and great beer. Cheers.

by Galileo

Sunday, March 6, 2011

It's Been Awhile

Boo says, "Hi, hello, how are you, are you uncomfortable with a donkey this close to your face, and do you have an apple, a tortilla chip, or even a piece of paper because I'm starving. Look into my eyes, look into my eyes, you want to give me your tortilla chip. I love you."

Seeing Goats

This weekend Matilda chased me in the pasture. Again. When that heifer comes at you it's horns down, snorting (bellowing), kicking, and head tossing. Her constant heat cycles, access to grass, and the cool, sunny weather are to blame for this weekend's bad behavior. But I keep finding excuses, and at some point enough has got to be enough.

The thing is that I'm real good with animals. In fact, after reading Temple Grandin's book, Animals in Translation, I felt sure I must have a mild case of autism which she says accounts for her inexplicable ability to understand animal behavior. Although I'm not a bona fide animal whisperer, I've rarely had trouble taming ornery creatures. But that damn cow refuses to be tamed; at least to a level that makes me comfortable. And no, if you wondered, I don't take for granted the fact that 90% of the time she allows me to drape myself over her back, scratch her ears, and inspect her udders (to get her used to milking - not because I'm creepy). What concerns me are the intermittent explosive bursts of kicks and screams and head-down-chases through cactus. It's just not how I like to spend a Saturday. Add to this that we just learned the cows have been frequenting the neighbors pasture via a small hole in the fence, and you have a very unhappy cattle wrangler.

Let's be honest, for someone who's always dreamt of life in the country, cows were never part of the love affair. They came to us purely out of a need to get hooves on the ground to begin work towards an ag exemption, and anything smaller would be a free meal for the neighborhood coyotes. Goats have always been the plan and the dream. Now more than ever I can see them ambling in the pasture, standing on piles of logs, and running to the fence to greet me. Unlike cows, goats DO wag their tails and ARE genuinely happy to see you, with or without a bag of sweet feed. Unlike cows, they're not prone to terrorize the donkeys, eat an entire round bale of hay in a week, and chase me into cactus for no apparent reason. Am I done with the cows? Yes please.

In typical fashion, craigslist brought me a lovely vintage stove, nicely refurbished and ready to rock on propane. The price was right and, although I already have a vintage stove for the new house, it requires more costly repair than anticipated. As luck would have it, the stove I found was owned by an old family friend who also, coincidentally, owns Pure Lucky Dairy, where I'll be attending goat cheese-making class in a few weeks. As a person who believes in signs, I told him I'd be over the next day to pick up the stove, which apparently was meant to be mine.

We made the trek yesterday and, from this outsider's perspective, it's evident that my old friend and his wife lead an idyllic life complete with chickens tumbling about the yard and a gorgeous little ringlet-haired son. Their beautiful home is a restored cottage moved from downtown Austin. It's all hill country sunsets, sprawling live oaks, gurgling brooks, and finally, a pasture filled with goats. They were kind enough to offer a farm tour, something coveted by local cheese and goat groupies for whom this farm represents a beacon of light. It's possible to scratch a business from the dirt and make a truly stellar product. Doing what you love - it's possible.

Along the tour we were led to the "nursery" filled with about 20 doelings meant to replenish the current herd. We were ushered inside and immediately covered, literally, by baby goats. Jeremy was absolutely grinning, completely smitten with the baby bleetings and big personalities. At one point five baby goats were sucking on each finger of my left hand. Have you ever experienced this much incredible cuteness in one sitting? I thought my head would explode just from the joy.

Much too soon, it was time to leave. Our ride home was almost entirely silent. You know when an experience occurs that is so unexpected and so perfectly timed that you need silence to break it all down? I'm still silent. It's too soon to articulate what I'm thinking or to begin knowing how to get from here to there; wherever there ends up being. But of one thing I am certain. There will be goats at No Name Farm/Ranch, regardless of what the house looks like, if we sell the parcel, or where we land - there will be goats.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

No News is Good News (??)

That saying holds as much water as "Patience is a virtue;" another gem I've been muttering to myself these days.

Actually, there is some news, slightly hopeful, but too paltry to share. There's been some more drama (shocking, I know.) But lately I attempt to practice tolerance and forgiveness and therefore have chosen not to repeat the events here in this public forum (or actually, I'm just too lazy and tired at the moment).

Let's just say that another week has painfully passed, testing my patience, tolerance, forgiveness, and belief that no news automatically signifies good news. I've been reduced to watching Bridget Jones' Diary, sucking my thumb, rocking back and forth, overeating, pacing, and exhibiting very healthy behaviors in general. To say that I'm handling this nonsense well is an exaggeration. Actually, it'd just be a lie. I did have a heartwarming conversation with the builder today who shared that a recent client went through five appraisals over the course of eight months before securing a loan. Times, oh how they've changed since the days of zero downpayment mortgage packages.

A friend recently asked whether it was time to just set this all aside and "take a break" from the emotionally taxing process. I appreciate and understand those questions. And then I wonder what she would do after spending two years, many dollars, and countless nights dreaming. Maybe she'd just let it go, but then, probably she would never get herself into this in the first place. People who can look at a mess of raw land and visualize a breathing farm, come springing forth from the tangle and trash, we're bound to get ourselves into sticky situations. By virtue of our nature, the desire to turn nothing into something, I guess we're destined to reach too far or imagine too much. I genuinely thanked her for the concern and was simultaneously grateful not to be satisfied with the status quo.

We'll get this sorted out. One way or another.


We've managed to grow a slightly stunning patch of grass after waiting a mere 6 months. Considering the total lack of an irrigation system and puny sprinkles of rain here and there, this represents an enormous victory on our part. It didn't hurt that the animals have been cordoned off from the area entirely. Which, now that I think about it, means that we had to wait 6 whole months and carefully avoid the area altogether in order to grow this measly patch of grass. From that perspective, I'm not confident we're victorious grass farmers after all. In fact, maybe we should keep our day jobs.

Regardless of our debatable grass-growing skillz, the joy this grass brings to the animals is undeniable. This weekend we noticed Seamus pacing back and forth along the fence, blowing tiny drool bubbles, even though we'd just placed a fresh round hay bale into his pasture. Apparently this meant that our measly grass patch had reached a delectable level, and it was time to let them graze for a few afternoons. We opened the gate that separates the grass (i.e.: Marta's yard) from the animals. After a few moments of trickery (luring the cows with an empty feed bucket), Matilda walked gingerly through the gate and immediately realized she'd gained access to the grass bounty. Matilda, I should mention, does not "moo," at least not in the traditional sense. Rather, when she's got something to say she bellows in a horrific, guttural way. It's part roar part bark, and no "moo." Basically, if you've never heard her then it's pretty frightening the first time the horned beast makes this sound. And this is exactly the sound she made at the sight of accessible grass. With a strange "RRrraaawwwr" she took off down the hill and literally (literally) kicked up her heels. I mean, for real. First she kicked out the left leg, then the right and essentially skipped downhill, roaring and tossing her head. I'm positive that my roaring cattle and rolling donkeys are irregular.

It was peaceful watching the animals enjoy the grass on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. It's not that they don't have anything to graze in their own 12 acres but nothing there rivals the carefully cultivated grass patch.

This was also their first close encounter with Marta, and the minis were particularly interested. Mostly I believe they were interested because, for the past several months, they've watched me emerge from the trailer holding all kinds of food. Probably they were hopeful I would feed them.

Which leads me to question exactly when enough is enough when it comes to livestock. No matter how fresh and sweet the bale of hay, how large the pile of sweet feed, or how green the grass - the animals ARE NEVER satisfied. Even as they stood by the trailer door expecting to be hand fed apples, they were surrounded by lush grasses that I'm sure they've dreamt of all winter. But who am I to judge? I just added four new shirts to my already over-stuffed closet after despairing that I had nothing to wear.