Friday, June 30, 2006

Close, but no milk cow.

Last night we made a run to Oak Harbor in order to check out an 8 year old unregistered Dexter cow, with a month old bull calf. Both for $650.00!

Like many things that sound too good to be true, so it was.

I'm not sure if I spent too much time dealing with horse sales or what, but I expected the cow would be haltered up and ready for a once over when we got there, or at least soon after. This was not the case. In fact "Clarabelle" had been living relatively free of humans for the past two years with a pure bred Dexter bull.

While none of the cows bolted, or headed for the hills, getting close was a good 10 feet away or more at all times. The person showing the cows had very little to do with them normally, so there wasn't any chance he was going to try catching her. If we moved towards them, then they moved away, but we gazed hard from as close as we could.

Clarabelle is a fine looking Dexter cow, alert, glossy black, great lines, and horned, which we kind of prefer. But if catching her to look at would be a sure-deal rodeo, can you imagine catching her and trying to stuff her in a trailer?

The cow for Seven Trees, needs to be a tad tamer owing to our limited time and space. Maybe just a weanling heifer that we can raise up with lots of people time and handling.

Too bad, because we sure wanted it to be Clarabelle! I am certain that she'll find a fine home with someone though. The gent who showed her to us was a character, so even though we didn't get her we still had a nice chat before we left.

In the meantime we crossed Deception Pass
getting there, and it was a fine view of Mount Baker from the bridge.

The traffic zipping by on one side, and the low rail over the drop off gave us both that warning sort of "danger" don't fall tingle at the back of the knees. When you've walked a ways out onto the bridge, there are bronze plaques along the rail, to commemorate people who actually jumped off.

Here's the view out towards the straight. Amazing this vista is just a short hour away!

We returned home to this sunset from the back porch.

So while we didn't get back, having put cash down on that perfect cow... it was still a lovely adventure none-the-less.

Dexter, Guernsey or Jersey, the right cow's out there. We just need to find her!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Brew tasting 101

We've decided to start posting our tasting notes on some of the more interesting beers we sample. We'll rate all of them them from 1 to 5, with 5 being the AMBROSIA end of the scale.

Being that Germany brews some of the finest, and with us leaning towards more natural products; we started with two varieties of Pinkus organic beer, Pinkus Organic M√ľnster Alt and Pinkus Organic Hefe-Weizen.

From this Pinkus website: The Pinkus-Muller brewery traces its origins to the family’s arrival in the Northern Germany town of Munster in 1816. At that time, Johannes Muller and his wife Friederika Cramer started a brewery and a bakery. Since their arrival there have been 150 breweries in Munster. Only Pinkus remains.

The beer is strictly organic, malt, hops, the works. Here they are poured, pre-sampling. Looking lovely aren't they?? They'd only be improved by proper German beer glassware, which we will endeavor to have the next time!

Pinkus Hefe-Weizen, all organic, 5.1% alcohol. Rating: 4
J, found it to have a mild, cidery-lemon flavor with a bread finish. A great hot day beer, light and lovely in color.

Pinkus Munster Alt, all organic, 5.1% alcohol. Rating: 3.5
D's notes are of a malty nose. It's both crisp and quenching. Another mild, but tasty, hot-weather beer that greatly complimented summer sausage and a sharp cheese.

These would also be good for those who prefer a less-hoppy, light beverage.

All in all, well worth the $3.29 a bottle for this organic German brew. Seven Trees says try it!

What's cookin' at Seven Trees?

We are!

It's gotten a tick over 100 in the shade of the back porch since that pic was taken. We tried to get up early to get in more hay before it got hot, but it was about 80 by 9am. The plants are really suffering, but hopefully the emergency drink they got will tide them over til the sun lowers a bit. There is a slight breeze outside, but it's blowing oven-heat around instead of cooling. Supposed to be pretty hot all week.

Check out paddock 2 before scything this morning. There was still a bit of dew on the grass and you can see the shadows of the trees across the road keeping things damp enough to make cutting easier.

Paddock 2, mid-mow. Looks nice! It will need to be turned later today (not til it cools down a lot!) and will probably be ready to bring in by Wednesday. This is 2nd cutting hay, since the paddock was cut with the lawn mower previously. This means there will be more nutrients in it, and since we are cutting it before it gets overgrown, it will take up less storage space.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Goat Watch 2006

Still no babies. Lassie won't actually be overdue for another couple of weeks, but she looks a bit more likely to kid soon. I'm sure she'll get on with it right when no one is around to watch, and surprise us with a healthy little baby or two.

Here they are, working hard on a sunny afternoon.

Meanwhile, we've been getting the rest of the hay in. Raking up the leftovers, cutting the last bits and turning them every day. Another day or two should see the whole field cut & stored. Last night we ran to the Baker Bear store on Mt. Baker Hwy for milk and ice cream. It's an ancient store on what used to be a rural "highway" out to Mt. Baker. It has the usual convenience/camping store kind of stuff and is staffed by friendly people.

I almost forgot! On the way back from the ice cream run, we went a back way. Right when we were rubbernecking at the honey hut (Guilmette's Busy Bees farmstand where we get our brewing honey) we had to hit the brakes to avoid hitting a critter running across the road. Possum? Cat? Sasquatch? Nope. A great big peacock, in full feather! There must be a thing in Whatcom county for releasing them into the wild. We even have a few living in the raspberry farms and woods on our street.

Goodies are starting to trickle in from the garden. So far we've had lots of greens and lettuce, a few carrots, peas and potatoes...

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Lessons learned...

1. Goats are not grazers!
They are browsers. Meaning they will gladly trample over the most lush green pasture to get to half-spent weedy old hay. Or just about anything edible that takes human time & sweat to provide.

2. Bringing in your own hay by hand is nothing like mowing a lawn.

It's hot, sweaty & buggy but it's still fun in a masochistic way. The tools - scythe, rake, pitchfork, neighbors' hay fork and a tarp.

The scythe blade needs peening after 4 hours or so, and honing with a stone or file, after each 5-10 minutes of cutting.

Once the hay is cut, it needs to be fluffed and turned to dry, then stored someplace as dry as you can keep it.

Our hay was a bit past it's prime and had been rained on, but we needed to cut it so the next batch of grass can grow up. We figured the critters will either eat it or sleep on it.

NOTE: Click on any of these picture to make them larger.

3. Miniature horses are not livestock.
They are hothouse pets, with very special needs. Generally speaking, smaller chunkier equines will founder on lush grass or too much grain. This means their digestive system overloads, and for whatever reason it affects their feet most. The hoof wall gets inflamed and separates from the inner foot parts, causing great pain. Sometimes the horse can be saved, and live as a cripple, but mostly they have to be put down. We met some folks around the corner with the most adorable mini mom & baby for sale, but after talkingto them for a while, realized we need to be more prepared before we bring any home. We can't just turn them out to eat down our grass. In fact, the folks we met feed theirs a pelleted food, just like Mark the evil parrot gets. Not a low maintenance pet at all.

4. The animal most suited to turn our pasture into something useful, with the least amount of care, is a cow. Not that there aren't health care issues and training involved, but cows pretty much walk around and eat and make meat, milk and manure. So we're full on the Dexter quest for our milk cow, and researching the best meat cow too. Once we have the paddocks all fenced and in a rotational system, we can bring a pony in to eat where the cow/s have taken the grass down a bit. We'll still do some haying too, just not the whole place at once.

Homebrew Harvest Festival 2006

Any Coopers, friends of Coopers, and all interested folk in the area....We're trying to put together a little homebrew picnic this year, and thinking about Saturday, September 23rd. It's the 1st day of fall, which seems like a good day to enjoy the fruits of our brewing labors together. Email, call or post a comment here if this day works or doesn't. Once we get the details hashed out, we can get to brewing!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Back in Seattle again

Here's a less-than-postcard-pretty view of Seattle, coming in on I-5 from the north. It's what coming home always looked like, from all those camping and hiking trips in the years before we moved up to Whatcom county. It was littlest sister's high school graduation, and a chance to see lots of family in one place. We also took a few detours through places I spent most of my life. South Park, High Point, White Center.

Downtown Seattle and the working part of the city, from the top of the West Seattle bridge. This was my nearly daily view for over 15 years, as I went from home to work and/or play. On clear days, looking south from the bridge, you can see the most stunning view of Mt. Rainier. Over time though, I've noticed the smog getting worse and worse, and views of the mountain are more rare. The bridge itself used to be called the "new bridge" back when it opened in the early 80's. The old bridge was actually two side-by-side drawbridges. One for each direction of traffic. One broke and then the other was hit by a boat, so the new bridge was built. That ended the popular West Seattle excuse for getting home late - the bridge was up. The new one towers over the ground, amazingly high, and scary to stand under and look up at.

My first grown-up house. It's nice to see it's new people taking good care of it. I had a lot of good times here and loved fixing it up as best I could. It was built in 1930, and I was it's 4th owner. Stucco isn't the best siding for Seattle weather, and 21 is a bit young to know how to pick out a sturdy house, but sometimes you just have to go with the flow. The front porch we rebuilt, just like the original one the carpenter ants ate. The metal awnings were put on in the 60's, and make a nice sound when the rain hits them. If you look close at the bottom edges of them, you can see bent in areas. That was from little gangster kids throwing rocks at the house. We used to have band practice in the basement, complete with long-haired musician-types coming & going. For whatever reason, the local hooligans from the housing project down the road decided we were "devil worshippers". It took a lot of perserverance, and some really frightening events, but we stuck it out and came to love even that part of living there. I remember working on my old 67 Impala out front and having nice chats about cars with some of the "gentlemen of the hood" that would walk by on their way to the corner store. And the other neighbors on the street got to be good friends too. When the electrical panel caught fire one winter, we had power while we fixed it thanks to neighbors running power cords from their houses. It's funny how people who don't live in big cities assume we left because we wanted to escape from city life. But I loved the diversity and vibrance of it. Hearing 4 or 5 different languages while in line at the store, or walking home from the bus stop and enjoying the smell of all the ethnic foods being cooked for dinner. Country llife and city life are just different. There is good and bad to both, but they are each wonderful experiences, and I feel blessed in being able to try them both and choose what works best.

Here's the new grad! The cute one in the middle... and an honor student too.

There was a lot of family there, aunts & uncles, siblings, cousins, parents, a grandparent, and many friends. It's an ancient and revered family tradition to cheer and heckle any family member, on stage or in a public situation, as loudly and obnoxiously as possible. I'd like to think we did our duty well Saturday, and inspired other grads' families to heights of rowdiness as well. Nothing says pride like a stand full of Coopers in full voice 8- )

I won't post too many family pics (I also got too busy talking to take many) but I have to share this one of these cute little nieces! And dad, modelling the new must-have fashion accessory for summer.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Women & Brewing - In Scotland

I "borrowed" this article from a website I found while researching more about the history of female brewers (brewsters). It's interesting reading, and I'll link to their site, so hopefully no one will mind - Scottish Beer & Pub Assn.

Leave it to the Ladies! Basic brewing is a surprisingly simple process, and by the 15th century the Scots had caught on big style! Domestic brewing, particularly in farming communities, became so widespread at this time that a license duty of four Scots pence a year was imposed on all persons engaged in brewing.

Ale was churned out in the farms, taverns and houses of almost every village in Scotland. Brewing followed a seasonal programme as without adequate refrigeration techniques, beer could only be made successfully in the colder months between October and March - which followed on nicely from the harvest season!

Woman's work? Though the revival of home brewing in the 1970s seems to have been largely a male affair, brewing in the late middle-ages was women's work. And it would appear that the farming women took quite a liking to it too: the term 'brewster-wife' was soon used to describe fat women.

During this time most brewers - or 'broustaris' as they were known - brewed only enough to suit the needs of their immediate family. But as particular individuals became more adept at this ancient art, so public breweries began to surface. In 1509, a list of brewers in Aberdeen records 152 people, all of whom were women.

In Edinburgh, the beer market was dominated by 300 Alewives. Some have suggested that brewing was simply an extension of baking, so it’s not surprising that so many women were involved. However, the fact that so many records list women, 'free from husband, living or dead’, would suggest that brewing may also have afforded women a degree of independence too.
Some women ran alehouses, both serving customers on the premises and selling drink to 'take out'. And until the 18th century, married women brewers and publicans in Scotland, demonstrated their independence by using their maiden names - a practice that was not accepted in England.

Growing moral prejudice Perhaps because brewing provided women with a lucrative income, it attracted a great deal of moral disapproval and laws were passed in the late 16th Century aiming to prohibit women from working in alehouses. However, there is strong evidence that women continued to work as brewers in Edinburgh right up until the 1790’s.
By then other changes were also afoot. The rise of the mercantile and industrial centres also created a far greater demand than traditional cottage breweries could sustain, and so the great brewing dynasties were born.

It wasn’t until the First World War that women once again found themselves at the forefront of the brewing industry. Holding the fort while the men fought and supplying troops at home and abroad with much needed refreshment.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Make hay while the sun shines...

And if the sun won't shine, make mead!

Here's a lovely harvest of salad greens from our garden. A couple kinds of spinach, maybe 4 kinds of lettuce, and baby beet greens. Behind them is the gallon of honey I just bought. 11.75 pounds of Cascade fireweed honey from Guilmette's Busy Bees, just around the corner from us.

The plan is to make 5 gallons of sweet heather flower & leaf tip mead this weekend. Plants for a Future says this about heather: "A kind of mead was once brewed from the flowers and the young shoots have been used instead of hops to flavour beer."

Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers talks about the psychotropic and stimulating qualities of ancient beers, made with local herbs before hops relaced them. Most brewsters were looking for a bitter herb in hopes that it would preserve the brew longer. Otherwise, lacking refrigeration, most brews went sour rather quickly. Coincidentally or not, many of the common bittering herbs also tended to make people feel energized, and maybe a bit, well...stimulated. Most areas, and even individual households, had their own special recipe for gruit ale. One reason hops almost universally replaced less homogenous concoctions, was that hopped ales had a soporific effect that law enforcement and religious leaders preferred in their subjects. Better drunk and sleepy than drunk and rarin' to go!

When you brew with herbs, the properties of the herbs are not only intensified, but you get the interaction with the honey or malt it's mixed with. So a catnip beer for instance (my next experiment) would probably be very relaxing, as catnip tea has that effect on humans.

As for the hay-making part....well...

We've found if you spend a day in the sun, scything lush tasty grass and other forage plants, then rain is due immediately. Normally if it's just a short bit of rain, followed by lots of sun, you can just go out and turn the cut grass and it will continue to dry fine. But so far we've had strategic intervals of rain and sun that just about guarantee we'll have a mown field of compost instead of hay. Luckily you can get a 2nd and even 3rd cutting depending on grass and weather. So now we have to finish cutting the whole field, rain or shine, and rake off the ruined stuff. Then the grass will regrow, with even more nutrients than the first cutting. The idea is by then the weather will be consistently drier and we can go from scything to barn with no hitches.

This photo courtesy of Hay in Art You can go to their site and search the database for pictures, paintings, advertisements, etc., showing everything to do with hay, from many times and places. The picture here is a couple turning hay (called tedding) in Enumclaw, WA in 1968.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

This we mean it!

We just got done taking down the original cattle panel fence, and putting up a 2x4 wire fence, along the west side of the place. It took a few days, between work schedules and rainy day recess, and we just have the old wooden posts to pull up so we can reuse them somewhere else.

Here's the happy fencing commander -

Here's a view looking north along the fenceline. You also get a nice contrasting view of our rustic, country-type "landscaping", and our neighbor's rather suburban-looking lot.

Going to all that work....the time, the cost of new fencing, the hard labor...must have been for a very monumental result, right?'s just how much all that trouble got us, enclosed land-wise-

Why on earth did we do it??

Well, one year of having a socipathic neighbor did the trick. The gory details are far too graphic for a family-oriented blog like this one, but suffice to say, enough laws have been bent, broken and/or trampled by said neighbor to keep a legal system busy for weeks. Lets just say we've politely and firmly dealt with trespassing, trash dumping in our yard, damage to the fence, spraying plant-killer on our grass, having their dog sicced on our cats, the guy hiding between his hedge and our fence in the dark to stare in the windows, sneaking up the backside of our yard to dump yard waste, motor oil dumped in our yard (right where we told homey we planned to plant food) get the picture. We've tried talking a few times and got tired of the okie-doking. So after checking out our options with local law enforcement, we decided to move the fence to completely enclose our property. We're also camera-happy busy bodies now too, since we were told documenting further crimes is a good step. If need be, we'll have to see a judge about getting an anti-harassment order (AHO), and pretty much start calling the cops on him, instead of giving him another year's worth of chances. We tried telling them if they didn't like us, and couldn't be good neighbors, to just leave us alone. Quite obviously not an option for them.

All in all...UGH!!!

Now, maybe, hopefully, we can start building the new chicken coop.

Also in today's happenings, we were out putzing around in the front yard after dinner when a riderless horse goes galloping down the side road! Turns out the friend of horse-owners down the block was thrown just around the corner on the main road. He got carried off in an ambulance, but we haven't heard the details yet. Makes you realize how fast fun can turn to trouble...

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Baby Bunny!

Can you see the baby bunny??? Maybe you need to click on the picture to see clearly, but we had a baby bunny visit our home paddock last night. She was right in front of our new run-in, and could have fit into my cupped hands. The little bugger hopped in and out of sight around the corner, and through the tall grass nibbling for a few minutes before she moved on.

We were both delighted, despite the fact that she might: A. - not be alone, and B. - might like to eat our hay or that her and her crew might even discover our garden... guess we can cross that bridge if/when we come to it. In the meantime it's wonderful to have such a cute visitor.

And speaking of garden, here's a delicious salad picked fresh moments before, and tasting simply delightful. A balsamic vinaigrette enhanced, but did not overwhelm. Bon apetit!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Baa ram ewe.....and bagpipes!

It's been rainy most of the week, and it's raining now. But yesterday the sun popped out enough to make it hot and muggy for the annual Bellingham Highland Games. After seeing the small and disappointing event put on in Spokane (a city of over 200K should have enough celtic-types for a big turnout), we thought maybe Bellingham with it's sub-100K population might be similar. Imagine our delight and surprise to see acres and acres of kilts, bagpipes, tam o' shanters, and herding dogs spread out all over Hovander Homestead Park .

But as much fun as the Caledonian commotion was ( Wicked Tinkers & Scottish food ) we were most amused by the homestead/farmyard stuff on display at the park. The smell of lovely little piggies sure makes one stop and ponder if home-raised ham is really worth the aroma...The tour of the farmhouse (more like a mansion) was worth the $1 donation. As beautiful and fancy as it was, there was still a giant wood-burning furnace for heat, and a toilet wasn't installed til 1936! But it's fun to look at all the strange gadgets and tools and figure out what they were used for. You can see why people grab on to any labor-saving device when just putting food on the table was such an arduous process. That farm did everything onsite needed to keep a household fed & clothed. From growing hay to feed the critters, all the way to processing those critters into meat or wool or draft animals.

What a luxury for us nowadays to be able to order heritage breeds of chickens from a catalog and have them arrive the next day. Or to cut a little paddock with a scythe, and not worry if the rain ruins the "hay". It's nice to have some leeway to practice our old-timey skills without missing out on dinner or the mortgage payment when something doesn't go as planned....

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Pretty bird!

Here are a couple of the grosbeaks that have recently discovered the feeder. The other birds, nuthatches, goldfinches, pink sparrows (can't remember the proper name, but they are mostly pink), chickadees, etc. all took off when these guys muscled in. Now they all have it sorted out and take turns vacuuming up the sunflower seeds. It's amazing how fast they empty the feeder, but Mark the evil parrot seems to enjoy watching them, as do the kitties.