Saturday, November 26, 2011

Gimme A Little Skin...

Body art, body modifications, piercing, tattoos, scarification, cutting... What images come to mind when you read or hear those words? Most people I find tend to fall into two camps; those that view the aforementioned words as a means to show their souls on their skins, and those that either don't understand that desire or find it uninteresting or abhorrent. Myself? I most definitely fall into the former camp. I have been decorating my body since I was young and wanting to express myself in a way that I was at a loss to do with words.

Some people wonder how it all begins. I think that motivations vary widely. For some, there is an inherent frustration in being able to express strong emotions verbally. Others may find it a comfort (or a very powerful addiction) to modify their flesh in a variety of ways. There are other reasons, but I'm not going to point them out here as this is not the point of what I am writing about today. It has always interested me how our American society views "acceptable" versus "non-acceptable/weird" changes to our bodies and how these views have evolved over the last 30 years or so. Coloring your hair in "appropriate" shades is OK, but bright hues are strange. A single set of pierced ears was fine for women, but with each additional hole in the earlobe a cultural line was crossed in the sand. Too many, and you approach freakish standards. For men the earlobes with jewelry determined whether he was gay or straight. Tattoos were unusual especially on women, and I had my first at age 18.

When I was a teenager, nose piercings and brightly colored (blue, orange, etc.) hair was generally seen as odd or freaky. Go figure, I had both. I remember vividly walking down the street as a young punk (it was the mid 1980's) toward a mom with her young child. As they grew closer, the mom gave me a shocked look, then pulled her child abruptly close to her and well out of my path. To my own young anti-establishment self, I was both proud and sad of that moment.

It makes me happy to see the greater acceptance of altered bodies today. While I don't care for some of those modifications for my own body, I can certainly understand the desire to stand out in a crowd or to wear my beliefs on my skin. Why does all this come up? Last night I dreamed about tattoos. It was a rather frustrating experience actually, since I kept waiting and waiting for the person to show up. Then they kept putting the wrong artwork on my skin, and I wasn't able to voice to them that I really didn't want these designs on my hands, I wanted something different. I never did get the art done that I wanted, but I am not sure if my dream-self ever would have.

My waking self, on the other hand, I hope will eventually have the artwork on my skin that I want. I have been thinking of tattoo designs for many years, and I have finally come up with a few that I want sooner than later. Two of them I need to refine the drawing to fit me a little better. The others will have to wait until I can find the time (and eventual money) to accomplish them. Maybe I will even splurge on a tattoo machine for myself and eventually make some trades...

So, what are your views on body modifications, and how did you come to them?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Taking A Walk

Late this afternoon as the kids were winding up to be loud and rowdy, we decided to take them out of the house for a walk. Rather than walking down to the river, like we often would, we drove out to the hills. One hill in particular. It isn't the most outstanding feature around, but it is a nice, steep hill that folks like to drive up and down in their four-wheelers and ATVs. From the looks of the trails, a few even make it.

At the base of the hill, its steepness is deceptive. What looks like the crest of the hill is actually about the halfway point, leaving you breathless and wondering why you chose *this* particular challenge to undertake. This afternoon, it was chilly and the breeze had picked up to a blustery wind. If there were trees around, their leaves would have swirled around us as their trunks broke the chill. Yet this land is truly desolate, with the only vegetation the scrubby ankle-high grasses that found a hollow to grow out of between rocks.

The climb was at a good 40 degree angle, which sent my breath flying as I am quite out of shape. My stamina was apparently still lounging on the couch eating chocolate, damn it. We held the kids hands to help them along, and to keep chilly little fingers a bit warmer. Even with the lure of ice cream for the ones that reached the top, we made it to just under the halfway point. It was too cold and windy for all of us, so we turned around vowing to conquer it another (warmer) day.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Chasing Sparrows

Tonight has been a bit of a downer for me. It is probably part of the whole depression I have been feeling about our living situation. Rather than focus on the negative and the feelings of frustration and sadness I have been experiencing tonight, I thought I would tell you about our rooster instead. It will be worth it, I promise.

If you have been reading along, you will remember that this spring we picked up a whole flock of baby roosters. We originally intended to keep 5 of them; two Americauna and two Barred Rocks for breeding to our hens. Five was a lofty number, and we knew we would eventually narrow it down to hopefully the best rooster or two. The remainder we planned to butcher once they got to a decent size or started crowing, whichever came first. As they grew from adorable little fuzzballs into feathered ruffians we watched for signs of impending maturity. At some point we realized that we had WAY too many birds, and some of the roosters were just going to have to go. We ended giving away about half of our "free" roosters before we figured out the butchering aspect ourselves. It was a bit of a disappointment, but I still think it was the best decision at the time.

Then the fateful day finally arrived. Late one afternoon, a faint and squawky "cock-a-doodle-do." Oh crap. Apparently one of the Barred Rock boys felt he was getting to be a big boy. Then another one. And another. At first, I was holding out hope that there was one creative rooster feeling his oats, but no. We suddenly had THREE of them trying out their voices! After a few weeks of hearing their chorus turn from adolescent to full-throated rooster, we ended up permanently silencing the majority of the roosters. As it turned out, two of the "pullets" (young hens) we bought in the spring ended up being roosters as well. Ah well! It sometimes happens that way since sexing a day-old chicken is an art in and of itself. After a few months of watching the boys interacting with our hens (and the turkeys, they share the space), we ended up with a final three roosters. All Americaunas.

We didn't intend to end up with these specific guys, it just sort of happened that way. One would escape my husbands eye when he would go to catch several of the boys on a butchering day. Another would hide with the hens (chicken!!). The third kept flying into the goat pen and hiding out there - he seemed to prefer their company to the other birds. Yet the remaining three were awfully pretty, so we were more hesitant to let them go. We actually intended to butcher two of them during one of our butchering days, as one was a bully and somewhat aggressive. No way am I going to have a 8 pound bird be aggressive towards my family!! Plus, he was starting to beat up on the hens. He HAD to go. His buddy had to go too, since we decided that three roosters was easily three too many. I think it was the noise that was really getting to us at the time. We are staying on half an acre or so, and we worried the neighbors were getting cranky with the early morning wake-up calls. The bully had an especially loud an resounding call that annoyed.

Somewhere along the way, after the final three escaped the axe(sounds like your typical reality show, doesn't it?), we decided to find new homes for at least two of them. I tried selling them. I tried giving them away for free. I swear, I had 15 different people ask about them, and even drive out here to pick them up only to get lost or blow me off entirely. I was getting massively frustrated, and Greg was threatening to butcher two of them if they didn't have a new home soon. The bully chicken, while beautiful, was getting to be too aggressive. How do you get the point across to a bird that they are NOT the boss? We happened upon an unusual solution. When all our birds are young, and at least once a year thereafter, we trim their flight feathers. It doesn't hurt them, and it keeps the birds from flying too far off the ground. This can be a huge concern, as we lost a turkey to a neighbor dog earlier this year when it flew into a neighbors yard. I don't want to lose any more of our birds because they flew into a yard that wasn't safe. So, we trimmed a few of his long tail feathers (he was a little unhappy, but not hurt), and then several of his cape feathers (he was *really, really* cranky about those!!), and then tossed him in with the goats' rooster. What better way to demote a rooster than to remove the feathers that marked him as a male?! Chicken psychology as it were. Since the bully had been picking on the smaller rooster who liked the goat pen better, we simply left him to live with the goats so he wouldn't be beat up so much. We thought the change of pace and seclusion from the hens might be helpful for the bullys attitude. Plus, he (the bully) would be easier to catch without all the other hens and turkeys around.

Apparently our little goat-loving rooster became more territorial about the goat pen; As soon as the bully rooster landed in the goat pen(sans his male-determined plumage), the picked-upon rooster chased him around and pecked at the bully until there was submission. I don't think it was the path the bully rooster would have preferred, but it did calm his behavior down somewhat. Chicken politics, fascinating to watch! The day after the bully was moved to the goat pen, I was finally able to adopt out the two roosters. Since the guy living with the goats was generally peaceable, quiet, and liked hanging out with the caprines, we decided he could stay with them and help keep their pen bug-free. The remaining two boys went to their new home, which was a comedy of errors in and of itself. I hope that poor woman didn't have two cranky roosters flying in her little car when they drove to another state. It was obvious she had never held a live chicken before! So we were finally down to one rooster, who prefers to live with the goats.

It is a funny arrangement he seems to have. He talks to the hens, and a few of them hang out by the communal fence to show off for him. He runs around the yard when the goats are out during the day, and hops over the fence at night to sleep in his pen with his dairy goats. He *could* easily fly into the pen with the hens, but he hasn't yet. I fully expect to discover him in there one morning. And he is apparently rather territorial about his pen. When we were milking this morning, I saw him running around after some little sparrows. A small flock of them was hopping around the goats pen looking for leftovers, and apparently the rooster wanted to protect what was his! It was hilarious watching him running and chasing the tiny birds, from one end to the other, as they swooped in to capture what they could. It looked like they split into two smaller flocks, and our poor ruffled rooster was left chasing one and then the other out of his pen. I guess he has finally found his home.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Another Quickie

Tonight, I am only up for another quickie. Why? It is late, and I have been going non-stop I am pooped. Seriously. Yet I come on here, knowing that my heart-of-hearts will guilt my creative spirit to no end if I don't post tonight. So here I am, and here you are. Forgive me for sounding a little list-y tonight, I am foggy brained and just want to sit and vegetate in front of a book while my creative juices simmer in the back.

Today started off with a bang and continuation of yesterday's festivities. Just before dark we picked out a pleasant looking fellow from the backyard coop and butchered ourselves a Thanksgiving turkey. He was a black slate (really a genetic mutation of the blue slates I believe), and a nice sized bird. We had just enough time to pluck and remove the inner bits before we were too chilly to continue as our solar heater was setting. We do all our processing outside to keep the house a bit cleaner, so we are a little more subject to the whims of Ms. Nature. Since the sun was already looking quite rosy and dim, we decided to continue the preparations after breakfast. Our friend had a good nights rest in a cooler filled with ice while we snuggled warm and cozy under the covers inside.

This morning we continued the preparations with choosing a second turkey from the pen (the smaller of the two slate toms we had remaining). We gave him our thanks for feeding our family, and spent some time plucking and butchering him. Jacob came out to help while Claire was inside pretending to be a moth flitting about with giant orange silk wings. When our second bird was all ready, he went to the ice bath with his fellow bird to rest. In the intervening time, we made pies, cranberry sauce, baked sweet potatoes, and prepped for the grande finale tomorrow. After the weigh-in today (17lbs even once fully dressed out!) we carted our first bird over to the neighbors house. We had offered them a holiday bird to be neighborly a few months ago, also figuring that it would help cut down on our feed bill just a little bit. These big turkeys can eat a huge amount in a day!

The bird we dispatched for ourselves was probably in the range of 21lbs, which is pretty darn good for a heritage breed! I certainly wouldn't buy a larger one at the store. He has a nice amount of fat, and his thighs are HUGE, so I am looking forward to seeing how he tastes tomorrow. It was only just a little while ago we popped our bird in the oven, for a night of slow roasting. Rather than try to cook him in one blaze of glory, I thought we would see what a cooler (275 degree) longer time in the oven would do to our heritage bird. I am sure he will be moist and tasty under his tin foil hat.

Anyways, I am tired and I know I haven't been super entertaining tonight so I will sign off. For those who celebrate the holiday tomorrow, have a fabulous Thanksgiving. For those who do not, I hope you have a wonderful Thursday in peace.

G'Night all!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Nothing Tonight

Last night I was a big fat loser and totally forgot to post. Oops. Oh well, I will try to make up for it soon.

What Are You Cooking?

Every year, I wonder if we should have something different to eat for Thanksgiving. It is such an American holiday, and I feel a particular pull to at least do some of the "traditional" fixings. In years past, I have had a variety of "non-traditional" meals. Duck breast, ham, beef, maybe even enchiladas, not counting my years after High School being poor and without family at all, where I ate whatever was around unless invited to a family meal by friends or co-workers. Then there were the many years of holidays spent on the Florida coast where we gorged ourselves on fresh shrimp and crab for the holiday. I always felt like such a rebel, consuming seafood when everyone else was downing turkey or ham. It was always strange, though, when my mother insisted on her rutabaga being included. As an homage to her own family traditions, she picked one up faithfully every November and December and cooked it. Even with shrimp. Truly an odd arrangement.

I used to plan alternate family dinners for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I talked about Indian, Mexican, and more. I championed sweet potato pie, black eyed peas, even my mothers' beloved rutabaga. Yet I kept coming back to the basics. I love the flavor of a good turkey, especially slathered with an amazing gravy made from its own juices. The rich saltiness of the gravy goes so well with the meaty texture and flavor of the turkey. Especially with a kick of spicy-tart cranberry sauce on the side. None of that horrid canned stuff for us. No, I get fresh (as much as I am able) berries and cook them with a cinnamon stick, some cloves, and orange or pineapple juice as a sweetener to counter the sheer tartness of the cranberries. Let it simmer for a while for the flavors to marry and it is the ultimate partner in my turkey-gravy-berry trio.

I then look toward the sweet potato for my next hit. And Yes, I think food can be a drug, and I am totally addicted to the exquisite flavors of a fantastic meal! This isn't the sweet potato casserole with marshmallows floating on top like some fruity tropical drink stuffed with 16 umbrellas, sprigs of mint, celery, and seven fancy swizzle sticks that I make. I prefer the simple baked sweet potato with pastured butter on top, and a pinch of salt. Sweet potatoes and yams are already naturally sweet, so why add the cloying stickiness of commercial marshmallows to them? I can't think of too many other foods that are more revolting. I would personally rather eat fried crickets than the sweet potato/marshmallow sludge. I like the contrast of the earthy sweetness of the potato to the salt and creamy butter. It makes me feel grounded and whole.

Speaking of feeling grounded, I think pumpkin pie (homemade, of course) deserves a spot at the table. I have tried pecan pie, even a chocolate version which was amazing, yet it wasn't quite the same. The best pumpkin pie is consumed about a day after it is made, to allow the flavors to fully generate. I am a crust lover, preferring mine deeply tanned, while Greg loves his custard. Together we leave not a crumb behind. I would love to add a tart cherry pie this year, but sadly they are not available. It would be a spectacular counterpoint to the meal. At last, this is the majority of what we are having. My in-laws have ordered stuffing and carrot casserole from Furr's Cafeteria (*shudder*). Greg has convinced me to make a healthier and better tasting version of the carrots, so I will add that to the list. I may even whip up a few white potatoes for them (we eat them maybe twice a year), but again I may not. Now all I need is a bottle (or two!) of wine and we will be set! Too bad the in-laws don't drink. Oh wait, that means more wine for me, Hooray!!

Leading Up To The Holidays, I Feel Like Crap

Have I mentioned yet I feel conflicted about the holidays? Even just typing the word "holidays" gives me the hives. I'm not really sure why. I don't remember any particular even that made me feel like I wanted to avoid family gatherings. Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family when I was young was fairly happy. We had traditional foods we ate, holiday traditions we followed, etc.

Yet here I am, getting ready to start our own holiday traditions. Tomorrow (or the next day) we plan on butchering two of our turkeys, one for us and one for a neighbor. After that I will get going on baking pies and preparing whatever else I can to save myself time on "the big day". I truly love cooking and baking, especially for people I care about. I don't mind hanging out with family, and I enjoy seeing friends and family that I haven't seen in a year or longer.

I think that what makes me uncomfortable and sad this time of year is the reminder that we aren't where we really want to be. We have no comfortable home to call our own. We have no land to truly grow our own food and raise our animals. My family is spread across the nation (well, the world really), and none are likely to visit any time soon. I feel sad that I can't give my family the place I would like to, but I can at least try to feed them in a fabulous fashion, with quality food. So, I will prep our turkey, and cook our sweet potatoes, and boil up some cranberries with honey (or something else sweet). I will love my children and husband, and hug them often. And I will try to keep my sadness and disappointment to myself.