Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Free Food

Several weeks ago, I started a private Facebook group called Baeza Family Free Farmacy. I asked my Facebook friends to let me know if they'd like to be added to the group. Right now there are 40 members.The sole purpose of the group is to give away free, fresh food from my garden. I happen to think that's pretty cool.

Think of it as a free community library, food version. 
But not.
You don't have to leave something, to take something.
No fee or expectation.
Only a "take what you will use" rule.
Waste not, want not mentality.
I've always given away extra produce from the garden, and eggs from the hens. Let's face it, when you start keeping hens, you end up wanting more. You learn about different breeds, and add to your flock. Soon, you end up with tons of pets that just so happen to produce eggs.
A few times, when starting out, I let friends pay a couple of bucks for eggs. After all, I do have to pay to feed them. I did have to pay for the garden start-up, the cartons, etc.
But it just didn't feel right.

I wanted to do something good and something that just plain made sense.


Common sense was telling me, "if you KNOW that you aren't going to use it before it goes bad, WHY are you stockpiling it in your fridge for it to waste away?" 
"WHY do you have so many eggs that you've resorted to giant bowls of eggs in the fridge?"
Once you find yourself doing the water check for egg freshness, you know you have too many eggs. 
You know the trick, right? Fill up a bowl with water, and gently drop in your egg, if it floats, it's bad; stays at the bottom, it's fresh; has one end on the bottom and one end floating up, use it soon. 

Common sense said, give it away.
There is no reinvention of the wheel here, no grandiose ideas, only a small effort to not waste life-giving fresh food.

 Yes, I still have plenty for us to eat. 
And the chickens too.
The chickens keep me from being swallowed alive by cherry tomatoes that I didn't even plant.

I don't give away what I can reasonably use or have time to preserve. Seriously though, sometimes you just can't bear to can another batch of pickles. Sometimes the mere sight of a canning jar leaves you wincing in exhaustion.

The "rules" are simple: Only claim what you will actually eat, save your cartons and return them to me the next time you pick something up. It means that I'm not losing money constantly by ordering new cartons (or killing more trees). 


Now, when I know that I have extra, I post a quick photo in the group and the first person to claim it, picks it up that day. If they know they can't pick it up that day, they don't claim it. 
Simple.
Useful.
Mindful.

Maybe you'll think about starting a free food group in your community as well!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Down Time Thoughts

I've had so much time to just sit and think this past week. Well, actually lay on my side with a fan blowing on my burning skin because I can't sit- and think would be more accurate. A few things I've learned from being forced into down time. 

1. First of all, giving someone high doses of steroids and them not being able to get up and walk around is a special kind of torture. Giving me lots of energy and then no ability to move is not fun. It makes me lay here and think of all of the things that I should be, could be doing with this forced boost in my system. 

2. I must have time outside. Always. This is probably one of the more difficult things for me personally. I love working in my garden. The early mornings picking vegetables, afternoons pruning roses, collecting eggs from our crazy flock. I never fully realized how these routines are lifelines for me. My hands must be in the dirt. My heart needs sunshine.

3. When you don't go outside for a week, you don't discover until it's too late, that your water timer batteries have died. Crossing my fingers for my dead baby tree. Sad face. 

4. You have never had the burning desire to vacuum your house. Until the thought of standing that long and possibly working up a sweat on your allergic reaction site prevents you from vacuuming. Suddenly you see your floors as gross. Disgusting. You see every dust bunny, every stray feather that your down couch has thrown out. And you can do nothing about it.

5. Dinners sitting at the table are infinitely more enjoyable than eating while standing with your bum in front of a fan. Hear me: infinitely. Still waiting on the return of the sitting, mind you.

6. The smallest things give you the largest amount of joy. Taking your pain pill (and sitting on the side of your hip in the car) and having your husband drive you to the Farmers' Market before it gets too hot? The first fresh figs of summer, watermelon straight from the farm, grain free brownies (because, steroids), juicy peaches, and a pit stop on the way home for king crab and your favorite citrus heat tri-tip? Yes. All of the above. When life hands you lemons, make king crab. Making the most fabulous dinner you can imagine is the trade off for having spent zero money this week. When you can't leave the house, the money stays in the bank. Well, mostly...

7. Which brings me to my next point: online shopping from bed. It had to be done. I blame it on my dad, he always took me shopping when there were major bummers he couldn't fix. Oh, you're overdue pregnant and STILL haven't dilated, let's dry those tears and go to Target. Yes, before you go telling me that shopping doesn't fix anything, I know that. It sure does raise the spirits though. Thanks, dad. 

8. You never want to hear your daughter scream "SNAKE IN THE HOUSE" ever, but especially when you are in a state of hardly being able to walk, and benadryl is threatening your level of consciousness. Just, no.

9. Note to self when you get better: the hubs, beloved as he may be, might need a crash course in laundry when you're well enough to teach him. Judging by the fact that you asked him to dry his work clothes you managed to put in the washer earlier, and woke up in the morning to his wet clothes laid out all over the living room floor. Wet. We don't have heated floors mind you, and even if we did, this would not be an approved method for clothes drying. Especially because we have a dryer. 

10. Friends are the BEST. They will bring you chocolate, donuts, and Downton Abbey DVDs. These are lifelines.

11. When you have your mother in law drive you to the grocery store, and you're going commando and wearing the loosest, softest romper you have, it's okay to buy yourself flowers. Buy the flowers, and go back to bed and fan your bum. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

For Such a Time as This

Yesterday was quite the day, today looks to be exactly the same, but with slightly more hope.
If you don't know what I'm talking about you can read about it here. I'm spending this week in survival mode.

My days are being spent laying on my side, trying to get the exact right arrangement of pillows, trying to keep the rest of my body warm with a sheet, while trying to keep the fan on my carefully exposed allergic reaction site that burns like there's no tomorrow. I can't even allow my super soft sheets to touch it. If I don't overlap my pain meds to not let it wear off, my hair will stand up on the back of my head and I will have no choice but to scream through my teeth, attempting to do it quietly to not scare the kids. The steroids they've put me on have made it impossible to sleep. Insomnia. I sleep at night in ten minute intervals, never fully getting any semblance of rest. Constantly trying to keep the itching and burning at bay, even in my "sleep". 

All of that is to explain how quickly one can go from feeling like a 100% loved child of God to feeling utterly forgotten.
Jesus loves me.
Life is great.
I'm so happy.
Wait, what is happening?
This can't be happening.
I can't live through this much pain for one more minute.
Can't breathe.
Can't move.
Forgotten.
Unseen.
Now the stage is set. You get feeling like you are at the complete end of yourself. Like NO ONE could possibly stand this. I don't operate under any delusions that being a follower of Christ means that bad things don't happen. Really, when people talk like that, my eyes roll to the back of my head. That's just not true. Life is life. Life does not give out free passes on pain. Even though I fully know that this is not happening to me because I have somehow been forgotten by God, it is a hard pill to swallow. 
Yes, Jesus loves me. 
Yes, I'm in mind-numbing suffering.
No, I'm not forgotten.

This may sound silly to you, but I have wanted colored egg layers since we started keeping chickens. It's been almost a year. They are not the easiest thing to find for sale, because everyone wants them. We even tried raising them from chicks, which did not end well. Thanks, dogs. I've trolled Craigslist off and on ever since we began. Nope.

Then a few weeks ago, a friend sent me a screenshot of a Facebook post. Some one's well had run dry in a neighboring town and they needed to start selling their animals quick. I quickly texted the number to find out the breeds and prices. Three Easter Eggers! Ten dollars each! Sold!
The kids and I drove out that afternoon and brought them home. 
If you know anything about chicken life, they are finicky creatures. There really is a pecking order, and adding to the flock does not always go well. I would never just add one hen, because she would be in danger. So, we added three at once, and they kept to themselves, staying upstairs most of the day. I had to feed them separately, upstairs, because the original flock didn't like them downstairs. 
Finally, over the past week, they got brave and started coming downstairs for short amounts of time. Started standing their ground. I knew it would take awhile for them to start laying eggs because they did not yet feel like it was home. 
Waiting is hard.
Fast forward to yesterday afternoon. 
Me in bed, of course.
The kids helping me with things that have to be done. 
Emma came in my room with a really big grin on her face.
"Mooooommm, I have something that will make you reallllly happy!"
Her hands were behind her back, and she could hardly contain her excitement as she pulled TWO blue eggs from behind her back!

Me? 
Instantly.
Ok, God, I get it.
You see me.
You remember me.
Of all the days to receive something so exciting to me, it is today.
Would it have mattered that much to anyone else? 
No. 
It was for me.
For such a time as this.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

On The Suffering...

On extreme suffering...
Yesterday was one of the worst days of my life, and I'm still in it. Allergic reaction that I will never forget. 
Where the sun doesn't shine. 
Where you can't sit. 
Where you can't fathom the thought of even the softest fabric touching your skin. Where your skin looks like a chemical burn has almost removed your skin. 
Where the sun doesn't shine. 
It feels even worse than it looks. And it looks horrific. 
I don't know why my skin is so sensitive and reacts to normal products that people use every single day. For whatever reason, I know suffering in ways I wish no one did. 

I wish this was the first horrible allergic reaction I've ever had, but it's not. It is definitely the worst location I've experienced. Add it to the list of eyes swelling shut, lips the size of balloons, throat closing up, skin being burned off by tape. 

My only goal in life today, and until it's gone, is to not let the Norco wear off. Ever. 
Forever and ever.
Until red skin is back to white.
Because when it wears off, all I can do is scream through my teeth.

Tell me to choose between 1-10 on a pain scale. 
"I'll take a 12." With zero dramatic exaggerations.
I'd rather have unmedicated birth every day of this suffering instead of this. Really.
The only other time I've known pain like this is when I woke up from a knee replacement and thought my leg had been amputated, screaming into my oxygen mask until they quickly knocked me back out with pain meds. 

Suffering.

It's all relative and so many people suffer unimaginable pains. To those who have thus-far dodged the bullet of understanding pain that you aren't quite sure you'll live through- be thankful. 
And when you experience it for the first time, I'll be there. 
With understanding.

Unfortunately, my brain has a file folder marked suffering and it cannot be removed. Thankfully, after some days of steroids, pain meds, and (hopefully, please God, hopefully) healing-the file will slowly close and get pushed to the back of my brain. Hopefully to remain closed for years to come. Until I encounter the next thing that my highly allergic body labels a threat, and threatens my sanity and existence. 

To those who suffer, I'm sorry. So, so sorry. You are not alone. Allow the burn of the pain to change you, but not harden you. To open up new rooms of compassion in your heart. And when you are well enough, give. 
Always give.
Pass out hope, help, and kindness like it's going out of style.
It will never go out of style.
Even when the suffering say no.
Especially when they say no.
And chocolate. 
Pass out chocolate.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Garden Update 7/9/15

It's time for a garden update. I feel like I am way behind what I produced last year at this time, which is a bummer. Every gardener always measures their production against last year. Here's what's working hard and what's not...
View from the pathway.
 Last time my mom was here, she taught me how to trim roses. Until then, I was just letting them die and waiting until the petals fell off on their own. She told me to find a dead rose, then follow the stem backwards until you come to the first cluster of five leaves. Clip right before the cluster of five leaves, leaving that as the new end of that stem. I can't believe the new growth that has come on since she taught me to do that. Yesterday, I went out and pruned away dead roses, and also had plenty to clip some to enjoy in the house. Yes, please.
Red, orange, yellow, and purple blooms ready to go inside.
 My tomatoes are finally, FINALLY ripening. I can't believe it has taken this long. I don't think I'll ever start them from seeds again, or if I do, it will be a lot earlier. I ended up adding some big transplants from Lowe's through the spring because my seedlings were taking forever. The Black Prince variety is producing the most so far. I didn't even plant cherry tomatoes this year, and I've pulled what feels like a thousand volunteer plants that sprouted from last year's fallen tomatoes, yet here I am. Cherry tomato zombie apocalypse is upon us. 
 My Russian pickling cucumbers have been growing like crazy all season, which is great. Jars of pickles are lining my ever-shrinking pantry, even with all of the cukes I've given away. 

Green beans have been kind of a bust. This was my first time planting green beans. What I didn't know is that you need a lot of plants to ever have enough green beans to pick and eat at once. 

Serranos are so easy, they practically take care of themselves.

 My zucchini...sigh. From first glance, they look like they're doing well, but they're not. First they had an aphid problem, which I took care of organically. Now I believe they are suffering from blossom end rot. They start growing, and look great, then one day they start rotting on the plant, before they are big enough to pick. Such a bummer. Wasted space. Sad face.
 My onions are doing well, I have just been picking one as needed, and leave the rest in to keep growing until they get really large. Also, the basil is doing awesome.
Volunteer cherry tomatoes.
 This is my first year growing eggplant. A friend had some extra plants in the spring and she gave them to me, so I decided to give it a go. I love how pretty they are when they grow.
I still have small amounts of kale growing, and behind this trellis is a fig tree with several figs on it. There you have it. I'm off to can some more pickles, or get overtaken by the zombie cherry tomatoes, whichever happens first.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

About the Honey

So, about the honey.
I can't get over it.
Put bees and frames in a box, wait a few months and you are rewarded with liquid gold.
I didn't expect to be selling honey, but here I am. I'm gonna give you a little run-down on honeycomb in case you aren't familiar with it. I explained it a lot yesterday with honey pick-ups and private messages, so I thought a once and for all might be easier. 
These bad boys sold out in one day. I can't believe it.
 Below is what a full frame of honey looks like. Well, one side of it at least. With any beekeepers' luck, the back side looks exactly like this too. Don't worry, the frames with baby bees inside look completely different and a beekeeper can make no mistake about it. There are a lot of different types of frames that a beekeeper can choose to use in their set up. We are lucky enough to have a natural beekeeping mentor and he said if he was starting from scratch he would buy the small cell frames, and the smaller boxes, so that's what we did.

 The frames come with a beeswax sheet in the center of them. The cells are already "drawn" in wax to be a smaller size. This guides the bees on the size of the cells. The link above explains it more in-depth, but here is  a crash course. Small cell frames are getting bees back to the size that they were in nature, before beeekeepers decided that bigger bees would be better as far as production. Spoiler alert, they aren't. Read that article if you are really interested in why this matters. The bottom line is, bees are more productive and less prone to disease if they are smaller. Bees are constantly, constantly, reproducing. The average life span is 6 weeks for a worker bee, so they must constantly have brood to rear or the hive will not survive long. The bees will grow to be the size of the cell that their egg is laid into. If they need to make a new queen? They first build a queen cell that is extra, extra large, and then feed her extra food while in development. When she is full grown, she emerges from her cell. News flash, if there are any other "insurance" queens still in development when the first queen emerges, she will stab into those cells and kill developing queens so that her throne can't be overturned. Wild, right?

The reasoning behind shorter boxes, as opposed to the deep ones you are used to seeing is simple. With ten frames of loaded honey in one box, the shorter one is a LOT easier to carry than the one almost twice as deep. The short ones are almost too heavy for me to lift when they are full of honey and bees, I can't imagine lifting the deeper ones!
This is the most exciting thing for a beekeeper to find upon hive inspection, fully capped honey.
Once the bees have evaporated (by fanning their wings!!) the perfect amount of water from the honey, they will cap it with wax. This is a signal that the honey is done. 

The bees even signaled to us that their hive was full of honey by something called bearding. That looks exactly like it sounds, like the outside of the hive has a beard of bees. That told us it was time to check the hive and see if they have enough room to continue making honey. Thankfully it was time to harvest some, and add another box so that they can continue production. Lucky me. Lucky you.

We have not yet invested in a honey extractor, but we will be shortly, as it's becoming a necessity. Since we don't have an extractor and I needed to remove some extra honey, I had to remove the honeycomb off of the frame. This is a special treat. Most people I've talked to have never eaten honeycomb before. When they do, their minds are blown. Wait, what? Honey tastes like this?? That's right. 
Not honey from a store shelf that was bottled from a 50 gallon drum of mass produced honey from bees that were likely fed sugar water and had their hives treated with chemicals. Yes, those things are the norm in large-scale honey production. When you look at your bottle of honey and it says "made from pollen and nectar gathered in the northern United States", let me translate that for you. "We let them gather some pollen and nectar in addition to sugar water that we artificially fed them, and the honey is all blended together from our contracted beekeepers that are scattered all over the northern U.S., so we can't exactly pinpoint their location."

For real.
And that's if you're not unknowingly eating honey that has been shipped in from China and cut with high fructose corn syrup. 

If you're wondering why fresh, local honey is a big deal, you've probably never tasted it like this. I hadn't either until last year. Then, I was hooked. 

 Now to the easy part- the eating. Everyone asks me how to eat honeycomb. The wax is new for most people and it freaks them out. I grab a spoon, scoop out a piece of comb, chew it until all of the honey disappears, then spit out the ball of wax. As you chew it, it forms into a ball similar to gum. Some people just eat the wax too, but I don't. If I'm eating honeycomb on warm brie cheese, I'll go ahead and just eat small bits of wax because you can't taste it or tell that it's there when there is other food in the same bite. It is a delicacy of epic proportions. One of the reasons it's so special is because the bees then have to start over on that frame. They have to rebuild the comb, then remake the honey. With an extractor, the comb is left in tact because after uncapping the honey with a hot knife, it spins the frames and throws the honey out into the bucket. Then we will just be able to slide the frames back in the hive and they won't have to rebuild wax cells. I think that I will always harvest at least some honeycomb though. It's just too delicious. 

As I've said before, we aren't "in it" for the honey production. I had no idea that they would produce enough honey for us to sell. We are in it for the sake of contributing to pollination, and for the building of the bee population. What can a few backyard hives do in the grand scheme of the plight of the honeybee? Well, more than if we did nothing at all.


Monday, June 29, 2015

On Discovery...

So many adults rely only on what they learned in school. Diploma or degree in hand, we checked out. 
Done learning.
Learning something new? Nope.
Speaking a language that I don't already speak? Nope.
Have something fascinate me to my core? It's been awhile.
When did we become okay with that?

Now, those answers above are not mine. They are a "in general" response that I think most adults would give. Thankfully, not all. Not all of us are okay with existing in the only environment we've ever known. This is something that has changed in me from my five years of homeschooling my children. I get the opportunity to relearn everything. Question everything afresh. 

Last year, one of our subjects was French. I was excited to dust off my four years of high school French and teach them the correct pronunciation of crepe. Hearing most Americans order crepe at a restaurant, I cringe. This past week I spent my days bidding on textbooks for the upcoming year. This year I've decided we will do Latin. Now, mind you I have never taken a Latin class a day in my life. 

This is what excites me. 
The spark of interest.
Adding file folders of information to my brain. 
I'm not talking date memorization of historical facts, and the thought of impending algebra in the coming years makes me cringe.
I am talking about things that add culture, passion, happiness, talent, diversity, and understanding.

A great example is Operation Pollination. If you don't know what that is, it is the name we have affectionately given our bee hives. Last school year I added enrichment trips that I thought would be interesting and fun. We drove to LA and saw a special Van Gogh exhibit at LACMA after studying his work. 
We toured the La Brea Tar Pits, and walked through the neighboring park spotting new tar bubbles.
We toured local farms, and learned about biodiversity and organic growing methods.
Then we got a local organic beekeeper to give us a tour of his hives, and it all changed.

We were stung with fascination. 

Bees blew our minds. We found our jaws on the floor every few minutes when he would tell us another mind-blowing fact about bees. Believe me, they are fascinating. More than you can imagine. 
Now we find ourselves, as backyard beekeepers. Doing our little part for this tiny, wonderful pollinator.
Inspecting a frame from one of our hives.
Let's collectively agree to stop accepting only what you know thus far.
Say 'no' to being okay with just being a cab driver to your kids.
Sure, you have stuff to do.
Don't let that stuff be what feeds you.
You have so many more files to fill.