Sunday, April 4, 2010


Oh how i love cultivating. I began the day with a REAL easter egg hunt as i had forgotten to shut in the ducks last night, therefore they laid their eggs all over the sheep and dairy cow pastures, the hay barn, etc, etc.
So, delightful as that was, we moved through the rest of chores to get onto an exciting day-in the soil! The animals are amazing and i love them dearly and all that i am learning about animal husbandry, but i have been dying to get in the soil! Josh (fellow apprentice) has been the primary soil-block starter and caretaker thus far, but today we worked together and it was wonderful. Such a beautiful spring day of cultivating beds for new vegetables. Nourishing us twofold -the soul by the joyous act of preparing the ground on which this new life will grow, then our bodies when we enjoy its bountiful harvest.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

the first of April; no fools

Ever wake up eeked out by eerie dreams and nervous about life in the real world? I'm 24 and nervous about getting it all together soon enough. I suppose it just irks me to be so happy somewhere, and I often don't know where to place the (seemingly obligatory) sadness. Always need something to fret over, and a farm is easy to fret over. I often dwell in a quiet, cloaked in a downer attitude, and this morning it was mighty obvious. Before heading off the farm for awhile Dom yelled out, "What was the most wonderful day of your life?!" And I replied, without thought, "I have no idea!" He then told me to think about the three greatest experiences of my life, and he expected a full report later, haha.

It's an odd request to spring on a grumpy person but I embraced it nonetheless. Immediately I pictured swimming with dolphins. Amid all our fighting and struggles, whatever, my mom got us out on a couple real family vacations to Hawaii with a definite focus in appreciating the wild there. We made the trek nearly every morning of our trip to a special, then-secret, hike to a secluded beach in hopes of swimming among a local pod of dolphins as they came in for their morning feeding; a time when the tide was precarious and little stinging but nonetheless harmless jellyfish were everywhere. Together we braved entering the ocean, and snorkeled out, far beyond the disappearance of the sandy bottom and into the realm of just crystal clear blue where we strained to hear the squeal of a dolphin. We were lucky enough to swim alongside the pod maybe two times, and it was definitely one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I can't describe in words the surreal feeling of being in such close proximity with those animals. But they left a deep impression.

Second that came to mind, which I don't think is any less valid no matter how cliché, was being in love, or at least thinking I was, for the first time. No matter it didn't last, the first person to express such a joy in your company, and help you to realize yourself in a new light is an experience like none other. It was lovely.

Third was weaving, which extends to any act wherein I give myself permission to do what I love. In college, the moment I embraced giving up art and fell in love with making all over again I was weaving. In Morocco, well you can read back for all the bazillion reasons I loved living and learning there. And now, to be all encompassing (am I cheating?), is each day I live farming-doing what I love. But seriously, I need to weave. It's been horribly long, and nothing calms my soul, except maybe the ocean, as much as weaving.

And throughout all this usual mind-sauntering, I was of course working. Sweeping the barn, setting up two new brooders for the near two hundred more New Hampshire chicks hatching today through Saturday. I can hear them chirping in the incubator as I type. Then bringing more bedding to dear Toshi, one of our awesome Large Black Pigs who just farrowed Tuesday. The piglets are to die for; I can't imagine farming without them. Then the vet showed up and I got to see the ultra-sound for our ewe that had a prolapsed uterus a few weeks ago. Turns out she is still pregnant, but not due for about a month. So we sent her back out with the flock and will just have to keep close watch. After the third (of four) milk feedings to the kids (goats), I went nuts on the Oriental Bittersweet, a nasty invasive species, where the goat fence needs to be set up. I love invasive species removal, it's a fulfilling, and I like to think healthy, form of destruction. It reminded me of the days removing Tamarisk from the river bottom when I worked for the OVLC. I then moved through the evening chores as this beautiful spring day wound down, and despite my incredible and constant tiredness, knew I had to stay up late to write this darn update.

In addition to the usual excitement of daily farm life, my mom is coming! April 15-22 she's here! I was actually really bummed on Passover for not being able to make it home; it was my sixth year in a row away! Of course I've celebrated well since; awesome Seders at Professor Katz's each year of college, and then throwing my own Seders both years in Morocco, but seriously, the last time I was home for Passover I was a teenager! So I promise to be home, inshallah, next year. That's all I got for now, good night, sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite! (and no mussed up dreams please)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Life is good

I'm so behind I don't even know where to start! Beginning with now seems to be the only way. I'm hanging out in a café on my first day off in a long while that is actually relaxing (the past few were hectic) and I'm loving it. I didn't really want to leave for our first babies of the year (aside from seedlings in the greenhouse) began hatching last night-New Hampshire chicks! But they will continue hatching until tomorrow, totaling around 200 if all goes well, so I won't miss all the excitement. And then another round of eggs will begin to incubate.

The weather this week has been glorious; mid-forties which makes everything more pleasant-waking up, milking, doing chores, it's all better when you can feel your hands, or even free yourself from a couple layers of clothing. I just made what is likely my biggest purchase of the month-skype credit-to call some of my best friends and dearly missed in Morocco- both Moroccans and Americans and I'm all smiles now. I miss them all so much still.

Goodness now that I actually have a moment to sit and write I don't know what to write about. We've been doing a lot of meat curing; brining and smoking bacon, hocks, tails, ears, feet, as well as making lard, lardo, guanciale, etc. Soon we'll be making scrapple and a last round of bacon and other smoked meats before spring. We've also been organizing the freezer and inventorying all the meat that's coming back from slaughter- 6 Large Black pigs and two Scottish Highland steers (getting those two into a trailer was an adventure to report on as well). And eating copious amounts of said meat as well.

Then there's the garden aspect; all the seed orders have come in so we're making zillions of seed blocks, sowing and germinating the first crops of the season and planning and pacing out the garden. We're taking on a lot this year, over-doubling our garden space and implementing a cover crop rotation. We are also collecting eggs and scheduling and preparing for all the hatching, incubating, brooding and eventual slaughter dates for all these future birds. I'm learning so much here every day, listing it all this way just doesn't do any of it justice, maybe I should pick subjects out of a hat. In addition to all the big projects are the daily chores and attention paid to every aspect of running a healthy farm. Animals, land and people alike.

I naively hoped I had had enough personal growth for a lifetime in Peace Corps, and now would be all about farming experience and education. How silly I can be. There are the practical and straight forward lessons about how to farm of course, but the twisted, confusing an awkward path toward maturity and wisdom continues endlessly. It's a joy and such torture to grow. Old habits remain and allowing myself to be a victim of my insecurity keeps me from being strong. Not to get too into it here, but I'm definitely having to take a close look at the way I am weak and dumb so long as I believe myself to be weak and dumb. It's a horrible cop-out to say, well I can't do that cuz I'm too stupid to know how to. Can you imagine how annoying that is? Well I notice myself doing that ALL too often. But I'm aware and working on it, step by step right?

It's a difficult learning process; to get better at something while you're still learning how to do it. A mushy recipe of common sense, practice, good judgment and knowing how to ask the right questions. My progress is also slowed by simple skills I just never got, like math for example. Dammit they were right! It is practical! It began with poor education, then I reinforced my lack of basic mathematical knowledge by believing I didn't need it. It's embarrassing how poor I am at math, it's like reading I suppose; everyone needs it and if you don't develop the skill at a young age, it becomes more and more difficult to acquire. And maybe not everyone needs it, had I stayed an artist maybe, but a farmer certainly does! So there's another whole box-o-knowledge I gotta work on.

On a more positive note, I think my skills of adaptation are strong. I'm scarily good at making a home wherever I go, which makes it ever harder to leave, but that's a long ways off for now… I'm also just gloriously happy here. Having discovered what I want to do with my life, gotten myself onto the path, and doing it, well it's wonderful. I know how difficult it can be, if not impossible, for the majority of people to feel or be in charge when it comes to the career they take on and subsequently the way of life they live.

I am immensely grateful every day for being able to pursue what I love and am fulfilled by, and for the upbringing that made this possible. Since my mom got out of the worst of situations and onto a better life, she always made it clear by her actions the importance being fulfilled by both life and work and how intertwined that connection is. Many people can do a job they hate and come home to a home they love, but that was never the way of my mother. I remember when she decided to only work a certain number of nights per week in order to actually be home with her children. She was on a new career path, one she was very committed to and fulfilled by, but she was also a mother and knew that being both meant priorities and sacrifices. To value, respect and raise her children, we all had to take a bit of a cut in income in order to raise the wealth that is closeness of family. I remember not wholly agreeing with this at the time, as I was always worried about money, but later realized the importance of this change and it instilled in me the same values.

I don't know if any of this had made much sense, but what I have learned from her is that living well is living fully, maintaining both a home and what supports that home with integrity and passion. Farming is a way of life and a career in which I plan to accomplish both. Not having three kids in tow will hopefully give me a better start, but I don't expect anything to come easily. Life is good, and I hope all yours are going good as well. I finally got some pictures up on facebook, so check those out and I leave you with this bad-ass Pilgrim Goose (the ganders are white). She's so cool.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

my little Magribi below the Mulberry

I know, I know, I have not been keeping up here. Haven't been keeping up with myself either; I'm used to journaling every day, but have been so busy here I've only been able to write once a week-on my day off, which was today. This meant sleeping in (so wonderful), knitting and coffee at one café, taking myself out for Indian food and then a movie (how romantic eh?) and then heading to another café for more writing and actually using my cell phone. Days off are good, but lonely and awkward as I do not yet know many people around here, and I'm well refreshed and ready to wake up at the freezing crack of dawn the next morning for continuing the exhausting life and work I live for. I'm far too tired to write a sufficient update, so I leave you all with the view I walked out to this morning. It's Bu atop a (currently dormant) beehive under a Mulberry tree I recently pruned. You can't see the animals in this shot, but the dairy cow and sheep pastures are in view as well as part of the barn and shed. More pictures forthcoming.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

knee deep in the compost heap

One week. I am completely exhausted but happy. It shouldn't amaze me so much how something so simple as doing what makes you happy, heck, makes you happy. There are highs and lows; working with ice and snow can really be a challenge, but then you go feed the pigs and they somehow cheer you right up. I don't really know where to begin, how to summarize my first week as an apprentice here. Busy. That's the short version. I've been learning so many new things every day, and every day is a challenge.

Yesterday I used an old-fashioned tortilla press and don't think I can ever go back to rolling with a little plastic glass (much as I loved those times Nat!) Physically it's challenging, the sitting on my ass for two years did me no good and I can feel it. Moving 50lbs at a time, and those times are often, is tough now but I grow stronger each day. Today I found a new love-splitting wood. Never in my life did I picture myself swinging a large, sharp, metal object into the air, much less enjoying it! This morning my boss Dominic asked if Josh (the other current apprentice here, he started a couple months ago) had yet taught me "the zen of wood-splitting." My usual awkward laugh and familiar stomach lurch of fear of the unknown followed and then we moved through the motions of another day on the farm.

Soon after climbing out of the compost heap (I had to bury some old livers and manage the top level) it was time to test my "zen." The ax seemed to weigh a ton and flop like a fish in my hands. After a quick lesson and a few awkward swings something switched; with each hard whack and beautiful sound of wood splitting I got better and understood the correct stance and technique. Any tension and all the usual uncertainty that comes with beginning something new floated further and further away each time I aimed and followed through a perfect split. Completely awesome. Any day that ends with you having an entirely new skill set and the accompanying confidence it instills is a great day. Tomorrow's challenge may not end with such glory, but becoming capable of doing what I once thought I could not is what I must remember in times when the work is most difficult. Well don't I sound like a little know-it-all, sorry. A little feeling of bad-assery comes after splitting wood, forgive me.

So where to go from here? I want to talk about all the other new skills I'm acquiring, and the incredible animals that test me. Milking? Premium example of practice makes perfect. Mimi is a forgiving lass and seems to just smile knowingly as I wear myself out pleading the gift of milk out of her. But each morning my hands understand the motion better and I remain patient. Driving steers? I had no idea I would be learning to drive working oxen, but it's true. A former apprentice keeps his two young and beautiful steers here and trains both them and us a couple days a week. I've always had great difficulty in directing animals (or people for that matter), as I really prefer to be told what to do. Horses have always sensed my lack of confidence and take advantage and the steers are no different. So learning to direct steers may teach me a few things in other aspects of my life as well.

All the animals here are great, maybe I'll try to feature different ones each time I write. Just want to make a quick note though on how much I freaking love pigs! They are just so wonderful, smart, hilarious, oh I just love them and will write more on them soon. The number one animal, and man, in my life remains my dear Bu. The other cats haven't quite warmed to him yet, but hopefully soon. He's happy anyhow and, as I always knew, he thrives outdoors. Galloping around the farm like a gazelle, it's adorable. We both have trouble with the cold, and spooning at night is a must. I know it's ridiculous but I don't care.

I'll post pictures soon of the lovely cabin, I really miss my mud hut, but I'm definitely loving my living situation here as well. Let's see, what else? Food? No worries, I'm eating very well. And I must soon post on the glories of lard. We have such a ridiculous misconception of and hatred for this most amazing cooking aid. I've also had a fair amount of venison this week, not bad. Also on the food subject, when not feeding, mucking, moving, watering or otherwise for the animals that feed us here, or dealing with all the weather that makes this process evermore difficult, we're inside planning for planting!

We only plant about an acre, but jeez it takes a lot of planning. Inventorying seed, going over successes and failures from previous years, discussing what we want to plant, mapping beds, calculating what, where, how far apart and when all these things will be planted and harvested, and soon - ordering seed! One farmer I know said when a seed catalog came in her husband started flipping through it with glee and exclaimed, "it's like porn!" And now I understand his excitement. Um, ok this was way random but I thought I ought to post an update. I am very well and hope you all are too. I seriously need to get to bed, its only 8:15 but I'm dead tired and we have another long day tomorrow. Much love to all and send me updates!

Monday, January 11, 2010

here i go

So after bidding goodbye to my dear family in Washington Saturday, January 2nd, I flew back to California and spent an evening with my uncle’s family and my Nana. Though it was a quick visit it was wonderful. Sunday Morning my Aunt Laura drove me all the way back to Ojai and we went for a beautiful ride in part of the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy (the land I worked to protect as an intern the summer before Peace Corps) with my mom. Her business is going well by the way and I highly recommend going for a ride in Ojai if you need a breather! It was so beautiful and I still can’t fully comprehend why I’m so intent on moving so far away yet again. And then my whirlwind two days-before-moving-to-the-east-coast began.

That night I randomly bumped into Ms. Anaise, my old high school English teacher who truly opened my eyes and helped me to develop the way in which we put our thoughts to paper-writing (not to mention the time she saved my life! I stopped breathing, hey, it happens). She invited me to come speak to her current students about my experience, and possibly inspire some kids to think about Peace Corps as an option in their futures. Though nervous, I just couldn’t resist. I managed to run all my errands on Monday so that I could spend Tuesday speaking to her students.

It was SO weird to step into Ventura High School as a true adult. Getting a visitors pass made me feel supremely old. Late for class and shaky, I made it and spent four periods talking to juniors. I must take a moment to thank them immensely for their interest and sweet comments (they got extra credit for reading my blog, and for that I must apologize, it can be dry). They were full of questions about everything from the Peace Corps application process to living in a mud house, Moroccan cuisine to living in a Muslim country, how we party there to gender roles and relationships. It was awesome, and I truly hope they enjoyed my answers as much as I enjoyed their questions. Particularly as an RPCV, sharing our experiences is Peace Corps goal 3: “Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans” and I hope to do it again.

After that delightful day in school I finally headed to the beach. I’d driven by it numerous times, but shamefully, hadn’t stepped foot on the sand or in the water since returning to America! I know, I can hardly believe it myself. Leaving my shoes in the car, I walked out onto the terrain I know best. The sand was cool as it was nearly sunset and only the fear of hypothermia kept me from completely diving into the water. The Pacific in January is freezing! I plopped down and let the calm set in of being so at home next to the water. Whenever I allow myself the time to sit there I am refreshed. It still amazes me how oblivious so many Californians are of the incredible beauty that surrounds them on a daily basis. Is that why I’m moving away? To get away from the lack of appreciation? No, its not like there will be more in Massachusetts. I know my standards are impossibly high, but I aim for them nonetheless. I pondered my decision to leave yet again in those moments on the beach, and while I cant express any real conclusions, I remain wholeheartedly committed to my choice. Something in me is saying go, and so I follow. My instincts are right far more often than my reason, so it’s quite reasonable to trust them.

After a stressful night of packing while trying to let my mom sleep, we headed out to breakfast with my grandparents and sister Michelle before Mom, Bu and I headed to the airport. After a sweet goodbye I dove into the insanity that is LAX and after over two hours of security made it onto my flight just in time. The tranquilizers for Buggid worked like a charm this time and one layover and plane change later I was in Indiana.

From the top of possibly the slowest and longest escalator in the world I spotted the pink figure of joy that is my best friend/roomate/heterosexual soul-mate/other half/etc. Ashley. I squealed just a bit as I tried desperately not to scream and when I finally got off that damn escalator we all but knocked each other over. I have to admit I was a bit nervous about our reunion. People change, our lives had taken such different paths, two years was a long time, yada yada, but holy moley, you’d think not a week had gone by. Though vastly changed as people, our friendship is exactly as it was-completely delightful. I can’t begin to express how happy I’ve been this week with her. I’m just all smiles.

Even covered in snow, she’s given me a fabulous tour of Bloomington and her grand campus of IU, the recycling center, etc., we even went wine tasting and I’m a convert! I’m the one that hates wine, but apparently shitty Moroccan wine really isn’t the way to go. On the way home with a bottle of Oliver I realized aloud, “Ashley, maybe I’m not a cheap date anymore.” Of course I still am tolerance-wise as was shown a couple nights later. She somehow coerced me into watching stoopid football with her wonderful friends before going out to the Hairbangers Ball. It was amazing, we (me in particular) got completely smashed and danced like there was no tomorrow to awesome 80’s covers. Wow.

Today was the first day of classes and I was lucky enough to attend one class with her, Art, Craft and Technology in Subsaharan Africa. It was wonderful and I deeply miss living in Africa. I appreciate even more today how happy I am to not be in school anymore. It was cool, and odd, to be on a real, working campus again and hang out with grad students, and see how happy and thriving Ashley is there, and how happy and thriving I am to not be there. It’s good to know these things about ourselves, and to accept them.

I’m just waiting for her to come home now for tonight, my last night. We’re having Chinese delivered, popping open that bottle of wine, watching movies, doing henna and relaxing. Tomorrow Bu and I fly to New Hampshire, have a wonderful evening at the Coes’s, and Thursday I drive to Sheffield and life at Moon in the Pond Farm begins. Bismillah farming!