Sunday, November 24, 2013

Life on a Pecan Plantation

Life on a pecan plantation is good. 
My rights as a squatter enable me to collect all the pecans that fall into my backyard, plus Dr. P doesn't mind if I collect some from the area around my yard that sees high ruminant traffic.  No sense letting them go to waste. 

The oxen keep my house under siege.  They know where the cook lives and are ever vigilant for the buckets to come out of the house with their 12 gallons of alfalfa mash and grain.  They pace, they tread on the pecans, it sounds like they're walking on broken glass out there.  I take it very personally that my pantry gets pillaged every day.  The horses come in and eat the pecans too.  Then, the ravens start plucking them from the tree top around dawn, dropping half of them on my metal roof. 

Picking them by hand ensures clean, debris-free pecans, but it's so time consuming.

Enter 21st century.  This machine has tongs that shake limbs to force the nuts to fall.

Next, a harvester is driven around the trees.

I opted to buy 100 gallons of those mechanically harvested pecans from the custom operator this year. 

About 5 hours in all, over two days were spent separating out the trash from the pecans.

100 gallons yielded 118 lbs of pecans. I haven't been quoted my price yet, but I heard that it's hovering around $1.25 --to $1.50 this year.

Next step is to drop them off to be cracked. At 30 cents/lb,  it saves so much time compared to cracking them one by one.

Final step:  call in for backup, pull up a chair and stay a long while, pulling the halves out of the shells and cleaning takes time.

This is where dangerously high calorie intakes can occur!

That's all the news from the farm this week.  Amazing I was able to get it written up with this 65 lb pup in my lap.  I don't know who misses who the most when I'm off at work!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Happy Birthday, Daddio



Sunday, November 17, 2013


It has been brought to my attention that 'encapsulating' isn't a veterinary term.  Perhaps something to do with a time capsule, but nothing to do with my dog's knee.
Probably what Dr. Moore was trying to say was calcification of a swollen joint, but you know, it was hard to hear with the loud buzzing noise in my ears.  I wasn't emoting in the vet's office, I had my big girl panties on, but it was close.
The Meloxicam Cole's been taking seems to be easing his discomfort, so that's given us both reason to be hopeful.

With hope, all is possible.

Next Winter, by George, we're going skiing again.  We tried skijoring for a week in Vermont a couple years ago, in the company of my Dad and sister.

Cole's first time up North in the Winter.

Video showing that Cole is a natural.

Brought back memories of growing up in Canada.

Here's Dad parading Cole's new full snow suit. 

Yes, it was necessary.  One shorthaired Southern dog, sans winter coat, wouldn't have stood a chance in -5'F that day.
 I found some races in Maine and Wisconsin.  The harnessing equipment required is different from my usual running harness.  But, in my haste to leave that particularly seedy motel room in California, I left Cole's harness behind.
Our new skijoring harness and lead will arrive soon. 
 Won't Cole look spiffy in this? 
They're trying to make skijoring an Olympic sport you know...

Saturday, November 16, 2013

November Musings

15 days out West.  We ran among cactus, snakes, coyotes, endured sharp rocks and dangerous precipices to return home safely.
The first day back on the farm, Cole was allowed to run free.  He came back from his romp completely lame on his right side. Who knows what Genius did to two legs within 30 minutes.  Most likely he struck them both on logs while at Mach 2.
Dr. P and I agreed that a conservative (and less expensive) treatment should be tried first.  Cole didn't run for a week, but he wasn't improving.  So, we had a nice long visit with his regular vet this past week.  Try half a day.  I can count on one hand how many times I've left Cole in someone else's care.  I simply don't do it.  But, Cole wouldn't have benefitted from my state of panic, so I left him with Dr. Moore at Thornton Animal Hospital. 
Socrates is one of my favorite philosophers.  He taught to "seek truth. Question everything".  It's my motto.  But, Dr. Moore holds demi-god status with me for what he's done for Cole over the years, so he could tell me the moon is made of Swiss cheese and I'd consider myself enlightened.
While Cole was getting X-rayed, I chose to emote at the car wash for an hour, then at the grocery store.  Cole has swelling, possible calcification of his back knee.  Hopefully reversible, perhaps not.  The front wrist may have a mass beneath the tendon.  The mention of a tumor is what sent my breakfast to tickle my tonsils.  He's already had 3 removed a couple years ago. 
For now, Cole will be under house arrest.  No running, period. 

In two weeks, we'll return for more X-rays and a more definitive prognosis.  Best case scenario, we'll be back to running together in a couple months.  Worst case, for the remaining 14 states of our quest, we'll walk, bike (he can ride in the wagon) or kayak.  He's irreplaceable, will not be left behind -- ever.  So, people can quit suggesting that I get a younger dog (you'll only be rewarded with a lump of coal in your stockings if you persist).

After the backbreaking work of building feeding lanes, the oxen think it's time to go back to the drawing board.

One of their wide butts knocked down a few internal partitions.  I'll need a couple weeks to address the design problems as I'm trying to let some torn abdominal muscles mend.  It appears my glory days are over.  Hauling around logs has caused a previously benign umbilical hernia to bloom to the size of a marshmallow.  Very painful marshmallow.  As it refused to be coaxed to return from whence it came and being that my budget only allows one Smith clan member, at a time, to be under doctor's supervision, I went to Mrs. C.  She's in her late 80's and is a lexicon of common sense wisdom.  Back in the day, she cured her daughter of abdominal pains that had lasted for months and that the doctors couldn't resolve.  She dewormed her with horse paste.  Brilliant woman.


Her 95 cent solution:  a big washer.  I taped it down with Gorilla Tape and within a day my marshmallow was becoming a cherry. Day 2, it was gone.  Now, I can feel the cleft left by my overexertion is larger than before -- it's an interesting sensation to tickle your own intestines!

Kinda gross, I know.  But now that I've delved into 'gross', let me continue a bit.

Correction to the previous post where I proudly displayed my crow pie.  It was actually raven pie, which explains why there was more breast meat than a dove!  Duh. 

So, there isn't a murder of crows stealing our pecans, it is a conspiracy of ravens dwindling the harvest.
In the Ukraine, crow is a heritage dish.  Not gross.  Think carefully where eggs come from, that milk is medically called a secretion and forgive my ancestors for eating escargots (snails, which are bugs, and yes, that is borderline gross).  My definition of disgustingly gross is margarine, high fructose corn syrup and food dyes.

Still on the food topic, our first hard frost had me scrambling to bring in produce from the garden.

Second harvest of heirloom sweet potatoes.

Mucho basil.  Perfect for pesto.  Who said too many chefs in the kitchen ruin the roux?

Indentured servitude -- guaranteed here at the farm!  Dad's been put back to work picking pecans too.  I am ashamed to have cause him a sore back from being stooped over for hours. Sorry, Dad and Merry Christmas!

With the pecan harvester, no stooping and worker productivity increases!

Cold weather means that I need to come up with a better way to keep the chickens warm.  Swaddling the coop in a tarp is time consuming and provides the oxen with a giant piƱata to beat with their horns.

Maybe I could knit 9 little vests for the hens.  If only they made something easy like Cole's jacket.

Time to start supplementing the oxen with alfalfa cubes and 14% feed.  Handy to still have the seats out of the Hyundai!

900 lbs of feed, exceeding the total 800 lb cargo capacity of the car.  Oops. Where is that farm hand of mine (Dad)?  In Florida, playing golf this week...I guess I need to unload the car by myself before I can go back to work this weekend.

But, there is one weekend I will have off, by hook or by crook.  In December, I'm signed up for an advanced tactical shooting class and a low light/no light class.  Imagine a bunch of folks with live rounds and little red lasers everywhere.  Cool!  I've waited over a year to be free for this class.  I'm beyond excited:  12 hours at the range.  Bliss.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Playing Catch Up

Sometimes when you come back from a trip , getting back to reality can be such a let down.  Not the case this time, the trip allowed me to relax and catch up on sleep--I've been supercharged...knocking out projects left and right!

The only hard part of returning to work has been this:

An empty backseat.  Having to leave Cole behind is the hardest part of every day.  We try to make up for it when I am home.

We've been busy harvesting pecans.  Yes, we.  I have to sit on my bucket because he'll help himself to those rather than finding his own.  He thinks it's some kind of hunting game where he wins if he grabs one first.  I don't mind because he then cracks them open.  I eat the half that hasn't been slobbered on and give him the other. A perfectly symbiotic relationship.  We'll both be 20 lbs overweight by you know how many pecans we ate in a one hour picking?

One for me.

And one for you.

He even lays at the shower door when I'm bathing.

Stuck like glue.

Jinx, on the other hand, is not a joiner.  Here he is giving me the "close the dang door, it's cold outside" look.

And it has been getting colder in Alabama.  Perfect for staying in on Saturday morning and baking.

What to do with a mess of pecans and California dates???

The fresh dates gummed up and almost killed the food processor.  I didn't have much luck with traditional hand chopping either...until I pulled out the ulu given to me as a birthday gift last month.  Wow.  Alaskan Inuit technology saves the day!

Date muffins, date bars, date crispies, date bombs (they pack a punch, nutritionally dense energy bites).

How to work off 4000 calories in one day?  Try digging 14 post hole in rock hard ground.
One project that had been on the back burner was to build a perimeter fence around my truck and trailers and feeding lanes for the livestock.  It started with salvaging a lot of downed pecan limbs back in September.

Using my trusty dually to snake out the logs. 

The sign reads "Jamie's Lumberyard (pardon our progress)". 

Taaaa Daaaa.

Esthetically, the nicest thing one can say is that it looks rustic.  I guess I'll need a lot more practice before I build my log home! 

But, it does work.  No meandering livestock can poke or kick my equipment and no squabbling at feeding time.  The oxen don't have their extra feed stolen by the horses nor do the oxen steal the horses' mineral supplements.  One big happy family.

Mobs of crows have been making off with what appears to be a slimmer harvest of pecans than last year.  I had been dying to try this Ukrainian recipe for crow pie.  It gave me an excuse to try out my .22 after a friend had tuned it up.

Cole wasn't keen on retrieving it!

Eating crow isn't all that bad.  I didn't even need the ketchup to kill the taste.  Never fear, if you come to my house, you'll not be served any mystery meat!  I like to think that I'll never starve, nor squander any smidge of food!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Homeward Bound

The run in Arizona made it the 34th state where Cole and I have trail run.

I'll need to buy more map pins before our Northeastern trip next Spring for the Boston Marathon!

On Thursday, I stopped at Picacho State Park.  Close to Tucson, it was a convenient location.

Saguaro cactus, now that's a gorgeous cacti!
Our trail time was less than 2 hours.  Do you know how difficult it is to keep his boots on while protecting him from all the things in a desert environment that want to poke, scratch, sting, cut and poison him?
Possible explanation for the lack of tree huggers in the Southwest.
A quick side trip, on an Indian reservation, sits San Xavier monastery.  The main building is balanced and beautiful, but who added that ornate portal?  I bet the original architect is rolling in his grave.
On Friday morning, I had the bright idea to drive straight from Las Cruces, NM to Auburn,  AL.  Apart from a mess of dates and two bags of pistachios (straight from the farm!), I was down to my last bit of food from home:  dehydrated apples.

Yes, there were grocery stores on the way, but budget travel means sticking to your predetermined expense cap.  The two extra motel stays (my fear of coyotes getting Cole) had bumped me into the red.  I've had a chance to calculate all my expense, including the $2 coffees:  $ 785.  That's $ 52 per day.  A wee bit more than El Cheapo had wanted to spend. 
But then, I spent $ 3 more on my entrance fee to White Sands National Monument, NM.
Plowed roads through the sand.  How cool is that?
This is the largest gypsum sand dune field in the world:  275 sq. miles...easy to get lost here.  Regular silica based sand (beaches, Mojave Desert) is different than gypsum sand because gypsum is water soluble.  That's why this place is so unique.  Ordinarily, the first rain would dissolve the gypsum and carry it away.  Here, number one, it seldom rains; two, the dunes sit in a prehistoric lake bed, even when water enters the area and melts the gypsum, it has nowhere to go.  The moisture eventually evaporates and the dunes remain intact.  So much gypsum has siphoned into the area from the runoff from neighboring gypsum mountains that the Tularosa Basin is 2000 feet deep with the stuff!

Can you tell we had more fun here than in Arizona?  Next door is the White Sands Missile Testing Range and the Holloman Air Force Base.  F-22's were flying overhead, going sonic, and producing very loud cannon booms.  Very cool!
I should have put his Doggles  (canine sunglasses) on.  It was blindingly bright.
A few hours later, we were back on the road.
Within a half hour, I was driving through Lincoln National Forest and back up over 5000 feet.  I stopped at a ski resort to let Cole stretch.  I had just come from the beach and I got some odd looks from the folks all bundled up in their Winter clothes.
A hundred year old railroad trestle bridge.  335 feet high.  The conductor would always lose logs on this route from the logging areas back down to the canyon.  In spite of this, the train became a tourist attraction...Victorian daredevils!
What on Earth is a large, expensive, bronze statue of a French Canadian voyageur and his Indian companion doing in the middle of nowhere, NM?  And I mean nowhere.  I prefer to drive long distances in silence.  On this trip, it wasn't a preference as much as a given.  I'd forgotten to pack any CD's and many, many times I scanned the FM band to find zero radio stations.  I wanted solitude and, by golly, I got it.
Eventually, I learned that the area in NM that I had crossed and the next area of Midland, TX was in an second oil boom.  New fracking technology had uncorked previously unreachable reserves.  Before the sun set, I could see a haze all the way to the horizon.  The stench of this toxic fog was overwhelming.  Cole was in the backseat grumbling and snorting.  It wasn't until I was many miles on I-10 before the air cleared.  I breath in chemicals at work every day.  Every morning, I hack and cough for a couple hours until I can breath again.  It wasn't until the second week of my trip that my chronically sore throat felt normal again.  But, it's my choice to make a living this way.  That's why I'm adamant that my home be a safe zone, no pesticides, no chemicals, no perfumes.  But, these poor's 24/7, unavoidable toxic soup.  Kids, everybody has to ingest it.  All for petroleum.  I'm being a bit hypocritical here, because I burned 115 gallons of gas on my 5200 mile trip, or maybe I feel guilty for being a cog in the wheel.
Thanks be to the good friends who kept me engaged in phone conversation many times during that approx. 20 hour marathon drive.
It was beyond wonderful to drive onto the farm Saturday night.  I had everything unpacked and washed by 10 PM, enough time left over to play with the newest members of my rock collection.
Tip of the hat to everyone who have once again supported me at home and on the road.  Mean it!