Fair Time

 

It is July and it is fair time.  I was always a pretty active participant in the fair, bringing goods and winning ribbons was lots of fun.  That was forty years ago.  The fair has changed considerably in more recent times.

It is still the fair, but it is no long run by the county and therefore not a “county” fair.  It is the Whidbey Island Fair run now by the Island County Port Commission.

During the transition from one system to another some important things were neglected, the major one being the booking of the carnival folks.  We always had the fair around the middle of August when things were hot and dusty.  Now the fair is the middle of July, much too early for an agricultural event.

What happened? When the port realized that they hadn’t booked the carnival, it wasn’t available and there weren’t any others available for the usual time frame, mid August.  What to do?  Well you need a carnival for the fair and the only one available was available way too early for an agricultural event.  They booked it and moved the fair up a month.

What were the repercussions of this sad move?  The carnival activities look ok, though this concessionaire is smaller and doesn’t have the usual Ferris wheel or roller coaster or hammer. The rides aren’t as exciting.

The biggest repercussion is the agriculture events.  How many folks in Western Washington (night temps in the 50s) have corn ready to show at the fair?  Only strawberries have ripened in time.  You should see the examples of garlic, beans, and squash.  Piddily. Most of the produce is just coming on and showing juvenile veggies is not what the fair is about. There were flowers, but they were early summer ones not late summer, a completely different collection than what we use to see.  Folks can’t get inspired to show their wares if they are still immature.

Cattle, pigs, sheep are still somewhat under their usual August weights.  Auctions bring in smaller dollar amounts.  Horses are ready any time as are the chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats, and such.

When I first moved to the island and lived in a Clinton beach community, the local kids and I would go on walkabout and collect shells, sea glass, seed pods, driftwood, and rocks and work on project gluing these to plywood or larger driftwood to enter the kid’s crafts.  It was fun and they treasured the ribbons given to them for their labors. Nowadays the kids are on computers or cell phones and don’t collect detritus from the beach to make beach collages.  Too bad because the exhibit was painfully lacking in interesting material.

Photography seemed to be popular with hundreds of participants, but most were just snapshots without much concentration on creating a piece of art.  The fine arts exhibition was beautiful with a variety of participants, but smaller than in past years.

The usual commercial exhibits didn’t show because the attendance wasn’t high enough—no vegamatic.

We usually go on the first day of the fair in order to see the flowers and vegetables and baked goods at their best, before the wilt and mold set in.  Baking was poorly attended, but there were a goodly number of flowers.  Vegetables were, and have been for all the years the fair  has been in July, small, and severely lacking.  It used to be my favorite department and I would always participate.  Unfortunately, this year, the weather has not cooperated especially, with temps in the 50s at night and 60s during the day and rain to damage much of the goods.

My students produced an educational project that garnered a blue ribbon.  I won two blues and a red.  Many of my students achieved the blue ribbon and some the best of category.  I am proud of them.  The judge was fair and did write critiques for them to read about their work.  It is good to compete as you put your best foot forward and work on painting harder.  The rewards reinforce their attempts. Not everyone goes home happy, but most are happy.  I will crack the whip next year to get them to compete again.

All in all, I enjoyed my work time at the fair (4 hours) as I got to see old friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years, many of whom I have know as long as I have lived here (almost fifty years) and one who I have known since high school.  It becomes a reunion time.  Some of the kids from the beach collage are parents and grandparents now.  It is good to see their development.  Some of the folks ask questions and one family had only lived here a week.  They were really enthusiastic about the country fair never having been to a small, old fashioned one.

I had my Fisher Flour Mill scone which I have had at the fair as long as I have lived here.  When I was a little kid we went to the Puyallup Fair, which is officially the Western Washington State Fair and had a scone at the Fisher booth.  My sister and I would collect coupons off the flour sacks all year so we could each have a free scone with strawberry jam using the coupons.  I am told the line is very long now, though I haven’t been to that fair in years, too commercial. We don’t get free ones any more, however.

Without a doubt I enjoyed myself and maybe I should work to make it a better event.  We need to keep these small fairs going, they are dying out in America and they are really what the county or country fair is really about. You should seek them out and visit.  They are truly a part of rural America.

PS:  See my award on my website https://theruralgallery.com

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Hobbies

“Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love and something to hope for.” (Joseph Addison)

I am not sure that I have had time for hobbies in my life.  Gardening was always for food, not much of a hobby.  Cooking gourmet meals is just a way of life.  Camping? It is getting very difficult to locate places to stay when I have time available. Reading?  Probably.

What is a hobby? The dictionary says it is an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation, not as a main occupation.  Well cooking and gardening? Too much work and not enough relaxation or pleasure.  Gourmet cooking can take a lot of time and the pleasure of it is consumed in moments.  Gardening, real work with a nice outcome, but not much pleasure in the process and it is back breaking as well.

Camping used to be a pleasure for us.  Now, with so many snowbirds, the parks are crowded and you must plan six months to a year in advance to camp in your favorite place, which also happens to be everyone else’s favorite too.  I don’t buy green bananas, how can I plan THAT far ahead?

Reading.  I guess I would say that by the strictest definition of the word, my hobby would be reading. I spend a goodly amount of time doing it and I enjoy it and it isn’t part of my work, therefore it qualifies as a hobby.  I read about one hundred fifty books a year, sometimes more, reading most evenings for a couple of hours.  Since it interferes with work I should be doing, it really seems more like an addiction than a hobby.

Writing.  Writing is probably a hobby for me too.  My original goal in starting to write  was publishing books about my life, memoir.  I have written and rewritten and belabored the subjects ad infinitum. Am I any closer to my goals….NO! I have enjoyed doing it and it does give me satisfaction.  It does take some of my time though not as much as reading.

Overall, I guess I am such a busy person that hobbies have not really had much place in my life.  A sad thing.  One should have “an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation.” as the definition required.  I still prepare gourmet meals, garden, read and write, but that is about the extent of non-work activities in which I participate.  I guess I need to find a good hobby.

Lightening my load

In an earlier life, thirty years ago, I was a fiber artist.  Most of my readers know me as a painter and a teacher, which is my current life. In those early years, I designed garments, mostly sweaters, in a one of a kind series, making over one hundred sweaters a year.  I showed locally at Folklife and Bumbershoot, at the Seattle Center, galleries and at the American Crafts Council’s shows in the east.  Try taking orders from galleries for sweaters in June in West Springfield, MA when the temperature is 97 degrees and the humidity is just as high.  Winters in Baltimore with well below freezing weather was a better venue.

I handspun yarn from angora, baby camel down and silk, specialty wools, ramie and more were my specialty.  I won awards for my yarn designs.  I definitely won awards for the sweaters, some costing as much as $1000.  One was hand dyed from herbal materials including onion skins, walnut husks, chrome (yuk), alum and more.  It was an order for a man who was a historical reenactment buff.  It was handcarded, handspun, hand dyed and hand knitted in natural white, two shades of yellow from the differing mordants, and brown from the walnut husks. Remember this was in the 80’s.

Many sweaters used as many as 30 different kinds of yarn in related colors in the Kaffe Faucet style.  A full length opera coat lined with matching silk satin lining was over $900.  It was a limited market, but it did make me a good wage.  Winters were spent making and stocking inventory. Summers were spent going from show to show and trying to build inventory in between.  It was grueling.

In 1995, my wonderful husband decided that hauling a truckload of inventory to shows around the state and the country was more than he could handle.  And bless his soul, he told me when he turned fifty, I was going to have to get another helper. He mentioned that he would give me a year off to find myself, or I could continue with a hew helper.

I took the year off.  I tried to decide on a new career.  It was difficult.  What would you do if you were allowed a year to change your life? While I was trying to decide, I wrote a cookbook.  It was published that year, 1995, The Artist’s Palate, which went to a second printing. But what would I do after that?  I considered going back to school and getting a degree in Architecture.  I was already designing houses for people.  It was a good option, but I needed to brush up on my math.  I took a math class at the local community college and was flummoxed to discover it was all theoretical and none of it covered the Plane Geometry I needed.

Other options were opened.  The community college offered me a job teaching art when they saw my induction information.  I taught art there for twelve years until they phased out my department.  I moved on to other venues and still teach it twenty six years later.

But….my husband and my sister suggested that I take a watercolor class from Eric Wiegardt.  I did and I have been painting ever since. But that is not the focus of this missal.

All the materials that I had left from my former life as a fiber artist have been languishing up in my attic since 1995.  Now I received news of an artist’s and crafter’s garage sale.  I signed up.  I started with one table, but when I began pulling the materials from nooks and crannies I discovered I had over five hundred pounds of stuff.  I just gave away over one hundred pounds of fabrics I had left to a lady that sews quilts for veterans. https://q13fox.com/2018/11/14/giving-to-the-givers-whidbey-quilters-are-stitching-up-local-veterans-old-wounds-of-war/

I now am left with several hundred pounds of wool which has been washed and carded, some made into roving, to sell.  I have about one hundred fifty pounds of commercial yarn to sell. I have three knitting machines.  I cried while I was gathering it all. There are thousands of dollars of materials here which I will sell for pennies on the dollar.  It has been sitting for twenty three years.  Why am I so attached to it?

I have another life as a painter and teacher.  I have had this life since 1996.  Why do I not want to let go? I am trying to divest myself of superfluous baggage.  But this baggage was a big part of my younger life.  I must let go before all this detritus molders away in the attic.  Give it up and get onto a less cluttered life.  Be free of the crap that bogs me down.  I have had wind of several groups that look for this material, schools, craft classes for kids, educational groups, groups that have thrift store that support the homeless, the foodless.  Hopefully after the sale, I will be able to support these folks by giving them the remains of the day at the artist’s and crafter’s garage sale!

The Use-By Date

Do you ever read those things on a can of beans? On the package of butter or noodles you just bought?  Have you purchased an item at the grocery only to discover when you got home that it was past its “use by date?”  My sister-in-law use to clean out my mother-in-laws refer and cupboards of all the past the use by date goods and she had little left in the pantry.  Do we get sick if we consume something past its use by date? Even if it hasn’t been opened?

What about people?  I think I am past my use by date.  This is the date where the parts start to fall apart.  Up to a certain point we have damage, just like the damaged goods canned food with big dents in them.  But after the use by date does the product begin to deteriorate?  Well people begin to deteriorate at some point in their lives.  All those hinges begin to wear and the body begins to fall apart.  This is the point in my life.  I try tai chi and digging in the garden and touching my toes, but it takes me a while to recuperate, but at least I still recuperate.

I was just reading a book by Daniel Everett called Don’t Sleep—There are Snakes. Though it is primarily a book about language and language development, it is also a study of a group of native people in a far off tributary of the Amazon.  Their use by date comes well before ours.  They live to be thirty-eight or thirty-nine years old and then they are worn out. They do not build houses but sleep on the ground outdoors.  They hunt when they are hungry, but not unless they are hungry. They have no record of the past and no concept of the future, no written language, no counting system or names for colors.  They found it most interesting that the foreigners lived to be so old and were so concerned about life’s comforts.

When I worked at Boeing, I rode to work in a carpool.  There were five of us, I being the youngest and Earl being the oldest.  Earl was counting the days to his retirement when he could go to the thrift and junk store seeking antiques on a daily basis.  He was going to make a second occupation of this after working a lifetime at Boeing.  Earl died within a year of retirement.  Back then the average life expectancy was about sixty-seven for men.  The average life expectancy for a Boeing retiree at that point in history was a year and a half after retirement. The use by date being considerably shorter than today.

No wonder many of us didn’t bother to worry earlier about end of life care insurance and help in our old age.  We only had a couple of years after we retired to make ends meet and then our use by date was up.  Now we can live another forty years or so.  My dad retired at fifty-three and lived almost that long again after he retired. Our bodies give out, but we continue on in a more limited fashion.

Next week I have my annual physical.  I am sure that I am fine, but the doc requires it to get his bit of Medicare payment for the “wellness exam.” I wouldn’t go, but he will no long renew my prescription if I don’t come in.  After surviving cancer twice, it is a good thing to see how much wellness I have left or if I am approaching my use by date. I think it is still a ways off yet.

 

Back Roads

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The Back Road to our Farm (the only road)

Today we will go to a potluck sponsored by the local historical society here on Whidbey Island.  The potluck is at a hundred year old community hall.  This gathering happens once a quarter and the discussion is about back roads of Whidbey.  This time we are discussing Quade Road and Goodell Road.  I assume that this is the current Goodell Road as there use to be a couple of roads named Goodell Road.

The photo above is a back road, albeit, more rustic in nature than the ones under discussion.  It is an old road to my farm where I grow my vegetables and fruit.  I have talked about growing there in former blogs.  The interesting thing about this road is it is six hundred and sixty feet down this road to the edge of my farm.  I travel another four hundred feet beyond to the garden.  The farm is ten acres of very secluded land.  About two acres is cleared and my garden and fruit trees are in this clearing.  We have farmed here for about seventeen years.  It is not where we live, but eighteen miles from our home.

We use to garden at our home, but the land to the south of us, which was fields when we moved here, have grown up into tall conifers and shaded out our garden and orchard.  Now we garden in this remote site. I love the peace and solitude this remote location affords.  About the only sounds I hear when I am gardening are the resident raven making his croaky sound to talk with its mate, an occasional airplane and the scream of an eagle who has his eye on my dachshund. I have to keep a careful eye on both the dog and the eagle.  If the eagle gets too aggressive the dog has to be in the truck.  He would much rather be looking for mice in the garden. He likes to dig in the garden with me.

The interesting thing about this back road to my garden is that once this road was frequented by trucks that hauled strawberries to the local steamboats that took the goods to larger city centers.  Until 1945 this was a strawberry farm, as were many of the farms in adjacent area.  They had their own grange in the community as well.

In 1945, for some reason, the farm was left to decay.  The folks who lived here moved out, leaving a very small house, two rooms, no plumbing, electricity, with wood heat, and never returned.  We bought it in 1988.  The house was partially collapsed and had to be taken down.  A neighbor down the street gave us a photo of what it looked like when a family lived here.  He didn’t know what happened to them.  When we bought the property, strawberries still grew here, wild, but not flourishing.

There were also two other buildings on the property and an old root cellar.  The two other buildings were at opposite ends of the property and were workers shacks.  They were about ten by fifteen feet with just studs on the inside walls.  The outsides had shiplap siding.  Where there were knot holes in the siding and the knots had fallen out, the residents (strawberry pickers and weeders) had nailed up cornflakes box tops over the holes to keep the elements and mice out.  Tin can lids were nailed over some of these as well.  The same was true of the boards on the floor.  The roofs were hand split cedar shakes from the property.

It was always fun to travel down this long road through two gates and arrive at this little part of history that we owned.  We had hoped to build here someday, but life passed us by and it never happened.  We garden and enjoy the solitude and hope that the folks who had tended there garden here so long ago watch over us and feel that we are good husbanders of their land.  It is never easy work.  Even with my modest garden, it is still a lot of work.  I can’t imagine tending acres of strawberries.  They also had goats, so maybe they provided milk and cheese and weeding for the strawberry farmers.

Now we are to an age where we have to think about the end of our lives and the farm will provide our retirement when we sell it.  The time has come and I only hope that the new owners, when they materialize, are as reverent of the land as those who have gone before.

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Hundred Year Old Apple Trees

The dish I am making for the potluck, if you are interested, is Italian Strata

Here is the recipe.

Italian Strata

Layer the following in a large casserole (I am using my lidded cast iron kettle)

Large cubed bread (day old, stale, tough) soaked in a little butter, cream and milk until soft

Finely chopped onion

Pesto

Sun-dried tomatoes

Goat cheese (chevre)

Homemade ricotta (see previous blog) with a little lemon zest stirred in

Red and yellow peppers chopped

Diced and browned lonzino (you could use bacon or ham)

I mixed five eggs with milk and poured over

Topped with shredded romano cheese

And bake until set.  Because mine is large, I am baking part of the time with the lid on and then taking off to brown for the last few minutes.

I know, I didn’t give any measurements.  It is just great to do it by feel and sight.  You can add lots of goodies or a few.  Bread is the main constituent, but it doesn’t have to be.  Just have fun.

Rabbits, Rabbits, Rabbits

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Yes, Rabbits!  A town nearby on Whidbey Island is having an issue with lots of rabbits.  These are not the wild cottontails that live around my farm, but domestics that have run rampant.

Years ago, the county fair, which is located adjacent to the city limits, had an event for children called The Barnyard Scramble.  Folks on the island donated animals, of which they had a surplus, for the children to chase and capture and take home.

Many a parent didn’t think little Johnny had a chance of catching a piglet or rooster or rabbit or duck so allowed them to enter in the competition.  Unfortunately, Johnny or Mary DID catch one.  Now they had to take it home to a situation for which they were totally unprepared.  How do you house a piglet, rooster, rabbit or duck?  The local feed store made out like bandits as the confused parent tried to decide what was needed to keep the little treasure happy and alive.

We live on an island with lots of predators, coyotes, raccoons, weasels, owls, hawks, eagles, and mink.  Keeping my chickens safe is a project, one that has needed a lot of polishing over the years to avoid disaster.

Well mom or dad is at the feed store trying to decide what type of containment, food, water, vitamins, minerals, sleeping materials this new member of their family needs to be happy.

Sometimes it is so frustrating that they just decide to let it go in another neighborhood away from theirs.  Johnny is heartbroken, but maybe we can get him a more suitable pet, perhaps a gerbil.

Well, one of the problems with the Barnyard Scramble is that a few of the more wily got away.  Mostly rabbits.  For a number of years their number was not significant.  Now, numerous years later, they have multiplied logarithmically.

I was walking downtown the other day and didn’t see the rabbit.  It only just avoided my stepping on it by a “hare’s-breath.”  It just laid there sunning itself, challenging me to walk around.

Now they dig up the football field at the school creating leg-breaking divots in the terrain.  They are competing with the local deer in the neighborhood for your delectable bedding plants within minutes of them being established in their proper location in the garden.  They hide under the rhododendrons, sleep in your garden shed and…… have three or four litters of up to six offspring each year.

I drove into town in May and there were five identical quints nibbling grass at the bus stop.  They were still hanging out together two weeks later.  When I first spied them they were smaller than teacup size and then they were full grown and looking at each other in a distinctly sexual way.  Children driving to town with you in your car can get a sex education in almost every block of town.

I live six miles from this town and twice in the last two months, foreign, domestic rabbits have appeared in my neighborhood.  I have had a problem with cottontails for years.  They will run when they see me.  They do chew off the tulips and then decide that they really didn’t like the taste of them, leaving them laying on the ground to wilt and die.  They use the same approach with raspberries, and my bedding plants.  If you plant bulbs in the fall they will dig them up to see if they are edible and leave them laying on the ground to get frozen if you don’t notice soon enough.  Some folks plant bulbs with chicken wire placed over the top and then filled with dirt to deter them.  The bulbs grow through the chicken wire just fine.

Recently around the Pacific Northwest the news folks have been predicting the doom and gloom of a cataclysmic event.  Do you have enough water?  Do you have enough food?  Do you have a plan to keep warm?  How will you survive unless you plan ahead?

I have planned ahead.  I am ready.  When this happens, we will eat rabbit.  Don’t tell anyone, because, there are only enough for us for each season.  Well maybe a little more than enough for us.  I am not sure what we will eat with them, but we use to eat rabbit a lot when we raised them for meat.  Why not now?  Rabbit stew day in and day out may be boring, but it is life sustaining.  I am not sure we could put much of dent in the population at the rate they reproduce, but we could make some inroads.

 

 

Peace and the Bountiful Harvest

It is late October and I just looked out into the very dark evening after a somewhat mixed day and I see the crescent moon through the trees.  It is a peaceful sight.  There is also no wind.  It isn’t warm, but it is peaceful.  I have just gone out and gotten wood for the fire to keep us warm through the night.

I guess that we can say, officially, that we are headed to winter.  That is the thing about living in the maritime northwest.  Winter is usually at least two months before and after the winter solstice.  Why does winter start then?  We have our coldest, wettest weather before AND after that date.  I never could understand why winter officially started on the 21st of December.  We are long in the throes of winter by then.

I have just finished doing all the tomatoes I am going to do this year.  We have been hauling home buckets of them from our farm for processing.  I have made zillions of bottles of tomato sauce, tomato paste, tomato pickle relish (both red and green), marinara and more. I had two large buckets left to finish today and I am hoping this is the last of it.  They do look beautiful sitting on the shelves in the root cellar.  We had thirty-eight plants at the farm and another nine here in the greenhouse.  They stopped blooming a month ago, and then we just hoped that some ripen, which they did in abundance.

Most of the preserving is finished.  The old apple trees, over a hundred years old, are just about ready to pick.  They are good keepers if I pick them while they are still in the starch.  Seldom do you find apples in the store “in the starch.”  If all the starch has turned to sugar, then the apples will start to deteriorate.  If they are in the starch, then they have a while to reach their full ripeness.  We pick them and they taste wonderful all the way until May.  I find that most of the ones I see in the store are already on the pithy side.  Many times, here in the northwest, they dump last year’s cold storage apples on us which lack flavor and are already mushy.  I love the ones we pick because they are so crisp and crunchy.

I finished freezing the green beans two months ago.  The pumpkins I grew this year are the kind that have hulless seeds. I will scrape them out of the pumpkins and clean them and roast them for pepitas for winter.  This is the first time I have grown these, so I have no experience with this.  Folks tell me that the pumpkin itself is not very tasty.  We will see, and if not then the chickens will benefit from their flesh.

We did have a bumper crop of peppers this year.  Mostly varieties of sweet peppers.  The hot peppers don’t get very hot in our climate as it is generally to cool for those flavors to fully develop.  I used a lot of them in the marinara. We did make poppers.  I make them by cutting the small  peppers in half lengthwise and filling with chorizo and covering with cheese (jack or mozz, but gooey cheese) and then baking in the oven until bubbly.  Boy, are these good.  You can serve them as appetizers, but we make a meal of them we have so many.

I am truly proud of myself this year as I actually had three gorgeous eggplant.  I have harvested two and will go get the last this weekend.  I made mousaka with one of them. Homemade ricotta, fresh tomato sauce, garden peppers, a real homegrown treat.

Well, I have ranted enough about the bounty we experienced this season.  I need to go damper the wood kitchen range where the tomato sauce bubbled away all day and is now safely cooling in the pressure cooker until morning.

I feel like I accomplished a reasonable harvest this year.  Yes, it is peaceful and I am enjoying watching that crescent moon.  Now we can bed down for winter.