Friday, December 21, 2012

Catching up to winter

 It's the Winter Solstice and I've realized I've not yet posted about Samhuinn at all. I had a few things kicking around I was going to write about then, like the meaning of sacrifice. After all, I see a lot of people prattling on about animal sacrifice who aren't actually involved in the raising of food animals and most of it is ludicrous.  I mean some is the idea that you can by factory-farmed meat and "sacrifice" it but one bunch actually proudly proclaims they "sacrifice" the "blood" they think is in the bottom off their packages of frozen (factory-farmed no doubt) chicken. Dearies, that's not blood, that's blood tinged water and it's a waste product. You seriously offer to your Gods that which normal people throw away? I'm sorry there's something wrong with that.

Obviously, not everyone is raising any of their own food animals so doing a sacrifice is not possible. I do believe you can do a meat offering with purchased meat, but I'm going to maintain that it really should be purchased with consideration including not using factory farmed meat for offerings. Even if YOU choose to eat factory farmed meat, consider that perhaps you want to splurge if you are buying for them. There are enough resources to find pasture-raised meat in any given area, after all. But also do on think that it is the same as sacrificing an animal you raised from infancy, that you cared for and nurtured and made sure had the best life you could provide for him. Because it's just not. It's an offering.

Lucky (left) with Pops (right) and two hens
Shortly before Samhuinn we did our chicken sacrifice, killing all but one of this year's cockerels. This did include offering the best one to the Gods. We hadn't planned on keeping any, but one little guy who had somehow worked his way into the older flock, with our older rooster, Pops, accepting him after the younger rooster, Sonny, (we don't work real hard in naming our chickens) had gone and taken over the pullets in this year's hatch. Most of the other cockerels had been separated out already, two others managed to live with Sonny okay, but this one head to take Sonny's place in the other flock. I had wanted to keep him, Aaron got me to agree to dispatch him as well, but then he escaped. Found a hole the others didn't. So I put my foot down, he might not be real big or real flashy but he was real smart so he got to live. He still lives with Pops and his hens, but we may eventually try to establish three flocks. Or not. The other factor is that if something happens to either of the other two, we have him. We seem to be calling him "Lucky" but I don't think luck had much to do with it. I think he's a bit of a con artist, but I like that about him. It's a good survival skill in the very complicated society of chickens.

I would have also liked to have written about  how things were going with the mares, but we got rain. Lots of rain. Serious ground-soaking too much mud to do much sort of rain. Which then froze the mud into nasty, hard ground.  So we didn't work with them a lot. A bit of brushing if the rain let up long enough for them to be dry, as much game playing as the mushy and then frozen ground allows. Now we have snow, well today it's turning to slush in a winter rain but I'm hoping it will turn back to snow without painfully frozen slush that resembles that painfully frozen mud. Meanwhile we seem to be settling into a nice winter routine with the four horses and the goat.

So not a lot to talk about which is why I hadn't. We survived Superstorm Sandy which actually wasn't so super by the time she got here so we were again lucky. Or, as I keep noting when others say something nasty about our weather...we found a good place, nestled here in the mountains, when it comes to storms we never seem to get the worse. *knockswood* We celebrated Samhuinn about mid-November, had a nice fire followed by a nice meal. Aaron found a 7lb turnip for our Jack, as our swede growing attempts failed (seriously we need to figure out the goat-proof fencing thing better). So this was damn nice. The meal was one of our chickens with veggies, including most of the inside of the turnip...we actually had too much from it fit it all in the clay cooker. Next year hope to grow our own but matching this size might take a few years.

Now we're settling into winter routine. The past week has been one of sadness and contemplation. And annoyance at rampant stupidity. I think a lot of my winter will be like I am right now, surrounded by snuggling dogs, trying to write and realizing I should get out to check the outside animals and the fires soon.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

And as summer starts winding down

 Summer arrived, we did celebrate Bealtuinn, it was a lovely ritual and it poured rain at the point where I did the omen for the blessing...all things considered, we took that as a good blessing.  The summer came on hot though, real hot. Okay, it has not been as hot here as many places, and while a bit dry for us we have no drought, so we can't complain. Might a bit more if we got as serious with planting as we intended to, some here have been hurt by the weather...but battles of fences and goats meant we were prepared not to have much of a domestic harvest.

The chick have grown, with two more losses including the one that wasn't growing. The wild geese, which were three families this year, have grown too. One family is gone, um, as I write I'm not sure about the other two as they've both been flying but may have been the day. We'll likely see them, but not be able to pick them out, as the flocks fly south in a couple of months. We also have had one family of Mergansers born and brought up on the pond, that we know of; there is always a chance that another family might have been a bit more private about it. 
 A huge part of our focus this year, what with me no longer working nights, has been us catching up on working with the horses. And while it's an all seasons thing, I wrote last year that we call our Lùnasdal celebration here "Là Fhéill Mhacha" and that we do have an even stronger focus on horses for this celebration than others, although, again, horses like dogs are always a part of what we do. It was a time of horse racing and still is of horse fairs, although as I wrote elsewhere this summer I do not believe going to or watching modern professional horse races is a very spiritual experience, especially not for the poor horses. You are, after all, supporting horse slaughter every time you do so.

I'm feeling this celebration is very special, as this summer has been very much focused on training Saorsa, getting to know Misty, trying to keep the Mini boys from being bored. No longer working nights, I've been able to spend a lot more time out with the horses with all of us awake (you know, when it's not been too sweltering, so sometimes it is evening). Between me having more time to play with her and Misty being her herd, perhaps some maturing as well now that she's 5, Saorsa has made some great strides. In fact, it's been amazing! She's still bold and daring, but not as pushy and rude as she was.

This has included me finally riding her.We did or first trail ride on August 5th, so now our "Great Horse Unrace" can now include actual riding again. Maybe we'll even start racing for fun by next year. We'll see. We need to get boots for them first or do it in the field though, as the gravelly road does not inspire them to want to move very fast. Saorsa, in fact, acts like an old plug who has been trail riding for years. It's been three times. This is slow, steady training using Natural Horsemanship methods at work. She's been on the road many times, without a rider, after all. Having a rider seems to be nothing to her, she just was, "oh, okay, so now you're going to do all this stuff from up there? Kinda lazy, then, ain't ya?"

She's really turning into a seriously awesome horse. Um, aside from shots. She does not like shots. She is not very forgiving of shots. Shots bring back the old, scary, "I'm going to maul you now!" Saorsa.   Fortunately, in NH we can give our own shots, all of them, and the vet is more than happy with this idea (because getting to live can outweigh making money, sometimes, I mean what would he do with it if he's dead? and he's just a nice guy, anyway). Of course, this will work only as long as we don't do anything that requires certification. We don't exactly have any immediate plans to do anything other than hang out and ride here, so that's not a problem. If my dreams of doing Search and Rescue with her or any sort of fun competitions (I have no interest in showing, but do have a mild interest in mounted Cowboy shooting which I think she has the moxie for or something like that...just fun...and not economical at this point anyway, especially as the nearest mounted team I know of is in NY state).

The mares have ended up with the run of the place, actually. Did I mention we seem to be having some issues with fencing. The not very good fencing blocking off the driveways doesn't seem to be a problem, as after a couple of adventures, neither seem to be interested in leaving us. *knockwood*  So we decided to put aside the rest of the fencing and let them wander. They come to the door to visit or to ask for help when one loses track of the other while they graze. And Saorsa is free to swim in the pond as she likes, although Misty doesn't approve. (Despite the heat she didn't seem to do this much, perhaps because Misty was so pissed at her last May ..left hand photo....but today she ventured back in... right hand photo).   Oh, and as I typed this paragraph they just trotted by to head for the shelter of the barn, apparently it's nap time.

So, summer has been horses, walking and playing with dogs, Aaron getting more shifts with the ambulance, job hunting (I admit, him more than me), some work on building a business (me), trying to keep up training while it's broiling inside and out, working on the place and a bit of writing (me).  I actually have a few things cooking, one which I thought I'd be announcing all over the place but my own online posting of it is going to be delayed. I may be telling why over at Championing Ourselves in the next few weeks (or months), but suffice it to say that my War Goddesses article will not be seeing light until about Samhuinn either way.   Yes, it's been a good summer. We have much to celebrate...which should be within a week.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sumer Is Icumen In.....

Yes, I know that's an Old English song and not Celtic, but as part of my Bealtuinn practice always includes watching The Wicker Man (the original, of course) it's totally stuck in my head.  (This year we also watched The Wicker Tree. I had considered doing a review, but I don't think I'll bother anymore than I'll bother ever watching it again. No, it won't be part of our tradition. It was quite dreadful, although not as horrible as the remake with Nicolas Cage, and boring. I don't know if Hardy never did get what the actual happy accident that made The Wicker Man a Pagan cult hit or if he intentionally decided to just bore us to death but it was very sad and I'm not going to put any energy into anticipating his next film.   Anyway.....)

We're a couple weeks and a lot of word from celebrating as of yet. Work has begun, pastures, chickens, gardens. It's all slow but ....   We are also planning a fenced in yard and it turns out friends of ours are getting rid of we have some chain link and some of the parts for it to use! This means we'll have a better fence than we initially were planning, only having to buy the gates and some parts and concrete. And then do the work. This will give the hounds a place to romp off leash and an area protected from the goat and the horses when they get out (which they do a lot, this spring, lots of fence work in our future there, too). We'll have some of our gardens in there, including trying to salvage some of my parents' flowers.

We're also doing a good deal more in cleaning up the entire house, making it more and more our space. This is a rather difficult thing for me, as it means going through my parents' things and changing the house from how they had it to what we need. I want to get it so that we can have company over on the A-frame side, so that not everyone who visits has to immediately deal with our crazy dog pack and to have a roomier place to sit. I also want the kitchen all fixed up for future canning and other bigger food projects. The little one in our "in-law" apartment is often difficult to work in even for what we're doing right now.
March 29, just arrived

As I noted in my last post, we got another bunch of Silver Gray Dorking chicks, they arrived safely and so far 22 of the 25 are still with us. One is tiny, not growing and seems gimpy, but eats, drinks and poops and seems enthusiastic about life so we're giving her a chance. The other chicks are not picking on her, although she does get run over when they get excited (which is all the time).

On April 16
 In the next couple of days we intend to separate the two Dorking roosters we have along with half the Dorking hens each and one with the hybrid as well. We'll see if we can get a couple hatches, hopefully brooded by the hens, out of this. We might incubate some eggs as well.  We don't plan to keep any of the males of this batch past fall, we'll keep the two roosters we have and the new hens and try to keep the lines as diverse as we can with that.

We are not going to get the Scots Dumpies this year, unless we have some radical developments which makes all this too easy and we need to get more. We now wouldn't be able to until July, which is rather late and I'd rather aim for next year. And get more experience with these guys.  I do intend to have the Dumpies some day, I really do. However, I also want a lot of things set up better, because we really want to be able to make major strides in knowing how to breed and keep the flock thriving before we attempt it. And, honestly, I love the Dorkings, they are a beautiful and quite nice birds.

April 16, our little girl next to a normal sized female

The past week or so has been chilly to cold. We had snow a few days ago and night temps in the teens. This after hot weather in March. I'm a bit concerned about a lot of our trees and bushes, as they had been budding when this hit, and some of our perennials were up and may now be done for the season early. And others might not make it this year.  Fortunately, we hadn't been fooled into planting anything outdoors yet.

We've been exploring the land a bit, it's nice to together now, as for years our schedules didn't allow. Yesterday we heard coywolf puppies not far from here while walking the fuzzy dogs. Aaron kept them with him while I followed the sound. It was distressed, although I knew I wouldn't go too close or interfere if I did find them as there is seldom a reason to. The adults were likely off hunting. They went quiet as I got close, I looked around, hoping to see an adult returning having heard them too and probably close enough to know we were there. I didn't actually look for the den, just tried to see if I could make out where there might have been more activity. I am hoping they don't feel a need to move them, as I didn't find them, and I will try staking out the area when the pups are a bit older to see if I can get any photos. I went back to Aaron and the dogs, awhile later we heard the pups again, this time a very different cry which likely indicated the adults coming back.  I love these beasts. Yes, I know that seems odd to some that a chicken farmer says that, but it's my duty to protect the chickens without harming the possible competition.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Adventures in corned beef and other foodie stuff

Beet Kvass brewing
I think we might officially be entering the foodie world. While we have been dedicated to real food for awhile, sometimes it's hard to see us in this light, but I think it's getting hard to avoid. We're also fermenting things, that's a big step in this for us. Aaron has been the one making kefir, I've just started a batch of beet kvass.

But our big adventure has been in corned beef. The past few weeks had the subject brought up a lot due to the association with Irish American St. Patrick's Day dinners. Of course, as we're Pagan it gets drowned out a bit by all the various blather on the implications of the day. As we're more Scottishly inclined, I didn't feel a need to voice in on that and our only celebration was to go to a local coffee house to listen to music (which was a nice sociable thing to try to break out hermity ways). But there were enough mentions of corned beef and cabbage that I did start craving and then Nourshed Kitchen, a lovely blog you should check out if you're interested in real food, had this post on curing your own corned beef.

The roast before
As it's awfully hard to find grass-fed corned beef on a whim, we decided to go for this. Of course, we got started rather late to do it for St. Paddy's but that's not an issue. For me corned beef is not about St. Paddy's Day or about "being Irish." It's about being a New Englander with a Québécois father. It was an important meal, cheap, hardy, filling, savory on both sides of my family. The truth is that in the Northeast corned beef isn't about a ethnicity it's about class. It's a meal of the people. Of course, for boiled dinner it's not generally just corned beef and cabbage, but a variety of root vegetables as well. Things that get through the winter, which does make it quintessentially March meal.

In the whey, salt and spices
We have a few roast cuts from our last half-a-cow, although not a brisket apparently, but figured this piece would do although a bit more fat might have been nice. Of course, before we could start the curing of the beef, we needed to make the whey. This was something I had been intending to do as it's useful stuff and so the cream cheese which is the other side of the process. This, of course, took several days, in fact a bit more than we though it might. We went by Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions for this process. We did some raw milk and some raw milk yogurt, obviously the former took
Ready to cook

longer than the latter. We skipped the celery juice as we don't have a juicer anyway and would have had to buy celery (probably not local at this time of year).


Once the whey was separated out we put the spices and salt on the meat and poured the whey over it all. We left it out for one day at room temp but the moved it into the refrigerator for 5 (or so days, we aren't remembering this the same LOL). Then we took it out and got it going in the crockpot.
It's food!

We added turnips, parsnips, carrots and, of course the cabbage.This is, after all, not corned beef and cabbage but New England Boiled Dinner.

And amazingly it tasted just like New England Boiled Dinner!

 We still have a few meals of it. We are also left with some cream cheese for various things, as well as more whey which allowed us to start the beet kvass.

We've been taking baby steps in to a lot of this over the years, but getting more and more into it. Cooking isn't something that we've been the strongest about, but it's an important part. Especially as I've always had health issues which makes this very important to me, both the eating as traditionally as possible and the eating a lot of traditionally fermented foods.  I am one of many I know who screwed up my system through years of vegetarianism and "mainstream" food. It's amazing to me as I look at "the big 5 0" in a few weeks that I am as healthy as I ever remember being in my adult life. And this has been largely due to eating real food. Some which we raise ourselves, some which we buy locally and all of which we prepare in traditional ways.

Speaking of raising, regarding the chicken hopes I mentioned awhile back, we are still not sure about the Scots Dumpies, although if we are indecisive too long the decision will be made for this year. And I am thinking that we probably won't get them this year. But we will get them. So while we considered getting White or Red Dorkings, as there are two NH farms which offer one or the other, we decided to just stick with the Silver Grays. We are going to try to breed some of ours, but as I write this there are 25 newly hatched chicks on their way here.

You are what you do, not what you study

This is a moose, your argument is irrelevant
I have been using this mostly just for homestead related issues, but I think this actually relates to some extent. I will, however, most likely use this blog to delve into Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan and Heathen matters here, if they do not more relate to the warrior path where I'm more likely to do so at Championing Ourselves.  The idea of starting yet another blog is just to much. I find it odd that I've divided my life as much as I have, actually.

This topic also fits here for me, because this is very much a blog about living this life, rather than studying it. This is also true of Championing Ourselves, of course. In both cases research plays a major role, of course, research into Gaelic and Norse cultures, but here also research in various arts, crafts and sciences of living this life. However, research is only to lead to living, it can not be the only is not what defines us.

It seems that some folks now want to define a "Celtic Reconstructionist" as only someone who studies, who is themselves a scholar. That anyone who isn't cracking the books seriously cannot be called a CR. This would mean that my husband who has done minimal study isn't a proper Reconstructionist in their view.  My husband who has been practicing this for nearly 20 years now, who can remember every detail of every discussion he's been in, who actually know more about the lore (both Gaelic and Norse) from what he's picked up over the years than some of these folks relying on questionable tertiary sources and who has been in and lead ritual for, again, nearly 20 years is apparently not qualified because he prefers to research farming, alternative energy and politics; he reads some lore and history, but not a lot.  Fuck that shit!

CR was never meant to be a "religion of scholars" it was, rather meant to be a scholarly based religion. Really, I no longer consider it "a religion" it ceased being that a long time ago when others took up the term and it came to mean many thing, that is that there are many CR religions, it is a methodology. That methodology is a combination of scholarship and experience. But not everyone who decides to follow a religion using this methodology are going to be doing the work. Yes, that was true of most of us 20 odd years ago when we didn't have community, but in order for CR to mean anything, anything at all, we must be open to those who have other things than scholarship to share.

Celtic Reconstructionists have a horrible reputation not just in the broader NeoPagan community, (and yes, we are NeoPagan, we are in fact among the newest), but also among other Reconstructionists and think this issue may well be one which has caused this. Because there may be a valid reason why everyone sees us only as fighting online. Because far too many fancy themselves scholars and tell others that they're not welcome if they're not too. Although some of us (I have from the beginning) have tried to make everyone welcome, I have seen people be attacked, viciously sometimes, for wanting to find practice without having to do research.

Okay, so part of me might resent it a little because off all the work I've had to do being one of the first. But the point is that there has to be room for both those who are and those who can offer other things. Including just community. Because we are just elitists assholes sitting alone in front of our computers if we can't build community. I have seen many in Asatru, Nova Roma and Hellenism who have been welcoming of those who wish to do, to worship, to commune, to live inside their religions without all those people being scholars. And yes, some argue about things online too. But they don't share our reputation about it because it's far clearer that's not all they do.

I have seen people complain about not having community, about their family members not being "interested" only to realize that they have themselves destroyed any interest their friends or family members may have had by requiring that everyone do the same amount of Research.  I have seen people claim that they can't include their kids because kids are too young to do The Research. They're whining about not having a community but they've destroyed it by making absurd demands on people.

CR is over 20 years old now. When it began there was a lot of need for scholarship and there still is. But scholarship is not depending on tertiary sources and rehashing the same things. So what we needed then was more general, "let's get this started" research with some beginnings of serious scholarship. What we need now, actually, are more people doing down right serious, primary sources (translating even) focused study. Most of the people I have seen claiming we all must be scholars are not doing this level of work and often depending on previous work that is fairly easy to obtain but often was very generalized and included misinformation that even academics not focused on specifics of a particular issue fall into. We don't need more of that, we need more serious research and exploration.

We also need those who are not real scholars, both those who realize they are not and shouldn't be bullied about it and those who think they are but it's not the strongest thing they have to offer. We need the farmers, the warriors, the craftspeople; we can't all be priests and poets. We need to be building community, or at least households, to be doing the work of living this life. Because we are not what we study, we can never be ancient Celts, we are what we do. We are how we live. We need to move beyond the beginning stages that CR often seems to still be in and get on with the living of it.

Moos has had enough

Saturday, February 25, 2012

In the spring a middle-aged woman's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of ....chickens

And seeds, of course, but the true obsession is on the chickens.

We've had chickens since the spring of 2001, a few months after we moved here. We learned our lesson about going through the local feed stores, having ordered a specific breed and arriving to find out all they had were Black Sex-links (Black Stars). We took them, even though we intended to get something we'd want to keep breeding and would have broody hens, which never happens with Black Stars. What we ended up with was a couple of very nasty tempered roosters, we ate the others, and some good laying hens. One of which, went broody.

The Old Clucker brooded out a batch of eggs from this first flock, then later we got her to brood out some Silver Gray Dorking chicks when we decided we wanted something a bit different, with friendlier roosters and more hens who would brood. However, none of the Dorkings surpassed the Old Clucker as a mommy. She remained our go-to foster-mom through out her life (she died at 9).

We have suffered losses, disease, predators (and an improperly latched door). We got another batch of hybrid eggs for the Clucker, from a local...not a specific hybrid but a "I don't know who got with who" hybrid. We now have one hen from that batch. And we then returned to Dorkings two years ago.

We now have a few Dorkings, and the little red hen (who is actually big compared to the Dorking hens). We only had one chick make it last year, a male. *sigh* This year we hope to do better, letting hens brood and brood some eggs ourselves. But we were also going to buy another batch.

Thing is, it's already late to order Dorkings, because they are broody. Well, ours never seem to be as stubbornly broody as they describe, perhaps to balance out having a broody Black Star? But it seems the hatchery ones are. And I was considering perhaps we should splurge on another Dorking variety, especially as Aaron dislikes the big combs which are more prone to frost-bite (although this year we brought them into the heated shop). Sand Hill Preservation Center is far pricier, but is one of the few places that has other Dorking varieties. You need to order the standard 25 to keep them safe and warm on the trip, but you can't get one single variety in that number. Last time I checked I remembered it being about 6 per coloration, but now it's 15 or 10, which means we could get, say 15 black and 10 red rose-comb. The blacks have both rose and single combs. Other colorations are not available in our hoped for time frame, but this would be a good bet for us. But, yeah, pricey. $150 for 25.

We're still debating between us if we want to stick to the Dorkings, I wander up the chicken page on SHPC's site. My eye catches "Cuckoo Scots Dumpy." They appear to have started selling them just last year.

Due to how endangered this breed is, even compared to their other birds, they sell them differently than others. It's $150 for a set of 25 chicks of which at least 15 will be Scots Dumpies, more if they can do it, with the remainder being another breed of their choice. They're sold out until at least June, but on the surface it seems that other than waiting about a month longer than I might want to normally, there is no real difference to us as far as initial cost. Same price for 25 birds.

While I love the Dorkings, I admit that Scots Dumpies have fascinated me for years. I figured, however, that it would be impossible. But now that they are, I'm unsure about taking this step.

While Dorkings are not common, the Silver Greys that we have are no longer endangered. They are attainable from most hatcheries. Other varieties, which Sand Hill offer, are rarer. In NH there is Yellow House Farm in Barrington raising White Dorkings. They also have some great advice on heritage breeds.

That advice is truly needed as well. If we were to do this, or get into a rarer variety of Dorkings, we'll need to change our focus greatly. We'd need to get damn serious. Join associations! Sell breeding birds to others to get diversified local lines to later breed keep our flock diverse. We'd have to have space for a lot more breeding birds than we currently have been keeping in order to be a true preservation flock. We'd have to vaccinate as we'd have to take birds to swaps and shows.

It also thwarts Aaron's wish to have rose combs. However, despite the need to protect their combs from frostbite, Dumpies, like the Dorkings, are hardy in cold weather. To me that's more important. Of course, right now we have few enough birds that we have them in a small chicken house inside the heated shop, hence no comb freezing. If we end up with 60+ breeders we'll not really be able to fit them all in there. So different housing considerations must be made

Between all this, we're talking about a lot more than $150 investment.

Still, I am thinking this will be the future of our farm if the Zombie Apocalypse doesn't hit first. We probably won't do it this year, we'll breed the Dorkings we have and possibly get a few of something else, likely through someone local, to keep us in eggs and meat in the meantime. But eventually, yes, a preservation flock of Scots Dumpies...after all, how can I resist a breed reputed to have been "watch dogs" for the Picts against Roman's. (even if that is probably about as likely as woad, but, you know....)

Scots Dumpy photo totally stolen from the Scots Dumpy Club