Moon Dog Farms

Certified Naturally Grown family farm growing fruits, vegetables & flowers in the Texas Gulf Coast

MoonDog Farms is dedicated to stewardship of the land, reinforcing a healthy community and producing great food.  

Filtering by Category: Winter

Oranges, Machetes and Grant Applications.

I get that it's fairly lame for me to just share a poem and call it a day.  "What kind of blog entry is that?" you exclaim, filled with well-deserved indignation. 

But here's the thing. 

On my desk, there has been a mountain of paperwork like never before, and more tabs open on my computer than I dare give away. It's grant-application season. All I want to do is eat carrots and cuddle our farm cat who's FINALLY deigned to be the affectionate cuddle bunny I've wanted all along, but I can't. Grants need a lot of attention.

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And if you know about this, then...well, you know. And if you don't, then you're like me. And you're in for a gnarly surprise.  Tackling multiple grants for both our farm and our farmers' market has proved quite the task, and so today, I want to share a poem that makes me happy.

This poem has been a favorite of mine since I first read it in 6th grade, and it still resonates with me today. Incidentally, our Nicaraguan friend Oscar and his family have been with us much of this past week, and the man cannot stop eating oranges. He peels them with his machete.

Yeah, it's as cool as it looks.  Not only that, but his family is beautiful and his children love fresh vegetables. As in, they stuff them in their mouths.  As we walked through the farm during a break, both Bella and Celeste helped themselves to the Winter buffet (as well as the last few stragglers still fighting the good fight in the summer fields).  It made me so happy. Words don't do these kids justice, so you'll just have to see some photos of them as well. :) 

Enjoy, and may this winter poem give you the same warm pleasure it does for me. And I hope you get to eat citrus afterward. 

Oranges

by Gary Soto

The first time I walked
With a girl, I was twelve,
Cold, and weighted down
With two oranges in my jacket.
December. Frost cracking
Beneath my steps, my breath
Before me, then gone,
As I walked toward
Her house, the one whose
Porch light burned yellow
Night and day, in any weather.
A dog barked at me, until
She came out pulling
At her gloves, face bright
With rouge. I smiled,
Touched her shoulder, and led
Her down the street, across
A used car lot and a line
Of newly planted trees,
Until we were breathing
Before a drugstore. We
Entered, the tiny bell
Bringing a saleslady
Down a narrow aisle of goods.
I turned to the candies
Tiered like bleachers,
And asked what she wanted -
Light in her eyes, a smile
Starting at the corners
Of her mouth. I fingered
A nickle in my pocket,
And when she lifted a chocolate
That cost a dime,
I didn’t say anything.
I took the nickle from
My pocket, then an orange,
And set them quietly on
The counter. When I looked up,
The lady’s eyes met mine,
And held them, knowing
Very well what it was all
About.

Outside,
A few cars hissing past,
Fog hanging like old
Coats between the trees.
I took my girl’s hand
In mine for two blocks,
Then released it to let
Her unwrap the chocolate.
I peeled my orange
That was so bright against
The gray of December
That, from some distance,
Someone might have thought
I was making a fire in my hands.

www.moondogfarms.com
www.moondogfarms.com


How Things Can Be.

To complain of an excess of something when that something is a precious resource is typically a no-no. It's considered even poorer taste when the something is historically in scant supply for lots of the people you know (and, perhaps, maybe, your whole state). 

Which is why I haven't mentioned the rain. 

Well, until now. 

One of the fields to be planted for Spring crops. It'll have to wait a while.

Oh, the rain. It feels like it hasn't stopped, since before Thanksgiving.  It's funny actually, how Alex and I have been settled here for just over 2 years, yet we'd already formed notions of "the way things are" at this time of year. Of course, I don't see why we wouldn't, considering our status as 10th generation farmers born and raised on these coastal prairies, emerging from the womb with a pelican and pitchfork in each hand. However, our notion about Winter didn't include incessant precipitation. Because, it like totally didn't rain like this last year. But it totally has this year.

I guess it was time for Mother Nature to mix it up. And time for us to deal.

  It rained cats and dogs like this when we first arrived in 2013,--that I'm sure of,  because I complained about it then in one of our early blogs. But this Winter's rainfall has aimed to beat the band. And perhaps, McFarmer's spirit. 

Now, of course my dear partner's spirit hasn't been broken. He's stronger than that, and far too level-headed. He has, however, had quite a few choice words with puddles and stormclouds in the back of the orchard, safe from listening ears. We'll just say it hasn't been visitor-friendly. 

The problem is, when it rains every week and rains several inches every week ( sometimes upwards of 6 inches at a time), your field doesn't have time to dry out in between downpours. Add to this Winter's habitual grey skies and cutback on sunshine hours and you've got a very, very wet situation. 

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On our farm, plans for direct seeding most of the Spring crops were pushed further and further back, either because we can't get into the fields (does you no good to seed in the driving rain) or if we did, the damage we'd do to our soil quality would be too great. It's lucky we made the beds during the last semi-dry spell, but that's only done so much good as we haven't dared to work in them.

Major rivers impede our movement in the aisles, and no seed appreciates a new home of mud. The poor beets, scallions, radishes, peas and many more have just had to sit tight. 

Meanwhile, the plants already established back in the Fall have braved weeks of holding their own as their beds become less and less rows in a field and more and more islands in a mired gulf laden with funk and crawfish. There's been at least 3 inches of water in every aisle for 2 months. Cabbage leaves yellow from saturation and the lettuce's growth is stunted to the point of paralysis. I've found myself more than once in the peculiar situation of harvesting kale only to find that while busy and my back turned, my tub of harvested leaves has floated 15 feet away from me down our canal of an aisle. Woof. 

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It's a bummer of a time, to be sure. But also, it's impossible to see it as anything but a timely reminder that we, as ever, are not in control. The sun will return for good eventually, and our fields will dry. In the meantime, we might lose several hundred feet of crops and miss a few planting windows that will hurt down the line. But we've also learned so much already. 

Now we know what its like when it rains heavily for 3 months at Moon Dog Farms.  It's a painful lesson, but a lesson nonetheless. When everything seems amiss, there's always something else to consider. I'm incredibly thankful that during all this rain, we had working greenhouses to protect the thousands of plantbabies on whose petals and cotyledons now shoulder even more value. We've had better germination than ever in our greenhouses this season, even with the more tetchy flower varieties we're trying out for the first time. Compared to January 2013, when all we had was an old door and a shipping box, things are looking good. 

We've had secret talk of building a bio-dome-esque structure to shield us from all unwanted weather, but we'll probably settle on rebuilding the drainage ditches leading to the back canal, work to create even better flow and drainage of water in the aisles and investigate the use of high tunnels and higher beds.

And we'll make a note of "how things can be" during the Winter season.  Of course, that means it'll probably never happen like this again, but we'll have some other unexpected phenom to adapt to.  

We'll give it our best.

Plus, there's always the back of the orchard for our less mature moments. 

Everything but the kitchen sink (which is full of dirty radishes).

To recount the bustle of the last few weeks would be an exhausting and confusing tale, requiring far too many words.

“Did we find a home for Skeletor and Ruby before or after we made that pile of rotting cauliflower stems? And when did I show those kids that grubs won't bite you, but they will poop in your hand?”

 

The “to-do's” undone and “done-that's” crossed off the list have been, in one way or another: frenetic, disappointing, mirthful,  grateful and  forehead-slapping, hand-clapping, hand-wringing and brain-squeezing.

So, in order to avoid using any more adjectives than a normal person should employ in polite company, I choose to stick to the good ol' adage of a picture being worth a thousand words.

 

With that in mind, here's about 3 million of 'em.

My adventures in the school garden at Early Childhood University on Galveston Island got grungier and even more fun when I took them transplants of veggies and flowers. Every kid got a chance to steward their "own" plant, and we talked about food, using "gentle" hands and how much fun it is to get dirty.

Oh, and a grub did poop in my hand. 

The grandmaster behind all this garden magic is Jessica Antonelli, resident art teacher and fun guru. These kids are sooo lucky.

The grandmaster behind all this garden magic is Jessica Antonelli, resident art teacher and fun guru. These kids are sooo lucky.

We were amping ourselves up for BOTANY!!!!

We were amping ourselves up for BOTANY!!!!

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And then there were the rains.

So, so much rain. It postponed and cancelled nearly all of our planting plans for a week. But nature does what nature wants, and we're just her fanclub.

www.moondogfarms.com
www.moondogfarms.com

The snapdragons at last began to bud and finally--FINALLY--the nigella began to bloom. 

This might not sound like a whoop-de-doo, but DAMN! we've been waiting for these beauties to flower for what felt like an eternity. 

The green beans continue to pop and stretch their limbs. Hooray!

This sweet fella was affectionately dubbed Skeletor, and his lovely girlfriend was Ruby. McFarmer begs me not to name them, but I continue to happily ignore him. We were so glad they found a happy home. 

We had our very own brush with matchmaking.

Tragic as it was to drive up to the farm one morning and find two lost and dreadfully malnourished pups, it was tremendous to find them homes by sunset of the same day.  All thanks to the curious, wonderful world of facebook

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Large machine work ensued.

McFarmer dug another trench for irrigation (this time to the herb garden) and took pains to properly care for his equipment (he was ever-so-thankful to forgo the manual digging this go-round).

www.moondogfarms.com
www.moondogfarms.com

We began our final harvests of the Fall field, saying "ciao" to broccolis, brussels sprouts, cabbages and more. 

A rainy farmer's market last Sunday was the official farewell to our colder-weather crops until next Fall. 

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More and more restaurant deliveries kept us busy and thankful. Hooray for Brennan's and Gaidos!

We marveled at the crazy beauty that is life. And lettuce.

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Flower arrangements were made for our good friends (and farmer's market manager), Cate and Brian.

 

We contemplated going very earthy for the bride's bouquet...

 

 

....but ended up a bit more traditional.

Of course, how can you go wrong with a few Texas wildflowers thrown in?

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Family came for a visit, and they were put right to work. ( Turns out, fathers have a penchant for expertly washing market produce. Who knew?) 

 

Oh, and we marveled some more at some more beauty of life. 

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And yes, more family came, and we put them to even MORE work. 

My sister Julia and brother-in-law Jerry never cease to impress us with their willingness and effectiveness when it comes to tackling any job we throw at them. 

This time, it was removing the stumps of the older brassicas from the field before tilling.

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Here's the thrilling action shot of spent vegetables finding their place in a large compost pile. Can you read the determination on their faces?

Here's the thrilling action shot of spent vegetables finding their place in a large compost pile. Can you read the determination on their faces?

Of course, some family members took a more laid-back approach to the farmwork. Luckily, they make up for a lack of thumbs with an excess of sweetness.

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The strawberry study has begun to yield small green fruits! Here's hoping we get to their little gems before others do when the time comes...

And then, the big daddy of all tasks this week: transplanting.

Family helped transform the Fall field into our Summer One field, requiring the installation of tomato/cucumber trellises, black fabric as an experiment in combating weeds, and loads and loads of T-posts. Sore shoulders were felt all around.  

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Three varieties of tomatoes were moved from our greenhouse to the ground this week: Sakura, Goldies and Black Cherries. All are cherry tomatoes, for they're our favorite and no one can tell us not to.

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Mass transplantings always give us ample time to bemoan the state of our gumbo clay soil here in the Gulf.  I mean, look at that stuff.  All we need is a kiln and a different business model.

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We scheduled another dirt delivery this week as part of our "Fix the Bowl In The Middle Of the Field" mission. Where once the lettuce of Fall was growing, we will now spread the topsoil and set it in cover crop until this year's Fall. 

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Can you smell that basil?

Setting those little babes in the ground is a truly reaffirming act.  They're so delicate and tender at this age, but you know that in only a matter of days they grow strong, grateful for the chance to root deep. They give and give, stretching our harvest for months and becoming a staple in both our diet and our incomes until late summer.

And of course, we do a little more marveling.

After all, we're lucky to stare natural beauty in the face everyday--it's the least we can do to go on and on about it. :)

Confessions of a Cold Texan (Don't Bother If You're Not)

I'll admit it. I was cold.

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Hands were throbbing, my feet felt misplaced (or lost, perhaps missing), and the whining (in both inner monologue and external moaning forms) was in full force.

No, we hadn't shoveled incessantly-falling snow like our fellow Michiganders, Mainers, North Dakotans or Iowans. We didn't need to eschew such lethal activities like, say, getting the mail.  

However, submerging arms to elbows in cold water, in freezing temperatures, isn't a fun activity.

We've watched our unlucky Northern brethren shoulder outrageous wintry burdens while we cancel school at 30 degrees. When we lived in New York, even a most brutal snowstorm--which at the time was one of the worst the city had seen in years-- felt like a glowy adventure. I doubt this weather has felt like an adventure to anybody north of (or even near) the Mason-Dixon for weeks now.

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I don't intend to make light of the curious weather this winter, although we are so laughably unconditioned to handle the idea of multiple nights of freezing air. Nobody knows what to do with icicles here. Never having experienced sub-zero climates, let alone the fearful temperatures of -50 degrees, each news report leaves me more and more bewildered.

Bewildered, and abashed by the enormity of my weenie-ness.

It was with this dim, slightly-guilty self-awareness that we set out to harvest last Saturday morning.

We arrived at 7 am.

After waiting 3 hours for the lettuce to thaw, we began cutting.  

Then I began to wash the vegetables. More specifically, I began to dunk my hands in basins of well-water, over and over again, and it was there, around the 3-second mark after that first dunk, that I began my sad, pathetic song of woe.

I'll admit it. I was cold.

Each of these 3 sinks were filled to bursting with cut salad lettuce, three times over. Imagine many dunkings.

I had no business complaining, and I still don't. We have beautiful salad mix, just aching to be harvested and sold to cheerful, rose-cheeked customers. (The rose tinge  we see here remains appealing and reminiscent of Rockwell greeting cards, not as a first sign of impending frostbite.)

And customers do show up for our lettuce. This is very good.

See how well the lettuce plays with the other market goodies?

And the cold is good for controlling pests. This is also good.

A scrappy cucumber beetle managed to evade a wintry death, only to show up in our sink of lettuce. That's a great thing about our sink-washing system; the bugs always float to the top, offering themselves up for easy removal.

And the serial dunking reminds me of how important and unappreciated proper circulation is, as well as how greatly I love my hands, especially when I can feel them. Good.

And we have heating in our home, where we are fortunate to have, and to which we gleefully retreat after all dunking is said and done. This is, you can deduce, incredibly good.

Tumbleweeds and curly kale locked in frozen embrace.

 

While reviewing photos from last Saturday, I realized that with each click to a new image my shoulders hunched, my toes curled and I'd somehow subconsciously draped myself with yet another blanket.

In other words, it was cold, and I wasn't over it yet.

So, instead of my intended story outlining how our salad mix gets from our ground to our customers, it felt only right to join the scads of Texans completely wigging out about the cold.

But you get the gist, yeah?

Lettuce grows from seed, we cut the lettuce, they get dunked in our stainless steel sinks, dry on a wire table, we bag it and bring it to market. And Casey curses a lot, about being cold.

Carolina geranium is one of our most prolific weeds at the farm. When we bag the lettuce, I scout out any errant pieces hiding midst the salad. 

It will feel a distant memory from the boxing ring that is July, but this weather right now feels very, very real. It's presence means many things, both grand and small: climate change and better-tasting brussels sprouts, city-wide propane shortages and cider by the fireplace.

But for me, for now, it means I've got some serious psyching-up to do before this Saturday's dunkfest.


Berry good and tired.

Today I arrive at the computer sore and chilly, so we're all in for a treat as I aim for today's post to remain simple. And luckily, it'll also be sweet—or at the very least, it holds a promise of sweet.

For today, we talk strawberries.  

Specifically, we talk planting of bare-root strawberries. We also talk potatoes. We talk...lots of squatting. And biceps put to work. Some arms were lashed to a hoe for so long that certain McFarmers had no choice but to take a nap. Egads.

Aunt Susan plants out our Eclair varietal of strawberries. We're pretty sure they're cream-filled.

(The cold, wet weather lent us a great excuse for retreating once all our lettuce and cauliflower had been covered and potatoes put to sleep. You could see the bedlust in Alex's eyes long before the rain came—he really had worked hard building 400 ft of potato trenches--and once the drops fell, it took unusually little convincing to get that hard-working farmer back home. )

Strawberries are a beautiful thing. If you've never had them out of your own garden, pot or neighbor's yard, I say stop whatever you're doing and run. Run into the forest and search out the taste of a wild, fresh berry.

They are soft, vibrant rubies that make you believe in everything juicy and romantic.

But do this running-to-the-forest thing in, like, May or June. Don't go now, or you'll be sad and lonely for a long-time, and you'll probably run into some trespassing charges if you do it around these parts.

All I truly know is that when a friend of ours who is an ag-extension agent asked back in October if we'd like to be part of a strawberry-growing study, we said sure without hesitation. We put in our order for 200 free and lovely and free plants, and sat back for a delivery in December.

December came. December went.

We had limited communication with our buddy, and we knew that the university where he works kept him busy, so we thought,

“Eh, no big deal. Maybe next time. But we're so excited about these berries now, why don't we just order some ourselves?”

So we did. 200 strawberries to be planted into two 100 foot beds.

And then our friend came to the farm. Our friend came to the farm with 600 strawberry plants.

You can see the yellow flags demarcating the different varieties of strawberries. Six in all, we're excited to see what happens!

You can see the yellow flags demarcating the different varieties of strawberries. Six in all, we're excited to see what happens!

Hooray for aunts and uncles! Hooray for garden scooters!

Hooray for aunts and uncles! Hooray for garden scooters!

Thus began a massive berry-planting bonanza, hastened massively with help from Alex's aunt and uncle, Susan and Gaddis. (They often thanklessly save the day around these parts—they're like mystery superheroes that just want to be paid in cabbage.)

And so it was that in barely over a day we all four planted 800 berry plants on plots designed for 200. Our agent pal said it wouldn't hurt 'em to be squeezed in, so squeeze we did.

We've never grown strawberries commercially before, so it should be an adventure, chock-full of trial and error. Probably lots of error.

But if we succeed, I wonder if there'll be anyone, anywhere, willing to help us harvest those sweet, soft rubies?

Just don't take my earlier advice too seriously and camp out like a wildling in our woods, twitching to get at those ripe berries. The chance at your first fresh strawberry might lose luster when partnered with bunking night after night with all those coyotes.

The Red La Sodas wait patiently for their blankies...

The Red La Sodas wait patiently for their blankies...

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That would be a good place to end, I know. But I really have to return to something; my dear one, my muscle, my machine-like McFarmer.  

It just wouldn't do our customers, friends and family justice if they didn't know--photographically, at least--of the manic, awe-inspiring work Alex did to make our potato trenches.

Around here, folks call our soil "gumbo clay." This isn't the catalog-quality, chocolate-cakey soil you see smirking back from tractor commercials or seed magazines. It is hard. It is sticky. 

It is very difficult to dig a trench in. 

But he did it, and we got our potatoes in on-time (well, nearly on time) for our Spring planting. They were also finished just in-time for us to only spend half an hour in freezing rain before high-tailing it home.

 

And boy, they were some good-looking trenches.

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So when we bring bushels of creamy new potatoes to market in a few months, I want everyone to know now: a very sweaty and noodle-armed McFarmer is a part of every one of those spuds. 

You're allowed to forget that when it's time to eat. :)


Winter Wonderland, and a whole lotta woodchips.

We're back!

We've finally got our ducks (well, cabbages and carrots) in a row after what felt like a whirlwind vacation that I still can't believe we managed to take. Turns out, plan your escapes months and months in advance, pay in full, and you'll find it's hard to back out at the last minute, try as you might.  (I have to say though, I'm glad we couldn't back out. Even though the amount of anxiety-tinged preparations that went into cushioning our absence from our dear farmbaby was nearly enough to justify hiring a sherpa to hoist our worries around for the whole 2 weeks, the pure pleasure of getting to come back was worth it. 

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And the trip was spectacular. I'll allow exactly one more sentence before I quit reveling in our good fortune.

We went to China, it was vast, it was smoggy, it was gold and glitzy, it was the kind of trip that confirmed, "Yup. This place is far more complicated, beautiful and confusing than I could ever hope to suss out in a matter of days. Better come back one day and bring our penchant for weak but plentiful beer with us."

Okay, that was possibly, technically, more than one sentence. But hold on, for I'll definitely need more than one to describe the Winter euphoria I've felt upon our return. In the travels I've been lucky enough to experience, I've found that even when departing the places I've come to love and even dream of an ex-pat future, there's the giddy anticipation of returning home.

Inevitably, you see the special in all you've come to regard as ordinary at home. The smell of the trees that grow by your driveway, the taste of coffee that only tastes that way when you make it at home, even television commercials or views from a well-positioned chair. In this case, I was also pretty stoked to return to a country with some semblance of air-quality policies.

For me--and since I have the tendency to wax flowery, nostalgic and with no shortage of half-baked philosphy-- returning home meant basking in the frankly, damn amazing fact that we have a beautiful farm, that me and my partner run together. 

Brussel sprouts, soaking up the last of afternoon sun's rays...

The first several days back I was wheezy and sick, and while I coughed and whimpered on the couch at home, Alex hurried out to the farm to tell me the good (we hoped) news of how our dear dribbling and needy near-one year old farm had fared. 

He called me to say, 

 

"It looks great...

It looks really great."

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See the wee baby brussels sprouts at the base of each stem?

After my whiny convalescence I ran out to the farm and indeed, it was great.

In fact, it looks and feels terrific.

You can feel the changes of winter, in your hair (static much?) and bones there's no shortage of feasting for the eyes. The vegetables look beautiful and I'm reminded again and again why farming is as close to art as anything with its colors and shapes and heart-breaking views.  

Yeah...we love this day job. Never get tired of all that green.

Yeah...we love this day job. Never get tired of all that green.

And apart from the lovely landscapes, wonderful things have been happening all over the farm.

The ladybugs--who had taken their own vacation during the fall--have returned in numbers. 

The Admiral peas that we planted with our buckwheat finally get their time in the sun after the recent frosts kill back the buckwheat.

Aren't the pea flowers just so pretty?

The covercrops sown in our future Spring field did perfectly and were finally tilled in this week as we begin to move toward planting Spinach, English peas and Broccoli Raab. 

And the geese. Oh, the geese. Hundreds make a twice daily sojourn over the farm, squawking and honking all the way. I pause working for every flight and watch them go.  (Alex warns me about watching open-mouthed.)  I've yet to learn their species or even exactly what they look like, but I find their gleefully noisy flying V a joy that brings me peace every single time. 

www.moondogfarms.com

 

There's so much more I could list; I'm so grateful to have this wealth of happinesses. We had a large delivery of mulch from a tree-trimming service that happened to be nearby. All I did was wonder and ask, and before long they happily dumped a gigantic amount of otherwise-expensive woodchips at our farm, all in exchange for 3 cabbages. 

The comfrey in the herb garden was going gangbusters when we got back...

The best kind of mulch pile...the FREE one.

The best kind of mulch pile...the FREE one.

So, I guess all this manic effusive happiness comes down to this...for a real whiz-bang of a Christmas/late Hannukah/Kwanzaa/Winter Solstice present to yourself,  pretend that you've gone on a far-flung vacation from the life you know.  Go there for at least 2 weeks... well, make-believe you did at least.

And then come back home. Look around. Your life is sweet.  Some have got it sweeter than others, absolutely, and there's some crud lingering around as well, sure. Yet I guarantee there's something delightful that happens to you and yours that you can cherish once you're back from Togo or Myanmar. I'm thankful for the geese and free mulch and slow-growing weeds in Winter. I'm thankful for y'all, every single bonehead that happens to rake their eyes across my tiresome ramblings. 

Happy Holidays, you boneheads.

It's good to be back, it's good to be farming. Here's to reveling in the gorgeous Texas winter from the lettuce fields to those well-positioned chairs.