Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Wacky Weed

Val loved this cartoon growing up: Andy Panda brings home a gorgeous flower and plants it, only to be menaced by one wacky weed. The sequence below is often how we feel these days: spring in New Mexico is gorgeous and budding green, but much of it is weeds. We spent the past month uprooting weeds from the flower bed in our courtyard, and they're still popping up. Wacky....

Stills courtesy of Walter Lantz Productions, 1946

Monday, April 28, 2008

Smug Alert!

We attended another Earth Day festival, this time in Albuquerque's charming Nob Hill business district. Since Jon is now working for Edible Santa Fe Magazine, it was a great opportunity to hand out some free issues and talk to vendors at the festival about advertising.

However, once again, we were "smugged"! This time, by a girl working the carbon offset booth. As Val was walking by, the smugger asked if Val would like to donate money to offset her carbon footprint. As Val politely said "not today, thanks!" the smugger proceeded to follow her through the crowd, insisting that just a $1 donation could offset 200 driving miles in a 4-cylinder vehicle. Val retorted that she rarely drives (as we live in the country, work from home, and share a car!), and the smugger continued pursuing her almost angrily, shouting "well, you still release carbon in other ways!"

It reminded us of an episode of South Park we ironically watched the evening before we moved to New Mexico, about a "smug cloud" emanating from San Francisco as the result of a self-righteous George Clooney environmental speech, and which was dangerously heading toward a similar cloud over South Park, Colorado. If the two clouds collided, it would cause a "smug storm" the likes of which we've never seen! The South Park cloud resulted from citizens switching over to hybrid cars and feeling very self-satisfied for doing so, thank you very much. In the episode, Stan makes it his mission to stop the clouds from colliding--or at least to get his friend Kyle out of San Francisco, where his parents moved him so they could inhale their own farts to offset their carbon footprints....

Here's a terrible but quick cut of the episode we found on YouTube:

It's so true. If we're not careful about self-righteousness and badgering others with our ideas of environmental responsibility, there will be a backlash. Why can't we all just be reasonable?!?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day: Why Bother?

Michael Pollan, author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and more recently "In Defense of Food", has written this brilliant article on how in just a couple generations we've managed to forget how to use our minds, bodies, and the resources available to us, and instead we point fingers at government and big business for skyrocketing oil prices, climate change, and other major flaws in our world (have we all forgotten our high school economics classes? A free market is dictated by consumer demand).

But rather than just jammering on about our flaws, Pollan challenges us with some real solutions--some real ways to change the way we think and live every day. Are you up to the challenge?

How'd You Like to Be This Guy?

Stuck in an elevator for 41 hours...

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Visit to Denver

Last weekend we drove about 7 hours, 460+ miles, to visit family and friends in Denver. It was a great road trip, full of laughter, adventure and good music (we listened to some of our old CD collection--Radiohead, U2, the soundtrack for 'O Brother Where Art Thou', Django Reinhardt & Stephane Grappelli, among others).

The most bizarre thing about the trip (besides stopping for a beer in Trinidad, Colorado, on the way back--more later...), was that it was April 17th and it SNOWED during half our drive, mostly in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. It was kind of a treat, but we were counting on nice weather.

We stayed with Val's brother, Jean-Noel, and sister-in-law, Linda, and couldn't have had better accommodations. They run a veritable bed-and-breakfast! We especially dug their coffeemaker and catching up on Bill Maher (courtesty of DVR, we got to see a recap of the Pope fiasco and Maher's...apology).

Over the weekend we visited with friends Mark & Tara and Jeff, Jen and their little girl Madi. Both couples moved to Denver from the Bay Area, ironically. Jeff and Jen hosted us for a BBQ Saturday in their gorgeous home, and we enjoyed a few games on their Wii console. Boxing anyone?

We also met a lot of dogs on this trip. Introducing...Jean & Linda's little angel (with a surprising demonic side), Lilly:

And Jeff & Jen's new dog, Cooper, a French bulldog with lots of class (except for the lewd things he was doing to that rubber chicken in a bikini...):

On our way to Denver, Val had a hankering for a good milkshake, so we stumbled on the historic Conway's Red Top diner in Pueblo, CO, and slurped down old-fashioned shakes in tins. They were deeeee-licious, but our stomachs regretted it for a couple days.

On our way home, we pondered what craving we'd satisfy at our halfway point. We agreed that a beer would hit the spot, and thought: what better halfway point between Denver and Albuquerque than Trinidad, CO? I looked up breweries in Trinidad on my Blackberry and found Trinidad Brewing Co. Perfect....

EXCEPT for the greenwashed neophyte hippies that accosted us to pay $10 per person at the door for their Earth Day celebration. Now, we of all people are on the green bandwagon--uprooting from city life to start a self-sustaining organic farm is no small commitment. But we had just about enough of Earth Day elitism in Denver (it's getting just as bad--or worse than--oft-criticized fundamentalist religious zealots!). No one wants someone else's beliefs shoved down their throats. Jon calls these people "greeligious". It's ridiculous--after all, shouldn't everyday be Earth Day?

We slowly worked our way past the greeligious freaks and managed to shimmy our way, cover-free, into the brewery for our long-awaited beer. It was 'aight, but we couldn't drink it fast enough to turn tail and get outta there! And we thought Trinidad was slightly askew for its reputation as the sex change capital of the world....

It was a fantastic trip, one that we continue to savor and that keeps getting better with each memory we rehash like a fine, fine wine. Thanks everyone for your Denver hospitality!

New Mexico Wildfire

Contrary to frequent questions and concerns from friends and family, we're out of harm's way from the Manzano mountain wildfire. Thanks for your concern!

Fortunately, there is a mountain range and about 40 miles between us and the fire. Unfortunately, our goat cheese friends live and have their operations in Estancia, just 15 miles from the town of Torreon, where the fire just passed through and no one evacuated! Crazy New Mexicans....

Monday, April 14, 2008

Exercising Our Right to Water

Living in New Mexico poses many differences and challenges to any newcomer, particularly people like us trying to establish a small farm. The key challenge for everyone in rural New Mexico--indeed, anywhere in the world these days--is access to water.

Contrary to popular belief, not all of New Mexico is arid, God-forsaken land. The Rio Grande river is one of the largest rivers in North America, beginning in the Rocky Mountains and running smack down the middle of the state, dividing it East from West, and providing much of the water for the state. Early Spanish settlers that established agricultural practices put in various irrigation systems to tap into the river, some of which still exist today. The irrigation system we have available for our land is a community acequia system; a system of canals, gates, and individual turnouts that's regulated by our local Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District.

The politics--and emotions--behind any community water system like this run deep, and we saw some of these play out when we flooded our property on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon. If you've ever read or seen the charming Milagro Beanfield War, you have a taste for what we experienced. It's as if the moment someone saw us fussing around in the canal, the neighborhood set aflame with word that someone new was flooding!

To keep the flood from seeping into our house, we had to have some kind of trench or moat around the area we wanted to flood. Lacking a tractor and having only two days' notice from the ditch rider that water was to be released that weekend, Jon dug a trench by himself--with a shovel. He dug 7-8 hours a day for two days, and our land isn't a roll of Charmin. Much of it is loamy clay which turns into cement-like hardpan if neglected, and according to our neighbors, no one has tended our land in about 12 years. Ouch.

Capturing the water and routing it to release onto our land was a fascinating process. Because no one had irrigated our land in over a decade, we had no gates or boards to block the canal and build up enough water to fill our turnout, and ultimately flood our field. So Jon had to buy some wood and equipment to craft a stacked gate system that would give him control over the water flow. He drilled a few holes in each of the 2x6 boards that stack up on one another to ease pressure from the accumulating water so the boards wouldn't break. Brilliant. We were like beavers creating our own dam system (come to think of it, we saw a beaver swimming down the canal later that evening).

Watching the water rise on our land was intimidating. We weren't sure if Jon's homemade trench would hold, but thank God it did! The water accumulated about 6 inches over an acre of our property, and with Jon's stacking board system and keeping a careful eye on the flow, we shut off the water just in time. Standing in the middle of the flood was a unique experience--we're sure a whole new ecosystem of organisms is now calling our land home, and it's just what we need to prepare our soil for some good, organic farming.

Best of all, choosing to flood our field allowed us to experience community like we've never experienced before. All manner of neighbors came out to chat and to offer help and advice--some friendly, and some entitled and antagonistic (it takes all kinds...). But most of our neighbors were cordial, advising how to manage the water flow, riding the ditch on their four-wheelers to help us time the waterflow from upstream (a few properties north of us irrigated that day--mostly horse farms and manicured lawns), showing us how to open our turnouts, etc. and just to generally hang out and enjoy a sunny afternoon.

Jon's well-deserved celebratory beer after a weekend of digging trenches and flooding.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Cheese, Glorious Cheese!

Last weekend, we rolled up our sleeves and spent an entire Sunday discovering what it takes to make 12 wheels of aged cheddar goat cheese. And folks, we're here to tell you it's no walk in the park....

Through what must have been a cosmic connection, we made contact with the owners of The Old Windmill Dairy in Estancia, N.M., just east of the Sandia mountain range (opposite Albuquerque on the west side of the range). Ed and Michael Lobaugh each hold full-time jobs, but spend their evenings and weekends tending a herd of over 60 goats and milking about 1/2 of those about twice a day--once before dawn, once around dusk or whenever they come home from work.

We felt like losers compared to these two Energizer bunnies. PLUS they were stuck with us for about 10 hours, taking us through each step of making the cheese and keeping the facilities clean and functional, all while staying cheerful and congenial. Amazing!

They only started seriously making cheese last summer, and their products are on the shelves of New Mexico's food co-op, La Montanita, and at the local farmers' markets each week. They blend herbs like garlic, dill, and capers into their raw cheeses, and they are the only aged-cheese producers in the state (there are only about seven artisanal dairies in New Mexico, including Old Windmill).

We met Michael and Ed under circuitous circumstances...our friend Lauren (whom Val met on a plane a few years ago) was visiting her parents in Santa Fe and attended a yoga class where she met a friend of theirs, another Michael. He told her that he makes goat cheese on weekends at the Old Windmill, gave her his card, and she encouraged us to call him, so we did. He referred us directly to Michael and Ed, and we made arrangements to visit their dairy. Incidentally, the other Michael was working with us on Sunday, where he revealed that his brother has been working for Autodesk--the company where Val works--for a couple decades! Small world....

While Ed and Michael aren't farmers, we learned so much about carrying the responsibility of a day job and a mortgage (and a farm mortgage) while trying to establish a dream. These guys are determined, and they taught us a lot about what it will take to achieve our own dreams. Thanks Michael and Ed!

Monday, April 7, 2008

These Boots Were Made for Farmin'...

Fun times with our friend Leah, back visiting her folks in Santa Fe from Washington, D.C. Since I've only had the opportunity to wear my Roberto Cavalli cheetah-print, 3-inch heel boots one or two times since I bought them in New York a couple years ago, I figured I'd go allllll out. A tractor ride would certainly help me break them in....

Leah came back to drop off her longtime companion, Mabel. Mabel is a Jack Russell terrier that I used to dog sit when Leah and I lived in Santa Fe in the late 90s. When Leah occasionally went off to D.C. to represent New Mexico in her state legislature finance position, I would take care of Mabel and her fellow Jack Russell in crime, Dirk Diggler (Boogie Nights had just come out in 1997).

Lots has changed since the Santa Fe days...Val and Leah are both married now and have established careers. Leah has two adorable children, but unfortunately Dirk had an incident with one of the kids so it was time for him to go. Luckily, he found a great new home, and his new dad gives Leah regular updates and is fond of posting videos of Dirk (new name now) rolling in the grass on YouTube.

Mabel must be at least 7 years old, and was getting increasingly less attention from Leah, husband and kids, so Leah decided she needed a good retirement. What better place to get lavish attention than with grandma and grandpa?

Mabel the retiree.

It was refreshing to see Leah and the people we used to hang out with in New Mexico before I ventured off to California, and Leah to D.C. After all, only this crowd would appreciate (and tolerate) those boots....