Hello, neglected blog. It’s been a while… I know we have that whole half-done post hanging between us and I also have some marking sitting on my side-desk screaming at me to get done, but some thoughts popped into my head that would like to come out.
Sitting here in my office I have a picture frame that has a few hundred pictures of the kids from 5-3 years ago. Yes, it should probably get updated, but that’s not why I’m writing. I happened to glance over and see this picture of the twins at 3 days old. For a year this was the telling picture, Elijah was pretty laid-back and Petra was the crying and colicky handful. What made me pause was how flipped the situation has become in the years since then with Elijah’s autism taking charge of our lives and Petra being more along for the ride. A few seconds later the next thought came, about how, lately, that’s not right either.
A couple days ago Elijah’s helper (L) from Autism Services came out (as she does once or twice a week for an hour) and I had to call Petra out of the playroom so they could focus on their tasks for the time they had to work. To Petra, having L come out is the same as having a playdate. She sees that Elijah gets to read and play games and do things that should be fun, and usually near the end Petra and Natalia will get to join in and have some fun too. I had to explain to Petra that having her up in the playroom, even though she promised to play by herself off to the side, would be a distraction for them. I told her that Elijah wasn’t playing, that he was working and that L was teaching him things he was having trouble with.
Petra said, “I know, it’s because sometimes Elijah acts like a little kid.”
My heart breaks and mends at once with this statement. It breaks because she realizes that Elijah is different from her, she knows that he isn’t quite normal, doesn’t act quite how he should. There have been many times in the last year where Erron and I have thought about how and when we would need to explain autism to Petra, and to Elijah. Not only do we want to protect Elijah from everyone else in the world, but there is also a part of me that wants to protect him from his sisters seeing that he is different in case they have trouble handling all that this entails.
The mending comes from that one magic word “sometimes”. Yes, Elijah acts like a little kid, does things that are erratic or has tantrums, but not nearly as often as he used to, and Petra sees him as more normal than abnormal.
Not only does she see it, but I do too. Autism is still something we don’t get a break from, it takes no vacations, it happens every day. But… it is less than it was 2 years ago when every day left Erron and I feeling defeated, like we had nothing left to give in the fight. We have spent tens of thousands on therapy, changed our lifestyle based on getting good and healing foods in everyone’s diet and made family the top priority in our lives and the results are wonderful.
Each one of our kids is a blessing and has love in their hearts for their siblings that they show each day. Elijah will quit his video game (that would normally cause him to have a fit) so that his sister can join in. Petra will move places during breakfast so that Natalia will stop her meltdown because she wants to sit in the middle spot. Natalia will fetch toys or diapers for Micah. Elijah will let Micah crawl on him instead of kicking him off or moving away. Petra will make everyone’s beds because she hears Erron or I complain about the mess upstairs. Natalia will give over her toy to Petra even though she wants to keep it because she sees that Petra wants it more. SO many examples I could put in, and the specifics don’t really matter, what matters is that everyone has good days or bad days and everyone else helps to get through the bad times, and to enjoy the good times. We fit, this family of ours, we give, we take, we may fight, but most of all we love.
It’s hard to put a feeling into words. Especially when that feeling is born out of such tumultuous times as these. But when I think about us as a whole it’s like the feeling of having a new baby fall asleep on your chest, just warmth and softness and love. I don’t know what the future will bring, but right now I am happy and have hope.
I spent an hour or so thinking about this in the middle of the night last night, how, how, how! In just over 3 weeks we plan on butchering 2 of the pigs. With the chickens it was easy enough to get the logistics done as one guy with no experience can kill and process a chicken pretty easily. Pigs are bigger, much BIGGER. Here is my list of things to get done:
1: Determine how the pigs get stunned/killed. Unfortunately the gun laws require a safety course and month-plus waiting time to get a license to buy a gun or ammunition and I’ve been too busy so the “easy” option of shooting the pig myself is out. Other options are using a sledgehammer to the head, but this is more risky and less humane. Also, we could find someone who lives nearby to do it but we haven’t gotten any commitments yet. Why couldn’t more of my friends be avid hunters?
2: Figure out where the kill is done. Once stunned you should hoist the pig and slice the vessels in the neck/chest to bleed it out. This should be done within minutes of the stunning while the heart is still beating. To hoist the animal I need to get a gambrel and affix it to an overhead beam of some sort. This could be by the kids’ swingset, the barn, the garage or the pumphouse. Indoors might be better if the weather is not cooperating, but in any way the pigs will need to be moved to the location alive which means we will need to coax it into the dog kennel so it can be moved out, or just tied and push/pull/dragged in place.
3: I’ve watched a butchering video (God bless YouTube) and it looks like skinning is the way to go, much easier than dipping/scalding the pig to get the hair off. I don’t plan on eating the skin anyways, so why go to all the trouble of getting it hair-free? Probably the skinning would be done in the same place as the killing and bleeding on a big plastic folding table… sure.. that sounds like a plan.
4: After hanging out overnight and gutted I figure the carcass will be moved into the kitchen to be cut into ribs and roasts and whatnot. It’ll be nice to have the sinks and clean counter space handy even if it does seem out of place to have a 100+ lb piece of meat in the middle of the room.
5: I hate black pig. The pink ones are friendly, when I feed them they are happy to let me pat their back and sides while they munch away and I can take their measurements (length and circumference) to calculate their weight. Black pig runs away and will try to go to the other side of the pink ones from me, or just stay away until I leave. This is going to make getting her in position to be porkchops a little more difficult. I might need to put some rope slipknots on the ground around the food and then try to snare her while she eats. Also, there was the whole debacle when Elijah was in the pen helping me fix their waterer and black pig bit him in the ass and yanked his pants down around his ankles. This was hilarious to see him pantsed by a pig until he started crying because he did actually get pinched by the bite.
So there you have it, planning and thinking and plotting the demise of 2 pigs. I am sure that next year will be so much easier but for now this is a lot to think about.
One thing is for sure, those pigs had better be tasty.
Elijah has autism, that’s no secret to anyone who follows my blog. Tomorrow he will be getting to see a highly recommended autism specialist here in Saskatoon, and hopefully this will allow us to try some new biomedical interventions. Also, if you know me, or more precisely, if you KNEW me 10 or more years ago, you probably know I am not the most social person. I didn’t have many friends for a number of reasons and was generally uncomfortable around new people. If it hadn’t been for BBS’s giving me an avenue to make friends with the distanced social interactions I’d probably be in a totally different place than I am today. Oh, for the days where I would get Transformers as Christmas and birthday presents because I thought they were cool and just leave them posed on my shelf because I had no idea how to play with them, or how I would spend summer vacations reading books inside instead of going out and making friends. The people who barely knew me in early adulthood who thought I was stuck up because I wouldn’t socialize with them at parties and on and on… I have done a lot of work to be more “normal”, but believe me, it takes conscious effort. Even today, right now, I sit in my office with the door closed because I don’t like the thought of people walking down the hallway and intruding into my “private space”.
So, today I was taking a mental break from getting my class notes ready and I started doing some autism reading thinking about how tests are done and high vs low functioning and Asperger and the like, and I came across the Autism Spectrum Quotient test. This was originally made as a test for adults and then modified to make tests for adolescents and children. I got the paper for the kids version to take a look and then I wondered if there was an online version for the adult test. Sure enough, Wired came through with a web version here. I did the test and got my score and then had to go into the literature to see what my score meant. Here is a quote from a paper from 2005 evaluating the effectiveness of this test as a diagnostic tool:
In short, 80% of adults with AS (Asperger Syndrome) or high
functioning autism scored above a critical minimum
of 32, whereas only 2% of control adults did."
Now what, you might ask, was my score?
It sets my mind at ease a bit that if I made it through my oddness to being a truly happy, healthy, and productive person that Elijah might follow the same path; in his way, at his pace.
Over the last 2 weekends we have gone from 13 meat chickens to 7 meat chickens and 6 chunks of meat. This was a really interesting experience, the culmination of the whole “let’s be more hands on with our food”. It is easy to do when you are pulling a carrot out of the ground or slicing a zucchini free from the vine, but making that transition from living thing to food is not as easy when it can look you in the eye.
Getting ready to butcher the chickens was as much of a production as the butchering itself. On Saturday I had to build a killing cone out of sheet metal and get the area prepped. The cone was built using dimensions I found online and was fairly easy. I cut a trapezoid out of some ducting metal and then cut 3 large tabs from one end and 3 slots into the other side. I rolled it together, fit the tabs into the slots and then bent the tabs over and hammered them flat. This ensures the cone won’t pull apart, and while it would have been easier to just rivet the ends together I didn’t have a rivet gun handy. I then hammered over the top edge where the ends overlap to keep them together and wrapped a seam of duct tape inside and out to make the joint free from any sharp edges – I wouldn’t want a chicken to get cut in the cone because I had been lazy. To finish it off I hammered a hole near the top to put a hooked nail through so I could hang it in the pumphouse off a metal loop I had installed on the wall.
The other thing to get ready was the butchering area. The pumphouse has easy access to water (although very cold) and electricity and has a cement floor so it was the best place to set up camp. I had noticed an old sink in the garage holding up a shelf and after moving some things around an old enameled cast iron sink was found to painfully move across the field. Someone had fitted iron pipe together to make a 2-legged stand and screwed this to the garage wall so this had to be moved as well. After getting the sink in I considered fitting a drain underneath as there was a hole in the wall right under the sink, but I settled on just placing a large bucket under the sink that I could dump outside. I ran a hose from the pump up behind the sink and we were halfway to a working butcher area. I also needed a cutting station so I moved an old desk from the quonset to use as a table, but I didn’t like it as a cutting surface. I racked my brain and remembered the pair of “modern” glass and metal computer desks we had never unpacked when we moved here. I went into the garage to raid the boxes and came out with a (probably) 2 foot by 3 foot glass sheet that could serve as an easy to clean and durable cutting surface.
Early Sunday morning I went out to the chicken coop with my scale and bucket and picked out 2 of the biggest chickens wandering the yard, each was about 6 pounds. I put them into a wire dog kennel for the day with access to water, but no food, as butchering is easier if the crop (a food storage sack in the neck) isn’t full, and their intestines would be less full of wastes that could make things messy if I missed a cut. The day went on as normal and after getting the kids to sleep Erron and I were able to go out and get to work. We brought out a big pot of ~140-150oF water for scalding and a hot plate to keep it warm, a couple of newly sharpened knives and some pots for “bits”.
Erron served as the reader while I did the majority of the cutting. We set up my laptop with a well photo-documented butchering tutorial on one side and she would tell me where and what to cut next. She was also there to take pictures for your enjoyment. To start you put the chicken head-first down into the cone and make sure the head is poking out, the cone will keep them from thrashing too much and promote bleeding to get the meat well drained.
Once you pull out the head you make 2 deep cuts into the neck just under the head to sever the arteries. Since the head is still attached the brain will tell the heart to keep pumping, unlike chopping the head off, and will bleed the chicken more thoroughly. I had made the cuts on the first chickens a bit low and had to saw through the feathers to get a deep cut, but the next week I had realized my mistake and got spurting arterial blood much more easily.
Once the chicken is dead (and be prepared for death throes despite the cone), you can take them out and give them a dunk in the hot bath. Swirl them around a bit to get water under the feathers as this relaxes the muscles holding the feathers making them easier to pluck. You can try pulling on a feather or two to see if they come free to know when is a good time to pull them out. Out of the 6 chickens so far I over-scalded one and the skin ripped to reveal partially cooked breast meat underneath, this one was cut into pieces instead of freezing whole.
Without a mechanical plucker, or any plucking experience, it took us maybe half an hour to get a nice clean chicken. We improved over time and I made a cheap drill-powered plucker for the second butcher day, but even then we did the final once-over in the kitchen to get the last remaining feathers. After you have a clean and dead bird you cut off the head and feet, we kept the feet in a pot for making chicken stock, but you could make a cool rear-view mirror dangly-thing if you wanted I suppose. The first real delicate step is to get the crop detached. You slit the neck skin and skin the neck, then pull the esophagus and trachea away from the neck until the big crop-sack pulls free. Everything is stuck to everything else by membranes so a snip or rip here and there is necessary to get stuff free, the same goes for when pulling out the guts. After the crop is free you cut the neck muscles at the base and twist the neck around to remove it, this we kept for stock, separate from the feet that needed an extra cleaning.
To start at the bottom end you make a slit on the back of the tail to remove an oil gland that the chickens use to preen their feathers and then flip the chicken over to make the delicate cut into the belly. I say delicate because the intestines must not be cut or else you will foul the meat with partially digested food, chicken poop, and bacteria. You could probably salvage the meat, but I’d rather just keep it clean. You make a small cut into the belly and then use your fingers to rip it wider while pulling the guts and their membranes free from the abdominal wall. Once the hole is big enough you take the plunge and reach in as high as you can.
You gently curl your fingers and grasp all the innards and then pull out while taking the time to rip free any membranes that are attached. You get most everything except for the lungs out in one or two pulls, just make sure to leave the intestines attached to the cloaca (chicken asshole). Now you can slice down either side of the gut and across the bottom so the intestines are completely free from the carcass. The liver, heart and gizzard can be kept for stock, but the gizzard needs to be sliced open and washed to get the gravel and grain out. The lungs are nestled into the ribcage and by slipping a fingernail between the lungs and ribs you get an opening to slide your fingers under them and pull them free one by one.
Once it is gutted we gave them a rinse by running some water through them and then brought them inside for “detailing”. We found a pair of tweezers is handy for the last couple feathers that just won’t come out.
Once clean, we patted the birds dry and weighed them to find out what all our hard work had rewarded us with. The first two birds were about 4 pounds each, and a week later the next 4 birds were about 5 to 5.5 pounds each. They need to spend a day in the fridge to age the meat so it can tenderize a bit as they are in rigor mortis at this point and the legs are locked in place, but after a day the go soft and pliable like a store-bought bird.
Well, there you have it, from baby chicks to 1-2 meals per bird in only 7 or 8 weeks. The second round was a lot easier than the first once I knew what I was doing and I am looking forward to the next 2 weekends of butchering the remaining birds so I don’t have to put up with them making such a mess of the coop anymore. Those egg layers are just so clean compared to the meat chickens that eat so much, drink so much, and poop so much.
One final picture, I was making a joke at the time with this first chicken liver, but I did in fact eat a raw chunk the next week when we had cut one up to feed to Dash. It had a taste and consistency similar to sushi, who knew?
In Gainesville, Florida residents are very disappointed tonight. Disappointed because their dear Reverend Terry Jones has apparently backed down on his plans to host “International Burn a Koran Day”. Now, before you get all concerned, it isn’t “Burn a Korean Day”, because that would just be wrong. The Koran, or Qu’ran if you’ve got a fetish for the letter q and an apostrophe, is the holy book of Muslims. Why should we burn this book on September 11th? Well, 9 years ago there were 19 muslims who managed to take over 3 airplanes, crash them into buildings, and kill thousands of people. It was truly a tragedy of epic proportions, and as millions of bumper stickers will attest we should “Never Forget” about it.
As any reasonable person would agree, we should hold every member of a religion responsible for the atrocities perpetrated by a small number of their members. And the best way to hold them responsible? To call them out? To show them the worthlessness of the beliefs they hold dear? Why, to burn their holy books of course! This is why T.J. had the presence of mind to make September 11th the day of days to go out and buy a couple hundred Qu’rans and burn those mothers down. But why stop there? Haven’t other religions had members who have done very bad things? Shouldn’t we dedicate a day for them so we can buy and burn their holy books? You bet your sorry ass we should!
Without further adieu I give you the official dates for the
International Festival of Holy Book Burning!
January 24th: Burn your Book of Mormon, the holy book of.. you guessed it… Mormonism. Why? Because this is the day that Ted Bundy got the electric chair for murdering however many dozens of people, the true number we’ll never know.
May 19th: Burn your copy of the Theravada, the holy book of Buddhism. Why? Because this is the day that George Lucas tainted the childlike hearts of millions with Jar Jar Binks.
May 23rd: Burn your copy of Dianetics, the holy book of Scientology. Why? Because this is the day that Tom Cruise tried to kill Oprah.
October 23rd: Burn your copy of the Torah, the holy book of Judaism. Why? Because this is the day that Alan Greenspan admitted his back-asswards understanding of the economy helped bring about the global recession and personally lost me over 50k on my house in Chicago.
November 24th: Burn your Avesta Collection, the holy texts of Zoroastrianism. Why? Because this is the day Freddy Mercury died, and since then people think all Zoroastrianists are queers with AIDS.
December 31st: Burn your copy of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, the holy book of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Why? Because this is Prince’s most lucrative day for royalties and I’ll never forgive him for changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol.
Well, that’s about it, hopefully you can get your hands on all these books before the stores run out. If you are in a pinch though you can just put digital copies on your iPad or Kindle and burn those (or mail your iPad or Kindle to me, I promise to burn them up real good).
Oh, wait, I almost forgot to be an equal-opportunity hate speacher!
September 9th: Burn your copy of the bible, the holy book of Christianity – bonus points if it is a bible stolen from Terry Jones’ Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida. Why? Because that bigoted bastard announced he was going to suspend, but not cancel his international hate-fest.
31 posts that were over 150 words each in 31 days. That was the challenge, and I’ve succeeded. But this has been about more than just the awesome pointsTM, this year I have managed to make this blog a purposeful place to share my thoughts and stories. I am completing this challenge with more than just a sigh of relief, I am finishing with a desire that more things would happen that I can blog about in the coming weeks and months. In a few weeks I can blog about slaughtering and processing our first chickens, and later on, the same for our pigs and the tasty food I plan to make with those chickens and pigs using the smoker I just picked up today at the store. I may post about how we plan on winterizing for the animals and winterizing the house. The kids will grow and do cool stuff, or frustrating stuff, and part of this blog will always have those beaming or venting posts. I’ll take apart broken things and fix them, and I’ll use parts of old junk to fix or build other things. Who knows, maybe even the renovations to fix the bathroom from the fire will warrant a post if the insurance company ever gets them completed (it’s only been 7 months since it happened…)
Thanks for reading, I look forward to having you back again soon.
PS: I think I get extra awesome pointsTM for currently having the top Google search result for soylent delorean. Just think of all the extra traffic those 2 everyday words will bring to my blog!