Monday, February 27, 2012

Carnaval 2012

Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it.
- Henry David Thoreau

At the tail end of February approaches, I realize that my most recent blog posts have all synched with major holidays, specifically Thanksgiving 2011, Christmas and New Year 2011, and now Carnaval 2012, where I spent five plus days decompressing at Fazenda Alfheim.

January was dominated by Lone's departure on her Gap@50 adventure and Fazenda Alfheim's first-of-2012 honey harvest…without question our most successful ever. Back on January 29th, I posted on Facebook that we harvested more than 100 kg. The final result was approx. 100 jars or more than 60 kg. But however much I erred on the volume, I did not exaggerate one iota when I wrote that:
If this honey were a wine from Bordeaux, it would be a Chateau Latour (1961) or a Chateau Cheval Blanc (1947). Mere words do not suffice.
Honestly, I have never tasted anything like it; the aroma is so powerful that it overwhelms you with its enticing richness even before you open the jar. And best of all, we had a lot of fun harvesting it.

In other farm news:
  • The swine maternity ward is nearing completion…João Jipe is truly constructing a masterpiece, complete with earthen floors. By his latest estimate, half the ten stalls will be ready for occupancy within two weeks.
  • We have decided to sell Mausolus. Despite attempting various treatments, we have been unable to cure his infection. As sad as we will be to part with our gentle, majestic giant, it is for the best. Fortunately, we were able to find a local buyer.
  • Clair sold the remainder of our frangos caipiras…at R$15.00 (€6.52 or $8.77) live, they are becoming a bit of a hit locally. I will purchase another 200 pintinhos ASAP.

And speaking of farm food hits, Sara Story Geld graciously wrote me the other day with the following kind words:
Rance yesterday we had some 35 people over for mad hatters lunch. Mostly crazy Geld family and a few other brave souls. We finally made your piglet. It was so good. I did it in oven 2 hrs and 15 min covered with oil and marinated w/beer and alecrim (rosemary) salt and garlic and lemon (lots of salt). Then we put it on spits over charcoal for an hour and a half. It. Was out of this world!!! Carson and Ellen were mad for it! Any how thank you both so much! I think I got you a customer base built yesterday!
The good news: we will soon have a whole host of new piglets…Clair has been fattening them up with lots of Jersey milk…they already look delicious. Another couple of weeks and they will be truly amazing.

Back on February 15th, 2009, I wrote in The color purple:
The truly enduring impression of the week, however, is the blooming of the manacá-da-serra (Tibouchina mutabilis). The forest is ablaze with purple and white. From every corner of Alfheim ones eyes are delightfully assaulted by the tapestry of purple and white flowers pouring forth from the carpet of green hues. Nothing short of spectacular.
Thankfully, we are treated to this same marvel every February.

Inspired by our visit to my college rowing crew mate Davis Bales III's pousada over New year, where he has placed his Concept2 rowing machine prominently in his garden, I dusted off mine and placed it in the barbecue where I have been hitting it pretty hard of late, three straight days of over 4,000 meters over Carnaval. The rowing has been part of a 90 day fitness challenge that Johannes, Esben and I agreed to back in early January. Not to boast, but the two young men are having trouble keeping up with their old fart of a father.

Well worth reading Moral Hazard: A Tempest-Tossed Idea by Shaila Dewan of The New York Times and The myth of the eight-hour sleep by Stephanie Hegarty of BBC World Service.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not toot my own horn once more and mention that the Fazenda Alfheim blog recently surpassed 10,000 pageviews…10,609 at last count, an average of 102 page views per blog post over the three plus years I have been writing it.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

2012…Lone's Gap@50

Written to R.E.M. Live by R.E.M.

New Year's Day… now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.
- Mark Twain

Based on the gap between my last blog post, it may seem like the level of activity has slowed considerably at Fazenda Alfheim, or that we skip aimlessly from one holiday to another, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, in less than three years we have succeeded in producing nearly all of the feed we require for our animals, approx. three hectares each of sugar cane and napier for the cattle and pigs and mandicoca (cassava) for the pigs. We estimate the latter to be the equivalent of 150 50 kg sacks of mandioca, enough to supply feed for the pigs for half a year. Most impressively, we have multiplied the mandioca from a very small base (less than 0.1 hectares), which we planted in 2008. With a modest purchase of organic corn, we will be feed self-sufficient in 2012.

Before getting into more farm business, it is undoubtedly worth mentioning that Lone will be taking off most of 2012, a gap year of sorts, christened Gap@50 by yours truly. Lone's big adventure gets underway on January 11th, when she will fly to UK to spend a few days with Johannes and Esben before heading to Denmark for a quick visit with her family and Pelle, after which her quest will begin in earnest on January 25th with a 3-Month Yoga and Meditation Course at Håå Course Center in Hamneda, Sverige, including a 33-day period of silence.

Sweden will be followed by a slow train ride through Europe to Firenze, Italy, where I will join Lone for a double birthday celebration (her 50th and my 48th) in late April/early May. I know, life is hard.

Lone will then spend almost four months of quality time with her family in Denmark, where her dear friend Susanne Charlotte Pedersen has graciously agreed to lend Lone her apartment while Susanne frolics in her kolonihavehus.

And finally the journey ends with Lone's return to Brazil on August 24th.

Very exciting!

Back on planet practical, Lone led the slaughter of one of our male calves…with only the help of a couple of books. Very impressive…and quite tasty…extraordinarily tasty, actually. In fact, the best hamburger I have ever eaten…infinitely tastier than The burger that refused to die (a must read...and not just because my cousin Matt's awesome wife Melanie is quoted several times).

We also thoroughly enjoyed two Christmas visits, one from Leonardo and his family, the other from Jeff and Suzanna, with a cameo from Emmanuel Cabale, in between which I managed to squeeze in a quick surgery to remove a benign node from my head (my lone horn, as Lone liked to refer to it). As always, Lone outdid herself with the yuletide decorations.

We also contracted a satellite internet service from PrimeNet, so between this and our SkyHD service Fazenda Alfheim is now truly connected with the world at large.

And while on the subject of infrastructure, our constant, year-plus, gentle and not-so-gentle prodding of the mayor of Natividade de Serra resulted in the recent completion of a concrete bridge across the stream in front of the entrance to our piece of paradise. Unfortunately, the quality of the municipal engineers leaves a great deal to be desired, and after a deluge of more than 160mm of rain in less than 48 hours, the on and off-ramps collapsed, leaving us with only the precarious old bridge as an exit to civilization. Hopefully the bridge will be fixed by the time Lone returns to the fazenda on January 3rd.

We are spending New Year at Ninho da Arara, the pousada of a rowing buddy from Berkeley, Davis Bales, in Itaipava, in the gorgeous Serra Fluminense mountain range. Complete chilaxing…just what the doctor ordered!

FInally, Brazil is expected to pass France by 2015 to become the fifth largest economy in the world. An IMF projection suggests that the Brazilian economy will pass the British this year, becoming the sixth largest. Who would have ever thought…

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011…São Paulo style

Written to Philosopher's Stone by Van Morrison

Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.
- William Faulkner

We celebrated Thanksgiving, São Paulo style, together with Jeff and Suzanna, the driving organizational force behind the event, and 6 of their friends, and Urd, a Danish family friend who has been staying at Fazenda Alfheim for the past couple of weeks, at Lola Bistrot & Baràvin in Vila Madalena. Indubitably the most Thanksgiving of all the Thanksgivings I have experienced. The table was exquisitely decorated and the menu was, in a word, sumptuous:


Entrée Principal


As tradition dictates, we ate until our farewell hugs had to be administered with a certain disciplined  cuidado.

The week before arriving in São Paulo for the aforementioned Thanksgiving celebration, Lone and Urd headed to Parati, where they spent time with Marina Carvalho, our first volunteer. In addition to a wonderful boat trip, the ladies engaged in some serious mud bathing.

During her stay at Alfheim, Urd shared her abundant cake baking gifts. She is a true artist. Yummy!

While it may appear that things have been quiet back at our little slice of paradise, a great deal of projects have either recently been completed or are well under way:

  • Clair widened the path to the bees so that the tractor can pass (helpful for transporting many heavy bee boxes full of golden honey)
  • We hired our neighbor, João Jipe (Jeep), the latter a nickname derived from the aging Toyota Bandeirante (aka Land Cruiser) that he drives, for nine months to help us with a series of construction projects, beginning with the repair of our cast iron stove's chimney and including but not limited to a new maternity ward for the piggies. It is indeed a pleasure and a privilege to enjoy the services of a truly capable håndværker, though managing the inevitable combustion between Clair's laborer's work ethic and João's careful artisan profile will be challenging.
  • We received a visit from our veterinarian, Ana Maria Paredes, to vaccinate the cattle, treat Mausolus' nasty sore, sterilize our two cats and check whether any of the heifers are pregnant (they're not)
  • We also received a beautiful Santa Gertrudis heifer, an overly generous gift from our kind-hearted lawyer/cowboy friend Márcio Magano. If we can figure out why (more or less) suddenly none of our cattle are getting pregnant, we will (more or less) soon be producing one beef calf per year in addition to copious quantities of delicious Jersey milk

Finally, a couple of items -running the gamut from revolutionary to spellbinding to tragic to hilarious- worth sharing:

  • The Japanese company Blest has developed one of the smallest and safest oil-to-plastic conversion machines out on the market today. It's founder and CEO, Akinori Ito is passionate about using this machine to change the way people around the world think about their plastic trash. From solving our landfill and garbage disposal issues to reducing our oil dependency on the Middle East, his machine may one day be in every household across Japan. Going to see if I can't purchase one of these machines.
  • "If I should have a daughter, instead of Mom, she's gonna call me Point B ... " began spoken word poet Sarah Kay, in a talk that inspired two standing ovations at TED2011. She tells the story of her metamorphosis -- from a wide-eyed teenager soaking in verse at New York's Bowery Poetry Club to a teacher connecting kids with the power of self-expression through Project V.O.I.C.E. -- and gives two breathtaking performances of "B" and "Hiroshima."
  • More than 38 million Americans — one in eight — now receive food stamps, a record high.
  • Best Door to Door Salesman in The World! Aspiring Comedian Kenny Brooks

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

60 liters of pure, caramel hony/hunig/honig/hunang/knēkós

But O, how bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man's eyes.
- William Shakespeare

Lone arrived from Denmark on Friday, October 28, after 18 days of relaxing with her family…and most of ours. An altogether positive experience.

Adding to the positiveness of Lone's arrival, we had scheduled a visit from Jeff and Suzanna, aka the Jones. Unfortunately, as they are now gainfully employed, we could not leave São Paulo until well past nightfall, though that did result in our enjoying a delicious, fully comped meal (it pays to have piglets to barter with restaurant owners) at Serafina, one of our favorite restaurants.

We arrived at Fazenda Alfheim at approx. 03:00, so we took it easy Saturday morning…particularly easy for my part. I crawled out of bed sometime after 11:00. Needless to say, Lone had been up for hours.

As compensation, I agreed to make lunch, a scrumptious leg of Márcio and Heather's lamb, roasted in a bed of chick peas, organic carrots, organic tom cherry tomatoes and organic squash, and bathed in a sauce of olive oil, garlic, fresh spices from our garden and lemon. It looked nearly as good going into the oven as it tasted after coming out. Very, very yummy!

Sunday was dedicated to our third honey harvest, with yours truly as head apprentice, again shepherded by our neighbor Izilda. Jeff manned up and donned a bee suit for the occasion and proved a great help.

In all, a very smooth process…three hours and we had stored seven very heavy boxes of honey for processing that same evening.

In between, Lone dropped Jeff and Suzanna off in Taubaté, where they caught a bus to São Paulo, and me off in S. L. do Paraitinga, where I sorted João severance pay. Alas, despite our many interventions, João's constant indebtedness finally overwhelmed him and he quit work at the end of September. Doubly unfortunate because in addition to being a terrific worker and a generally nice person, there is no rhyme or reason behind his decision. He will certainly earn less wherever he ends up, though at least his severance pay will keep the debt collectors from his door…for a while. A genuine shame.

Sunday evening at 18:00 Lone, Clair, Rosanna and I began processing a bronze/russet/sepia blend of winter honey. Taste: exquisite. While Lone and Rosanna bore the brunt of the work separating the wax in order to free the honey for the centrifuge, Clair and I manned the centrifuge. After a bit of experimenting, I learned that speed is second to technique in extracting the honey. Three hours, 60 liters and a great deal of fun later, we had completed the task, carefully closing up our liquid gold and the room to avoid swarming, bee bandits in search of the fruit of all of their labor.

On Monday Rosanna and I quickly bottled the honey…a rapid process that took less than 45 minutes. Lone was a bit cross with me for not removing the froth from the top of the honey, but after extensive tasting I determined that it was too yummy to waste, although she is certainly right in her assessment that some connoisseurs might not appreciate the visual effect. From my perspective, the rawer, the better.

In other fazenda news, the workers cleared the river banks of grass and weeds…wonderful…and long overdue.

Also, pasture 3, is bursting with a combination of sugar cane and napier. We will have no shortage of either by this time next year…more than enough to feed all of our cows, pigs and chickens.

Finally, an interesting article from the New York Times about A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute…well worth a read.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

2,000,000 bees...none in my bonnet

There are certain pursuits which, if not wholly poetic and true, do at least suggest a nobler and finer relation to nature than we know. The keeping of bees, for instance
- Henry David Thoreau

Seven months to the day of publishing Bees in my Bonnet, my ode to suffering 100+ bee stings back in March, I made my inaugural debut as Fazenda Alheim's new bee caretaker, together with our energy-bomb of a neighbor, Izilda, this time clothed in an Ultra Breeze® beekeeping suit, a ventilated and sting-resistant beekeeping suit and gloves, courtesy of my sister Paula, who doubles as my personal shopper (non-pejorative). The work, which took a couple of hours, and involved checking each bee box and even rebuilding an empty bee box with bees from a particularly robust box, was very interesting, though hardly peaceful, as Lone described it. Boxes 11-20 have recovered well since Izilda last visited, and the bees were quite aggressive. In total, I suffered only a handful of stings, primarily when I bent my arm and the suit clung too closely to my bicep. I will also have to remember to wear a ski cap next time in order to avoid the protective hat touching the nape of my neck when I bend over to inspect the boxes. Considering that each box can contain as many as 100,000 bees, we were surrounded by approx. 2 million bees…awe-inspiring and almost incomprehensible, but also pretty cool. Izilda and I will return on October 30th to harvest six-eight boxes of golden honey. Yummy!

I would have liked to take pics of my debut as Fazenda Alfheim's beekeeper in residence, but given that my hands were otherwise occupied, not to mention about twice their natural size and half their natural nimbleness owing to my protective gloves, you will have to settle for this YouTube reference (part 1 & 2).

On a related note, the massive amount of sugar cane, which Esben planted on pasture 3, together with our workers, of course, is growing well, providing us with a natural option for feeding the bees next winter if feed proves limited for whatever reason. We figured this out when we noticed that a handful of bees descends each morning on the feed troughs where we feed Mausolus and the ladies a tasty blend of shredded sugar cane and napier or elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum) after milking (not Mausolus, of course…that would be more than a little awkward).

In addition to my amazing bee suit and gloves, my sister Paula also recently sent me 1 lb of Ethos tea, a blend of Organic Fair Trade Chamomile, Organic Fair Trade South African Rooibos, Organic Mint and Organic Honeybush, from my favorite online tea shop, Art of Tea. Can't wait to try it as it combines three of my favorite teas: chamomile, mint and rooibos.

In that same package Paula also sent me a couple of pieces for our replacement ice cream maker (to replace the one whose motor burned out when persons who shall remain nameless, a bit like Lord Voldemort, plugged the brand new 110 volt machine into a 220 volt plug). The whole process is like something out of a John le Carré spy novel (I will receive the complete ice cream maker over 3-4 shipments). She also included the coolest little pig pen drive with another couple of hundred photos from the Hesketh family reunion, including our own special Welcome to Rio de Janeiro for our Canadian and American guests -all of whom decided to skip the Marvelous City this time around- replete with our very own nearly two meter tall Christ the Redeemer, aka Johannes, Joho, Chicken Boy and Bro. Needless to say, you had to have been there...

And while our extended family returned to their respective homes, general direction north, Jeff (caught here scarfing some delicious Fazenda Alfheim piglet prepared by Suzanna) and Suzanna returned to Brazil to work for a couple of years! Yeah! Lone met them first on a Friday, September 30th, and then we all went to dinner the next day, Saturday, at Rodeio (always good…and, yes, Johannes, Esben and Pelle, that's why my job is SO MUCH BETTER than yours…SO MUCH BETTER!), followed by a marvelous free concert on Sunday at Sala São Paulo. An altogether spectacular weekend. Best of all, Jeff and Suzanna will join us at Fazenda Alfheim for Christmas 2011!

Ronja Rövardotter, our house cat, has taken to advanced exploration and challenging far larger mammals than dumb (Negão), dumber (Muninn) and dumbest (Layla…sorry, Melissa).

My various body parts appear to be recovering well from surgery, particularly my clavicle. That said my doc has told me not to expect a full recovery before the six-month mark, but I have begun exercising gently on an elliptical cross-trainer. In a word: encouraging.

On Monday, Lone departed for Denmark, where she will spend 18 days visiting family, including our boys, who will make a weeklong cameo, this time accompanied by her new iPod Touch, on which I installed Skype and SkypeAccess. Should be fun.

Finally, I wanted to share the following two videos of George Carlin: the first, The American Dream, a raw, uncensored routine dealing with the suddenly-again-topical theme of class warfare. The second, Modern Man, a cleaned-up-for-network-television, four-minute routine of pure genius that has to be seen to be believed. Both are must-see TV.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Two reunions and two surgeries…followed by my 100th blog post

Written to Mumford & Sons - iTunes Festival: London 2009

An ounce of blood is worth more than a pound of friendship.
- Spanish Proverb

Well, since I last posted, I have attended/hosted two reunions, the first my 30th San Marcos High School Reunion in Santa Barbara, California, on July 30th, the second the much-written-about Hesketh family reunion, at which three generations and 14 members of the Hesketh clan from Brazil, Canada, UK and US joined forces for three weeks of pancake making (with 100% Canadian maple syrup), consuming roasted marshmallows, cigar smoking, volleyball, good food and better conversation and the obligatory family portraits (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Unsurprisingly, the next generation of Heskeths could not resist hamming it up (1, 2, 3).

Both reunions were awesome!

In between reunion 1 and reunion 2, on August 12th to be precise, I had surgery to repair my clavicle, which my ungrateful, malicious middle son, Esben, broke when he attacked me without provocation (or at least that's my story…and I'm sticking with it) back in September 2010. The bone never consolidated, and while it did not prevent me from practicing yoga, it was a constant discomfort, so I decided to get it sorted. My orthopedic surgeon, Dra. Andrea Arruda, inserted a titanium plate and six screws, so hopefully that will do the trick. While I was being cut up, we decided to clean up my right knee, specifically the meniscus.

Three weeks later, my knee is feeling much better. Can't wait to start running again.

My clavicle, on the other hand, will take a while longer to heal…45 days to six months. So there is plenty of time for me to plan my revenge on Esben. When he is least expecting it…

And speaking of Esben, he has returned to UK to take on a job as Trainee Certification Coordinator and Auditor (UK and Ireland) at NEPCon. NEPCon’s mission is to promote sustainable forest and nature management and use, in cooperation with local stakeholders such as individuals, business enterprises, NGOs and government institutions. Naturally, we are sorry to lose a most excellent Farm Manager, not to mention an all-around great guy, but our loss is tempered by our excitement at his embarking on this next, exciting chapter in his life.

Johannes and Pelle, too, are thrilled to have Esben back in UK, and the three knuckleheads are already planning a manly, multi-week, bro outing in 2012.

In farm-related news, Lone has sold off all but two of our F1s, so we are down to our Sorocaba/Monteiro breed…but there is no shortage of piggies at Fazenda Alfheim.

We finally got our shredder/grinder working, much to the delight of the workers…no more manual chopping of sugar cane and elephant grass.

Lone also recently purchased a sugar cane grinder, which allows us to produce sugar syrup…yummy! We can now produce our own sugar and honey. This will facilitate bottling all of our various fruits…and not a moment to soon, what with Jabuticaba season just around the corner.

Also, imagine the ice cream we will be able to produce with our Jersey milk, organic, raw honey and Jabuticaba once my sister delivers our new ice cream maker.

Ronja Rövardotter, our house cat, has now been taken off house arrest, or rather, it is impossible to keep her in, so she comes and goes pretty much as she pleases, though this was not always a simple task for her.

Finally, after so much fun and games, I will end my 100th blog post with an interesting comment on the West and its work ethic:
Has the West lost its work ethic? Economic historian and Harvard professor Niall Ferguson counts the work ethic as one of "six killer apps" responsible for the "great divergence," the centuries-long dominance of the West over the East in economic, political and military power. (The other five "apps" are competition, the scientific revolution, property rights, modern medicine, and the consumer society.) Today the average Korean works 1,000 hours more per year than the average German, he said. Although he said the decline of the West isn't inevitable, the rise of the East is incontrovertible: "The great divergence is over, folks."

Friday, July 15, 2011

1, 2, 3…3 * 2:1

Be careful to leave your sons well instructed rather than rich, for the hopes of the instructed are better than the wealth of the ignorant.
- Epictetus
Before diving into the latest goings on at Fazenda Alfheim, I wanted to take a minute to congratulate our youngest son, Pelle Martin Hesketh, for graduating yesterday with a 2:1 classification in Geography from the University of Leceister. A 2:1 is also known formally as an upper second-class honors and is sought by many employers and academic institutions. Both his grandmother, Mette (see previous photo), and Johannes attended the graduation ceremony. We could not be more proud or pleased for Pelle...and for Johannes and Esben; all three graduated with upper second-class honors from first-rate UK universities.

And while neither Lone nor I could attend Pelle's graduation, we will have every opportunity to celebrate his grand accomplishment when he arrives in Brazil on Tuesday, July 19th, for a six-week visit, long enough to participate in the Hesketh family reunion in the second half of August, and to join us on August 6th to watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 with our dear friends Vivian and Luciano…can't wait!

When he arrives, he will be welcomed into our newly painted house (after much searching Lone managed to find an ochre color that passes the Skagen, Denmark test). Lone's joy at successfully transposing a tiny bit of her moderland‏ to Fazenda Alfheim clearly shone through in her work. And while she certainly earned a gold star for creativity, I am not sure that we can entirely overlook the productivity implications of her artwork.

In addition to newly-painted houses, Pelle will enjoy the privilege of traveling along our newly repaired entry road. Esben and the workers installed four drains to help keep our 1.8 km entry road high and dry during the rainy season. Esben also oversaw the repair of our crumbling bridge, which has never looked better.

And while on the subject of bridges, the bridge in front of our property (the one about which we have been fighting with the mayor of Natividade da Serra) continues to progress.

In addition to house painting and road repair, Esben and Paulino, our newest worker, who also happens to be João's brother, dug out one of our biggest ant colonies (supervised, naturally, by a peep of hungry chickens).

Paulino also helped Clair and Dener cut wood to fuel our newly installed wood-burning stove.

The wood-burning stove is intended to ensure that we survive what to date has been an unusually cold winter. We also hope that our survival extends to our ten guests during the Hesketh family reunion. Despite the fact that five are traveling from Canada, I am pretty certain that they are not used to housing sans insulation.

In anticipation of the arrival of our many guests, Lone has been busy stocking up on food. Thankfully Jamie dropped by for a week, time enough to lead the slaughter of a 70+ kg sow and the making of bucketloads of sausages!

Not wanting to be limit our diets to pork, we are also fattening (on oat pastures) approx. 100 chickens for the two-week event. Double yummy!

As busy as this made the ladies, they did not limit themselves to preparing meat, picking and juicing a small ton of lemons. Add this to our existing stock of winter honey, guava and roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) as well as the daily production of milk and eggs and we should be well-prepared to feed a small army.

Finally, a startling example of how far the US has declined and Brazil has prospered over the past several years: