Saturday, July 4, 2009

In which I learn to make cheese

First of all, what am I doing blogging on the 4th of July? Well, I've already read the Declaration of Independence (and got teary eyed). But it's raining. Nought to do outside when it's raining. My wife is working days today and the kids are playing. What else is there to do but blog?

So, a couple of days ago, I went to my friend Alan's farm to chat with him for awhile and watch as he and his helper made Jack Cheese. It was a pretty cool process. They also made some Garlic and Herb Jack by adding the spices to the curds before pressing.

Here's a picture of the cheese tank. The whole milk is poured in here and the bacteria culture is added. The pole you see going down into the milk is an agitator that spins the milk. The 'smooshy' looking stuff around it is a bit of whipped butter. The little white globs are cheese curds. The milk is stirred and warmed to between 90 and 100 degrees (yes, this is raw-milk cheese). After awhile, the bacteria that has been added begins to grow and form the curds. It takes awhile to reach the right consistency. When the curds are just about right (a point it takes some time to learn) then Alan drains off about 1/3 of the whey and adds that much water back into the tank. The water helps to slow down the bacteria growth so they don't overshoot the 'right' moment for cheese making.

When the curd is 'finished', that is, it sticks a little, but will still fall apart from each other, all the whey is drained off. See the tool at the top of the picture? It's a pitchfork made of stainless steel, with tips that are bent into small loops. Alan says it was an expensive tool. It's used to keep the curds from forming a big sticky mass, as it's passed through them while the whey drains.

After that, some of the curds were moved to a stainless steel sink where spices were added. But eventually, all of the curds were packed into large plastic hoops, lined with cheesecloth. Tops are then put on and a weight is applied to the hoops. This presses all the curds together and makes a nice wheel of cheese. Because it is raw-milk cheese, it will age on a shelf for a minimum of two months.

Alan makes a variety of cheeses. He showed me three large wheels of Parmesan that were soaking in a brine bath (which gives the cheese a rind). He makes jack, cheddar, Swiss, feta, parm, and a variety of other 'farmstead' cheeses (like Hoosier Jalapeno, or Flora and Fauna). Listen, if you've never had real farmstead cheese, you don't know what you're missing. It's absolutely amazing! Here's a link to Alan's farm: The Swiss Connection

This whole process was started about 9:30 or so that morning. I left the farm around 4:00 in the afternoon and the wheels had just had weight applied to press them. Alan said he'd probably turn the wheels over once that evening, again the next morning, and perhaps one more time that afternoon. They would then go on the shelf for aging.

And what does he do with all the whey? Surely you don't imagine he'd throw it down the drain? No way! He has nine pigs that he's raising to butcher. He sells them as 'whey-fed pork'. Yep, they get all the whey they want twice a day. Oh, there are weeds in the lot with them, but they do quite well on whey.

Pickled Limes

I found this book at our library. It's a revised edition of an older book. It's got it all. Pickle recipes using vinegar and brine. And we're not just talking cucumbers either.

I've never read the book"Little Women," but evidently one of the younger sisters begs her older sisters for some money to buy pickled limes. Here's what author, Linda Ziedrich, says about the limes:
In the West Indies, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, ripe limes were packed whole in sea water or fresh-made brine and shipped to northeastern U.S. ports in barrels. In 1838, according to the Royal Horticultural Society of Great Britain, there was "a fair demand in the New York market for pickled limes," but by the late nineteenth century pickled limes were invariably sent to Boston. There they were sold from glass jars on top of candy-store counters, and some families even bought them by the barrel. Because the import tariff for pickled limes was quite low - importers fought to keep them classed as neither fresh fruit nor pickle - children could buy them cheaply, often for a penny apiece. Kids chewed, sucked, and traded pickled limes at school (and not just a recess) for decades, making the limes the perennial bane of New England schoolteachers. Doctors tended to disapprove of the limes, too; in 1869 a Boston physician wrote that pickled limes were among the "unnatural and abominable" substances consumed by children with nutritional deficiencies. Parents, however, seemed generally content for children to indulge themselves in the pickled-lime habit. (p.77)

So to make them, the recipe says to take some Mexican, Key, or West Indian limes, as fresh and ripe as possible. Simply brine them in a mixture of 1 tablespoon of pickling salt per cup of water. Put them in a jar, cover them with the brine, and let them sit for 3 weeks in the refrigerator.

Remember, these aren't the big lemon sized limes, these are small key-west limes, about the size of a golf ball or a little bigger. I bought a bag of them at the store. They weren't fresh, nor totally ripe, but they'll have to do. We'll see how they are in a few weeks.

Jam and Beans

HUH? Well, yeah, here's some pics... I've been busy. We went to a U-pick place and got us a mess of strawberries. I made jam and froze a bunch. I had some rhubarb so I made some strawberry-rhubarb jam too. And can you gess what's in the three jars in front? Any guess at all? The pic isn't the best. Sorry 'bout that.

Carrot Jam! Yes, and it's wonderful! My kids love it and my wife said it reminded her of carrot cake, her favorite. It was in the Blue Book (the canner's Bible) and it sounded good... and it was.

Furthermore, I've used my canner for the first time. Remember this winter I went and bought a 23 quart canner? I finally got to use it. We got green beans in our CSA box two weeks in a row and the kids and I picked a whole mess too. Wife and kids snapped and washed 'em for me (wife capped and washed the berries too, bless her!). I got 7 quarts. I'm so happy about that. I'm hoping for more. God is good!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

My Kids

I thought I'd give you a glimpse of my kids. The Bible says that kids are a blessing or reward from the Lord. Honestly? Sometimes their behavior makes me say to myself, "Boy, if that's true, I'd hate to see His curse." But really, they are good kids. Smart, funny, generous. My wife and I are blessed, though I have had to have some tough conversations lately about obedience and truthfulness. But that's what a dad does, right?

This is Eric's posed picture. He saw a picture like this in a catalog we have and decided he wanted one of himself. Up the Redbud tree he shimmied and asked my wife to take the shot. What's he reading? Oh, don't you know what the top book on the summer reading program for six-year-olds is this year? Huckleberry Finn, of course!!
Grant. Male. 4 1/2 years old. Whiner extraordinaire. But he can give you the most genuine, loving smile in a heartbeat. This little penguin is just one of his many stuffed animals that find their way into his daily play. He loves toads (to death, literally), can ride a two wheel bike without training wheels, and loves to help.
And Anna. As I type this, she's spending the week at her Grandparents'. At nine-years-old, she's doing very well with her reading. This book, "Stone Fox", was her last reader for the year in our core 3 curriculum from Sonlight. Not to let the summer go unused, I went to the library and got her three books to read while she's at Grandma's; "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" (one of my favorites), "Caleb's Story", a follow-up to "Sarah Plain and Tall" which we read this year, and "How to Eat Fried Worms". She finished "Tales ... " before the weekend was out. And finally, showing their creativity, the kids built a space ship in the backyard out of crates, cardboard, a basketball goal, and some other miscellaneous stuff. What a riot.

A little bit of Spring

Thought I'd share a few pictures with you of some of the blooms around my place this spring. I had a few others, but I'm not sure where they went.

Here's a young Crab Apple I planted two years ago. I forget its name but It'll be a real beauty when it gets bigger. The flowers look just like miniature roses.

Here's a shot of the lilac bush I planted. I got it free from the Arbor Day Society a few years ago. Most of what I got from them didn't live, but this did. You know the old saying, "Stop to smell the Roses?" That's a nice sentiment for summer, but if you didn't stop to smell the lilacs in spring, well, you didn't have spring.Finally, a picture of some of the peonies from my yard. This variety is called "Bowl of Beauty". I dug up the rootstock from my wife's Grandmother's yard and was able to get two bushes growing. I love peonies, but these are just about my favorites. And for you non-Indiana type people, the peony is the state flower of Indiana.

I hope you enjoyed spring while it was here. So quickly the summer comes with it's blooms to distract us. But spring has joys all its own that shouldn't be missed!

What a FIND!!

You know, I love drying clothes on the clothesline. But it never fails. No matter how tightly I pull the cord or wind it around the eye-bolt or anything, it always sags. I use a vinyl coated wire. I know some folks use cotton rope, etc. But I'm afraid there just isn't a line anywhere that won't stretch out over time (unless it was steel wire).

For time immemorial, people have devised all manner of methods of keeping the clothesline up so the clothes aren't dragging the ground. Well I finally found the answer, at Rural King no less! It was in the sales flier a few weeks ago. When I saw it at the store, I immediately picked up three of them for $4.99 a piece.

It's this nifty gadget.
It is made of metal and hard plastic. The pole is telescoping so you can adjust the height and it screws down to hold it in place. The bottom is equipped with a hard plastic, pointy tip and flange (kind of like a ski pole) to keep it in one place.

The top looks like this:

It has offset 'lips' (for lack of a better word) that you weave your clothesline through and it keeps it in place, even in a breeze! I was soooo happy! I've gotten rid of the two old pieces of wood I was using.


Ok, Ok, friends, I'm breaking the silence. I know, it's been, like, forever since I wrote or posted anything like a significant post. So here I go...

This spring I had a singularly unique experience. Several years ago, I had built a 'nesting shelf' out of some scraps of wood and trim pieces and hung it up just under the eave of our garage, inside our back yard. We can see it perfectly from the family room window. In hindsight, this isn't the best place, as our dog - loveing as he is - will kill anything smaller than he is if he can get it in his mouth. The nesting shelf has sat vacant all these years until this spring. A robin and her mate decided to take up light housekeeping. Here's a few pics to show you their progress...

This pic shows you the shelf and the nest.

Here's one with the eggs. Pretty, no?

And finally, you can just barely see the little ones in there.
The parents raised the babies, and only lost one that I know of. They finally vacated the premesis a few weeks ago, but the nest didn't stay empty for long. Another female found the nest and has made some repairs and laid three eggs in it. There is no Mr. Robin that I've seen. That, and the fact that she laid the eggs in a used nest makes me think she's a young mother. Also, I suppose the fact that two broods are being raised in the nest in one year doesn't so much make it a singular experience, now does it?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Little bits

The picture above is from somewhere in Michigan. I have several pictures like this saved.... a path leading off into the woods. I'm not sure why pictures like this are so intriguing to me. Is the sense of adventure they conjure? Perhaps the notion of 'the journey' they imply? Not sure, but I love pics like these. Mostly, I just wish I were actually on those paths walking through the woods.

It's been crazy busy around here lately. Sorry I've been lax in my blogging. This weekend is my daughter's dance recital. Her teacher doesn't just do a little show where each class comes out and dances and that's it.... no, she rents out a huge music hall at ISU, and puts on a HUGE performance with backdrops, props and everything. Each class' dance tells a part of the story, and the older dancers have the main character parts of the story. This year we're going to see "Alice in Wonderland". At the end of the show, the whole company (around 300 kids) are on the stage for the closing number. Basically that's just a bunch of hand waving in the air, because there's just not room to do much else. But the place usually sells out for this show, with family members coming to see their little angel perform, from all over the place. My daughter's class are ladybugs. Eh, what can you say? My in-laws are here for the even, and my sister-in-law comes down to stay with the boys for the evening (there's no way they could last through this thing).

I planted some Peperoncini seeds and now have seedlings. My wife and kids and I love these things, so I decided to pickle some of my own. What are they? They're those little wrinkly peppers you get in your box of Pappa John's Pizza. Yeah, we love 'em. I'd have bought plants, but I couldn't find them anywhere, and I had to order the seeds! I was at Aldi the other day getting some groceries and the cashier pointed out some plants they had. I came home with a fully grown, ripe-fruit-bearing Sweet banana Pepper plant. Picked some red peppers off it that evening and had em on salad. Wow are they good. Sweeeeet. Really excellent sliced lengthwise and spread with some cream cheese!

The rest of the garden is doing ok. I cultivated the other day to help get rid of weeds, but that only seems to make it worse. It turns over new weed seeds and allows them to grow. Plus, my compost pile had bindweed seeds get into it. That's wild morning glory. I've got these little things springing up all over the place... YAAAAAAACCCKK! Drives me crazy. The onions are growing well. My grapevine is covered with blossoms. The tomatoes are finally showing signs of growth and have a few blooms. My lettuce -bipkus. Beets... eeh, we'll see. Peppers, I think they'll live. Cukes, I've got five plants out of a whole package of seeds. Green beans. They're spotty and I'm going to fill in the spaces with new seed. Yeah, I'm crazy. I'm not sure what happened. I don't think it was a problem with the seeds. I think it was that it rained for several days not long after they were planted, and they must have gotten too soggy. I dunno, but I'm disappointed. We'll see how they do as the summer goes along.

My mother was pulling some weeds yesterday at her house. They were growing around her mailbox where she usually plants flowers every year (and swears she's not going to plant flowers every year, but they never survive). She got tired of pulling weeds because the roots were all spread out (crab grass, I'm guessing). So she went and bought, not one, but TWO bottles of bleach and dumped on them. "I reckon that'll get rid of 'em," she said. Yes, I imagine it will.... and anything else you plant there for awhile. Sheesh. It'll probably wash out in the next couple of rains... I hope.

I do have several other pictures that I'd like to share with you of some things I enjoyed this Spring, etc. I will get to it, I promise. My wife is plugging away on her Masters degree in nursing. She begins her practicum hours in just a few weeks. It's going to be a busy summer with all of that. I started the last week of curriculum with my daughter yesterday, so we should be 'done' with school by the end of this coming week. However, we are going to continue to do some things through the summer. She needs it. (Though I need a break too).

Our CSA started two weeks ago. So far we've gotten salad greens, spinach, green onions, radishes, Boston lettuce, strawberries, chives, and kale. I may be forgetting something. It's exciting to see what comes each week. What's more interesting is seeing what I decide to do with it! I made a really good Kale and white bean soup last week. Some of the spinach is in tonight's lasagna. Strawberries are going into a glaze for cheesecake.

Hope you all are well.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Well, I don't know what happened, or what changed, but several of you said you could see pictures. I couldn't. Odd. But today - poof! I've got pictures on my blog... and on others' where there were only red x's. I've no idea what's changed or how it got fixed - which is a little unsettling - has my computer developed AI? But I'm happy it's fixed. So, I'll try to take some time today to post some pics and updates about what's going on around here.

I will say this. I roasted a 20.6# turkey for dinner yesterday. Got it on sale after the holidays and pulled it out of the freezer a few days ago. Of course, the five of us didn't even eat a whole breast! So I've picked the meat off and am freezing it 2 cups to a freezer bag. I ran out of bags but already I have 10 cups of meat and a lot more to divvy up. Then the carcass went into the stock pot and I made a big ol' bunch of broth - YUM! Turkey Tetrizini, Turkey Salad sandwiches, turkey soup, turkey pot-pie... I feel like I'm living in "A Christmas Story". Fortunately, I have no "Bupkiss dogs" to terrorize my kitchen. I truly thank God for this provision. It's food for my family!

More later. Promise.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Hello reader type people (the few I have that is).

Just wanted to let you know where I've been. It's been busy as I've been mowing grass, planting a garden, trying to finish school with the kids for the year, etc.

Plus I'm having problems with my computer or something... Where I once had pictures on my blog, I now have red x's. Not all the pics are that way, just some and I'm not sure why. Do you see red x's?

I'll be back soon with garden pics, nest pics, and spring pics. Be well!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

IAHE Convention

Last weekend, my wife and I attended the 24th annual Indiana Association of Home Educators convention, in Indianapolis, Indiana. This was the third or fourth year we've attended (we couldn't exactly remember). I thought I'd post some pictures and thoughts about the convention specifically, and homeschooling in general.

Though the name of the association doesn't contain the word "Christian", it is wholly and unashamedly a Christian organization. Anyone attending that didn't know that before, was in for a surprise and could be nothing but convinced of this fact. The state of Indiana is divided into approximately 14 areas with representative to the association from each. The convention is on Friday and Saturday, from nine a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Throughout the day, there are seminars on a number of topics, including; teaching special needs kids, parenting issues, developing a strong Christian world-view, record keeping for high school students, different ways of teaching math, science, grammar, etc., to how to coach a sports team for homeschoolers, and much more. There are always two main speakers that present messages at the beginning of each day, and seminars throughout the convention. Additionally, there is a spelling bee and art exhibit/competition. Let me tell you, there are some seriously talented homeschoolers! This young lady won Grand Champion in her age class. WOW!

This year, we were honored to have Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis and director of The Creation Museum (in Kentucky, wonderful place... go see it!), and Doug Phillips, founder of Vision Forum, who has a degree in Constitutional Law and worked for the Home School Legal Defense Association for a number of years.

Mr. Ham is always a wonderful speaker. I've heard him before and he is always convincing, convicting, and inspiring. Basically, what I came away with this year from him is (in a very small nutshell), if you don't believe in the historical truth of the first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis, then you call the validity of the rest of the Bible into question. This is one of the biggest reasons that Christian children grow up and leave their faith later in life. I'll be working for awhile to retrain my mind, because I too was a product of public education and I always had questions about the Earth and how science and the Bible fit. However, I'm learning that science, when properly applied and honestly approached, actually supports the Bible more than evolution or the big bang.

Mr. Phillips took most of my attention for the weekend. His seminars weren't about legal issues, that's not what he does now. He works to help parents (fathers in particular) develop a vision for their families. He teaches about the necessity of passing on a Godly heritage, about discipling our kids for the Kingdom of God. Frankly, I've been struggling with my kids the past few months and I needed some encouragement. I can't say that I came away thinking, "WOW that was amazing, best thing I've ever heard!!!" But I think sometimes those kinds of talks are quickly forgotten after the excitement dies a bit. I'm thinking this'll stick with me a bit longer. Good stuff. Visit Vision Forum.

Well, we stayed in a Holiday Inn Express about two blocks from the convention center. Here's a picture looking out our hotel window (a la Keetha-style... a bloggy friend). You'll see in the center, what remains of the former RCA dome where the Colt's played football. The building was imploded not too long ago and is being carted away, piecemeal. Also in the picture, you'll see a lovely Catholic church that has stood beautifully downtown for ages. You might see the two green-patina spires toward the middle of the pic.

"But wait, where do the famed Indianapolis Colts play football now," you ask? Right across the street in this monstrosity:I kid you not! It looks like an enormous barn and it dwarfs the rest of the city from I-70, just a block or three to the south. In my opinion, it's ugly, it's an eyesore, and it detracts from the city. 'Nuff said.

There were about 4000 attendees at this year's convention. This isn't the best picture, but you can get an idea. And of course, that number is only a small sample of the homeschoolers in Indiana. We really are blessed here in Hoosierland to have such opportunity.

There is always an exhibition hall where vendors of all sorts set up. Speakers come with their books and wares, curriculum companies send reps and supplies, individual book sellers.... you can buy everything from grain mills to preserved frogs for dissection, microscopes to slingshots, foreign language programs to grammar books. And a number of universities and colleges send representatives as well. Thankfully, my wife and I spent less money this year than in years past. Now that we have three years homeschooling under our belts, we feel a little more like we know what we need and what will be helpful. Here's a shot inside the exhibition hall.

Well, my pictures may not be the greatest, but it gives you a taste. But the question always arises, "Why homeschool?" My answer: There are as many different reasons as there are people that do it. There's no one set reason. Though there are many people in our nation that homeschool who express no Christian faith or belief, homeschool began as a specifically Christian movement. Our decision to homeschool started out with my wife. I just kind of went along for the ride. But as time has gone on, I've gained a deeper appreciation, understanding, and vision for it. My wife has all kinds of ideas about curriculum, but she realizes that unless I like it, it'll be a waste of money to buy it, since I use it most.

Here's the thing with us. It's not just about educating our children. Yes, we want them to read and write well. We want them to understand math and science. That's all important. But it's more than that. Before I go on, let me first say that I realize that homeschooling is not for everyone! Neither do I judge or condemn anyone that doesn't homeschool! But I believe, more and more, that I have a mandate from God to train up my children in the way they should go so that when they are old they won't turn away from it. Further, I believe that homeschooling is about discipling my children to be more like Christ and applying His principles to life and study. I find the most beneficial way to do this is through homeschooling. We could send our kids to public school, but then we'd spend hours each night trying to undo and deal with the relativism, humanism, and evolutionism they picked up all day. I truly am beginning to feel that this is a calling that God has placed on my wife and I. I think God wants my family to choose a path less traveled.

On a practical level, homeschooling doesn't make sense. It's expensive, time consuming, requires a lot of sacrifice on the part of the parent (did I say a lot, try enormous), tiring... BUT, on the other hand, I know that my daughter would be behind were she in public school. She and math aren't friends and a teacher can only wait for one student so long. There would have been many more tears in public school. My sons? Sheesh. The older one would be in trouble all the time because he can't sit still, likes to touch others (not hitting, but hugging, patting, etc.), and is very loud and noisy. Yes, homeschooling is best for them. And despite what the UN might think, I, their parent, DO know what's best for them, thank you very much.

All of that, not to mention the spiritual aspect of homeschooling. We can pray whenever we want (or need) to. Bible reading is a part of our curriculum. And nice spring days aren't relegated to the indoors. Warm and sunny? Out we go with lawn chairs and our books. In our homeschool the principal and the teacher are in love with each other and even kiss in front of the students! And our kids never have to experience the torture of riding the school bus, or 'jail bus' as we call it. Seriously, my wife and I both have very unpleasant memories of riding the bus to school.

Well, I've gone on long enough. If you have questions about homeschooling regarding why or how we do it, I'll be happy to answer them. Hope this entry has been interesting and enlightening for you. Thanks for reading!

I Love Hymns

Recently, my wife and I have been feeling like something's been missing. We attend a rather large church and for the most part, hymns have been laid aside for contemporary worship songs. Once in awhile we'll get a remake of a hymn, and that's nice. But we feel an emptiness there. Maybe we're getting old?

Don't get me wrong, we like the new choruses, etc. That's one reason we chose to attend our church, we enjoyed the worship style. But still...

A few weeks ago, my wife was talking about this, and went and got one of the several hymnbooks I keep on hand. I was sitting at the counter reading and she stood opposite me thumbing through the songs. I looked up and her eyes were filled with tears as she read the words that had, unbeknown to us, grown so dear to us. Recently, we've been in a few situations where we've heard or been able to sing some hymns, and I find myself choking up as well.

You see, we both grew up on hymns. As children, we sang them because that's what you do in church. But now, as adults, we understand and value the messages, theology, encouragement, and truth these old songs embody. These are characteristics often missing from newer worship choruses. Oh the choruses are encouraging at times, but really, do any of them hold a candle to "Oh Worship the King"?

To combat this dearth of hymns in our lives, I purchased two CD's of hymn music. I'm quite pleased with my choices. My kids even seem to like them. My son, Eric, now 6, said today, "I like this music, it's calm and smoothing". Yes, 'smoothing'.

I do prefer the true hymns over the gospel songs or testimony songs, but they're all good. Some of my favorites? Immortal, Invisible; Come Thou Fount; This is My Father's World; Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven; Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above; Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past; A Mighty Fortress; To God Be the Glory; Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.... to name but a few.

Hymns offer words that can bring peace and comfort, strength and encouragement. I mentioned to my wife the other day that it took us years of singing them to begin to understand them and learn them by heart. We've got some catching up to do with our kids if they're to learn and appreciate them someday.

So what are your favorites?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

An Indiana Cattle Drive

Finally, I have a chance to write this.

Last Saturday, my kids and I went and had a singularly iconic experience. Iconic because it was so 'American' at its roots. We participated in a real live cattle drive.

My friend, Alan Yegerlehner and his family, own a dairy near Clay City, Indiana. Alan's ancestors were from Switzerland where the name is spelled with a 'J', not a 'Y'. He's been to the old country and visited distant relatives. Here's a shot of Alan telling us cowboys and cowgirls exactly what we'll be doing.

But before I get into the actual cattle drive, let me tell you about his farming methods. It's worth the read.

The Swiss Connection Farm is a totally grass fed farm. Alan currently has about 140 head of cattle. That includes 12 herd bulls, a bunch of steers being raised for grass-fed beef, some young heifers, and of course, the currently very pregnant milk cows. Alan believes in efficiency, and he's discovered that the best way to do that is to follow the lead of nature. First, the real food of cattle is grass, not grain. So that's what he feeds them. ACRES of it. He and his daughter rotate the cows through a number of pastures, giving them fresh grass two or three times a day. It's very management intensive.

As you may have guessed, Alan's farming methods are very divergent from mainstream dairy farms. But it gets better... The cows are milked one time a day, around 8:00 in the morning (no 6:30 milking for Alan!). Neither are they given hormones or antibiotics (they don't need them). Alan's not going for the most milk output he can get from the cows. No, he wants good, wholesome milk, without all the 'additives'. In order to get that, though, you sacrifice on volume.

Let's talk calves for a moment. On mainstream dairy farms cows have their calves and the calves are taken from the moms about as soon as they hit the ground. Then they're fed milk replacer until they're weaned. Not the Swiss Connection. Calves are born in the pasture, and that's where they stay. They nurse from their mothers until they are naturally weaned and eating grass. A cow will produce enough milk to meet demand, so there's enough for the calf and for Alan. The cows at the farm are about to freshen (give birth) here in the next month or so. Yes, all of them in the same couple of weeks. Alan says it's a very busy time with little rest, but it's over soon. Why would he want all of his cows to freshen at the same time? Convenience. First, you have to quit milking a cow several weeks before she calves so she can dry off and save energy for calving. Some farms only give the poor girl a couple of weeks. But doing it this way, all of them freshening at once, gives Alan a good initial start to a milking season, and a definite end. Alan dries his cows off the end of December. He quits milking just after Christmas and doesn't milk again until they freshen in the spring. No early, cold winter morning milkings! I love it! Furthermore, a cow that's being milked through the winter requires more feed to stay warm and produce milk. Not milking means he spends less on hay.

Ok, so they all freshen at the same time, which means they all come in heat about the same time too. Most farmers don't keep a herd bull anymore. First, any bull is a potentially dangerous bull. But for some reason, dairy bulls are especially so... the Jersey being one of the worst! Most farmers rely on artificial insemination to impregnate the cows. And when you only have one or two cows at a time coming into heat, that might be ok. But not when you have a whole herd of 80 or more cows! So long about June, Alan runs his 12 bulls in with the cows for a month or so. It's rare, but sometimes a cow won't be settled (get pregnant) after a month-long visit from the boys. Weird, huh? It's really a great process.

Alan says he's breeding from a smaller, more compact cow that will produce well and require less feed. Some of the young heifers, especially, are quite small. It's also a very mixed herd. He has Dutch Belted, Jersey, Holstien, Milking Shorthorn, all mixed together. It's very colorful.

The Swiss Connection is a true dairy. Alan and his family make butter, cheese (mmmmm goood!), and ice cream. All from unpasteurized milk. What RAW MILK! Yes. I've written about it before. But since it's illegal to sell milk and butter made with raw milk, he has to put a 'pet food' label on it stating that it's not for human consumption. What the purchaser does with it when they get it home is up to them. But I don't think I'd be feeding a $6 gallon of milk to my dog, if you know what I mean. Alan also sells grass-fed beef, and raises a few whey-fed, pastured pigs for pork. He's been written about in news papers and web articles numerous times. He's been to numerous conferences around the country as a speaker on grass-fed management practices.

So this cattle drive... (if you've read this far, I commend you!) Since Alan doesn't milk in the winter, he wants to move the cows to give the summer pastures a break. He owns pasture three miles down the road from the barn. So late December, he gathers a bunch of folks to help him, and they move the cows to the winter pasture. There are reasons for this, mostly to due with trying to keep the cows from bloating on fresh green spring grass, but I won't go into that here. The cows are rotated through the winter pasture as well as given hay. There are no barns or sheds. There are trees for a windbreak, but the cows grow long, shaggy coats and do quite well in the winter.

Spring is coming. The cows will freshen soon. They need to be closer to the barn for milking. So it's time to move them back down the road. About 60 or so people showed up at 10:30 and loaded onto a hay wagon. After a hayride down the road to where the cows were, we all took places on either side of the road. Two electric wires were connected to the tractor and wagon at the front of the parade. The wires were 'cold' of course, but the cows didn't know that. We all took the wire in hand about waist high. Then the cows were turned out and were driven down to the road. They were essentially corralled between two wires and a bunch of people. Then the tractor started to move. As we went along, the parade stretched out quite a way down the road, with the steers and young heifers pushing and shoving in the front, and the older cows bringing up the rear. And let me tell you, it wasn't a leisurely stroll. We clipped along at 4 or 5 mph. Now for me, that was good exercise, but for the kids... well, I had to pick Grant up and run him to the front of the line and literally throw him on the wagon. Hey, 120 cows don't start and stop on a dime. I just made Anna and Eric sweat it out.

About four steers managed to break out of our cordon, but they were more worried about being left behind than making an escape, and followed us, eventually rejoining the herd. After the long walk, the Yegerlehner's fed us on Knackwurst, chili, veggies, cheese, and ice cream. It was a really good time, and a beautiful sunny day to boot. Go visit The Swiss Connection's website and check out what they've got going on.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A new toy

Well, ok. Some folks would certainly not get excited about this, but I am excited. I received a $50 check from our CSA (consumer supported agriculture) group as a 'thank you' for hosting a drop site last year where people could pick up their produce. That check sat around and sat around. Finally, it dawned on me what to do with it.

I went to Rural King yesterday with the kids because it's chick days. We wanted to see all the cute little diddles (as my Mamaw used to call them), even if we couldn't buy any of them. Whilst I was there, I made a purchase:

THAT is a 26 quart, PRESTO pressure canner. I had to add some of my own money to pay for it, but I think it's money well spent.

Now all I have to do is grow something to preserve so I can use it. No fear though, I'm planning on planting a mess of beans, and hopefully I'll be making pasta sauce.

It says it hold 7 quart jars, 20 pint jars, or 24 half-pint jars. How cool is this?

It even has a safety valve that won't allow the pressure to build up if the lid isn't on right and sealed, so my wife won't have to worry about me blowing up the house! Yes, I do feel it in my soul... I HAVE arrived ;o)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Just life

Well, it's not a pretty picture, but it's a sign of better days to come. Yesterday was the first day I've hung clothes on the line since last fall. What a relief. There really is something therapeutic about it for me.

It was very windy yesterday too. I have some support posts I use to prop the lines up, but they wouldn't stay put because the wind kept blowing them down. Regardless of wind, I'll take 64 degrees in early March. I'm not holding my breath though. I anticipate a return of some cooler air as I look at the forecast.

Today, there are Robins bobbing around the yard and flitting from tree to tree. A very welcome sight indeed.

Anna is moving from inside to outside as she works on her schoolwork. I'm making final decisions on what I'll plant in my garden this year and am gearing up to order some seeds (I hope I'm not too late!) I think I'll be ordering from Seed Savers Exchange. It's an organization that works to preserve genetic diversity in agriculture. They do some amazing work. Go check them out here. I promise, they have more varieties of tomato than you ever thought existed!

On Saturday the 14th of March (next week), the kids and I are going to go help out with a cattle drive! Yep, who'd have guessed that such a thing happened in Indiana? My friend, Alan, the dairy farmer, is moving his herd from winter pasture, back to summer pasture nearer the barn. He'll have about 50 to 60 people there to help move his herd of around 170 animals down three miles of country road. Alan and his family provide lunch afterward. Should be fun. I'll be sure to post some pics for you. I, of course, CAN'T WAIT!

What's for lunch, you ask? Mac n' Cheese. From the Gooseberry Patch cookbook, "Comfort Foods".

8 oz. of cooked elbow macaroni

3 T. melted butter

Salt/pepper to taste

8 oz. sharp cheddar

3 cups (two cans) evaporated milk

Put macaroni in a greased dish (I use a glass loaf pan), sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour melted butter over. Top with shredded cheese. Then pour evaporated milk on top of all of it. Bake at 350 for one hour. Be sure to use evaporated milk and not condensed milk like I did once. Ooops. It was edible, just a little on the sweet side. Ok, it was gross. It bakes up and browns beautifully. There are a couple of Mac n' Cheese recipes in that particular book, but I like this one best.

I've been using up a lot of stuff in the cabinets and fridge this week. It's good to use up what you have and be creative. Saves money too.

Does this embarrass you?

Someone in one of the groups I belong to on Ravelry (knitters website) posted this link.

Take a minute or two to read this news article. It's about the recent visit of England's Prime Minister Brown to the White House and the gift exchange that took place.

Just a word though... Our illustrious President's gift choice may make you want to crawl under a rock and hide from embarrassment. I know I did.

Obama's Gift to Brown

Yet another reason he's not my choice. And that's all I'll say about that.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

It's Maple Sugarin' Time!

This past Saturday, our "Keepers of the Faith" homeschool group visited the home of one of our members. They live in a rural area surrounded by woods, with quite a few sugar maples. Just perfect for making some homemade maple syrup.

So Brad, the owner, and another homeschool dad who helps him, took us through the woods. Here you see my two sons, or the back of them anyway, as Eric drills a hole for the spile, as it's called. Like his camo hat? I made that.

After that, a spile is driven into the hole, and the bucket is hung on it. In this picture, you can't really see it, but the sap is really dripping into the bucket from the spile. Warm days and cold nights really make the sap run. A lid is put on top of the bucket to keep rain/snow/bugs/debris out.

Each day the buckets are checked to gather sap. Sometimes you get lucky and there's ice on the top of the sap. That's pure water and you can throw that out without wasting any of the sugar. That also cuts down on your boiling time because you're getting rid of excess water. After the sap has been collected, it's all dumped into something like this to await the boiling process...

If you look, you can see the line where the sap is. That's about a 200 gallon container. There's about 100 gallons of sap in there. It takes approximately 40 to 50 gallons of water-clear sap to make one gallon of dark brown syrup.

From there, the sap is taken to a homemade boiler that Brad made. The largest part of the boiler is the firebox. There are baffles attached to the ceiling of the firebox which really gets the sap boiling. Above the box is the boiling pan. It's about 8 inches deep and covers the entire top of the firebox. Above that is the sap 'bucket' (for lack of a better word). Sap is poured into the sap bucket after being drawn off the holding tank. A copper pipe with a valve attached controls a constant, small flow of sap into the boiler pan. This is done to eliminate a quick cooling in the boiling pan by adding a large amount of cold sap all at once. A little at a time and it all stays hot and bubbly. Then the sap boils, and boils, and boils. It takes a lot of wood to do this.

After a long while, Brad draws the sap off the boiler pan, through a filter and into a turkey fryer. Yes a turkey fryer. You could use a stock pot or something, I'm sure, but he uses a turkey fryer. The fryer goes onto a propane burner where the sap is finished off and that last bit of moisture is steamed away. What's left is nothing but pure maple syrup. He offered four bottles for a fund raiser here recently. They brought $100.

Each family was sent home with a half-pint of the dark amber stuff. I had some on waffles this morning. If you've never had true maple syrup, you're in for a surprise when you try it. It's a little runnier than store bought syrup because there's no corn syrup added. It also tastes a little, ummm, woody maybe. But it's sweet. And there are no harmful additives or anything else. You should check the label on the bottle anytime you go to buy maple syrup. Unless it says 100% Maple Syrup, you may be getting something that's mostly corn syrup with a little maple thrown in for flavor. Also, real maple syrup can be pricey. Hey, it's only harvestable for a few weeks a year, and it takes a lot of time to produce. But wow is it worth it.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The "Meat Ordeal"

This picture was entitled "Cows in the Mist". Isn't that a hoot. I like the white one. It looks like she's got shaggy hair on her poll.

But seriously. I picked up a couple of books at the library about agricultural farming and animal welfare. Now, I already knew about the horrors and maladies associated with containment animal production facilities (aka Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operations - CAFO for short), but I wanted more info.

Both of these books are well written, and the authors are activists and animal advocates in their own rights. They're also both vegetarians. In these books, I believe they are not only trying to open the readers' eyes to what goes on in feedlots all across the country, but in a way, I think they're trying to turn people into vegetarians.

I have nothing against vegetarians. As a matter of fact, my wife and I were vegetarians for awhile before we had kids. Thinnest I've ever been in my life - hmmm, maybe I should try that again (NOT!). But I believe there are different reasons for doing a thing. In this instance, I feel that the authors are vegetarians because they believe that raising of animals to be used as food is morally wrong. I, however, do not. Of course there are the health concerns. Do you KNOW where the meat in that burger you ate came from? Best not to think about it. I do most of the shopping for our family. I know the ills inherent with most of meat I buy. Even Tyson chicken, though labelled as antibiotic free, still contains traces of the stuff. But it's not enough to turn me vegetarian.

See, I realize that animals have personalities, express emotion, have intelligence to their respective degrees, can express affection or disdain. However, I feel that to give an animal the same protective status that we would give a human (less and less these days), is wrong. Why? Because humans are the only creatures God breathed life into and gave a soul to. That makes us special, unique, different.

Now believe me, I think the kind of life 90% the meat animals in this country live is awful. CAFO's are a bane to health, environment, and economy. I believe that if you have animals you're raising for food, you are obligated by the Biblical mandate to have dominion over the Earth, to not abuse what you've been entrusted with. Meaning, you should do all you can to ensure that your animals live healthy lives with as much access to sunshine, fresh pasture, clean and safe housing, and plenty of room to move around, as is within your ability to provide it. So that when the time comes to "Say goodnight, Ruthie" and put the chickens in the freezer, not only will they be healthier to eat because of the life they lived, but they will not be full of stress hormones to taint their meat. Further, you can do your butchering knowing that you aren't just taking life from the birds, but that you also gave them a good life in the process.

So what does this mean to me? Well, my wife still isn't a big fan of red meat. My daughter has also periodically shown some distaste for it as well. So really, I should probably look at ways of cutting it out of my diet a little more. I do have sources for grass-fed beef and pastured chicken. Both, however, tend to be a bit on the expensive side. I suppose if I cut the meat intake down to only a couple of times a week max, then it would be more economically viable. These are some of the reasons I want a place in the country. To raise my own food.

To cut the meat intake down will take some planning and forethought. Beans, rice, veggie stir fry, quiches, pastas - these can be done fairly easily without meat. And really, ground beef is about the only red meat we eat. Once in a while I'll buy a roast or stew meat. But I don't think my kids have ever had a steak. Maybe this is doable after all. Especially if I can and freeze more veggies this year. I'll let you know how it goes. Your thoughts?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Makes me so sick....!

I'm a red-blooded American. But more and more I feel like I'm living in the Socialist States of Amerika. Here's just one reason.

Our government, for several years now, has been toying with the idea of a national registry of every livestock animal in the country. They say it's for disease control and tracking. Right. And I was born on Pluto. It's really not as cold as you think.

Here's the deal. The USDA has come up with a plan whereby every farm or homestead would be given an identification number. Then, every animal on the farm would be given a tag or chip to identify that particular animal. Every time an animal was born, died, was sent to the butcher, got out of their pen and wandered down the road, was sold off, or moved from one place to another for any reason, a form has to be filled out and sent to the USDA. There, the form is processed so Big Brother knows exactly what you're doing. Problem. Not only do you have to waste time filling out the paperwork, you also pay a fee for processing. EVERY TIME.

Now, if this was truly about disease control, that'd be one thing. I still would be against it, but it'd at least make a little more sense. What's really behind this is government helping big agribusiness. Ever hear of Tyson? That's one. See, big CAFO (that's feedlot to you and me - where 99.9% of the meat at the grocery comes from) companies have a bunch of animals all born on the same day, kept in the same lot, moved together until butchering day. Those companies would get ONE tag for the whole lot of 500 animals (for example), pay one processing fee for all of them and fill out one form. THAT's what this is about. There are just a handful of agribusinesses that provide the lion's share of meat to the nation - like five or six, maybe less now. They stand to gain a lot from this. How?

Well, besides the fact that they will move many animals under one tag for one fee and that alone will be a cost savings, the plan will drive many small farmers (the relatively few left in our country) and many homesteaders out of business. For the person with a small backyard flock of chickens, a couple of milk goats or a cow, some summer feeder pigs, this plan would be too time consuming, and way too costly. Once you pay for the tags, then pay the fees for processing all the paperwork, it'd be just too expensive. So then what's a consumer left with but to be forced to buy the CAFO produced food. Even if they buy it now, the point is, they eventually won't have the choice later on. Further, some other countries, Japan for instance, quit buying American beef because they didn't want meat raised in CAFO situations like we have here with the high chance of disease. So the big businesses want a regulated Government stamp on their meat saying it's A-OK, in order to help other countries feel at ease about buying our beef. More money for them.

Disease control and tracking my foot! Get off my farm! Oh sure there'd be all sorts of people who would just initially refuse to register. But veterenarians and feed stores would be required to report non-compliant farms. Already, some feed stores take your name, address, and phone number every time you buy a bag of chicken feed. What do you think they do with it? Some are already sending the information to their state NAIS offices and registering farms, without the owner realizing it. Kinda underhand if you ask me.

Now, at this point, the Federal Government is trying to lay the responsibility on each state to get this set up and going... too costly for them to do it. But that's like trying to herd cats. Further, the program isn't a law - yet. I understand that our esteemed President was pro-NAIS when he was governor of Illinois. I get that info from a homesteader over there. A lot of states currently have an 'opt out' program for the farm id. But as I understand, you have to ask for it, and check annually that you weren't registered without your knowing it.

There are a lot of organizations that are working to oppose this program. A lot of supply companies, like hatcheries, oppose it as well. They get a huge percentage of their business from the people that this plan would directly and negatively effect.

I tell you, I get antsy, frustrated, and discouraged sometimes. I feel less and less like I live in the Land of the Free. Now, this post is by no means intended to be THE source of information about the NAIS and I don't guarantee the 100% accuracy of everything I've said. Only 99%. Go read for yourself. Sure, go look at the USDA site. But be warned, that's like the fox telling the farmer he's carrying the bag to put wild greens in, as he's on his way to the chicken house.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Last Year's Food

My homepage is set to Yahoo! Sometimes it kills me what they think is news, but the site does offer some interesting blurbs, periodically. So recently, I opened a link to a Yahoo! Money news article that said, "Americans' lower standard of living may be permanent." Like that's a bad thing or something. We all need to live more within our means, myself included.

Here's the crux of what they were saying... Retailers are having fits. People just aren't buying things like they used to. When they go to the mall, they aren't going home with three $100 pairs of shoes. Nor are they buying the $150 torn and faded blue jeans (I never understood that to begin with). No, rather, consumers are basically concerned now with just covering themselves (barely, sometimes). You can wear last year's clothes. Consumers are spending their money not on clothes, but on food, especially as prices continue to rise. The comment was, "You can't eat last year's food." WHHAAATT?

Ok, well, hmm. I'll concede that I understand what they were 'trying' to say. But just barely. Really, it's not a true statement at all. Obviously Mr. Money-Analyst person who made this comment is one of the millions of Americans that couldn't feed themselves for a year if the grocery store closed for good tomorrow. Fact is, you CAN eat last year's food.
This is what I'm saying, people. We Americans are so stinking spoiled that we have become soft and have forgotten many of the basic skills our parents and grandparents took for granted. Why'd they take them for granted? Because they were such a common part of their existence.

Wanna eat last year's food? Plant a garden, go to a farmer's market, join a CSA, whatever, but learn to can and 'put up', or 'put by' your food. Yes, it takes time, equipment, and some know how. But you can acquire all three pretty easily if you put your mind to it and make it a priority.

I don't have a pressure canner. It's something I want and will probably get in the next few years. But I still preserve food. I have a dehydrator and a water bath canner. Water-bath canning is so easy it's almost unfair. Why more people don't do it can only be attributed to the ease with which we can go to the store and buy food already canned or preserved. Or laziness. But the idea is to save money and not pay so much for what you eat. You can use water-bath canning for pretty much any type of fruit jam or jelly, applesauce, tomato products (as long as you don't add so many other ingredients that it lowers the acid level), pickles of all kinds (carrots are good, and I've heard green beans are too). There's a lot you can do.

I have a hard time not being down and gloomy as it is, without making dire predictions about our country's economic future. But I truly believe it'll get worse. A lot worse. Don't be caught feeling the crunch between paying bills and buying food. Think about what you can do, make phone calls, ask around, read books... find out where the good food is or how to grow it, then learn to preserve it. The "Ball Blue Book" is probably one of the best places to start. Go to your local library and search for food preservation. There's likely more there than you care to look at. Search yard sales this spring and look for jars, canners, supplies. You may get a real deal. Ask older relatives or neighbors for advice or instruction on canning. Truly, the most valuable people in our nation in coming days may be those of us with this kind of knowledge. We'll be surviving and have to help everyone else out.

A final note about dehydrating. there are many different ways to dry foods. My wife bought me my Nesco dehydrator as an anniversary present last year. Nothing says "I love ya, honey" like homemade beef jerky. But something very worth trying: Dried Watermelon. Seriously. Cut it up into thin strips or chunks, take the seed out and dry it. It comes out like chewy fruit leather, and wow is it sweet! You'd think it had soaked in sugar. My kids loved it. No additives or preservatives. Just watermelon. Amazing!

Updates on Life

Well, first a couple of updates. I got a call from the auto dealership this morning. The manager of the shop had been out of town when I took the van back in earlier this week but was back today and had been told of my situation. One of his employees called to tell me that all I needed to do was bring the van back in, they would look at it again and fix it for me - no cost to me! Praise the Lord! For serious! I can't tell you what a relief that is.

Second, last evening, my computer began doing some funny stuff. I'd go to log into my gmail account, or even my blogger account, and all I would get was "Internet Explorer is unable to open the webpage". YIKES! Called Dell, explained. Virus. Gonna have to reboot the whole shebang. Fortunately, I have an external hard drive so I saved everything I could against this impending doom. But today - for now anyway - everything is ok. I'm crossing my fingers, and hoping like crazy. Of course, I did breathe a prayer last night about it. I was just preparing to go through our "favorites" list and copy down all the links so I could find the pages again. Maybe that won't be necessary. As a note, I do have virus protection and ran a full scan, which showed nothing. So, we'll see. Pray for me.

Further, I'm reading other blogs and realizing that I'm not alone in my dire misery with winter. As the old saying goes, misery loves company. But this kind of company doesn't make me feel better. Here's a totally honest assessment of my condition. I'm miserable. I have a seriously shortened temper. I can feel my frustration and anxiety go up (consequently, so does my blood pressure). I haven't got the patience to finish reading lesson with my son. I'm a mess. I'm taking vitamin D-3, but nothing beats good ol' sunshine. It's snowing here now.

To combat the rising frustration level, I listen to my MP3 player. There's a CD I bought recently on Amazon called "Praise 22". It originally came out on cassette tape in the late '80's. My college roommate and I, as odd as it may sound, would often fall asleep at night listening to this calming instrumental collection of what are now considered 'old school' praise and worship songs. (Remember "This is the Day"?) So I listen to that. I also listen to some of my favorite Irish music. It isn't all calming, per se, but it makes me happy, so that's just as good. Also, I have some very strong mental connections in my head where music is concerned. I don't know if everyone does this, but I can actually see and feel and almost smell certain days or seasons when I hear certain music. Sometimes these impressions are so strong. Yes, it's an escape. I don't deny it.

I also knit to relax. If I get a rhythm going, it's very relaxing, almost mind-numbing. Reading sometimes helps too, but I'm all out of motivation to read right now. Been doing a lot of it lately. And finally, I've pulled my guitar out again here recently and been playing it. I have a beautiful Martin that I bought several years ago, used, for quite a bit less than it was probably worth. Someone else's vanity afforded me the opportunity (that's another story). I was taking lessons at the time. I'm not good. As a matter of fact, I can't play very well at all, but I enjoy what I can do, and I try. Perhaps I should try harder. Thing is, I'm so right brained that using both hands is kind of difficult - about like playing piano. Trumpet, I can do. Mouth and one hand. Got it. Done it. Two hands... eeeh, not so easy for me. But I try.

Anyway, that's what's going on with me. My daughter is having her first real sleepover tomorrow night. I'll be making snacks and cleaning for that. She's got plans to decorate with balloons and streamers. It'll be fun for her. I have to take the boys out for awhile just to get them out of the way. Let me tell you, they're not taking this well. They get so bent out of shape if Anna gets to do something and they don't. Sheesh.

Monday, February 16, 2009


Well, I hurt right now. I just spent $800 at the auto repair shop so they could perform a steering gear rack replacement and a front end alignment. Yeah, I don't know what it is either. But I had this rattle under the car and discovered that if a certain couple of parts got looser than they were, I could be driving down the road and lose all control of the front tires. Wanna get that fixed.

Problem. The annoying rattle is still there. I'm driving home listening. It's still there. Not worse, not better. Still there. I'm so put out right now.

Thing is, they put the van up on the rack and looked around for a good ten or fifteen minutes the other day diagnosing the problem. So I felt pretty good about the money if it was going to keep us safe and fix the rattle. Now I'm out 800 bucks and still haven't fixed the problem. I guess I call them back tomorrow and find out what we can do.

I hate not knowing about cars and how they run. These days you about have to have a Ph.D. to be able to work on the silly things. But still, a basic understanding of how an engine works might come in handy. Unfortunately for me, the thought of sitting down and reading a book on the subject (or even taking a class for that matter) sounds about as enjoyable as reading a book that tries to explain football. I have never, do not now, nor do I foresee a time in the future when I shall understand or enjoy the game of football. Colts went to the Superbowl two years ago (I live in Indiana)... I didn't care. Couldn't have cared less. And the fact that the Colts were and Indiana team made me wanna care even less than I did, just to spite all the sports crazed people that decided to let their lives revolve around football. My point is... I have no desire to really teach myself about automobiles and how they work. Ergo, I am beholden to those who do know. Further, I must pay the piper when the rats come to town, so to speak.

Oh, and I had all the laundry sorted out and ready to go in the wash, when my youngest little angel (4 years old) decided to play in the piles and completely mixed them back up. FYI, I love sarcasm and use it freely. A whole household worth of laundry sorted, and messed up. I really don't care how much fun he had in the laundry. It made more work for me.

I'm really not having a very good day... or couple of weeks for that matter. I so, so, so need spring.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Not just another rainy day

Well, here I sit. It's been raining since last night and the water is standing in the yard and field like it usually does this time of year. I can't help feeling a little nervous as I think about the flood of last June. But we haven't had nearly that much rain, and the snow melt all drained away before this rain came. It's just pretty gross outside today.

Sunday night at the end of church, one of our Pastors told us that they had just learned that the son-in-law of our building manager and his wife was killed in action in Afghanistan. Our building manager, Carl, plays bass on our worship team and his wife Gayla plays keyboard sometimes. That I also sing on the worship team gives me a slightly closer connection to them than perhaps most of the other people there that night. But the news was still met with sadness.

I support our troops. I believe that they work and fight to protect the freedoms that I hold so dear. Freedoms that I fear may be endangered in coming days. I grieve his death and I feel sorrow for Carl and Gayla... not to mention their daughter who lost her husband and the father of their two children. But I do not believe his death was in vain. He surely knew the risks involved in military service. He served his country to protect our rights and safety. I honor him and all of his fallen military brothers.

Further, I got an email today telling another sad story. A lady named Denise has an at-home business that she calls "The Country Baker". She sells grain mills and baking supplies. Every year that my wife and I go to our state homeschool convention, she's there with a booth and often holds a seminar about baking with whole grains. Well, she and her husband decided to allow their 14 year old (or thereabout) son to attend public school this year. Sadly, he recently contracted spinal meningitis, apparently at school, and has passed away. His funeral was this past Saturday.


Lastly. I'm not an economist. But I do read the news (no, we don't have cable and I don't watch it). Many businesses, some that have been around a long time) are facing serious problems. I believe we'll see quite a few bankruptcies in the near future. Job loss will rise even more. Folks, regardless of what BHO says (and I think he's coming around to being truthful about how bad it is... just beginning to), I think we're only starting to feel the crunch of what's to come. I don't know if it'll be another great depression. But I think it'll get pretty close. I'm hoping it'll wait until I get get out of Dodge and make my way to the country. If not, I'll do what I can where I am.

Even if you have a 'black thumb', may I suggest you look into a small garden for your family? Even a few plants can be grown on a sunny porch or deck in 5 gallon buckets and can provide some produce. The more you grow yourself, the less money you spend at the store.

As a Christian, I think I have an obligation to those around me to show how to survive tough times. Diligence, thrift, industry, self-reliance (God-reliance)... these are the things that our neighbors are going to need to see in order to find some hope, and perhaps survival.

It's time to start thinking ahead and really considering how we'll survive this mess. Don't be caught unaware and unprepared. Learn how to prepare and preserve food. "But we don't really like vegetables". Hogwash. Learn to like 'em. That processed junk they sell at the store will only get more expensive, and surely won't help you live a healthy life. Sometimes we do things, not because we like to (like eating our veggies), but because we have to. We may not have to now. Operative word, "now".

I guess I'm just feeling a little grumpy and fed up. Support our troops and eat your veggies!

Monday, February 9, 2009

A new hat

Here's my lovely daughter modelling her new Seed Stitch Hat that I made for her. I started it last Thursday, knit like a mad-man, and finished it today. It was tricky because I used two strands of yarn, which makes the hat a little stiffer. She likes it though.

The pattern came off of the Lion Brand Yarn website and was a Vanna's Choice (oh, Vanna, pick me a letter) pattern. I had to use smaller needles though, to accommodate the extra thickness of the two yarns. The seed stitch is pretty simple. It's just a matter of knit and purl over and over again.

My daughter had bought the yarn for a totally different project, but I thought it would go great for a hat. It's pink and lavender and they mix really well. Yeah, so it's cheep-o Red Heart Super Saver yarn at about $2.00 for 364 yards. Listen, I'm not a 'fiber snob'. If I like the stuff, I'll use it.

On another note, I had a pretty stressful day where a bunch of little things (like having to stay and help clean up at co-op this morning, to not finding out that the Kashi cereal I wanted to buy at the store -which WAL shall remain MART nameless - was recalled but was still on the shelf for purchase and I couldn't buy it) ... where a bunch of little things piled up and nearly sent me over the edge. I checked my blood pressure at the 'afore-not-mentioned' store and it was the highest it's ever been. Melora said I should be on medication for a bp like that. Sigh. Well, I know those store machines aren't the most accurate, and I was feeling quite stressed at the moment, but it's been on the climb for awhile now. Yes. I need to lose weight. That's all there is to it. Sigh.
I'll take care of myself. I promise.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Lessons from a Farm

This is my most recent 'finished reading' book. The author is Jerry Apps, published by Voyageur Press, 2005. I read this on recommendation of The Deliberate Agrarian, Herrick Kimball, and I'm glad I did.

Mr. Apps recounts his life growing up on the family farm in the little community of Chain O' Lakes, Wisconsin (Near the village of Wild Rose), back in the 1930's through 50's. He recounts many of the daily and yearly chores that marked life and made it good. On several occasions, he laments the purchase of 'new' technology that made life easier, like an automatic milking machine, a television set, a corn binder/thresher. He laments these things because they heralded the end of a way of life, one where people came together, shared their lives, knew each other, and had real community. Each chapter is prefaced with an excerpt from his mother's money ledger, the excerpts introducing the subject of the chapter.

In this wonderful little 223 page book, we look back into the real life of an early American farm family. We share the joys of getting electricity in the house, of a good grain harvest, we get a small taste of sweat and toil of everyday life, and we hear some of the heartbreak that was as much a part of life then as it is today.

But I want this to be more than a book report (sorry if it's gotten boring). In the chapter called 'Windstorm', we're told of the spring of 1950 when a windstorm like no other blew through and literally took the barn off it's foundations. The milk cows had to be moved to a neighboring farm for several weeks while the barn was repaired. Unfortunately, the cows acquired brucellosis, or Bang's disease, while there and had to be sent to slaughter. These two calamities made life very difficult for the Apps family for some time after. The strawberry and cucumber patches were expanded to help provide a little more income until the new cow herd was up to full size and production. What struck me most profoundly out of all the book was what Mr. Apps says next:

"There was little complaining about the hard work or reduced income. Without saying anything, Pa convinced me and my brothers, through his actions, that the family had to work together as a team if we were to survive these hard times. Each of us, without bragging or talking about it, was proud to help; each of us knew our contribution was important to the farm's survival. Those years brought our family as close together as it had ever been." (p. 200-201)

Ok, some lessons... First of all, most families today aren't playing as a team, shucks, the members aren't even playing the same game. Second, it's the onus of the father to show the way. That's how it is with most things... faith, work, family.

I've often wondered recently, with economics being what they are, if things got worse, would people be as resourceful as they were back during the Great Depression? I'm not so sure. First, things would have to get so much worse than they are before people seriously start thinking about alternative means of survival (gardening, chickens, doing without, etc.). But I'm just not sure that many of today's families have the basic fabric fabric necessary to hold together and pull through. I think we're too soft, too accustomed to creature comforts that we'd just about die without our cable or internet (when was the last time you actually wrote a letter - you know, with paper- and mailed it to someone? I know I can't remember when. It's a lost art). This is just a side comment though. But I'd be interested in knowing what you think.

The big lesson to me is the responsibility that is mine. Oh, I've known about it, but this little book just kinda brings it home again. If my kids are going to learn the intrinsic value of contributing to the family economy with their work and effort, I'll have to lead the way and teach them. Not an easy task when the human nature desires to avoid work and difficulty, if you call hoeing a garden a difficulty -which it certainly can be.

The other lesson is more about the work part. Hard work. Some things aren't so hard, like hoeing the garden. That's just monotonous. But there are days when work has to be done whether you want to do it or not. A lot of folks don't know hard work. I wonder if I do. Will I/do I have what it takes to tackle hard work? I've worked hard before, but will I pass that on to my kids?

Here's the really personal part. I can take this little challenge one of two ways. I can look at it as a positive encouragement and run with it, and/or I can see it as 'one more thing' that I'll probably not do to well with and give up. I can be quite pessimistic at times, but I'm not as bad as I used to be. So I'll likely take both approaches, depending on the day and my mood. Being a father is a never ending job. The good thing is that I don't have any crazy notions of being the perfect dad - I screwed that up LONG ago. I'll settle for being as good as I can be, and if that earns me a 'great dad' once in awhile, all the better.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Another Winner

I admit it. I am a chocoholic, but I don't care. My wife and I always have a bag of Dove dark chocolates in the cabinet. If it runs low (or runs out, heaven forbid - spit, spit) we get more.

Now, I love cookies. My two all-time favorites are Oatmeal Scotchies and Chocolate Chip. I still remember my grandmother's chocolate chip cookies with much fondness. They were just 'da bomb! So I'm always looking for a good recipe for soft, chewy, tasty, chocolaty cookies. I think I found one and I share it with you now:

2 1/8 cup of all purpose flour (I dunno why, it just says 2 1/8)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
12 tablespoons of butter (that's 1 1/2 sticks), melted and cooled
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-2 cups chocolate chips or chunks (aww, just say a bag and be done with it)

Cream sugars and butter, add eggs and extract. Mix flour, salt, and baking soda then add to liquid mixture. Stir in chocolate chips.

Place large dollops of dough on cookie sheet (say a good tablespoon plus) and bake for 13 minutes in a 325 degree oven.

I found this recipe on Yahoo! Food. It came along with four other cookie recipes, but I wasn't really interested in them. These cookies are GOOD! Yeah, ok, so there's a stick-and-a-half of butter in 'em. What? Are you eating them for your health or something? EAT THE COOKIE!

By the way, the recipe says you can refrigerate the dough for two days or freeze it, shaped or unshaped, for up to a month.

As a final note, here's a picture of the quiche I made last week and gave the recipe for. It was quite good too.

Winter Finally Came

Ok, well, winter's been here for awhile, but not like this. Over the past two days, we've gotten around nine inches of snow.

Now I realize that some people living in the great frozen north - where driving a car onto a lake in order to go ice fishing isn't uncommon - would laugh mockingly at our measly nine inches. But you must understand that here in my part of Indiana, well, snow just doesn't come in nine inch depths all the time. We usually have one, maybe two good snows a winter in which six inches or so is 'deep'. Other than that, it's flurries, an inch here, some sleet there. But today....

Folks are having trouble getting around today. Our street hasn't been cleaned off yet and my wife has to get to work tonight. Hmmm. Maybe I should go out and shovel some more.