Friday, July 30, 2010

Raw Milk Moooooves Me.

Since I seem to be on a roll, I thought I'd add my two cents to the blogosphere on the subject of raw milk.  I have done a lot of reading on this subject, and I have had some very 'interesting' discussions about it.  Personally, I am a big fan and I drink raw milk.  I'm sure that some of the impetus that got me going in that direction - besides the superior taste and health benefits - is that, once a hippie, always a hippie.  By that I mean that I still bristle at what I feel is too much government regulation of my life and likes.  Some of those 'likes' are long gone, but I am still very much interested in small farms/farmers, natural health care, organic/naturally grown good food, and supporting anything that will bring us back to some sense of peace and natural order.  I am very lucky to live in a very small town, in a very rural area.  My friends and neighbors are small dairy farmers, organic vegetable farmers, raisers of pasture-fed poultry and beef.  Most of my friends now have bees, good-sized gardens, and are good friends to their communities.  I have a sweet Jersey heifer named Jasmine, who is due to freshen sometime in February.  When she does, I will have a sumptuous supply of rich, creamy Jersey milk with which to make cheese, butter, yogurt -- the possibilities are endless!  Until she freshens, I barter for milk with the farmer who is housing her for me.  I help at the farm, give them eggs, bake something for the barn every Sunday morning. 
     As with all things controversial, I am a firm believer in every person's right to choose what is best for them.  I listened to a recent news 'blip' on NPR recently, where they discussed -- well, discussion is not what the radio offers any longer -- let's just say that they presented two, short, unsurprising viewpoints from two unsurprising sources.  Neither did the subject justice.  On the Pro side, there was a new-agey mother who gallops off to the local dairy (in another state) with her two-year-old to buy raw milk for his snack.  She is outraged that she can buy fast food around every corner and not find raw milk in her neighborhood.  She does not explain in any detail why she feels she needs to drink raw milk.  As a matter of fact, she doesn't indicate whether she drinks it herself.  On the Anti side, they dusted off a government official who said what all government officials say - "we are protecting you from yourself; we know what's best; you will get sick and may die if you drink raw milk."  I was very disappointed that NPR did not take the opportunity to illuminate more of the benefits with someone knowledgeable on the topic, while finding someone who could make a more compelling argument for why one shouldn't drink it.  (Hippie me speaking here again.)
     I ordered The Untold Story of Milk by Ron Schmid from the library, as I read a review by Joann Grohman, written in her unmistakably intelligent and well-informed manner, and it piqued my interest.  It is a very compelling read.  If you are interested in the subject, I would suggest you read this book, as well as any one of Mrs. Grohman's articles on the subject.  You can find her web site here:  She is the poster woman for a raw milk diet.  In her early 80s, she writes and commentates on a variety of subjects, while milking her own Jersey cow twice a day, every day, in every kind of weather.  She has, if you will, written THE book on milk cows and raw milk.  For anyone seriously considering adding raw milk to their diet, I would say this -- make sure you are informed.  Doing your due diligence, using common sense and making informed decisions will keep you in good stead.  I know my farmer's cows, I have watched him milk them, he and his father and his grandfather before him have raised their families on their own raw milk.  That's good enough for me.


Scrappy the Wonder Dog is happy to announce that Kim and Mama Pea will be sporting sparkling new dishcloths in their kitchens!  PM your mailing address to me at swomersley at gmail dot com and they will be on their way.  Thanks for joining in!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What we don't tell you.

(Sorry for the sudden change of design, but I needed something more....uplifting!)
Those of us who have chosen a farm-oriented, more self-sustaining life are very "in" these days.  I think that there are a lot of women and men who are looking for more meaning in their lives, to have more control over how they eat, what they eat, and that they will have something to eat.  There is so much tragedy in the news - dire predictions, global threats - it's very unnerving.  And, as most "in" things, people tend to get all romantic about living the farming life - making cheese, milking cows/goats/camels (just wanted to be sure you were paying attention), harvesting basketfuls of vegetables from your garden, gathering eggs, and on it goes.  What you don't see behind these sunny scenes, is the morning you wake up with the flu and, no matter how wretched you feel, there is no one but you to feed the sheep, let the chickens out, feed the dogs, make sure everyone has water.  You spend hours and money building up your garden, only to have too much/too little rain, blossom end rot, insect invasions, a chicken stampede undo a season's harvest.  And you were counting on that harvest (that's the self-sufficient part).  It's 95 degrees, you have a bushel of produce that's on the brink of going bad - you have to can it.  Then Agnes calls and invites you over for a lovely glass of wine on the deck.  Torn?  You betcha.  You give your regrets to Agnes and stay home and can in the sweltering heat because those vegetables will feed you this winter.
  Want to take a week's vacation?  Wonderful - that is, if you can find someone reliable and reasonable to stay at your farm and take over your chores.  Love the idea of goat's milk cheese?  Marvelous!  Be ready to house, feed, care for, and milk your goats every single day - 24/7.  No time off for holidays or good behavior.  Someone has to gather the eggs, clean the waterers, buy feed, muck out stalls, stack hay, move fences.  And that someone is you.  Even with two, it's an endless cycle.
   Like most fads, people are taking the bit in their teeth and running headlong into setting up their own farm without enough research or backup to see them through.  Unfortunately, the ones who really suffer the lack of foresight/knowledge are the animals who are brought into the mix.  Chickens who are killed by predators, when all they needed was a simple, secure building.  Animals left to 'free range' who were not meant to, and suffered from lack of proper nutrition.  It's a darn shame. 
   I am not complaining, because this is the life I chose.  Honestly, I did not know the half of what I was getting into, but I made a commitment when I added animals to my life and I take what I do seriously.  I am responsible for the health and well-being of four Icelandic sheep, one llama, one rabbit, four ducks, a myriad of chickens, two dogs, and three cats.  And, ahem, a middle-aged woman.  I set up a system that works for me and I work in what I can when it feels right (as in more sheep and rabbits).  I am lucky I have friends and neighbors who will lend a hand when I need them, and I will do the same for them.  But most of it I do myself, and it ain't always easy.  I have an indescribable sense of well-being and accomplishment when I come in at night, after making sure everyone is safe and sound.  I can look at the cooling array of canning jars and know that I am doing my best to take care of myself.  I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Stress busters.

There are as many ways to deal with stress as there are stressed people.  I have tried many methods over the years, from the not-quite-legal (I grew up in the 60s and 70s - need I say more?), to the ethereal (meditation, yoga, breathing), to the physical - jogging (70s version of running), walking, mad-girl volleyball.  These days, my favorite method of dealing with stress, besides the occasional vodka and tonic, is knitting.  I can and do knit all year long.  As the temperatures rise, I move from wool to cotton or linen.  As the temperatures fall, I move from lace weight to worsted.  I love to knit.  I am a fairly skilled knitter, although I pale in the company of my friends Kayten and Melanie.  My mother knits socks and taught me.  I learn best by watching and doing, rather than by reading.  I usually have at least three projects on the needles - one is a new, more complicated (for me) pattern; one is not quite as complicated and familiar to me; and one is always a dishcloth.
This is a representative set - winners will be surprised!
Since it has been a fairly stressful summer so far, I have a plethora of dishcloths.  In honor of my Summer of Stress (;o), I have decided to hold a drawing for two sets of two dishcloths.  Two lucky readers will each win a pair of dishcloths.  All four dishcloths were knit with 100% cotton/recycled cotton by yours truly.  This should be fun - unless you view dishcloths as some view zucchini.  "Oh my god, not more dishcloths!"  In order to enter the drawing, just leave a comment with your favorite stress-busting method.  The cut-off date is this Thursday.  Scrappy the Super Dog will be selecting the winners, and those winners will be announced on Friday.  Don't worry - he's completely impartial!  Good luck!

Monday, July 26, 2010

How lunch became fun.

I pack my lunch every day.  I don't think I can count on one hand the times that I have actually purchased lunch at work.  This is because I am very, very cheap frugal.  I just cannot pay over $7 for a mediocre salad.  Besides, I do try to be as self-sustaining as I can be.  But, I will tell you, the joy and novelty had gone out of my lunches some time ago.  Around the time that the excitement almost completely died (it's very difficult to be virtuous every day), I also started re-thinking plastic.  With all of the dire reports of cancer-causing elements leaching out of your mild-mannered plastic food containers, I thought it would be a good idea to look at alternatives.  Glass or Pyrex containers were at the top of my list - until, that is, I realized how heavy they were and there was the chance of breakage.  I am rather infamous for dropping things.  Googling around one day, I came across the Tiffin boxes.  Almost perfect! (Although you cannot microwave the container, you can always put the food on a plate and microwave that.)  I ordered the three tier model pictured above, and romance and excitement has re-entered my lunch.  Today, for example, the bottom portion held a delectable piece of chocolate zucchini cake, thanks to my friend Melanie.  The middle portion held my favorite Summer Squash Casserole and, last (or, first, really) my favorite summer salad - diced tomato, cuke, onion & feta cheese with a sprinkling of thyme & pepper.  Best of all?  There were local ingredients in every level - zucchini and eggs from Melanie's farm; zucchini, summer squash and tomatoes from mine, and carrots and scallions from my CSA.  Even the dried thyme was from last year's herb garden.  That was a satisfying lunch!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

To be PC, or not to be PC

I'm always surprised at how quickly a discussion on the subject of which breed of chicken is best to raise for meat can escalate into an argument.  There seem to be two camps - The Slow Grower Camp and the Cornish X Camp.  We'll condense them down to initials to save my poor carpal-tunnel-inflicted hands.  The SGC seem to feel that CX are Frankenbirds, a cruel mutant breed concocted in the labs of some cold, unfeeling megacorp.  While it's true that they are not the most appealing birds, they are not so horrible.  The chicks are as cute as any chicks.  They just grow at an amazingly rapid rate.  The SGC feel it is more natural, more humane, to raise only breeds that take their time, growing large and meaty at a much slower rate.  The CXC seem to feel that the SGC are a bunch of tree-hugging ninnies (kidding!!!!).  Why on earth would you continue to feed, water, house, and protect meat birds for weeks and weeks?  Where is the profit in that?  The CXC are proud of the fact that they can go from 0 to 5 pounds, cleaned and dressed in a little over 8 weeks, while the SGC are still filling up feeders for another 4+ weeks.  As for me, I tend to be wishy-washy on the subject.  I also tend to fall for whatever compelling story someone tells me in defense of any number of farming topics.  This year, I did not listen to my friend Marianne, who swears by the CX.  She sits squarely in the middle of the CXC.  Instead, I decided to raise Slow White and Slow Red meat chickens.  That was my first mistake.  There was no "breed" name attached to the chick descriptions.  These were ordered from a local feed store and they are about as generic as they can be.  As you can tell by the picture (this was taken today at approximately 8 weeks of age - pardon the chicken wire view) the Red cockerels are twice the size of the Whites, while the red pullets are lightweights, too.  Just look at the legs to get a sense of the size/wt. difference.  As a matter of fact, I am getting suspicious that they've foisted some White Leghorns on me.  At this rate, I will be raising the red pullets and white whatevers for another 6 months!  I've decided to hedge my bets and will also raise some CX this summer.
     As far as the flavor factor, every CX I've either raised or purchased from a local farmer has been excellent - large, tender and full of flavor.  Last year I raised some French Reds - another Slow Grower - and, while they took much longer to reach butchering weight, they were equally tender and large.  And their flavor was more 'chicken-y', if you know what I mean.  Given my overloaded schedule, small acreage and the price of grain, I think I will stick to the CX.  It's work enough to keep them fed, safe and happy for 8 weeks.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I Wonder.

Little E-Claire is now pretty much feathered out and independent. While I suspected her mother was one of the Americaunas, it is now apparent I was correct. Of course, we all knew who the father was. E-Claire was hatched by Grendal, the Muscovy duck. She was fostered by Marie-Claire, our resident surrogate mother-hen, a Maran. Lately - over the past few days, she has been tight as white to one of the Americauna hens, who has, in turn, become rather friendly toward her. This is not an Americauna trait in my experience - they are aloof and tend to be loners. Could this be the layer of the egg that is now E-Claire? Is there some sort of bond - genetic? cosmic? - between them? Maybe it's just the unrelenting heat and humidity working its way into my brain. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Single Homesteader.

I have been running across a lot more postings by single female homesteaders who are searching for a partner with a new sense of urgency.  I have been there, sisters, I have been there.  Speaking strictly for myself, my sense of urgency seems to grow in direct correlation to my sense of weariness.  Or when winter starts to raise it's hoary head.  Most women I know who have the gumption to whack out a farming life on their own, are strong women.  With strong personalities and a strong sense of self.  But, even the strongest of us -- when faced with acres of rocky, overgrown land that needs clearing and fencing, or when the sheep/cattle/goats/horses have torn down that same section of fence that was just fixed for the hundredth time and are are in the middle of the road -- will cry "Enough Already!" and feel like we can't do it alone any longer.
     While I haven't given up the search for a help/soul/mate, I've learned to take a deep breath, step back and ease up.  Past experience has shown me that when I act blindly, I am indeed blind to all the red flags and sirens that go off around me, and I end up in an unhappy relationship.  I am glad I have gotten (a little) smarter as I have gotten older.  I am also lucky that I can turn to friends to help with that rocky, overgrown piece of land.  It's a tough row to hoe, but I do believe there is someone out there for every one of us - you just need that magical combination of right time, right place, right guy, Moon in Capricorn, crows in the pine trees.   Remember that you want someone to share this (mostly) wonderful farming life with you.  If you love your life, that love will shine through to someone who will not only share the hardships with you, but who will get to share in the love as well.  Just my two cents.

Yankee Ingenuity.

The sun's out, there's a nice breeze, laundry tree is beckoning - I'm one-armed.  What to do?  (click on photo to enlarge). 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Signs of Summer.

One of my favorite summer drinks is sweetened mint iced tea.  There is something so beautiful about a carafe full of bright green mint leaves (with their lovely contrasting brown spots.....).  The kitchen smells minty and, as soon as it cools, I can strain it, stir in some of last year's honey, and pour it into a large frosty glass full of ice cubes.  It doesn't get better than that.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

I Love a Parade.

One of the many things I love about where I live is that it's a small town.  And they have a parade down Main Street every Fourth of July (or Fifth of July, this year).  Our small library is manned and supported by a fanatically loyal group and every year they put on a Cafe a la Mode event to coincide with the parade.  This entails tables covered with all manner of wonderful, homemade pies, muffins, coffee cakes and other amazing baked goods that are sold - pies by the slice, with or without ice cream - to support the library.  It is also a great excuse for everyone to gather under the tent and catch up; a/k/a gossip.  There are older folks, younger folks, little folks, dogs.  And they are friendly.  Then there is the parade - every piece of fire equipment within a 50 mile radius is buffed and on show, there are beautiful old cars, floats, bagpipers, firemen, rescue squads, bands, horseback riders, you name it.  Every year there is a theme and all floats are judged and win prizes.  Lots of people line the street and take pictures.  It is just wonderful, and it is representative of what is best about America - it's small towns and the people who populate them. 

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Beauty of the Blogosphere.

It continually amazes me that there is such a wealth of knowledge and diversity being blogged every day.  Although there are times when I curse the computer - especially those times where I sit down for a minute and get up having lost 2 hours - it has allowed me to meet wonderful people, read funny and heartwarming stories, find support and humor when I needed it, and realize how small and amazing our world is.  One of my biggest support needs, it turns out, is gardening help.  I have just started back gardening this year, after a many-year hiatus (waaaaay back in Ohio, over 17 years ago) and I have forgotten everything I ever knew.  Which wasn't much to start with. 
  This brings me to my most pressing problem - Zucchini.  While most people quake and run for cover when the word "zucchini" enters the conversation, I lust after them.  I was so excited when I planted my four healthy plants in my new raised beds, fortified with llama 'beans'.  I was even more excited when all the flowers opened and small fruit began to form.  Then I watched in horror as they shriveled, turned yellow and fell off.  I thought I would cry.  I Googled the affliction and came up with lack of nitrogen.  This seemed odd, since they were planted on a firm foundation of 'beans', compost and all manner of organic nitrogen-rich material.  Then I received a lovely email from Susy at Chiot's Run.  She wrote in response to my comment on her blog.  Turns out, it's a pollination problem.  I have my paint brush ready and, raging humidity or not, I will be pollinating my zucchini blossoms tonight!  (And just where are my bees???)  I highly recommend her blog - lots of useful information and beautiful photography.  Thanks, Susy!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ah, Morpheus!

Had my follow-up visit with the doc today and learned all kinds of interesting things about my inside structure and the additions thereto (suture anchors - cool!).  And he said, "You are very young [for this]", twice.  Which means that I love him because I choose to ignore the [for this] part.  I also love him because a) he's cute; b) he has a good sense of humor; c) is a great surgeon, and, finally, d) because he said I can sleep without the dang sling.  That means *gasp* I can sleep in a prone position!  Flat, horizontal, board-like, flat as a pancake, on my back.  No more vertical, non-sleeping sleeping.  And I can tell you, it's not possible to have sane dreams if you're sleeping sitting up.  It dredges up all kinds of past teenage-angst, like those dreams where you find yourself the only one naked in your English Lit class.  You haven't?  Never mind, then.  Can't start PT for another two weeks, but sleep!  That's fantazzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz....