Sunday, November 22, 2015

First snow of the season

After having the warmest October on record, and an unseasonably warm November, the real winter weather is finally here. This does not exactly make me happy. I know if my children were still small, they'd all be outside sledding and building snow people. But they're all grown, and single-digit temperatures and snow just make me worry about what's going to go wrong. Sure enough, this morning we woke up to learn that we have no heat. Luckily we have a wood stove in the basement, so we have it blazing, as well as a space heater, so we're not freezing, even though it was 5 degrees outside when we woke up today.

Julia the pig is due on Thanksgiving day, and I kept worrying that we'd go outside this morning to find a bunch of dead and frozen piglets, but I'm happy to report that she is still keeping those babies warm inside her big belly. We opened the door to the kidding barn a couple of days ago, hoping that she'd go in there because it's warmer than the pasture shelter they normally use. If she doesn't figure it out today, we'll lure her in there with some goat milk. The size of those teats is making me think she may not wait until Thanksgiving.

I'm excited that all three of my children will be home for Thanksgiving. Today's photos were all taken by my youngest. She arrived at 11:00 last night, driving across some pretty treacherous roads to get here. She counted at least 15 trucks in the ditches along I-80 and I-39. Everyone else will be arriving on Tuesday, including her boyfriend from Colorado, which is where she is going to graduate school.

I wish I could share all 150 of her pictures with you, but neither you nor I have the time for that, so these are a few of my favorites ...

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Farm Crawl day 2

Yesterday was the first day of the Fourth Annual Livingston County Farm crawl, and the weather was about as close to perfect as it could ever be. 

Today is day two, and it started out raining! The rain is gone, though, and the sun is coming out, so I think we'll be fine the rest of the day. 

If you're in the area, you can head over to see the newly hatched chicks. Mike will be doing a cow milking demonstration at 3:00.

This might actually be the last year. A couple of the farmers are talking about moving away, and the others are just getting tired of doing it. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Who's my daddy?

It's Sunday, which has become my day for genealogy research. Anyone who has ever delved into their genealogy knows that you could spend all day, every day working on your family tree, so I quickly decided that I should isolate my efforts to Sundays.

I originally got interested in learning more about my genes a few months ago as I started dealing with my health problems. They say that about a third of autoimmune disease comes from your genes and the other two-thirds comes from environmental triggers and lifestyle choices, so I thought it might be helpful if I knew exactly how much the cards were stacked against me. Someone told me about, so I went online to find out how it works.

One of the first things I discovered is that lots of people use the service to find birth parents. Although I was adopted at birth, my parents kept in touch with my mother. However, she had no idea who my father was, and I had always accepted the fact that I would never know ... until now!

The only thing I've ever known about my father is that he was in the Navy and in Washington DC in May 1962. He was probably 18 or 19 years old, meaning that he would now be in his early 70s, assuming he is still alive.

So, a few months ago, I spit into a test tube and sent it off for analysis, and a few weeks later, I discovered I had 935 cousins! Wow! Unfortunately almost all of them are third cousins or even more distantly related, but to go from having almost no relatives in the world to 935 was an amazing discovery! Via email, I met one particularly knowledgeable and helpful cousin in England who told me that if I could get my mum to do the test, I'd be able to split my list of cousins into maternal and paternal side, so I contacted her, and she agreed. I was thinking that the 935 would be cut in half, but it hasn't been quite that helpful.

As it turns out, only 125 of those cousins are related to me through her. The rest are related to me through my father! Holy smokes! That would explain why almost all of the surnames listed by my DNA relatives are English -- Smith, Jones, Lewis, Parker, Wells, and so on. I'm assuming this is because her family came here from Norway and Sweden at the end of the 19th century, whereas my father's family is almost entirely British and obviously came to the US in the 1700s and earlier, so there are simply a lot more of them in this country to get tested. Although testing is available in northern European countries, this is a pretty popular American thing to do. (Plus, there are a lot more people in this country.)

I even have some African DNA in me, which probably means that a couple hundred years ago I had a great, great, great, great ... great grandmother and grandfather who were slave and slave owner. I think I remember reading somewhere that one of Thomas Jefferson's children with slave Sally Hemming had skin that was pale enough that he was able to live his life as a white person, which obviously would have been the case with my ancestor.

Some of my cousins go back to British royalty and one to Pocahontas. That doesn't mean that I do, because it could be a different branch of their family tree than the one we share in common, but I am even more excited than ever to figure out where I fit in the world.

The funniest thing about all of this is that I've been a huge anglophile my entire life. I've visited England twice, and the only TV show I've watched in the last 15 years is Downton Abbey. I've been drinking hot tea since I was a teenager in Texas, and I was drinking it with milk it, which is a very British thing to do. I didn't even know anyone who drank hot tea, much less tea with milk in it back then! I don't even know where I got the idea.

Years ago, I said that since I had no idea who my father was, I was going to make one up. He was British, and his ancestor came to this country because he was the second or third son of an aristocrat, and since he would not be inheriting his father's land and title, he decided to come to America to find his fortune. I needed an excuse for my expensive taste, and royal blood seemed like the most obvious explanation. It's pretty funny that even part of it has been proven true -- his family did come from England! I'm really looking forward to finding out about the rest of it!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

It's not cute or sexy or fun

Here is something no one ever talks about on the homestead ... driveways. I'll never forget the day we moved out here, I walked around feeling like the queen of a small kingdom! We had 32 acres! The largest yard we'd ever had in the past was a mere half an acre, so 32 acres was huge!

Well, once the euphoria wore off, I realized that just like the ruler of any small kingdom, the owner of a small farm has to worry about keeping their roads in good repair. And we've not been so good about that the last few years. For at least two or three years, I've been sporadically trying to find someone to deliver more road rock out here. Finally, I got a recommendation from a friend!

So last Wednesday, we had road rock delivered. The road rock guy was surprised to learn that we didn't have a tractor or a skid loader to spread the rock. So, that meant that it was all spread by a human being -- mostly Mike. Want to know how he stays so thin and muscular? Working on the homestead is a great fitness plan.

We asked the rock guy to "tailgate it," which meant he was supposed to raise the bed of the dump truck and evenly spread the gravel on the driveway as he drove forward. It didn't work as well as we'd hoped. This pile of rock was knee high.

But, that's enough chatter! You really can't appreciate the gravity of this situation unless you see the before and after pictures. I don't think you really appreciate the top photo unless you know that it looked like this before the rock was delivered and spread ...

And you can really appreciate the improvement when driving on the driveway following a rain. Oh, yeah! Life will be so much better next spring!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Scaling back in one area of my life

If you've been hanging around here for very long, you know that I've produced most of my own body care products since 2003. I've even sold my own goat milk soap and a few other body care products. But we can't do it all, and I totally understand that some people don't even want to make their own soap or body butter. But you do want natural products with ingredients that you understand -- products that you could make yourself, if only you had the time and inclination. That's why I fell in love with Poofy Organics. Their ingredient lists are very similar to the ones I've used when making my own personal care products, which means they are all natural, and most are organic.

I've also come to the conclusion that I can't do it all. For years, I've been saying that I'm going to create my own all-natural version of Tiger Balm, and that still hasn't happened. Tiger Balm has petroleum jelly in it, which is (as the name implies) a petroleum product, and I hate the idea of slathering that on my skin. Biofreeze has green dye in it, which again, I hate using. Poofy, however, has an organic liniment called RUB-ology, which is made with beeswax and sunflower oil and essential oils and NO artificial colors -- or anything artificial, for that matter.

I looked for a VERY long time to find cosmetics that were non-toxic. If you've read my book Ecothrifty, you know that most cosmetics do contain toxic chemicals, including many that are carcinogenic. And that is one reason I only wear make-up about three times a year, usually only when I know there will be many photo-ops through the day, such as one of my children's graduation ceremonies. Back when I was doing regular television appearances to promote my books, I tried to not think about the chemicals in the make-up, and I'd wash it off my face as soon as I was off camera!

Anyway, as part of my scaling back -- and in an attempt to encourage others to trade in their toxic products for those that are truly toxin-free -- I've decided to become a Poofy GUIDE, which means I'm selling it. How is that scaling back, you ask? Because I'm not making my own AND selling it. This actually eliminates about 80% of the work! I might continue making my own goat milk soap, but as for the rest of the body care products, I've realized that I just need to stop trying to do everything. So, if you'd like to check out their products and see why I'm so excited, click here to visit the main website. And if you'd like to use a quick order form after checking out some of the products, click here.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Chick days!

I know most people get chicks in the spring, but when I'm getting chicks for breeding purposes, I like getting them in late summer or early fall so that they can mature over the fall and winter and be ready to lay in early spring. Ultimately we get a lot more eggs the first year by doing it this way.

Yesterday we received a shipment of 26 Delaware chicks. (Yes, they were sent through the U.S. Postal Service. It usually works out fine because chicks don't need anything to eat or drink the first day or two after hatching.) They are one of my favorite breeds, and I'm going to have some fun crossing them with barred rocks and New Hampshires, which will be arriving in another month.

They're straight run, which means we have no idea what we have for cockerels and pullets. The pullets will grow up to be laying hens, and most of the cockerels will become chicken dinner around November and December. Since it will probably only be about 12 or 13 males, and we'll keep two for breeding that will only leave about 10 for dinner, which isn't enough to drive two hours to the processor, so Mike will butcher them as we need them over the winter.

We put them in an old water trough for the first week or so until we're sure they know where the water and feed are located, and they understand that being under the heat lamp keeps them warm. (That's why the pictures are pink; the heat lamp is red.)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Turkey breeding woes

Last year we were quite successful hatching turkeys in the incubator and with hens, but this year was a totally different story. We had a complete failure in the incubator so none of the 19 eggs hatched, and although we've had two mamas setting, only one actually finished the job, but she then left the nest after five of them had fully hatched and one had only pipped the shell.

Mike didn't know you aren't supposed to "help" with hatching turkeys, so he finished ripping off the shell, thinking that mama would then take care of the little poult. But she didn't. So we put it in the incubator to dry off and get his land legs. That didn't really happen. For two days I kept finding him flipped over, and I kept sitting him upright and leaning against the side of the incubator. Just about the time that I figured we should put him down, he finally got the strength in his legs to be able to stand! Although that little story has a happy ending, it still meant we wound up with only five total turkeys, which isn't even enough to take to get processed. I waited around for another hen to hatch her eggs, but then realized she wasn't really serious about the whole thing when the eggs started to stink.

We were also supposed to be getting some blue slate and lavender turkeys from a hatchery in Indiana, but they had problems, so they said the poults wouldn't be shipping until July or August, which isn't enough time for them to grow out by Thanksgiving. I told them to just wait and ship in late August, as I was planning to keep the hens and a couple of toms for breeding anyway. We can butcher the extra toms next spring.

So, we were in the middle of June and had only five turkeys for the year. It was too late to get any heritage turkeys from another hatchery because they were all sold out, so I decided to get some broad breasted turkeys. I checked all the usual hatcheries, and no one had any left. Then I started looking at hatcheries that I've never used before, and I finally found one in Iowa -- Meyer -- that had some broad breasted whites that could be shipped towards the end of July. They'll be four months old by Thanksgiving, but that's big enough for this breed to be processed at a decent size. In fact, when we've kept this breed for six or seven months, we've wound up with some 35 to 45 pounds toms!

I finally got that long-awaited phone call from the post office yesterday at 11:45 a.m. Since the invention of Click-n-Ship, I don't know our post office workers as well as I used to, and the woman on the phone said, "You've got some chicks here. What do you want me to do with 'em?" Hmm ... what were my options, really? I said that I'd come get them and should be there in ten to fifteen minutes, to which she replied, "You've got 15 minutes!" Geez! Seriously? Was she really going to let the little thing stay in the post office until the next day if I didn't get there by the usual closing time of noon. (Welcome to life in a rural community!)

Not knowing her and not knowing whether or not she would really leave the poults there, I quickly told my son that I was heading to town to get some baby birds. At the time I didn't know if this was my turkey order or my Delaware chicken order that should have arrived from another small hatchery a couple of weeks ago. I drove as fast as one can responsibly drive on rural gravel roads and managed to get there before closing time. I had ordered 15, and that's exactly how many they shipped. All of them looked healthy and happy except for one that was already cold and stiff. I took the above photo seven hours later after everyone was settled in and eating and drinking.

I am still looking forward to getting my new breeders next month, and next year I'm planning to purchase a better incubator than the little styrofoam thing that we've been using.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Fish kill!

Yesterday morning I woke up and looked out the window of our bathroom to see something rather large floating on the surface of our pond. Was it a dead duck? I called down the stairs to Mike asking him to check it out. He walked out onto the deck and quickly realized it was a dead fish! And then he saw another one and another and another. Then he said the pond was covered with dead fish!

I called the local Soil and Water office, where the woman said the fish kill was probably due to chemical run-off from a nearby field, and she suggested I call a fish biologist at the Department of Natural Resources, which I did. But he wasn't in his office, so I left a message, and of course he called back when I wasn't home. He spoke to my son and told him to call the EPA, which my son did. The person on the phone there said that someone would probably come out to investigate.

Today I realized that if the EPA put our address in a GPS system, they'd arrive at the pond down the road and leave because it looks lovely. (GPS doesn't know where we are.) So, I called the EPA this morning and had a lengthy conversation with someone who told me that they don't usually get involved in private pond problems unless there is evidence of definite pollution. So, he suggested I call the DNR. I told him that DNR had actually referred us to him, and he said that maybe DNR thought the EPA would be interested, but they're not, and the fish biologist at DNR would be our best bet in figuring out what happened. He said that most fish kills are due to oxygen deprivation, but he also gave me the name of a water testing lab in Peoria in case we wanted to check for the presence of chemicals in the water.

I emailed the water testing lab, and they said the fish kill was probably due to oxygen deprivation, but for a few hundred dollars they could test the water. So, I've spent the last few hours reading about fish kill and duckweed.

As you can see in the above photo, the surface of the pond is mostly green. It's not algae though. It's duckweed, which has never been a problem until this year. Apparently it can be spread by wild waterfowl visiting your pond and dropping off a plant or two, which can then multiply every single day! And before you know it, the surface of your pond is covered with duckweed. The good news is that it killed the algae because it doesn't allow any light to get into the pond. The bad news is that it's as bad for the fish as a huge algae bloom because it can ultimately reduce their oxygen and suffocate them.

So, we have one vote for poisoning and two votes for suffocation, and my reading is leading me to think that suffocation is probably the culprit. I did call the fish biologist again, however, and am waiting for him to call me back.

Monday, July 20, 2015

One year anniversary of our second farm!

July 21, 2014

Tomorrow is our one year anniversary as owners of Mike's family farm in Henry, IL. I never wrote about it on here, but it was quite the drama. He's wanted the farm for as long as I can remember, but it was in a trust with his father and all of his father's siblings as trustees. Mike's grandfather created the trust in such a way that it could not be sold without unanimous approval of all trustees, which was a pretty smart move. For years, four of the six siblings wanted to sell, but Mike's father and an uncle in Alaska had said no. Then after Mike's father died, the other hold-out finally gave in and agreed to sell, so the farm was put on the market.

It was truly the most back-n-forth drama of my life. I lost track of how many times we thought we had it, but then, on no, we can't get it. Here is the very abridged version ....

We initially thought we couldn't afford it, but after lots of brainstorming and a good bit of luck, it looked like we could buy it with a little help from a silent partner. But then someone else put down a contract on it before we did, and he was threatening to sue if they didn't sell it to him. But then it looked like that wasn't a problem. Then two of Mike's uncles decided to take a piece of the land for themselves, which meant we only had to come up with financing for 67 acres instead of 97, and they even said we could use their land, which was even more awesome. We truly were not sure that we were going to get it until the day that we sat down and signed the papers.

Mike in soybean field in 2014
Then the real work began. Of the 67 acres we bought, about 27 are tillable, while the rest are forest and wetland. It had been farmed conventionally with corn and soybeans for about 50 years, and our goal was, of course, to transition to organic something, although we didn't know what at the time. We didn't really care what was growing there -- as long as it was organic. We still don't care exactly what the crop is, as long as it's organic.

I posted all over the Internet and asked every organic farmer I knew, trying to find someone who would plant something organic on the 27 tillable acres this year. We thought we had someone who was going to plant hay, but that fizzled in a very odd manner with more drama. In January I spoke with a crop consultant who said that it wouldn't be the end of the world if we let the land lay fallow for a year and then just till under everything that grew, and that's pretty much what has happened.

Mike planting on Memorial Day 2015
We did go out there on Memorial Day and plant two very long rows of winter squash and melons, which can easily grow without day-to-day attention. Although they are growing, they are growing much more slowly than the garden on our farm here. We took some manure and straw out there for fertility, but it obviously wasn't enough, so we'll need to fertilize some more. We've never before transitioned land that was previously farmed conventionally, although I've heard it takes a few years to get it to liven up. We'll take another pickup load of manure out there, and I'm thinking I'll also buy some fish emulsion.

It appears we have found someone who is willing to plant organic wheat and hay for us on a purely contract basis. He doesn't want to do a 50/50 share as many farmers do because he already has his own hay business and has enough trouble selling his own hay. So, the goal is to build a storage building out there next spring and to grow the hay and wheat (straw) for our own use here on Antiquity Oaks. I've never been able to buy organic hay or straw around here in the past, so I'm especially excited about that prospect.

I was going to take pictures today to show you how our squash and melon plants were doing, but the rain chased us away prematurely.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The next chapter

This blog post has been percolating in my head for months. It's a blog post I never wanted to write. It includes facts I don't want to be true. Many of you know I grew up as a "sickly" child, according to my mother and doctor. There was "nothing" that could be done to keep me healthy, again according to them. But in my 20s, I discovered that by adopting a diet rich in real foods, I no longer suffered from the all-too-common colds and flus and other ills that had plagued me for the first two decades of my life. I would go as long as five years without a cold and ten years without the flu.

For the past year and a half, I've become the sickly child again. At least that's how I feel as I've dealt with one health issue after another, some of which I've written about here. All along in the back of my head, I had a nagging feeling that I might have a problem with food sensitivities.  But my brain would quickly respond that's not possible! But then the other side of my brain would say, "remember back when you were a vegan, your problems with constipation went away, and every time you'd have a little piece of cheese or other dairy product, it'd come back." But the rest of my brain would just ignore that. It could NOT be true! I LOVE cheese! I write about cheesemaking. I talk about cheesemaking. I TEACH cheesemaking!

Last year when I got diagnosed with Hashimoto's, I read that the majority of people with thyroid disease have a sensitivity to wheat and gluten, and that some people have actually reversed the disease by removing gluten from their diet. I was sick and tired and desperate, so I quit eating wheat, which meant no more bread baking, which we had been doing for the past 26 years, almost daily for more than a decade. (See that pic on the right.) I LOVED bread! There are bread recipes in my books. I've taught bread baking from Washington State to Pennsylvania and Virginia, and I always felt bad when someone would ask me if I had any tips for gluten-free bread. I even said, "I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't eat bread!" It seemed a horrible fate. But after eliminating wheat from my diet, it became obvious that my body didn't like it. I'd occasionally wind up eating something with wheat in it when traveling, and the only thing that happened is that my digestive system would just shut down. Not pooping when you're traveling is not such a bad thing ... until you've gone five days!

Many aspects of my health have improved since eliminating wheat. I haven't had a cold or flu in more than a year now, I no longer have migraines, my asthma is gone, and my Hashimoto's is in remission. My antibodies were cut in half, and my hormones have remained at an ideal level. I no longer take any prescription meds. My vitamin D and vitamin B12 deficiencies have been completely corrected, and those levels are now optimal. But things weren't perfect. I still had nagging digestive issues, including constipation, motion sickness, and random nausea in the middle of the night. After seeing how my body reacted to wheat, I knew that I probably had other food sensitivities, which were wreaking havoc on my digestive system. But what?

The gold standard for figuring out food allergies is an elimination diet. I started talking about it last year and said that after the holidays I'd start. The holidays came and went, and it didn't happen. I gave a half-hearted shot at it in January, but I had one excuse after another why it wasn't a good time. Finally, in March after reading yet another book about auto-immune diseases and how food sensitivities play a major role, I started one day cold turkey. I eliminated corn, soy, dairy, eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts. After three weeks of not having any of those foods, I started to add them back into diet one by one with several days in between so that there would be no confusing which food was causing a reaction.

Of all the foods I eliminated, the only one that I've been able to add back into my diet with no problems has been peanuts. Everything else caused a reaction of some sort. Eggs was one of the worst as it caused chaos in my digestive tract, starting with nausea. I was also sleepy and dizzy and generally feeling like I'd come down with a stomach bug. It occurred to me that my motion sickness and random nausea had probably been caused by eggs all along. In fact, as I was flying into Denver last month in a rather bumpy flight, it suddenly occurred to me that I was feeling absolutely no motion sickness at all!

I could write pages and pages about this, but since March I've been keeping a food journal and writing down everything I eat and everything that happens to my body. I've tried to re-introduce most foods more than once because honestly, there isn't anything that I want to give up. Above all else, the number one thing I did NOT want to give up was dairy products. I've only tried cow milk once, and it was in the form of yogurt. It was our wonderful grassfed Jersey's milk made into yogurt, which is supposed to be easier to digest because of the probiotics, and yet it was not good. I had a smoothie made with the yogurt and didn't poop for three days. Not fun!

The goat milk did slow down my digestive system some, but not nearly as bad as the cow. This has made me very unhappy. It's not like I can just stop buying this stuff at the store! I have 14 goats out there making milk as I type. So far, this spring, all of the milk has been used to feed kids, but at some point, the kids won't need the milk any longer, and how am I going to feel about continuing to go out there and milk them every day? At the moment, my husband is actually doing almost all of the milking, but when he starts teaching again in the fall, the job will be mine again. I love my goats, but I originally got them because I loved their milk and cheese and yogurt. What will I do if those reasons no longer exist? I honestly don't know.

At this point, I've told myself that I should just continue for the next year before making any decisions. I've spent the last 13 years building a wonderful herd of milkers, and it would be tough to give that up. I am hopeful that as my body continues to heal, I will once again be able to consume their milk. Many people have been able to do that, but not everyone. I am not a patient person. I wish I knew what the future would hold for me, but I must learn patience.

That leads me to the next thing that causes health problems -- stress! Stress plays a major role in almost every disease. And we are all under stress. I constantly hear people say that they can't do anything about the stress in their lives. And I've said the same thing myself. But I've spent a good chunk of the past year reading books to help me regain my health, and it has finally sunk in ... we will all have stressful situations come into our lives every day, and we can't help that. We can, however, control how we respond to those situations. And it isn't just a matter of saying that you won't get upset when something negative happens. That just does not work.

I've learned that we have to make a conscious effort to regularly force our minds into a state of relaxation. Okay, "force" is not the right word, but it feels like that in the beginning. I've starting practicing yoga and meditation on a regular basis. I'd love to say daily, and that's the goal, but I'm not there yet. I have noticed that when I meditate daily, my response to stressful situations is much more calm -- and that's exciting!

I've also learned to take time every day to be grateful for the beauty in my life. Even when things are not going well, there are things to be grateful for. When I had car trouble last month, I sat there and thought of all the things for which to be grateful -- a tow truck was coming, I had peanuts in my purse, and so on.

I knew I'd be entering a new chapter in my life when my children left home. I also knew menopause would create some changes. But I always thought they'd be outward things, such as a new career. I never anticipated the changes within my body and mind that would have to happen. Yes, I have had my pity party, as I did not want any of these changes to happen. I thought life was perfectly wonderful over the past decade. But we have to play the hand we're dealt, and I intend to figure out how to make this next chapter the best yet.
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