Friday, January 30, 2009

Decisions, decisions

Things I learned last year:
  • how to make a quilt (pictured is my first -- and so far, only -- quilt)
  • and . . . I know there's more, but it's not coming to me right now!

Things I want to learn this year:
  • how to naturally dye yarn or wool roving using Illinois plants
  • how to properly compost (instead of just throwing stuff together and waiting for it to rot)

Plan of action:
  • Attend half-day composting seminar February 8.
  • Plan needed for yarn dyeing. Can't afford a $2,000 trip to Mexico or $800 workshop in Oregon. Will probably have to do some research on my own. Any suggestions?
Other possibilities:
ALBC is hosting a heritage-turkey-raising seminar in March. It's a six-hour drive from here to central Missouri, but it's very tempting. The instructor is a mentee of Frank Reese, who is legendary in the world of heritage turkeys, so no doubt I'd learn a lot. Almost all of my turkey knowledge has been gained through trial and error -- lots of error. Luckily the seminar is during my spring break. I'd probably learn more in two days with this man than in another few years of tripping along by myself.

I've said it before, but I never stop being amazed at how much there is to learn out here. It's sad that so much knowledge has already been lost.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Eggs: what's the difference?

A few years ago, Mother Earth News undertook a bit of interesting research. Apparently, the professional egg producers had long insisted that no research had ever shown free-range eggs to differ nutritionally from factory-farmed eggs. Well, that wasn't exactly the truth, since no study had ever been done comparing the two. So, Mother Earth News set out to have some free-range eggs tested. I remember reading the results of their tests at the time -- the free-range eggs were more nutritious.

A couple days ago, I received my February-March 2009 issue of Mother Earth News, and I learned that they've continued this research. Four pastured farms (Texas, Kentucky, Kansas, Pennsylvania) sent their eggs to a lab, and again the free-range eggs had more nutrition than what the USDA claims is in eggs -- data that is, of course, based upon factory-farmed chickens.

So, what's the difference? Free-range eggs contain . . .
  • 1/3 less cholesterol
  • 1/4 less saturated fat
  • 2/3 more vitamin A
  • 2 X more omega-3 fatty acids (the good one)
  • 3 X more vitamin E
  • 7 X more beta carotene
  • 3-6 X more vitamin D (On the high end, this means that an egg contains 126 percent of the US RDA of Vit. D, which is quite significant since Vit. D deficiency is becoming a problem in this country.)
For those of us with our own chickens that are free-ranged, this comes as no surprise -- especially the beta carotene. Store-bought eggs have a very pale yellow yolk, whereas free-range chicken eggs are school-bus yellow.

Mike and I are still working our way through Michael Pollan's latest book, In Defense of Food, but this really corroborates his research on the difference between naturally-raised food and factory-farmed food. I'll be doing a review of that book when we're done with it.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Carmen's birth video

Here's the edited version of Carmen's birth. Katherine started with 25 minutes of footage and edited it down to this version, which is less than six minutes, complete with captions and background music.

By the way, thanks to everyone who suggested names for the twin does. We decided to go with Claire's suggestion of Merimee (author of the book on which the opera is based) and Micaela (another character in the opera, Carmen).

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Cooking with cast iron

Cooking with less fat does not necessarily mean that you have to use non-stick cookware, as in Teflon. I don't like non-stick cookware, since I could never find one that didn't eventually start flaking. And I don't like the idea of eating some unknown substance. Since I need to lose weight and have been paying attention to what I eat, I have been utilizing my cast iron cookware properly.

What does "properly" mean? Well, like most Americans, I am usually too busy (or think I am) to cook my food slowly. And slow is the secret to using cast iron skillets. Once your cast iron is seasoned, you only need to spread the tiniest amount of oil on the surface when cooking anything -- even things like potatoes, which would normally stick. What's a tiny amount of oil? Pour out enough to cover an inch of the skillet, then use your fingers to spread it evenly across the surface. (You could also use an oil spray.) Cook the food on low heat, and it doesn't stick. It takes 15-20 minutes to cook my hash browns in the morning, but I think it actually takes less of my time than it did when I was cooking it on a higher heat. Cooking it on low means that I can leave it there for about 7-8 minutes, come back, flip the potatoes and leave for another 5 minutes or so. When I was cooking it on a higher heat, I had to stick around and keep flipping the potatoes, so they wouldn't burn -- not to mention how much extra oil I had in the skillet.

The best thing about cast iron is that it lasts almost forever. And since so few people know how to use it properly, you can often find it cheaply at garage sales.

Easy Hash Browns
Shred one small potato and put it in your greased cast iron skillet on LOW heat. Sprinkle with garlic salt and pepper. (Depending on my mood, I might use black pepper or cayenne.) Flip when the outer pieces of potato are starting to turn golden. Cook that side until you peek underneath and it looks golden also.

It's tough to find a cheaper (money or calories) breakfast. With only about 119 calories, a small potato also provides about half of the Vit. C. that you need in a day. A larger potato has about 258 calories, 11% of the iron, and 121% of the Vit. C that you need in a day, as well as a little Vit. A and calcium and almost 9 grams of fiber.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bookcases up, but not done

Mike says this post is way overdue, and he's right. He finished the last two bookcases a week ago, but with Sherri and Carmen kidding, I sort of forgot about the bookcases. Actually, I wanted to get the whole library cleaned up and looking pristine before taking pictures, but at this point, I'm not sure when that will be, since my to-do list is way too long. I can't say the library is done, because it still lacks trim on the bookcases and windows, as well as baseboard. But having the bookcases up means we are a couple steps closer to being organized. We will also be -- Mike will also be putting a built-in desk between these two sets of bookcases. He is hoping to get back to staining trim in February after we're done using the barn office for kid watching.

These are obviously corner bookcases. In the above picture, the bookcase on the right is the one Mike finished in December, and the one on the left is the one he finished a couple weeks ago.

The last two bookcases are only six inches deep. In this picture, the newest bookcase is on the right. The six-inch shelves are made to hold paperback novels, and yes, one of the bookcases is filled mostly with romance novels. My son referred to it as the "trashy section" of our library. And I suppose his Calvin and Hobbes books are high literature? Uh, no. When I was in grad school, I had to read a romance novel one semester for my critical theory class, and I realized that reading romance novels actually helped me keep my sanity. I will also point out that about 90% of these novels are not mine. I'm only saying that because I know someone will ask how I have time to read that much -- and I don't have time to read that much. However, the owner of those novels can finish one in about three to four hours.

This last picture shows all four of the bookcases that Mike has finished in the last month, and the built-in desk will go in front of the window, so I'll be able to blog and watch my goats and other critters at the same time.

These last two bookcases bring the total to nine, and when we're done unpacking all the boxes of books, I hope we still have a few shelves left, because I'm sure we are not done buying books.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The trouble with goats

This is why I don't like everyone to leave here at the same time. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the five of us create school schedules that allow at least one person to be here at all times. Yesterday, when Margaret was leaving, she came back to the house and yelled that one of the goats was screaming. "Sounds like it's got its head stuck in a fence or something."

Jonathan went out and discovered Lil dripping wet next to the water trough. He took her into the barn office, and Katherine dried her with a towel and a blow dryer and let her lay down in a chair in front of the heater until she warmed up, which took a couple hours. No doubt if no one were home, she would have gotten hypothermia and died.

And it's not just goats. We're responsible for all the animals. Last week, another blogger said she was glad she was home for lambing last summer because a couple of lambs would not have made it if she weren't there. Luckily, we have been here to rescue goats that got their heads caught in a fence or fell into a water trough. (Lil wasn't the first.) We were here when a ram lamb got his head stuck in a fence, but we didn't get to him quickly enough, and he broke off a horn -- that is as bloody as it sounds. We've also been here when a neighbor or a stranger knocked on the door and asked, "Are those your ________ down the road?" (Fill in blank with sheep, goats, pigs, horses, or turkeys.) Whenever these things happen, I always wonder what would have happened if we weren't home. I don't want to find out.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Work in progress

I wasn't going to post anything about this until it was done, but I've never done anything this big before, and I need a little encouragement. I'm making an afghan from Teddy's and Latte's wool. It was originally just going to be from Teddy's wool, but I realized fairly quickly that I wouldn't have enough, so I decided to also use Latte. Teddy is a brown and white spotted ram -- my only brown and white spotted sheep, so I decided to mix it with Latte's wool, since he's a fawn color. I think it will take at least two years worth of wool from both boys -- maybe more. It will be Teddy's wool on both ends, and Latte's wool in the middle. I'm using two strands of double-ply yarn that Katherine is spinning for me. I thought it would go faster than it's going, but then I'm making it big enough to fit on our full-size bed in the guest room.

Things were going along perfectly until the past week. First, I knitted a row that I should have perled, so I had to unknit that entire row, which was terribly disheartening, since each row has something like 140 stitches in it, and it takes about twice as long to unknit as it takes to knit. Then I was working on it when Carmen went into labor, and I immediately stopped in the middle of a row to come home. I never stop in the middle of a row. When I picked it back up yesterday, I started knitting in the wrong direction. When I got back to the stitch I'd started on, I knew something was wrong but couldn't figure it out. Had I dropped a stitch? No. But what had I done? It obviously did not look right! I asked Margaret to look at it, and at first she had the most puzzled look on her face, then suddenly her eyes got huge, and she gasped, "Oh, no!"

"That sounds bad," I said. "What is it?" When she explained what I'd done, I whined, "No! No, no, no!" like a two-year-old. So, I started unknitting again. Being the sweet daughter that she is, she offered to do some of it for me. As she pointed out, it's much less frustrating to unknit something that is not your own project. I agree.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Afternoon kidding

I was in town today when I heard a rooster crow -- that's the ring on my cell phone. It was Katherine. "She's pushing!" After a brief conversation, I realized that Katherine didn't know I was in town. She was calling from the barn phone and had been out there with Carmen since morning. She was calling me to let me know that we'd soon have kids, because she knew I didn't want to miss Carmen's birth. My comforter was in the dryer at the laundromat, but I didn't hesitate to pull it out, still wet, throw it in the car, and head home.

Carmen is my baby, the first goat I ever raised in the house. She also represents other firsts for me -- my first home-grown master champion and my first ARMCH. She was also the first kid we ever had with hypothermia and the first kid I had to tube feed. She's also my most famous goat. Her picture is in The Year of the Goat. Have I convinced you yet that she's special? So, when I knew she was in labor, I didn't even think twice about coming straight home.

I ran into the house, handed the wet comforter to Jonathan, and traded my town coat for my barn coat. Carmen was standing there looking at me when I walked into the barn. She was quiet, but the fat string of mucous under her tail told me that she was indeed in labor. About half an hour later, she gave birth to a white doe and then a red and white doe. I'm so glad she kidded today, because we have a busy week coming up, and now I don't have to worry about her.

She is named after Carmen, the opera, so we name all of her kids after opera characters. Any suggestions?

A garden in my living room

Yesterday, I worked on my living room garden. Huh? Living room garden? In 2006, I bought some bulbs and never got around to planting them. It was not the first time I'd done that. Most years, the bulbs would wither away, and I'd finally toss them in the compost pile. But three years ago, I finally decided to try "forcing" bulbs, and it really was not as hard as I had expected it to be. Of course, I made a lot of mistakes. Some bulbs never bloomed, and some were deformed, but it was better than tossing them into the compost.

Now, if I have bulbs that I haven't planted by the end of October, I put them in my refrigerator and forget about them without feeling guilty. When I have time, I put them in pots with a potting mix, although a lot of directions for forcing bulbs says to use a soil-less mix. If a few months pass, and I still haven't put them in pots, it is possible to force some bulbs by just setting them on top of a vase with water. It's worked for me with daffodils, but the tulips never bloomed unless they were in soil. This will be my first year doing crocuses, but they are usually on the list of bulbs that are easy to force.

This is a fun and easy way to bring some beauty into your life in those final drab days of winter when you're going to lose your mind if you don't have some sign that spring really will arrive once again. All of the pictures in this post were taken over an entire month between February and March 2006. I have daffodils and crocuses in the frig now and am hoping to have more beautiful flowers in my house next month!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Two dinners

When we were vegetarians, we ate a lot of baked potatoes. Does anyone remember those baked potato places in malls back in the 80s? I haven't seen one in ages, but maybe that's where I got the idea that a baked potato can be a meal. In addition to being delicious, they are also thrifty, quick and easy. We had baked potatoes with chili the day that Sherri kidded. It was easy for Jonathan to get them in the oven while the girls and I were out in the barn.

If you know a busy day is coming up, you can plan ahead by making a big pot of chili a night or two before your busy day. The important word here is "big" because you want to have left-overs. Then on the busy day, you can just make the world's best baked potatoes and top it with chili, cheese, sour cream, jalapenos, salsa, and whatever else you like.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Thoughts on goats

Yesterday was one of those days that makes you think. What the heck are we doing kidding in January? Everybody with dairy goats starts kidding in January, but as my mama used to say (and probably your mama too), "If everybody was jumping off a bridge, would you do it?"

January kidding never seemed as crazy as jumping off a bridge until yesterday, but we certainly can't rule out the possibility that it will happen again. I'm so glad the girls were there, because we were all working like crazy to get the kids dry, so they wouldn't get hypothermia or frostbite. In three years, they won't be here. Next year, Margaret won't be here. And at some point, my part-time teaching will probably go to full-time. Kiddings should be scheduled for school breaks. I can't cancel classes every time I think a goat might kid. We currently coordinate our schedules, so there is always someone home.

Yesterday was wild. We had the heat lamp, a blow dryer, a heating pad, and a stack of towels. Between the first and second kid, the mucous-soaked hair on Sherri's tail froze. I tossed a couple of wet towels over one of the sides of the pen, and they froze to it, so they'll be there until the temps go up, since I don't want to risk ripping them to get them off.

I am so glad we have the office out there, because it was only a few steps away when we needed to warm up ourselves. It's amazing that animals survive in those temperatures when we get so cold, in spite of our triple layered clothes, coats, hats, double socks, and lined boots. When Margaret felt frozen and stood up to head into the office for a few minutes, she said, "I don't want to do this anymore." Florida Institute of Technology became Katherine's first choice for a college, and Margaret said, "I wonder if it's too late to find a college down south."

In spite of their complaints, the girls took turns going out to the barn through the day to check on the kids. One of the little bucks is polled (daddy is polled), and his ears kept freezing. The other two seemed to be doing okay. After the 11 p.m. check, when Margaret said, "Polled boy's ears were frozen again," we decided we had to do something since no one would be going out there to warm him up again until morning. I suggested that we cut a sock in half and use the cuff part to slip over his head and hold his ears against his neck. To my surprise, Mike said that there were already socks like that in the laundry room. No one knew where they came from, but Jonathan took one out there and put it on the little guy. Although the whole thing had slipped down to his neck, and his ears were sticking up this morning, they were warm. I don't know whether or not my little wimple helped him, but at least we tried. One ear has a bent tip, which is red, and I'm afraid that means it's damaged. Another kid has a bent tip also, but he has black ears, so I can't see any color changes.

Next goat due is Carmen. Day 145 for her is Tuesday, so she will probably kid between Tuesday and Sunday of next week. She kidded at day 143 one year, but hopefully she won't do that again. One reason Sherri's kids are probably doing so well is that they are big for baby Nigerians. Temperatures should be somewhat more normal next week in the 20s, which is nothing to celebrate, but it is better than the below zero temperatures we have been having!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Three breech bucks

My diligence finally paid off, and I'm glad I was so paranoid. Shortly before 11:00, Mike and I were out in the office, and I decided I wanted to clean up the pump room, which is connected. After about 15 minutes, I thought I should look in on Sherri, even though she hadn't made a sound. When I looked out the window, I could only see her back end, but I knew immediately that she was pushing. I told Mike to get the girls. I put two towels under my coat so they'd stay warm, put on latex gloves under my mittens, and went to Sherri.

Shortly after the girls arrived, Sherri screamed. Margaret laughed and said, "That's what you usually hear from your bedroom in the middle of the night, right?" I said, "Yep, that's it, so we should see a kid soon." But there was no kid. Instead there was another contraction and another scream. After another contraction, I said, "Gee, I didn't think it took me that long to get dressed and get out here normally." Sherri is so stoic, she normally doesn't make a noise until the first kid's head is being born, and by the time I open the barn door, that kid is already screaming. After a couple more contractions, Katherine said she saw a hoof.

Sherri is six years old and has never had any trouble kidding, so as long as the kid was lined up straight, she should be able to get it out. I was hoping we'd see a nose soon, since sometimes, the nose is just little bit behind the first hoof. Nope, no nose. Margaret crawled around to Sherri's back end and said, "That's a tail." Katherine argued, "No, it's a hoof." And they went back and forth. Finally, I crawled through the straw to Sherri's back end and said, "Well, unless there is hair growing on the hoof, it's a tail, because I see hair." As Sherri pushed, it became obvious that it was indeed a tail. The kid emerged slowly, inch by inch, as we commented on how big it was. Finally, it was born. "It's a buck," Katherine said, as I was trying to dry it. Then I handed him to Margaret, who was sitting near Sherri's head, so she could blow dry it while Sherri licked it.

I realized that the latex gloves really provided no protection for my hands, as they were rapidly going numb, so I pulled them off and said I needed to get a dry pair. It was only slightly better than having my hands wet. When I ran into the office to grab more gloves, Katherine yelled that the second kid was presenting. As I headed back out, she said, "It's a hoof." When I got there, I realized that the hoof was upside-down. I was worried that it was front hooves, which would mean that the kid was posterior and possibly had its head turned to face its tail. Katherine thought it was the back hooves. I'm glad she was right, because it was much easier for Sherri than the alternative. And it was another buck.

We were barely able to start drying off the second kid when the third one was sticking his little butt into the world. "Another breech?" I screeched. But that one slipped out with little effort on Sherri's part -- at least it didn't appear to take much effort.

Of course, Sherri just had to give birth in the corner opposite where the heat lamp was hanging. I tried to get her to walk over to the heat lamp before the first kid was born, but she wouldn't budge. After the kids were born, we knew we had to get them over there because the blow dryer wasn't working fast enough for three kids to get dry and stay warm. The girls carried the three kids to the lamp, hoping Sherri would follow, but she didn't. I picked up a kid and took it back to her and let her lick it, then took a step away, so she'd have to take a step to lick it again. Eventually we got her to the heat lamp.

We thought we had the kids dry, but a few minutes later, Margaret said one of the kid's ears was frozen. I checked the other two kids and found another one with a frozen ear. "That's frostbite! It's when your extremities freeze!" Everything I knew (or had forgotten) about frostbite was rushing through my head -- warm up quickly? don't warm up too quickly? Crap! Not knowing whether I was right or wrong, I decided to hold the kid's ear between my fingers and rub it, then started to think that rubbing was wrong, so I just held it. Within a couple minutes it started to feel flexible again.

The kids seemed to have no idea they should nurse, so I decided to give them some Nutri-Drench, which is this stuff that is mostly molasses. When Sherri saw it, she started licking the syringe and then started sucking on it. She had been shivering badly and didn't seem to be helped by the two towels we had draped over her, so I thought the sugar might help her and let her suck down several syringes of the sticky brown liquid. I wished I had my 60 cc syringe, which is the recommended dosage for adults, but I kept refilling the tiny 3 cc syringe for her. Shortly, it seemed that the sugar had affected the little guys, and all three were standing and more alert. I told Katherine to try and help them nurse while I ran into the house and tried to find the little goat coats we'd made for kids a couple years earlier.

Although unable to find anything for the kids to wear, I did find the remains of the sweatshirt that I had used to make the kid coats, and it occurred to me that it might fit Sherri, so I took it back outside and put it on her. She didn't object to being dressed, and eventually her shivering diminished. Then I noticed steam rising off the kids under the heat lamp, and when I felt them, the tips of their hair were frozen. Obviously, "dry" has a different definition at 4 below 0, so I grabbed the hair dryer and started blowing on their coats again. I had to hold it a couple inches from them, because the hot air would not travel any farther than that. At some point, we also put a heating pad out there for them to lie on.

Two hours after they were born, we were eventually convinced they were dry and warm. Two of the three kids had nursed, and Sherri had passed her placenta, so we felt we could come inside for lunch. Katherine just went out there to check on them and discovered one of the boy's ears felt frozen again, so she warmed them up until they felt flexible. I'm not sure what to do about the ears. It's 3 below 0 now and supposed to get colder tonight. It feels like a continuing battle until the temperatures go up again in a few days.

14 below zero and still waiting

I spent another night in the barn, and Sherri is still pregnant. I think her ligaments are gone, but Margaret doesn't completely agree with me. When people talk about tail ligaments, they make it sound so easy. I don't even bother to try to explain it to new people any longer, because Margaret can often feel ligaments when I can't. If I haven't perfected it after six years, and it took Margaret about three years to get it figured out, most newbies don't have much of a chance.

Yesterday she told me that I need to learn how to do it myself because she won't be here next year. So, I was really sure last night that I couldn't feel anything, and she came out there and said she thought she could still feel a little bit. I used to think that when they said "tail ligaments," they meant there was one on each side of the spine near the tail, because on one breeder's website, he said they feel like rubber bands. So we pronounced several goats' ligaments gone a week or two before they'd kid. We even asked on Internet goat lists about this, and several people would say that they had goats who'd lose their ligaments a couple weeks before kidding also. Well, Margaret insists that we just didn't know what we were looking for back then, and apparently a lot of people think it's just feeling for a rubber band on each side of the spine. After my most recent tutoring, I think tail ligaments actually cover quite a large area, so you feel softening of ligaments near the tail (the rubber bands) earlier than the ligaments higher up. And until ALL the ligaments are soft, they don't kid.

The temperature is 14 below zero, and the water buckets were frozen solid this morning, even though I'd refilled them with warm water at midnight last night. I know I have quite a few readers from Canada and Alaska, and I have no idea how you deal with this kind of weather on a regular basis. Our normal high this time of year is 29; today's high is predicted to be 1 below zero. At least Sherri is laying under the heat lamp, but I imagine her babies would turn into little kid-sicles within a couple minutes if no one is there to dry them off. I'm thinking I need a blow dryer in addition to my towels!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Still waiting

The blizzard finally arrived, but the kids haven't. I'm spending almost all of my time outside, even though Sherri's tail ligaments are not completely gone, and she's not hollow looking, and her udder isn't completely full. She moans sometimes when she's eating. I suppose the poor girl is just miserable. I worry that her kids are getting too big or that she has too many. The more they have, the smaller they tend to be. Although it might seem exciting to have five or six, usually there's a runt or two that doesn't survive when there are that many.

I'm hoping she'll have her usual three or four. I'm hoping I've learned enough in the last four years that I won't miss her birth again. It was Sherri's first kidding on Antiquity Oaks that brought us our second kid with hypothermia, because we missed the birth. Luckily, we were able to save the doeling, but I know we were very close to losing her. I felt so incompetent. The doeling looked dead, but Katherine insisted she felt a heartbeat, so I brought her to the house and put her in a sink filled with warm water. Finally, I felt the heartbeat with my fingers on her chest. Finally, she started to move. I get this horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach when I think about it now, and I want to run through the knee-deep drifts back to the barn, although I was just there 30 minutes ago. Sherri was laying in the straw, chewing her cud and looking exactly the same as she has looked for the past few days. But it is 11 degrees F this afternoon, and tomorrow's high is predicted to be -1 degree.

Sherri is the first of eight goats that will kid within the next month. Carmen is due next Tuesday. I remind myself that it is good that our goats kid without difficulty or assistance. That is how it should be. Now if I could just teach them to use a blow dryer or a towel or to give birth directly under the heat lamp, I'd be able to relax. In the meantime, I've given the two-legged kids directions for making dinner and taking care of the house, and I'm heading back to the barn to my little office.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Kid watch

Sherri was due Sunday, and she's still pregnant. This afternoon, I thought she might have been in labor because she was making a lot of noise, even mumbling when she was eating her grain and moaning as she ate her hay. But her tail ligaments are still there, and she isn't "hollow" yet, meaning that she still looks like a table top. She is flat across her spine and belly. Although I never understood that whole "baby dropping" thing with humans, it definitely happens with goats when they're close to giving birth. When the babies drop, there is a hollow area next to the spine on both sides of the goat's belly.

At least this year we have a nice warm room where we can wait for kids, which is important today because a blizzard is predicted tonight. Last month, we put together kidding pens in the smaller barn. That's where our pump room is located, and when we bought the place, there was a room called "the office" by the previous owner. We have continued calling it the office even though we've never used it as one. Most recently Mike was staining wood in there for the library bookcases, which he finished. (I need to take pictures and get that post online!)

There is a toilet, sink, heater, refrigerator, television, phone, and now a futon. It is also where Sam and Bogie, the two new barn kitten live. They love all the attention they're getting now. Unfortunately, I can't get a signal for my cell phone, so I can't send text messages, which also means I can't send tweets. Otherwise, it's a nice little place to escape, and it's 100% better than sitting under a heat lamp in the barn, especially when it's supposed to get down to zero in the next few days.

People often ask why we need to be there when kids are born, and usually the only thing we do is dry off the kids. That's especially important in this weather. A kid can get hypothermia and die within minutes. Unfortunately, it's happened. And I know other people who have had kids lose their ears to frostbite. Moms do lick their babies when they're born, but if they have three or four kids, they usually can't lick fast enough.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Bread-making fun

One of the great things about not having a lot of milk in the winter is that it makes me stretch my imagination and step outside my bread-making comfort zone. When we have lots of milk, I tend to make very similar breads from day to day. Most of them use milk as the liquid, and the only variation is whether or not I use any whole wheat, oatmeal, rye, or other whole grains. Once we're rationing milk, however, I get creative!

A couple days ago, I noticed a half-empty jar of spaghetti sauce in the frig, so I used that for the liquid in my bread. It was Newman's pesto marinara (or something like that). It was delicious! It's been a couple years since I've had Panera's tomato-basil bread, but it reminded me of that.

Here's the basic bread recipe that I use for my bread machine. I typically make the 1.5-pound loaf, although my machine will make up to a 2-pound loaf.

1 cup liquid (water, milk, orange juice, tomato juice, spaghetti sauce, etc.)
2 tablespoons fat (butter, olive oil, vegetable oil, etc.)
2 tablespoons sweetener (sugar or honey)
a hefty pinch of salt (probably a teaspoon)
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon yeast (regular yeast, because bread machine yeast has some unpronounceable things in it)

If you don't have a bread machine, just mix everything together and knead for 15 minutes. It's great for building upper body strength! Also, it's sad but true that a lot of people buy bread machines then never use them. That means you can usually pick up one at a garage sale for about $5. I used to see them all the time but never bought one because Pierre (my imaginary butler and chef) had been chugging along just fine for 16 years! Then one day, he refused to make bread anymore. I was really kicking myself for not getting any of those bread machines I'd seen at garage sales. So, I wound up paying full price for a new one. The next summer, I bought a bread machine at a garage sale, so I'm ready when this one breaks! It also allows me to make two loaves of bread at once when we have company coming.

This is the same recipe I use to make our homemade pizza dough for our Friday night pizza and movie. Use water as the liquid, and it's easier to spread on the pizza stone if it's all unbleached flour, rather than whole wheat.

And if you're wondering where Pierre came from . . . well, if you set your bread machine to have your bread ready first thing in the morning, and you have a programmable coffee pot that will have your coffee ready first thing in the morning, it's almost as good as having an invisible chef and butler to serve you breakfast the moment you wake up! For breakfast, I use orange juice as the liquid, and throw in some dried cranberries.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

More guardian challenges

If you've been following us on Twitter, either through the sidebar on the left of my blog or through my Twitter page, you already know that Sovalye, our Anatolian shepherd, has been diagnosed with a torn ACL in his left knee. He started walking on three legs earlier this week, then appeared better, then started limping, so I got an appointment for first thing Friday morning.

I took him to the vet clinic where Addy's cancer was diagnosed last spring after we wasted several weeks with the local vet. It was a good decision. The diagnosis was quick, and one of the vets there is experienced in the surgical repair. The vet we saw (not the surgeon) suggested that we wait a week to see if he improves. Sovalye is in the barn and taking an anti-inflammatory drug that is also a pain killer. If the ligament is only partially torn, he should improve within a week. If he doesn't improve, it probably means it's completely torn. Of course, he is out of commission as a guardian, so something has to be done. From what I read on this website, he will get arthritis quickly if the ligament is not repaired. Having arthritis myself, I certainly don't want that to happen to our faithful guardian.

Sovalye was such a sweetheart at the clinic. Everyone there was cooing over this huge dog! And when the vet was squeezing and moving his knee, he just whined pitifully.

I'm glad we have the llamas to take care of things while Sovalye is not able to work. Poor boy certainly wants to keep working, but running around on that leg will just make it worse. The vet compared him to a professional athlete, but said that Sovalye works 24/7. I'm glad he understands what a tough and important job Sovalye has!

Speaking of Twitter . . . I'll be announcing the baby goat births through Twitter almost as soon as they happen, so you can keep up to date on the new kids. And I am once again hoping to videotape a normal goat birth for the blog. Last year my efforts were thwarted when two kids tried to be born at once!

Friday, January 9, 2009

A midwestern connected farmhouse?

With the terrible winter weather we have in Illinois, I keep wondering why the connected farmhouse was a New England phenomenon. I've been talking to Mike about how we can create a connected farm, so that when the kids are gone and we're old, we will still be able to take care of the animals and do chores in the winter. Here is one example of a connected farm, and here is another.

There is a big open area between our house and the barns, and we still need a garage, which we can build there. Mike mentioned adding a woodshed between the garage and the barn. This is definitely one of those dreams that is part of the five-year or ten-year plan, but we were talking about our place in the country for nine years before we finally found it and moved out here. I've heard people say that they don't like to make long-term plans because they might be disappointed down the line when they can't accomplish those goals. But is the flip side better? Make no plans, have no goals, and succeed at doing nothing? I'll keep dreaming, and right now, I'm dreaming of a connected farm someday.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

White House farmer?

It sounds questionable when you first hear it, but some people want Obama to plow up five acres of the White House lawn and turn it into a garden that will feed the first family and guests of the White House and give the surplus to food banks in the DC area. Here is one man's letter of application. Hmm . . . it is not a bad idea. After all, that's what we're doing here. There was a big beautiful lawn to the east of our house when we first moved here. The suburbanite in me loved the perfectly lush lawn. The homesteader in me knew that the smart thing to do was to turn it into a garden.

Supposedly Eleanor Roosevelt had an acre of the White House lawn turned into a garden during World War II, which encouraged citizens to start their own victory gardens. Reportedly, Americans were able to grow about 40% of their own food in their backyards at that time. That's pretty impressive.

A biology professor at Joliet Junior College is trying to start a community garden there. After all, the college has one of the best cooking schools in the country, so it would make perfect sense for them to have access to the freshest possible ingredients. I've wondered why more colleges and universities don't have gardens to produce food for their cafeterias. Most of them certainly have the land for a garden.

As for the White House farmer, it would be interesting to see how Americans responded to such an appointment and to the idea of a White House garden. A couple weeks ago, I asked if I were smart, nuts, or trendy, and I imagine most Amerians would choose one of those words to describe a White House garden by the new administration.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Personal sustainability

I need to lose weight, and I'm not saying that because it's a new year. I need to lose weight because my knees are objecting to carrying around 160 pounds. I had three knee operations when I was 13 and 14 years old, and at the time, the doctor told me I'd have bone spurs in my knees in my 30s. My knees did fine until about five years ago. I gained 20 pounds the year after we moved out here. I blamed easy access to too much goat cheese, but the reason was irrelevant. Vanity was irrelevant. My knees were important, and they were objecting loudly. Having been through steroid injections, physical therapy, and surgery, I had no desire to go running to the doctor. I assumed that with less weight to carry around, they'd be happier. I was up to almost 170 and lost 20 pounds to get down to around 147, which is not bad for someone who is 5'7". My original goal had been 135, which is ideal, but by 147 pounds, my knees were happy. Apparently, my knees have less tolerance for weight now.

January also marks one year since my neck first locked up and I was diagnosed with arthritis. I had just finished teaching and started to turn my head when a sharp pain shot through my neck, and my head would not turn. It's been a frustrating year of x-rays, an MRI, discovering an allergy to narcotics, an intolerance of all things NSAID, and a propensity for exhibiting side effects when taking muscle relaxers. Of course, it did not thrill me to learn that the manufacturer of one drug does not know how it works. And the FDA approved it? Hmm, perhaps if they don't know how it works, there are a few other things they don't know about it?

After months of frustration, I decided not to trust my future to the doctors, the drug manufacturers, and the FDA. When we talk about sustainability, we think about renewable energy, organic gardening, and big-picture things. But really, sustainability starts right here in our own bodies. It means being responsible for what we weigh and how we feel, both mentally and physically. I can't fathom the idea of taking drugs for the rest of my life, which could be another 30 or 40 years.

What have I done about this? I've read Heal Your Aching Back by Jeffrey N. Katz, M.D., associate professor at Harvard Medical School, as well as a variety of interesting articles on the web, including The Pain May Be Real, but the Scan is Deceiving from the NY Times. The article says about the same thing as the book, but in 250 less pages. Basically, they're not really sure what to do about back pain. In situations like this, I go with common sense. If it feels better, do it. If it doesn't help, drop it. And since pills don't cure anything, use them as little as possible.

It's kind of ironic that I've spent my whole life worrying about my knees giving out, but it appears they might last longer than the rest of me. Since September, my right hip sometimes causes so much pain, I'm walking like a much older woman, limping along slowly. I had enough of doctors in 2008 though, and with my hip, I think the logical answer is as simple as it is for my knees -- lose weight.

So, here are my personal sustainability goals. If you want to call them New Year's resolutions, fine, but in my mind, they're life resolutions:

  1. Get down to 135 pounds by eating real food and just paying attention to what I put in my mouth!
  2. Practice yoga daily. (The stretching is great for my arthritis!)
  3. Learn to meditate well. (Most of my pain is caused by muscle spasms, which are supposedly a protective mechanism for those of us with arthritis, which is why muscle relaxers are a common prescription.) I've been trying to meditate for 20+ years, but I'm terrible at it. My mind jumps around more than my little bichon. No more complaining though, I just need to learn how to do it!
Until I've mastered these three things, I'll be writing about them in my blog, but don't worry, I won't be giving you daily weights, confessions about eating a piece of apple crisp, or anything like that. First of all, daily weights are meaningless -- when I say I weight 160, that means that over the course of a week, the scale says everything from 158 to 163. Second, I don't intend to starve myself and feel guilty for days when I'm not starving. We're talking about sensible eating here, but then if you've been around my blog for long, you know that "sensible" is the litmus test for everything I do.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The secret to my success

If someone had asked me a couple weeks ago, "What's your secret? How do you get everything done?" I'm not sure what I would have said. But today I can tell you what the secret is -- a good planner! Why have I come to this realization now? Because I can't find the January pages for my planner! I have a Franklin Covey planner -- you know, the old-fashioned paper kind where people actually write things with this old-fashioned thing called a pen.

I started using a Franklin Planner in the early 1990s, and it made me a lot more productive. Then in the new millennium, I got all modern and bought a Palm Pilot. I would forget to sync it, charge it, and use it. Psychologists probably have some explanation for why it didn't work for me, but does it really matter why it didn't work for me? So, I went back to the old-fashioned paper planner about four years ago. Now I can't find my refill pages. I know they're around here somewhere, and I've been trying to not panic. I told myself that surely I'd find them as I was rearranging the library to accommodate the new bookcases. So far, no luck.

I'm limping along using the Google calendar, but I'm finding that a lot of things are slipping through the cracks -- like breeding goats, ordering seeds, registering for conferences, planning the garden, mailing a roving order, making phone calls, and there's probably more that I've forgotten. Having a computerized organization system has several drawbacks -- like, I have to be on the computer to add something or read something.

I know that as soon as I order another set of calendar pages, I'll find the ones I misplaced. Grr. . . Any suggestions on how to keep myself organized and on track until I find them?

Monday, January 5, 2009

The view from my toilet

Yes, this really is the view from my toilet. You can see several things from here.

First, we still need to put tile around our bathtub. Whenever I list the things that still need to be done on the house, I always forget that one. We have a separate shower though, so it's not a huge deal, since I don't splash that much when I bathe. On the list of "things I wish I'd known" before building this house, I would add, "Don't have a separate shower and tub." Why? Because if you don't use a tub for about a week, you still have to clean it. Yeah, it gets ridiculously dusty, and all sorts of stuff collects in there, like dead Asian beetles in the fall. Ugh!

Second, there is a tree out there that still hasn't lost its leaves. Six or seven years ago, I wouldn't have noticed that, and I wouldn't have cared. Today, I wonder why it hasn't lost its leaves. Healthy trees shed their leaves in the fall, just like healthy animals shed their winter coats in the spring. After the goats stripped the bark off our apple trees, they didn't lose their leaves in the fall, and when spring arrived, we realized they were dead. So, if that huge tree is dead, that's a lot of firewood!

Often, I see ducks and geese swimming on the pond, but this time of year they're confined to the small area that is kept unfrozen by the aerator. They look like little dots in the picture, but they're bigger in real life. I've seen deer wandering through the pasture, and sometimes our horses gallop around the back of the pond. Every now and then, I also see naughty goats back there after they've gone through the electric fence. Overall, I'd have to say that the view from my toilet makes it the best seat in the house.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Winter breakfasts

A few months ago, I wrote about making biscuits for breakfast a couple times a week. Well, that's when we have plenty of milk, because I make my own buttermilk, and the best biscuits are definitely buttermilk biscuits. We don't usually buy cereal, except for granola to mix with our yogurt, but we don't have yogurt this time of year either. In the middle of winter, when we're low on milk, breakfast is usually cheesy grits or oatmeal. I know some of you are thinking, "Ugh!" But let me explain!

Although I am originally from the south, I never had grits until I lived in Connecticut. There was a restaurant in Old Lyme (I think) that had the most glorious Sunday brunches, and that is where I was introduced to cheesy grits. The original recipe called for making grits according to the package directions, then mixing them with cheese and eggs, placing in a buttered baking dish, and baking for half an hour or 45 minutes, which is really a long time to wait for breakfast. Fairly quickly, we figured out that cheese was the key ingredient, so we just started adding cheddar cheese and garlic to the grits on the stove. Stir until all the cheese is melted, and spoon into bowls. It's delicious!

I never really liked oatmeal, except for the artificially flavored packets, and when I cleaned up my eating habits, those were verboten, because of the high sugar content and artificial flavors. However, oatmeal really is a healthy and quick breakfast. I don't know where I got the idea, but for several years, I have been adding a spoonful of peanut butter and a small handful of chocolate chips to the oatmeal. If you're a chocolate and peanut butter lover like me, give this a try. And before you decide that this is too high calorie, 16 chocolate chips only add 70 calories.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

2 bookcases up; 2 to go!

In spite of the power outage, we have prevailed! Okay, Mike has prevailed. I don't get any of the credit on this one. He finished the second coat of poly a couple days ago, and on Friday, he brought the pieces of the bookcases into the library and put them together. In the picture at right, the bookcases are laying front-down, and Mike is screwing the back onto the bookcase on the left.

Since they go from the floor to the ceiling, he has to make a small base for them to stand on. If they were truly eight feet tall, you couldn't put them together laying down and then stand them up because of that hypotenuse thing that we all learned in high school geometry and promptly forgot. So, you see the base is in place in the lower, right-hand corner of the photo, and then he has to lift the bookcase and set it on there.

And, voila! We have two more bookcases, for a total of seven! (Yes, we really do have that many books.) After he makes the last two bookcases, he has to make the end pieces and the trim, but there's a lot of things in this house that still need trim. The last two bookcases will go on the side walls next to the two he just put up. They will only be six inches deep, and that is where our paperback novels will be shelved.

A built-in desk will be put between these two bookcases. I did have a cheap particle-board desk there, but it doesn't fit any longer, so Mike needs to make the new desk a higher priority now. I really like sitting at that window when I'm on the computer, because I can keep an eye on the goats.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Ladies in waiting

Here are our lovely does that are due in January. They are getting accustomed to their new barn. Their pen is 16 feet long by 8 feet wide at the back and 4 feet wide at the front. When they're in labor, they'll move to the kidding pen, which is not in this picture, and once the babies are a couple days old, they'll be in the big 16 X 16 pen, which is behind where they're standing now. Sherri, the tri-colored doe, second from right, is due Jan. 11.

How much does your garden grow?

Gardening work starts now! Although we're in Illinois and can't put anything in the ground for months, we have to decide what we want to plant and how much, so we can get the seeds ordered. Although you might think you can just buy your seeds at the local discount store, those little 10 cent packets don't contain enough seed to grow much. Also, my germination rate was terrible the year I did that, so I think those seeds might be so cheap because they're old.

How much should you grow in your garden? Or how much do you need to grow to feed your family?

Here are the estimates of the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service.
A UK site reproduced a list from the book, Organic Gardening, by Ron Lacey.

I've been thinking about how much our family eats. If we want to eat green beans twice a week, I need to grow 100 pounds of green beans. Now, I just have to figure out what how many beans will grow 100 pounds. If I think about how this year's beans lasted four months, I guess we just need to grow about three times as much next year.

Broccoli? If we'd like to eat broccoli once or twice a week for the next year, that's about 75 meals with two heads of broccoli each. That's easy enough, since one seed becomes one plant. We need 150 plants. Heirloom Seeds tells you how many seeds are in a broccoli packet, so now I just have to decide which variety I want to plant this year. Broccoli seeds need to be started in February, so they'll be ready to go into the garden after the last frost in April.

I also need to go through my basket of seed packets to see what I have left over from last year that might still be good. Although several catalogs have been arriving daily the past week, I will probably be getting most of my seeds from Heirloom Seeds, a small family-owned business in Pennsylvania.

What are your gardening plans for this spring?


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