Monday, October 31, 2011

Hello, Milwaukee!

Today was very different than one of my usual days. Katherine milked the goats and did all of the other farm chores, while I packed my bags. I drove to Milwaukee, checked into my hotel, dropped off lambskins at the tannery, drove downtown to meet a reporter, and then drove to Alice's Garden, an urban community garden in the middle of the city. The reporter thought it would be fun to do a recorded radio interview in the garden along with garden director Venice Williams. And it was a blast! Venice met me at the gate with a big hug, and we chatted about gardening and cooking and life like we'd been friends forever.

Unfortunately most of the conversation centered around me and Homegrown and Handmade, but I wish there would have been time to learn more about the garden. On this two acres, about a hundred families and a dozen community organizations cultivate a lot more than just carrots and lettuce. They're growing a community and nourishing healthy habits. They have picnic tables and a labyrinth and classes in yoga, cooking and making tea from your homegrown herbs, and they provide mentors for gardening novices. They even have classes for moms with babies and young children. It's everything I've always wanted to do, but it's 200 miles from home, so not terribly practical. The people of Milwaukee, however, are lucky to have such a special place in their city!

Tomorrow morning, I'll be on The Morning Blend. In the evening, I'm doing a book signing at Boswell Books, and Wednesday night, I'll be doing a book signing at Tribeca Gallery Cafe in Watertown, WI. And on my way home Thursday, I'll drop off 18 bags of washed fleeces at the fiber mill so they can be carded and turned into roving. Six of the bags will also be spun into yarn. Once I'm home, I need to help everyone else finish getting the farm ready for winter, which means cleaning out the barn, trimming goat hooves, giving the bucks their copper and selenium supplements, picking dried beans and shelling them, creating new low tunnels in the garden, selling a goat and three sheep to a couple different people who've already made appointments to come by, and keeping a close eye on the last two does that need to be bred this fall so I don't miss their next heat.

But right now I'm just hoping that my skin can survive three days with this hotel soap because I forgot to pack my homemade goat milk soap.

Friday, October 28, 2011


I spent most of today working on my next book. Mike took four of the spring lambs to the locker to be turned into lamb chops. And Katherine walked around the farm taking pictures.

Clare the la mancha grazing

A duck on the pond

Sheep in the pasture

Happy fall!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Corporate America can kiss my pastured pig!

Wall Street is broken beyond repair. Every time the government comes up with a new regulation, a team of corporate lawyers simply figures out how to get around it. And the Supreme Court is not helping us at all. I really can't imagine how the corporate system can be fixed, so we simply need to opt out.

If you're wondering where all of this is coming from, I had a book signing today in Champaign, and it happened to overlap with an Occupy Champaign march. Some people came to the book signing following the march, and when others at the bookstore heard about it, they said they wished they'd known so they could have attended. Now I feel like I should have connected the dots sooner, but at least it all finally came together for me today.

I have been supremely annoyed at the fact that we bought a furniture set for our deck a year ago, and this summer it completely disintegrated. I'm guessing that maybe those folks in China forgot to spray the UV protectant on it or something like that, so it just started falling apart after less than a year -- half of which was spent in the shed (winter) where it was not even exposed to sunlight! And the paint is peeling off of the metal parts. Basically, it's garbage -- and it was not cheap! But like most people, I've been kind of whiny about the whole thing. Well, today I've decided that's the straw that broke this camel's back because I'm not supporting Corporate America any longer.

Over the past year, ever since I started on the adventure of writing Homegrown and Handmade, I've been meeting a lot of very cool people. One man today was talking about how his family wanted to grow their own food, in part to simply opt out of the corporate scene. One of the families I visited in Chicago last winter was talking about how our society needed to abandon corporations and go back to the idea of small businesses serving local communities. If you are a local business owner, and you make things that don't last, your business does not last.

Of course, a lot of people will say that we can't do this in today's world, and of course, Corporate America wants you to believe that. They've spent the better part of the past century convincing Americans that "you deserve a break today," and that your time is too valuable to do things like cook, clean, or build or grow things. As you know, I opted out of the industrial food system a few years ago. I didn't do it overnight though. Lack of instant gratification paralyzes a lot of people. They think it's all or nothing. Well, if that were true, then nothing would have ever been accomplished in this world, because everything requires practice, patience, and persistence. My first vegetable garden did not yield any edible food, but I kept trying, and today we grow most of our own produce.

So, no more whining -- and I'm including myself in that admonition! I've been whining about that furniture set that's falling apart on my deck, but no more. Whenever I decide to replace it -- and it may be a really long time because we don't NEED it -- it will be built by someone I know. If Mike doesn't have time to build one, then I'll get a local craftsperson to do it. Surely there is someone around here that knows how to use a saw and a hammer, and I bet they'd be willing to do it for about the same amount of money I paid for this "Made in China" set that fell apart after less than a year.

I'm drawing the line in the sand right here and right now. I'm not buying anything else from Corporate America if there is any way to get it locally. I don't have all the details worked out yet, but the important thing is to get started. Whenever I find myself thinking that I NEED something that is made by a corporation, I will ask myself (1) do I really NEED it, and (2) can I find someone to make it locally? If my only choice is a corporation, was it made in this country?

A year ago I had my friend Mary make some clothes for me, and she did a beautiful job, so I have a source for most of my clothes. And seriously, how many more clothes do I need? We can also shop at garage sales. You know who gets 100% of the money you spend at a garage sale. Thrift stores may support a good cause, and again, one person's trash is another person's treasure, so you may find what you need there.

I certainly don't have all the answers, but I'm hoping to start a conversation on how we can all decrease our dependence on corporations that don't care about anything other than their bottom line. So, rather than occupying Wall Street, I think we need to desert it and start to occupy our own backyards. Taking control of your food is one way you can declare your independence. (I spent 270 pages talking about how to do that in Homegrown and Handmade, so I won't get into the details here.) Start a garden, get a few hens for eggs, or plant a couple of fruit trees. Barter if you have an apple tree and your friend has extra eggs from his or her backyard hens. Dust off your knitting needles or sewing machine. Rediscover or teach yourself woodworking. And stop watching 2.4 hours (or more) of television every day where advertisers will just convince you that you need to buy more stuff from them! I know this is only the beginning and would love to hear your ideas on how we can all become more self-reliant and declare our independence from Wall Street!

What else can we do? A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. What's the first thing (or the next thing) you can do?

Friday, October 14, 2011

What's up?

Although the massive garden harvest of summer is long gone, we are starting to eat mustard greens and Swiss chard from the winter garden, and my arugula and mache have sprouted. I need to transplant broccoli plants that I started in the basement a month ago, and I'm still waiting for lettuce to germinate, but I know it will. My one-year-old broccoli plants in the garden have been reinvigorated by this cool weather and are growing like weeds! Broccoli is an annual, but I wonder how long it will continue to produce if we keep cutting the tops off. We'll get low tunnels and row covers on everything before it gets too cold, so we'll be able to continue to harvest through the winter like last year.

And this is a picture of Milton (Shakespeare's brother). These are the only pictures I've taken in the past week. Someone wants to buy one of the boys, so I finally got a few photos to send her. She still couldn't decide which one she wants, so she's going to come see them in person in a couple of weeks. I'm keeping one for myself because Sherri is their mother, and if you've been around the blog long, you know I love Sherri. But I haven't been able to decide which one I want to keep, so I told the buyer that she can have her pick of the two.

I really hate the fact that I don't have time to post on here as much as I would like. Saturday (tomorrow) I have a book signing in Champaign, IL, and then I'm heading to Michigan for a week of speaking, book signings, and interviews, as well as the American Dairy Goat Association Conference. I'll post on the Homegrown and Handmade site about all of the exciting things I learn. Then I'll be heading to Wisconsin and Kansas and finally getting home again a week before Thanksgiving. Mike and the two-legged kids will be taking care of the farm and animals while I'm gone.

If you want to check out my complete schedule, click here. If you live in Michigan, Wisconsin, or Kansas, I hope you'll be able to make it to one of the events. I'd love to meet you! And if you're an XM or Sirius listener, I'm currently scheduled to be on Martha Stewart Radio Tuesday, Oct. 18, at 3 p.m. eastern time.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Twin doelings again!

Two nights ago, I checked Alexandria's tail ligaments, and they were soft enough that I went looking for my baby monitor. We got it hooked up before going to bed, and the dear doe was kind enough to let us have a good night's sleep. But shortly before eight, we heard something that got Mike out there rather quickly. But then he came back in and said that she appeared to be fine. Half an hour later, however, I asked him to go check on her again because I kept hearing bleating. He didn't come back this time.

"There is a long string of mucous hanging out, and she's pushing," he said over the baby monitor.

I got dressed and headed out. Alexandria did not look terribly happy when I arrived, although she didn't seem quite as freaked out as most first fresheners. She kept pushing, but we didn't see anything other than mucous. Mike asked if I'd like some coffee, and I said that would be great.

A few minutes after he left, Alexandria started to sound and look more serious. She stopped bleating, but when she pushed, you could hear this low sound down deep in her throat. I looked at her back end, and it was starting to bulge, but I didn't see a hoof. A few more pushes, and I saw a black nose. Although a hoof would be perfect, a nose is okay. And there was a tongue sticking out of the side of the mouth. After the head was completely out, there was a hoof next to the neck. The rest of the kid's body slid out easily. I moved it to a towel next to Alexandria's head, and I started to wipe it off. I lifted the hind leg and didn't see any testicles, so assumed it was a girl.

Mike walked in with my coffee, and I said, "We have a girl!" We were both quite happy about that because two doelings were already reserved out of this kidding. As soon as Mike handed me the coffee, I realized Alexandria was pushing again -- while still licking the first kid! Talk about multi-tasking! I took a quick sip of coffee and grabbed a dry towel. This kid was a textbook presentation with two hooves sticking out, then a nose. It was born quickly, and I put it next to the other kid. Mike said he saw testicles, but when I lifted the hind leg, I didn't see any. I lifted the tail, and it was definitely a doe. After the dreadful buck-doe ratio we had in the spring (29-19), I could hardly believe our luck had changed so much, so I double-checked the first kid, and yep, it was really a doe.

In a few minutes, both doelings were trying to stand on wobbly legs. They were bumping their noses all over Alexandria and screaming, "feed me!" (That's a loose translation.) But Alexandria was not standing up. Her belly didn't look terribly small yet, so I wasn't sure if there was another kid inside, but after ten or fifteen minutes, she finally stood up, and the kids were looking for breakfast. Alexandria did have me a bit worried initially because every time a kid latched on, she would start to walk, effectively pulling the teat out of the kid's mouth. She was fine with me milking her, so we put some grain in front of her, hoping that would distract her enough that the doelings could get a decent meal. She was not terribly patient, so the kids were getting small snacks. I kept an eye on her for most of the day to make sure the babies were indeed getting enough to eat, and within a few hours, she had calmed down and figured out that she needed to stand still while they nursed.

They're doing great today, so it is time to commence spoiling! I've spent so much time with the babies that were born last month that they are ridiculously friendly. Whenever I go near them, they start jumping on me until I pick them up for cuddling. It sure is fun to have only a couple of kids a month so I can spend lots of individual time with each one.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Time for more kids!

Alexandria is due any day now. She'll be at day 145 on Friday, so she could give birth anytime between now and next Wednesday or Thursday. I've only had two does go to day 151. In honor of her impending motherhood, I've decided to give away an autographed copy of Homegrown and Handmade, which will be in stores in the next week or so. It's already available on Amazon and

Here's the deal --

  • In the comment section of the blog (HERE, not on Facebook), post the date you think she will give birth.
  • If more than one person guesses the correct date, the first tie-breaker is number of kids.
  • If more than one person guesses the correct date and number of kids, the second tie-breaker will be genders of kids.

So, tell me the date you think Alexandria will kid, as well as the number of kids, and the gender of the kids! You can post your guess until midnight central time Saturday, but only one guess per person. I'll let everyone know as soon as the blessed event occurs!

Good luck!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Update on Pegasus eye injury

Back when I was rushing around a couple weeks ago, Pegasus had the nerve to injure his eye, which necessitated my taking him down to the University of Illinois vet clinic, which is a day-long trip for me, which I really did not have time to do! But goats do not understand about human plans and schedules and such things, so I had to make time to take care of Pegasus.

I had initially feared the worst, expecting them to tell me that he'd need eye surgery for thousands of dollars to restore his sight, but it turned out to be far simpler than that. He had only damaged his eyelid. His vision was fine. I could hardly believe it when the vet showed me this tiny little divot in the skin of his upper eyelid. That tiny little thing was causing so much swelling? His eyelid was so swollen, it had pretty much turned inside out because it had nowhere else to go.

No doubt lover boy had injured the eyelid as he slammed against the livestock panel fencing that separates him from Draco, another buck. Every time either buck had a date with a doe, both of them would slam their heads against the fence to butt heads with each other and show off their machismo.

The vet instructed the student to make three tiny incisions in the swollen part of the eyelid, and they they went back and forth three or four times rinsing the eye and putting sugar on it. Yes, table sugar! Apparently it is good for reducing swelling, and I saw the eyelid going down in size while we were there. It was really amazing. They gave us some antibiotic ointment for the eye and sent us home. I had to leave for Pennsylvania the next morning, but Katherine took good care of Pegasus while I was gone, and when I got home, his eye was back to normal. This was the third time I'd taken Pegasus to U of I this year, and I really hope it's the last.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Highlights from the fair

What fair? The Mother Earth News Fair, of course! Last weekend, I was in Seven Springs, PA, talking about "Why Homegrown and Handmade," as well as "The Natural Home Dairy," and I was signing copies of Homegrown and Handmade, hot off the press.

I was not able to attend nearly as many of the sessions as I had hoped, but here are a few highlights --

L to R: Me, Joel Salatin, and Pat Foreman, author of City Chicks
I finally got to see Joel Salatin in person. I walked into the speaker's lounge and recognized his voice the moment I heard it. I looked around and saw him standing at check in, talking on his cell phone. Like a teenage rock-star groupie, I grabbed my cell phone and hurried over to him to ask if I could get a quick photo with him. It was the only time all weekend that I thought about taking a picture of anyone, including myself. I was able to make it to one of his talks. Seeing him in person was fun. I've read so much about him and watched so many interviews with him that I "know" Joel pretty well. But I'm still looking forward to reading his newest book, Folks, This Ain't Normal, which will hit bookstores in the next week or two.

Another highlight for me was meeting Gianaclis Caldwell, who runs an off-grid, Nigerian dwarf goat dairy in Oregon. She is the author of The Farmstead Creamery Advisor and is working on a second book on cheese making. I wish we could have talked more, but hopefully our paths will cross again soon.

The Mother Earth News people put me in a condo for the weekend, which I shared with Aquaponic Gardening author Sylvia Bernstein. Aquaponics is a hydroponic system for growing your own fish and greens. I am really looking forward to reading her book because I've wanted to grow our own fish for several years, but there was not a book on the topic for me to learn more, and I didn't have the time to search through all the info scattered across the Internet. I can't believe I didn't think about getting a picture of Sylvia, but I did get a shot of the beautiful view we had from the condo kitchen.

I was able to see most of the bread presentation by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg, authors of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. It was fun seeing Jeff make a pizza crust without a rolling pin, -- he flipped it in the air -- and I really appreciated what he had to say about using diet to deal with medical issues. He talked about eating flax seeds to cure a shoulder injury. (Sorry I forgot the amount!) After only three weeks, the pain in his shoulder, which had been there for three years, went away. He said that there is no risk in trying something like flax seeds to see if it can help you, whereas he used to prescribe medications that sometimes have life-threatening side effects. (He is an MD.)

And I caught the tail end of Jenna Woginrich's keynote. She's the author of Made From Scratch, which is part-memoir, part-how-to on her move to the country. I love her can-do attitude, and she ended her speech saying, "When the sheep knock you down, get back up!" Jenna and I squeezed in a very quick, very late lunch at nearly 3:00 as we were rushing between speaking engagements, book signings, and sessions we wanted to watch.

If you haven't made it to a Mother Earth News Fair yet, I highly recommend it. There are about a dozen speakers from which to choose every hour, and there are more vendors than I could estimate. They will be returning again next year to Puyallup, WA (near Seattle) and Seven Springs, PA (near Pittsburgh). They are also considering a third event, perhaps in the Midwest, but they're having a hard time finding a venue that can meet all of their needs.


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