Wednesday, December 29, 2010


They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover.

However, I think there are exceptions.  Books covered in images of shirtless muscle-men with waist-length flowing hair and gripping a half-undressed woman are usually, well, trashy novels.  Girl-p*rn, really.

A while back I was searching for a handful of classic kids books, and was hitting up the second-hand stores in Town to see if I could avoid the shipping costs of buying online.  Hubby and the kids waited in the van while I perused the back wall of one such shop, passing over the obligatory Microwave Cooking cookbooks and MS-DOS how-to manuals.  A demure, older Mennonite woman walked to the back of the store as well, and went directly to the far end of the wall.  A-ha, I thought.  That's where the good stuff is.  I pretended to continue searching along as I slowly made my way in her direction, waiting until she had made her selections and left the area.  I happily strode towards the Good Shelf.

To find books covered in images of shirtless muscle-men...

I laughed to myself, when standing in line to buy some 50¢ crayola paints, the woman was turning in a good-sized stack of similar novels to get 'credit' towards the purchase of the new stack.  Classic literature indeed.  Silly me. :)

Just goes to show that you can't judge a book by its cover...?

Monday, December 27, 2010

War of the Worlds

This is one of those stories I need to write down for posterity.  You might know of the War of the Worlds movie with Tom Cruise.  I recall an earlier version, watching it on my mom's (well, my grandparents', but they moved out of their house so my mom, brother, and I could live there) old 8-foot-long tv.  The TV was set in the middle, and cloth-and-wood covered speakers were built-in at either side.  The green animated laser beams were just slightly less frightening than my mom's tale of people jumping to their deaths in fear that this story was real.

Gi-gi remembers this time.  It was 1938, according to Wikipedia.  The story was broadcast on radio, and there were those that didn't realize it was just a story.  I asked Gi-gi how that could be, and she said that there was always a lot of static, things weren't near as clear as they are nowadays, and when you only caught the gist, well, I guess it sounded pretty real.

Gi-gi was 11.  She had an older sister married, two older brothers at home, 2 younger brothers, the baby sister, plus mom and dad.  They lived along the river where they farmed a little, and her dad might've been in the state legislature at this time, or had already served a term or two.  I don't know if the family was gathered around the radio for the evening's entertainment, or if suddenly their ears were tuned to the broadcast, but  at whatever point, Grandma Great came to believe that martians were truly invading the earth.

This is where my modern sense starts to balk (seriously, you didn't know it was just a story??), but there is something to be learned here.

My great grandma Betty, who was 41, did not jump out a window.  Not that they had a window tall enough to jump to your death, but still.  She quietly gathered her six children and walked them out to the riverbank to await The End.  She was a Scotch Presbyterian and had great faith.  If this was it, then she was ready; she encouraged her children to be brave, and to meet the Lord with gladness.

I pause here with tears in my eyes.  My comfortable existence has a hard time imagining this.  Would I be as calm, as prepared, as willing to gather my children and gracefully meet our expected demise?  At the hands of invading aliens, no less?!?

I'm not sure how long they waited, or if it was daylight or nighttime, but at some point my great-grandfather said, "Betty, get back in this house! and bring the kids!" or something to that effect.  :)  I don't know if Grandma Great woke up the next day ashamed of her actions, or with a greater gratitude for her family and life, but the memory has stuck with her children at least.

What do you think YOU would do, at such a time?

Monday, December 20, 2010

How We Got Out

This is the next Sunday.  I was finally getting a little cabin fever.  Ahem.  Hubby got the tractor very stuck, and you can see all the little footprints where Hubby would "walk home" from his truck (parked up at the neighbor's) each night.

Sunken Tractor
The day before, I was beginning to get desperate.  I called a neighbor about borrowing his tractor, but he said his bucket-contraption wasn't working right.  I called my nearest neighbor (a wonderful older woman, who gives wayyy too much candy to my children) who'd had her driveway cleared (of WHAT, I might ask; hers wasn't like ours!) and she called the guy who did hers, and someone else who had offered.  Neither answered their phone, but she got a hold of a family who does odd jobs for her sometimes, and they came to take a look.  This was Sunday morning, and they thought that our portion of the driveway would take about 2 hours.  They charge a fantastic hourly rate (considering there are six or eight of them, from 11 years old to 60+(?)).  I gave the go-ahead, and they set to work with tractor and shovels.  
Help is on the way!
The snow was much wetter and heavier by this time, and it was not near as easy to move as they'd thought.  At 2.5 hours they were about halfway between my van and the neighbor's property line, and all the way through my driveway-clearing budget. :)  The old boy on the tractor had driven around the side of the driveway to help free my tractor, and I asked if he thought my van could traverse the ground there without getting stuck.  He thought so, so I asked him to clear that portion enough to get my van out instead of working further on the driveway.  He hollered and the rest of the group and their shovels marched up to where I was and set to work clearing the big drifts in the front of the motor home (oh, and I had my shovel too!  I could taste the freedom, and was happy to be doing something!).
It ain't pretty, but it works...
Before long the way was (kinda) clear, and I happily drove my van up to the neighbor's and parked it there (which is what I will be doing next time I lie in bed with the wind howling me awake after a snowfall).  For a week or more we parked the van there, and I was so grateful to be able to leave, that I almost didn't mind trekking a quarter-mile through mud and slush.  With children.  I DID come to mind the quarter-mile trek back, after dark, in the wind, with a sleeping baby in my arms. We made a family trip to town for Hubby's music practice, and ferried the groceries and baby home in his pickup afterwards. :)

These are the good ol' days!  When my kids are older and more experienced, they will look back on these things and realize how terribly weird we were.  And hopefully it will bring smiles to their faces.  

Sunday, December 19, 2010

S'no Problem!

A few weeks back, just before Thanksgiving, it snowed.  It was a nice snow, a warm, snowball-making snow.  Then it snowed some more, colder, powdery.

About 8 inches total on the ground.

And then it got windy, very early on a Sunday.  It buffeted the outside of the wall where my head lies at night.  It howled, and the house groaned.  I did too, a bit.  Later Hubby tried to go to church, but he only got about 200 feet from the house.   Soon it looked like this:

From the living room window.  The driveway goes between the motor home and the power meter.
Yes, this is what eight inches and a breeze does to us.  Okay, a 45 mph breeze.

And Hubby put his little truck in four-wheel mode and went into the pasture, just to make me jealous.  And bring back groceries.  He did the same with his big work truck.

 The backyard gets some interesting wind-effects in the drifts.  As I write this, most of the backyard and all the neighboring fields are free of snow, but we are still able to walk across the top of the fence at this point.
The backyard, snow blowing across a peak.
This was taken another day, the wind was gone, the sky was clear and bright.  And my driveway is somewhere down there!  It starts at the lower right of the photo, then follows diagonally towards the upper left.  At the telephone pole way out there (not the one with the transformer in the middle of the photo), the driveway veers left, then right, before going out to the road.

From upstairs
Ah, now where are my snowshoes??

Snowed in February 2008. <-- Back when I actually would step out of the house to take a photo...

Friday, December 17, 2010


My goodness, 'tis the season, is it not?  I have been busy with things I can't write about, because as soon as I do, some lurking relative will come back and read about something they shouldn't! :)  Time has been spent in the kitchen and the sewing room, with a little knitting thrown in here and there.   I can tell you:

I just tonight finished putting the binding (poorly) on a quilt for Baby.  And I will tell you that I should have done it when she was born, as I promised her, because she was not able to come up and push all the buttons to change the stitches mid-seam, or turn the whole thing off in the middle of a decorative stitch, or cause other mayhem and chaos to the project.  At least it's hers, and I can blame it all on her.  Even my mistakes, perhaps. :)

I used some velvet-y, deep red 'crushed pannĂ©' fabric to make a twirly, long-sleeved dress for Organique.  I think she'll love it.

I don't have any good ideas for a sewn project for Little Artist.  This is bothering me.

I plan to make Big Sister an apron, but haven't yet.  I also plan to make slippers for each girl, and have traced their feet.  I'm not sure if it will work; the closest way I know to do such a thing is from the little baby slipper tutorials I've seen online.  I'm hoping I can adjust those to work...?

Big Sister has a Christmas wishlist as long as my arm (things like a swan princess movie, a bb gun, and roller skates), but the only thing from it I've 'granted' so far is a mixing bowl.  Little Artist wants a Polly Pocket thing like her sister's (Big Sister received a toy that came with four little dogs, leashes, bowls, and sixteen (!) little doggie shoes. And has managed to keep track of most of it.).  I'm disinclined to buy junk from China, but there are not many other options.  We got a family-style game, and some stocking stuffers.  I'm hoping for time next week to make homemade peanut butter cups and mint patties. :)  I've been making marshmallows this week, some Little Artist can eat, and currently have a marshmallow downstairs waiting to be used in a recipe.  The marshmallow is about 2.25 lbs!  And sits in the bottom of my soup pot. :)

I am thrilled to make a trip to Gi-gi's soon, where I will be able to see my brother and his wife and daughter.  We haven't seen them since last year, I think, and that's terrible!  At least to me!  :)  Also, a lifelong friend and her husband are visiting her parents in the area this month, and she hasn't been back for 2 years.  She has lived on 3 continents and four countries (not counting this one) and it's fascinating to compare how divergent our lives have become.  Yet how wonderful and easy to come back together and share such history.  If her brother can be in attendance, it will truly be like old times (but with older versions of ourselves!).

I will post again soon, with pictures of the snow that kept me homebound for 9 days!

Monday, December 06, 2010

But Wait

And you're saying, "But I don't know where else to buy eggs!  I don't see local grass-fed beef at Costco! I can't pay $6/lb for hamburger at the organic grocer's!"

Sometimes it's hard.  We have to lose that Black Friday lemming mentality that expects to have everything available within reach.  Start to realize that what's within reach are not all the choices, just the choices you're being offered by one party.  

What then?  Where do we look?  There are blogs all over with answers to these questions.  There are websites, but not everyone lists there.  I'll tell you what has worked for us, and what I would recommend.  

I found raw milk by talking about it.  At Hubby's company party a few years ago, I spent most of the time nursing Organique and chatting with another wife (whom I'd met before, but didn't know well).  Before long, she called me with a name and number of someone who sold raw milk - who lived about a half mile from me!  

Once I bought a beef after seeing a listing in the classified ads.  Later, I called the local organic health food store and asked if they knew anyone that produced locally (you might want to be careful on this one.  I'd developed a relationship of sorts with them, and they knew I was familiar with their organic beef producer, but wouldn't even buy it on the hoof from him, due to price.  I wanted someone less established, not necessarily certified organic, but feeding green stuff.).  They had a # of a guy who had been wanting to market through them, and I ended up buying a beef from him.  This time, that man is no longer producing, so I'd been buying black-market beef by the cut from a neighbor, but the taste wasn't my preference and the inventory was waning.  I was at a loss, and praying for some beef!  One chilly October afternoon I was driving through our little town on "market day" - the little unofficial farmer's market they have weekly - and decided to see what people had (there were only 2 vendors there, all bundled up).  One vendor was selling fresh produce not entirely local or organic.  The other was hawking mostly baked breads and jams and apple butter, but I bought a dozen eggs and got their business card.  They were beginning the process of opening a store, they hoped.  Later I thought to ask them if they had any grass-fed beef sources, so emailed them.  Lo and behold, they were raising a lone steer and wanted a buyer for half, so I put in my order!  Thank you, Lord!

I order monthly from Azure, and if they deliver to your area, the drop point alone is probably full of the kind of people who Know.  Talk to people, get names or email addresses or find them on facebook, and ask them where they buy their _____.  

I've bought eggs from self-serve coolers on back porches, after seeing a sign hanging by a country lane.  If you see the chickens out pecking and scratching, it's far-and-away better than anything in the store, whether they're fed 'organic' feed or not. 

I found eating chickens (before I made my own) by asking the guy at the feed store if anyone in the area produces chicken they might sell.  They know who orders feed by the pallet or truck load.  I bought from 2 producers this way; one on-the-way-to-organic, one conventional (but far better than what you see in factory farms).

So, what can YOU do?  First, read.  Holy Cows and Hog Heaven is the best book of its kind I've read.  Omnivore's Dilemma is reportedly good, though I haven't read it.  Learn about the differences between beef fed on grain/soy/chicken poop/chicken guts and beef fed on pasture, and the link to e. coli, the different nutritional profile.  Learn about what rBST does to cows, and what it might do to people who drink the milk.  Learn about how eggs are processed, whether your producer uses bleach, mineral oil, or other things, or not.  Why milk is pasteurized, and why not, and the difference.  Ditto homogenization.  

Then, talk to people.  If you find ONE person who locally buys or produces some of what you're looking for, chances are they know of an entire network of people.  Go to the farmer's market in season, and talk.  I mentioned the Azure delivery point.  A health food store that doesn't sell food might have knowledgable clerks.  Check for a bulletin board at the same place.  Look for one at the local feed/farm store.  Most fliers/business cards there are geared towards conventional ag (at least in our area), but I have seen raw goat's milk advertised, rabbit meat, and other 'unconventional' things.  Inspect for yourself (as always!), know what you're looking for, and you might find a treasure.  Attend an organic gardening class or meeting.  

Also realize we can't always have year-round availability of everything.  But realize this is the first time in the history of the world where anyone could expect to buy tomatoes in January in the northern hemisphere (but seriously, have you tasted them?  They may look like tomatoes, but I don't think they qualify.).  I find there is a gratitude, and better understanding when we're tied a little more closely to our food. The cow we get milk from is "dry" right now, until calving in January.  I purchased a few more gallons toward the later weeks of availability, and put them in the freezer (I'm nearly through with gallon #2).  It was a sad, sad day when I'd planned to buy 2 gallons a day before the 'cutoff' day - and then learned that she had stopped milking a day earlier due to super-cold temperatures we were having.  Sadness!  But I am so happy to have a little bit set by, and will be thrilled when January comes around.  We haven't had beef for over a month**, except for some stew I made from a lone soup bone hiding in my freezer.  We have a couple weeks yet, and you can bet I'll love that beef all the more for the wait! 

Also expect some difference.  Our taste buds are trained to what we give them often.  When first we tried raw milk, it was definitely different.  Within a couple days, the flavor changed, and it was even more unusual to me.  Baking a batch of cookies to dunk in the milk helped, or using it primarily on cereal or anyway-but-straight helped get used to it.  Fast forward a few years...  Expecting our 'milk-less time,' I've lately purchased a gallon or two of organic whole milk for the freezer, when it's on 'clearance' and much cheaper.  I poured out a portion of milk, so the gallon could expand in the freezer, and drank it, remembering how much I enjoyed this milk (pasteurized though it may be), how 'neutral' it tasted, how it was nice that it tasted the same for several days running. :)  Well, let's just say I was entirely shocked.  The milk was not sour, or old, by any means, but it was not... good!  It tasted, well, just awful.  Very weird.  It was cool, and refreshing in that fashion, but tasted so off.  Maybe it tasted cooked, since it is.  Where once I had to bake cookies to go back into the raw milk when the cow was freshened, perhaps now I'll need to bake them to go back to the nasty pasteurized stuff when the cow dries up!  (Nothing like an excuse for cookies, eh?)  Of course, there's the option to go without milk, too, which is probably the more natural, original option.

So, go forth and seek!  Look for food outside of the box (store).  You will be amazed at what you may find, and blessed.

**Actually, Hubby desired beef very much a while back, so I bought a 3 1/2 lb package of ground beef at a decent grocery store.  I tossed the whole thing into a skillet to brown, and had to leave the kitchen for a time.  Hubby finished the cooking of it.  Later I went in, and shook my head, wondering why he had added so much water to it (he often adds oil to a pan to cook something that has plenty of oil, or water to steam something I wouldn't :)  ).  When I saw him, I asked him about it, and he told me he hadn't added any water at all.  But there was a good half-inch in the pan!  I was perplexed, and after thinking about it some time, I realized that I have just 'transitioned' fully to another product (one that probably took some time to transition into, at first!), that hangs in a cooler for 1-2 weeks instead of the standard 30 hours or so.  This greatly affects moisture content, so all other things being equal (which they're NOT), a longer-chilled carcass will have less water, and what there is isn't clear, as this was.

Saturday, December 04, 2010


That looks to be among the LEAST of the problems with this system.

I didn't understand what I was seeing in some of that footage, but there are dead/dying hens with prolapsed uteri, eggs resting on corpses, manure-covered hens, and worse.

I've sometimes rethought the passionate words I typed in a former post, exhorting us all to trust God for provision that doesn't violate His creation.  There are moments that just seems so elitist, so arrogant.  And then I'm reminded of things like this, and I'm convinced all over again.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this stirs up my politics too.  Not in the way of some, "why is this legal?  The government needs to do something about this!" but more, "see what happens when we trust some bureaucracy?  When we give regulating power over to some Department, when we allow the FDA or EPA or USDA to say what "organic" means - and then trust it?" [just to clarify, the above video was NOT of organic production, but if you trust a product just because it sports the organic logo, you're trusting someone else to control your food] Please, know where your food comes from.  Educate yourself.  If you're not sure, take a notepad with you to the store, and jot down brands/products you could know more about.  Do you know which "organic" milk brands are from cows raised on cement, in the dark, with organic grain as feed?  Which ones feed at least a portion of hay and use pasture when possible?  Which brands of cheese use milk from rBST-treated cows?  Better yet, buy what you can locally, put 100% of the price of your food into the producer's hands.  Isn't this a lot of work?  Maybe.  But do one thing at a time.  Eggs, this month.  Learn, choose, buy.  Do it consciously, not like one more Black Friday lemming who is swayed by every wind of advertisement.  Next month, milk, or yogurt, or some other staple of your home.  You can't change the big company featured in the video, but you can certainly change where your own grocery budget goes, who and what your dollars support.

Is it worth it?  You bet!  You will (probably) get far better food when you're judging its source for yourself.  There is something very satisfying about looking someone in the eye who caretakes your eggs, or beef, or carrots, or whatever.  You don't need to worry "where it came from" when you feed it to your children, whether their fried egg was first with a corpse, then workers-of-questionable-hygeine, then chemicals, then..?  If you are concerned about the well-being of the land, you can determine whether you're a help or hindrance to that, with your purchases.  You will more likely be eating fresher food and avoiding genetically-modified frankenfood.

You can do it!  Don't trust Big Brother with your food!  That responsibility is yours! :)

More on egg production/processing here.