Sunday, January 31, 2010

Please Read This Book

I have always appreciated the Ruth Stout method of gardening. My old garden bible, the 1961 Rodale hardcover HOW TO GROW VEGETABLES AND FRUITS BY THE ORGANIC METHOD, introduced me to Ruth Stout and her method of mulching to eliminate extra work in the garden. It also highlights other gardeners' experience with growing potatoes in heavy mulch.

Confession. The green garden bible isn't really my book. I lifted (I mean borrowed) it from my parents 15 or more years ago and never got around to returning it. Actually, after that many years together, I would assume I am now common law owner of that book. Sorry Mom and Dad. I hope you haven't missed it too awfully much.

Anyway, you should have this gardening encyclopedia. It covers everything you need to know, and the old-fashioned advice is full of common sense and practicality. But it is not this book to which I am referring.

Christy Gabbard, with VT Earthworks, offered up many of her personal garden library books to the Academy students to borrow. I chose the brightly colored recent edition of her book: GARDENING WITHOUT WORK For the Aging, the Busy and the Indolent, by Ruth Stout. Originally published in 1961, this very readable tome puts forth her nationally know method of gardening, with practical application and clarification to questions put forth by other gardeners and scientists questioning the validity of this method. Perhaps some readers might find her conversational style annoying.

Not me! (as you might guess!)

I am thoroughly inspired by this book. She fleshes out some practical points that will help me in our gardening this year. She has an impressive chapter on conservation, and on organic method. All of her points are made with a sparkle in her eye and more than a few winks and chuckles. I laughed out loud as I quickly read every chapter. How often does one laugh out loud throughout a gardening book? She is just as willing to poke fun at herself as she is the scientists who come to disprove her technique and the followers showing up unannounced for the garden tour. Too bad this was not my copy. Otherwise I would be able to quickly find all my favorite quotes because it would be marked up from front to back.

Please read this book. Hurry! I hope you will be as inspired as I was. I am requiring the children to read this for school this winter. I think they will enjoy it. You probably will, too.

Grower's Academy

Patrick and I are thoroughly enjoying Grower's Academy, sponsored by VT Earthworks and Virginia Cooperative Extension. We are being challenged and inspired. So far we have attended two sessions, the first challenging us to consider forming better, more comprehensive business plans, and the second instructing us in production planning for developing seedlings, transplants and crops for market production.

Plenty of detailed instruction that will help us improve. Opportunities to journal and process.

One of our first activities was to sketch out our vision of idea of success on the farm. The lecturer encouraged us to write our ideas out in any form we wish, even haiku if that was our style! After writing a page outline of all the things I envisioned for our farm, I couldn't help myself. A haiku fell out onto the paper.

Here it is:

Success on the Farm

Lush waving grasses
Cushion satisfied workers
Eating summer feast.

Here is the long version:

*feed our family (and a few families more) a well-balanced diet 12 months of the year with food we raised ourselves or bartered locally
*pay ourselves a decent wage, enough to pay modest bills and go to the dentist occasionally
*run multiple industries that are individually driven (by different family members), that coordinate beautifully
*improve pastures and livestock via intensive grazing
*maintain buildings, fences
*improve woods and waterways

So I know I am not a poet, but I enjoyed the exercise! And I hope that as we are taught and inspired, our idea of success will be tweaked and improved. I desire for our farm operation, messy, imperfect and certainly rough around the edges, to reflect God's goodness and love to my family and to the world around us.

Snow Day!

The weather guys prepared us for days as they watched the radar screens and monitored the progress of the mass of wet, arctic air headed our way. That mass of wet, arctic air wrecked havoc and destruction all along its journey to the east coast. I can't remember how many Oklahoman homes were out of power, but it was a shocking number.

I finished baking as quickly as possible on Friday so we could make the deliveries that afternoon and be prepared to stay at home and relax as the snow fell.

We made our purchases of mushrooms and kale (for Nivea Snow's barley stew), some local farmer eggs to supplement our hen's meager offerings, a big bag of apples from Ikenberry's, and bartered farm goods for a couple of big bags of Jonathan's Star City Coffee and some of Jimbo's fantastic trout from Big Pine Trout Farm.

We left faucets dripping, threw extra hay, and Serge helped the boys cut up the long lengths of firewood so we would be set for the weekend. After hearing the news from Oklahoma I filled up many pots and pans with extra water, just in case the power went out. We fried up potatoes ( I am soooo very glad Thomas planted so many potatoes last year) and garlic and trout filets dredged in crushed almonds. Tired, I headed to bed by 10:30, watching the light snow fall in the hazy moonlit night, feeling satisfied that we were so prepared for the big snow I could relax, read, write and otherwise enjoy a lazy snow day on Saturday with the kids.

What in the world was I thinking?

The morning greeted us with a deep layer of snow and more coming down steadily from the dull gray sky. I made coffee, put on boots and coat over my nice fleecy housecoat and headed outside to get a little more wood for the fire. The snow was already so deep I picked up the lovely, ergonomic snow shovel (Thank, Julie!) and started on a little path. At that point the snow was around 9 inches deep, more or less.

Did you know that snow shoveling is addicting?

The path to the woodpile became the path to the barn. Foot by precious foot, my little canyon grew longer and longer. Might as well feed the animals and check their water. Halfway down the driveway I had to pause and warm hands. Rest and pant a minute. Coco and Priscilla greeted me happily, knowing that breakfast time had arrived. Their water was frozen, along with everyone else's, so first off I dumped the ice then started carrying buckets. Thankfully Philip had placed a warming strip on the pump in the barn so we still had water. Then it was time for hay deposits. 22 sheep, 7 bovine, and 9 goats eat a lot of hay. I thanked God for the wonderful supply in the barn as I wrangled twine and threw down the 6 or more bales of hay into the various hay racks. Fed the pigs, scattered some grain for poultry, did some housekeeping maintenance for Coco and Priscilla and the girls, then went back outside to be greeted by the snow shovel. The kids were inside maintaining fires and making breakfast, so I didn't mind the peace and quiet. Especially since I have been on kid duty now for 8 days as Philip was out for a class and conference!

Snow shoveling truly is rather addicting once you are out there and see the challenge. I could have headed back to the house at that point, but the driveway was nonexistent, being so thoroughly blanketed, and I had the idea that if I got a good start, I could send Thomas and Patrick and Maggie out later to finish the job.

At this point, the snow had deepened to over 10 inches and continued to fall steadily. Scoop. Throw. Scoop. Throw.

I laughed as I enjoyed myself, understanding that the first few feet of snow shoveling is much more enjoyable than the last many yards. Sweat began to flow, the path grew longer and wider and before you know it I was almost to the gate! Rose and Maggie joined me and the work continued. When the neighbors drove by on their tractors I remembered I was still in my nightclothes and cringed. Maybe the long black coat and Philip's black rubber boots detracted from the long, lavender fleecy thing.

An hour and a half later, the kind neighbors came and offered to finish off the driveway. I kind of hated to take away that honorable privilege from the kids, such great character building! But never mind. Thanks a bunch to the snow angels! Patrick and Thomas had plenty more character building, splitting firewood and loading the fireplace and wood stove all night long.

When I finally got back into the house, it was almost noon! Amazing how the day can get away from you. But more coffee was waiting, along with some homemade chocolate chip scones from Patrick. What a great lunch.

Other farm winter chores took up significantly more time than I had anticipated. So much for a lazy day. But we did manage to fit in a couple of episodes of The French Chef cooking classes, courtesy PBS and Netflix, and a Combat episode for the boys. By the time dark came, a foot of snow had fallen, Philip was stuck in North Carolina, and we were finishing up chores, blanketing doors and windows to keep as much cold out and heat in as possible in this old farm house. Exhausted from all that "relaxing" we fell into bed.

This morning the temps had fallen to 4 degrees. Everything was sparkly and bright. Thankfully the sun is warming things up nicely and the children have had plenty of play time out in the snow. It is too powdery to do much building, but they don't mind. As for me, all that shoveling yesterday has made me so sore, I think I will try to be as lazy as possible.

But for some reason, farm life is like family life. If one has animals or children, a snow day means very little (except for more work with the fire maintenance, wet clothes and frozen water!).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


The 50's are oh, so yesterday.


Warm breezes blew away the sunshine and then decided to chase right after it. The cold north wind has settled in, glacial skies have been spitting flakes at us, but nothing substantial.

Dulce and Carmelita are frisky, romping to and fro on the lawn. Priscilla is still suffering from the edema, but Patrick is faithfully tending her, morning and night. He has a real knack with that cow. He is the only one who can get her to put her horns through the stanchion. He perches on a milking stool his grandpa built for us and massages and attempts to loosen up the udder. The barn cats are thrilled to be the recipient of all his efforts. How long until her udder is back to normal?

Patrick and I will be heading to our second class of the Grower's Academy. We will hopefully learn everything we need to know about starting seedlings for market production.

Brr. Better put on another layer.

Monday, January 25, 2010


January is barley month for us. Like most everyone else, we are trying to be more economical in our spending, and barley is a good thing. It is cheap, filling, and extra comforting on a cold, wet afternoon.

The food supply requires a lot more imagination come January. We ate the last of the onions the other day. We still have spaghetti squash, butternut squash, pumpkins and potatoes. Plenty of meat. But we are getting hungry for green stuff.

I found a package of okra in the freezer this weekend! Joy! We always love okra and other green things, but when found in the back of the freezer while scrambling for food options, it seemed like a bag of precious gold.

Yesterday for Sunday dinner we had our grass-finished chuck roast cooked with barley, carrots and sauteed okra. What a feast. We were so hungry we didn't leave many left-overs. Rachel's mother-in-law's bread and butter pickles went especially well with the roast. Chuck is one of my favorite cuts of beef. Plenty of marbling, even in grass-fed, and it does beautifully with a nice long braise in the oven while we go to church.

Here is my recipe:

Place butter, chopped onions, celery and garlic in roasting pan and put in a hot (450) oven while you sear the roast in a cast iron skillet. When the onions start to smell good, add 2 cups of rinsed barley, some thyme and plenty of sea salt. By this time your beef should be nice and crusty on both sides. Put the beef on top of the barley, add a bay leaf, some pepper corns and sea salt. Pour at least a half gallon of water on top of everything. I think some red wine would be great, but we had already drunk all of ours. Put the roasting pan back in the hot oven and leave the temperature up high for around 25 minutes. Then drop the temperature to 325 degrees for at least 2 -2 1/2 hours. If you need to be away longer than that, set the temperature to 300 degrees.

While the roast and barley cook, go to church, go take a walk, or read a book. Your house will smell like someone loves you.
You will want to eat the crispy little bits of barley around the edge of the pan while no one else is watching. Yum.

I wonder why we eat so little barley? Cheap comfort food that tastes like a feast. Maybe next Sunday we will have barley mushroom casserole. Or barley and lentil stew.

BTW, the deluge last night left streams swollen and angry. It also washed away the cold, dreary clouds and left warm sunny skies. For the moment, anyway. It was strange milking in the balmy 45 degrees this morning. Felt like March. We better not get too comfortable with this spring-like tease. We have weeks of winter to go.

And we won't complain! (or if we do, we will try to stop and pray for others in more miserable conditions, and thank God for warm, dry beds and running water.)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The News

Dulce and Carmelita have two speeds, on and off. The on speed involves bouncing and kicking and running in circles. Just like human toddlers, off speed is curled up, sound asleep, anywhere and everywhere the little gals find a spot to lie down. They are healthy and lovely. We enjoy seeing them try to fool Coco and Priscilla with a little tandem nursing. Sometimes it works and sometimes they get a butt and a kick. I know that most dairy farmers take the baby off the mama cow right after birth. We would definitely get more milk. But there is something precious about watching the family dynamics of the herd. Mama cows are protective and affectionate. At this point in our farm plan, I think we will share milk with the girls, at least for a little while. It brings me joy to watch the babies and their mamas and I think it also makes for a very healthy happy herd.

Priscilla still has some udder edema. I don't know how long it will take to clear up. But she looks better. It is obvious that Dulce is getting a decent supply of milk.

Weather here is cloudy. Not as cold. Rain is forecasted for this evening. The mud is a disaster. Thanks to a neighbor and a friend Philip was able to get the suburban and trailer out of the bog that used to be our front lawn. The creek is running briskly. We don't really enjoy the mess, but we are thankful for the gift of moisture to our water table. Drought is a bad thing.

Every time I begin to complain about uncomfortable circumstances I try to stop and pray for Haiti. I remind the children that even in the most miserable of chores, at least we can come back to sit in front of the fireplace or cuddle underneath clean blankets in our very own beds. We have running water to help wash our pots and pans, and gas to run the stove to cook all the food we have in our freezer. Circumstances in Haiti are so brutally indescribable, I feel inadequate and overwhelmed just listening to the news on the radio. What to do to help? We pray for God to make a way for the helpful provisions to get into the hands of the needy. We pray for God to line up families for the poor children who lost their parents. We pray for comfort for the grief that can know no comfort. We pray for hope and for restoration and for the hungry to have food and for each soul to know love. We pray for God to show us what little thing we can do that would actually count.

I pray for those souls to know courage and to have an incredibly large portion of faith given to them, so that when they are overwhelmed they will not give up. And I pray for the wicked to be stopped from robbing and hurting and destroying.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Truth is Stranger that Fiction

Seems like the mastitis is healing up slowly but surely. I gave Priscilla a nice massage this morning and extracted at least a little milk. She still had a lot of udder edema, but maybe a little better. I let her and Coco take the girls outside to graze in the yard.

Off and on Dulce gave her mother her version of a massage. Bump. Bump. Butt. Butt.

I was happy to see that Dulce appeared much more lively today. We didn't even give her a bottle, hoping she would nurse more frequently.

As we adjourned to the dining room for lunch today we looked out the window to oooh and aaah at the darling little calves. Dulce was busy nursing her mother when the pastured pigs came running over to check out the situation. Sniff, sniff and a snort, snort. We couldn't believe our eyes.

One of the pigs went up to Priscilla and proceeded to nurse! All seven of us piled around the window, laughing so hard we could barely stand up! Things got really funny when Priscilla got the memo and saw that instead of her precious little Dulce, a big pink pig was signing up for adoption! A swift kick and swipe with the horns seemed to be enough to convince the pig that maybe Priscilla wasn't his type after all.

I remember a dog we had when I was a little girl. She was part doxie and we named her Foxy. She was such a mother, she not only let her puppies nurse, but invited the housecat to nurse as well. What a mama. But I never dreamed of a pig on a cow.

I feel much more hopeful about Priscilla's condition today. Maybe we are on the mend. I am grateful for Dulce helping with her mother's health care plan.

It is a dark and rainy night tonight.

Ask me how I know!

Philip and I were out trekking the 45 acres looking for Priscilla, Coco, Carmelita, Dulce, Panda, Ribby and Duncan. Apparently Priscilla pushed through a gate and the girls joined the herd. They love each other very much and hate to be separated, but we like keeping the little ones near the house so we can put them in the barn at night.

Philip is still out there, doing the last sweep.

I read in some research that one of the best things you can do for a cow with udder edema is let her get some exercise.

I suppose Priscilla has gotten enough exercise today and so have I and I don't even have edema.

It was nice to be out for a nighttime walk. The stream was swollen with the rain and melted snow. The rushing waters echoed against the fog. Steady drizzle soaked my glasses and hair, but didn't get through Philip's nice big parka that I commandeered. Muck sucked at my shoes and tried to trip me up, but I managed to stay upright. Silly cows picked a very damp night for their escape. Maybe they were so offended by the porcine effrontery they had to make a break for it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mastitis 101

Well. We are not well yet.

Poor Priscilla.

The udder edema is terrific. In a bad way. One quarter (the udder is divided into quarters, so one calls each part a "quarter") has developed what looks like ugly mastitis.

Sunday we massaged and milked to try to empty her udder. Couldn't. We could only get out a few ounces of colostrum and milk. It appeared that she wasn't suffering from a fever, but we kept on working. Later that evening I was home alone and was thrilled to be able to get her up into the stanchion without the help of anyone else. I prayed and massaged and sang and massaged some more. At one point, one quarter opened up and I was able to milk out almost a half gallon of milk. You can believe I was singing "Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow!"

Unfortunately things hadn't improved next morning so we called the vet again. More massage, more attempted milking. Philip tied up Priscilla's back feet so I wouldn't be kicked in the head and I really worked over the quarter with mastitis. Ugly pus and blood came out instead of creamy white milk.


I wanted to cry it was so gross. I wanted to cry she was in such pain. Priscilla moaned, but submitted to my feeble efforts.

The girls continued to give little Dulce her ration of milk, and Dulce continued unsuccessfully to try to nurse from her willing but unable mother.

The wonderful vet arrived after dark.

Did you know vets still come to make house calls? I was so grateful he came out yesterday evening as I was very worried about having Priscilla wait yet another day for help. We have never called a vet to take care of a farm animal before. Small farmers don't have the resources to call vets for this little problem or that. But Priscilla is no little problem. As I have written before, dairy animals are very valuable and my dad assured me over the phone that this was definitely the time to call in support.

So we went to the barn, put dear Priscilla in the stanchion, and the vet put on his coveralls and went to work. He examined her eyes and nose, then took a look at the udder. He squeezed out milk in 3 quarters and pus and gunk out of one. He smelled the icky stuff and told us that it was a good sign that it didn't stink. Apparently if the mastitis is really bad it will have a foul odor and that is a very bad sign. He told us that we were doing the right things, and that even if we lost one quarter, she should still be a good milk cow. I told him we were praying that she would have all four quarters restored to full function at some point.

The vet suggested that we treat the infection with antibiotics.

You have to understand that we aspire to operate our farm organically, that is to say, chemical-free. We give our animals non-GMO food, hormone-free, no added antibiotics or other routine medicine.

HOWEVER, in situations like this one, I am so thankful for antibiotics. Such an amazing drug when used in the right context. Antibiotics saved my husband's life when he acquired MRSA from the hospital after open heart surgery. Antibiotics saved Maggie's foot when she got a horrific infection from a dirty nail. And antibiotics are helping Priscilla recuperate from this mysterious infection.

My research indicates that no one really knows how cows get mastitis. Some heifers have not fully developed their vascular systems in the mammary glands. Sometimes unhealthy conditions of muck and manure can cause it. Sometimes flies. Sometimes hereditary conditions. Who knows?

We were informed by the doctor that even with the antibiotics, we should continue our hands on treatment. So we learned how to inject TODAY, a special antibiotic, into the teat. And we learned how to inject an intramuscular dose of another medicine. Wow, are we getting smart, or what?

We also learned that the best way to clear up the edema is to continue to massage and milk. Four times a day. Maybe we can save the infected quarter and maybe not. The doctor also suggested that letting Priscilla out to walk around would help with the edema.

So far, no dramatic change. I am so thankful that Philip and the girls took over Priscilla duty this evening so Patrick and I could attend the first session of the Grower's Academy, offered by Virginia Tech continuing education and Catawba Earthworks. He and I are inspired and eager to learn more to share with the family.

I hope that tomorrow will offer a breakthrough for Priscilla. Dulce is okay, but not as bouncy and healthy as Carmelita. We are still supplementing with a syringe because she can't figure out the bottle. Carmelita is now sleeping with Dulce so we can get a full measure of milk in the mornings from Coco. I hope that by next week we will have milk from Priscilla for the family. We have yet to make butter or yogurt or cheese. Everything is going into coffee and hot chocolate and big glasses of milk. And gravy. (and boy, am I happy to have that coffee and chocolate and milk and gravy!)

I wonder if the lesson we are to learn is endurance. Healing often comes with tedious, difficult work. And occasionally with the help of some professional assistance.

Priscilla is worth it.

Off to bed so we can start again tomorrow.

PS We are enjoying warm weather. Dark of the moon, so the skies are sparkling with stars at night. The melted snow has left us a muddy mess. It feels like March, but we know it is not so. Winter has just begun, get ready for more! I think she is sitting back, catching her breath to let us have it. Will we be ready? I hope so!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

It's Another Girl!

Priscilla delivered a healthy little girl calf last night after midnight. Philip went out to do the last evening checkup and came to get me. We watched and waited and waited and watched for a couple of hours. It was hard work. Took some help. Not too much, thankfully. We were sore and exhausted by the time 1:30 rolled around. Baby stood up and did well and Priscilla managed to clean her off and love on her.

By this morning Priscilla had developed a bad case of mastitis and would not let baby nurse. We wrangled her into the stanchion, placed a gate by her side to made a "crush" and I worked and worked to get a pint of colostrum. Philip had to put a rope around one of her legs to keep her from kicking me in the head. Maggie and Rose worked to get the baby to drink the colostrum out of a bottle. Rose named the sweet little thing Dulce, which means sweet in Spanish. I suggested Dulcinea, which is the name of the heroine in Don Quijote. Rose said that could be her name, too!

After one go around, I loaded up the car with lots of ingredients and an apron and Thomas and I headed to Big Pine Trout Farm to teach a cooking class. Fish stock, chowder, fabulous gourmet whole trout and buerre blanc. We also roasted root veggies and sauteed some swiss chard to go with all the goodies.

Philip and the rest of the kids stayed home to work with Priscilla and Dulce.

I felt bad.

Philip and Maggie worked very hard taking care of the gals. Dulce drank her colostrum and took some baking soda mixture administered by Maggie. This helped her regain her strength. They put on hot compresses and Philip rubbed a mixture of cayenne pepper and lard on the udder. Maggie tells me that Priscilla definitely did not like this treatment, but she noticed that the udder began to get softer after a few minutes. The purpose of the cayenne is to stimulate circulation to the swollen udder and help relieve the edema.

Maggie also gave her a large dose of vitamin C with her food and some molasses. Vitamin C is supposed to be good for udder edema and mastitis, not to mention all the other good things it does. We are thankful for our milking farmer friend who gave us such good advice. If all else fails we will have to try antibiotics and/or a vet, but we wish to at least try some less invasive methods first.

At last check, Philip observed Dulce up and nursing. Wahoo! After everyone finishes up their chowder, we will head back out for one last try for the night.

This morning, as we wrangled and wept and cussed (well, I don't know if anyone else cussed or not), I asked God why things never seemed to come easily. Why couldn't she just pop the baby out? At 3 in the afternoon instead of the middle of the night? On a night right before I have a work commitment? Why couldn't the baby pop up and nurse happily and Priscilla march right on over to the stanchion and happily let us milk her?

As I hurriedly gathered my cooking things, I remembered a prayer I said yesterday evening, asking God to make me smarter than I am. I asked him to make me nicer. Then I decided that maybe instead of asking to be nicer, maybe I should ask him to help me be more like Jesus. To be more wise. To be more generous.

Having difficult circumstances is a wonderful opportunity to have to ask for help and advice, making me smarter. Having difficult circumstances helps me to learn to be like Jesus who suffered. Not that I am suffering anything at all, don't get me wrong. Having to let other people take care of my job every once in awhile teaches me to surrender. Working harder and longer that I want to also teaches me that we can do more than we think we can.

So thank you God for allowing difficult things be useful tools. We are tired and wish we could go to bed and read a book, but instead we will head back out to the barn and care for our dear animals who need our help. I do feel smarter. That tip about cayenne pepper and lard is a great one. I don't know that I feel any nicer, but I am thankful to Maggie and Philip for all their hard work today. And I am thankful that dear Maggie, who wishes to someday be a vet, is getting AMAZING experience. Her skill and instinct are impressive. Way to go, Mags!

By the way, Thomas was my sous chef today and after he finished chopping and washing he had the opportunity to try out Tenkara trout fishing, a Japanese method. He caught three trout! They tasted mighty good. Big Pine Trout Farm is a very cool place. The sound of the rushing stream and the sight of the colorful fish leaping to the sky was a beautiful thing. Daddy, I know where we are going to take you when you next come to visit Virginia!!!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Milking Coco in Wintertime Means Plenty of Hot Chocolate

Rose is still suffering some cold symptoms, so we kept the germs to our house and I kept her home from church yesterday.

We had the nicest day.

We prepared a lovely, simmer on the stove all day pork roast, with carrots and parsnips. We made a spelt pineapple upside down cake using a recipe written out in long hand in my grandmother's writing. We checked on Priscilla. We loaded the fireplace and woodstove repeatedly. We read our books and she knitted while I worked on paperwork. We made the very best hot chocolate ever consumed by womankind, with a slice of milk and honey whole wheat toast. We cuddled and snuggled. She read through a collection of my old blog posts while I finished Crime and Punishment. I even showed her the basics of counted cross stitch, which was a favorite hobby of mine back in college days, but alas, no more.

Here is the recipe for our favorite hot cocoa (Straight off the Hershey's cocoa box, even though we haven't bought Hershey's cocoa powder in years!):

1/2 c. succanat (unrefined sugar-I believe that the sucanat gives a much richer flaver)
1/4c. cocoa powder
pinch salt
1/3c. hot water
1qt milk (whole milk, fresh from the cow if you are truly lucky)
1tsp of vanilla

We mix the sucanat, cocoa powder, salt and water and bring to a rolling boil. Then we add the milk and vanilla and warm up til nice and steamy. If you want to be really extravagant, add some cinnamon and another swirl of heavy cream. If you have a nice loaf of homemade whole wheat bread, make yourself a slice of toast. It goes so nicely, you will know you are royalty, especially if you can enjoy this feast in front of the blazing fireplace.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Still Waiting

I remember when I was pregnant with Thomas. The due date rolled around. The baby rolled around. In my belly.

Philip and I took long walks. We went to the zoo. We walked some more.

No baby.

People would call and ask how I was doing. Eventually I took the phone off the hook.

After putting life on hold for a few days, I decided I might as well get back to normal living. Two weeks later, after a nice water aerobics class at the gym, labor started, and the rest is history. I am so glad Thomas was finally born because he helps me so much with dishwashing and wood splitting!

I expect you know what I am talking about?

Priscilla is still chewing her cud, in the barn, in her solitary confinement. I mean stall.

I thought her udder could not grow any larger. It has.

So what do I know about birthing cow babies? Very precious little!

We continue to wait.

It is cold. There is still a significant covering of snow. The pond has a strong water flow so it hasn't frozen like usual. The girls are ice skating on puddles instead, these days. The moon is coming up pretty late at night, and is getting smaller and smaller. I feel like hibernating. Can I hibernate?

Perhaps I should mention that Carmelita makes me laugh so much! When I milk Coco, Carmelita chases the geese and ducks out of the stall. She tosses her head and leaps and prances. What a cutie pie. Even when I feel down in the dumps she coaxes a chuckle out of me. What a precious little thing.

A friend gave me a couple of amazing books for Christmas. One is Your Country Kitchen by Jocasta Innes. It was published in 1979. The book has lovely illustrations and concise directions that instruct one how to brine, slat, smoke dry, press, pickle and preserve. I was very inspired. I also received a collection of recipes, notes and little odds and ends from my grandmother. In the box was a Ball Blue Canning book from 1941. I have been wanting a Ball canning book, and am very happy to have this old copy. It was especially interesting to note historical trivia, like the paragraph mentioning that since rubber and zinc were used in war times, one might find it hard to find rubber seals or zinc lids those days, and suggested alternative ideas. I was shocked to look at the table that listed canning recommendations for the typical famliy of 5. Hundreds and hundreds of quarts were expected to be grown and put up to take care of the family meals throughout the year. Wow. I feel very inspired. Wonder if I can can even half that amount?

Am looking for an alternative to the standard canning lids. I read that they are coated with the bad plastic and that when this plastic is exposed to acidic foods and high temperatures, a significant amount of the bisphenol A leaches out into the food. Darn.

A friend suggested that I try looking at estate sales for the old fashioned glass lids that one uses with rubber seals. Maybe someone has some boxes of those lids languishing in their basement somewhere? I hope so.

Winter is a good time for waiting. Waiting for springtime. Waiting for green. Waiting for babies. While we wait, I hope we remember to be still and enjoy the smell of cold air and the feel of the hot fire and the taste of winter foods and the sight of little girls skating and big young men splitting firewood. And hopefully the sound of a new little moo in the barn, very soon!

Thursday, January 7, 2010


After a little visit to the Chez Hillaire Resort, Carmelita returned to the barn, eager for a big drink of warm Mama Coco's milk!

We were so relieved to see her gain enough strength to quickly resume barn life. I was so relieved to get the hay and the animal out of the dining room before our dinner guests arrived. Last night we put the little thing in a little warm room in the middle of the barn, just to make sure her temperature did not drop again. She happily rushed to Coco after I finished milking and took care of clean up duty. Tonight she was so frisky we left her to the ministrations of her doting mom.

Priscilla is making us play the crazy waiting game. Yesterday morning I checked her first thing and she looked as if she were dilating. After the chores were finished I went back to check, assuming that she would follow Coco's pattern and be ready to pop.

Nothing doing. Since Tuesday evening she has been showing all the same signs Coco did, but with no reward of a baby. My dad tells me that it is important to keep an eye open on a first-time heifer, anticipating anything that might go wrong, breech baby, weak mother, prolonged labor, frozen baby. A good dairy cow is a very valuable asset on the farm. For one thing, they cost around a thousand dollars. For another, it takes about two years for the heifer to be old enough to breed and subsequently give milk. If the cow gives three or four gallons of milk a day, you can imagine how valuable that commodity is, that provides milk, cheese, yogurt and butter for our family and several others, not to mention the by-products of whey and buttermilk that help feed our pigs and chickens.

All growing up I have heard horror stories of lost heifers, due to one problem or other. Still hear them.

So even though it seems like a lot of trouble, we keep our eyes open, popping in to the barn to offer fresh hay and water and consolation, checking out the rear view. And besides, the Bible gives several verses encouraging one to care well for his/her animals.

If my memory serves me, Priscilla did seem to make friends with Duncan around a week or so after Coco. Maybe this weekend. Her poor udder is so swollen I can't imagine it getting any larger. She looks like she will be an amazing milk cow. If she is anything like her mama, I have no doubt.

The children are so hungry for milk. We are saving all Coco's milk for the baby, in case of emergency. The fridge is full of over three gallons. But tomorrow, God willing, we will have cream for the coffee, milk for the hot chocolate.

I can hardly wait!

Will keep you posted. Hopefully we will soon hear a very happy ending to this saga. Rose is counting on the baby being a girl. I say MEAT. I mean, boy.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

It's a Cold, Cold World

After supper last night I hit the sack very sleepy.

Philip went out to the barn for the last check up on the little heifer.

She hadn't nursed at all. Her temperature had started to drop and he was worried. He could have woken me up at that point, but instead he proactively called my dad for advice. Daddy suggested tying up Coco to get some colostrum and feeding Carmelita right away. Philip roped her, milked her, and managed to wrangle some creamy gold down the baby's throat. He did so again this morning before he went to work.

I am so proud of him! I am sure he saved her little life. When we went out later in the morning she was still shivering and unable to nurse. We read that extreme cold can throw little calves into shock and make it impossible for them to nurse. I milked out some colostrum and we gave it to her in a bottle, but she wouldn't warm up, so we did the only sensible thing: we carried her to the house and put her in front of the dining room fireplace.

It wasn't an easy task. Long legs wiggling this way and that, Mama cow bellowing at our side furiously, we slid and skated over icy patches, hauling the heavy thing to the house. I sure am glad that Patrick and I are so strong!

I put Maggie and the other kids on feeding duty and we cuddled her up to the fire. I believe she is thriving, but she still doesn't suck well. We have moved to the bulb syringe (a must have tool for the farm medicine kit) and Maggie definitely has the touch. Although I have to say I was pretty amazed when Philip got home from work and gave her a feeding. He has a knack for knowing how to hold her head that I do not have. He also brought home a very large heating/ac component box from work that we converted into a little holding pen. I didn't know if I should laugh or cry when he and Patrick brought in the bale of hay into our beautiful dining. room. I decided I might as well laugh.

Philip, Thomas, Patrick and Rose went to pick up some more wood from a friend's house and that left Nora, Maggie and me on calf duty and midwife watch. Priscilla appears to be in early labor. I think I am going to go to bed right away and take the very early shift. We don't want that little baby to get chilled. It is still so cold. Teens and single digits at night, twenty degrees in the day. Wind is raw. Thomas is sleeping in the living room to make sure the woodstove stays burning.

Winter is here. Even though I am still wishing I had planned better to prevent mid-winter calving, I am thrilled to know that we will be back in the milk again. Thankful for Philip going the extra mile to save a baby's life, glad for a big barn with lots of hay and wood to keep the fire going. May God give us grace to complete the tasks on the agenda this week. And sweet rest when the head hits the pillow.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Welcome Carmelita!

Last night I went to the barn to tuck in the cows. Arctic air smelled like oxygen. The waning full moon slowly declared its presence, yellow glow rising over the eastern hills.

I carefully inspected Priscilla after putting her and Coco into Coco's old stall. Udder swollen, waddling figure, surely she was ready to deliver. I threw down some hay and was surprised to see some significant discharge from Coco's backside.

What? I thought she had a few days to go.

We left the girls in their stall, drinking water and munching hay.

This morning Coco was very agitated. I let Priscilla go play outside to give Coco her privacy.

Every couple of hours I went out to check. So much for all the schoolwork I had hoped to accomplish. Thank goodness the kids do their math independently.

After throwing another load of laundry into the dryer (thank you, Julie!), I went out for the 2pm check up.

Coco moaned and rolled her eyes at me. Clear goo was now bloody discharge. Grunts and arched back, raised tail, more moans, perfect little hooves poking out.

A few more rounds of contractions, standing up, lying down, standing up again, Coco labored.

Birth is an earthy, raw process. Powerful.

Finally the pushes produced a nose and tongue to go along with the cute little hooves.

I noticed that every time I neared Coco to check her out she grew extremely agitated.

Figuring that Nature had designed Coco to do her job without me, I slowly backed out of the stall and moved up to the next level where I squatted and watched through a crack in the boards.

She pushed.

I prayed. I asked God to send a couple of angels to help encourage Coco and give her strength to get that baby moved out.

Nose and hooves went back inside time and time again.

I really began to worry, wondering when I should intervene. Earlier in the day I had reviewed some websites offering advice on cow labor and delivery. They suggested that after 4-6 hours of labor one should consider certain methods of intervention. Since labor had only taken an hour so far, I decided to hold my ground.

Moans and grunts, up and down, finally the nose, the eyes, the forehead and ears made it past the gate. A shoulder, another one. Push and grunt, blood and goo, the limp brown object crumpled to the floor like a bag of wet laundry.

"Please, be alive! Please, be alive!" I cried out in my mind, holding my breath as I whisked away mucus from nostrils and as Coco began to furiously lick her little daughter.

A twitch and a sputter, a nice deep breath.


After 15 minutes of so, the kids ran in from the house, they brought molasses for Coco and a hot towel from the dryer for baby.

The long wobbly legs stretched and tested. The little heifer stood up to promptly fall.

Coco grew even more agitated, trying to butt anyone near her baby.

After giving her a nice long drink and a bit of grain with molasses, we left the two to bond.

At 6pm, the little gal was prancing and inspecting everything in the stall. We didn't witness her nurse. I was wishing to see that, but Coco was furious with us invading her space. We gave her more water (labor and delivery and milk production sure do make a gal thirsty) and some more hay and a little grain to restore her energy. Since the little girl looked so energetic and healthy I felt like it was safe to leave the two alone and go get some split pea and barley soup.

It is awfully cold tonight, but not as raw as last night. Coco is a good mama. We feel certain that she will do a good job taking care of her baby. Better than we could do, most likely. But we remind ourselves that newborn life is tenuous and fragile, and try to tell ourselves that anything can happen and often does, so we will be prepared if she weakens and dies.

But for now, we greet Carmelita happily. Adorable little new life, dark brown and lovely, like a nice dark cream caramel. Carmelita.

We are hoping for milk from Coco in a few days. Please, Coco! Remember I am your friend who gives you apples and carrots and sings Spanish love songs to you. I have been out of heavy cream for my coffee for days now and would LOVE to have some soon!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy New Year!

We have said our farewell to friends. Tears have been shed and we all await the next visit, when the Lord allows.

Why, oh why didn't Priscilla have her baby while they were here?

Her udder is so large she can hardly walk. Swollen teats look like little sausages. I hope that she will wait for this terribly cold snap to pass before she delivers her baby. Coco is large and her udder is swelling, but not like Priscilla. We have placed the girls in the upper part of the barn with hay and water and have locked the door. Too bitter outside for little babies. Or at least too bitter outside for us to have to go search in case of complications.

We had planned for Priscilla to be bred last fall. She visited the bull next door from October to December. Maybe he didn't like her. Maybe she didn't like him. At any rate, no baby was born in the fall as we had anticipated. Like so many other plans we make, things changed. I had wished to avoid birthing calves in mid-winter, but here we are. We are so desperate for milk and butter that we will be more than willing to deal with the cold weather.

It was 12 degrees this morning when Kathryn and I made our cups of coffee and shivered in front of the fireplace. Goat cheese omelets, made with the Thomas' family cheese and the Lee family eggs tasted heavenly. I will miss having Kathryn be my sous chef, chatting over chopping with nice wine and music. Last night we had so much fun making our blackeyed peas, roasted pork, collard greens and french fried potatoes and sweet potatoes.

Philip and the boys worked hard yesterday afternoon, cutting and hauling firewood. They and the girls then had to go into the cold dark night to search for the cows that did not want to be found. Cold and weary, they shed clothes and warmed up so they could enjoy our first feast of the new year.

The candles glowed, the fire crackled and the wind outside howled like a demon as we shared our aspirations for 2010. Nora aspires to read and write this year. I think she should reach that goal by springtime or early summer. Rose wants to learn to knit better and to learn how to cook a few more dishes. Maggie wants to improve her drawing skills and finish her pre-algebra book before her brothers. Patrick wishes to expand his egg laying business and Thomas hopes to learn driving skills and to make a new friend. Philip aspires to lead our little church in the way it should go and I wish to expand our dairy operation gracefully, milking 2 cows and 4 goats this year, making one hard cheese a week to store for winter use, and to make sure and cover the important things in school. I also aspire to arrange one date night a month for Philip and me.

We have lots of other dreams and ambitions, like making our bakery operation more efficient for the 2 farmers markets, teach a few more cooking classes, fertilize our fields by more intensive grazing and broiler production. We wish to improve fields, expand our garden by at least 25%, cover an intensive grammar study, write more in our home school and love each other more sweetly. We would like the farm to generate enough income to cover farm costs and family food costs as well as electric and insurance costs.

The Bible says that "The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps," Proverbs 16:9.

May the Lord direct our plans and steps in a way that will improve the health of our family, our community, our farm and our world this 2010. And yours, too!