Thursday, January 28, 2016


Yesterday we got out to the farm and all the cows came running over and shouted at us.  They had hardly touched their hay, but they looked thin.  We couldn't figure out why at first.  Just before I got Matilda for milking, Ethan discovered someone had tripped over the water hose and yanked it so hard the automatic float valve was malfunctioning.  He quickly moved the water trough so the hose was not across the walkway, and filled it back up.  The cows were fighting over the water.  Sampson has decided he is the dominant bull now that Explorer is gone, and he was taking the opportunity to assert his status and be a jerk.

Ethan filled a smaller trough up on the side so the lesser-status cows could also drink.  Flora and the yearling calves flocked to it, and pushed the little calves off.  The little calves looked unhappy about this, but they were probably nursing all day long, anyway.  Nutty licked a leak at the spigot.  Everyone had water all over their faces.

The calves skipped around in the excitement, all in a big gang.  They are like children, playing in a big group while the grown-ups stand around seriously and worry about things like who's going into heat, and who gets the first drink.  The yearling calves, the teenagers, stand around sarcastically and ignore their smaller siblings skipping around, begging them to play. 

Yesterday I went to a new massage therapist.  He doesn't do massage so much as a sort of orthobionomy.  He hardly did anything - just a few small adjustments.  He said my intestines were adhered to my back muscles.  I could tell they have been, but I didn't know what to do about it.  Actually, I didn't know that exactly, but my guts felt funny.  They have since I was pregnant with Rose, and they had to squelch out of the way as she was growing.  They never felt like they went back right.  It's made my stomach pouch out funny, but it hurt to stand up straight, or exercise my stomach muscles.  I have been to other therapists, and chiropractors.  I have a twist in my body, and I am in constant discomfort when I stand. 

After the adjustment, and I had sat up, he told me I really need to go back to the Dojo and start training again.  To my surprise, I started to cry as I explained I just didn't have any energy or childcare.  He said I just need to do it, even if I suck at it, even if I have to bring all my children and they overrun the place.

I haven't done anything like that for three and a half years - since Clothilde was born.  I've just felt totally shut-down, constantly alert, constantly running after her, being woken up throughout the night and never getting a good sleep.

I need to move differently.  He said he was surprised how bad things were in my body.  That made me cry even more, because it was so true....I've been here in the background, struggling.  My health has been so bad, but I can't ever rest or relax.  I'm like a fixture, running around, like a robot.  No one thinks I might not be able to do something.  They just expect me to do it.  No one thinks I might be sick, or need something.  They just complain if I don't do what they want.  I almost died a few months ago.  I'm just surviving now.

When I stood up, my stomach hurt strangely.  I kept having stomach pains.  That evening I was laughing with my children, and I realized I hadn't laughed like that for a long, long time.  I haven't been unhappy or happy - just numb.  Already dead.  I felt alive for the first time since I can remember.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

In the garden: Purple Carrots

My purple carrots were small and stunted this year - I don't think they liked all the heat.  They still tasted good.

The garden has had a hard time of it lately.  One evening when we drove up the cows had busted in somehow.  I thought everything would be eaten to nubs, but they had gotten distracted by the tender cover crop I had planted in the back and hadn't made it to even the turnips yet.  Bad things!  First the goats got in, then the pigs, and now the cows!  They ate all the oats and rye, so I'll have to replant.

This is what my garden looks like right now, sheltering under hoops with plastic.  The hot weather made me lazy this year, and I didn't get the cold protection set up ahead of time.  Instead, we had to fumble around just before dark getting things set up for the first cold snap.  We didn't do a good job of it - or maybe I didn't plan the garden layout very well (a possibility) so now it's nearly impossible to walk around in the garden when the plastic is off without getting barricaded in by metal hoops.

There wasn't enough to cover the cabbage, and it all froze, so no cabbage this year.  Or cauliflower.  Or broccoli.  Or Brussels sprouts.  But at least I grew such a big variety of Asian greens this year - they are getting us through the winter.  And the lettuce.  I am so glad I planted so much lettuce!  Because this is what dinner looks like most nights:

Something green from the garden, some cassava roots - just add a roast or soup and there's dinner.  We still have a couple of rows of cassava left.  We seem to go through a root-system a week.  I peel it and soak it in changes of water, and this seems to improve the flavor a lot.  The bitterness soaks out, and I can smell the cyanide in the water the first few days.  It gets more tender and potato-like.

I also still have Seminole pumpkins left.  They are so sweet they are almost like a dessert, and I didn't even plant them.  I've been putting the seeds in the pig bucket lately instead of roasting them, in hopes that there will be a pig-planted pumpkin patch in the orchard this summer.  We had some growing already, but the cold snap melted them.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Working on Dreams

We have so many plans and dreams this year.  Things that will make our life so much easier, and solve so many little, nagging problems.  Last year I struggled to figure out solutions.  This year I know what I want, but we haven't been able to make it happen yet - which I find almost as frustrating as not knowing what to do!  I go back and forth between wanting to just have things done, and wanting to take the time to do it right.

Ethan worked through the frigid weekend so that we could take advantage of the good weather during the week to work outside.

Here's one of my projects:

I've been building permanent beds for perennials in front of the garden.  I tried having an herb garden there first, but it got very weedy and was difficult to tend to right next to the fence.  The past few years it has been a wild butterfly garden, but it's been getting out of hand and the butterfly plants are being smothered by blackberries and weeds.  I plan to move the butterfly plants to a different location so that I can mow along the fence.  I am being very careful to leave enough space between the beds for mowing, too.

I've already started planning what to plant - my heirloom roses I started from cuttings four years ago first of all.  I couldn't figure out a good spot for them until now.  And all the bulbs that get shaded out along the fence will be moved.  A bed for multiplier onions, garlic chives, and herbs that need a permanent place like lavender, rosemary, oregano, mint, thyme, yarrow, sage.

I want to also have medicinals such as licorice, Echinacea, skullcap, and Isatis.  Someday it will look like more than just an overgrown junk pile out here!

Friday, January 22, 2016

A Break

We finally got around to processing the rest of the turkeys.  There were only seven left, but we had to 1) Clean out the lower room, which is a nightmare of junk 2) Move in the new freezer and set it up 3) Wait for a weekend it was not raining.

We ALMOST got #3 right....the weather last Saturday was supposed to be gorgeous, sunny, and cool.  Sunday was supposed to be rainy, grey and awful, so we made plans for Saturday.

Of course it was grey, rainy and awful all day on Saturday, and Sunday was a blaze of golden light, but we got it done through the showers of cold rain.  Clothilde enjoyed helping a lot, and Rose helped cut the legs off.  Some of them were fairly large (about 55 lbs was the joke).  We also culled the last five white egg layers, who hadn't layed for ages (they were ancient and badly behaved - they kept escaping into the garden and scratching up my vegetables).  I am excited about chicken and dumplings.

This also reduces Ethan's chore-load to feeding/moving the pigs, delivering hay to the cows every few days, and the current batch of egg chickens.  Hopefully this will give him time to finish working on the barn sides, a new cold smoker, and some other big projects he just hasn't had time for.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Homeschooling and Conflicts of Interest

You know how children seem to be attracted to whatever their parents don't really like?  I thought it couldn't possibly happen to me - I'm fairly laid-back about most things.  But Mirin has managed to hit on an interest that does indeed make me cringe - guns.

I've never liked guns.  Even when I was a kid I thought the boy gun games were stupid and boring.  My next door neighbor was a kid who loved plastic guns, so I saw them a lot, and heard the "Pshoo!  Boom!  Pshoo!" sound-effects all the time.

While I think guns are very useful, for hunting and humane slaughter of animals in some cases (we use them that way), I can't STAND the "gun culture" stuff.  However, Mirin is intensely fascinated by them.

His dream is to build his own, functional gun.  I've found myself checking out books at the library on building guns, and listening to long, painful conversations on trigger mechanisms [yawn!], historical gun makes, and gun powder composition.  I'm sure we're on some kind of watch list now from his google searches.  He's done supervised structural tests on different barrels using fireworks, starting with the old-fashioned bamboo ones.  He spent days drilling out out lengths of metal to make metal ones, and has even been experimenting with lost-wax casting.  He spent hours hand-milling out trigger mechanism hardware from pieces of steel with a hack saw and a file (and this is a child who has trouble not falling off his chair during a 10 minute session of reading or math work - his attention span is obviously NOT the problem).  He's got several wooden stocks of various kinds of wood he's been hand-carving out, and the floor of his room is littered with paper drafts and thin wooden pattern pieces of gun innards.  Lately he's been spending hours with the angle grinder, making either knives, swords, or gun pieces.

BUT,  I have to admit that it has been very useful for our recent homeschooling lessons - decimals.  He's been ripping through the workbook I got for him to practice with.

Rose, back in second grade, is working on learning the times tables, which we have been doing as a clapping game (very popular, even Clothilde joins in).  We are also working on regrouping (carrying and borrowing), which she is doing well with.  I also showed her the "touch-dot" numbers that I learned in first grade.  I've hesitated to bring out anything I learned with, because I had a terrible math education.  These have seemed to help her.  I originally had been working with her on an abacus, and that was extremely useful to show her how the different operations work, but now it seems to be holding her back, as she is very dependant on calculating with it.

I was having trouble finding time to make up practice problems for her, so I bought her a math workbook.  I was hoping for just arithmetic problems for her to practice with a little every day.  I was disappointed to find it very boring and schooly.  To my great surprise, she loved it, has already completed the first month of practice lessons, and asked me to get another one when she is finished.  Mirin would have cast it aside immediately and never looked at it again.  It just shows how very different children are with learning!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Yarn Along: Second Cuff, Second Time

I think I finally got the pattern I'm working on right the second knit-up.  Rose has already claimed the first, large-and-floppy cuff for a legwarmer, so I'll have to knit a second one of those for her, as well as a second, better-fitting one for myself.  Confusing!  But I do think I'll have a free pattern to share soon.  I want to knit it through right another few times to make sure.  At least they knit up very quickly, and it hardly uses any yarn.  I'm seeing if it's easier to break the yarn after each color row, and have a million ends to weave in afterwards, or if it's better to have them all attached as you knit.  Four balls of yarn twisting around as I'm knitting is very annoying, but so was all the work with the darning needle.

I got this book - Dissolving Illusions - for Christmas, and Ethan and I are both reading it.  I had seen Dr. Humphries's lectures before, and I was curious to read her book.  It's really good, better than I expected, and not at all boring.  Actually, I had trouble putting it down, and I kept reading parts out loud to Ethan. 

I first got interested in the issue of vaccination when I was in high school, and a friend of my mom's son was vaccine damaged.  He went from being a normal child to suddenly having many seizures every day, and it was shocking to see how horrible it was for their family.  I've read about the issue over the past 15 years, but I still learned a lot from this book. Everything is well-backed up with scientific papers and government data, and there are many useful graphs and charts.

It starts with describing a change in the commons laws at the end of the 1700's that drove thousands of people into cities, which quickly became extremely dirty and overcrowded.  This is when diseases like small pox, measles, and whooping cough became a big problem.  People worked 15-20 hour days in dangerous factories that spewed waste into the streets between overcrowded tenement houses.  Children were forced to work for the same long hours as the adults.  It was very dirty and very unhealthy, and diseases killed people all the time.  A long life span for these people was about 30 years, but most died in childhood.  They could not breastfeed their babies or rest when they were ill, and they did not have access to clean water or nourishing food.

Edward Jenner first claimed that cow pox infections made people immune to small pox - that's the basis of the first vaccines.  Jenner's "sample group" of vaccine success was only one boy, whose medical history was never looked in to (he could have already had small pox).  Other doctors at the time came forward and argued that they had seen people who had already had cow pox die from small pox, but Jenner kept inoculating people anyway.  Jenner's method of making vaccines by transferring viruses between humans and animals actually made for some very deadly forms of foot and mouth disease and small pox that became major animal and human health problems.

One of my favorite parts was about a small pox vaccine culture that had been in use for more than 100 years by Wyeth.  About 10 years ago, scientists began to do DNA typing on the viruses in the culture to figure out which strains it immunized people for....they found thousands of strange and unknown viruses...but not small pox!  It was ordered to be destroyed, so we'll never know what people were actually inoculated with for all those years.

Polio, measles and whooping cough are also discussed in detail.  She brings up research on how viruses are changing because of how vaccines have changed the immune response:  They program the immune system to respond to some, but not all, of the viral proteins in a specific way. 

That's why cases of these illnesses are mild and often asymptomatic in vaccinated people.  Often the symptoms of illness are actually the body's immune response getting rid of the virus.  These asymptomatic infections are still very contagious, and have bad long-term health effects.  Rather than protecting from infection, vaccines actually program the immune system to not mount a strong enough response to get rid of the virus.

This has had the effect to encourage the viruses to change and adapt in ways that were thought very unlikely or impossible.  Because the viruses have encountered so many weak, vaccine-programmed immune responses, they are now resistant to them.  The mumps vaccine is practically useless because there are very common new strains resistant to the vaccine-programmed response (and this is actually a top issue with pro-vaccine researchers and scientists).  It's like the viral version of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

 I could go on - this book is fascinating!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

First Attempt At Bacon

Inspired by the River Cottage Curing and Smoking Handbook, Ethan cured some bacon last week.  It's good, but not quite what we expected - it's a little heavy on the juniper berries and bay leaf.  Not bad at all, but I guess we're used to Southern-style bacon.  We're going to try it again with different seasonings.  This bacon was on the lean-side, too.  And it's been in the freezer for ages, so I guess we're lucky it turned out edible at all.

We're really enjoying the River Cottage book.  We've gone through so many curing books over the years, and this is one of the best - up there with Jane Grigson's Charcuterie and the Art of French Pork Cookery.  Some of the books are downright disappointing.

There was a beautiful, glossy coffee table-type book called Charcuterie we were excited to get.  The first recipe was for brined saurkraut that involved BOILING the brine afterwards and pouring it back over the cabbage to pasteurize it.  There goes all the probiotic bacteria!  Then the recipe says it only lasts 2 weeks.  I've had brined pickles in my fridge that lasted more than a year. The texture isn't the same, but they are perfectly edible.

The first recipe gave me grave misgivings, but I flipped though the rest of it anyway.  It was a lot of curing salts with red 40 and propylene glycol, complicated ways of pressing pastry into expensive pate dishes - with about 20 illustrations of each minute step, and elaborate emulsified sausages that involved freezing all the standing mixer equipment for hours beforehand.   I guess that's what to expect if you read anything by professional chefs.  I had to pick up Jane Grigson afterwards to clear my mind.  My thoughts are that if rednecks all over Europe could make great charcuterie for centuries, it just can't be that hard.  Heck, the Gauls were the ones who started it all, and I'm sure they didn't have standing mixers.

 I think one of the problems is that most fancy sausage books are written for people to experiment with reproducing certain popular regional European sausages as closely as possible in their big city loft apartment, and we are on a different approach.  We're more in the line of having a whole carcass of meat and needing something to do to make it edible and storable as quickly as possible.  A whole animal, with all the organs, head and trotters, is completely different than dealing with a pork butt in plastic wrap from the store.

Monday, January 18, 2016

News From Explorer and Milking Matilda Again

It's been a week since Explorer left, and we got some news that he's been some trouble.  Apparently when he got off the trailer he did a lot of snorting and bucking around (the trailer really pissed him off), but he calmed down after a little while.

And instead of getting down to business and breeding the new cows he's in with, he jumped the fence to pick on a mini-Zebu bull in the next pasture!  PJ sent us a picture.  Bully!  Ken will be running a hot wire along the fence this time, and hopefully he'll stay in and behave himself.

Meanwhile, we are realizing just how much hay he consumed - like as much as the rest of the cows put together.

I'm milking Matilda again.  Every day her milk gets a little less yellow from the colostrum, and more like regular milk.  The calf is drinking most of it already, but she usually has just about a quart extra.  I haven't milked Chestnut or Geranium yet this lactation, but Matilda is a very good milker and I was worried about her getting uncomfortable with too much milk.

She's been very happy to come down for her barley and peanut hay again.  I've been giving her some fresh greens from the garden to help her recover.  It takes the cows and goats about two weeks to recover, including what they call "the 10-day ickies."  Even they look tired and stressed with newborns, and their babies can walk soon after birth!  (or maybe that makes it more difficult....)

Matilda's doing well this year.  She is always thinner than the other cows, but she also makes the most milk.  The copper has made her winter coat this year thick and soft and dark.

The other two babies are THRILLED to have another playmate.  As soon as Matilda's calf was born, they were crowding around him, sniffing him and trying to play.  He was like, "Nice to meet you, but I'm just trying to get the hang of standing right now."

Mistletoe, Chestnut's calf from November, has grown up to be a big bruiser.  He likes to play roughly with Flora's big calf, Ninja, who was born last May.  Holly is especially glad to have Matilda's calf to play with, because he's more her size (they are only a few weeks apart).  We still haven't thought of a good name for him!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Handmade Mayonnaise

As soon as Christmas was over, the chickens decided it was spring and started laying.  We don't usually get that many eggs so early in the year.  They were such beautiful shades of pink and brown I had to get a picture.

My little lettuce plants are finally just big enough to start getting salads.  At this point, only about once a week.  I planted a lot, so I hope to be sick of salads by the end of spring.  Egg yolks and the lemons and calamondins Mirin has been scrumping in the neighborhood make delicious mayonnaise and salad dressings.  Real mayonnaise is delicious and really not that hard to make.  You can make it in a food processor, but it's really not that difficult to just whisk it up by hand.

Here's my recipe:

4 egg yolks
 (save whites for delicious meringues!  If I get around to it, I'll post a chocolate meringue recipe that is wonderful)

1-2 Tablespoons lemon, lime or calamondin juice, or very acidic vinegar
  Kaffir lime juice has made the best mayonnaise so far.

1/2 teaspoon salt  

I'll be honest - I don't measure.  A good pinch or dash should do.  You can adjust the seasonings at the end.

1 Tablespoon raw honey
or unrefined sugar like Sucanat, Rapadura or coconut sugar

A couple grinds of black pepper

1 teaspoon dry mustard powder

1 cup good quality olive oil

Quality of olive oil really makes a big difference - Lately I've been using some cheap olive oil a friend gave me, probably really sunflower oil, and the flavor and quality has suffered.  Good olive oil is definitely on my shopping list for next time I go to the store!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  

1.  Place egg yolks and all other ingredients EXCEPT the olive oil in a shallow bowl.  Have the olive oil in a separate cup or small bowl next to you, with a spoon.

2.  Whisk it all together really well with a whisk or even just a fork works.

3.  With the spoon, drip just one drop of oil into the egg mixture.  Whisk it up really well.  Start adding the oil drip by drip, whisking the whole time.  At the end you can add it by drizzling slowly.  When all the oil is added, whisk it really well for another minute or so.  Then taste and adjust the seasonings.  You can add more salt, or more lemon juice as needed at this point, just whisk it in really well afterwards.

4.  Chill well.  It will look runny at first, but will thicken up nicely in the fridge.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Explorer Off

Sampson and Nutty, the two biggest bulls now, spar to see who's the biggest
Some big changes have happened recently - we lost Night Hawk, we got a new buck (he's even stinkier than before - the girls are still not going for it), and our big bull Explorer went off to a new farm to see about some cows over there.  He'll be back in a couple of months.

It was very tense getting him in the stock trailer.  I thought about it all week, and especially the night before, trying to figure out how we were going to convince him to go in.  He is a huge bull, and I'm terrified of him.  He could easily kill me, and although he's generally laid-back and nice, large male animals should NEVER be trusted.  The best I could think of was that we could back the trailer in, lure him over with peanut hay, put up some cattle panels behind him, and coax him in gently in the smaller space.  It didn't work exactly like that in real life, of course.

Ken, the guy who is borrowing him, pulled his large, red stock trailer up and we parked it in the gate.  It felt slightly ironic for it to be so large and red, and we were trying to get a bull into it - calmly.

Ethan wanted to just have Explorer in the paddock to make things easier to manage.  I had always imagined letting everyone in, so this was different from my plan.  Of course Geranium and Lichen let themselves in, too.  Geranium was easily led out, but Lichen just hung around and got in the way.

While I was still at the gate, Ethan and Ken began trying to herd Explorer towards the trailer.  This pissed him off, and he began tossing his horns and leaping around unpredictably.  I came down and asked them to stay back, because Explorer was clearly very afraid of Ken, and he has never liked Ethan.  I hand-fed and petted him a lot when he was small, so he has always liked me.

This calmed him down, and I got him and Lichen into the smaller area, and we put up the cattle panels - no, not exactly, we only had short hog panels to make-do with instead.  He was very nervous, especially with Ken and Ethan getting between him and his cows, so I suggested bringing Matilda in.  We did, and that calmed him down a lot.  She woolfed down the hay and barley I had set out for him, and he stayed back.  Once he sniffed the edge of the trailer.  We went through a lot of barley and hay.  Finally, Ethan jumped in and tried to get him in the trailer.  Lichen got even more in the way, while Matilda polished off the hay I had on the back of the trailer.  Explorer got very upset and jumped clear over the cattle panels.

That was very disappointing.  Ethan wanted to put Matilda in the trailer, but she was wise to it, and wouldn't go.  I suggested following my original plan to have more of the herd in with us, to calm him down.  We did both ideas, and it worked.  I made a Hansel-and-Gretel trail of hay to the stock trailer, and the big mama cows came barrelling straight for it.  Geranium, the greediest, was easily put in the stock trailer, and Explorer was quick to follow.  The door was shut, and he was in!

But that wasn't the last of it - we had to get Geranium out around him, and then shut him in the front of the trailer (so he didn't get knocked around so much on the drive - it's safer).  I went to let the mamas back in with the calves, who were freaking out that they were missing something (they hadn't come in with everyone else).  I just heard Ken and Ethan fiddling with the door a bunch, and then huge booms as Explorer kicked around.  Finally he was settled and they drove away.

Flora mooed after him - he's her brother, and they have a special bond.  I tried to tell her he was off for some fun, but she kept mooing.  It seems very calm without him.  And it's really remarkable how long the hay bales last now.

Before all that craziness got started, I had gone up to check on the herd.  Everyone had been napping in the middle of the field, chewing cud.  I saw everyone except Matilda's new baby.  I was surprised she was laying down without him.  All the other calves were right next to their mamas.  But often the babies will hide when they are new, just as they would in the wild.  I walked around and didn't see him for awhile.  I finally found him curled up in a pile of brush and branches.  I could see him breathing, but I wanted to check to make sure he was okay.  I ran my hand down his back, and even rubbed his face and head.  He didn't get up as I expected, but curled up more tightly.  It worried me.  Matilda came over and sniffed at him, and then went away again.  I had to leave because Ken was coming, and I needed to get the goats out of the way first.

After Explorer left, I asked Ethan to see what he thought about the calf.  We walked up together, and found him in the same place, same position.  Not sleeping, but curled up tightly.  We both rubbed his back and tried to get him to move.  He seemed to curl up more tightly.  Finally, Ethan scratched around on his head, and this annoyed him enough that he stood up.  Matilda had come over to see what we were doing to him.  He wobbled over, pooped a big, yellow colostrum poo, and started nursing.

Looking at them both, I said to Ethan, "I guess he was just tired.  Good.  I was afraid there was something wrong with him.  It's good he's nursing."

Matilda met my eyes just then, and she snorted and shook her horns at me in a gesture of annoyance.  I knew she was saying, "How DARE you wake up the baby?!!"

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Yarn Along: Wrist Warmers with Colorwork

Rug space in front of the window is in really high demand

It's been awhile since I've picked up any knitting.  I think it took that long for my brain to recover from the anaesthesia.  For a few weeks now I've been glancing at my yarn stash, wondering when I would feel up for it again.

I had been meaning to make some nice wrist warmers, and the extra skeins of similar-weight yarn inspired me to try a few rounds of colorwork.  I made up the pattern, but I got some of the math wrong the first go-around - or maybe it was reading a really exciting book out loud and knitting at the same time.  Or chatting with friends and knitting.  Or being climbed on my the 3-year old and knitting.  Any of those.

The first one turned out really lovely, but needs a few adjustments.  I'm trying out the modifications on the next one, and I think I'll knit a couple for gifts, too.  And then at that point I might have another free pattern - another wrist-warmer thing.  Well, they're easy. 

We are just finishing Hexwood by Diana Wynn Jones, one of my favorite authors.  This particular book was really good.  I read it first, then Ethan took it and read it, and I read it out loud to the big kids, who loved it.

It's a science-fiction/fantasy blend, and I love the way she blended the two together.  The antagonist characters are equal parts appalling and hilarious.  It's a story about a weird old machine put on earth by the leaders of an inter-galactic corporation that exploits the resources of the galaxy, woven into the King Arthur myths. 

It might sound unlikely, but it was very fun to read.  The way the story is unfolded, you can't tell what's going on at first.  Time and space get switched around.  Everything seems muddled and strange.  Little bits of information are given here and there - some you don't pick up on the first read through.  At the end, the whole story is laid out for you and (most) everything becomes clear so that you have the sense of putting a puzzle together as you read.  That made it a really fun read-aloud book, because everyone was trying to guess what was happening.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Biggest Billy Goat Gruff

Hopefully Twilight Sparkle won't get her head stuck in the fence again now that we have a buck...

*Caution, contains a graphic picture of farm life.  Don't scroll down if you're squeamish*

On Thursday we went to see the buck.  He's big, beautiful, and very friendly.  The family who raised him is having to move, and they are very sad to say goodbye to him.  He's also extremely smelly - just how a buck should be.

When we got him to the farm, we first had to pull the truck up and stop to move a bucket and Clothilde's hand-me-down plastic ATV that I'm appalled to say we own.  Well, maybe "own" is too strong of a word.  It blights our landscape.

The girls smelled him before they could get a good look at him.  Firefly was the first one who came over, sniffing and staring.  He was thrilled to see the girls when we backed the trailer into their paddock.  They were all up and in a curious group, sniffing and staring at him.  We let him out and he ran right down to the gate to get in with them.

May, being the pluckiest, came right up and tried to show him who was boss.  That lasted about two seconds.  Then she realized her mistake and fled to the huddle of damsels in the far corner.  We had to leave them in together in the smaller weaning paddock while we backed the truck out and closed the gate.  The girls were not impressed.

 "Hmmm....they don't seem to like me."

"Why are they running away?"


"I know, I need to pee on my beard again.  That will make me irresistible"

When I opened the gate a few minutes later to let them into the larger paddock, I was careful to stand aside so I wasn't trampled.  He came charging after them, playfully leaping and kicking.  He ran them around for a little while, and then settled down by the hay, while they stayed in a little group at the farthest corner away possible, and looked indignant and miserable.  It wasn't a good first impression with them, but I'm sure they'll come around.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Not a Quiet Day

Friday was NOT a quiet day, after all.  It turned out to be a constant-fun type of day.  I'm not even sure what I was thinking writing that.  I hardly got to knit very much, and it stopped raining.  We had friends we hadn't seen for awhile come over in the morning, and overlap with a visit from some out-of-town friends who used to be homeschooling neighbors.  We haven't seen them in months.  Their mom hadn't even parked the car when they exploded out, and every one was yelping with glee.  There were violent sword fights, and the front porch became an armory.  I had to get out scrubby sponges and vinegar so they could shine the metal helmet up - it's been rusting on the porch for ages now.

And I had a long day of wonderful visits with two dear friends I hadn't seen for a long time.  It was very grounding and refreshing to see them both again after having such negative experiences with the one friend who was doing fiddle with us.

We got out to the farm very late -  just in time to see the sunset light the western clouds up with beautiful rose-pink light.  Matilda's calf was born.  It's a boy.  It was still damp when we got out there, and her afterbirth was hanging out.  We haven't thought of a name yet - if it was a girl, it was going to be called Ivy.  Back to the drawing board.  If you pick out a name ahead of time, it's always the wrong gender.  I don't know exactly why it always happens that way, but I've seen it happen again and again.  I got to name Rose because Ethan hadn't thought of anything except boy names.  He was completely surprised to have a little girl, and I got to pick out a name before he recovered enough.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Quiet Day

It's raining this morning, so we will probably have a quiet day today.  Some out-of-town friends are going to be visiting this afternoon.  Yesterday we went to look at a new buck.  He was beautiful, and I think we will buy him.  He's already grown-up and knows what to do, which is kind of what our bossy girls need.  He's been fed organic feeds and wormed herbally - I think a better match for our farm than the goats that are fed TMR and wormed with chemicals.

I am thankful for the rain.  January is usually when the fall dry season is finished and the cold weather comes through.  I started a new knitting project just in time.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Goodbye Night Hawk

Something very sudden, and very sad happened this week.  Night Hawk, our little buck, became very, very ill suddenly and died.  I believe he had Stargazing, or goat polio - not a contagious disease, but caused by a vitamin B1 deficiency.  He was growing, in appearances in good health, although he seemed behind developmentally.  He was still very babyish and not acting bucky at all, when he should have been.

The evening before he had been peppy as usual, and eagerly ate grapefruit sections out of my hand.  The next afternoon, he was staggering around, blind, and quickly declined as we tried to figure out what was wrong.  We ran to the store and got needles and B vitamins, but at that point he was collapsed and barely breathing.  It was too late.

In retrospect, I think he was too dependant on our big scoop of feed we would give him.  I was wanting to make sure he got enough to eat, and so he would grow, but I wonder if it was too much and he didn't get enough hay.  B1 (thiamine) is produced in the rumen in normal conditions, but too much feed can interrupt it.  Apparently it is a common problem when goats are hand-fed.  It is also possible he had a genetic pre-disposition to it.  It is a metabolic disorder.  While he was very sweet and loving, he was never very vigorous.  His twin died right after we picked him up from a virus that swept through the goat herd at my friend's farm.

The truth is, goats we have bought from other people never do very well.  They are the only ones who are ever sick or have ever died.  All the goats born on our farm have always been vigorous and healthy.  I'm not sure if we just have hard conditions?  We don't use chemicals or processed feeds.  They tend to get a high-forage diet like they are supposed to.  Could it be that those goats are adapted to that and need those things?  And our goats have adapted to our conditions?  I suspect our goats would not do well in a conventional situation.  They would want browse.  I wonder if the chemical wormers would make them sick.  They have never been exposed to that sort of thing.

Mirin lit a big fire of weeds from the garden in honor of Night Hawk last night, and we buried him in the orchard.  It's been particularly hard for Clothilde.  They were very close.  She ADORED him, and fed and petted him daily.  While he was sick, she sat by him and "read" him a book to help him get better.  So sad.  He was a charming little fellow, and we'll miss him - but he was not necessarily a good buck for us.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Signs and Portents

This is gruesome...but an interesting story.  Ethan had dropped me and the girls off at the gate on the way in to the farm, because they like to walk along and look at Star's piglets.  They were lingering, loitering, moving very slowly, and I had a lot I wanted to get done, so I ran ahead - and screamed when I almost stepped on this coral snake!

It's tail was still moving, but when I stopped to look, I realized there was something wrong.  At first I thought Ethan had run it over in the van, and that made me sad.  But then I took a closer look.

The coral snake had a smaller, ring-neck snake that had busted out of it's side, but was all dried up, as though it had struggled out, killed the coral snake, but then died.

I think it ate the smaller snake, but perhaps didn't stun it well enough, and the smaller snake worked it's way out!

I've seen a similar picture of a Burmese python that had eaten an alligator.

We set the poor coral snake aside, and it was gone in the morning.  A cautionary tale, I suppose - don't swallow something you'll come to regret later!

Monday, January 4, 2016

New Year's Calamondin Cake

Welcome 2016!!!

We had a wonderful New Year's Eve dinner with my family.  We had a big ham bone from a ham Ethan brined, so I made the traditional Southern New Year's meal:  Black-eye peas (with the ham bone), cornbread, and greens (turnip greens this time - I think they are supposed to be collards).  The peas are supposed to represent silver, the cornbread is gold, and the greens are money.  It's a lucky meal to start the new year off.  I added some ambrosia fruit salad, too, because we still had so many grapefruits from PJ.

Because the food was all easy to make ahead, we spent most of the day working at the farm.  We got so much done!  I cleared out weeds and built two new beds and planted the rest of my winter starts over the weekend.  We worked on a big project in the barn, and got it all done.  Then we came home for dinner, did tarot readings for everyone who wanted one, lit off a few fireworks with the children, and got to bed fairly early - a great way to start the year!

For a special dessert, I tried out my new glass cake pan and made a grain-free calamondin cake by modifying an old recipe from a family friend who was from the Florida Keys.  Her recipe was practically 90% sugar, but this one is sweetened with honey.

Grain-free Calamondin Cake:

For the Cake:

1 cup plus 1 Tablespoon coconut flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda


10 eggs

1 Tablespoon vanilla extract


1 cup butter

1 cup honey

10 calamondins


1.  Butter cake pan and pre-heat oven to 350 F

2.  Sift together coconut flour, salt and baking soda.  Sifting several times helps to fluff up the coconut flour and make a lighter cake.

3.  Separate 5 of the eggs and reserve the whites.  Add the rest of the eggs whole to the yolks.  Beat the eggs with the vanilla extract until smooth and yellow.

4.  In a small sauce pan, melt the butter and honey together over low heat.  While they are melting, prepare the calamondins:

5.  Slice each calamondin in half and squeeze the seeds and juice into a cup, and save the skins.  Make sure all the seeds are out of the skins!  Strain the juice, and set aside.  Grind the skins up to a pulp in the food processor, adding about half the juice.  Pour the pulp and juice in with the melted butter and honey.

6.  Let the butter and honey cool a little while you whip up the reserved egg whites until they have stiff peaks.

7.  Now mix the butter/honey/calamondins in with the dry ingredients and stir well.  When it is well mixed, add about half the eggs and stir.  Add the rest of the eggs and mix well.  This helps keep the batter smooth to add them in halves.

8.  Fold in the egg whites.  Pour into the pan and bake at 350 F for 30-45 minutes.  Allow cake to cool completely before carefully turning out onto a dish.

For the Filling:

1 cup cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup honey

8-10 calamondins

1.  Prepare calamondins as described above - by slicing in half, squeezing out the juice and saving the skins, grinding the skins in a food processor with about half the juice.

2.  Cream butter and cream cheese together.  Add honey and mix well until smooth.

3.  Slowly add calamondin pulp and mix very well.

4.  To fill cake, carefully slice the top off and set aside.  Make two cuts along the middle and the inside, all the way around.  Using a spoon, scoop out the middle of the cake.  Pour filling inside the cavity, and replace the top.  Pour the last of the filling over the top of the cake.  Chill well.