Friday, April 30, 2010

When nature wins

I've had a nightmare of a day.

It started early this morning when I heard Matilda, our Jersey cow, bellowing. She didn't stop either. "What's the matter, she lose her calf?" I kept asking, but the calf was always within easy sight.

The problem became abundantly clear when we saw Gimli, our bull, who should NOT be on this side of the fence. But he was. (Fences, take note, are largely decorative.) And Gimli was dancing such close attendance on Matilda that it was clear our dear girl was in heat.

Unlike the subtle heat cycles of our Dexters, when a Jersey's in heat you know it. They bellow fit to kill. And in such a state, Gimli thought Matilda was the sexiest thing this side of...well, the fence.

But it's the wrong time of year for her to breed. A cow's gestation is 9 months, 10 days. That would put the birth squarely in the middle of next February. We got lucky this year with Pearly's birth because we've had a mild winter, but undoubtedly we won't be so lucky again.

So we had to keep them apart. Ha. Correction -- **I** had to keep them apart, because Don had to be away for the day. Double ha.

To make things more exciting, our ten-month-old bull calf Beefy suddenly "discovered girls." Beefy is a short-legged Dexter which puts him about the same size as Pearly right now, though he is, of course...well, beefier. The size difference between he and Matilda is laughable - but he wasn't about to let a little thing like logistics stop him.

Normally Gimli is very tolerant of Beefy. In fact, the two are best buds. But not when there's a sexy hot cow in the area! And for some reason, Matilda was showing a distinct preference for Beefy. Oh joy.

I started by pulling Matilda into her milking stall and slamming the door shut against Gimli's eager escort. He bellowed and paced and went into the barn adjacent to her stall. Hey bingo, problem solved! I locked him in and milked Matilda. Make a note: cows don't give a lot of milk during their heat cycles. I came away with barely a pint, then let Matilda out.

Well, Gimli's confinement lasted a couple hours until he found he could force aside a weak part in the barn wall and get into the woods again. Soon he had hopped the fence and was back with his lady love.

Okay, so I locked Matilda into her milking stall again, this time for much of the day. This worked, but it left a bull on the loose who wasn't about to cooperate and go meekly back into the wooded side of the fence.

The complications with Beefy, however young and small he is, were such that in frustration I called Potlatch Pack (the local mobile butchering service) and made a date on May 10 to put Beefy in the freezer. Can't have TWO bulls around the place.

The neighbor kids wanted to come over, so I told them I'd meet them at the fence and escort them into the house, which I did. Later the girls wanted to go over to the boys' house, so again I escorted everyone to the fence and ordered the girls to call me before they came home. Can't take chances with a horny bull.

By mid-afternoon, I had a splitting headache, compounded by the constant bellowing between Gimli and Matilda, with a few bleats thrown in by Beefy and Pearly. I needed to clean Matilda's stall and get her some fresh water and food, but couldn't do it with Gimli in constant attendance. So I pulled Matilda into the barn adjacent to her stall and let Gimli sniff her over the boards from the hay side.

Big mistake. I thought he was going to jump (climb?) over the five-foot-high boards to get at her. Hastily I pulled Matilda back into her dirty stall and let Gimli into the barn and locked him there. I knew I didn't have long before he escaped, but at least I could release Matilda long enough to clean her stall. Musical cows, anyone?

And oh my, wasn't Beefy pleased about this arrangement! Here's this sexy thing all to himself, without Gimli chasing him off! He was on her hammer and tongs - as I said, the size difference is laughable, but I'll give him credit for trying.

Meanwhile with Gimli bellowing his sexual frustration in my ear and huffing at the loose part of the barn wall, I hastily cleaned Matilda's stall. Soon I heard the crashing noise that indicated Gimli was out of the barn into the woods, and knew I had about two minutes to get Matilda back into her stall before Lover Boy came dashing over the fence. (Remember, fences are merely decorative - especially when hormones are concerned.) I didn't have food or water in the stall yet, but at least the floor was clean.

So I grabbed a lead rope, ran over to Matilda (who wasn't pleased to see me) and clipped it to her halter. And then I pulled and dragged and tugged and dragged some more because hey, she didn't want to give up the attentions of Beefy (who, believe me, was mounting with great enthusiasm) without a fight. I was able to finally get her into her stall and chase Beefy out just as Gimli came pounding up.

Slamming doors left and right and grabbing the pitchfork in defense while Gimli paced outside her door and bellowed, I did the kids' barn chores - filling the water tank and feeding and watering the chickens - because I didn't want them out with Gimli. It's not that he was out to "get" anyone - Dexter bulls are actually quite sweet-tempered - but we can't forget he's still a bull and is therefore unpredictable, especially in his sexually-charged state.

By this time Younger Daughter was ready to come home, so I met her at the neighbor's fence with a pitchfork and escorted her to the house. I also told the dogs they weren't getting a walk that night.

I was exhausted and the headache was worse, so I finally called my husband and said, "How do you feel about just letting Gimli have his way with Matilda and giving her a shot of Lutalyse later on?" Lutalyse is an abortant and we sometimes use it to abort an ill-timed pregnancy in our cows.

He agreed this was the most prudent course of action, and with no small amount of relief (for ALL parties concerned) I let Matilda out of her stall and let the boys have her.

We REALLY need to build a bull pen.

What's that you say about living the "simple" life? Okay, quit laughing.

Beefy thinks it's worth a shot.

Gimli disagrees and chases him off.

Ah, sweet hormones!

Notice Beefy (nuzzling Matilda) isn't a whole lot bigger than Pearly (red calf on left).

Beefy hasn't quite caught on yet...

...which doesn't keep Matilda from showing her preference.

But at least Gimli knows which end is which.

Mild snark...

The below comment was directed at an older posting called "The Ant and the Grasshopper." This humorous modern twist of the classic Aesop fable also prompted me to write a WND column entitled "Ants, Grasshoppers and God."

So go back and read the original posting on the Ant and the Grasshopper and then consider this reader's comment:

Good to see ignorance is alive and well in North Idaho.

Such a simple comment, isn't it? Yet I find myself curious. What is the basis for the accusation of ignorance concerning Aesop's admonishment to be responsible for ourselves?

I'm serious. I'm inviting the anonymous poster of this comment to please (politely) expand his or her logic and let us all know what part of this fable he/she finds objectionable.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Life of Lydia...

Did this dog fall upstairs or WHAT???

Horsing around with a neighbor boy.

Surveying her domain with Older Daughter.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Homesteading Question #5 - Making Cream Cheese

Here's my final posting on making cheese, in this case cream cheese. Of the three cheese I know how to make (mozzarella, cheddar, and cream) this is by far the easiest.

Start with two quarts of light cream and heat to 86F.

Add 4 ounces of mesophilic starter (I freeze mine in cubes) and stir until the cubes melt.

Cream cheese requires rennet, but in a very, very diluted form. Take three DROPS of rennet and add to 1/3 cup cool water.

Add one teaspoon of the diluted rennet and mix thoroughly.

I poured the cream into a bowl and covered it with a lid to keep out anything that might be floating around (wisps of dog hair, dust, whatever). Now it has to ripen for twelve hours at 72F, which can be a challenge.

I tucked the bowl of cream into our gas oven, which has a pilot light and therefore stays warm. But if the door was closed, it was too warm, so I taped a little note to the oven door asking that it stay open. This kept the cream at a consistent 72F. If your day is warm, you might be able to just keep the cream on the kitchen counter for that time. If it's a hot day, perhaps you can find a cool spot (basement? washroom?) to keep it.

I finished this step a little after 6:30 in the morning. Then I just went about my day until evening.

After twelve hours, I poured the contents into the largest bowl I have. Believe me, use your largest bowl. The next step is to take a separate pot of water and heat it to 170F. Heat at least two quarts of water, probably three to be on the safe side.

Once the water has reached 170F, start adding it to your bowl of cheese. You'll need to add enough hot water to raise the temp of the cheese to 125F. This is why you'll need the largestbowl you have. By the time I was done and the temp was correct, this white bowl was full to the brim. It looks like nothing more than a watery mess at this stage, but don't worry.

Line a colander in the sink with a clean old pillowcase (I like the "thinner" fabric pillowcases because they drain better).

Pour the whole watery slop from the bowl into the pillowcase. Have someone hold up the edges if need be. Honestly, you'll think you're pouring the whole bowl down the sink because it drains so quickly, but don't worry. What remains in the pillowcase are the cheese solids which will need to drip dry.

Next you'll have to hang the pillowcase to drain for about twelve hours (overnight in my case). This is how I hook the pillowcase around my cabinet center. Obviously you'll have to come up with whatever method works in your kitchen.

A full pillowcase, just hung to drip overnight:

The next morning: finished dripping.

Yield is 8 ounces, half a pound.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Ten Commandments? We don't need no stinkin' ten commandments...

What can I say? Words fail me. From this website and confirmed here.

Ted Turner does not like the Ten Commandments. Turner, founder of CNN, had this to say about the Decalogue when he addressed the National Press Association in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1988: “We’re living with outmoded rules. The rules we’re living under [are] the Ten Commandments, and I bet nobody here even pays much attention to ’em, because they are too old. When Moses went up on the mountain, there were no nuclear weapons, there was no poverty. Today, the Ten Commandments wouldn’t go over. Nobody around likes to be commanded.” Do you think Turner is familiar with the Ten Commandments, including the prohibitions against murder (sixth) and stealing (eighth)? Turner’s dismissal of the Ten Commandments led him to develop his own set of “new” commandments that he calls “Voluntary Initiatives”:

1. I promise to have love and respect for the planet earth and living things thereon, especially my fellow species—humankind.

2. I promise to treat all persons everywhere with dignity, respect, and friendliness.

3. I promise to have no more than two children, or no more than my nation suggests.

4. I promise to use my best efforts to save what is left of our natural world in its untouched state and to restore damaged or destroyed areas where practical.

5. I pledge to use as little nonrenewable resources as possible.

6. I pledge to use as little toxic chemicals, pesticides, and other poisons as possible and to work for their reduction by others.

7. I promise to contribute to those less fortunate than myself, to help them become self-sufficient and enjoy the benefits of a decent life, including clean air and water, adequate food and health care, housing, education, and individual rights.

8. I reject the use of force, in particular military force, and back United Nations arbitration of international disputes.

9. I support the total elimination of all nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons of mass destruction.

10. I support the United Nations and its efforts to collectively improve the conditions of the planet.

Letter from a liberal

There's a very nice polite liberal reader who emails me his opinions from time to time. I don't know why he thinks I'll alter my views based on his arguments, but he's always charming and I can't take offense.

In response to this weekend's column on public schools, he wrote the following:

Hello Patrice! I think you've been misled by too much conservative propaganda. Our public schools, whatever their faults, aren't these horrible, evil, wicked Godless places where kids are being taught to be gay, to hate Christianity, and to be promiscuous etc.

If anything, the REAL indoctrination is by so many conservative religious parents who homeschool their kids. I'm sure this doesn't apply to you and your kids, but many of these homeschooled kids are being brainwashed by their parents to be intolerant of gay people, intolerant of others who don't share the religious beliefs they are being taught, and to be appallingly narrow-minded and self-righteous.

I'm not opposed to Christianity per se, and I don't condemn any one merely for being a Christian. I myself am a non-observant secular Jew, but not an atheist. And many unfortunate children in America are being taught creationist lies and have been hoodwinked into thinking that the world is actually just 6,000 years old, was created in six days, that human beings co-existed with dinosaurs and that Adam and Eve, the garden of Eden, a talking serpent, and Noah and the ark actually existed. These people are just characters in an ancient allegory. They are no more historical figures than Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

And there is absolutely NO conflict between evolution and belief in God. None whatsoever. People who think that learning about Darwin and evolution in school will turn their kids into a bunch of Godless communists, sexual deviants, and "moral relativists" (what a ridiculous term, there's no such thing!), are not thinking clearly.

The notion that you can only be moral and good if you believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible, and are Bible-believing, born again Christian, is one of the most idiotic notions in human history.

If people want to be Bible-believing, born again Christians, that's their right. But they have absolutely no monopoly of truth and morality. Our public schools are places for teaching, not preaching.

If right-wingers got their way, they would turn our schools into places of religious indoctrination. That's not what they were meant to be.

Best regards, Robert

I replied as follows:

Hi Robert:

Well actually....they are. Public schools are nothing more than change agents. Don't believe me? Try expressing a conservative Christian opinion or wearing an anti-abortion T-shirt and see where it gets you. So much for "diversity" of thought.

The funny thing is, I have a dear (and liberal) friend in Portland who couldn't have kids, so she and her husband adopted a girl from Guatemala. Now this kid is six, and suddenly Wendy is deeply concerned by...all the liberal propaganda rampant in the Portland public schools. And she's a liberal, too!

It is the RIGHT of all parents to "indoctrinate" their children according to their beliefs. If you want your kids to believe Gaia is a alive and you should worship it, fine. If you want your kids to believe Jesus is the Savior of the world, fine. If you want your kids to believe in creationism, fine. Whatever your views to the contrary, someone else does NOT have the RIGHT to indoctrinate MY kids into THEIR beliefs.

And so I will continue to homeschool our kids.

Besides, the public schools around us seriously suck...(smile).



This is my ten-year-old nephew Alexander. My brother snapped this pic just before his concerto competition performance.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Homesteading Question #4 - Making cheddar cheese

Here are the steps for making cheddar cheese. The recipe for this version came from Ricki Carrol's Home Cheese Making. Some of these photos will be used to illustrate a comprehensive article on basic cheesemaking that will appear in a future issue of Backwoods Home Magazine. I'm posting them here so the editor has a chance to look over the pictures and select the ones she wants to use for the article.

The beginning steps for cheddar are similar to the beginning steps outlined in mozzarella cheese (illustrated here). I'm not giving temperature specs, etc., as those details are found in the cheese recipe in the book. Instead, I'm just illustrating some of the basic steps.

In cheddar, you don't use thermophilic starter, you use mesophilic starter. Nor do you use lipase powder or citric acid. It's just milk, mesophilic starter, and rennet.

For cheddar, I go through similar steps as with the mozzarella - warm the milk, add the starter, let it ripen, add the rennet, let it set, cut the rennet, slowly heat the temperature to 100F, drain the curds in a clean pillowcase...all that is nearly identical to mozzarella (except for certain minor temp differences and ripening times detailed in the book).

The one big difference is, before cooking the curds for two hours, you don't dice the curds, you cut them into big three-inch slices. Here are the sliced curds, back in the pot:

Cook the curds at 100F for two hours, turning every 15 minutes, until they're tough and resemble pieces of boiled chicken breast.

Here's where things diverge from the mozzarella technique.

Take the tough curd pieces and dice them, then put them back in the pot. Maintaining the temperature at 100F, cook for 30 minutes, stirring gently with your fingers every ten minutes to keep the curds from matting. Then add the salt and stir to dissolve.

At this point you will need a cheese press. Unlike the shiny pretty (and expensive) commercial presses, I use a home-made lever-arm press my husband put together. (I'm so thankful to have a woodworking husband!) Here is the press; at the bottom right are the plastic (purchased) form and follower; at the upper left is an old plastic jug filled with sand and bent nails, as a counter-weight.

Don made the base of the press wide enough to accommodate the size of the plastic form. By the way, while I normally advocate home-made versions of whatever you can make, I do recommend purchasing a proper cheese form and follower. They're tough sturdy food-grade plastic and only cost $16 and will last forever.

Anyway, put the form on the press and line it with a piece of old clean sheeting (I prefer "thinner" sheets rather than "thicker" sheets, as it allows the whey to drain more easily).

Spoon the curds into the form. Press down and squish them all in if necessary.

Gather all the edges of the cloth and pack it into the form, over the top of the curds. Put the follower into the form.

Put the...I dunno, what do you call it? The "foot" of the press? Whatever it's called, put it into the follower. You'll notice whey is starting to get pressed out of the curds.

Be sure to put something underneath the edge of the cheese press to catch the drippings. Normally I put my press on the edge of the sink and let the whey drip into the sink, but that didn't really photograph well, so instead I propped my press on top a crate on the kitchen table. Do whatever arrangement works best for you.

Put the counter-weight over the lever arm of the press and push it up to ten pounds. Keep it at this weight for fifteen minutes.

Slide the counter-weight off the arm, lift the foot off the cheese, take the follower out, and flip the cheese over. Replace the follower, fit the foot back inside, and press at forty pounds for twelve hours.

Flip again, and press at 50 lbs for 24 hours:

At the end of that time, remove the cheese from the form and peel off the cloth:

Let the cheese air-dry for 3 to 5 days. I like drying cheese on a rack so it dries evenly on all sides.

Here I'm waxing several batches of cheese at the same time. At this stage, they're half-waxed...

And fully waxed. I'll date it and let it age for 2 1/2 months.

A word about cheese cultures, either thermophilic (for mozzarella) or mesophilic (for cheddar). The cultures come in powdered form, and with care they can be recultured indefinitely. Start by sterilizing some jars. Then fill the jars with milk and sterilize it by boiling in a boiling-bath (in effect, canning the milk). Let the milk cool to 110F, add the starter, and let it sit out at room temperature for twenty-four hours to culture:

I'll freeze this in ice cube trays after it's cultured, and then I just take three or four cubes for culturing cheese. Hint: LABEL your mesophilic and thermophilic cultures. I have a bag of mystery starter cubes in the freezer with no clue what kind it is.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

What do 5000+ books look like?

As some of you may have gathered, we love books. We collect books. We have books all over the house, in the oddest nooks and crannies, wherever we can squeeze them. I wrote an article (never published) called Raising a Reader: Confessions of an Obsessed Book Collector which, if I do say so, is a pretty darned accurate portrayal of our family's little, er, quirk.

And to answer the most frequently-asked, we haven't read them all. We've read most of them, though - at least 75%.

So what do 5000+ books look like? I went around and photographed our bookshelves. We have about half of them roughly grouped into categories. The rest are a mishmash.

Here is our collection of history, politics, and finance:

A heavily-used shelf. Top shelf are interior design, some science series, and some photo collections by Life Magazine; next shelf are costuming (chiefly Renaissance and Medieval), arts, and crafts; next are the comic series (Foxtrot, Calvin & Hobbes, Baby Blues, The Far Side, etc.); next are our daily-use schoolbooks; and on the bottom, some oversized books involving art collections and mythology.

Mostly science books (largely geology, biology), including my cherished "In the Shadow of Man" autographed by Jane Goodall back in 1978; plus a few gardening books and miscellaneous mishmash.

A mishmash unit. Lots of novels (Bronte, Seton, M.M. Kaye, Austin) along with absolutely anything else, ranging from Plants of Idaho to a biography of Shirley Temple.

One of my favorite shelving units. This holds Childcraft books and This Fabulous Century books at the top; on the left are World Book Encyclopedias (picked up for $1/each when our old Oregon library upgraded to newer editions); left bottom are history books; and the two right-hand units hold my collection of farming, gardening, and homesteading books.

Oops, almost forgot our cookbooks:

A stray shelf built into the boot unit my husband made, next to our entry way. At the top are the cubbies where we tuck hats, gloves, etc. Bottom, obviously, are boots. This shelf holds a lot of our identification books (birds, flowers, insects, etc.) and some overflow mishmash.

The shelving unit next to the stairs. This is largely a mishmash of books we tend to reach for frequently - political books, Bill Bryson (love him!), some overflow children's books, and a lot of my collection of interior design and decorating books. (Which is pretty funny when you think about it, because I have absolutely no talent for interior decorating.)

The shelving unit next to the piano. This used to be a display unit for our tankards when we were doing craft shows. Now it holds a collection of classic literature - Bronte, Twain, Dickens, Aesop, Mitchell, that kind of stuff. A few shorter sets or series as we find them.

Oldest Daughter's bookshelf in her bedroom:

Our reference shelves, as well as oversized books (mostly art). This unit is at the base of our stairs, and the little radio ($5.99 at Goodwill) is constantly tuned to KAGU 88.7 FM, the classical station out of Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA so I can hear it in my office. Ah, bliss.

Shelves in the front room bathroom (that I now use as a canning closet). The lower shelf has books on religion and several spare Bibles; the middle shelf has books on psychology and human behavior; and the top shelf has books on simplicity and frugality.

Reference books on a high shelf in my husband's "office" (poor guy doesn't really have a proper place to call his own). These are wiring and plumbing manuals, woodworking reference books, appliance repair, that kind of thing.

A typical sight - recently finished (or recently referenced) books piled everywhere.

These shelves are on the stair landing right below my office. These are a mishmash - no particular order or theme.

These are my writing reference books in my office.

These are children's books that the girls have largely outgrown, but are too good to get rid of. We keep them upstairs near where the TV is. (For the record, we don't have TV reception and only use the TV for watching movies.)

One year Don asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and I said I wanted a magazine shelf. We had magazines archived all over the house, and I wanted them shelved all in one place. Many of these are magazines Don or I write for - Countryside, Grit, Backwoods Home, Back Home, Crafts Report, etc. Others are magazines we get at thrift stores or free as library giveaways - Architectural Digest, National Geographic, etc. On the top shelf are two series of books (one on classic sailing ships - my husband used to be in the Navy; and the other an almost-complete Great Books of the Western World set) found at a library sale for - I'm not kidding - $3 for each series. For the whole series. (We thought we'd died and gone to heaven.) You can see something of the unfinished nature of our do-it-yourself house by the insulation above the books. On the other side of this wall is my office.

This is our "paperback bookshelf," squeezed into an odd nook outside our bedroom door. Don built these shelves out of 100+ year old barnwood we found in the attic of our old house in Oregon.

Some of our series volumes: my beloved Harvard Classics (incomplete - I'm working on acquiring the volumes as I find them) as well as some Great Classics I picked up for a buck apiece at a library sale. The rest is mishmash. The shelves were originally display units for our tankards back in the days when we did craft fairs. Now they're located in a spare bedroom.

So that's what 5000+ books look like. Any questions?

UPDATE: Now here's the Ultimate Library. I wish!