Self-Sufficiency Series

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Great Escape

As you know, we’ve spent the past week waiting with breathless anticipation for our Jersey cow Matilda to have her calf. As the days crawled by, we've had a number of false alarms. Meanwhile the poor girl was looking positively misshapen between her bulging belly and her enormous udder. There was so much mud in the wooded area where we keep the cows in the winter, often knee deep, that I brought her into the fenced driveway area just to keep her on dry land until she had her calf. “Driveway” is a misnomer, since it also includes our entire side yard, probably half an acre total.

I didn’t think to close the driveway gate since, after all, poor Matilda could barely waddle, much less make a dash down the 400 foot length of the driveway toward terra incognita.

Until this morning. It was as foggy as anything and visibility was limited to 100 feet. Still, as I was upstairs getting dressed for church I could see her walking – okay, waddling – briskly down the driveway. Unconcerned, I went downstairs and told the kids, “Let’s get going so I can get Matilda back in the driveway and close the gate.”

We hopped in the car and drove down the fog-shrouded driveway. But no Matilda. Baffled, we got to the end of the driveway and had three options: left (to go to church), straight (up our neighbor’s driveway), or right (toward some other neighbors as well as a ravine leading to the canyon). No Matilda in sight.

Entirely randomly, I went right. “I don’t see her,” said Oldest Daughter, peering into the fog.

“She can’t have gone far,” I said crossly. “She can barely waddle.” I drove further than any cow – much less a Jersey with a nine-month calf inside her and an enormous beach-ball udder between her legs – could surely walk in the two minutes between seeing her heading down the driveway and us getting in the car.

Suddenly there she was, high-tailing it down the road toward the ravine. I jerked the car to a stop and hopped out. “You little twit!” I exclaimed. “Get back here!” So, attired in church clothes and unfortunately without a lead rope, I hauled her up the hill and back into our driveway, where I closed the gate behind her. She was not amused.

What a dastardly person I am, thwarting her Great Escape.

“She probably wanted to find a secretive spot to have her calf,” observed Oldest Daughter.

“I’m sure you’re right,” I replied. “But can you imagine having to search high and low for her after church, trying to find a secretive cow and calf down the ravine?”

We were late for church, of course, but our pastor thought our excuse was hilarious.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Ice cream, anyone?

This is a story that circulated the internet around the time of the elections in November 2008, supposedly from a teacher in the Nashville area. While I can't verify its accuracy, it nonetheless is a superb illustration of policitics.

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The most eye-opening civics lesson I ever had was while teaching third grade this year. The presidential election was heating up and some of the children showed an interest. I decided we would have an election for a class president. We would choose our nominees. They would make a campaign speech and the class would vote. To simplify the process, candidates were nominated by other class members.

We discussed what kinds of characteristics these students should have. We got many nominations and from those, Jamie and Olivia were picked to run for the top spot.

The class had done a great job in their selections. Both candidates were good kids. I thought Jamie might have an advantage because he got lots of parental support. I had never seen Olivia's mother.

The day arrived when they were to make their speeches. Jamie went first. He had specific ideas about how to make our class a better place. He ended by promising to do his very best.

Everyone applauded. He sat down and Olivia came to the podium. Her speech was concise. She said, "If you will vote for me, I will give you ice cream." She sat down.

The class went wild. "Yes! Yes! We want ice cream." She surely could say more. She did not have to.

A discussion followed. How did she plan to pay for the ice cream? She wasn't sure. Would her parents buy it or would the class pay for it? She didn't know. The class really didn't care. All they were thinking about was ice cream.

Jamie was forgotten. Olivia won by a landslide.

Every time Barack Obama opened his mouth, he offered ice cream…and fifty-two percent of the people reacted like nine year olds. They want ice cream.

The other forty-eight percent of us know we're going to have to feed the cow and clean up the mess.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cleaning the $#@^%& barn

Well once a year, whether it needs it or not, I feel compelled to clean the barn.

It's not a terribly big space. Our weird outbuilding isn't the least bit barn-shaped. It's just long. It's divvied up into shop, hay storage, and barn. The "barn" consists of a single room plus two stalls.

I muck out Matilda's stall every day because I need a clean space to milk (when I'm milking, that is... -- which I'm not doing right now because we're still waiting for her to have her calf).

But it's the pending birth of this first calf of the year that compelled me to get off my lazy duff and clean the barn. We need a nice clean place for mamas and calves to get out of rain and wind.

It's strictly a wheelbarrow-and-pitchfork job and this time took me three days to complete.

Here I've started nearest the door and got the first four feet done.



Here Matilda is hanging out with Younger Daughter and a neighbor boy, watching me labor.


The barn floor is covered with a foot of compacted straw and manure. It's sheer hard work to lance it up, pitch it into the wheelbarrow, and trundle it around to our compost pile. This long mess is this winter's barn compost. In about two years it will be unbelievably beautiful stuff for the garden.


The chickens, of course, think the compost pile is put there specifically for their benefit.




After three days of picking away at it, I finally got the barn floor down to gravel.

Now spread some clean straw, and we're all ready for calves. And I'm ready for a shower.


Matilda says "Thanks!"

Random pix...

Don't mess with north Idaho women! Here's a young lady who "power walked" to our house and back for exercise. The ski poles are for extra arm movements. The gun is for weight. Any questions?


Ouch. This one (left) must have hurt coming out.


Early morning cuddles.

Kissing bulls

Here's Gimli, our Dexter herd sire, soaking up the sunshine on a mild winter day.


Here's Beefy, our eight-month-old bull calf. We never got around to steering him, so he has an early date with the freezer (about four months from now, as soon as his mama drops another calf) since we don't need another bull around the place. Beefy is fond of Gimli and decided to do a little grooming in Gimli's ear. Cute.


What a find!

For some time now, we've been on the lookout for a wood cookstove. We heat exclusively with wood and cook with propane, but a couple winters ago we were snowed in and ran so low on propane that I feared we'd be unable to cook except on the surface of the woodstove (which will do in a pinch, but a woodstove isn't really set up for cooking).

So we've been in the market for a cookstove. I spread the word that we were looking for a unit in good condition - I've seen a few that were so rusted-out as to be unusable - and wondered if we'd find what we were looking for because our budget was so tight.

Thanks to the vigilance of some neighbors, we are now the proud owners of a good-as-new wood cookstove! It was made in 1926 and, in the words of our friends who found it (and who, since they have vast experience with wood cookstoves, went over it with a fine tooth comb), is in "phenomenal condition." (It was also a phenomenal price.)

Here it is still in the store, one of those rent-a-booth type antique stores:


Broken down in the back of our truck for the trip home:


Set up temporarily in our house:


Can you believe the condition it's in?


It's not hooked up yet, of course. We have a lot of work to do to install it - cut out the carpet and put some tile down, put a fire-proof backing against the wall, install a triple-walled stovepipe, that kind of thing.

But this cookstove is one more step on the road to self-sufficiency. No more will we have to worry about running low on propane in order to cook. It will be an additional source of heat on cold days, too. What a find!

Washing sheets in winter

Washing sheets in winter is a pain in the patookus if you don't use a dryer. That's because there's limited places one can drape an entire sheet to dry. Generally I can't wash more than one person's sheets at a time simply from lack of drying space (I use the stair banister but it won't hold more than two folded-in-quarters sheets at once).

So today I decided to take advantage of the unbelievably mild winter we're having and hang everyone's sheets on the clothes line. Imagine that - hanging laundry in February! It's sunny and 40 degrees and a little breezy, so I expect the sheets will be dry by evening.


Here's our neighbor's horses taking advantage of the sun. What looks like a pile of carcasses is several horses lying stretched out full-length in the sun.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

In labor? Not sure...

For the last week or two we've been on pins and needles, waiting for our Jersey cow Matilda to have her calf. Tonight might be the night!


I went out a few minutes ago to tuck her into her stall (note: 6:45 pm Pacific time) and saw a strand of mucus hanging from her vulva. While I pretty much recognize the signs when a Dexter is about to give birth, this is my first experience with a Jersey...so I'm less sure.

Regardless, she's safe and dry in her stall right now, a good place to give birth.

Normally we don't like our cows having calves in mid-winter (this is north Idaho, after all), but this winter has been so mild that it's more like April than February. If she has to give birth in winter, this is the best winter we could have for doing so.

This could be a false alarm, but I don't think so. I'll keep everyone posted, and hopefully get some pictures of the delivery.

UPDATE SUNDAY MORNING: Nothing yet. The waiting game continues!

Friday, February 19, 2010

For ladies only...

Okay guys, time to disappear. I know you'll want to anyway when you find out that the subject of this post is....(drum roll please) ...feminine hygiene.

Seriously, ladies, by now you probably know I'm into preparedness. I like to think we're fairly well prepared in terms of the basic necessities (and some of the comforts) of life if the economy gets tough(er). For the last few years we've been using reusable alternatives to most everything that’s disposable. And what's more disposable than feminine hygiene products?

For some time now, I've been "test marketing" reusable feminine napkins made by my friend Enola Gay. Along with some other ladies, we've suggested tweaks and fiddles and adjustments until she's come up with a design that works.


And let me tell you, these work. Beautifully. These napkins are better than any store-bought disposables I've ever used. No leaks, no slips, easy on and off, and they feel terrific (and soft!). If it's possible to gush over such a product without sounding like an idiot, I'll happily gush.

My favorite style is unquestionably the one designed for nighttime use. There's nothing worse than lying half-asleep in bed and, uh, feeling things getting out of hand. If you're lying on your back, there's an excellent chance you'll wake up with a stain on the sheet. Oh groan. But with this nighttime design, there's extra material in the back to catch that middle-of-the-night flow.

Reusable feminine hygiene products means you never run out. Have you ever had that moment of panic when you realize you need a napkin now and you don't have any more? For some women, it's a simple matter to drive down the street to the nearest store to resupply. For us rural women, it's more of a challenge (especially in winter) to make a dash to the grocery store. But what would it be like if disposable napkins weren't available at all?

After I started using these reusable napkins, I realized there's a side benefit I hadn't thought about: the cha-ching factor. You know what it's like - you keep using a disposable napkin until it's saturated (and possibly leaking) because every time you use a fresh one, a little "cha-ching" ("How much did that cost?") runs through your mind. But with reusable napkins, you can change as often as you please (for that "fresh feeling," don't you know) with no additional cost. Ever.

Washing is easy. I keep a bucket and tongs dedicated to soaking my napkins. When that time of the month calls, I fill the bucket about half-way full of water and use the tongs to press the napkin's soiled part fully under water. That's it. As the days pass, I pile more and more napkins on top each other (adding more water as needed to make sure the soiled part is always soaking) until either my cycle is over and/or I do a load of laundry. As long as the soiled part is soaking, I don't need to add anything else to the bucket except plain water - no hydrogen peroxide or vinegar or anything. When it's time to wash, I start the washing machine, use the tongs to fish out the napkins, and toss them in the washing machine with a load of dark clothes. Voila.


I air dry my napkins by laying them flat on my clothes racks to dry.

I've adopted Enola's attitude that "ladies only" items should be pretty and feminine. Accordingly I bought attractive picnic-style baskets from thrift stores for our items, and my daughters and I keep the napkins discretely stored in convenient places.


Enola's home business is called "Naturally Cozy" and she's ready to start taking orders. I estimate these products will pay for themselves inside six months. I ordered three sets – one for myself and a set for each of my daughters. Never again will we have to make an unexpected dash to the store for disposable napkins.


Enola has perfected a design for a daily-use panty liner as well. Whoo-hoo!


So here's my testimonial for Enola's reusable feminine hygiene products. If you want some peace of mind for that inevitable and unavoidable time of the month, I can't recommend these highly enough.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Update on Riley

Many of you have been asking about our 15-year-old neighbor boy Riley and how he's doing after his horrific accident last Wednesday.

I'm pleased and thankful to report that he's home!! My kids took over a basket full of homemade goodies and cards and other stuff to welcome him back. They reported he was full of piss and vinegar (his usual state of affairs) and everyone couldn't be happier. He's joking and in good spirits, enough to mug at the camera.



He has a long road ahead of him, of course. The doctors say his chances of keeping his fingers now stand at 98% - I partially attribute those wonderful odds to all you terrific folks who kept him in your prayers - but needless to say he has at least a year of physical therapy to undergo as he re-learns how to use his left hand.



Again, a heart-felt "thank you" to everyone who uttered a petition to the Almighty that his fingers would "take" after being reattached. I'm grateful to the wonderful surgeons and other personnel who helped in his recovery. Modern medicine is indeed a marvel.

Kids and dogs

Some neighbor kids (ages two and four) were over today and had a spiffy time with Lydia.



Chuckle du Jour: Splinters

A woman from Los Angeles who was a tree hugger, a Democrat, and an anti-hunter purchased a piece of timberland near Colville, Washington.

There was a large tree on one of the highest points in the tract. She wanted a good view of the natural splendor of her land so she started to climb the big tree. As she neared the top, she encountered a spotted owl that attacked her. In her haste to escape, the woman slid down the tree to the ground and got many splinters in her crotch.

In considerable pain, she hurried to Mt. Carmel ER to see a doctor. She told him she was an environmentalist, a Democrat, and an anti-hunter and how she came to get all the splinters.

The doctor listened to her story with great patience and then told her to go wait in the examining room and he would see if he could help her. She sat and waited three hours before the doctor reappeared. The angry woman demanded, “What took you so long?”

He smiled and then told her, “Well, I had to get permits from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management before I could remove old-growth timber from a recreational area. I'm sorry, but they turned me down.”

Monday, February 15, 2010

A cute pic...

Our neighbors have Newfoundland dogs. One day the youngest daughter (four years old) crawled onto one of the dog's beds and fell asleep with the dog's paw protectively over her. The child's older sister immediately grabbed a joke sign they had hanging around and tucked it behind the sleeping pair, then snapped the picture. I thought it was cute.

Horsing (dogging?) around

Lydia is nine months old and big as a horse. When we get home after being away, she goes wild with excitement. Here she has "trapped" Oldest Daughter and my nephew on the kitchen counter, where they scooted so she wouldn't trample them.






Another obligatory cute puppy picture:

Well so much for THAT idea...

Remember way back in October when we had a little surprise? That's when our hen Frightful stole an autumn nest and hatched out two chicks. One chick died, but the other survived.

To keep the other hens from picking on the baby, we kept Frightful and her chick first in an old rabbit hutch in the coop, then later when they outgrew that we wired off a portion of the coop and tucked them in there. This winter has been very mild with virtually no snow, but the temps were chilly. Still, the chick did well under the heat lamp, and once it feathered out it was fine.

So last week I decided to shoo Frightful and the chick outside and let them get used to being with the rest of the flock. Both were a little skittish after being in their pen so long. Frightful immediately flew up to the perch, and the chick followed. I still call it a "chick," but as you can see it's a half-grown bird (the black and white bird in front).



However once they got down from the perch the chick got picked on by the other hens. I found her huddled behind a board, hiding, so I scooped her up and put her back in the pen, to her relief.

Then a few days ago I shooed Frightful and the chick outside once more. But this time the chick hid herself in a place I couldn't find, so when dark fell I couldn't find her. I searched and searched, but no luck.

"Don't be surprised to hear squawks in the middle of the night," I told the girls.

Sure enough, I awoke at 1:30 am to hear squawks.

In the morning I went out and saw a trail of black and white feathers leading down into the woods. Coyotes have to eat too, I guess.





So much for hatching out fall chicks....

Friday, February 12, 2010

Oh, you have GOT to read this.

Country women love their men! Unquestionably, unceasingly! Here's an ode to a country man written by our neighbor. I lifted this straight off her blog without permission and without her knowledge (sorry, Tiffani!) because (sniff) it brought tears to my eyes. I know just how she feels because I feel the same way about my own Knight.

Here's my neighbor's posting:
__________________________

I believe that my husband should be Knighted. He should be called Sir Chris in the city square. He is truly a modern day "Renaissance Man". This man can re-wire a forklift, fix an elevator, slaughter a cow, hunt to provide food, garden, fix anything with an engine, read to his kids, dance with his wife, sing praises of worship, make homemade root beer, drink tea (with china teacups), shoot a rifle with deadly accuracy, teach his sons about "all things men" and dress up to escort his daughters on "daddy dates". I stand in awe of him.

Now, for the slaying of dragons. Last night, after a full days work, my husband came home to a house that was only partially lit. One of our inverters quit working and no amount of banging the side could convince it to function. After a cup of tea (a man has to have his standards!) he went to work. He took the inverter apart, isolated the problem and attempted a repair - in the dark, with no light but a headlamp! Somehow, he knew what all the parts were, where they went, and what they did!?! He explained all of it to me while he was working. Of course, I just nodded my head in agreement, because it sounded like he was speaking Greek (which, of course, he was)! And then it hit me - he was doing battle with the dragon. We have so many situations in our lives that seem to come at us like fire-breathing behemoths of old. They circle us like beasts ready to devour our very lives. But then, my Knight in Shining Armour, my husband, stands between our family and certain destruction. He stands with his faith, his wrenches, his rifle, his resolve, his knowledge and his mercy. He slays the dragons. He does not always return from battle unscathed. There are times when he bears the scars of battles lost. He has moments of despair, moments of anger, moments of defeat - but always, he returns to the battle. He takes up his standard and rushes headlong into the fray. He is my Renaissance Man. He is my Hero. He is a Slayer of Dragons.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bad accident next door

Yesterday we were all away from home until after dark, past 5 pm. We had to hustle and get the barn chores done by flashlight - feeding the cattle, the chickens, filling the water tank. We were all tired and a bit crotchety when the phone rang...

Funny how one's minor irritations fade when bad news happens. It seems one of our neighbor boys, 15 year old Riley, amputated his left thumb and index finger on a power tool about 3:45 pm. His younger brothers saw the result. Thankfully we have a medic in our neighborhood who did the initial work necessary to keep Riley from losing too much blood and going into shock.

He was rushed to our local clinic, then helicoptered into a Spokane hospital where they stabilized him. Then he was jetted to Seattle and underwent several hours of surgery to reattach his fingers.

Right now it seems the surgery was successful. His fingers are showing signs of "pinkening" (meaning circulation is occurring), but he's not out of the woods yet. We won't know for another week if the fingers will "take" or not. I'm informed he has an 80% chance of success which I'm sure you'll agree are pretty good odds, but it's damned scary to think Riley stands a 20% chance of being permanently maimed at 15.

Please pray that his fingers "take." He can use all the help he can get.

Building an igloo is now a "radical right-wing" prank


So it seems someone decided to poke fun at all the "global warming" that's been hitting the Washington D.C. area lately.

In the wake of a second massive blizzard to hit the region, the family of Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) built an igloo near the U.S. Capital building, photos of which the Senator posted on his Facebook page along with signs saying “AL GORE’S NEW HOME!” and “HONK IF YOU (LOVE) GLOBAL WARMING.”

Naturally, the humorless Left couldn't stand to see anything so...so radical as (gasp) building an igloo. Brad Johnson, who blogs for the liberal Center American Progress, criticized the prank and tagged it in the category of “Radical Right-Wing Agenda.”

Apparently Mr. Johnson considers it much more evil to build an (environmentally green) igloo and post a couple signs, than to build an enormous home in Tennessee that uses nearly twenty times as much energy as the average American household (Al Gore's home).

The Left had better be careful how much it criticizes igloos. If they have their way, snow structures will be the Homes of the Future for millions of impoverished citizens who live in the north.