Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Muddy Matilda

Every night during the months the cows are on the wooded side of the property (meaning, winter) I tuck Matilda into her stall. She and Polly are the only ones who get their own stalls. I dunno why, maybe because it's because Jerseys are a little less hardy than Dexters. Or maybe (ahem) Matilda is such a beloved cow that she gets spoiled. Whatever the reason, Matilda likes her stall.

So it's part of my afternoon barn chores to muck out her stall and spread fresh straw on the floor. But for the last week or so, I've had a problem.

Last summer when we built the new barn, the builders had a bit of extra concrete, so they poured a pad in front of the chicken coop, which normally turns into a slurry goopy mess every winter. The concrete pad has been an immeasurable blessing and we haven't had to deal with any mud in front of the coop this winter.

But it did have one unforeseen consequence: the water, which no longer pooled in front of the coop, instead pooled next to the concrete pad... then seeped into Matilda's pen.

This meant there was constant mud in Matilda's stall. Worse, since we've had a few days of warmer weather and pouring rain (which melted the snow), there was something on the order of two inches of standing water (mixed with urine) in her stall. Ug.

Last night it was raining hard but the stall was so wet I debated leaving her outside. But cows are creatures of habit, so in she went. This morning she was as muddy as any of the animals who spent the night outside, and I knew it was time to do something.

Eventually we'll have to trench the area and divert all this water away from the outbuildings, but I needed a more immediate solution. And my solution was to thoroughly clean her stall, then put a generous layer of gravel inside.

This is our gravel pile, left over from the barn pad. Every farm should have a gravel pile. It's immensely handy.

Gravel is heavy, so I only moved a bit at a time.

Still, the wheelbarrow was so heavy that I couldn't bump it over the lip of the stall as I normally do, so I improvised with a small incline.

First couple of loads...

The stall has a slight slope to it, so I only graveled the lower portion. The gravel raised the floor level so Matilda would stay dry. It was SO nice not to have those awful pools of standing water and mud! Right now the gravel is bumpy and will no doubt be uncomfortable to lie on, but it will eventually pack down... and besides, bumpy gravel is better than mud and pooled water (and urine).

Next came bedding. At least this stuff won't become instantly saturated!

A nice padding, and Matilda should be much more comfortable tonight.

Just another day on the farm.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Oh groan...

An alert reader (to use a favorite phrase of humor writer Dave Barry) sent me a link to a new (cough) "fashion" phenomenon known as "drop crotch" jeans.

Just when I'm sure fashion can't possibly get any stupider, I'm proven wrong.

According to the article, "It’s certainly a brave fad, and something likely only hardcore fashionistas could pull off. As Refinery29 pointed out, these pants make cool girls look even cooler 'while making the rest of us look like we were wearing adult diapers.'"

Yeah! Adult diapers! My idea of nouveau fashion!

One cynic accurately observed, "These would be great for shoplifting a turkey."

Couldn't have said it any better myself.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Divorcing Facebook

My husband is getting a divorce. From Facebook, that is.

Don used to run a yearly craft show, and he originally joined Facebook to keep in contact with other people associated with that event. He was careful to put his settings on the highest possible security.

Over time his Facebook account grew to include other events where we might be interested in selling our tankards. Consequently his Friends list was made up of only those people he knew, or associated with events in which he was interested. Over time he acquired 290 Friends. He frequently turned down Friends requests from people he didn’t know.

He also kept his personal and his professional lives totally separate. He never brought his home life onto Facebook.

But with the passage of time, he noticed some things that concerned and troubled him. The first thing was the fact that so much politics kept entering Facebook. Rather than chatting about business or upcoming events, people began to argue about politics. It was getting worse and worse – descending into name-calling, etc. – and the only way to stop it was to de-Friend someone. But of course this would negate the original purpose of getting on Facebook, i.e. business and friendly connections.

Then he learned that Facebook no longer simply archives what you said, and what you Liked and Disliked while you were on Facebook. It is now keeping track of where you travel throughout the internet, even if you’re logged off Facebook. Naturally Facebook claims it keeps that information confidential, but because of Facebook’s close association with advertisers and the federal government, that information was available to anyone with the right credentials - or even the wrong ones.

So that’s why he decided to get a divorce from Facebook.

But leaving Facebook isn't easy. Facebook doesn’t make it easy to leave. They have their tentacles around everything. He first did a search of the internet and came up with a process to leave Facebook, but according to this method, before you could request that Facebook close your account, you had to first manually de-Friend every Friend, remove every photo, every association, and every single comment you had ever posted.

So Don got on Facebook and posted a “goodbye” to everyone, and asked that they not be insulted when he de-Friended them; that this was just part of the process as he understood it.

A more computer-savvy friend told him he didn’t believe it was that complex, and sent him a link on how to close his Facebook account. Don used the link and requested that his account be closed. Facebook automatically responded with a statement that his account was now deactivated and would be closed after 14 days, IF he did not attempt to log on again. Understand that as far as Facebook is concerned, it’s not just Facebook you can’t get on;  you can’t go to a website and automatically or accidentally hit the Facebook button on that website... or you’ll have to start the entire closure process again.

Don’s advice: make sure, if you take this route, you clear every cookie related to Facebook, every quick link and tab to Facebook, and every bookmark, because if you don’t, Facebook may continue to track you and/or stop your closure process.

Also, there isn’t any real evidence that Facebook destroys your account once you close it. If you read the FAQ’s, they weasel-word around the whole concept. But at least once you’ve finished closing the account, they technically are no longer tracking you. However, it's important to remember that while you’re in the deactivated state, if you still have cookies on your computer from Facebook, they can and will track you.

I can’t include the link Don’s friend sent him on how to close his account, because his friend sent it on Facebook, so if Don goes back in to try and retrieve the link, he’ll automatically be re-enrolled. (He says he should have copied it down.)

When Facebook first began, it was an excellent tool, especially if you’re in a crafting business like we are. And it was possible to protect your privacy to a great degree.

But Facebook seemingly has worked harder and harder to make it tougher and tougher for you to hide things like your phone number, your street address, and your email address. Don would constantly get notices from savvy friends on how he could find anyone’s number number “from this link,” etc., and there was no way to go in and stop it except through an extraordinarily convoluted process – and how many people want to go through all that effort? Or even pay attention to the the occasional warnings?

More important to Don, and what led to his growing dissatisfaction, was the fact that Facebook didn’t ask permission to make these changes, nor did it announce these changes. They simply made the changes, and the only ones who found out about it were those people who spend their time looking for such things. And if those people don’t happen to be one of your Friends, you’d never hear about it.

So Don is in the process of getting a divorce from Facebook. But unlike a "no-fault" divorce, Don thinks there's definitely been a breach of contract...or at least trust.

Friday, January 27, 2012


Back in the late 1970s, there was a British television show called Connections. The premise of the show was how discoveries, scientific advancements, historical events, and technology are all connected. I only saw one or two episodes, but it was fascinating.

Well this morning, I had my own mini-version of Connections when I received the following email:

I want to start by saying thank you for your blog! I read it every day and look forward to it. I also homeschool my children and am trying to become as prepared as possible on one income. The reason for my letter today is that my daughter has Cystic Fibrosis (a genetic disorder when pancreas and lungs blocked with mucus) and I have been searching for an over the counter digestive enzyme to stock up on and was having some trouble in doing so. That is until I read your post on making mozzarella cheese of all things!! You mentioned in your post that you use powdered lipase. That is an ingredient in her prescription medication. So that prompted me to look that up which lead me on to many other articles and an OTC medication that is very affordable to stock up on. What makes all of this even more wonderful and amazing is that my husband and I had just been going over the things we really need to do to get MORE prepared and this was number one on our list. I believe that God had his hand in this! God bless you, your family and farm in all you future endeavors!

I found this email stunning. Who'da thunk?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Making mozzarella

A neighbor named Wendy had a cow who lost a calf at birth, and Wendy's been forced to milk the new mama in the absence of the baby. Wendy called and asked if I could make her some mozzarella cheese out of the milk.

It's been over a year since I've milked Matilda, so I said sure! I wanted to see if my cheesemaking skills had atrophied. So Wendy brought over five gallons of fresh milk. (I kept it in our "outdoor refrigerator" until I had a free day to make cheese.)

Cheesemaking isn't arduous -- it's mostly a matter of keeping an eagle-eye on the temperature -- but it's a lengthy and drawn-out process. Don't try making cheese unless you plan to be home the whole day.

I followed the directions found in this book, Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll. If you're serious about making cheese, this is a wonderful reference book.

I won't repeat the recipe since it's too much typing, but I do have another blog post on mozzarella cheese here.

To two gallons of milk, I added some citric acid to make sure the acidity was high enough. Mozzarella cheese has to be somewhat acidic in order to have that "stretch."

Adding lipase powder. This helps give mozzarella its characteristic taste.

My thermophilic starter was a little old, so I wasn't sure it had enough kick. Fortunately it did. However I plan to use some of the leftover fresh milk to re-culture my starter. (Don't worry, I'll blog about it.)

All the ingredients are added and the temperature is correct...

...so now it's time to add rennet. This thickens and "gels" the milk into curds. Takes about 75 minutes for this process to occur.

Cutting the curds. Cut in about 1/2" strips one way, then the other way (criss-cross), then diagonally one way, then the other way.

The curds end up looking like this. Stir, then let them rest for 20 minutes.

Pouring off the whey. Whey can be used to make ricotta cheese, but I wasn't making that today.

As with canning, kitchen timers are your best friend while making cheese.

The drained curds are kept in the colander over a pot of hot water to keep draining, and they're flipped every 20 minutes for 2 1/2 hours. (Sorry, didn't take any photos of this process.)

At the end of this process, it's time to turn the curds into cheese. Start with broad wooden spoons. Do NOT use slotted spoons of any sort (as I found out the hard way) because the gooey cheese oozes between the slots and makes a mess.

Start a pot of water heating toward 170F.

Meanwhile, take the dried curds...

...and start slicing 'n dicing.

It's a juicy process, so be sure to keep a towel beneath the cutting board. During the second batch of cheese, I balanced the cutting board across the sink and let the excess whey drain directly, which worked much better.

When the water in the pot reaches 170F, add the curd cubes. Adding the curd will cool the water, so add more heat as necessary to keep the temperature at 170. Don't go any higher.

Then take the wooden spoons and start working the curds, pressing them together. The water will get very cloudy with whey. Keep working the curds, and keep the temp at 170.

The curds will start to get shiny...

...and stretchy. It's now officially cheese.

Next take the hot and stretchy cheese and plop it in a bowl of cold water to cool.

Here's the two batches of cheese I made from Wendy's milk. Looks like nothing more than a couple of brains sitting on my counter, doesn't it?

I still need to reach Wendy to find out whether or not she wants me to brine the cheese. Personally I like fresh mozzarella better when it's lightly brined, but of course it's her call.

I never saw a purple cow...

Remember that favorite rhyme from childhood?

I never saw a purple cow
I hope to never see one;
But I can tell you anyhow,
I'd rather see than be one.

It seems a little bull calf has been born in Serbia with purplish (well, looks more like washed lavender to me) coloration. Kinda cute!


A friend has been sending me little clips he's finding on Facebook, which I think are great.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Congrats to our winner!

Is this fabulous or what? It turns out that our very own reader, Maria S., won second prize in the Safecastle Freedom Award!! How cool is that??

You might remember that Maria wrote a piece called Preparedness for Young People. Don and I both agreed that this was an excellent piece, and we selected it to send to the Safecastle folks for their final round of judging. Opened to a much wider public for voting, Maria won second place! Her prize is an Excalibur 9-tray dehydrator.

Maria and I emailed back and forth this morning, and I told her one of the reasons her essay was so strong was it addressed a very thorny topic in a very practical way. It also differed from the more nuts-and-bolts approach many of the other essays took. All in all, we couldn't be prouder of Maria.

While there is no way we could take even a modicum of credit for Maria's win, I will say this: Rural Revolution's entry was up against some of the biggest prepping blogs out there. Fifteen blogs sponsored essays, and to have Rural Revolution's choice get second price is sort of like a tiny town's high school football team competing against the big urban schools - and showing well.

At any rate, we couldn't be prouder of Maria, and offer her our heartiest congratulations.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Garden of Eden in a bucket

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could pop the lid on a huge bucket, open it up, and have an instant homestead? Inside that bucket would be a ready-built off-grid cabin, a huge raised-bed garden area fenced against the deer, a well with a hand pump, a pond, an acre of wheat, two milk cows, a flock of chickens, and all your seeds sprouted in pretty little containers, ready to plant.

Well I’d like that too, but it doesn’t exist.

While I applaud any and all efforts for people to adopt a more preparedness lifestyle, I must point out a dangerous tendency: the mindset that someone can stash away all kinds of supplies and equipment, but they won’t bother learning anything about it until such time as the bleep hits the fan. Bad idea.

It’s a whole lot easier to talk about doing something than to actually do it. Preppers must learn how to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. A mark of a real Prepper (versus an armchair Prepper) is the determination to make sure that his efforts won’t be wasted. This means testing your theories, supplies, and equipment; and it means learning how to do things by alternate means. And this must be done before the bleep hits the fan.

There are some people – the “garden of Eden in a bucket” types – who would have you believe the skills to run a self-sufficient homestead can be acquired after the fact as long as you have the equipment.

This is not only a foolish assumption, it’s a dangerous one. If the bleep ever really and truly hits the fan, you are going to be stressed, scared, desperate, panicked, and unfocused. If you think you’ll suddenly have the leisure and the interest in learning the intricacies of cooking from scratch, growing a one-acre garden, or plinking at targets, think again. Because make no mistake: all these skills take practice.

Remember, preparedness is a three-legged stool: supplies, knowledge, and community. You might have all the supplies in the world, but without the knowledge of how to use those supplies, they’re useless.

A reader once wrote, “My Grandmother was a true child of the Great Depression. She tried to teach me to garden, can, sew, knit, etc. I had little patience or interest. Now I find myself struggling to learn to do the things I thought were passé at the time.”

Sadly, such is the fate of most of the modern generation. For most of us, the mantra was “Study hard and go to college.” Our parents and grandparents were anxious to spare us the hardship and struggle they themselves experienced while growing up, little realizing they were doing us a disservice in the long run. Struggles and hardship breed knowledge and experience.

Let's face it, most of us didn't grow up learning homesteading or survival skills at our parents' knees. If we want to acquire the wisdom of our pioneer forefathers and their seemingly (emphasis on seemingly) effortless techniques for living a low-tech rugged lifestyle, we have to learn them the hard way. I had to teach myself to can, to milk a cow, to make cheese, to garden, and an endless list of other skills. And let me assure you I fail all the time. That's the price I pay for having grown up living a soft and modern life.

Today, almost everyone lives a soft and modern life. It's not meant to be an insult, it's just the truth. If you want to overcome that handicap, you must work very hard to do so. The dangerous part is when we think we can just effortlessly – tra la la – waltz into a pioneer lifestyle in a "bleep" situation and expect everything to be just like it is in the books. If we plant a garden, it will grow. If we get a cow, she'll be gentle, healthy, give endless milk, never get mastitis, and can get pregnant without breeding. If we buy a farm, fences will never break down, barns will never need repair, and cougars will never take a calf.

The pioneers didn’t launch themselves into the unknown without adequately preparing their brains as well as their supplies. They knew they would be without convenient “rescue me” resources. They brought what was necessary to ensure their survival in a new land, but they also brought the know-how and wisdom to understand the use of their supplies and equipment. Anything less would have been suicide.

Buying a “garden of Eden in a bucket” will not make you competent to run a successful homestead any more than buying a fancy rifle will make you a marksman. The time to make mistakes is NOW, while you can still purchase food from the grocery store if your garden fails.

My friend Enola Gay summed it up very nicely: “Walking the preparedness walk requires effort, commitment and inconvenience. You will be in for an expensive education, but an education that will serve you well when the grid goes down. Don't be the smartest guy in the room – the guy telling everyone else how to do it – with no real life experience backing you up. Be the guy who has done it. Be the guy who knows how to do it, not because you have read about it but because you have lived it, because you have practiced it. Be the guy who walks the walk - not the guy who talks the talk.”

I encourage any and all prepping efforts, but please – please – don't think homesteading or low-tech living will be easy or trouble-free if you spend enough money or read enough books. You need to go through trials and errors and endless failures at a time when those failures won't mean the difference between life and death.

There’s an old saying that goes, “Sweat in practice saves blood in battle.”

I suggest you start sweating.